Monnica features in St. Augustine’s Confessions, the deceived mother of St. Augustine himself.  St. Augustine lies to Monnica about departing from Carthage, their home, to go to Rome.  Already the similarities between Monnica and Dido are striking.  St. Augustine confesses, “I deceived her, when she violently restrained me either that she might retain me or accompany me  . . .  And I lied to my mother – and such a mother! – and got away” (Confessions, 5.8.15).  The language that St. Augustine uses to describe his mother mirrors the language used to describe Dido after she realizes that she’s been deceived by Aeneas.  St. Augustine describes:

          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.