J. Swanepoel


The Aeneid is a text which elicits many questions from the reader. One of the fascinating
aspects is the depiction of Dido, queen of Carthage, in this epic. Dido, the founder of the
might of the Carthaginians, the arch-enemies of those who would later becqme the
Romans, is one of the most captivating figures in this epic. While one could argue thac the
poet simply had the insight to juxtapose one figure of greatness with the other in order to
place Aeneas, the primogenitor of the Romans, in heroic relief, Vergil actually goes much
further, according to most modern commentators. Mackie (1988:82), for example, states
that the poet gives Dido a privileged position in the epic: "Vergil does not desire that the
reader's sympathy be shared between the two characters: the vast imbalance in their
dramatic roles is intended to focus our attention and sympathy on the decline and death of
the queen." Boyle (1986: 115) is rather more nuanced. He points out that the fourth book of
the Aeneid as a whole is focused on "a dramatic narrative which illustrates in vivid
personal terms the cost of the pursuit of imperial greatness. The emphasis in thrs book is
predominantly (though not entirely) upon the personal sufferings of Dido, with whom
Virgil's sympathy predominantly lies." 1

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