The Tragedy of The Aeneid, Aeneas and Dido
It is always thought that some unseen power controls and influences human actions. Some term this unseen power as fate while others consider it as the power of god. The human lives are directed by fate or the will of god. In both the scenarios, human beings have to yield before their fate and lead their lives in accordance to their fate. The influence of fate on human beings is depicted in the epic poem “The Aeneid” by Virgil. This poem depicts the period after the end of Trojan War. It follows the journey of Aeneas, who survives the Trojan War and travels to Italy in search of a new homeland. In the course of his journey, Aeneas reaches Carthage where he rests for some days. During his stay in Carthage, he falls in love with Dido, the queen of Carthage. Although it is the deities who create circumstances which lead to the development of passionate love between Dido and Aeneas, it is fate that separates them from each other. Aeneas leaves Carthage and Dido, as he seeks to fulfill his duty of finding a new homeland for his people. Dido, on the other hand, neglects her duty and ends her life in grief after Aeneas departs from Carthage. In this paper we will analyze the attitude of Dido and Carthage towards fate and duty.
Aeneas differs from Dido in his attitude towards fate and duty. Although Aeneas forgets his duty when is in love with Dido, he realizes his folly when Mercury brings to his remembrance the fact that he is destined to reach Italy and find a new homeland for Trojans. While loving Dido, Aeneas is so engrossed in the pleasures of love that he ignores his duties and responsibilities towards the Trojans. But when he is reminded about his duty by Mercury who had came to convey the message of Jupiter, Aeneas realizes his mistake. “Degenerate man,
Thou woman’s property…….praise from flitting pleasure wean, Regard the fortunes of thy rising heir: The promis’d crown let young Ascanius wear, To whom th’ Ausonian scepter, and the state Of Rome’s imperial name is ow’d by fate.” (Virgil 167). Upon hearing the message of Jupiter, which was conveyed to him by Mercury, Aeneas decides to forsake his love and comply with the commands of god. The moment he is reminded about his duty and his fate, he accepts to behave in accordance to his destiny. “In the final analysis, duty and destiny have become same. The duty requires a voluntary and unquestionable submission to the destiny.” (Harle 147). Aeneas considered duty more important than the fulfillment of his pleasures.
Aeneas is aware of the power of fate and the need to obey its power. Even though it is painful for him to leave Dido, he accepts to leave her, for he knew that his destiny was to reach Italy. He attaches more importance to his fate and duty than his love for Dido. He sacrifices his love and a peaceful life with Dido to fulfill his duty. The actions of Aeneas point towards his firm belief in fate and duty. His words to Dido bring forth his acceptance to yield before his fate. “But now the Delphian oracle commands, And fate invites me to the Latian lands. That is the promis’d place to which I steer, And all my vows are terminated there.” (Virgil 165). He is prepared to leave behind the love of his life for carrying out his duty. It is his belief in fate that provides him with the strength to depart from Carthage and give up the desire of a peaceful life with Dido. He chooses an adventurous life instead of a safe and secure life at Carthage. Aeneas comes across as an individual who places duty above all other things in his life. Although he is distracted from his duty owing to his love for Dido, he realizes his mistake and agrees to act according to his destiny when Mercury points out his folly.
Dido acts in contrast to Aeneas as far as her attitude towards duty and fate is concerned. She is so deep in love with Aeneas that she forgets her duty as a ruler. She starts loving Aeneas the moment she hears about Aeneas and his tragic story. “But anxious cares already seiz’d the queen: She fed within her veins a flame unseen; The hero’s valor, acts, and birth inspire
Her soul with love, and fan the secret fire. His words, his looks, imprinted in her heart,
Improve the passion, and increase the smart.” (Virgil 145). Her love for Aeneas is so intense that she neglects the city building which was being built in Carthage. She fails to carry out the responsibilities of a ruler, and she also prevents Aeneas from fulfilling his duty. When Aeneas tells that he has to accept his fate and leave for Italy, she reacts angrily. “False as thou art, and, more than false, forsworn! Not sprung from noble blood, nor goddess-born, But hewn from harden’d entrails of a rock! And rough Hyrcanian tigers gave thee suck!” (Virgil 169). Her anger portrays her attitude towards fate and duty. She regarded love and fulfillment of her own desires more important than duty. She tries to persuade Aeneas to defy his fate and stay with her.
The manner in which Dido reacts to Aeneas’ decision to leave for Italy depicts her view regarding duty and fate. Instead of looking after her kingdom and people, she enjoys the pleasures of love and disregards her duty. And when Aeneas leaves her for the sake of his duty, she curses that the people of Carthage and Rome will be enemies, and this enmity will persist even among the future generations. “Perpetual hate and mortal wars proclaim, Against the prince, the people, and the name…… With fire and sword pursue the perjur’d brood; Our arms, our seas, our shores, oppos’d to theirs; And the same hate descend on all our heirs!” (Virgil 172). She is surprised by the changes in Aeneas who is more concerned about his duty than his love to Dido. “She cannot believe that this heartless, stone-faced man who stands before her is the same man who pledged his love to her.” (Markos 226). She sacrifices her power and state for the sake of her love for Aeneas. But when Aeneas leaves her, she feels betrayed by him. Unable to bear the grief, she kills herself. By killing herself, she attempts to alter her fate. Dido gives more importance to her desires than duty and fate.
Aeneas as Hero
Aeneas is presented as a hero in the book, for he gives up his love for the sake of the welfare of his people. He overcomes his grief and strives to fulfill his duty. “Here the heroic man obeys a divine injunction and sacrifices his love to the future state. He still knows feelings of love, even expresses them, yet he does not allow himself to be determined by them and thus conquer his grief.” (Jerome 141). Like a hero he stands up for his people, forgetting his own desires and pleasures. He persists in his decision even when Dido attempts to change his mind. For the fulfillment of his duty, he chooses an adventurous life than a peaceful life with Dido in Carthage.
He achieves greatness but at the expense of his personal freedom and happiness. Aeneas is similar to great people in his deeds and his commitment towards his duty but he loses his love and the freedom to act according to his will. Aeneas had to leave Carthage or else he would have been failed in carrying out his duty. He is pained by his separation from Dido but still he decides to leave for Italy. He is bound by his duty and fate; he loses his personal freedom and happiness which he enjoyed from loving Dido. Although he loved Dido, he had to desert her and leave for Italy for accomplishing the task he was destined to carry out. Even when he is depressed by his separation from Dido, he had to hide his feelings from his crew and present himself as a brave man before them. The restrictions placed by him owing to his greatness bring sorrow to him. He has to give the love of his life and also prevent himself from displaying his grief to his crew.
Fate influences the actions of Aeneas and thinking, for Aeneas accepts his fate and decides to behave according to it. In contrast to this, Dido tries to defy fate by preventing Aeneas from leaving her and Carthage. It is the fate that brings Aeneas to Carthage and makes him to fall in love with Dido. It is the same fate that compels Aeneas to desert the woman he loved. Aeneas had to give up his own will and act according to his fate. His life was destined and Aeneas was aware of his destiny so he gives in to his fate. Dido fails to realize the power of fate and attempts to stop Aeneas from leaving Carthage. The difference in their attitude towards fate is evident in their actions and the consequences of their actions. The thoughts of Dido and Aeneas are put forth through their views about fate. The lives of Aeneas and Dido are affected by fate, as fate makes Aeneas to leave Carthage and leads Dido to her tragic end.
Harle, Vilho. Ideas of social order in the ancient world. Greenwood Publishing Group. 1998.
Jerome, Roy. Conceptions of Postwar German Masculinity. Suny Press, 2001
Markos, Louis. From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics.
InterVarsity Press. 2007.
Virgil. The Aeneid. Plain Label Books. 1956.
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