Book IV






Aeneas and Dido

Peter Paul Rubens: The Death of Dido (Louvre, 1635).

Rubens shows Dido weeping as she thrusts the sword into her body. On the pyre beside her lies the effigy of Aeneas with his Phrygian cap.

Did you pick up these salient points from the class discussion and lecture. . . .

Book III

Although we did not read Book III, it will help to summarize a couple of the important things that happen, because in the course of this book, Aeneas has to discover where his destined home will be and what its character is:

  • Aeneas tries to found a city in Thrace (still within the Greco-Trojan realm), but finds the land hostile and polluted with blood.
  • He is told by an oracle to return to his motherland, which Anchises interprets as Crete.
  • Enroute they stop at Buthrotum in Greece, where Helenos (the Trojan seer) and his wife Andromache (Hektor's widow) have built a miniature Troy; but their attention is fixed on the past not the future (this cannot be the character of Aeneas' future city).
  • Aeneas tries to settle in Crete, but a plague strikes his newly established community and he realizes they must move on. Aeneas finally recognizes that Italy, the home of Dardanus, is the motherland to which the oracle directed him.

Book IV.1-3

Note the repetition of images of disorder/passion (fire, wound) that gather around Dido in the first three lines.


  • Again, watch fire and wound imagery; Dido's wound is that of a deer struck by a hunter's arrow. It evokes memory of Aeneas' hunting in Book I, but also of Venus disguised as huntress
  • Note also what happens to Carthage while Dido is enflamed with passion.
  • What quite different agendas might Juno and Venus have had in encouraging the relationship between Aeneas and Dido?


  • A storm is Juno's particular weapon of disorder in this poem
  • What does Dido think happened in the cave? (Note the wedding imagery Juno assembled to make her think so!)


  • Aeneas has lost sight of his destiny, and Jupiter determines to recall him to it.
  • in 312-15 we are reminded again of the dual nature of the epic
  • 360-64, again note as example of pietas.

  • Compare Dido's and Aeneas' reactions to his imminent departure. The two forces that compel them (passion and pietas) only increase in reaction to one another. See especially 4.545 ff
  • Are both drawn sufficiently sympathetically that the tragedy would give a Roman pause over the lives and cities that were destroyed in the path of Roman expansion (e.g., Carthage)?


Thus the great future of Rome is preceded by sympathetic telling of the tragedy that it produced, that of Dido, which must have seemed to Virgil's audience inseparable from that of Carthage, which had been crushed in the wake of Roman expansion.