Book Chapter
Peer Review
The Doubleness of Dido
Aeneas and the Aeneid transform the tale of Dido, the Punic city’s own national myth. At the same time, Virgil’s rewriting criticizes that myth on its own terms.
Book Title
Virgil's Double Cross: Design and Meaning in the Aeneid
Book Author(s)
David Quint
Press and Year
Princeton University Press, 2018
Medium of Publication
Number of Pages


Though he is Rome’s mythical progenitor through his marriage with Lavinia, Virgil’s Aeneas never does found Rome itself. He walks through its future precincts in Evander’s Pallanteum in Book 8, unaware that he is doing so. The actual foundation of the city by Romulus only appears in the prophecies of Anchises and on the shield that Vulcan makes for Aeneas; he does not recognize or understand the images on the latter. Aeneas does wander into the foundation story of another city, Dido’s Carthage, carried there, almost by accident, by the storm of Book 1. In doing so, Aeneas and the Aeneid transform the tale of Dido, the Punic city’s own national myth. At the same time, I shall argue in the second half of this analysis, Virgil’s rewriting criticizes that myth on its own terms.

That Aeneas and Dido were never lovers, that they lived in different epochs, was well known to ancient readers. [1] Perhaps Naevius had also invented their meeting: the evidence is fragmentary and inconclusive. But Virgil’s episode, the most famous section of the Aeneid, was a supplement to the tradition and a fabrication, and it declares as much. Even as Virgil tells it, there is no narrative need for Dido to fall in love with Aeneas. Jupiter has sent Mercury ahead to make the Carthaginians well disposed to and ready to host the Trojans, Dido foremost among them (1.297–­304). Perhaps Venus is unaware of this, but her sending Cupid to take the form and place of Ascanius and to kindle Dido’s passion becomes literal overkill. It is an add-­on within the Dido episode that marks the add-­on quality of the episode itself. Critics have pointed out that Virgil acknowledges that he is making up a new story of Dido through the figure of Fama. [2] Fama is earthborn, but she has the power to reach the skies and to found or to conceal—­the poem’s overdetermined verb, “condere[3] —­her head or her origin (“caput”) in the clouds: “caput inter nubila condit” (4.177). Earlier we have been told that Dido was founding—­“condebat” (1.447)—­her temple to Juno on the spot where the head of a fierce horse—­“caput acris equi” (1.444) was dug up. Fama, that is, the Aeneid itself, replaces the traditional foundation story of Carthage with one of its own. That new story claims, in a kind of regress, its own foundation in the clouds. It is an official story with apparent divine sanction. Or it comes murkily out of thin air. [4]

Servius neatly sums up the other, superseded story of Dido:

Dido she was first called by her real name Elissa, then after her death she was named Dido by the Phoenicians, that is, virago, in the Punic language, because when she was urged by her allies to wed one of the African kings and she held on to her love for her first husband, she with a strong soul killed herself and threw herself on the pyre which she had feigned to have built to placate the spirit of her first husband. (on 1.340) [5]

This is a Greco-­Roman story about Carthage, just as Virgil’s is. [6] We do not know if this was the story that the Carthaginians liked to tell about themselves since we do not have Punic sources. I shall treat it, as the Aeneid does, as if it were the national myth. In this account, not only does Dido establish her new Phoenician colony in Libya. She also maintains, at the cost of her own life, the self-­rule of the city by refusing to wed a king from among the neighboring North African peoples. In the course of time, Carthage would make these peoples subject to its empire.

Virgil’s version keeps the story of African suitor kings, aligning Dido with the Penelope of the Odyssey besieged by her suitors and faithful to a husband she presumes to be dead. It aligns Dido, too, with the Odyssey’s Nausicaa, courted by local Phaeacians, a Homeric double of Penelope. The episode of the entertainment of the shipwrecked Odysseus by King Alcinous, Nausicaa’s father (Odyssey 6–­13), during which the hero recounts his wanderings, is the largest of the many Odyssean models (Calypso, Circe, the cave of Polyphemus, the Laistrygonians, the Lotus Eaters) that Virgil recombines in the depiction of Aeneas’s stay with Dido in Carthage. Larbas, the rejected suitor, triggers the queen’s tragedy as he or other neighboring kings do in the traditional story. Virgil keeps, too, Dido’s building of a funeral pyre under false pretenses. But he writes over the story of Dido’s exemplary marital fidelity to her murdered husband Sychaeus and, even more important, of how her self-­immolation preserved Carthage’s independence from the African peoples it would come to dominate. “I have not kept the faith I promised to the ashes of Sychaeus”—­“non seruata fides cineri promissa Sychaeo” (4.552)—­Dido guiltily confesses, after she has prepared the pyre that is supposed to destroy the remnants of her affair with Aeneas and break its love spell. Virgil offers an alternative, “true” version of Dido’s death on her pyre. Its motive was irrational, desperate eros, after Dido, like Larbas, found herself spurned, in her own turn, by the Trojan hero. Carthage in this version was not founded by an extraordinary act of female self-­sacrifice—­on a par with Lucretia’s suicide that founded the Roman Republic—­but instead on self-­destructive passion whose consequences would haunt the city through three Punic wars and its annihilation in 146 BCE. [7]

One might say that this history of how Carthage turned out required a rewriting of the Carthaginians’ own account of their origin story. With revisionist irony, Virgil explains that once Rome, already in the person of Aeneas, came into the picture, Carthage could no longer cling to its myth of sovereign autonomy, personified in the chaste widow. Virgil, that is, expects us to know that, from historical hindsight, he is writing over the traditional story—­the story we already know—­and telling a new version that corresponds to the city’s ultimately tragic end. The mourning that rises from the palace when Dido kills herself evokes the fall of Carthage itself, foes rushing into the city, its houses and temples burnt to the ground (4.669–­671). Virgil’s model, the Trojans’ lament at the killing of Hector described in Iliad 22.408–­411, evoked Troy in flames, the destruction, burning, and sacking of the city that Aeneas has narrated in Book 2. Carthage is itself one of the series of false, doomed Troys that Aeneas went on to describe himself trying to found or visiting in Book 3. Dido might have listened more carefully, were Cupid not nestled in her lap.

As Richard Heinze noted, Virgil’s rewriting of Dido’s story creates a palimpsest.

Even in Virgil, the original picture of Dido shines through beneath his new over-­painting; not only in the importance that Virgil still assigns to the motif of her loyalty to her dead husband: when Dido laments that she has allowed her sense of shame to die and has ruined her reputation, the one thing by which she has been hoping to gain immortality (4.322), there is a memory—­no doubt unconscious—­of that Dido who went to her death for the sake of loyalty, and so won for herself immortal fame. [8]

I want to contest Heinze’s qualification, “no doubt unconscious.” Virgil writes over the traditional story but, as I have just noted, leaves enough traces of it visible so that we can compare and contrast. The two competing versions color the way that we judge the Carthaginian queen. Dido says that she has lost her “fama prior” (4.323), that is, the earlier version of her story that this character almost seems to know about as she (more literally in this context) laments the loss of her good name. Both she and Aeneas have, Jupiter observes, been oblivious to their better fame—­“oblitos famae melioris amantis” (4.221)—­and Virgil’s invented episode will not do credit to his uxorious (but blundering lover) hero either.

Virgil must include details from the familiar story of Dido in order to explain how it came into being in place of the one he is now telling to supersede it. Dido enters the poem as a wise lawgiver to her own people (1.507–­508), generously willing to aid the Trojans driven to her coast, either by sending them on to Italy or Sicily or by inviting them to settle in her new city (1.569–­574). Up to this point, she is Dido the city-­founder of the traditional story, before Aeneas breaks forth from the misty cloud—­“nebula” (1.412; 439), “nubis” (1.580; 587)—­in which Venus has sheltered him from view. Virgil’s use of the Homeric motif (Ody. 7.40–­145) might just lead the reader to conclude that Aeneas was never present in the first place: like one of Fama’s fictions, he has come from the clouds. But once he has entered Dido’s story, how could he have been forgotten and subsequently written out of it? Dido claims to erect her pyre, following the order of the Massylian priestess she has invented, in order to remove all memories that Aeneas has left behind: “abolere nefandi / cuncta uiri monimenta iuuat monstratque sacerdos” (4.497–­498). She is lying but tells an unintended truth: the pyre will take with her the indications that Aeneas had ever been in Carthage. The effect is something like the opposite of the palimpsest, of the original, traditional story of Dido peering through the story that is being written over it. Here it is Virgil’s own story that is going up in flames. It explains to us why the affair of Dido and Aeneas was lost to history until the Aeneid could come along and set things straight. Dido’s death destroyed the evidence.

The conflict between Virgil’s version and the traditional story reaches its apex in Dido’s last two scenes in Book 4. When she sees the Trojan fleet sailing away, Dido briefly imagines a different fiery end in the pluperfect subjunctive: “faces in castra tulissem / implessemque foros flammis” (4.604–­605). While they were still in Carthage, she should, she says, have played the role of Hector, burning the camp and ships of Aeneas, as the Trojan hero had tried to do to the Greek fleet in the Iliad—­and as Turnus will try to do, mistakenly thinking that he is playing the role of Achilles, in Book 9 (the Trojan matrons have their go at it in Book 5). [9] Dido already announces here the reversal of the Trojan War that will take place in the second half of the Aeneid and aligns herself with the doomed Italian hero. She would, she says, have wiped out Aeneas and Ascanius and thrown herself on the conflagration—­“memet super ipsa dedissem” (4.606)—­extinguishing both Roman and Carthaginian futures.

Would have, could have, should have. The poem still leaves open, as it has done thus far through the episode, whether Dido is indeed the threat to Aeneas that Mercury says she is—­you’ll soon see torches and flames, the god says, if you don’t clear out of Carthage (4.566–­568). [10] It may be Aeneas’s leaving her and the way he leaves her that push Dido to these fantasies of revenge which may be nothing more than fantasies. [11] She has been burning with love from the start of Book 4, but that is a metaphor. Dido’s immediately ensuing curse (4.607f.), however, makes fantasy real, just as the pyre she has built will literally burn her dead body. The fantasy of Virgil’s myth itself shifts into history, as Dido projects recurring warfare between Carthage and Rome, the avenger rising from her bones and ashes who will be Hannibal, the shores battling shores with fire and sword—­“face ... ferroque” (4.626)—­down to the latest North African queen, Cleopatra. Dido at the last turns—­however she may be driven to turn—­into a monster: her terrible curse is modeled on the curse of the cyclops Polyphemus in the Odyssey. Aeneas had cut the cable of his ship in order to make a quick escape from the shores of the cyclopes in Sicily toward the end of Book 3 (667), and he repeats the action in his haste to depart from Carthage (4.575; 579–­580): just in time, it now seems.

But the Dido who now mounts her pyre sounds a different note. Sandwiched between her address to the relics of Aeneas and her wish that her Trojan lover see her burning funeral pyre from the deep, Dido speaks her epitaph.

uixi et, quem dederat cursum Fortuna peregi,

et nunc magna mei sub terras ibit imago.

urbem praeclaram statui, mea moenia uidi,

ulta uirum poenas inimico a fratre recepi,

felix, heu nimium felix, si litora tantum

numquam Dardaniae tetigissent nostra carinae. (4.653–­658)

I have lived and completed the course that Fortune gave, and now my image will descend in grandeur beneath the earth; I founded a splendid city, I have seen walls of my own, as an avenger of my husband I have punished my enemy brother; happy, alas, too happy, if only the Dardanian ships had never touched our shores.

Seneca later admired these verses for their acceptance of death, and even more for the gratitude they express for the life that is now coming to its end. [12] This Dido has much to be grateful for. In the third and fourth lines she sums up her achievements: she has founded her city, seen its walls rise, and obtained some revenge for her murdered husband. This is the Dido, in other words, of the traditional story that stares out at us beneath Virgil’s retelling, the Dido who commits suicide on her pyre to save the city she has founded. Hence the peculiar effects of the last two verses—­again in the pluperfect subjunctive—­she would have been too happy had the Trojans never touched her shores. Dido echoes Catullus’s abandoned Ariadne wishing Theseus had never reached Crete—­“ne tempore primo / Gnosia Cecropiae tetigissent litora puppes” (64.171–­172)—­but in her case, her contrafactual wish may be no more than the truth: Aeneas’s ships never did make a landing on Dido’s shores (just as she never attempted to burn them). [13] She and Carthage would have been only too happy with this foundation story: with Dido’s heroic self-­sacrifice, with Rome nowhere in sight. But first history and now Virgil have rewritten it.

Monster or wife devoted to husband and city? As it has long been recognized, the question is kept alive in Book 6 by the company Dido keeps in the underworld, the group of women among whom Aeneas encounters her shade. [14] They are victims of cruel love (“durus amor”; 6.442), but of what kind? Phaedra (445) and Pasiphae (447), daughter and mother, succumb to monstrous, unnatural passion for stepson and bull. Pasiphae has been mentioned earlier in the book, the mother not only of Phaedra but of the Minotaur pictured earlier on the gates sculpted by Daedalus at Cumae (6.25–­26), where the Cretan labyrinth anticipates in miniature the underworld itself, presided over by its Cretan judges, Minos (6.432) and Rhadamanthus (6.566), a labyrinth from which Theseus does not return but sits and will sit forever (6.617–­618; cf. 6.393–­394). Perhaps Carthage posed another hellish, deadly trap for Aeneas, Dido not so much the helpful, then abandoned Ariadne (6.28) as the monster at its center. Love of another sort, love of riches, drove Procris and Eriphyle (445) to betray their spouses. But alongside these bad wives are Evadne and Laodamia (447), who, out of marital love and devotion, both threw themselves on pyres in order to perish with their dead husbands, a kind of Indian suttee, as Propertius comments on Evadne (3.13.15–­24; cf. 1.15.21–­22). The Carthaginians recounted that Dido similarly perished in a patriotic blaze, remaining true to the ashes of Sychaeus, and it is to Sychaeus that her shade returns at the end of episode, to her fama prior. [15]

This return seems to be signaled by the last of these companions mentioned before the appearance of Dido herself: Caeneus. This is the masculine shape into which Caenis was transformed; in Virgil’s version of the myth, she returned to her earlier female form and gender. We may read this figure, as other critics have done, as a commentary on Virgil’s episode, where Dido the beloved wife takes on, after the murder of Sychaeus, the masculine role of leader of her new city—­“dux femina facti” (1.364)—­only to fall back, as the victim of Venus and of Aeneas’s charms, into womanly passion: “uarium et mutabile semper / femina” (4.569–­570). [16] Alternatively, we can read it as a metaliterary pointer: the Dido of the Carthaginian foundation story has been transformed into the Dido of Virgil’s corrective rewriting only now, in the underworld to return to her original shape, the queen who committed patriotic suicide and stayed true to her husband’s ashes.

Thus the (over)loaded nature of the question that Aeneas addresses to ­Dido’s shade:

infelix Dido, uerus mihi nuntius ergo

uenerat exstinctam ferroque extrema secutam?

funeris heu tibi causa fui? (6.456–­458)

Unhappy Dido, was the message that came to me truthful that you were dead and had sought your end with the sword? Was I, alas, the cause of your death?

The message was “true” that Dido had killed herself by the sword—­so both the preexisting and Virgil’s competing version of her story agree. Was Aeneas the cause? That may be the question which the Aeneid opens here about its own fiction. Dido does not answer one way or the other. She angrily—­“torua” (6.467)—­looks the other way with her eyes fixed on the ground. The model is the shade of Homer’s Ajax who, in the underworld episode of the Odyssey 11 (543–­564), refuses to acknowledge Odysseus’s not fully sincere apology for having won the arms of Achilles in Ajax’s stead. The Homeric model, Dido’s anger, the recent wound in her breast (6.450): these all seem to indicate that this is Virgil’s Dido who has killed herself for love of Aeneas in Book 4. Yet her silence, her acting as if Aeneas is not there equally suggest that he is not part of her story at all. Dido’s shade is likened in simile here to the moon one sees or thinks one sees behind the clouds (“aut uidet aut uidisse putat per nubila lunam”; 6.454). Like Fama herself, the publicizer of the love of Aeneas and Dido, the queen’s shade is lost in the clouds. Fama is herself both the messenger of truth—­“nuntia ueri”—­as well as the upholder of wicked fictions—­“ficti prauique tenax” (4.188). So, too, in Book 1, Aeneas behind his cloud both was and was not on the scene in Carthage. Now, too late, Aeneas weeps and expresses his love for a Dido who, the poem simultaneously suggests, is both there and not there, a Dido whom he may never have encountered and whom we as readers only think we are seeing in Virgil’s story. For the “true” Dido—­still a shade and a fiction—­lives on in the underworld with Sychaeus in another story entirely.

Dido the Phoenix

Virgil preserves that other story of Dido’s suicide in a separate, if related way. He revises but nonetheless takes it seriously as the founding myth of a city-­state that maintains its autonomy and refuses marital alliances with its neighbors. For once Aeneas is indeed out of the picture, Dido’s ghastly death at the end of Book 4 associates her, “Phoenissa,” as the poem has heretofore named her, and Carthage itself with a different myth: the self-­generating Phoenix. The larger Aeneid contrasts this foundation of Carthage with the foundation of Rome through Aeneas’s marriage to Lavinia and the late child he will have with her.

Virgil’s Dido would indeed like to have a child by Aeneas: the prospect of maternity is one of the enticements that Anna places before her sister’s mind at the beginning of Book 4 when she encourages Dido to embrace the Trojan who comes bearing gifts (4.31f.). Anna adds that settling the Trojans beside her Phoenicians, an offer that Dido had herself already made to Ilioneus (1.572–­574) before Aeneas broke through his cloud, would also help populate and defend Carthage. The new city, Anna points out, is threatened by their brother Pygmalion (4.43–­44) and surrounded by African tribes: Gaetulians (4.40), Numidians (4.41), and the Barcaei (4.43). The last of these names is overdetermined, for it both denotes a preexisting people and the future Carthaginian Barcid dynasty of statesmen to which Hannibal would belong: Virgil also suggests a purely Punic origin for the dynasty in Sychaeus’s old nurse Barce (4.632), a family retainer who must also be a living reproach to Dido in her new love affair. The passage indicates the future conquest by Carthage over these North African neighbors as far as Cyrene (Barca did not exactly border on Carthage, but was, as Austin’s commentary points out, seven hundred miles to the east). [17] Dido herself, in her first speech of complaint to Aeneas upon learning of his planned departure, wishes that he had at least given her a child, a little Aeneas playing in her palace—­“si quis mihi paruulus aula / luderet Aeneas” (4.328–­329). Here, too, strategic as well as personal emotional ends are involved, for in the preceding verses (4.320–­326) Dido, in a clear echo and reprise of Anna’s speech (4.36–­44), considers her vulnerability to attacks from Tyre and from Iarbas and the Africans.

Let us briefly switch to Virgil’s contemporary times, in order to acknowledge the double historical scheme that the Dido episode serves. The child that Dido wants, but does not, in fact, obtain also points to, in order to deny, Julius’s Caesar’s fathering of a son, Caesarion, on the recent North African queen Cleopatra. Antony and Cleopatra designated Caesarion as the true dynastic Julian heir—­a rival to Augustus, the adoptive son of Julius Caesar. This love child, the Aeneid suggests, here and at the earlier moment when Cupid, in the guise of Ascanius, pours his poison into Dido during her banquet (1.657–­722), was a phantom stand-­in for a true Julian child. Caesarion, that is, was illegitimate, fathered by who knows whom: just to be safe, Augustus had Caesarion killed after Actium. Meanwhile, the epic criticizes Aeneas for acting like an Antony banqueting, consorting with, and even marrying Cleo­patra in name as well as in deed, until Mercury brings the Trojan hero to his senses and sends him on his true Roman and Julian way, triggering Dido’s mad suicide. Cleopatra would also take her own life, and Virgil, on the shield of Aeneas sculpted by Vulcan in Book 8, pairs her through textual echo with Dido, both pale in prospect of their coming suicides (4.644; 8.709).

Back to Carthage and to Dido’s suicide itself. In an elegant article, Jane E. Phillips demonstrates how Dido’s taking of her own life with the sword of Aeneas not only mimes the sexual act but also the childbirth in which sex can result. Servius had noted that when Dido approaches the altars by her pyre with one sandal off and unloosed garment: “unum exuta pedem uinclis, in ueste recincta” (4.518), she behaves as a worshipper of Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth. All clothing must be loosened, all knots untied, in order, through symbolic sympathy, to ensure an easy delivery. But that is what is denied to Dido in her death pangs. Her struggling soul cannot leave her body until Juno, taking pity on her protracted pain and difficult departure, sends down Iris “quae luctantem animam nexosque resolueret artus” (6.695): the verb governs both objects, freeing the soul and unloosing the binding limbs. Phillips points out that death in childbirth was far more common in the classical world than in our own. Dido dies giving birth not to the child she hoped for from Aeneas but to the Carthage that would be Rome’s most terrible enemy. She had called upon an avenger to rise from her ashes—­“exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor” (4.625).

This is Hannibal and other Carthaginian foes of Rome, but the symbolic birth has shifted into a different mythological key. Phoenician Dido, “Phoenissa,” so Virgil calls her four times (1.670, 714; 4.348, 529), has become a phoenix, the bird that regenerates itself through self-­immolation on the pyre it builds for itself, its successor born from its ashes. [18] So Carthage itself rose from defeat after the first and second (Hannibalic) Punic wars to be burnt to the ground in the third. Dido’s thwarted sexuality and maternity turn into a monstrous parthenogenesis. To repeat, Dido has played a man’s role as ruler (“dux femina facti”), and her giving birth in death, Phoenissa become Phoenix, implies a switch in gender similar to Caenis–­Caeneus: the phoenix is a male bird that reproduces asexually.

By bringing Aeneas onto the scene of Carthage’s foundation myth, Virgil supplies the eros that the story of the chaste widow Dido had repressed, and that eros, awakened and then thwarted by the hero’s departure, transforms the myth which tells how the Phoenician city could retain its autonomy without intermarrying or mingling with its neighbors into a dark version of the phoenix that regenerates through its own, repeated self-­destruction. For Virgil appears to detect the real historical weakness that would destroy the Carthaginian empire, at least as the Greco-­Roman sources present it: its refusal, so proudly declared in the other Dido story, to admit its subject African peoples into its citizenry. Carthage might well, like the phoenix, reproduce by itself rather than through and with its neighbors, but this exclusivity limited the size of the citizenry that manned her armies and fleets, and made the city depend on mercenary soldiers. [19] So, in a famous passage comparing the constitutions of the two cities, Polybius commented on the Carthaginian neglect of infantry and suggested why the city lost out to Rome.

The reason of this is that the troops they employ are foreign and mercenary, whereas those of the Romans are natives of the soil and citizens. So that in this respect also we must pronounce the political system of Rome to be superior to that of Carthage, the Carthaginians continuing to depend for the maintenance of their freedom on the courage of a mercenary force but the Romans on their own valor and on the aid of their allies. (6.52.4–­5) [20]

Rome had citizens and allies enough to fill its armies. By contrast to Carthage, it conquered its Italian neighbors and at the same time began to intermarry with and admit them into its citizenry. These peoples had a stake, Polybius affirms, in Rome’s future—­they shared in the booty of Rome’s victories—­in a way that few of Carthage’s dominated subjects did for hers. [21] The extension of Roman citizenship was a long-­term process and proceeded by fits and starts. [22] It eventually required the Social Wars of 90–­88 bce to complete the integration of Rome’s Italian allies into fully shared citizenship: in 49 bce the inhabitants of Virgil’s Cisalpine Gaul, and these may have included Virgil’s own family, were similarly enfranchised. In his depiction of Actium on the shield of Aeneas, the poet depicts Augustus leading the unified Italians into battle, his name surrounding them in the verse: “hinc Augustus agens Italos in proelia Caesar” (8.678). Before the third century bce, Rome had offered her colonies and neighbors in Italy the intermediate status of Latini, between ally and citizen. The loyalty of these Latini to Rome, even after her disastrous defeat at Cannae, frustrated the victor Hannibal, doomed him to defeat in the second Punic War, and led to the end of Carthage itself.

Livy depicts this practice of Rome’s expansion of her citizen base beginning with Aeneas’s marriage to Lavinia, the Italian princess. The historian tells us that Turnus, formerly betrothed to Lavinia, allied himself with the Etruscans. Facing this enemy coalition, Aeneas began state-­building.

Aeneas, that he might win the good will of the Aborigines to confront so formidable an array and that they all might possess not only the same rights, but also the same name, called both nations Latins; and from that time on the Aborigines were no less ready and faithful than the Trojans in the service of Aeneas. (1.2.4–­5) [23]

Livy retrojects what would be future Roman policy to the first settlement of the Trojans in Italy, and he adds the idea that Aeneas gave to the Trojans themselves the name of Latini in order to join the two peoples as one. These are much the same terms that Virgil’s Juno imposes on Jupiter at the end of the Aeneid, when she consents to the marriage of Aeneas and Lavinia. But here the Italian natives are already called Latins, and the goddess’s goal is the obliteration of the Trojan name.

ne uetus indigenas nomen mutare Latinos

neu Troas fieri iubeas Teucrosque uocari

aut uocem mutare uiros aut uertere uestem.

sit Latium, sint Albani per saecula reges,

sit Romana potens Itala uirtute propago;

occidit, occideritque sinas cum nomine Troia. (12.823–­828)

Do not command the native Latins to change their ancient name nor to become Trojans or be called Teucrians, nor to change their language or dress. Let Latium be, and the Alban kings, through the ages; let there be a Roman stock potent in Italian virtue; Troy has fallen; command that it stay fallen, together with its name.

This is the poetic, mythic version—­the result of the divine colloquy—­of what the historian Livy depicts as Aeneas’s own political decision, the beginning of a practice of intermarriage and absorption of bordering peoples that would continue among his Roman descendants. By insisting on the Trojans themselves becoming Latins and Italians, Juno, still at this point the enemy of Rome, actually ensures the city’s future greatness—­a Roman seed powerful with Italian virtus—­as a peninsular, then world power. [24]

Juno does so at the expense of her favorite, Carthage. [25] The Aeneid contrasts this foundation of Rome’s future with the foundation of Carthage it has treated in its first half. At issue is how these empires were to reproduce themselves through subsequent history. Virgil’s Dido had offered to settle the Trojans in Carthage and to make no discrimination between them and her Tyrians (1.574). She claimed that Aeneas was her husband. But the epic’s hero leaves her, taking his followers with him, in order to reach Italy and instead to marry his Latin princess. Beneath its mythmaking, the Aeneid reflects upon two real and different demographic destinies, the consequences of political choices and institutions, that would turn out to be decisive for Rome and Carthage. The son, Silvius of Alban name (6.763), that Lavinia will produce for Aeneas sets the pattern for the building of Rome’s population through its mingling with, and extending citizenship to, its conquered Italian neighbors. By contrast the barren Dido in either of her versions, whether as the chaste widow of the story the Aeneid writes over or as the love-­maddened woman whom the Aeneid depicts, establishes Carthage’s closed model of citizenship, which in the long run made the Punic city unable to compete with Roman manpower. Virgil’s rewriting, that is, still allows us to see beneath it—­indeed, the phoenix myth brings it further out—­the catch-­22 in the other story of a noble Dido sacrificing herself on her pyre in order to foil her African suitors and preserve her city’s independence. Even if Aeneas never arrived on her shores (and he never did), this Dido had already doomed Carthage to its inbred, unsustainable future.


[1]Hardie, 2014, 52–­55.

[2] Feeney, 1991, 186–­187; Hardie, 2012, 98. For an analogy of Virgil’s doubled Dido to the Helen of Homer and Stesichorus, see Hexter, 1992, 332–­384, 341–­342.

[3] James, 1995.

[4]Fama can make us suspicious about Jupiter’s ensuing pronouncement, carried down to earth by Mercury—­whom Hardie has shown to be an inverse double of Fama—­ordering Aeneas to leave Carthage and set sail for Italy. The divine command issues from similarly cloudy origins in the heavens. See Hardie, 2012, 92–­98 as well as Hardie, 1986, 276–­285. This is all a poetic fiction, the poem allows the skeptical reader to conclude. In between these moments, Iarbas has complained, with a Lucretian emphasis on thunderbolts sent from the clouds (“caecique in nubibus ignes”; 4.209), that the Jupiter he worships is just an empty fame: “famamque fouemus inanem” (4.218). Iarbas believes himself to be the son of Jupiter in the role of Hammon (4.198); it’s better than thinking of oneself as a fatherless bastard. The most famous claimant to such Hammonian sonship in antiquity was Alexander the Great. Romans had looked down on such Hellenistic god-­kings, though Augustus was now becoming one himself. Virgil’s replacement of Dido’s prior fame with a new one threatens to reveal the whole religio-­political establishment that the Aeneid depends on and serves as a house of cards or, rather, as a hard fact of power. I return to the issue of divine sonship below in the next chapter. On fama as part of the imperial ideology of the Aeneid, see Boyle, 1986, 87–­89; Hejduk, 2009.

[5] Servius, 1881, 1:120. “dido vero nomine Elissa ante dicta est, sed post interitum a Poenis Dido appellata, id est virago Punica lingua, quod cum a suis sociis cogeretur cuicumque de Afris regibus nubere et prioris mariti caritate teneretur, forti se animo et interfecerit et in pyram iecerit, quam se ad expiandos prioris mariti manes extruxisse fingebat.”

[6] A longer account of Dido’s story is found in Justin’s Epitome of the “Philippic History” of Pompeius Trogus, 18.4–­6. For possible Punic components in Virgil’s portrait of Dido, see Hexter, 1992.

[7] Boccaccio, following Tertullian, compared Dido to Lucretia in De claris mulieribus; see Hardie, 2014; Hardie, 1986, 283.

[8] Heinze, 1993, 95.

[9] Iris, disguised as Beroë, invokes Hector (5.634) just before she urges the matrons to burn the ships; Ascanius tells them that they are not attacking the Greek enemy camp, as if they were still in the Iliad following Hector in his quest to burn the Argive ships, but are instead burning up but their own hopes for a future: “non hostem inimicaque castra / Argiuum, uestra spes uritis” (5.671–­672).

[10] Schiesaro, 2008, demonstrates, at length and in detail, that Virgil does some careful stacking of the deck against Dido. Allusions to both the Medea of Euripides, asking for time (in which to carry out her revenge), and to Apollonius’s Medea, who betrays her brother Apsyrtus to murder, should give us pause about the Dido with whom the larger poem makes its readers sympathize. Mercury, Schiesaro argues, may know what he is talking about. His intervention and the ensuing events of the poem will never let us know for sure; Virgil has it both ways.

[11]The initial delay of Aeneas in confronting Dido, his barely credible story of a divine messenger ordering him to leave, his tactless assertion that, were he freed by the fates to pursue his wishes, he still would not stay with Dido but return to vanquished Troy, his failure to weep, his refusal to wait out the winter (on which occasion he may weep before her sister Anna, if the tears of verse 449 are his, and not Anna’s, and that might be as bad or worse than not weeping at all), his sailing in the secrecy of night: this series of actions by Aeneas keeps ratcheting up Dido’s fury and her literature-­soaked imagination: she could have been a Medea or a Procne (4.600–­602) as well as a ship-­burning Hector.

[12] De Ben. 5.17.5. #15

[13]Catullus, 1966, 108.

[14] Perret, 1964; Tatum, 1984; West, 1980.

[15] Perret, 1964, 352–­353 remarks that Evadne and Laodamia, faithful to their husbands on their respective pyres, recall the traditional story of Dido.

[16] Tatum, 1984, 436–­437; West, 1980, on Dido’s androgyny.

[17] Austin, 1955, 36.

[18] I have advanced an earlier version of this reading in Quint, 1993, 108 on Dido’s curse.

[19] On this question see Ameling, 2013; see also Ameling, 1993, 262–­263. Ameling, 1993, 189–­190 sets out the conventional historical view that Carthage’s mobilization of citizen armies gave way in or after the First Punic War to the use of mercenaries and that citizens’ participation in warfare took place predominantly in her fleets, where their abilities were particularly valued. He then, 203–­210, offers a more complicated picture: citizens were conscripted into both army and navy, but, like any other ancient state, Carthage found it difficult to man both land and sea forces at the same time. For brief remarks on the question of Carthage’s closed citizenship, see Lancel, 1993, 119–­120. Fantar, 1993, 1:170 citing epigraphic evidence, argues that against the Greco-­Roman tradition, Dido did marry Iarbas: that is, there was a degree of intermarriage between Phoenicians and Libyans.

[20] Polybius, 2011, 3:426–­429.

[21] See Ameling, 2013, 379: “Enriching the citizens at the subjects’ expense provided stability for Carthage—­the rationale behind the sharp division between citizens and subjects: any integration of the subjects into the state, for instance by means of large-­scale citizenship grants, would have reduced the possibility for the exploitation of subjects and would thus have endangered the enrichment of the people—­and the rule of the aristocracy. This had its consequences: Carthage always retained the status of a city with its limited possibilities. Its subjects never identified themselves with Carthage.” The readiness of Carthage’s subject North Africans to join with the mercenaries against the city in the great revolt of the Mercenaries’ War (241–­238 bce) is telling; see Lancel, 1993, 372–­376 and the narrative in Polybius 1.66–­88, who describes, 1.71–­72, the provincials’ resentment at extortionate taxes paid to their Carthaginian masters. As a counterexample but perhaps exception to the rule, Livy reports, 21.45.6, that Hannibal, on the eve of the battle of Ticinus (218 bce), promised citizenship to his allies in the event of victory.

[22] Nicolet, 1976, 37–­68. On the diaspora of Roman citizens in the conquered provinces and client states of the empire, see Purcell, 2005.

[23] Livy, 1922–­59, 1:12–­13. “Aeneas, adversus tanti belli terrorem ut animos Aboriginum sibi conciliaret, nec sub eodem iure solum sed etiam nomine omnes essent, Latinos utramque gentem appellavit. Nec deinde Aborigines Troianis studio ac fide erga regem Aeneam cessere.”

[24] Bettini, 2005, argues that Juno does not quite get her way and that an echt Trojan stock, principally the gens Iulia, survives within the larger absorption of Trojans into the new Roman people. Bettini writes in response to Giardina. Giardina, 1997, 62–­77 explores the various valences of the Trojan myth for the Romans and for their neighbors and enemies; he notes, 67–­68, that it could both indicate something of the mixed, expansive nature of Roman citizenship and preserve the idea of an exclusively Roman-­Trojan pedigree as opposed to a greater Italian identity: the two ideas worked together to make Roman-­ness. Casali, 2009, 323–­325 convincingly demonstrates, however, that in Juno’s and Jupiter’s decree of an admixture of Trojans and Romans the Aeneid implicitly chooses to trace the lineage of the Alban kings and Romulus back to Aeneas’s marriage with Lavinia and to their son, Silvius Postumus, rather than to the elder, Trojan son, Ascanius, and to the Julian line. For a further overview, see Barchiesi, 2012. Dupont, 2011, reads the Aeneid’s story of the foundation of Rome by the exile, nonnative Aeneas as a model for the city’s future openness and inclusive citizenship: outsiders become insiders.

[25] Juno may not, then, obtain what she wants or thinks that she has obtained; I would qualify the critical views of Feeney, 1984, and Johnson, 1976, 124–­127, who grant the goddess a more than partial victory at the poem’s end. There is some irony in her insistence that the name of Troy be lost, since it allows for the category of the Latini and Rome’s demographic expansion. The whole Aeneid bears witness, in any case, to the fact that the name of Troy has not been lost, although it may have had to be reinvented.

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The Classics Which Is (Not) Ours

We have framed this collection of writing about ancient Greek and Roman literature around the contrary idea of the "Greece which is (not) ours" in an attempt to capture the dynamic and creative tensions that arise when doing classical scholarship in full awareness of the different ways in which successive generations of readers and scholars have constructed ancient Greece and Rome in their own image.


This entails full consciousness that the "classical" in classical scholarship is itself a prepossessing move that leapfrogs the classics of other literatures and civilizations, as Harish Trivedi reminds us. Our title echoes José Martí's clarion formula that "the Greece which is ours must replace the Greece which is not ours" ("Nuestra Grecia es preferible a la Grecia que no es nuestra," 1891). Written in the context of anti-colonial independence movements in Cuba and Latin America, Martí's elegant antithesis recognized the role that ideological appropriations of classical antiquity have played in the fashioning of different imagined communities, from literary salons to empires. In turn, Martí proposed a counter-ideological, regional, Latin American cultural and historical narrative that would supplant the symbolic power of "Greece."

We have chosen a selection of works that pose these questions individually and collectively. We hope that the conversations that readers will have around these works will provoke fresh discussions about what it means to study ancient Greek and Roman classics in the still awakening wake of history; or, to put it more prosaically, what it means to do classical scholarship in the countercurrents of contested identities, ideologies, and theories. We combine scholarship on the ancient world with reception studies, in recognition that scholarship is a kind of making and that later responses to ancient Greek and Roman literature and mythology continue to extend the horizons of these texts. Both modes of engagement speak to the complex fascination produced by the worlds of the ancient Greeks and Romans. We are drawn not only to the study of these worlds and to the creation of new art by means of them but increasingly to the difficult work of deconstructing their ideologies, their receptions, and the discipline dedicated to them by channeling aspects of our own lived identities.

Such tasks require us to take on the difficult legacies of Classics as we attempt to reconcile its attendant histories with our own hopes, visions, and values. In effect, we have an ethical responsibility for the way in which we construct and "do" Classics, whether or not Classics can ever really be "ours." The works gathered in this colloquy explore the entanglements inherent in entering the worlds of ancient Greeks and Romans both because of a classicizing ideology and at the same time in spite of that ideology and its encumbrances. All of the scholarship that we have selected analyzes the historical and cultural situatedness of interpretation. Variously, the extracts bring ancient debates into dialogue with debates in the present (Kasimis); consider the politics of going to Classics (Bond, Stead and Hall, Padilla Peralta, Rankine); explore the uses of Classics in fashioning counter-cultural historical identities (Nisbet), and offer imaginative interpretations to seemingly familiar works (Devecka, Quint, Underwood). Finally, three pieces offer meta-reflections on the state of Anglophone classical scholarship in current political climates (Harloe, Güthenke and Holmes, and Padilla Peralta's blog post). The majority of works included in this colloquy are broadly contemporary (published in the last five years). We have included a few works outside of this time frame to show the longer arc of this conversation.

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