Reading Motherhood in Virgil’s Aeneid and Georgics
This chapter shows how mothers are marginalized in Virgil’s epic of national origins but also call attention to their own marginalized status as victims, lamenters, and dissenters, not entirely subsumed by the patrilineal epic programme. In contrast to the Aeneid, the Aristaeus–Cyrene episode in Georgics 4 depicts a mother–son dynamic that is educative, socializing, and life-giving, rather than isolating, uncivilized, and redolent of the hero’s death. This dual Virgilian vision of maternity, as either troublesome or life-giving to individual and society, represents two ways of implicating motherhood in the construction of male subjectivity. This chapter situates Virgil’s ambiguous, occasionally ‘terrifying’ mothers within wider critical discourses, especially psychoanalytic articulations of the mother as devouring and threatening to the masculine self. Yet it also shows that Virgil can be read as a poet ‘for’ mothers, as readers and educators of their sons.
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