Work Header

So Sick of That Same Old Love

Work Text:

Once there was a queen in Italy, the first and only child of her father,
Who grew to womanhood in the high city
Laurentum, the city of victory.
Kept still and safe behind the high stone walls,
She spoke little, she was good,
And many noble men of Italy sought her hand,
By which they would become a king.
No suitor was ever allowed to see her,
But rumors spread of her loveliness:
They called her the most beautiful woman in the West,
Second only to Spartan Helen.
There had never been a princess so protected in the Latin lands:
Daunus's daughter could be found on the training field,
The daughters of Mezentius wandered freely in Etruria,
And the child of Metabus was a wild creature of the forest,
Sacred to Diana, one who bested all the princes with her bow.
Even the queen Amata was well-known to all her people
Captivating them with sharp wit at their dinner parties.
Only the Lady Lavinia never left her castle,
“For,” King Latinus said, “the man who weds my daughter will inherit all my lands
And so must desire the welfare of the kingdom above all things,
Rather than be seduced by a beautiful face.
Love of country brings prosperity,
But love of women brings only ruin:
Why should I recount the tale of Paris,
Or Ixion who dared to touch a goddess,
Or Pirithous who now is trapped in Hades for all time?
Besides, no land should have two rulers—
Better a queen who obeys her lord than one who tries to lead.”
Lavinia was betrothed to a mighty and valiant hero
Who fought a war to keep her, and he died in it
Having never seen her face.
And the first time Lavinia left the high walls,
Her mother, maddened by a Fury, seized her from the castle,
Dragged her to the woods, where the other mothers
Joined her in Bacchic frenzy.
Lavinia's eyes were wide as she looked around:
Never had she known the unplanned darkness of the forest,
Or heard the growls of beasts,
Or seen so many women shout and dance,
Their arms linked, their voices wild, their breasts unbound.

Not long after, her mother was dead.
Lavinia was wed to a foreign king,
With much pomp and splendor,
The scion of Italy, submitting to her new lord.
Soon he put her in a covered carriage
And brought her to a new city,
With walls still growing.
She stood in his chambers in his palace,
And he became uncertain before her,
Like an ant who, diligently carrying food back to his nest,
Suddenly encounters a leaf in his path
And is perplexed, nudging it and carefully tracing its edges
In finding his way past.
So Aeneas tried to make his new wife happy, without quite knowing how,
For no woman he had loved had ever been so quiet,
And he was always busy with his people,
His duty to his kingdom forbidding him to care too much for her.
When he offered her full run of the city, she refused,
Knowing her place, and remained inside his castle, silent and good.
In time Lavinia bore three sons, the heirs of Troy and Italy,
And even still she kept her own counsel,
Entrusting none of her heart to husband or children or friend.
Aeneas looked on her with envy:
For she knew her duty and performed it perfectly,
A sovereign empty of all but sovereignty,
While he still, full of flaws, felt things unworthy of a hero,
Distractions from his all-consuming fate.
He named his city after her: Lavinium.

When King Aeneas celebrated holy festivals,
Monarchs from all Latium came to join him,
For, though not in name, he was their high king.
Aeneas and Lavinia presided over banquets,
Hearing the stories of the other kings
And granting them their blessing and their aid.
But one queen never came,
Juturna, leader of the Rutulians,
A goddess of lakes and rivers and the sister of King Turnus,
Lavinia's first bridegroom, whom Aeneas had cut down in single combat
To win his promised land.
Until one Lupercal, she arrived with the other kings,
And joined in their feasts and sacrifices;
Aeneas invited her to stay
After the others returned to their cities,
To which she nodded her head in assent.
Juturna dined with Aeneas and Lavinia alone,
For Ascanius was away, scouting the land that would one day be called Alba.
With the tables removed and the wine bowls emptied,
Aeneas was drinking deep of curiosity,
Asking many things about Daunus, many things about Turnus,
Now of her brother's holy sword,
Now of his fine horses and Camilla's skill with the spear.
Then Juturna, upright on her couch,
Said, “King, you command me to recall unspeakable sorrow,
The loss of all I once held dear.
But if you have such great desire to learn of the man you killed,
I will share my memories,
For it eases my grief to speak about who we once were,
Before the world and fate broke our peace forever.
Now I rule his city, you his country,
And he a plot in Hades—
But perhaps it will move you to hear of the living Turnus,
And even now tears might be shed for such a hero,
Cut down by one who boasts of clemency.

“I loved my brother, as a mother loves her only child,
Or as a magpie spies a coin glinting in the sunlight
And swoops down to claim it; he brings it back safe to the nest,
A treasure to be fiercely cherished,
And to all who draw near declares it, 'Mine.'
Turnus was born a year before me,
But he was never careful with anything
In his life or in his death.
So I cared for him, and followed after him,
And for a long time he did not see me;
I poured forth my love, he accepted it
As the way of things.

“When I had been thirteen years upon the earth,
I began to be cursed with loveliness
Such as caught the eye of the king of gods and men.
I could say he took my maidenhead
As a boy plucks a flower just unfolding,
Beautiful in its dying, delicately ravished.
But it was not delicate. It was not beautiful.
I screamed on a riverbank,
Like a warrior lying in a field,
Throat cut, spirit bubbling out,
And he clings desperately to the light fading from his eyes,
Bitterly cursing the gods who have been careless of his life.

“My brother found me weeping and was seized by fury,
Drawing his sword and swearing
To strike down the villain who had dishonored me.
You might see many high-hearted men blaze with righteous anger
And lust for the glory of battle,
But never, I swear by the moon,
Will you see his like again.
Turnus felt. There was no veil over his heart,
No deceit in his thoughts.
He embodied each emotion with purity too bright to look upon.
His anger thrummed in his limbs,
His joy infected all who came near it,
His love was—
What can I say of it?
It was a long time before he loved me,
But one moment of his affection was worth a thousand years of offering devotion.
My brother never protected his heart,
And who can say the same?

“When I said that Jove had raped me,
And he saw that he could not have his vengeance,
My brother chafed at idleness;
Because he could find no satisfaction,
He could not put the affair aside.
This is how Turnus came to see me.
I carry the memory of my pain now
With both anger and fierce pride
That I gained so much from it.
Soldiers are bloodied in battle, women in bed,
And both wear scars with honor.
In taking my body, Jove gave me, first, my brother;
Second, immortality,
Gifts of disguise and deceit,
And the kinship of lakes and rivers
Which welcome me in their cool depths
To wash away the blood and dirt of earth;
Third, a wall around my heart,
Eyes alert to threats,
And the knowledge that no man could destroy me;
Finally, the strength of a god
And the desire to learn the arts of war,
To wield a sword and bow and drive a chariot—
The things Turnus knew best,
The things that first brought us together.

“My brother taught me how to be a warrior,
And clapped his hands in delight at my every success;
At his approval I glowed with joy,
And through his respect I grew in confidence and power.
Time passed: we hunted and sparred together,
But, besides this, we talked:
Long nights sprawled on the huge beds of the palace,
And warm afternoons on my riverbanks,
With the fish and the birds, cool water swirling past our ankles,
While I shifted into shapes of beasts
And he laughed like a child with wonder,
Resting his head on the false lion curled up in the sun.
Every king has his confidant:
Achilles had his Patroclus; Orestes, Pylades;
you yourself entrust yourself to Achates,
And Volscian Camilla was inseparable from Acca while she lived.
I was the keeper of Turnus's heart;
I tried to shield him when he would not shield himself.
I carry secrets known now to me alone,
That will soon be entirely forgotten on the earth.
But I will tell you one—Turnus forgive me the betrayal!—
So that a little more of him may be remembered,
A piece of the hero I knew as a man.
Venus, your mother, held no power over him;
He never lay with woman or man
(Since his marriage was cut short).
He scorned the tyranny of love, saying:
'Juturna, Cupid's arrows have turned clever men to fools
And brave men to simpering poets.
Better to pray to Diana and Mars,
To fight always for one's own self and country,
And if you must love,
Love the merits of a person's heart—
For Venus's slaves adore the unworthy,
And even the most glorious body should have no claim
On your good sense and honor.'
And I agreed, for my brother knew much of honor
And even of good sense: he never wasted his efforts
But always thought to acquit himself well and fight
For the interests of Ardea and the Rutulians,
Even if, given the choice between glorious risk and wary caution,
He chose always differently from I.

“Turnus loved the merits of the heart
Of another wild warrior sacred to Diana and to Mars,
Camilla the sylvan princess, slain by an unknown Trojan.
He brought me to learn more of fighting at her hands,
And she became my dearest amica,
A woman who lived in the wilderness outside of walls,
Whose laugh was bright and reckless,
Who had never known the touch of a man
But instead surrounded herself with cheerful girls,
Free and fierce and skilled with their bows and spears.
She competed with my brother in friendly sport,
Hunting the forest as rivals,
And they debated the merits of light or heavy armor,
The axe or the sword in battle,
The beauty of a well-watered wood or the high strong towers of the city.
To me she spoke of love, of men and women,
Of the story of her father: exiled for his wickedness,
He brought his infant daughter to the lawless forest,
Consecrated her to Latona's virgin child,
Gave her a spear to protect her from wild beasts and savages,
But when she became a woman, blessed (or cursed) with beauty,
He bade her marry a noble young man,
Return to the halls of civilization,
And bring triumphant redemption to his name.
She had refused and left Metabus bitter and alone,
Banished to the woods he was not born to;
So also my father, the old King Daunus,
Had wished me to marry,
So that I fled to my lakes and hid from him,
Until in his age he came to forget his children and his kingdom.
Turnus took his scepter,
And Daunus retreated to his tower in twisted confusion,
Tended by his wife, drooling from his slack mouth.
So too did King Latinus, having found himself a widow,
Abdicate all duties and hide away to mourn
The loss of all he had expected
Through the intervention of the gods.
Such weakness in the minds of kings!
I might be tempted to entrust all nations to women,
Had I not heard of the valor of King Priam in his hour of despair,
And of the madness of your abandoned lord of Carthage—
Queens, too, are subject to the wounds of Fate and Love.

“Camilla never wore a crown, and I envy this freedom, too.
But she scoffed at my brother's dismissal of your mother's wiles
And claimed that no one could escape the fragile heart, saying:
'Juturna, every one of us always loves one thing
Expansively, destructively,
No more, no less.
We love this thing—whether man or woman, city or self,
Or anything else under the sun—
Not by our own will, nor to our own benefit,
But it calls us away from our good sense
And speaks to the dark things in our blood
And is a love of pain and terrible passion.
Turnus is untempted by a supple body,
But what is that to boast of?
Someday he, too, will be undone by love.
If you build a fortress around your heart,
Your love will find you during the construction,
Leaving the walls half-finished and the cranes abandoned,
Or else will slither in through ruthless cunning,
As they say the Greeks breached the walls of Troy at last
Not with siege engines but with a gift,
So that the Trojans celebrated their own destruction as it entered
And the air rang with shouts of joy.
Plant your heart deep as an ancient oak—
Love will simply come up through the roots.'
I loved my brother, my brother loved his city and his honor,
Camilla herself loved to show off the spoils of war
And win great fame and adoration—
None of us, not even you, lacks a lover who can strike us down.”
The nymph fell silent, then, and Aeneas urged her to continue:
To tell how Turnus won Lavinia's hand and of the court of Latinus and Amata,
Why Turnus acted as he did in the war,
How she herself had gone in disguise to save her brother
And the state of her queenship now; and most of all,
He wished to hear of the duel,
To know what she and her brother had felt and thought
As Aeneas himsel robbed the light from Turnus' eyes.
Color blazed in Juturna's cheeks, and she shook her head,
Saying only: “My brother loved his city and his honor,
And when a stranger came to take both from him,
His good sense prompted him to wait
And seek subtler paths to victory.
But a Fury entered his heart, and love, pure and passionate,
Destroyed him: ambush was forgotten,
He won a glorious death.
Why should I tell you more of the battles and the duel? You were there.
If you did not perceive me on the field, so be it:
My brother saw me truly.
You have won everything else—
Usurped a throne, carried off a bride, stripped the baldric from his shoulder—
And you will get no more of him.
When you see him in the house of Hades, he will turn away,
And so will I.”

At the goddess's fearless anger and contempt, Aeneas's still heart wavered.
He longed to tell her the baldric belonged to young Pallas,
Who had shaken his hand and welcomed him to his city,
Recalling an earlier welcome
From a fierce and passionate queen who seemed another Hector
As she led her people,
And had seemed to a weary exile to embody the virtues of Troy,
Its industry and energy and hope,
Troy, the city of Anchises,
Whose son had followed him even into Hell.
Truly Aeneas knew the terrible love Camilla spoke of,
Always one thing, no more, no less,
Coming back always in different guises.
It is as if you should meet a man who was sick and grow sick yourself and then recover;
But the sick man has infected others, and one of them shakes your hand,
And you grow ill again, and on and on,
Different people, different places, different times, but the same disease,
And you are always sick.
So Pallas had once touched Aeneas,
And nothing could have cured Aeneas' rage—
Yet, even so, he had hesitated.

As Aeneas buried all these things in his breast,
The goddess would have departed,
Had not another voice stopped her:
“Sister, what of your kingdom? How fare the people of high Ardea,
And how fares its queen?”
Juturna turned to Aeneas's wife,
And her anger was kindled once again
When she thought of how this woman had been the whole cause of the war.
“Sister?” Juturna said. “How can I be your sister? Here is your husband,
Who is no kin of mine. But as for your question,
Ardea fares poorly, and I came to ask for aid.
Yet I was a fool, and I have changed my mind:
I cannot clasp the knees of my brother's killer,
Nor scrape and fawn before the girl who brought his ruin.”
Lavinia lifted her head, a blush staining her ivory cheeks,
And looked straight at Juturna, saying:
“If Ardea suffers, it is your failure:
You are a goddess of lakes and rivers, a wild and unbound woman.
Our men love their walls,
But you love your freedom
And were not made for government.
Let me help.
I have listened long to the arguments of kings,
I know the tools of statecraft,
And I will gladly leave this place with you.”
Aeneas stared, astonished, at his wife,
Who never spoke so many words together.
At last he asked her why she said such things
(Why now and not before?), and she replied:
“Juturna has brought us great wisdom tonight
In the words of wild Camilla.
Who of mortals can escape necessity?
For the love she spoke of is not desire but need,
To resist which brings only death.
I have done my duty to my father, my country, my husband,
And I have been sick at heart.
My mother once showed me a world of noisy women—
I have longed for it ever since.
Why deny it any longer? I would soon have followed Queen Amata into death,
But now this queen has proved to be an omen of salvation.
Men receive prophecies from the mouths of gods themselves,
Women in the words and signs of other women,
Subtle and hard to read, soon scattered like the Sibyl's leaves
Or scoffed at like Cassandra's warnings;
But both are bound by fate and the will of the gods
And have a duty to reply when called.
Here is my destiny, I know it in my marrow:
To help Juturna, my sister-who-might-have-been,
To be a builder and a leader,
To leave the walls of men's high cities
For those of my own choosing.”

Then Aeneas was amazed to understand
That Lavinia was no more empty than himself.
Juturna hesitated, thinking of her joy and contentment
Before she ever knew Latinus' family,
Blaming them for all her loss—
But she looked again upon Lavinia and saw a woman,
A person like herself who suffered for the needs of men.
Juturna took her hands and said, “I loved my brother,
And I love his city for his sake,
But you are right to say I am no leader of men.
You would once have been the rightful queen of Rutulians:
Turnus welcomes you now, Turnus offers you a palace of your own.”
Lavinia wept then, imagining the palace halls where she would speak,
How Juturna would heed her words, and how she might sometimes travel past the gates
When she wished it, taking long rides in the countryside
Or visiting strange and vibrant places.
Aeneas could not speak but wept as well;
He tried to put his arms around her neck
And found her solid underneath his hands,
Embracing him in return.
He said, “Be strong; perhaps someday the memories of me
Will yet prove a pleasure and a help to you.”

The morning star was leading in the dawn
When Aeneas returned alone to his chambers,
Weary and with his path unclear,
But wiser than before, his wish to be purged of all emotions
Vanishing like a false dream into the light of day.
And the Italian queens set off together,
Conversing awkwardly, as when two horses
Are yoked together for the first time
And try to learn each other's minds;
When they succeed, their chariot flies faster than the wind,
And they rejoice in the strength of their partnership.
So Juturna and Lavinia found themselves paired by fate,
Like and unlike each other,
And they slowly came to share the secrets of their hearts.
There were men who called them weak,
And they were right:
For all people are helpless before love,
And the strongest are those who know it.
Lavinia and Juturna left the city of Aeneas;
They, shouldering their pasts, went forth
To seek glory for a kingdom
And happiness for themselves.