Dido in Text and Performance
This activity connects textual interpretation with the reception of Vergil’s Queen Dido. While it is intended to be used with a Latin class, it can also be used in courses in translation (using a translated version of the Latin passage in Step 1 below).
If you would like to turn this exercise into a larger project, consider having your students create their own representations of Dido and Aeneas in another medium. A Latin class might be asked to write a simple Latin prose version of the story they would like to tell.
- Translate Vergil, Aeneid IV.630-662. This passage can be found at the Online Companion to the Worlds of Roman Women, under the World of Religion rubric.
- Analyze the depiction of Dido offered by Vergil. Consider specific word choices, placement and use.
- Read, in Latin or English, Ovid’s Heroides VII, Dido’s letter to Aeneas. Compare Ovid’s version to Vergil’s.
- Look at the related images on the website of the Online Companion to the Worlds of Roman Women. You can see them by clicking on the SPQR image links next to the lines of poetry.
- Listen to the section of Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas (1689), entitled "Dido’s Lament".
- Watch "Dido’s Lament" in the dance performed by the Mark Morris Dance Group. As you watch, take note of specific movements of the body that express parts of the story and particular emotions.
Background Information: In 1989, the Mark Morris Dance Group premiered its version of Dido and Aeneas, set to the opera by Henry Purcell. Dance critic Anna Kisselgoff remarked in 1989 that Morris “invites the audience to wonder whether this mimed and danced version of Purcell's 17th-century opera about Dido, the queen of Carthage, is a political statement about gender roles, gay liberation and the male and female in all of us” (New York Times, June 9, 1989). The Washington Post more recently referred to this piece as “Invigorated Virgil” (Monday, February 18, 2008). Morris himself originated the role of Dido and danced it until 2000. More recently, Dido has been danced by others, including both men and women.
- Compare the different written versions of Dido's story to Mark Morris’ performance.
Some sample questions to consider are:
- What is the effect, if any, on the ancient story when Dido's role is performed by a male?
- How does Morris’ Dido compare to Purcell's?
- Does Morris’ version of the story reflect in any way Vergil's text? What Latin words do you find translated into movement?
Submitted by Stacie Raucci, Union College (Schenectady, NY)