“Sunt lacrimae rerum” Theme
As a way of setting up for this assignment, let’s listen to what Robert Fagles, one of the great translators of The Aeneid, said about the epic in a New York Times interview:
The Aeneid is a cautionary tale. It is one we need to read today. It speaks of the terrible price of victory in war, for Virgil knew that victory is finally impossible, that it always lies out of reach. He saw the unforeseen aftermath, the way war could all go wrong whether from poor planning or because of the gods on high. He knew the sheer accumulation of death, the destruction, the pain we inflict when we use force to create empire.
In Virgil, as in Homer, you find great reservoirs of memory. You find the restorative power of love set against a world of violence. There is sadness in the poem. There are innumerable losses. War wages on too long. Nearly every book in The Aeneid ends with certain death. Aeneas reaches out to the ghosts of those he loved, always beyond his grasp.
OK, now we can talk about the most famous quote from The Aeneid. It’s “Sunt lacrimae rerum.” Here’s the context: Aeneas lands in Carthage and comes upon a temple where he sees murals of scenes from the Trojan War. Suddenly, he is filled with emotion as he recognizes the friends–some still alive, some dead, some whose fate is still unknown to him—with whom he sought glory, experienced carnage, etc. in the Trojan War. You might say that Aeneas experiences both happiness and sadness at once, and they coalesce in the expression “Sunt lacrimae rerum.”
Here are several translations of “Sunt lacrimae rerum,” as listed in Wikipedia (and they have included a few more words from the Latin line in the first three translations):
Robert Fagles: “The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart.”
Robert Fitzgerald: “They weep here / For how the world goes, and our life that passes \ Touches their hearts.”
Kenneth Clark: “These men know the pathos of life, and mortal things touch their hearts.”
Seamus Heaney: “There are tears at the heart of things.”
Your job, after reading and rereading Book 1 of The Aeneid in which “Sunt lacrimae rerum” appears, is to explore your own experience of “the tears in things” in an essay of 750 to 1000 words. This essay should be a well-developed personal narrative, not a list of experiences. In other words, you will need to find a narrative focus, and it would probably be good to discuss only one event. Is any scene in your life similar to the one in which Aeneas was caught off guard by those murals of the Trojan War? Get into depth about that moment of happiness/sadness, glory/loss. This need not be your own individual story either (although it certainly can be). For example, you can think in terms of a family experience or a national experience.