Aeneids Dido: Character Analysis
Dido is, in many ways, the epitome of a tragic character: a person whose fate is changed and ended on the whims of the god, and who ultimately kills herself because of it. In the end, Dido is the victim of the will of the gods. Her love falls on the epic hero Aeneas, who is consumed by the will to fulfill his destiny also as set forth by the gods. His goals opposed to hers, Aeneas abandons Dido to complete his mission. As ordered, Aeneas continues his quest, and Dido comes to discover her love has indeed deserted her for a greater love. Without Aeneas, the former epitome of romance and love, Dido becomes the tragic character she is remembered for: one filled with rage and self-destructive thoughts.
After Aeneas arrives in Dido’s Carthage, Aeneas’ mother goddess Venus is troubled by the possibility of Juno interfering with this fortunate turn. Venus appoints Amor to make Venus fall forever in love with Aeneas, beginning a sequence of the gods’ interferences in her fate. Dido roams aimlessly consumed by her emotions and newfound love, so much so that she begins to neglect the affairs of her city (4.128-9). Aeneas and Dido marry according to the will of the gods in a divine ceremony. Their marriage is happy until Aeneas is ordered by the gods to leave, and when rumors reach Dido of his departure, she is filled with fury (4.430-1).
Devastating by the loss, Dido once again cannot fulfill the duties of the queen. She reflects on her sacrifices for his love, including independence and the ability to love again. So lost in the control of her mind, Dido is mad and decides to kill herself. As Aeneas sails away, Dido says of herself that she is mad, and calls on the gods for revenge, not only on Aeneas but on all Trojans (4.873-5). She stabs herself on a pyre, relinquishing the duties of the queen and abandoning her people just as Aeneas had abandoned her.
The reader of The Aeneid should not judge the character of Aeneas for the death of Dido, even though the consequences of his actions and decisions are unfortunate. The influence of the gods on Dido for both falling in love and marrying the tragic hero is the sole culprits, in addition to calling upon Aeneas to abandon her. Aeneas, as a soldier commissioned by the gods, is obligated to follow the directions of the gods to complete his mission. If his decision to abandon Dido reflects at all upon his character as a man, it is a testament to his dedication and prudence as opposed to the emotionality and sentimentality of Dido.
The reasons both for abandoning Dido and Dido’s death stem from the gods. The characters of the gods fall into question when we consider the effects of their decisions, perhaps well-intentioned, on the course of human events. Like most other epics, The Aeneid accomplishes a representation of the gods as a crucial factor in how the world works. Dido, the tragic character that she is, succumbs to the will of the gods through no fault of her own (with her own free will compromised by Venus and Amor) and is fated to kill herself. In many ways, the poem reflects the cultural and religious attitudes of the Romans, which reflected quite closely the Greeks and their epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey that exhibit many of these same themes.
Nevertheless, The Aeneid, unlike its Greek counterparts, is strongly political in its origins. It is a well-known historical factor that the Roman Emperor Augustus was a patron of Virgil and perhaps even gave money to the writer for The Aeneid (Steinbrenner). Thus, it should come as no surprise that The Aeneid reflects the political interests of the Emperor and the Roman government at the time of its creation. An interpretation of the text might lead one to believe that the primary, or at least very important, the intention of the epic was to rouse patriotic sentiments of Romans. Virgil portrays the character of Aeneas very generously, despite his less than desirable actions.
Virgil, having received money to pen a masterpiece relating the history of the world’s greatest civilization at the peak of its power, set off to prepare a story conforming to the beliefs and cultural history of his audience. However, while Virgil’s epic is a political poem, it is not propaganda. The intention of The Aeneid is not to shape political opinion more than such opinions were already shaped. In fact, Virgil’s intention may have been more along the lines of giving credibility to an already established and believed myth: the myth of Rome’s majestic founding. It was only logical for an imperial world power like Rome to search out for a literary or intellectual foundation (or justification) for its imperialism. The Aeneid rationalizes imperialism by virtue of its one-sidedness: Rome as metaphysical protagonists.
On a more fundamental level, however, Virgil’s epic attempts to link a historical and cultural identity into a single self for the entire population of the Empire. All Romans were to see themselves as Aeneas and the recipients of Aeneas’ virtues. Seeking a racial/ethnic identity for the Roman people, Virgil engaged in a truly political endeavor. However, the endeavor should not be taken as propagandistic in the sense of propaganda as misleading information spread systemically through a political community. The historical and cultural identities The Aeneid speaks to already existed before Augustus and Virgil. However, they were running in parallel: unconnected and separate. Recognizing this ethnographic weakness, Augustus accomplished a political goal and unified these identities into something the Roman Empire could rally around as a single hegemonic community.
Steinbrenner, Sondra. Patron Augustus—Client Rome. 2009 <http://www.roman-empire.net/articles/article-010.html>.
Virgil. The Aeneid. Trans. Edward McCrorie. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1995.