Dido’s enduring grievance.

She was devastated.   After all she had come through, how could the Gods allow it to happen?  Wasn’t she still grieving for her husband, Sychaeus, killed for his money by her own brother, Pygmalion.  Hadn’t she had to take the gold and leave her home in Phoenicia at the dead of night and set sail across a vast sea?   Hadn’t she by sheer force of character and against enormous local opposition, created Carthage on this Godforsaken African promontory and established herself as Queen?  That had all taken some doing.  And now, along comes this chancer, this loser from Troy who quite literally tears her life apart.  

Dido was clearly an inspiring young woman,  beautiful, energetic and possessed of a powerful charisma that could get her anything she wanted or so she thought.  And she wanted Aeneas.  He arrived with his tales of valour; the wooden horse, the defeat of Laocoon, the shipwreck.  And what’s more he came with a ship full of treasures he had secreted out of Troy.  Was it his fault that he had lost Troy?   Hadn’t he been tricked by the Achaeans?  Hadn’t he been betrayed by King Cinyrus of Cyprus who promised a fleet of fifty ships to raise the siege, but sent just one.   Dido was entranced by this warrior prince with his broad shoulders and barrel chest and commanding manner, enthralled by his stories.  What they could do together.  They would make Carthage impregnable, an empire to rival even that of ancient Troy.  Yes, he was on a mission to found a new empire in Italy, but surely he could see what an opportunity Carthage presented and wasn’t he in love with her?  

She had played it cautiously. She would not submit to him without ensuring his loyalty and support.  She was not sure how long she could hold out in Carthage alone.  Armies were gathering to attack her claim in North Africa.  She might have been able to maintain her hold on him, were it not for the weather.  They had been out hunting and were forced to take shelter together in a cave.  She called it their marriage cave, for in it, he pledged himself to her.  Her future looked wonderful.   But then he reminded her of his promise to set up a state in Italy and he proposed leaving before  the weather  turned bad, but he added, he would love her forever and perhaps she could come and join him. 

What a louse!  What a sneaking, conniving, cowardly weasel!  Dido was beside herself with rage.  Aeneas tried to appease her.  Perhaps he didn’t have to go just yet.  Perhaps the Gods would relent. 

You see, he always had the excuse of the Gods to fall back on.  Zeus had been importuned to assist Dido’s enemies in North Africa in their land claims on Carthage.  Ibarus, King of the Moors, was a son of Zeus and had been rejected by Dido. He prayed to his father, who sent Hermes to remind  Aeneas of his promise to go to Italy.  So Aeneas spread his arms and said sorry darling,  ‘Would you have me disobey the Gods?’   Oh he was in such a dreadful bind, especially as Hera and Aphrodite will telling him to stay.  What was he to do?   ‘Let Dido down and lose his one true love or disobey Zeus and be punished forever.’  Put like that there was only one decision.  He had to go, but perhaps, if their love meant everything she said it did, he could return.  Besides, didn’t she have all the Trojan treasures?  Didn’t that mean anything? 

Apparently not!  She had compromised herself.  In her reckless love affair, she had not only incurred the wrath of the surrounding nomad chieftains, but had also lost the support of her own Tyrians.  There was no way to turn, but her response was uncompromising.  ‘ Get on your boat, sailor! And don’t come back.  But you will pay for this for the rest of your life’   She was true to her word.  As soon as Aeneas galley rounded the cape, she fell on the point of his sword and threw herself on her funeral pyre.  Aeneas didn’t hear of it until he had reached Italy and established Rome.  There he descended to the underworld and met Dido, who was reunited with Sychaeus and refused to talk to him, but she continued to haunt his thoughts until the end of his days.  .      


This is one of great love stories of all time, rivalling Abelard and Heloise, Troilus and Cressida,  Helen of Troy and her lover, Paris,  Mark Anthony and Cleopatra and Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII.  It illustrates the dangerous and enduring power of love to transform or to devastate lives.  The Gods in this tale are really metaphors for emotion, there to symbolise forces of desire, anger, and duty.   The Gods battle in out in mortals whose souls are in conflict.  

So the Gods made you do it, Aeneas?  Baloney!  You wanted to go to Italy all along.  It was a challenge.  You’d lost Troy?  This was a chance to make up.  And although Dido was the woman of your dreams, your one true love, didn’t she come across a bit too strong.  She would  have your guts for a suspender belt if you didn’t do exactly as she ordered!  How would you cope with that?   

And what about you Dido?   Did the Gods make you give yourself to him?  No, you could see him slipping away and with that your toehold in Carthage.  So you decided to give him one night of magic that would ensnare him, bind him to you forever.  Oh yeah, that was Aphrodite’s work.  Convenient; only  it didn’t work.  It only served to unnerve him and made him more determined to do his duty.  He was but a man after all

So is this really the greatest love story of all time?  Or is it a tale of hubris and political power; the  risky deployment of romance and sex to achieve ambition?  Or is an example of the age old conflict between love and duty.   How often does love come along at the opportune time?  Can you always be so ruthless and single minded to give up all ties and responsibilities for what may be one great illusion?  Can faith and love move armies and mountains or are there always qualifications?   

Dido was devastated, but maybe not so much by loss, as by the thought that a bloody sailor from Turkey could treat her, Dido, Queen of Carthage, in such a manner.  But she would get her own back.  She would die on the point of his sword and he would never ever forget her.  Hell knows no fury like a Queen who is scorned and she would summon all the Gods in hell to enact it. 


Dido and Aeneas inspired some of the world’s greatest art; in England a play by Christopher Marlowe and an opera by Henry Purcell (1670).  Dido’s Lament in the last act is reputedly the greatest tune of the 17th century, simple in structure but containing sequences of chords that twist the heart strings like no other melody.  Dido ensured that she was never forgotten.