Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dido Dux et Troianus

Landscape with Dido and Aeneas, Thomas Jones, 1769

Book IV of the Aeneid has long captured the imaginations of readers who are more interested in relationships than empire. This included most of my friends at age 20 when we piled into a Classical Literature class every morning at 11. Afterwards, over coffee at Things & Things & Things, we'd discuss the incomprehensible namby-pambiness of Aeneas. We didn't understand the dull, wooden, too obedient hero who was willing to sacrifice his marriages/love affairs for power. We didn't particularly care for his mission of empire. But we did understand a heroine who would give up her power for a relationship. Dido was real to us, and quite a relief after the first woman we met in the Aeneid, Creusa, Aeneas' wife, best-known as the ghost who gave Aeneas the you-go-ahead-without-me-dear speech (end of Book II).

The speech more or less says: LOVE YA! IT'S FATE.

At regina--"but the queen," as Virgil reminds us three times in Book IV--Dido was powerful, intelligent, loving, and less willing to separate from Aeneas than Creusa. She couldn't believe her love was unrequited, or stronger on one side than another. Women get dumped. But Dido had already lost a husband. Was she to lose another one (though their marriage wasn't official)? Fate indeed! In poor Dido's case, fate was just another instance of that old literary paradigm, "The sexually active woman must die." Among some of the famous "The sexually active woman must die" works are Anna Karenina, The Awakening, Madame Bovary, An American Tragedy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and The Green Hat.

In one of the most famous scenes (IV, vv. 160-170), Dido and Aeneas consummate their marriage in a cave during a storm. Virgil slyly emphasizes Dido's leadership.

Speluncam Dido dux et Troianus eandem/ deveniunt.

"Dido the leader and the Trojan (leader) arrived at the same cave."

In English, this is often rendered "Dido and the Trojan leader," but the word order is key here: dux (leader) is juxtaposed with Dido, and separated from the Trojan (Aeneas) by the conjunction et (and). Both are leaders, equals enclosed by the same cave, but Dido comes first in Carthage, and certainly she is the initiator of the "marriage," in love with Aeneas before he is in love with her. It's sad to see her power wasted and heartbreak because Aeneas leaves to pursue his fate, sneaking around behind her back to make his arrangements, because he needs to look out for the future, oh that fate, and oh yeah, bring the Trojans to Italy. Where he has to fight another war, and this time gets a wife who never says a word. From shade (Creusa) to passionate queen (Dido) to a woman who is not developed as a character (Lavinia), he progresses. His life is cold, sad, broken, and though I feel his pain (Book II), I CANNOT forgive him for his treatment of Dido. It's a pity she forgot her duty to her subjects and died for moody love (Shame on you, Juno & Venus!).

See The Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodes for some of Virgil's literary influences.


B. Beyer said...

My Latin students and I were just reading this line in the Aeneid. We were struck by the fact that our commentary straight out told us to read it as "and the Trojan leader," without any mention at all of the (at least) possible ambiguity. So we Googled it! We loved your comment!

Frisbee said...

I'm glad you liked it. This is my original interpretation, which is not to say that someone may not have written about it somewhere. So glad you're teaching Latin, too!

anenduringromantic said...

I heard this in class, and I was looking for a second opinion, until I found your elegant explanation. Thanks! I've referred you on my own post on the subject.