Dido Nix et Trojanus

In an even more spectacular and embarrassing fiasco than the election, Nixon played Aeneas in a reenactment of Virgil’s Aeneid, which the school ambitiously staged on the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Rome’s greatest poet. Nixon had an ill-fitting costume and was completely unrehearsed apart from his lines, and the love scene with Dido, involving an energetic and prolonged embrace, replete with passionate dialogue, brought down the house with brickbats and catcalls. It was a horrendous experience … (Conrad Black, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full [2008] 22-23)
I’m torn about this anecdote.Certainly the easiest reaction is to laugh snidely at Nixon failing miserably as the romantic lead. Har har, serves you right for your future invasion of Cambodia!
Another part of me feels, very deeply, the acute embarrassment of the scene.Being onstage spouting love poetry while your whole school laughs at you? Really, the whole thing’s a Fellini-esque nightmare.
To my mind, there’s something about the story that explains why it is that a man who would win the ’72 election by a 49-state landslide STILL felt the need to bug the Democratic headquarters, as though he felt the stinging derision of that high school play all those years later. Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
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About Uncomely and Broken

I teach Latin and Greek at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.
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2 Responses to Dido Nix et Trojanus

  1. William McKeachie says:

    Surely, indeed, not laughter! Super flumina Babylonis, illic sedimus et flevimus. And no wonder Dante’s guide was Virgil. What’s more, divine tears are surely the well-spring of being “born again” (better: “from above”), the seed of redemption. Christ wept over Jerusalem, shed both blood and water at the Place of the Skull, and descended to Hell itself to bring harrowing hope even there, perhaps even lacrimae rerum to Nixon as Aeneas manqué! Listen to Kathleen Ferrier or Janet Baker sing Dido’s Lament. And think of Mary, Theotokos, in virginal labor; at the Foot of the Cross; at the Tomb; and worshiping the New Adam, her son, in Paradise.

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