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Virgil, 70BC-19BC, is considered one of the greatest Roman poets of his time. He wrote the epic Aeneid at the behest of Augustus Caesar. It was meant to glorify the Roman Empire but Virgil was not happy at the prospect of carrying out this task. The book is thought to be based on events from the Punic Wars. The book is written in the third person.
The book is based around two of the main characters, Dido and Aeneas. Virgil tries to depict Dido as a strong woman despite her tragic end. A great leader who practices restraint, represses all passions, and embodies the virtue of temperance, which according to Cicero is a virtue that "comprises propriety, moderation, decorum, restraint and self-control". Before Aeneas's arrival, Dido is the confident and competent ruler of Carthage, a city she founded. She has no plans to marry again. She wishes to preserve the memory of her dead husband, Sychaeus.
Dido is also depicted as a chaste, pious, and honourable Queen who makes regular ornate offerings to the gods. Dido is initially shown walking towards her temple, 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 of the woods for no passions of love overwhelm her. Dido first appears in the Aeneid in the temple of Juno.
At the time that the book was written we must take into account, Carthage was a place of progress. Dido's subjects were busy building the city's future political and defence systems, making Carthage unconquerable. The people of Carthage were attempting to build their potential future greatness.
Virgil portrays Dido as Aeneas's equal. She is a strong, determined, independent woman who possesses heroic qualities of her own. Like Aeneas, Dido fled her homeland. She led her people out of Tyre and founded Carthage. She embodies the qualities of a leader that Aeneas respects and hopes to emulate. She rules the Carthaginians fairly and justly, thereby maintaining order. Dido's character represents the best qualities of her people.
Dido is portrayed as a figure of passion and volatility, qualities that are the opposite of Aeneas's order and control. Dido also represents the sacrifice Aeneas makes to pursue his duty. 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.
Book 1 of the Aeneid opens with a storm which Juno, Aeneas' enemy, creates. Juno's anger stems from a prophecy which states that Carthage, her favourite city, will be destroyed by the people descended from Troy. The storm causes Aeneas' ship to run aground along the coast of Carthage. Carthage was, during Virgil's time, Rome's deadliest foe. Dido welcomes Aeneas to her city. The goddess Venus, Aeneas' mother, makes Dido falls deeply in love with him. She arranges for Cupid to visit Dido and fill her heart with a passion that takes away her normal sensible persona and leaves a crazed woman in her place. With her passion aroused, Dido begs Aeneas to tell of his adventures since he left Troy.
Venus appears to Aeneas in disguise. She tells Aeneas how Dido became queen of Carthage and of Dido's great love for her first husband Sychaeus who was murdered by her brother Pygmalion. and her flight from Tyre after Sychaeus appeared to Dido as a ghost and advised her to leave Tyre with any countryman opposed to the tyrant Pygmalion.
Juno and Venus come together to unite this union, both for their own reasons.
Through the manipulation of the two goddesses Juno and Venus Dido becomes infatuated with Aeneas. She neglects the building projects that are underway in Carthage and the city's defence is not maintained, leaving Carthage vulnerable. Unfortunately for Dido, her relationship with Aeneas is fated to end tragically, partly because Juno and Venus interfere and partly because Aeneas must continue on his journey to fulfil his destiny.
The change in Dido from confident leader to lovestruck female makes her appear as if she ha been struck by madness. Dido tells her sister that a flame has been reignited within her that she thought had been extinguished after the death of Sychaeus. Dido risks everything by falling for Aeneas, and when this love fails, she finds herself unable to reassume her dignified position. 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 have watched their queen's obsession with Aeneas 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. Unfortunately for her own sake and probably consumed with overpowering feelings Dido took the union too seriously regarding the union as a marriage. Jupiter, sends Mercury to instruct Aeneas to set sail, which Aeneas reluctantly does. Dido, distraught by her lover's departure, puts a curse on the Trojans, and then commits suicide.
There are parallels between Dido and Aeneas as they are both exiles and victims of treachery, sympathetically presented at the beginning of the poem. Dido's character in the first book is presented to the reader as the Queen of Carthage - A great stateswomen. A fair and just ruler of the Carthaginian people . She is a great beauty and has a regal majesty about her. Dido is shown to be a sensitive and humane ruler who comes from a civilisation comparable in its wealth and art to that of Troy, and who is building a city that Aeneas would be proud to achieve himself. There are similarities in her background to Aeneas. She fled her homeland to circumstances beyond her control, 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, the embodiment of a leader that Aeneas himself respects and hopes to become when he founds Rome. Dido's character seems to portray the best features of her people. She is in some ways an embodiment of what he hopes to accomplish when he finds Rome and will establish it, starting from the first block of stone onwards. From this we could deduct that Virgil was attempting to portray Aeneas and Dido as mirror images of each other.
Dido is shown, in the first book, to have a commanding power about her, she was responsible for her people escaping from the fatherland after she was widowed having no love for tyrannical rulers, unlike her brother Pygmalion, "a monster of wickedness beyond all.". In comparison, Dido is a just and fair ruler who delivers justice, assigning tasks, and displaying her hospitality. She welcomes the shipwrecked Aeneas and his men as her guests, declaring it a festal day in the god's temples, and in her pious portrayal 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. This instance would make the reader view her as a compassionate ruler who welcomes the Trojans unconditionally. 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
If we attempt to look further into Dido's character we see that she is flawed. To be a Queen during this period of history was unusual, but parallels with Cleopatra and her rule. Romans would have considered her inferior, as she was a woman. She ruled her people and she was prepared to go to war. The worst flaw that Dido seems to have from a Roman point of view, is that she betrays her dead husbands memory and what would have been seen as her duty as, a woman, and his widow. Whilst Roman men could have their cake and eat it, women were expected to be more pious.
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. Virgil writing from a Roman point of view makes the reader see that from a Roman point of view Dido brought about her own destruction. That 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 from a male point of view. 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.