How are the women portrayed in the Aeneid and the The Arabian Nights?
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The most important woman to consder in The Aeneid is of course Dido, who suffers terribly because of her love for Aeneas and the way that their union in thwarted by the gods. It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Dido, because the Queen of Carthage fails to realise the key rule that Aeneas is well aware of: it is best to go with fate and not try to fight it. Aeneas realises that his fate leads him to found a city away from Carthage, and does not involve Dido and her people at all. Dido fights against this, and is consumed by her desire for Aeneas. Because of her inability to let the will of the gods be supreme, she expends her own life and is responsible for destroying her own people. Note how her love for Aeneas is described:
The inward fire eats the soft marrow away,
And the internal wound bleeds on in silence.
There is something insidious and deeply wounding in the way that this love is described, as if passion and desire can be very dangerous and destructive.
In The Arabian Nights, one of the key women in this text is the Eldest Lady. She is shown to be immensely wealthy and a woman of independent means. Her story is told to the reader and we learn that she fell in love with a Prince. When her older sisters throw her and her lover off as ship out of jealousy, she gains her revenge when she saves a serpent from a dragon, and the serpent, out of thanks, turns her sisters into black dogs. Although the Eldest Lady is wealthy in part from the wealth of the Prince, her lover, we also learn that she had worked as a weaver in the past and sold her goods, indicating her wealth was amassed by her own hands. However, she is maried to a Kalandar at the end of the story, suggesting strongly that the best place for a woman is to be a wife and married to a man who can protect her. Wome in both texts therefore are shown to be under the control of men, and even though they may start off as independent and strong female figures, they end up submitting to the power of men.
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