Why do you think that Virgil explains the animosity between Rome and Carthage in terms of a romantic falling out between Dido and Aeneas? What is the effect of describing politics in terms of sexual attraction and rejection?

Virgil describes the animosity between Rome and Carthage as an unhappy love affair because it establishes Rome as the masculine party, driven by virtue and duty. The enemies of Rome (Carthage in particular, but also Egypt) are effeminate and weakened by sentiment, luxury, and desire. The stronger, masculine party rejects, and eventually triumphs over, the feminine.

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One of the principal reasons why Virgil describes the animosity between Rome and Carthage in terms of the love affair between Dido and Aeneas is to establish Rome as the masculine party and Carthage as the feminine. This is more important and more controversial than one might imagine. Homer and...

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One of the principal reasons why Virgil describes the animosity between Rome and Carthage in terms of the love affair between Dido and Aeneas is to establish Rome as the masculine party and Carthage as the feminine. This is more important and more controversial than one might imagine. Homer and other Greek writers portray the Trojans as effeminate when compared with the manly Greeks. Later, in the Aeneid, Turnus jeers at the effete, long-haired newcomers. Rome needs to be seen as the product of masculine virtue (virtus, in Latin, means both virtue and manliness).

While Dido is somewhat sympathetically portrayed (and may be more appealing to modern readers than Virgil intended), Aeneas is the masculine party, identified with duty and piety. He is almost seduced into staying with Dido, but eventually chooses duty and empire over love. There is a clear echo of a recent conflict in Roman history here. When Virgil was writing, Octavian, his patron, had recently defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium, unifying the Roman empire and becoming the first Emperor, Augustus. Aeneas is presented as a man who risked becoming like Antony, falling into the clutches of an African queen, but in the end stayed true to Roman values and acted as Augustus would have done. The story therefore functions as an allegory of Roman supremacy: the empire which chooses duty and public virtue over love and luxury will always be victorious. This message accords perfectly with Augustus's campaigns for Roman public morality.

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