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Dido

Virgil's account of Aeneas' travels throughout the Mediterranean brings us to the northern shores of Africa, where the intrepid wanderer meets with a crafty, beautiful, and generous queen. The situation was too much to resist. Although Dido was somewhat famous for her invulnerability to men's charms, the sight of Aeneas, unshaven, sweaty, and smelling slightly of ocean spray, shifted her entire outlook on love, and she decided that perhaps it was time to settle down with a real man. Of course, her decision was not entirely her own; Cupid had taken it upon himself to helpfully facilitate their friendship. Dido, having grown up in a rough part of the neighbourhood, was very familiar with suffering, and sympathised with the travellers. She sheltered them, fed them, and clothed them, extending every sort of generosity to her little Trojan paramour. As her lavish welcoming party wore on, Aeneas honoured her request to detail the embarrassing Greek scandal in which his fallen people were a party; his tale only reinforced Dido's affection for him.

The lusty adventurer saw the passage of many pleasurable moons during his stay with Dido; indeed, they were on the verge of marriage. After all, Aeneas had been much inconvenienced in the past months; and he'd born about all the troubles he could bear. Almost completely forgetting that he had an empire to found, he contented himself to lie beneath the tasty grapes his hostess constantly fed him. Jupiter, however, had other plans for him, and he sent Mercury straightaway to remind Aeneas that he was to be voyaging at sea, not bathing himself in luxury. Aeneas, always a shrewd man, knew when to take a hint, and obeyed the divine instructions. Though Dido pleaded with him, supporting her entreaties with all the riches she could offer, he was resolved to continue his quest. Ironically, the city Aeneas was to found eventually became the sworn enemy of Dido's descendants in a dispute that ended with three long and generally unpleasant wars.

Convinced that life without Aeneas was no life at all, Dido sped to the village craftsmen and ordered a funeral pyre built. She was a forward thinker: since she was already lying on the pre-built pyre when she stabbed herself to death, she saved her people the trouble of moving her before igniting the pyre. Aeneas and his crew saw the flames from their vista at sea, but had no idea what fuelled it, though they suspected it might be the queen. That unfortunate day was not, however, the last he saw of her unfortunate lover. Aeneas met her once more in the underworld, where she milled about the other hapless women stricken by unrequited love. Once he ascertained that his hunch on the boat was correct, he begged her forgiveness, and acknowledged that the only reason he left was Jupiter's order. She stared past him with all the consciousness of a fork, until he realised that she could not see or hear him.

Contributed by Gifford, Justin
26 January 2003

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