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Dido Notes

Classics Notes > Virgil’s Aeneid Notes

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Is either Aeneas or Dido to blame for the calamity of the DidoEpisode?
The Dido-Episode of books one and four is the most tragic element of the whole Aeneid and the story, although not strictly requiring it, would suffer greatly if it were removed; such is the power of Dido. It is made all the more pathetic by the fact that no actions of either protagonist could have, in all likelihood, changed the outcome and they are at the mercy of forces which they cannot control. Therefore it would be hard and cruel to put blame on either party who both cause great injury to each other; Dido will suffer more, but that is not Aeneas' fault. The calamity and tragedy of this situation comes from the reversal which Dido suffers, not just in glory, but in mental state also. The first mention of her in book one immediately creates a sense of sympathy for her because she has suffered a monstrous crime at the hands of her brother which has forced her into exile. There are immediate parallels to the situation which Aeneas finds himself in and through this we can appreciate fully her sincerity when she later says that she has learnt to help those in trouble because she has suffered greatly herself. This lays the groundwork for the powerful first impression that Aeneas has of Dido, in which her similarities to him are shown in even greater depth. "In amazement he hangs rapt in one fixed gaze, the queen, Dido, moved towards the temple, of surpassing beauty." She is likened in beauty to Diana, just as Nausicaa was in the Odyssey. Just as important he sees, "Laws and ordinances she gave to her peoples, their tasks she adjusted in equal shares or assigned by lot." She is not just a great beauty but she is also a leader, a legislator and a works supervisor; giving her a powerful combination of beauty and influence which would no doubt seem irresistible to Aeneas and she would definitely make a worthy wife for him. She also shows herself to be very generous and caring when the Trojans approach her, despite the fact they meet initial opposition at the hand of the Tyrians she immediately allays their fears and offers them both wealth and a union with her won people. She also sends a great number of animals down to the shore for the comrades left there and prepares a grand feast for those at her palace. This contrasts with the war Aeneas will subsequently have to fight to achieve unity with the people of Italy, perhaps Virgil is hinting that if it were allowed by fate then here too the Trojans could have become prosperous. Also the choice which Dido gives the Trojans here is important, she says she will send them on their way with wealth or receive them into her own people. It will be important later to note that Aeneas is giving his unspoken consent to the latter, which makes Dido's later reaction seem more understandable, and here is the only mistake Aeneas makes, the fact he stays at all. This initial characterisation of Dido is in grim contrast with the one near the end of book four, as illustrated well by the simile just after she finds out that Aeneas has planned to leave without telling her. She is not just said to be amens but inops animi, which implies not just a temporary state of madness but a total loss of all mental faculties. Furthermore she burns and raves through the city, "like some Thyiad startled by the shaken emblems, when she has heard the Bacchic cry: the biennial revels fire her and at night Cithaeron

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