the mother of the last of the Neros
This phrase refers to Madeline Stanhope, whose child (she says) is the last survivor of the ancient blood-line of the Neros. The most famous member of the Nero family was the Roman emperor, Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar, who came to be known more commonly as Nero, and who ruled Rome from 54 to 68 CE. Nero’s reign started off well for the first few years, but he is notorious for chaotic events during the last few years of his reign. After a fire which devastated much of Rome, as well as multiple governing failures on Nero’s part, several Roman generals defected and Nero was forced to flee Rome. He was finally forced to commit suicide and had no known legitimate heir. The claim that Madeline Stanhope is still connected to the Nero family is, of course, ridiculous, and might be a humorous reference to the fact that several Nero imposters showed up in the Greek provinces within twenty years of Nero’s suicide, all claiming to be the man himself. [MD 2005]
the last of the Neros
like a Hercules, still climbing trees in the Hesperides
This is a Shakesperean reference to Hercules’ labor to retrieve the golden apples of the Hesperides. Love is compared here to Hercules on this adventure, particularly in respect to his undying spirit to succeed and capture that which he truly wants. [MD 2005]
Sources: Shakespeare, Love’s Labor’s Lost 4.3.359-360.
This is an abbreviation of the Latin word aetatis, which literally means “of age.” It is cited by the OED as occurring in the abbreviated form in English as early as 1681. [MD 2005]
Mr. Slope as Charybdis, Bertie Stanhope as Scylla
This is an analogy between Slope, Bertie, and Eleanor and several of the dangers which we see in Homer’s Odyssey. During his travels, Odysseus encounters two monsters, each of which occupies one side of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy, and both of which present very bad options. One of the monsters was Charybdis, creating a whirlpool three times a day which would suck water, ships, and everything else nearby down into the ocean. The other creature was Scylla, who was hideous with twelve feet and six heads. In this allusion, Charybdis is likened to Mr. Slope, Scylla is Bertie Stanhope, and Odysseus, his crew, and his ship is Eleanor Harding. In the Odyssey, Odysseus sails quickly past Scylla, losing six crew members in the process, but continuing on his journey; he avoids Charybdis altogether. This is also what happens to Eleanor in Barchester Towers, in a manner of speaking. She avoids Mr. Slope entirely as far as the topic of marriage is concerned and stays well away from him; he tries to make her ship crash and to stay in one place with him, but he fails. However, she is at least forced to discuss the topic of marriage with Bertie Stanhope, who is a better option than Mr. Slope. In the Odyssey, Scylla is a better option, as is Bertie, and although Eleanor still gets hurt by Bertie (as Odysseus loses six men), she does not lose him completely as a friend and still manages to escape (as Odysseus continues on his journey home and doesn’t wreck). [MD 2005]
Sources: Homer, Odyssey 12.