Virgil's Aeneid

Book 4: Dido & Aeneas

Dido, queen of Carthage, confesses her shame at falling in love with Aeneas

But the queen, injured for a long time now by a terrible passion feeds the wound in her life-blood and is eaten up by the hidden fire. The man's great courage and the great distinction of his family keep coming back to her; his face and his words stick fast in her heart, and her anxiety gives no calm rest to her limbs. [5]

Next day, the goddess of the dawn was brightening the earth with Apollo's torch, and had cleared the dewy darkness from the sky, when, distraught, she spoke thus to her sympathetic sister: "Anna my sister, what fearful dreams I've been having! Who is this stranger newly arrived at our home? What a noble look he has, what a brave heart, and what weapons! [11] I believe indeed, and it is no foolish belief, he is descended from the gods. Baseborn hearts are shown up by fear. Alas, what misfortunes he has been through! What wars he sang of that he had survived! If it were not fixed and settled for me in my heart to refuse to marry anyone, after my first love failed me by his death; if I were not weary of the marriage-bed and the wedding-torch, I could perhaps have given in to this one temptation. [19] Anna - for I will confess - since the death of my poor husband Sychaeus, and the home that was bespattered with blood my brother shed, this is the only man to have altered my feelings, and conquered my wavering heart. I recognize the traces of the old passion. [23] But I would wish that either the ground should first open deep for me, or the almighty father blast me with a thunderbolt to hell - hell with its pallid ghosts and deep darkness - before I dishonour my conscience or break its laws. [before,conscience, I dishonour you...] He who first joined me to him has taken away my love; let him have it with him and keep it safe in his grave." So saying, she soaked her dress with the tears that welled up. [30]


Dido - unaware of how deadly her passion will be - cannot keep away from Aeneas

DidoUnhappy Dido burns and wanders through the whole city distraught, like a doe, who, when an arrow has been fired, a shepherd hunting with his weapons among the woods of Crete has hit from a distance off her guard, and loosed the feathered shaft in ignorance: she, in flight, wanders through the woods and thickets of Mount Dicte; the deadly shaft sticks to her flank. [73] Now she takes Aeneas with her on a tour of the walls, and shows off the Phoenician wealth and her city now ready. She begins to speak, but stops in mid-sentence; now, as the day slips away, she seeks the same banquet, and in her mad passion demands to hear again of the sufferings of Troy, and hangs again on the story-teller's lips. Afterwards, when they had parted, and the dim moon hides her light in turn, and the setting stars urge sleep, she grieves alone in the empty house and flings herself on the abandoned couches. He is not there, but she both sees and hears him, or holds Ascanius in her lap, smitten by his likeness to his father, to see if she could rid herself of the passion she could not mention. [85] The towers that were started rise no more, the young men do not practise their weapon-drills, or keep the harbours and ramparts safe from war: the building operations are suspended with the massive threatening walls and the crane silhouetted against the sky. [89]


While out hunting, Dido and Aeneas find themselves alone together

Meanwhile, the goddess of dawn has left the Ocean. As the sun's light rose, there went through the gates the pick of the young men, wide-meshed nets, snares, hunting-spears with broad steel blades, and out rushed the African horsemen and a keen-scented pack of dogs. The queen, who is lingering in her room, is awaited at the entrance by the Carthaginian leaders, and by her horse, who stands resplendent in purple and gold and fiercely champs at his foaming bit. [135] At last she comes forth, a great crowd surrounding her, wearing a Phoenician cloak with a purple border; she has a golden quiver, her hair is tied back with gold, and a golden brooch fastens her purple dress. The Trojan companions and a joyful Iulus also arrive. More handsome than all the rest Aeneas himself comes forward as her escort and joins the band. [142]


When they had reached the high mountains and the trackless expanses, see, driven from the rocky summit wild goats come running down the ridges; on the other side deer cross the open plains at speed and gather in herds that raise the dust as they run to leave the mountains. But young Ascanius in the middle of the valley is delighted with his lively horse, and overtakes at a gallop now this party, now the other, and prays to be given among the harmless herds a foaming wild boar, or for a tawny lion to come down from the mountains. [159] Meanwhile the sky begins to resound with mighty rumbling, and there follows a rainstorm mixed with hail. The Carthaginian companions and the young Trojans - and the Trojan grandson of Venus - made for shelter in different directions throughout the area; rivers rushed down the mountainsides. Dido and the Trojan leader reached the same cave. First Mother Earth and Juno as the bride's attendant gave the signal; lightning flashed and heaven was a witness to the wedding - while the Nymphs screamed from the summit. That day was the beginning of the disaster and the beginning of the tragedy; for Dido was not influenced by appearances or reputation and no longer planned a secret love: she called it marriage, and with this name cloaked her misdeed. [172]


Mercury delivers Jupiter's order to Aeneas

As soon as Mercury landed at the huts with his winged feet, he caught sight of Aeneas laying the foundations of the citadel and building new houses. He had a sword studded with darkly-gleaming jasper, and hanging from his shoulders there blazed bright with Tyrian purple a cloak, a gift that wealthy Dido had made, and interwoven with gold thread. [264] He immediately accosted him: “Are you now laying the foundations of lofty Carthage, and building a beautiful city besotted with your wife? Alas, you forget your kingdom and your own destiny! The ruler of the gods himself, who controls heaven and earth with his divine power, sends me down to you from famed Olympus, he himself orders me to deliver this message through the swift breezes: what are you planning? With what in mind are you wasting time in African lands? If you are not moved at the thought of your glorious future, consider your growing son Ascanius and the hopes of Iulus your heir, to whom the kingdom of Italy and the land of Rome is promised.” Having spoken such words, Mercury left mortal sight in the middle of his speech and vanished from their gaze far off into thin air. [278]

Aeneas prepares to leave - but is confronted by Dido

But indeed Aeneas, horrified, was struck dumb at the sight, his hair stood on end with fright and his voice stuck in his throat. He longed to flee away and leave the sweet land, amazed at such a stern warning and command from the gods. Alas, what was he to do? With what words now might he dare to win over the furious queen? What should he take as his place to begin? He cast his mind rapidly now this way now that; he snatched at one idea after another, and turned everything over. As he hesitated , this decision seemed the better: [287] he summoned Mnestheus and Sergestus and brave Serestus. They were to make the fleet ready silently, and assemble their friends on the beach. They were to prepare their weapons, and hide the reason for the change in plan; he himself, meanwhile, since his best beloved Dido did not know and would not be expecting so serious an affair to be broken off, would try to find a way of approach, and the most appropriate time to speak, and what would be the right course of action in the circumstances. All joyfully obeyed his command and carried out his orders. [295] But the queen - who could deceive one in love? - realised the treachery in advance, and was the first to hear of the intended movements. She feared everything that seemed normal. As she raged, the same evil Rumour reported that the fleet was being readied, and a voyage prepared for. Helplessly she raged and in passion rushed madly through the city, like a worshipper of Bacchus excited by the brandishing of the sacred emblems, when the triennial festival arouses her and she hears the Bacchic shout, and Mount Cithaeron summons her by night with chanting. At last, before he could speak, she accused Aeneas with these words: [304]

“Did you really hope, you traitor, to be able to hide so foul a crime and to sneak quietly away from my land? Does not our love, or my right hand which once I gave you, or Dido destined to die a cruel death deter you? Even worse,do you struggle to prepare the fleet in the wintry season, and hurry to cross the sea when the North Winds blow, you savage? [311] If you were not making for foreign fields and an unknown home, and ancient Troy still stood, would you be heading for Troy in your ships across the stormy sea? Is it me that you flee? I beg you, by these tears, and by your right hand - since I have left myself with nothing else - by our wedding, by our marriage that we began,I beg you, if I ever deserved well of you, or anything of mine was sweet to you, have pity on my failing house and, if there is any room still for prayers, give up your intention. [319] It is because of you that the nations of Africa and the Numidian rulers hate me, and my own people are hostile; It is because of you again that my honour and my former reputation - my only route to heaven - have been destroyed. Who are you abandoning me to, to die, my “guest” - since this is the only name for you instead of “husband”? [324] Why do I delay? Until my brother Pygmalion destroys my walls or Gaetulian Iarbas leads me off a captive? At least if I could have conceived a child for you before your desertion, if I had a baby Aeneas to play in the palace, whose expression could remind me of you, I should not seem so utterly lost and abandoned.” [330]

She had spoken. He, thanks to Jupiter's commands, held his eyes motionless, and with a struggle hid his concern in the depths of his heart. At last he made a brief reply: “I shall never, my queen, deny that you did with kindness all the many things you were able to list, nor shall I be ashamed to remember Dido, as long as my memory lasts, while there is breath in my body. [336] I shall speak briefly and to the point. I did not intend to hide my escape with secrecy - don't imagine I did, and I never held out the wedding-torch or entered into this contract. If the fates allowed me to lead my life according to my own choice and to settle my worries to my own liking, I should be caring for the city of Troy first and the dear remains of my household, Priam's high roofs would remain and I would have restored the citadel of Troy for the conquered. [344] But now it is great Italy that Apollo of Gryneum, it is Italy that the Lycian oracles have ordered me to make for; this is my love, this is my homeland. If it is the citadels of Carthage and the sight of an African city that captivate you, a Phoenician, what is your objection, tell me, to Trojans settling in an Italian land? It is right for us to to seek kingdoms abroad. [350] Whenever night hides the earth with its damp shadows, whenever the fiery stars come out, the troubled ghost of my father Anchises rebukes me in my dreams and terrifies me; so to does my boy Ascanius, and the wrong I do to one so dear, whom I am robbing of the kingship of Italy and the lands ordained by destiny. Now indeed the messenger of the gods sent by Jupiter himself - I swear on both our lives - has brought orders through the racing winds: I saw the god in a clear light entering the walls and drank in his words with these ears. Stop inflaming us both with your complaints; I do not seek Italy of my free will.” [361]


Dido's sister Anna fails to persuade Aeneas to stay

Anna begged him with such words, and such was the tearful message that Dido's sister took and took again. [437] But he was not moved by any weeping and heard no appeals sympathetically; the fates prevented it, and the god blocked the man's ears. Just as when the North Winds from the Alps struggle amongst themselves to uproot a sturdy oak with its ancient timber with gusts now from this side now from that; there is a creaking, and as the trunk is battered the leaves from the treetop cover the ground; [445] the tree itself clings to the rocks and reaches down as far with its roots to Hell as it strains towards the heavenly breezes with its crown: in just the same way the hero was pounded with continual appeals from this side and that, and felt the full force of her troubles in his mighty heart; His mind held fast, the tears poured down in vain. [449]


Dido's decision

DidoIt was night and tired bodies were enjoying peaceful sleep all over the world. [523] The woods and the restless seas had grown quiet, when the stars turn in mid course, when all the countryside is quiet, the cattle and the colourful birds - both those who haunt the bright lakes far and wide and those live in thickets in the harsh countryside - are settled in silent sleep at night's command. [527] But not Dido: wretched at heart she never relaxes into sleep or welcomes the night with her eyes or her heart; her cares redouble and her love returning seethes and is tossed on a mighty tidal wave of rage. [532]


But Dido, trembling and maddened by the terrible plans, rolling her bloodshot eyes, her cheeks flecked with a feverish glow yet pale with imminent death, burst through the internal door and in a frenzy climbed the tall funeral pyre. She unsheathed the Trojan sword - a present not intended for this purpose. [647] Here, after she saw the Trojan clothing and the bed she knew so well, delaying a little for tears and thought, she flung herself on the couch and spoke her last words: [650] “Souvenirs, that were dear while the fates and god allowed, receive this soul of mine and free me from my cares. I have had my life, and finished the span which Fortune gave me, and now my great spirit will go beneath the earth. [654] I have built a famous city, I have seen my walls. To avenge my husband I punished my evil brother - I should have been happy, alas too happy, if only the Trojan ships had never touched our shores.” [658] She spoke, and pressing her face on the couch, “I shall die unavenged,” she said,“but let me die. Thus, thus I am determined to go down to the shades. May the heartless Trojan gaze on this fire from out to sea, and let him take with him the omens of my death.” [662] She had spoken, and in the midst of all this, her friends saw her collapse on to the sword, and the sword foaming with blood and her outstretched hands. The noise reached the lofty halls: Rumour rushed madly through the stricken city. [666]


Juno sends Iris to free Dido's spirit

Then all-powerful Juno, having pitied her long agony and her protracted death, sent down Iris from Olympus to set free the struggling soul and relax the knotted limbs. [695] For because she was dying deserving neither of fate or death, but wretchedly before her time had been fired by a sudden madness, Proserpine had not yet taken a lock of fair hair from her head and condemned her soul to the hellish god of the underworld. [699] And so Iris with dew on her saffron wings drawing a thousand colours reflecting the sunlight flew down and stood above her head. "As ordered, I take this lock dedicated to Dis, and I release you from your body." Thus she spoke and with her right hand cut the lock of hair, and at the same time all her warmth and life passed away into the winds. [705]