Dido is depicted as a chaste and honourable Queen who makes regular ornate offerings to the gods thereby fulfilling her religious duty. Dido is initially shown walking towards the temple of Juno, Virgil compares her to the goddess Diana, the virgin Latin goddess of the woods and groves. Dido’s mannerisms and behaviour mimic the chaste deity for no passions of love overwhelm her.
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Virgil portrays Dido as Aeneas’ equal but we must remember that Aeneas has the goddess Venus as his mother unlike Dido whose parents were mortal. She is a strong, determined, independent woman who possesses heroic qualities of her own.Dido is portrayed as a figure of passion and volatility, qualities that are opposite of Aeneas’ order and control. Dido also represents the sacrifice Aeneas makes to pursue his destiny. If fate and the gods allowed him to remain in Carthage, he would have happily ruled beside the queen he loves. Through Dido, Virgil seems to be telling the reader that order and duty are more important than love.
The Aeneid opens with a storm which Juno, Aeneas’ enemy, creates. Juno’s anger stems from a prophecy that Carthage, her favourite city, will be destroyed by the descendents of Troy. The storm causes Aeneas’ ship to run aground along the coast of Carthage. Dido welcomes Aeneas to her city. The goddess Venus, Aeneas’ mother, makes Dido fall deeply in love with him. She arranges for Cupid to visit Dido and fill her heart with a passion that changes her character into that of a crazed woman. With her passion aroused, Dido begs Aeneas to tell of his adventures since he left Troy. Again, the book, and Virgil, is trying to tell the reader that the gods will intervene whenever they want to, either to steer a human in what they assume to be the right direction or purely for pleasure or boredom on their part.
Through manipulation by the two goddesses, Juno and Venus, Dido becomes infatuated with Aeneas. This means that Dido’s relationship with Aeneas is fated to end tragically, partly because of Juno and Venus and partly because Aeneas must fulfil his destiny. Again, Virgil shows us that interference by the gods ends in tragedy. Also, it again reinforces the Roman ideal that duty rather than romance must prevail.
Venus appears to Aeneas explaining how Dido became queen of Carthage and of Dido’s great love for her first husband Sychaeus who was murdered by her brother Pygmalion. Venus talks about Dido’s flight from Tyre. The reader could see this as Venus being sympathetic towards Dido and the hurdles she overcame. You could infer that Aeneas started to look at Dido in a favourable light. It poses the question whether the gods needed to interfere at this point.
The change in Dido from confident leader to lovestruck female makes her appear as if she has been struck by madness. Dido risks everything by taking Aeneas as a lover, she compromises her untainted loyalty to her dead husband’s memory. She loses the respect of her people, who see Dido’s obsession take the place of her civic responsibilities. Her obsession drives her to suicide, out of the tragedy of her loss of her people’s respect and the pain of lost love. Jupiter, sends Mercury to instruct Aeneas to fulfil his destiny. Dido, distraught by her lover’s departure, puts a curse on the Trojans, then commits suicide.
There are parallels between Dido and Aeneas, they are both exiles and victims of treachery, sympathetically presented at the beginning of the poem. Dido’s character is presented to the reader as the Queen of Carthage – A great stateswomen, a just and fair ruler who delivers justice, assigning tasks, and displaying her hospitality. She is a great beauty with a regal majesty about her. Dido is shown to be a sensitive and humane ruler whose civilisation is comparable in wealth and art to Troy’s. The embodiment of a leader that Aeneas respects and hopes to become. She fled her homeland, leading her people out of Tyre and founding Carthage. Dido rules her city, overseeing the building of Carthage and preparing for war. This could be linked to the fact that the book was written after the Punic Wars. Her character is depicted as strong, determined and an independent women possessing heroic dimensions,. Dido’s character seems to portray the best features of her people. From this we could deduct that Virgil was attempting to portray Aeneas and Dido as mirror images of each other.
Dido is shown to have a commanding power about her . The fact that she is a female ruler does not appear to be a consideration. Her people do her bidding. Virgil appears to be telling the reader that a female was as capable of ruling a nation as a male. To be a Queen during this period of history was unusual, but parallels with Cleopatra and her rule. Dido has obviously managed to diplomatically procure land from local tribesmen to be able to build Carthage. This could infer that she must be able to command respect of other nations not just the people she ruled. She welcomes the shipwrecked Aeneas and his men as her guests, declaring it a festal day in the god’s temples, and makes generous sacrifices to the gods. At the banquet in Aeneas’ honour, the table is set with massive plates, “engraved the brave deeds of her fathers,” which shows that Dido was respectful of her ancestors. It also reinforces the Roman view of ancestors. Virgil’s Dido represents the Roman values putting the pursuit of destiny and Rome over anything else.
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Virgil’s portrayal of Dido is filled with pity. She is a woman who interferes by attempting to sway Aeneas from his destiny. She is tormented by the furies. Dido seems to have brought about her own destruction, all the pain and her suicide she brought upon herself. She violated her dead husband’s honour. To try to sway her own feelings of guilt the reader is shown that Dido believed her encounter with Aeneas in the cave was greater than it actually was. The female heart beating stronger than the male. “For Dido calls it marriage, and with this name she covers up her fault.” (4.172) Dido’s actions and reactions throughout this episode of the Aeneid follow the Roman attitudes to women. She is a raving woman who is overcome by her feelings of guilt and abandonment and who represents a great obstacle to Aeneas’ destiny
When describing Dido and Aeneas’ we are given no insight into Aeneas’ feelings for her but, whatever the public status of their relationship about which they later disagree, Virgil makes clear that the consummation of their love in the cave is a union which nature looks kindly and not the squalid affair that rumour makes of it later.
Book one of the story shows us that gods interfere with humans steering their lives towards the destiny the gods have determined. If they had not played tricks on Dido she could have possibly greeted Aeneas as a traveller and helped him with the necessary repairs to his ships so that he could go on his way. Dido’s fall from respected monarch into madness may not have happened. The prophecy which Juno feared may not have happened. Carthage could have defeated Rome. All possibilities are there. We could look at each event and mirror image them so that the opposite happened. We could try to tell the story from the opposite point of view and see what the possible outcome would have been. Dido and Aeneas may still have fallen in love but without the interference from Jupiter, Aeneas may have stayed with Dido and an actual marriage happened. Together as a united people they could have fought Rome. That the outcome was preordained by the gods is shown to us but we must remember that the book was written by a Roman for a Roman Emperor.
Reading this book and trying to interpret what the writer was trying to portray is a difficult task as throughout your feelings change towards Dido and Aeneas. At points in the passages you feel sympathy towards Dido but at other points you think to yourself would you do that, or would you put yourself in that position, or even can Dido not see that she is being manipulated by the gods. Towards Aeneas, you also have the same range of emotions as he is put in situations which were not of his control but you must ask yourself whether, with him being born of Venus, he is not aware that he is being manipulated. Each person reading this book will have their own views on the characters. It is difficult to conclude whether any one person would be right in their interpretation of the characters.
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