'Stop hoping you will change the will of the gods by praying'

Line 376 of Aeneid - Book Six, this is probably the best line in the best book of Vergil's epic.

These terrible words are spoken by the Sibyl, the priestess of Apollo who leads Aeneas down to the underworld, to Palinurus, the hapless helmsman who was taken by Neptune as an offering in return for the Trojan's safe passage to Italy.

Palinurus has just asked Aeneas to take him with him on his journey across the Styx to the rest of the underworld, thus violating the divine command that the unburied should never cross the river. This line is the climax of the Sibyl's rebuke, and though it is followed by a consolation for the helmsman that he will be remembered forever, the impact of this line is so great that it almost completely swallows the subsequent ones.

The line itself is a Virgilian masterwork. The d-f-d-f pattern in the first four words and the emphasis created by the metre, with 'desine' and 'precando' especially stressed, create an astonishingly strong line which remains in the mind long after the memories of the rest of the book have faded. It is hardly surprising, then, that it has been quoted so often. Dante, that famous Virgilian, makes a reference1 to it in The Divine Comedy.

Perhaps most notably, this line was quoted by Seneca to reinforce his Stoic ideals:

quid fles? quid optas? perdis operam. desine fata deum flecti sperare precando. rata et fixa sunt et magna atque aeterna necessitate ducuntur: eo ibis quo omnia eunt.2
'Why do you weep? What do you want? You are wasting your time. Stop hoping you will change the will of the gods by praying. It is settled and fixed and led by great and eternal necessity: You will go where everyone else is going.'
This is indeed a line that strongly reinforces the theory that Vergil subscribed to the Stoic philosophy.

By all accounts, a terrible line which should not be read by the emotionally vulnerable. To be valued and treasured as something truly spectacular, but never to be underestimated.

One day I will say this to the Pope.

1 - Dante: Purgatorio Canto VI, ll. 28-29

2 - Seneca: Epistulae Morales , Liber IX, LXXVII.

She was flailing around aimlessly in the pit of a fishbone concert. Her ponytail was so long it would get wrapped around moshers' necks and arms, but they were all her friends. Oblivious, she danced and was jostled, pushed, and suddenly grabbed from behind, two arms around her, crushing her and dragging her back. She was about to spin around and slap him, whoever it was, for being such an asshole and copping a feel when directly in front of her a rather large human was falling, heavily, as the thronging pit parted and was unable to hold him. He fell where she had been dancing, where there was a sudden gap as the crowd had struggled with the guy. She stood and stared. Slowly, she turned around and looked at him. She thanked him. He nodded. They stared. She thought 'what a freak'. He slouched off to find a one night stand.

    That was me. That was him. The first time we looked at each other, we looked away. Fast. The second time, our eyes caught and we just couldn't stop. We burned our faces into each others head, I think. He was a friend of a friend. He made me nauseous. He had tae kwon do after I had aikido at school. He made my chest flush every shade of scarlet. People would be talking around us, and we'd just stare. Not saying a word, like we were caught in another place, alone together and silent. He looked at me like no one had ever looked at me before. He had a way that said he was going to eat me alive, very, very slowly... I was afraid of him just as surely and deeply as I was drawn to him.

He followed her home from campus for coffee. She made it strong, in white mugs. His was black. Hers was mostly half-n-half and sugar. It was dark and cold, the day before Valentine's day. They sat on her futon because there was no couch. He brushed her hair away from her eyes, and it was all over. They were a tangle.

    From then on, it was we are. We nested. We barely left the house until spring. We'd venture out to buy artichokes and chocolate and avocadoes and asparagus. We had fights with easter egg M&Ms that left my cat playing soccer with them in the corners for months. We only left for the occasional class. We played pinball at three in the morning. We slept on his narrow couch. We fucked my futon across the wood floor and flipped around and fucked it back. We were... In Love.

She looked away when he played passive aggressive during their first real fight. Something about taking out the trash. He stomped off before resolving it.

    He just needs to learn how to fight is all...actually come to a conclusion, resolve some things. I can bring him around.

She made excuses when he worked hard all semester and busted his ass and then suddenly blew off his finals. Just didn't go. She shoved it to the back of her mind

    I can help him overcome these fears. So he's afraid of really trying and failing. I can see he's a little scared of success. I can nudge him along... We're in love. It will make him stronger because I value him.

When he dropped out of college because he couldn't pass Math 101 and could barely manage a job framing at Hobby Lobby, she drove up every weekend to see him. She knew he'd pull out of it and go back to school. He wasn't stupid. So what if he played D&D half the time she was there... they were together.

    He's just in a difficult place right now. School isn't for everybody, he's an entrepreneur. I don't care about money anyway. I just want him to be happy. I want us to be happy.

She went away for the summer. They penned long love letters and spoke on crackly phone lines from thousands of miles away. She came back. They had endured. She started school in the fall. He didn't. She skipped a period. He made a pledge.

They had... a son.

    We love the baby. We love each other. It doesn't matter that we're broke. It doesn't matter that we're on welfare. I'm perfectly capable of handling this. I am handling this. It was my decision, and I'm sticking to it. I will carve our lives out of shit if I have to, but I will make it work. He's getting the best job he can. He's really looking. He needs a break sometimes. It's okay that he leaves every weekend to play D&D with his friends. What am I? A pathetic whiner? Hell no. I'm not falling apart when things get a little tough.

She finished school. He worked odd jobs. She got a job in a big corporation. They got a nicer apartment. He played D twice a week with his friends. Went to kickboxing. Started getting into MLM on the internet, spending hours every night in front of the screen. Slowly, imperceptibly, she started going through the motions. Get up, get the boy ready for school. Go to work. Get the boy from school. Come home. Cook dinner. Play with the boy. Watch t.v. Read the boy a book and put him to bed. Do some laundry. Kiss him goodnight. If he was there. He rarely came to bed with her any more.

    Why do I have to take care of everything? Why is it always me that takes the kid to the doctor, or gets the loan for the new car, or gets the freakin' taxes done? He is still just running away. On the internet all night, every night. Never comes to dinner at the table. Sits in front of the t.v. Never comes to bed. Sits in front of the computer. All he cares about are his diversions in life, and I'm left holding it all together.

He stays at home with the second baby while she makes enough for both. His 'home business' is going great. He's going to make a ton on this associate program on the web selling computers. His ezine is really popular. Not that any of it actually makes any money, but it's a good write-off come April.

She is bringing home the big six figure salary. She loves her kids. She loves her babies so much, though she hardly gets to see them. When she comes home from work every night, he's in front of the computer and the kids are in front of the t.v. She comes home to a house of media zombies. She goes through the motions and goes to bed.

They fight the same fight they've fought for years. The same fight they had the very first time, only slightly more rounded and bitter with time. They know it so well they could play each other's parts perfectly.

    I am so done with this. I am so completely done, and he doesn't even notice. He doesn't seem to care. I can't even bring myself to fight with him any more. It's like someone surgically removed my will while I slept some night. I don't ask if he's taking his medication. I don't expect him to know what's going on at school. I don't ask him to do anything anymore because it won't happen. The maids clean up after him and the lawn service takes care of the yard. We eat out of a bag or a box every night. My two year old barely talks, but she can sing jingles from the t.v. I feel like somebody just pulled the plug. I don't care anymore. I don't want to argue. I don't want to fight. I'm just goin' through the motions. He doesn't even notice.

    It was years of this. Almost nine to be exact. I still kind-of loved him.

    But it wasn't enough.

    He loved me.

    But it's wasn't enough.

    Love without partnership doesn't work. Love without support doesn't work. Love without balance doesn't work. When it's all over but the shoutin', what are you fighting for?

She quit fighting. He left the house.

She looked at her life, and marvelled at its change. She felt the remorse and the folly of her arrogance and her inability to force her will onto the world. She looked at her girlfriends in their prime; successful in their careers, independent, smart, beautiful and strong. Many of them cautioned her against ending it. There was fear in their eyes and they warned of being 'all alone.' They suddenly all seemed to be wanting babies and dreams of wedded bliss so badly they were quickly sweeping way too much about the 'man' under the table. Sometimes it seemed to her that they had forgotten all the dreams they had lived while she had watched them from afar over the years.

Now they were so anxious to set aside their freedom, shrugging off their independence like something so burdensome. They didn't realize the subtle elegance of going to the store whenever they wanted, just as she took for granted the joy of fitting tiny shoes to tiny feet and brushing sticky hair in the production to leave the house. They didn't give a second thought to getting on a plane to jaunt off somewhere for the weekend with their chums, whereas she would lie awake on business trips, eyeing her breast pump warily, wishing for that tiny body beside her instead. They lived and studied in other countries and had whirlwind romances with very few spoken words. She watched them all move away. They could read a book, from start to finish on a rainy Saturday afternoon, without a single interruption. She was lucky to read a chapter before she nodded off after the kids were down. They had made different choices in life. Not better, not worse, just different. So much of their lives and so many chances still stretched out in front of them. They had time, even though they didn't see it. They had all the time in the world.

So she got what she settled for. She didn't regret the choices she made, but she missed some of the dreams she knew would never come, could never come. She promised herself, looking at the reflection of her life, one thing.

    I will not settle again. Never, ever again. I will wait if I have to, because I have time. All the time in the world.

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