Lavinia and Leander


Lavinia was the daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata, and the third and final wife of legendary Roman hero Aeneas. She therefore is the Roman people’s ancestor. In Book Seven of The Aeneid, her hair catches on fire during a sacrifice to the gods. This is interpreted as an omen of war for the Latins and glorious days to come for Lavinia. (I really do need to reread The Aeneid as an adult, for increased appreciation and understanding. From what I’ve previewed, it seems like the Robert Fagles translation is the one to get.)

Lavinia and Aeneas had one son, Silvius, and Aeneas named the city Lavinium after her. To be honest, one of the reasons I prefer Greek to Roman mythology is because Greek women, both divine and mortal, are a lot feistier and more assertive (even aggressive) than Latin women, more multi-faceted, and better-developed.

Lavinia is among the righteous non-Christians stuck in Limbo in Canto IV of Inferno, and mentioned in Canto VI of Paradiso. In Canto XVII of Purgatorio, Queen Amata, Lavinia’s mother, laments her sad fate. A premature report of Aeneas’s death came before he married Lavinia, and Queen Amata was so distraught she hanged herself.

The etymology of Lavinia is unknown.

Leander’s Body Washed Ashore, by Johan Axel Gustaf Acke

Leander was a mortal from the city of Abydos in Asia Minor, and the lover of Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite from Sestos in modern-day European Turkey. They lived on opposite sides of the Hellespont (now Dardanelles) Strait. Leander fell in love with Hero, and swam across the strait every single night to be with her. Hero lit a lamp at the top of her tower to guide him in the dark.

Leander persuaded Hero to sleep with him by arguing that Aphrodite, the very goddess of Love, would scorn a virgin’s worship. All through the summer, they met and had fun in bed. Alas, one stormy winter night, Hero’s lamp was blown out, causing Leander to lose his way and drown. When Hero saw her lover’s body washed up on the shore, she threw herself from her tower to join him in Death.

Leander is mentioned in Canto XXVIII of Purgatorio, in a passage about water.

Leander is the Latin form of the Greek name Leandros, which means “lion man,” from the elements leon (lion) and aner (man). (The more familiar Greek word for man, andros, is actually the genitive form of the word.)


2 thoughts on “Lavinia and Leander

  1. I took a class on Greek classics like The Odyssey, the Aenead and the Argonauts and my professor definitely recommended the Robert Fagles translation, and since he’s been teaching that class for well over thirty years, he knows what he’s talking about.

    I really did enjoy that class because it gave me a deeper appreciation and insight into the books, and my professor was a really good one. You could just tell he enjoyed what he was teaching.

    By the way, I really like your posts. I’ve never read the Divine Comedy but I recently bought one translated by Allen Mandelbaum. I don’t know if it’s a good version but it should be interesting (I hope).

  2. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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