The Mourning Bride by William Congreve, written 1600 years after Vergil’s Aeneid, is a popular paraphrase of this saying. The quote is still a reference to Aeneid, which explores the relationship between female characters’ emotions and furor. Vergil frequently portrays female characters in the epic as being possessed with furor. The Aeneid shows females with a wide range of emotions. These include love, fury, and prophetic feelings. The Aeneid’s selection of mortal women reveals the many meanings and the power of “furor” over women.
The Sibyl’s prophetic fury is the source of both her knowledge and her power. The “awful Sibyl”, who is ultimately captured by a frenzy, contrasts starkly with “pious Aeneas”, who has a calm and collected manner. Sibyl does not have to be frightened by the prescient furor that makes her powerful and frightening. The furor that fills the virgin Sibyl manifests itself in several ways; “[H]er face / and color alter suddenly; her hair / is disarrayed; her breast heaves, and… [her] wild / heart swells with frenzy” (6.67-70). Fury can be seen in the Sibyl as she becomes more powerful. Her voice and face change, while her hair and breast swell. She initially accepts Apollo using her but later fights against his power. She hasn’t yet surrendered to Phoebus. “She rages in her cave, trying to drive the god out of her breast.” (6.109-112). Phoebus no longer controls the Sibyl’s fury. It is easy to understand this change, especially after Apollo’s treatment his prophetess. The god “tires off her raving voice” and shapes her “wild spirit” with crushing force (6.112-1113). Fury has a profound effect on the Prophetess Sibyl’s body and mind, even though she initially seeks it out.
Dido is initially enamored of the passion that drives her, just as the Sibyl was. The Queen decides to share her feelings with Anna rather than suppressing or ignoring them. She confides “Aeneas’s the only man who can make me feel, that is to say, change my heart.” I know all the signs (4.25-27). Dido, in her conversation with Aeneas’ sister confidante rationalizes Aeneas’ growing attachment. Anna’s part is to only increase the Queen’s passion. Anna’s words fueled Dido. Hope burned her doubt away, destroyed her guilt” (4.74-75) Like the Sibyl’s anger, Dido’s fury becomes uncontrollable. She pleads with Ceres Phoebus Bacchus Juno and the other higher powers to bring Aeneas back into her life. Dido’s frenzy no longer brings her the pleasure she had previously derived.
How can altars and vows help someone to fall in love with passion?
The flames devour her marrow.
Silent wounds still linger in her breast.
Unhappy Dido burns. The city is ablaze.
She is a frenzied woman.
…[I]nsanely, she searches out the same banquet.
Once more she asks to be able to hear Troy’s trials.
The teller is still unable to get her off his lips. (4.86-91,102-104)
Juno, upon seeing Dido in her state, used her power to bring Aeneas, Dido, and a storm together. The decadence of living together for a period of time is pleasing to both lovers. But Jupiter will not let Aeneas leave his path to founding the Romans.
Dido is enraged by Aeneas’s secret departure, and her zeal turns to rage. Dido is once more consumed by hysteria when she discovers that her lover has left in secret. This frenzy becomes a furious anger towards Aeneas and heaps threats on him. She replies:
I hope you’ll drink all of your troubles to the bitter end
Many drownings cry out among sea rocks
Dido’s name is Dido. When absent,
I shall hunt you out with blackened flambes…
You will be punished if you are depraved. (4.523-527,530)
The furor that was characterized by Dido up to this point as passionate, loving, and angry is transformed once more. The Queen’s frenzy is transformed into a raving lunacy when she commits suicide. Dido, by tricking her sister and assembling Aeneas’ clothing, sword, other personal items that are related to Aeneas affair, creates a pile. Dido, once the pile of objects is complete, takes her own life by using the sword. But death comes slowly, because “she was miserable and died before her time” (4.958-961).
Dido’s mania was responsible for her inability to cope with Aeneas leaving. Vergil’s viewpoint is clear when Dido dies for her knowledge that mutable mania, with all its powerful and intense passions, cannot be controlled. Dido is at her mercy, and she can’t control the ever-changing fury.
Amata the queen of Laurentum behaves in a similar way to Dido. She is swept up by passionate love, furious fury, and raving mania, and must face the consequences to herself and her realm. Amata does not wish to be swept up in frenzy, as Dido did. Juno calls on Allecto in an attempt to prolong Aeneas’ struggle and to create a war with Turnus, the daughter’s promised lover. “Then she cast a snake from her blue gray hair deep in Amata’s breast to make her mad and set up a war with her entire household.” (7.458-461).
Amata’s fury is compared metaphorically to “an infection” that “poisons her body and mind” (7.468). Amata immediately displays emotional turmoil. She shares the same physical symptoms as Dido and Sibyl. The delirium, which “entwined [Amata’s] bones in flame,” also caused “the force/of flame to spread throughout her breast.” (7.469-471). Allecto’s delirium causes the queen to have a fight with her husband, Latinus. Latinus finally gives in after Allecto has made her mad throughout the whole city. Her behavior is barbaric.
She pretends / to have Bacchus with her; running into the woods
Amata is now trying to cause a bigger scandal
It is madness that will get worse. She hides the daughter
In the mountains of leafy trees, Trojans steal from you
The wedding torch is held back. (7.511-516)
The deadly consequences for soldiers fighting in a war following Queen Amata’s poisoning are tragic. Fury has a different effect on Dido or Sibyl who are willing to accept it, yet do not inflict pain on others. Queen Amata’s death is a result of Juno’s vindictiveness. She also caused many of the battles deaths that accompanied Aeneas conquering her kingdom. Amata, upon realizing that Turnus’ troops will not be victorious, “cries out/that she is guilty/is the source/of their misfortunes”, (12.805-807).
She is unable to commit suicide because she believes that Turnus has died, despite having promised him “Whatever you want me to do I will do for you”. (12.85). “[I]n screaming frenzy she is ready/to die, tears her purple garment and fastens/a ugly death noose to a high beam” (12.808-810). Queen Amata may not be as afflicted by fury as Dido is, but the way Vergil forces it upon her is an important point.
Fury has a different effect on women in the Aeneid. Fury causes violent visions for the Sibyl while it stirs up fervent feelings of love or rage in Queen Dido. It is clear that women are unable to control the frenzy they experience once it begins, and this can even lead to death. This portrayal of fury emphasizes women’s weakness and their ability to be controlled.
Vergil believes passionately that furor and its many manifestations cannot be conquered. While it’s impossible to deny how furious the Aeneid women are, it’s not because they were scorned before, as Congreve said, but due to furor’s omnipotent powers.