Heroes like Aeneas bear many burdens: they must be leaders, they must suffer, they must fight. In the case of book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid, an epic poem, the relationship between Aeneas and Dido is at the center of greater struggles between people and fate, divinities, and love. In Books II and III, Aeneas recounts the fall of Troy, the monsters and suffering, and the death of his father, Anchises; in Books V through XII, Aeneas travels to Italy to found the city that will lead to the rise of the Roman people.
Therefore, book IV showcases their love as an ideal that can never truly come to fruition, functions to develop Aeneas as a more dynamic, human character, and acts as a romantically tragic reason for the loathing between Carthage and Rome that ultimately culminates in the three Punic wars. Though the majority of action in the Aeneid rests upon on the choices of Aeneas, the protagonist, this book begins and ends with Dido. She is “the queen… has suffered the pain of love” for Aeneas (1).
This opens the discussion between Dido and her sister, Anna, who helps Dido to decide that she can let go of her husband’s memory without dishonoring him. However, this is a grave mistake. Abandoning the dedication to Sychaeus that kept her kingdom independent meant losing the respect of both her own people and the other kingdoms. The very center of the book is a focus on her desperate attempts to gain a small semblance of the true relationship and his staunch dedication to his fate, but this is surrounded by a series of events that are bound to happen by fate, almost like a series of dominoes falling.
Though Aeneas would have had to leave regardless of the status of their relationship, it is a combination of her actions and his leaving that leads to her eventual demise. She ends her own life by stabbing herself with a sword in her sister’s arms, and thus “the warmth slipped away, the life dissolved in the winds” (705). Aeneas and she were subject to outside forces, especially the choices of the gods. It is easy to see that Aeneas and Dido are the primary players in this book, though many others have importance in how the events unfold.
One of Aeneas’ greatest problems is that he does have a degree of free will, but he will always have the great weight of his fate resting upon him. He knows that he must go to Italy and bring about change, but he lives a real, human life with emotions and pain. In this part of the Aeneid, he must leave and comfort Dido without revealing his true feelings: he is becoming the man he must be. Though he speaks bluntly about his disbelief of their marriage, he does love her. It is unknown how the marriage could be illegitimate though Juno, the goddess of marriage, confirmed it, but this is never answered.
Aeneas’ loyalties lie with his son and the future Rome, as Jupiter conveys to him though Mercury, so this story is one of his maturation. Likewise, the tragedy of Dido’s death reveals that her motivations are both to be a true leader and Aeneas’ lover, yet she can fulfill neither. She is far more motivated by her emotions in this book than earlier, which can be attributed to the plot between Venus and Juno. She morphs from a capable, controlled leader to a woman who has lost everything, even her own will to live.
She cries, “‘you’ll pay, you shameless, ruthless–and I will hear of it, yes, the report will reach me even among the deepest shades of Death! ’” (387-389). Their relationship cannot be reconciled with the fact that he must follow his given path, though Virgil writes that “his heart [is] shattered by his great love, [and] he obeys the gods’ commands” (399). Others, both mortal and divine, reinforce the action of the story. Anna wants happiness for her sister and security for the rest of the Carthaginians, as she encourages the new relationship and even goes after Aeneas to stop him from leaving, though he refuses.
She rightfully feels abandoned when Dido kills herself, crying, “You have destroyed your life, my sister, mine too, your people, the lords of Sidon and your new city here” (680-681). Iarbas, likewise, is motivated by spite and a hunger for power. Though only shown briefly, his appeal to Jupiter is that Dido “spurns our offer of marriage, she embraces Aeneas as lord and master in her realm” even when he gave her the land to settle on (213-214). This incident eventually leads to Aeneas being reminded of his fate and having to leave.
Juno, Venus, and Jupiter also have motivations that change the lives of the mortals. They have both personal agendas and divine laws to follow, especially that of fate. Venus wants to protect her son and make certain that he fulfills his destiny, while Juno, though she hates the Trojans, hopes to preserve the Carthaginians and potentially prevent the rise of the Romans. It is not entirely clear what would suddenly motivate Juno and Venus to work together even though they hold opposing interests and fate compels them. The alliance works for a time, but it is well known that the future is set.
Mercury must follow Jupiter’s orders to instruct Aeneas. Jupiter helps his son, Iarbas, when his son calls his power and ability into question and as part of the greater obligation as the divine ruler to enforce fate. He reminds Aeneas through Mercury that he “[owes Ascanius] Italy’s realm, the land of Rome! ” (275). Essentially, the mortals, especially Aeneas, are elements the gods must maneuver to suit the greater plan; everything has already been decided for them. While the gods do have elements of humanity, like Venus’ flattery Juno in saying “You lead the way.
I’ll follow” (115), they are also forces of immense power with a world, interests, and laws entirely separate from those of mortals. It makes sense that the gods seem far more abstract to the mortal characters than the mortals seem to the gods, as Anna’s suggestion to “ask the gods for pardon, win them with offerings” (50) is a blanket attempt to gain forgiveness from the deities. However, it is inevitable that the Fates are turned against Carthage. Virgil uses fire and Rumor as the predominant images in the book, though violence also comes into play.
This reinforces the structure mentioned earlier, as Dido spends “hour by hour nursing the wound with her lifeblood, consumed by the fire buried in her heart” (2-3). Though her love might feel positive to her, as love ought to, it is figuratively burning her from the inside, implying a fundamental flaw in the passion they have for one another. The love is a “wound” and later Aeneas’ attentions “pierce her heart,” which is an altogether violent and frightening depiction of something that should be pure and gentle.
Virgil emphasizes again and again that the passion is a “fire” (49) and a “flame… gnawing into her tender marrow” (68), even having Juno state that “‘Dido’s ablaze with love’” (101). Though the implications at the beginning remain, they are not reinforced in the text until the confrontation of Aeneas, when she is described as speaking “in a blaze of fury” (362) and telling Aeneas that she will “‘hound [him] then with pitch-black flames’” (384). Virgil twists the flame of love she had for him into destruction and chaos, reinforcing the negative connotations of the image.
The final lines center on the ruse with the pyre that Dido constructs. The fact that she builds her own funeral pyre is a greater level of chaos: she will destroy herself, and the city along with her. The image of Rumor only appears once, but her destructive capabilities have no match, and as a creature with terrifying eyes, mouths, ears, and wings, she is a plague on the city and brings about its destruction. Though this did not need to be something embodied by a living being, Virgil’s hoice to do so represents the intensity of the shame of this false marriage between the two lovers. Overall, these images All of this culminates in a grave, mournful tone. Though their love is lighthearted and the lovers hope to create a strong Carthage together, Aeneid IV is always tinged with a degree of darkness. The images of fire and implications of impending doom serve to reinforce that from the very beginning. The wedding, normally something to be celebrated, is illegitimate and fraught with screaming nymphs and a vicious storm.
This love can never be, and Virgil reinforces that with the necessity of Aeneas’ fate and the heartrending nature of the relationship. The discussion between the two lovers evokes empathy because of Dido’s obvious desperation, reinforcing the tragedy of the tale. The ending culminates in the dual separation, by Aeneas’ physical departure by sea and Dido’s departure from the land of the living. Along with all the other imagery and character progression, the tone intensifies throughout the book into a climactic catastrophe at the end.
Several references to Homer’s, Euripides’, and Aeschylus’ works lie throughout the book. In the beginning, Virgil implies a parallel between Dido and Helen, as Dido breaks her commitment to Sychaeus for Aeneas just as Helen breaks her marriage with Menelaus for Paris, though it is interesting that Venus is the cause in both cases. Helen’s new city is destroyed, and this is an early sign that Carthage will also be destroyed. Virgil strengthens this with Iarbas calling Aeneas a “second Paris” (214), though there is a contrast in that Paris causes his own city to be destroyed, while Aeneas does not.
Virgil compares Dido to Pentheus, seeing visions of a double Thebes, and Orestes with his mother bent on revenge. After Dido stabs herself, Virgil describes the women’s mourning “as if enemies stormed the walls and all of Carthage…were toppling down and flames…were billowing over the roofs” (669-672), a clear allusion to the fire and chaos at the fall of Troy that Dido has caused in her own city. The most obvious allusions are those about the destruction of Troy and madness, which emphasizes the chaos at this point in the Aeneid.