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Publius Vergilius Maro, Aeneis 4.630-662

fresco
Dido fresco, Pompeii 1century CE

Dido or Elissa as she was known in Phoenecia, the femina, dux, and regina of Vergil's Aeneid, figures at the intersection of three great Mediterranean cultures, Phoenecian, Carthaginian, and Roman. The noblewoman who suffered her husband Sychaeus' death at the hands of her tyrannical brother Pygmalion, King of Tyre, the hostility of North African tribes upon her migration there, and abandonment in her new homeland by her Trojan lover, Aeneas, is the courageous leader who escaped her murderous brother, crossed the Mediterranean with her followers, and founded the flourishing city of Carthage (coin). As Vergil narrates her story, Amor, the boy-god, at the request of his goddess-mother Venus and Juno, conquered Dido when neither guile, aggression, nor obstacles could. In this passage Dido turns in prayer to the dark god of the underworld Pluto (Jupiter Stygius). Having resolved to take her life, Dido deceives her sister Anna and her husband's nurse Barce, asking them to help her prepare an animal sacrifice for a ritual of expiation. Instead of participating in the planned ceremony, she became the sacrificial victim. At the top of a mound she constructed of Aeneas' gifts and possessions she placed her "marriage bed," which became her funeral pyre and her funeral bier. The meter is dactylic hexameter. The Baroque composer Henry Purcell wrote the opera Dido and Aeneas (1689), Act III of which contains the lovely aria "Dido's Lament" (Soprano Maria Ewing sings "When I am laid in earth").

   
630  Haec ait, et partis animum versabat in omnis,  
   invisam quaerens quam primum abrumpere lucem.  
   tum breviter Barcen nutricem adfata Sychaei,
  namque suam patria antiqua cinis ater habebat:  
  "Annam, cara mihi nutrix, huc siste sororem:
635  dic corpus properet fluviali spargere lympha,  
  et pecudes secum et monstrata piacula ducat.
  sic veniat, tuque ipsa pia tege tempora vitta.
  sacra Iovi Stygio, quae rite incepta paravi,
  perficere est animus finemque imponere curis  
640  Dardaniique rogum capitis permittere flammae."
   sic ait. illa gradum studio celebrabat anili.  
  at trepida et coeptis immanibus effera Dido  
  sanguineam volvens aciem, maculisque trementis  
  interfusa genas et pallida morte futura,  
645  interiora domus inrumpit limina et altos
  conscendit furibunda gradus ensemque recludit
  Dardanium, non hos quaesitum munus in usus.  
  hic, postquam Iliacas vestis notumque cubile  
  conspexit, paulum lacrimis et mente morata  
650  incubuitque toro dixitque novissima verba:  
  "dulces exuviae, dum fata deusque sinebat,  
  accipite hanc animam meque his exsolvite curis.  
  vixi et quem dederat cursum Fortuna peregi,  
  et nunc magna mei sub terras ibit imago.  
655   urbem praeclaram statui, mea moenia vidi,  
  ulta virum poenas inimico a fratre recepi,  
  felix, heu nimium felix, si litora tantum  
  numquam Dardaniae tetigissent nostra carinae."
  dixit, et os impressa toro "moriemur inultae,  
660  sed moriamur' ait. 'sic, sic iuvat ire sub umbras.  
  hauriat hunc oculis ignem crudelis ab alto  
  Dardanus, et nostrae secum ferat omina mortis."  
     

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Ann R. Raia and Judith Lynn Sebesta
Return to The World of Religion
June 2008