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Free MonkeyNotes Book Notes-The Aeneid by Virgil-Free Online Summary
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BOOK FOURTH - The love of Dido and her end.


Dido is obsessed with love for Aeneas and confesses to her sister that had she not sworn eternal love for her dead husband, she would consider avowing her love for Aeneas. Her sister Anna reminds her that she has rejected great princes like Iarbas from Africa and Asia. War is being threatened from all sides, so perhaps the gods have sent these Trojans to Carthage to defend the Punic kingdom. Anna arouses Dido by envisioning a great race, which would spring through the marriage of Aeneas and Dido. She even advises her to delay the Trojan departure and take advantage of the unpropitious climate. So Dido is bereft to any shame or hesitation in letting her passion grow, while she propitiates Juno, Ceres and Phoebus for marriage. She takes Aeneas with her, shows him her city or the treasure she has brought from Phoenicia. But she neglects the military drills, the supervision of the building activities, while she luxuriates in banquets and the company of Aeneas.

Juno seeing her great city lying unattended and unfinished approaches Venus, to work out a compromise solution. She suggests that Dido and Aeneas be married so that both the goddesses could rule the people of Carthage jointly. Venus grasping the purpose of Juno’s wiles which is to prevent the Roman empire being founded seems ready to fall in with the plan for marriage if it will not be against Jove’s ordinance and provoke his displeasure. Juno then reveals a plan by which during the morning hunting party, a sudden storm will separate Aeneas and Dido from their retinue. Taking shelter together in a cave, Juno, Hymen and the nymphs will get them married. So it happens and Dido now openly considers herself married to Aeneas and word reaches the rejected suitors. Of these King Iarbas the devotee of Jove complains to Jove, that the wanderer who bought land in Africa but rebuffed an alliance with him had become the mistress of a Trojan and made him the Lord of her kingdom. So Jupiter hearing this complaint rushes Mercury to remind Aeneas of his destiny and the future of Ascanius. Mercury swoops out of his high heaven to Carthage where he sees Aeneas in a Tyrian sea-purple and gold woven cloak supervising the building of towers and houses. He rebukes him for loitering in Libya and forgetting the future of his son, which must be in Rome.

On hearing Mercury’s words Aeneas is aghast and perplexed. He calls his men to get the ships crew ready but cannot decide on how to break the news to Dido, whose kind hospitality and love he has partaken of. But rumor reaches her and mad with rage she accosts Aeneas as a traitor. Then she begs him not to leave her undefended against the Libyans, Nomads as well as her own people whom she has antagonized by her marriage. She even pleads for a short delay until, she can have a child from this union. But Aeneas must hide his anguish because of Jove’s command and claim that his first duty is to take his people to the destined land just as she had founded her city in Carthage through the oracles. He is no longer free to do what he wills.

Dido is so enraged feeling that he is cold and unloving and the gods themselves are against her. Her frenzy continues as she sees daily, the Trojans working on their ships. And Aeneas who loves her cannot comfort her because of Jove’s command. He will not be entreated to wait for the weather or for Dido’s frenzy to calm down. So Dido now prays for death and sees omens, which suggest death including her husband’s voice, the moan of the screech owl and nightmares. She finally resolves to die clandestinely and asks her sister to raise a pyre for sacrifice in her inner court. She surveys the alternatives but feels hopelessly in sin having broken her pledge to her husband’s ashes that she would not love again.

Aeneas is again warned by Mercury to flee Carthage before dawn since Dido’s resolve to die would cause riots and the destruction of his fleet. So Aeneas sets off at once. At dawn, from her watch tower Dido seeing the ships at sea imagines all manner of ill that she could have done ,to hurt Aeneas or destroy his hopes. Then she curses that if he reach Italy safely, his settling should be opposed by armies and he should be separated from his son and go begging for help and support ultimately causing many deaths. She hopes he will have an untimely death and lie unburied. Then she curses the Trojan race and asks the Tyrians to pursue them in hatred in the future ages from generation to generation. Then going up to her chamber she covers herself in a raiment and with Aeneas’s gifted sword she kills herself wishing her funeral pyre will be seen from the ships at sea as an omen of death. Her sister Anna whom she has sent for a purificatory bath comes rushing in and tries to bathe and stop her bleeding wound. Three times Dido tries to lift herself but rolls back until Juno sends Iris to cut off a lock of hair to release her from lingering between life and death.


Virgil begins by giving a very realistic psychological insight into a woman, distracted by love and sharing her confidences, with a close friend. Dido’s situation is more piquant because she had decided to remain loyal to Sychaeus, her beloved husband with whom she had shared an ideal love. But Anna points to the more practical reasons for dropping all inhibitions to love Aeneas: he is considered as a godsent defender of Carthage against the frustrated African suitors and the children from an union with Aeneas would unite two very superior races. Both these were typical Roman concerns while mating. It also evokes the controversy that had shaken Rome when Cleopatra bore Caesar a son whom Augustus Caesar put to death and the two sons of Cleopatra by Antony, who were given to Augustus’ sister Octavia to bring up as Romans. In this book the identification of Dido with Cleopatra which was only vaguely glimpsed at in Book First in the luxurious way of Carthegian life is now more focused in the figure of Anna the Charmaine-like confidante. It also serves Dido well to confide in her sister so that a part of the blame can be shifted on to her, for her encouragement of this passion. Even the delaying tactics are suggested by Anna. The condition of Dido’s passion is aptly summed up in the epic simile of a wounded deer with the arrow fast in its side. The shepherd who has shot the arrow has not caught the deer to dislodge the arrow and the deer will die ultimately of the wound but it still keeps running in the forest. Now this simile serves to anticipate Dido’s death and it is a lingering death with Aeneas’ sword in her breast. The simile is located in Crete and this recalls the story Aeneas had related about the Trojan landing in Crete with disastrous results. So an echo of that should alert the reader to the disaster that would ensue if Aeneas tried to settle in Carthage. The simile foreshadows an actual event in Latuim when Ascanuis shoots a deer. It triggers off Dido’s curse that the Trojan be unacceptable in Italy and cause bloodshed.

Dido’s passion causes her to neglect building her city or exercising her army. Such neglect of public activities was very anti-Roman. Virgil’s Augustan readers would undoubtedly be alienated from Dido for overlooking her public duties as Mark Antony had done “all for love” which had caused the battle of Actium described on the shield in Book Eighth: “On one side Augustus leading the Italians into battle with the Senate and people, his household gods and the great gods...on the other with barbaric wealth and motley arms, Antony...and there follows-oh shameful thing-his Egyptian wife.”

The echoes are obvious. Carthage was a part of Libya, which neighbors Egypt. Even the description of Augustus with his household gods is echoed in the person of Aeneas. Just as Aeneas will not succumb to Dido once Jove commands it, Augustus had repelled Cleopatra’s advances.

The compromise Juno tries to arrive at with Venus is a perfect example of the political compromises and arrangement, which took place within the senate, as well as with other powers. Venus proves herself a true tactician. She allows Juno a tactical victory because she has been assured that Jove’s decree stands. Dido in revengeful wrath when she is deserted proves herself as consequently vindictive in her hate as Juno herself. Both ultimately lose out. Ironically Juno the goddess of treaties and marital fidelity brings in Hymen, the Roman goddess of marriage even though this “marriage” will violate Dido’s vow to love her first husband Sychaeus beyond death.

When Dido sees the preparations for departure her reaction is rage and the epic simile used is a brief one about the Thyiad at the festival of Bacchus, the implication is that the spirit of rage intoxicates her and she does not know what she says and does from this point onwards. This same kind of rage will be found when Queen Amata stirs up the women of Latuim against Aeneas ironically for wanting to settle on the land.

Dido’s ill will bursts forth. She sees herself as the helpless instrument in the hands of the gods and she curses obstacles in Aeneas path to the fulfillment of his destiny and bloodshed and worse. When alone and utterly rejected, no delay of departure being possible, since Aeneas is firm in his purpose like an “alpine oak” though inwardly deeply moved by Dido’s suffering, then Dido’s thoughts grow more fierce. Suddenly all that is unbefitting a great woman oozes out of her. She feels humiliated by his departure and she has self-knowledge enough to be shocked by her own thoughts of destroying Aeneas or Thyestes-like making the father eat his son’s flesh. She calls upon the gods and Hecate (the form of Diana, which controls the night and the underworld) and even the Furies and she curses eternal enmity between Aeneas’s race and her own. This is Virgil’s legend, for an explanation of the long rivalry between Rome and Carthage. Hannibal was the general of Carthage a century before Virgil lived, who was known for his hatred of Rome and his unfulfilled wish to destroy it reflects Dido’s ultimate defeat.

Book Fourth, has a number of very evocative descriptions besides those in the epic similes. There are two scenes of Dido at worship first to gain love then to destroy herself. The latter is very detailed in its description of pagan rites for the dead. But two very exuberant images also appear. First the hunt and the storm leading to the “marriage” of Dido and Aeneas has sweeping images of the countryside. On a grander scale is the decent of Mercury called the Cyllenian because he was born of Mount Cyllene. His flight past Mount Atlas is a fine example of Virgil’s detailed imagery. Finally the epic simile of Aeneas’ men at work is not just picturesque but, significant in that the men are compared to ants making provision for winter. Here the reader would recall the simile of Dido’s workers compared to bees in Book First. The contrast is instructive and strikes the reader immediately. Aeneas’ men have a long struggle to encounter, they have to work for their basic needs and collect grains while Dido’s city being established the workers are in the process of beautifying it to make their lives sweeter as the bees make honey. This book like the first is rich in imagery and ornamentation. The personification of Rumor is also very vividly sketched out.

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