NCSPP

Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology

From the Editor

by Sydney Tan, PsyD
 
THE TRAGIC SEPARATION
 
But the queen -- too long she has suffered the pain of love,
hour by hour nursing the wound with her lifeblood,
consumed by the fire buried in her heart.
 
...
 
At last she assails Aeneas, before he's said a word:
"So, you traitor, you really believed you'd keep
this a secret, this great outrage? Steal away
in silence from my shores? Can nothing hold you back?
Not our love? Not the pledge once sealed with our right hands?
Nor even the thought of Dido doomed to a cruel death? ...
If only you'd left a baby in my arms -- our child --
before you deserted me! Some little Aeneas
playing about our halls, whose features at least
would bring you back to me in spite of all,
I would not feel so totally devastated,
so destroyed."
 
...
 
She breaks off
in the midst of outburst, desperate, flinging herself
from the light of day, sweeping out of his sight,
leaving him numb with doubt, with much to fear
and much he means to say.
Catching her as she faints away, her women
bear her back to her marble bridal chamber
and lay her body down upon her bed.
 
...
 
Love, you tyrant!
To what extremes won't you compel our hearts?
Again she resorts to tears, driven to move the man,
or try, with prayers -- a suppliant kneeling, humbling
her pride to passion. So if die she must,
she'll leave no way untried.
 
...
 
All at once, in the midst of her last words,
her women see her doubled over the sword, the blood
foaming over the blade, her hands splattered red.
A scream goes stabbing up to the high roofs,
Rumor raves like a Maenad through the shocked city --
sobs, and grief, and the wails of women ringing out
through homes, and the heavens echo back the keening din --
for all the world as if enemies stormed the walls
and all of Carthage or old Tyre were toppling down
and flames in their fury, wave on mounting wave
were billowing over the roofs of men and gods.
 
...
 
Dido, trying to raise her heavy eyes once more, failed --
deep in her heart the wound kept rasping, hissing on.
Three times she tried to struggle up on an elbow,
three times she fell back, writhing on her bed.
Her gaze wavering into the high skies, she looked
for a ray of light and when she glimpsed it, moaned.
 
--Virgil, The Aeneid, Book IV, translated by Robert Fagles
 
Aeneas, having spent many years in blissful ersatz marriage to Dido, queen of Carthage, is reminded by the gods of his duty and destiny to found Rome -- he is compelled to leave her.
 
Dido, discovering Aeneas preparing his ships and about to depart, feels betrayed. She is filled with unbearable sorrow and anger. The thought of impending separation threatens to destroy her. She pleads with him to remain, but he is unmoved, for he must go.
 
Cast out of their union, Dido becomes mad with grief. In desperation, she climbs atop a funeral pyre and kills herself with a sword once given to her by Aeneas.
 
Winnicott refers to separation as an "achievement," one that is connected with the "establishment of a personal identity." In "The Location of Cultural Experience" (1967), he discusses two forms of separation. He describes a troubled version that is extended and premature, the loss of a connection that results in "a break in life's continuity" -- a separation that can incur (psychic) death.
 
By contrast, the effects of tolerable separation -- predicated upon the timely return of the mother -- involve a "mending of the ego structure." Winnicott describes this process as "the separation that is not a separation but a form of union." It "reestablishes the baby's capacity to use a symbol of union" -- the object -- and arrives at the initiation of separateness -- the point at which the mother is in transition from being one with the baby to being one that is perceived.
 
This developmental achievement comes out of repeated bodily experiences, and must be felt and perceived in order for it to be truly known -- in order for the baby to "... once more allow and benefit from separation."  
 
Dido uses Aeneas' sword -- a symbol of their union -- to kill herself. And by doing so, once again, in those very last moments, reestablishes her connection to him.