The Aeneid

Two Treatments of a Woman Scorned

Mythological accounts constantly transform themselves in crossing cultures and enduring time, but two versions of the story of Dido and Aeneas, one by a shy, serious, government-sponsored poet; the other by an often lighthearted author, a future exile, show that even among contemporaries living in the same city, an author's sensibilities can shape an ancient story. Vergil's tale of Dido and Aeneas, forming the most memorable portion of the Aeneid, is sympathetic to both players while ultimately serving the poem's goal of revealing the toil and tears that went into Aeneas' founding of an empire. Ovid's letter from Dido to Aeneas, on the other hand, forms a part of the Heroides, a work sympathetic to the women whose fictional letters it contains, and subverts the themes of the epic upon which it is based.

Vergil's Dido calls on Aeneas' promises to hold him back. Whether these promises ever existed is unclear, but in Dido's mind "[her] plighted right hand" (IV.307), "[their] marriage" (IV.316), and "undertaken marriage songs" (IV.316) should suffice to bind Aeneas to her. Aeneas swears that "[He] never came into a [marriage] pact with [Dido]" (IV.338-9); from...

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