Having finally got around to my vacation reading, a mere two months late, I have been spending a fair bit of time thinking about Aeneas. He’s a puzzling character: an epic hero who’s actually pretty useless. It takes 9,896 lines of Latin dactylic hexameter for the Aeneid to end and he still hasn’t founded Latium by that stage (which, frankly, makes me feel much better about my own procrastination). Seeing as we’ve spent quite a lot of time together, I’ve found myself becoming quite attached.
Worryingly, though, I’ve observed some similarities between ex-boyfriends, past dates, and Aeneas. Times may change, but clearly men (and women I’m sure) never do.
For starters, he’s a typical mummy’s boy, (no, seriously, he has some issues). Secondly, he sure knows how to faff. Trying to get Aeneas to make a decision is miles worse than trying to get your girlfriend to decide where to eat. The gods consistently have to tell him ‘Oh for god’s sake, get on with it!’ However, he bears his closest resemblance to a modern day f*ckboy when he shacks up with Dido in Book 4 and then buggers off without so much as a proper goodbye. The ancient literary equivalent of waking up to a note that says, “thanks for last night – it was fun!” Poor Dido doesn’t take it well and stabs herself with his sword… If only someone had dragged her to Spoons followed by Park End instead.
After pondering Aeneas’ datability, I started to wonder how much we can learn about romantic relationships from ancient literary sources. Modern dating traditions, customs and rules across the globe differ considerably to those of a relatively small geographical area 2000 odd years ago, but the nature of human connection and emotion is immutable. First off, Ovid’s Amores reminds me of Julien Blanc’s pickup artistry (although calling it artistry is rather nauseating) and is proof that no matter how much time passes, some people will just never get it. You just know that Ovid would think negging is a great way to get the girl.
Then you have Catullus and Lesbia, who I fondly consider to be the original ‘will they, won’t they’ couple. Never in my 19 years on planet Earth have I come across as great a drama queen as Catullus. One minute he’s head over heels in love, the next minute he’s shouting ‘she belong to the streets,’ and the next he’s begging her for affection. At one point he has a go at a door for keeping him from his beloved Lesbia. If restraining orders were a thing in ancient Rome, I’d have strongly recommended one to her, poor woman. (Fun fact; Catullus was originally from Verona. Perhaps there’s something in the water there that makes loved-up people lose it slightly; it certainly seems that way if Romeo, Juliet and Catullus are anything to go by.)
Of course, we pretty much only hear the men’s side of the story in our sources, and when we do hear a woman’s voice, it is usually a man imagining how the woman must feel. Nevertheless, the parallels are striking and, in a way, it is comforting to know that after 2000 years we’re still fairly useless at navigating the perils of dating. Or at least that’s what I’ll tell myself the next time I go on a bad date…
But if you think those old blokes on plinths know what they’re talking about when it comes to dating, wait until you hear what they think about sex. Clearly they didn’t realise some poor students were going to have to come up with academic ways to talk about their jumped up fanfic – how inconsiderate. Stay tuned to join Catullus and I for tips and tricks on how to survive raunchy subjects in tutorials (a key skill for all Classicists).