Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1168
Anna: Dido’s sister and confidante
Mercury: messenger of the gods
Iris: Juno’s messenger
Dido is now raging with love for Aeneas. She tells her sister Anna that Aeneas is the only man who has ever tempted her to break her vow to be faithful to the memory of her dead husband. Anna advises her to follow her feelings, inasmuch as the union between Aeneas and Dido would be good for the kingdom.
Dido’s love begins to drive her mad. Without her attention, the construction of the city comes to a halt. Seeing Dido thus afflicted, Juno conspires with Venus to unite their favorites in marriage. Venus suspects Juno is only trying to save Carthage, but she agrees to help because it will help Aeneas.
The next day, Dido and Aeneas go on a hunt. A sudden, tremendous storm sends the pair into a cave for shelter where they copulate. Dido believes this to constitute a wedding between them, but the rumor spreads that she has given up properly ruling her city in favor of indulging herself in lust. This causes great consternation among the leaders who had vied for her hand.
When Jupiter hears of the couple’s activities, he sends Mercury to tell Aeneas that his destiny is to be master of Italy, and he must set sail. Mercury goes to Carthage, reminding Aeneas that he must think of his son’s future and stop wasting his time building a woman’s city.
Terrified by Mercury’s appearance, Aeneas tells his crewmen to equip the fleet in silence while he tries to approach Dido with the bad news. The rumor finds Dido before Aeneas does, and she attacks him for trying to sneak away. She begs him to take pity on her, in the name of their marriage and in light of her lost reputation. Denying that they have been married, Aeneas says that it is the god’s will that he departs. Dido chastises him for his lack of sympathy, finally wishing him a lonely death. She faints and is carried away.
The Aeneidae quickly prepare their boats. Dido sends her sister to ask Aeneas to wait at least until the winds are favorable. Aeneas ignores Anna’s pleas.
Dido is driven over the edge by Aeneas’ incipient departure. She decides that she wants to die. She tells her sister to build a pyre and stack her bridal bed and Aeneas’ armor on it, explaining that she intends to rid herself of her passion by burning his possessions. That night, while Dido tortures herself with thoughts of her misfortunes, Aeneas has a vision warning him to depart before something bad happens.
When Dido sees the empty harbor the next morning, she wishes she had set her forces upon Aeneas and destroyed him. She curses Aeneas to die early, without having enjoyed his new kingdom. She prays for an avenger to make the Trojan settlers suffer, damning the two kingdoms to eternal hatred. Dido then climbs the pyre and, after briefly reminding herself of what she accomplished before the curse of love befell her, plunges a sword in her heart.
Anna runs to her sister, who is dying a hard death. Juno sends Iris to set Dido’s soul free. As Iris cuts a lock of Dido’s hair, her life blows away.
Although the reader has known from the start that Dido’s love for Aeneas cannot survive, it is impossible not to feel pity for Dido. Like the Greek tragic heroes, her fall is terrible because she is initially so great. She has survived the treacherous murder of her husband and gone on to successfully lead her people to a new and prospering kingdom, an achievement so much more remarkable because of her gender.
Contrary to the Greek type of tragedy, it is not Dido’s flaws that cause her destruction: it is a conspiracy against her by the unfeeling gods. Her initial love for Aeneas was planted in her through the deceit of Venus. The unhealthy nature of the goddess-given love is brought out in the narrative’s reference to it as a “shaft of death” that is driving her to distraction (97). Hunting metaphors make Dido’s victim status even more clear. Matched against a man who killed seven stags in a day, there is no resistance possible for this “heedless hind hit by an arrow” (92). For this reason, her removal from her city’s business, though irresponsible, seems forgivable. Even her misguided marriage does not make her appear any lower in the readers eyes: how could a mere mortal resist the will of two goddesses?
Virgil uses a novel device to focus the reader’s attention on Dido’s agony. By keeping the narrative in the third person after his opening “I sing,” his re-entry into the story at line 561 leaps off the page: “What were your feelings, Dido, then?” While doing little to develop sympathy for Aeneas, Virgil’s question thrusts the reader into Dido’s tortured mind. It is no wonder that, as noted in Slavit’s Virgil, Dido was the first successful female character in Latin literature, eventually appearing as a heroine in the works of Chaucer, Marlowe, and the operas of Berlioz and Purcell. Despite being merely a footnote in Aeneas’ movement to Rome, Dido carries her books well.
By contrast, Aeneas, although also a pawn of destiny, seems an unfeeling brute as he fails to respond to Dido’s emotional pleas. Slavit, however, feels that Aeneas’ “willingness to sacrifice comfort and safety and even, as far as we know, love for the abstraction of Rome’s destiny is what makes him...annoying, but also...great” (Slavit, 117). Anderson adds that Dido, too, could have made better choices; for example, choosing to care for her kingdom instead of committing suicide. Yet given the nature of her love for Aeneas, Dido seems to have few, if any, options. She has been crushed beneath the wheel of fate. To his advantage, Aeneas does at least try to say good-bye before he leaves; but in the face of the misery he causes, he looks like a cad. It is unsurprising that some have said that as Aeneas pursues his duty he loses his humanity.
Note how the gods take their own interpretation of events. Juno claims she wishes to work with Venus to seduce the two leaders in order to create an “everlasting peace” (132). Venus, however, believes that Juno merely wants the greatness that is supposed to come to Rome to befall Carthage. Nonetheless, she agrees to work with Juno. Both of their motives seem confused. Venus only cares for Aeneas’ well-being, and while Juno claims to worry for Dido, her unwillingness to accept fate dooms the woman who is supposedly her favorite. Ultimately, each goddess is only concerned with how events on the mortal plane affect their own glory. Their removal from the human world makes both of them indifferent to the suffering they create.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support