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When Dido reads Virgil

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Sharon Marshall

on 23 February 2017

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Transcript of When Dido reads Virgil

When Dido reads Virgil
Introduction: arms and the man
I sing of
and of
the man
, fated to be an exile, who long since left the land of
and came to Italy to the shores of Lavinium; and a great pounding he took by land and sea at the hands of the heavenly gods because of the fierce and unforgetting anger of Juno.
Great too were his sufferings in war
before he could
found his city
carry his gods into Latium
. This was the beginning of the Latin race, the Alban fathers and the high walls of
. (
. 1.1-7)
Who is at fault?
Story gripped imagination of readers:
Yet Virgil, the happy author of your
brought the man and his arms to a Tyrian bed,
and no part of the whole work’s more read
than that love joined in an improper union. (Ovid,

[…] painters and sculptors and the weavers of tapestries use this above all as their raw material in fashioning their images, as though it were the unique pattern of beauty, and it is no less constantly celebrated in the gestures and songs of actors. (Macrobius,
Key question: With whom does our pathos lie? The abandoned Dido, who is sacrificed for the mission that is Rome? The dutiful Aeneas forced to lay aside his love for Dido as the future of his people rests upon his shoulders?
Factors affecting our response:
The Heroides
Two series:
Single letters from mythological heroines to their lovers (c. 20-13 BC)
Double letters exchanged between the two (c. 8 AD)
No clear evidence as to how divided (and too long for single papyrus scroll)
Authenticity questioned owing to manuscript tradition and reference to some but not all letters in Ovid,
2.18 (Fulkerson, 2013: 79)
Repetitive in terms of situations and sentiments
Influenced by exercises in rhetorical training, especially
(Jacobson, 1974: 325-9)
Two key strands of scholarly criticism:
Intertextuality and intratextuality: What are Ovid’s main source texts? With which other authors does he engage? How do the letters relate to one another?
Gender: Is it right to speak of a female voice in relation to the
or should we rather be thinking about ‘transvestite ventriloquism’?

Ovid's Dido as resisting reader
Ovid’s Dido replaces Aeneas as thematic focus, turning him into a marginal character
Desmond (1993) argues for Dido as ‘resisting reader’ of Virgil’s
Dido responds to the textual invitations of Virgil’s narrative
Enjoys a privileged point of view that exposes her Virgilian counterpart as a poor reader
Spentzou (2003: 35-6) pushes further:
Ovid’s Dido doesn’t just expose the oppression of women in a male-authored text, but offers a fiercely combative re-appropriation of it
Still powerless?
Lindheim (2003) argues that heroines are authoritative, but also still powerless, negotiating carefully their self-presentation
In so doing, they appeal to hero’s own sense of potency
Arguments are carefully designed to reawaken hero’s desire
Resemblances between them point out that they are not women, but Woman
Dido not unique:
‘You must win another Dido’s love.’
‘I was not first nor will I be last
to feel the heavy burden of your deceit.’
Letter designed to persuade:
‘But I ask again: are you still determined
to abandon me to misery
and permit both your ships and promises
to sail from this shore on the same wind?’
Unsuccessful on those terms, but not others
The crux
Indeterminacy of the cave scene paradigmatic of broader ambiguities:
Dido and the leader of the Trojans took refuge in the same cave. The sign was first given by Earth and by Juno as matron of honour. Fires flashed and the heavens were witness to the marriage while nymphs wailed on the mountain tops. This day was the beginning of her death, the first cause of all her sufferings. (4.165-172)
Is this a wedding or a funeral?
Two very different interpretations:
Dido: ‘[…] no longer kept her love as a secret in her own heart, but called it marriage, using the word to cover her
.’ (4.171-2)
Williams, 1968: 379-80 vs Muecke, 1983: 145-6
Aeneas’ legalese: ‘Nor have I ever offered you marriage or entered into that contract with you.’ (4.338-9)
Do Juno’s machinations support Dido’s interpretation? (4.126-7)
The Augustan context:
Elegy and the dangers of love
Dido and Cleopatra
The historical Dido
Dido not Virgil’s invention, but a ‘historical’ character who is not linked to Aeneas
Earliest account of pre-Virgilian Dido: Greek historian Timaeus of Tauromenium (c. 356-260 BC)
Dido fled to Libya after her brother Pygmalion killed her husband
Refused marriage to Libyan king (despite her people’s urging) and committed suicide
An Augustan account: historian Pompeius Trogus (1st c. BC)
Dido married to her uncle Acerbas who has hidden his gold from Pygmalion
Pygmalion kills Acerbas for his gold
Dido pretends to be willing to move into Pygmalion’s house and borrows his servants for the move
Once on board the ships, she pretends to throw the gold overboard, leading Pygmalion’s servants to believe they cannot return to him
They head into exile, first arriving in Cyprus where they abduct 80 virgins (trafficked women)
Arrive in Africa where Dido performs ox-hide trick
Refuses to marry Iarbas and kills herself
This Dido is: defiant, courageous, resourceful, masculine, heroic
Virgil transforms Dido from heroic historical figure into woman tragically undone by passion
, ‘poetic memory’ of historical Dido lingers (1.340-368)
A more nuanced reading
Adam Parry (1963) first to question reading of the text as celebration of Augustus and empire
Argued for two voices
public voice of triumph and celebration (not insincere)
private voice of lament
Gave birth to Harvard vs European readings in Virgilian criticism (for summary, see Perkell 1999: 3-28):
Pessimistic Optimistic
Anti-Augustan Augustan
The cost of empire The success of empire
t NB Parry’s argument occupied much more central ground
Key question: To what extent does Virgil’s
linger on human suffering and question the sacrifices which empire demanded?
West (2003): x: ‘Virgil does not solve the problems inherent in all this. He does not even pose them.’
Dido and Aeneas
Juno sends a storm which wrecks the Trojan ships (1.34-80)
Landing at Carthage (N. Africa), the Trojans are welcomed by Dido who invites them to a banquet (1.157-656)
Venus contrives that Dido should fall in love with him (1.657-756)
Aeneas tells of the Fall of Troy and the Trojan wanderings (Books 2 and 3)
Juno arranges a kind of marriage ceremony (involving sex in a cave) (4.90-172)
Jupiter reminds Aeneas of his destiny (via Mercury) and bids him leave (4.219-278)
Sensing that Aeneas is going to abandon her, Dido builds a pyre and throws herself upon it (4.630-705)
An Augustan epic
The Julian line:
Aeneas ruled Lavinium for three years
After 30 years his son Ascanius Iulus moved from Lavinium to Alba Longa
Alban kings ruled for 300 years until birth of Romulus and Remus
Romulus, son of priestess Ilia and Mars, founded Rome in 753 BC
Augustus was adopted son of Julius Caesar
Octavian had defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Battle of Actium in 31 BC & taken name Augustus on 16th Jan 27 BC
Virgil wrote
throughout 20s BC under patronage of Maecenas
Direct and indirect praise of Augustus:
praise through
similarities between Augustus and his ancestor Aeneas (e.g.
praise through
prophecies of Augustus’ greatness (Parade of Future Heroes:
. 6.756-892; Shield of Aeneas:
. 8.626-728)
Dido’s oath to her dead husband Sychaeus (4.15; 4.552)
The machinations of Venus and Juno (1.657-752; 4.90-128)
Aeneas’ decision not to tell Dido that he is departing (4.279-295)
His cold response to Dido’s pleas (4.331-361)
Italiam non sponte sequor
Pathos for Dido throughout, especially in her death scene where Juno pities her (4.642-705)
Wlosok (1999) on Dido’s story as tragedy: high-ranking hero; virtuous but not perfect; conflict caused by external factors;
(mistake) leading to
(reversal of fortune); suffering greater than hero deserves
Epitaphic closure
I have founded a glorious city and lived to see the building of my own walls. I have avenged my husband and punished his enemy who was my brother. (
. 4.655-6)
Do not write, ‘Elissa, wife of Sychaeus’,
but in the marble of my tomb, carve:
‘From Aeneas came a knife and the cause of death,
from Dido herself came the blow that left her dead.’
The loss of Creusa
I stormed and raged and blamed every god and man that ever was. (
. 2.745)
Do they ask about your son’s mother?
She was left dead and abandoned by her lord.
You told me that, and I should have known
that you were only giving me fair notice.
The cave scene
[The narrator]: This day was the beginning of her death, the first cause of all her sufferings. (
. 4.169-70)
That awful day, when a sudden storm came out
of the blue sky and we took shelter
in a high-ceilinged cave, was my doom.
The divine plan
But now Apollo of Gryneum has commanded me to claim the great land of Italy. (
. 4.345-6)

But the god has ordered this!’ It is my wish
he had prevented you coming here.
If only there were a little Aeneas to play in my palace! (
. 4.328-9)
To the mother’s fate must be added the child’s,
you will cause your unborn child to die.
Iulus’ brother will soon die with his mother.
Women are unstable creatures, always changing. (
. 4.569-70)
Oh that you too might be so easily changed.
Desmond, M. (1994)
Reading Dido: Gender, Textuality and the Medieval
Aeneid. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Fulkerson, L. (2013) ‘The
: Female Elegy?’ in P. Knox, ed.
A Companion to Ovid
. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
Jacobson, H. (1974)
Heroides. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kennedy, D. F. (2002) ‘Epistolarity: The
’ in P. Hardie, ed.
The Cambridge Companion to Ovid
. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 217-231.
Lindheim, S. H. (2003)
Mail and Female Epistolary Narrative and Desire in Ovid's
Heroides. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Muecke, F. (1983) ‘Foreshadowing and Dramatic Irony in the Story of Dido’,
The American Journal of Philology
Vol. 104, No. 2: 134-155.
Parry, A. (1963). ‘The Two Voices of Virgil's
Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics
Vol. 2 No. 4: 66-80.
Perkell, C. ed. (1999)
Reading Vergil’s
An Interpretative Guide
. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Spentzou, E. (2003)
Readers and Writers in Ovid's
: Transgressions of Genre and Gender
. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Williams, G. (1968)
Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry
. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Wlosok, A. (1999) ‘The Dido Tragedy in Virgil: A Contribution to the Question of the Tragic in the
’ in P. Hardie, ed.
Virgil: Critical Assessments of Classical Authors
Vol. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 158-81.
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