Write a Note on the Predicament of Dido in Virgil’s The Aeneid


Virgil presented Dido in the opening book of the Aeneid with all her majestic charm and beauty. She is compared to Goddess Diana, though her sad predicament makes everyone sad.

The composition of the Dido episode in the Aeneid is a remarkable aspect of this epic poem series, revealing Virgil’s originality in depicting this central woman character. Virgil is greatly influenced by Homer, no doubt; however, Homer’s passive and unromantic attitude to Helen has left no impact on Virgil. Homer depicts Helen as a symbol of evil and disaster, whereas Virgil depicts Dido as a symbol of beauty.

Dido’s Backstory And Her Escape to Carthage

An analysis of the Dido episode reveals that it is the most crucial event in the plot structure. Like Helen, she has experienced love with its fatal consequences. As a maiden, she fell in love with Sychaeus and later married him. Even so, her happiness came to a sudden end owing to her brother’s lust for wealth. 

Pygmalion, Dido’s brother, murdered Sychaeus for the sake of wealth, and the ghost of Sychaeus appeared before Dido in a dream and recounted this terrible incident. The ghost urged her to leave home for good, having taken possession of the vast treasure on the underground. 

Following the instructions, Dido fled to Carthage and started building a city there. 

Dido Falls in Love with Aeneas

In Carthage, Dido experienced her second love. She is attracted by the divinity of Aeneas, a prince of Troy, who set out his voyage after the destruction of Troy, and arrived at Carthage. 

They had to suffer many hardships and, Venus, the mother of Aeneas, complained to Jupiter about it. In order to end their sufferings, Jupiter arranged for a cordial welcome at Carthage. Protected by a shield of invisibility, Aeneas and his father Anchises entered the city. Here, they came upon the queen, who looked as charming as Goddess Diana. 

Aeneas and Anchises were astonished to see their missing sailors in her court. They appealed to the queen, who also praised their leader, Aeneas, in glowing terms. At this point, the protective cloud vanished, and Aeneas appeared at the court before Dido. 

The queen arranged a banquet in his honor, and Anchises asked his son Aeneas to carry gifts for the gorgeous queen from the ship. Venus had different plans, and before the arrival of Aeneas, she put cupid in his place to plant the seeds of love for Aeneas in Dido’s heart. 

During the banquet, Dido was overpowered by a profound love for Aeneas. She requested the Trojan leader to recount the tale of the fall of Troy, including his voyages to enjoy the company of Aeneas for an extended period. Despite his initial disapproval, Aeneas decided to please the hospitable queen and started his tale.

The Consummation of Love between Dido And Aeneas

Book IV of the Aeneid describes the tragic romance of Aeneas and Dido. The episode reveals how Dido fell madly in love with Aeneas. She confided her passions to her sister Anna. Her great confusion made her take an oath of fidelity to the memory of her dead husband. 

Encouraged by Anna, Dido started meeting Aeneas frequently and passionately. She started neglecting her responsibilities, and thus the construction of the city slowed down. Dido became so involved emotionally that she imagined seeing and listening to Aeneas though he was actually out of her sight. 

Dido liked Anchises more and more mainly on account of his remarkable resemblance to his father. The divine intervention at this point aimed at having a union between Aeneas and Dido. During a hunting expedition, Juno caused a sudden thunderstorm, and members of the hunting party scattered. Aeneas and Dido met in a secluded cave and consummated their love under the divine influence. After this incident, Dido started living openly with Aeneas as if he were her husband.

Aeneas Sacrifices Dido’s Love for His Divine Mission

Meanwhile, Jupiter was informed of these developments, and he sent a message to Aeneas to sail for Italy, reminding him of his divine mission and destiny to find a new and great nation for his people. Like the typical hero of the literary epic, Aeneas subordinated his passions to his excellent national task. 

Dido was overwhelmed with great shock and called him a traitor for deserting her. However, Aeneas admitted his profound gratitude for her hospitality. He insisted on sticking to his plans, explaining his predicament. Dido requested him to reconsider his plan recounting how she earned everybody’s hatred for his sake. 

Dido was immortal by her dignity and reputation; nonetheless, she sacrificed it for her love for Aeneas. She most passionately tells Aeneas that she would not feel so neglected and deserted if she had a son by him. A junior Aeneas resembling his father would move about, and she would discover Aeneas in him.

The Tragic End to The Love of Dido And Aeneas

The last meeting between Aeneas and Dido is a scene of the tremendous emotional crisis, making the episode the most decisive one in the plot. It presents the last contemplation for Aeneas to neglect his divine duty. However, the hero is transformed into a being unlike Achilles, who subordinated his national cause to his dignity. 

The episode also reveals Dido not only as a passionate woman but also as a vindictive one. Having failed in her attempts to stop Aeneas, she cursed the hero and his descendants, predicting an eternal war between his people and the people of Aeneas. She ordered her navy to peruse Trojan ships and finally killed herself with the knife Aeneas offered her as a humble gift. 

Virgil has given a picturesque description of the scene of her suicide. It is full of pathos, and we feel for her sincere feelings.

Wrapping up

Later in the underworld, when Aeneas came across the ghost of Dido, she remained unchanged in her vindictive attitude and avoided the presence of the hero.

The dido episode is central in the plot structure. Virgil conducted Aeneas’ transformation from a Trojan to a Roman in this episode with a blend of magnificence and tragedy.

A H M Ohidujjaman

I'm the Founder of Hamandista Academy. I live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I studied English Literature and ELT. Now, I'm working as a Lecturer of English at a Dhaka-based Private University.

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