The wind blew
and filled our sails, and withdrew the shore from our sight; and
she, wild with grief, was there on the morrow and filled Thine ears with
complaints and groans . . . And the gross part of her love to me was whipped out
by the just lash of sorrow. But, like all mothers – she loved to have me with her,
and knew not what joy Thou were preparing for her by my absence. Being
ignorant of this, she did weep and mourn, and in her agony was seen the
inheritance of Eve – seeking in sorrow what sorrow she had brought forth. And
yet, after cursing my perfidy and cruelty, she again continued her intercessions for
me with Thee, returned to her accustomed place, and I to Rome (5.8.15).
Indeed, the language of Monnica’s grieving echoes Dido’s. Dido is nothing if not “wild with grief.” Just as Monnica’s love is “whipped out by the lash of sorrow,” so, too, does Dido’s love for Aeneas turn to frenzied and bitter sorrow and resentment. Likewise, Dido curses the cruelty and perfidy of Aeneas. Monnica’s abandonment resounds with the abandonment of Dido.
Just as the language regarding the two women reflects each other, so, too, do the presentations of Rome and Carthage in The Aenied and the Confessions. In the confessions, Carthage represents crude and pagan nature worship, whereas Rome embodies a more civilized haven for studying the word of God. Already, a dichotomy is established: Rome is the seat of masculine study, enlightenment, civilization, whereas Carthage remains a place of “otherness,” of the dark and the feminine. St. Augustine’s primary reason for leaving Carthage is because in Rome, “I had been informed that the youths studied more quietly,” whereas in Carthage, “the scholars . . . burst in rudely, and, with almost furious gesticulations, interrupt the system which any one may have instituted for the good of his pupils” (5.8.14). We have here the contrast between civilization and savagery. Both Monnica and Dido are abandoned in Carthage; both are abandoned by men they love; both, in their actions and their locations, embody the savage and dark feminine force.
For the definitive St. Augustine web page, with Latin text and commentary, click here.
For an interesting, albeit lengthy, article on the Confessions with
a few paragraphs on Monnica, click here.