Essays in Medieval Studies 19 (2002) 61-69
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Coward, Traitor, Landless Trojan:
Æneas and the Politics of Sodomy
The University of Texas at Austin
Coming to terms with sodomy in Heinrich von Veldeke's Eneasroman means defining the ulterior motives of Lavinia's mother. 1 It is the queen who brings up this unsavoury accusation, and when she does so, it is politically motivated. She tries to persuade first her husband and then her daughter that Æneas is unqualified to become Lavinia's husband and thus successor to the old king, a new king of reliable longevity, and the father of a dynasty of future kings.
This marks a significant change from the source. In Virgil's Æneid, Amata's arguments are part of an entire sequence of tirades directed against Æneas, and they are proportionally small and insignificant in comparison to those of Iarbas, Turnus, or Numanus, the male mouthpieces of the opposing camps. 2 The Roman d'Eneas, however, and Veldeke in its wake, assigns considerably more weight to the Amata figure. 3 Although the medieval authors preserved the depicton of the mother's fury which can be found in Virgil, they did not preserve the divine - pagan - background story. Eliminating both Juno as the cause of the mother's fury and Allecto as its means exposes the queen's behavior as extreme and entirely unmotivated. The arguments have remained largely identical, but the deletion of the pagan realm of divine interference demonizes the mother to a much larger extent. This is even more so as the speeches of Iarbas, Turnus, and Numanus have practically disappeared from the text, and thus the queen's efforts to discredit the protagonist stand alone. Placing Veldeke's romance into the larger context of Virgilian reception history, a comparison to the Æneid's medieval Latin reworkings as well as its translation into Anglo-Norman will reveal categorical differences between the Old French text and its Middle High German translation, including changes with regard to argument, structure, and motivation. What Lavinia's mother tells her daughter, how she says it, and to what purpose she does so shed light on [End Page 61] Heinrich von Veldeke's unique characterization of a hero whom history has squarely positioned between pietas, exemplary loyalty, and zagnisse, the cowardice of a man who betrays his family and his country in moments of crisis.
In the Roman d'Enéas, the queen mainly has Lavinia's marital bliss at heart. She wants to spare her daughter a life of constant competition with the young men at Æneas's court, wooing his favors, his love, and—as the queen would have it—his erotic interest. Heinrich von Veldeke, on the other hand, strategically revises his source by eliminating the queen's sexually explicit and, as it seems, categorically confused examples for sodomy. He even retracts the term itself. Æneas's alleged misbehavior is something "waz her mit den mannen tût,"(10648) something "he does with the men," but limiting its reading to same-sex desire would be seriously missing the point of a romance which is so highly politically charged. After all, the teleological culmination of the Eneasroman is the foundation of Rome.
Against Veldeke's drastic changes, the two arguments he does adopt from the Anglo-Norman text gain an entirely different character. One of them is the protagonist's abandonment of Dido. This would constitute a particularly unsuitable illustration of Æneas's sodomitical desire, if one were to read it as gay or the medieval equivalent thereof. Secondly, the queen describes the threat that an attitude like his would pose to the survival of all mankind. By linking these originally separate examples, Heinrich transforms Dido into the prototypical abandoned woman and barren mother. When Æneas deserts her without providing her with a "kindelîn" (2192), Dido, her dynasty, and ultimately Carthage herself are destined for extinction. The queen's direct comparison between Dido and Lavinia reveals her true concern: Accusing Æneas of sodomy means branding him as unwilling to procreate and hence unfit...