by cheri block
The ancient poet Virgil, commissioned by his patron, Roman Emperor Augustus, to write an epic poem that would commemorate the founding of Rome, died before he finished his massive text, a work we know as The Aeneid. On his deathbed, he ordered his work of twelve years to be burned.
I find Virgil’s last wishes to be entirely in keeping with the fire of this poem.
One of the hot books (chapters, if you will) is entitled The Passion of the Queen, which is a bit of an understatement.
It represents, perhaps, one of the greatest feminine meltdowns in all of ancient literature.
The queen is Dido, Queen of Carthage.
She is lonely, lustful, romantic, generous, conniving, and finally destructive.
In short, Dido is a young beautiful woman whose husband Sychaeus has died, leaving her to rule the city alone. Until the handsome Trojan warrior Aeneas arrives on the beaches of North Africa, with his ramshackle fleet of ships tossed and almost destroyed by the fury of the Goddess Juno (the Greek Hera), Dido had not considered remarriage.
Before the end of this book, Dido and Aeneas have had an affair in a cave and this sexual union Dido wrongly interprets as a marriage.
Aeneas forgets his mission—to found Rome—and spends his time completing Dido’s Honey Doo list, in addition to enjoying a fiery sexual relationship.
When his mother, the Goddess Venus (the Greek Aphrodite) sees that her son is off course, shall we say, she send the messenger god, Mercury (the Greek Hermes) to remind her son of his duty.
Aeneas decides to sneak away without telling Dido and for this slimy decision and her own impending love, sexual, and public loss, she will curse him and predict the Punic Wars that Rome will fight three times against Carthage.
In the end, Dido loses it, as we might say today.
Virgil’s description of her mindset, her manic energy, her Furor, her complete psychic meltdown is unparalleled in ancient literature.
Before we, the reader, tumble to Hades with Dido, she utters the following words:
“I die unavenged,” she said, “but let me die.
This way, this way, a blessed relief to go
Into the undergloom. Let the cold Trojan,
Far at sea, drink in this conflagration
And take with him the omen of my death!”
Then, crawling up to the top of a funeral pyre in a rant, wailing about Fate, she stabs herself to death with a steel blade.
Out in the sea, readying the ships for the trip to Latium (Italy), Aeneas sees the fire of the pyre.
But he is off to Italy.