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Filtering by Tag: Aeneid

To Be Made Complete

William Coleman

Lady Macbeth - Gabriel von Max The Latin word condere means to found, to make, or to bury. It also means to strike such that the instrument is plunged in what is struck. Virgil sets the multivalent word to work at once in his Aeneid, tuning it to sing the praise of Roman making. ("tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem" ; "So great a task it was to found the Roman race.")

But when we meet the word again at story's end, there is a shudder, as a circuit we did not know was being fashioned, line by line, is made complete: Aeneus sinks his blade into the side of Turnus, an issuing of violence that in turn gives birth to Rome. Destined rage, destined mercilessness, destined empire: we're made to think again of all that came before, and all that came of that.

My wife, figuring another circuit, describes such linguistic pairs as knots at the ends of the tailor's thread. One allows the stitch to happen, the other's made to stem the seam that's stitched. The kindred knots, sharing a nature, are separated by the union they helped to fashion.

Thus in Denmark, Grendel slaughters thirty men, and the hero, stepping ashore two hundred and fifty lines later, is said to have "the strength of thirty" in his grip.

Thus the troubled prince of Denmark calls his love "nymph"--nymph, the water-bride; nymph, the water-called--and in the span of an act, Ophelia's drawn into the brook.

Thus Macbeth, drenched in guilt, turns to his wife:

It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood: Stones have been known to move and trees to speak; Augurs and understood relations have By magot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth The secret'st man of blood. What is the night?

And his wife responds,

Almost at odds with morning, which is which.

Shakespeare sets her line at the play's dead center (act III, scene iv): midnight in the drama's time, midnight in the staged running of that time, midnight in the realm of the usurping king's soul. How apt, then, how terrifyingly apt, that Lady Macbeth unconsciously (that is to say, homophonically) reminds him (and herself?) of the force that set the dark in motion ("which is which"). The stitch.

What's more, because the work at hand cannot exist without us, the circuit's made complete within us. The stitch's loop depends on our awareness. We feel a sudden tautness ripple the warp and weft of our material. Cinched more tightly to the act of creation, we feel an intimation of immortality; we feel the final meaning of condere: completion.