This paper reads out two very well-known moments in Books 3 and 1 of Virgil’s epic poem in order to address a Virgilian tactic, a poetic strategy, that has not been fully requited in the criticism. These are moments in which the poet chooses to foreground absurd, excessive, epiphenomenal and short-lived things that time seems to bring about. Aeneas, Virgil’s unlikely hero, struggles as much with such moments as he does with all the sworn enemies of the Trojans. He struggles especially with the temptation toward a poignant, nostalgic fixation on his tragic past. He is told that he must become devoted religiously to the greatest of Troy’s enemies, the goddess Juno. It is inside a Carthaginian temple dedicated to Juno that the hero experiences the ‘newness’ that a great work of art is always able to proffer. But Virgil knows that Carthage and Juno’s temple and the works of art themselves will all become follies of time, left in ruins by the romanitas that Aeneas has just been encouraged to prepare.
David Quint (1982) has shown how this episode is a play upon Odysseus’ underworld experience in Odyssey 11 and a reversal of the typical Homeric structure of katabasis or journey down to the underworld. Andromache thinks that Aeneas’ shade has come up to her. See also Bettini (1997).