martyr of love Dido suffered suicide & abortion of fetus with Aeneas

Queen Dido of Carthage became a martyr of love in a telling way. The goddess Juno possessed fourteen sea-nymphs — women of most men’s dreams. Each sea-nymph had an “outstanding body {praestans corpus}.”[1] Filled with fury at Aeneas and his Trojans, Juno selected Deiopia, who had the “most beautiful appearance {forma pulcherrima},” to give to the Lord of Winds in return for vicious wind-work. The raging Juno, trafficking in women, contrived to have a violent storm assail the Trojans fleeing in ships from their disgraced land. That started it.

One man drowned in the storm that Juno incited against the fleeing Trojans. Perhaps the drowned man was a hardworking helmsman hurled headfirst into the sea by a massive wave. Many other men also faced mortal danger. No one knows the name of the man who died. Men die in enormous numbers in the celebrated epics of Western civilization. Men’s deaths to this day aren’t notable: “seven persons died in the blast, including one woman.” In the storm that Juno incited against the fleeing Trojans, one man drowned.

The mother-goddess Venus ensured the Trojans’ safety. Venus was the mother of the Trojan leader Aeneas. She understood the power of women’s tears. With tearful eyes the beautiful Venus went to Jove. He was the head god in charge of the cosmos and had a keen eye for beautiful women. Venus declared Jove’s potency, questioned the justice of the Trojans’ difficulties, evoked Jove’s past promises, and told of her despair. Jove in response decreed that the Carthaginian queen Dido would offer the fleeing Trojans peace and good will. Jove promised a glorious future for the Trojans as founders of the Roman Empire. He even promised to quell his wife Juno’s fury against them. Ancient Roman gods and ordinary men will promise anything to please beautiful women.

Dido, Queen of Carthage

When a righteous god suddenly ended the storm, the Trojans headed for the nearest land. That was the African coast where Queen Dido ruled over Carthage. After her husband had been killed, the wealthy and privileged Dido fled from Phoenician Tyre to the northern coast of Africa. There she contracted to buy from the Africans the amount of land that a bull’s hide enclosed. After the deal was concluded, Dido had the bull’s hide cut into strips thin enough to encompass an area big enough to contain the whole new city of Carthage. The colonizer Dido thus exploited the native Africans through deception and effectively robbed them of land. The Africans fought to drive Dido back into the sea, or sought at least to get a share in Carthage through an intercultural marriage with Dido. But Dido refused to have any relations with the Africans other than war.

Dido exploited men’s labor for the heavy, dangerous construction work necessary to build Carthage. The industriousness of Tyrian men building up Carthage for their queen impressed Aeneas:

Aeneas marvels at the massive buildings, once mere huts.
He marvels at the gates, the din, and high roads.
Eagerly the Tyrians press on. Some men build walls
to raise the citadel and roll up stones by hand.
Some choose a home site and bound it with a furrow.
Here some men are digging harbors, here others lay the deep
foundations for a theater. Vast columns they
hew out of the cliffs to adorn fitly the stage to be.

{ Miratur molem Aeneas, magalia quondam,
miratur portas strepitumque et strata viarum.
Instant ardentes Tyrii: pars ducere muros,
molirique arcem et manibus subvolvere saxa,
pars optare locum tecto et concludere sulco.
hic portus alii effodiunt; hic alta theatris
fundamenta locant alii, immanisque columnas
rupibus excidunt, scaenis decora alta futuris. }

Just as worker drones serve their queen bee, so men in gynocentric society serve women.[2] Men have physically built almost all the structures of city life around the world. With an occupational fatality incidence more than ten times that of women, men pay with their lives in doing the dangerous work of building cities. Who cares?

Women and men prefer to focus on women. So it was in Carthage under Queen Dido:

Here Dido of Tyre was building for Juno a mighty temple,
rich in gifts and the presence of the goddess.
Bronze was its threshold’s crowning steps, bronze plates
were its lintel beams, the hinges of its bronze doors newly creaked.

{ Hic templum Iunoni ingens Sidonia Dido
condebat, donis opulentum et numine divae,
aerea cui gradibus surgebant limina, nexaeque
aere trabes, foribus cardo stridebat aenis. }

Acting without his wife Juno’s permission, Jove decreed that Queen Dido would offer the Trojans peace and good will. Juno hated the Trojans. Dido with her mighty temple to Juno apparently was amid a marital conflict between the leading gods. She showed no sign of being disturbed: “above all the Queen / takes on a calm mind and benevolent spirit about the Trojans {in primis regina quietum / accipit in Teucros animum mentemque benignam}.” Dido would justify and do whatever best served her own desire.[3]

Aeneas’s fame and physical beauty stirred Dido’s longing. After she marched into the temple of Juno with an escort of a thousand dancing nymph-goddesses, Dido met Trojan supplicants who had washed ashore. Aeneas wasn’t among them. Dido promised the Trojans a choice:

Whatever you choose, great Hesperia — Saturn’s fields —
or the shores of Eryx with Acestes as your king,
I will speed you there with escorts and aid.
Or do you wish to settle in my realm as equals with me?
This city I’m building — it’s yours. Haul ships to shore.
Trojans, Tyrians: they will be without difference to me.

{ Seu vos Hesperiam magnam Saturniaque arva,
sive Erycis finis regemque optatis Acesten,
auxilio tutos dimittam, opibusque iuvabo.
Voltis et his mecum pariter considere regnis;
urbem quam statuo vestra est, subducite navis;
Tros Tyriusque mihi nullo discrimine agetur. }

Dido longed to meet the famous Trojan king Aeneas: “If only the storm that drove you here had done the same / for King Aeneas {Atque utinam rex ipse Noto compulsus eodem / adforet Aeneas}!” Aeneas then materialized before Dido as if through a dream’s mist:

There Aeneas stood, gleaming in the clear light,
his head, his shoulders — like a god. By his own mother adorned
with gloss on his flowing hair, the ruddy glow of youth.
Radiant joy shone in his eyes. His beauty was fine
as a craftsman’s hand can add to ivory or like when
silver or Parian marble glows, ringed in glinting gold.

{ Restitit Aeneas claraque in luce refulsit,
os umerosque deo similis; namque ipsa decoram
caesariem nato genetrix lumenque iuventae
purpureum et laetos oculis adflarat honores:
quale manus addunt ebori decus, aut ubi flavo
argentum Pariusve lapis circumdatur auro. }

Dido marveled at Aeneas’s beauty. She also empathized with his long ordeal and his sufferings as an exile. What the leading gods Juno and Jove wanted Dido to do didn’t matter. She was in love with Aeneas. She later hugged close to her heart the scheming Cupid whom she thought was Aeneas’s son. That only further inflamed her desire for Aeneas.

Unlike the long, violent ordeals of Odysseus and Aeneas, Dido endured an ordeal of love. The night after Dido met Aeneas, she had no peace, no rest:

But the queen — too long has she suffered the pain of love —
feeds the wound with her lifeblood, consumed by hidden fire.

{ At regina gravi iamdudum saucia cura
volnus alit venis, et caeco carpitur igni. }

A twelfth-century French poet empathetically perceived Dido’s circumstances:

There is no benefit from her lying in bed.
She turns over and turns back again very often,
faints and revives,
gasps, sighs, and yawns.
She is greatly upset and troubled,
trembles, shivers and shakes,
her heart fails her and deserts her.
The lady is in very bad straits,
and when she forgets herself,
she thinks that they lie together,
that she holds him naked in her arms,
that she embraces him in her arms.
She doesn’t know how to cover or disguise her love.
She embraces her blanket,
finds in that neither comfort nor love,
and then kisses her pillow a thousand times
for love of the soldier.
She thinks that he who is absent
is instead present in her bed.
He is not there, he is elsewhere.
She speaks to him as if she can hear him,
in her bed she reaches out her hand and seeks him.
Not finding him, she beats herself with her fists.
She weeps and makes loud moans,
dampens her sheets with her tears.
The queen tosses and turns,
first face down, then on her back.
She cannot save herself, she is very upset,
she spends the night in trouble and pain.

{ Ne fust por rien qu’ele dormist;
Tornot et retornot sovant,
Eles se pasme et s’estant,
Sofle, sospire et baaille,
Molt se demeine et ravaille,
Tranble, fremist et si tressalt,
Li cuers li mant et se li falt.
Molt est la dame mal baillie,
Et quant ce est qu’ele s’oblie,
Ansanble lui quide gesir,
Antre ses braz tot nu tenir;
Antre ses braz lo quide estraindre.
Ne set s’amor covrir ne foindre;
Ele acole son covertor,
Confort n’i trove ne amor;
Mil foiz baise son oreillier,
Anpor l’amor au chevalier,
Cuide que cil qui ert absenz
Anz an son lit li fust presenz:
N’an i a mie, aillors estoit.
Parolle o lui com s’el l’ooit;
An son lit le taste et quiert;
Quant nel trove, des poinz se fiert;
Ele plore et fait grant duel,
Des larmes moillent si lincuel;
Molt se detorne la raine,
Primes adanz et puis sovine.
Ne puet garir, molt se demeine,
Molt traist la nuit e mal et poine }[4]

When dawn finally came, Dido confided her love pain for Aeneas to her sister Anna. Dido was suffering because her murdered husband Sychaeus had cheated her:

If my heart had not been fixed, dead-set against
embracing another man in the bonds of marriage —
every since my first love deceived me, cheated me
by his death — if I were not as sick as I am
of the bridal bed and marital union’s torch, perhaps
to this one fault I might have succumbed.
Anna, I confess this: ever since Sychaeus
my husband met his fate and my own brother
through murder stained our household gods,
only this man has roused my senses, has my troubled
spirit swayed. I know traces of the ancient flame,
yet I pray that the earth gape wide enough to take me deep.
All-powerful father, thunder-strike me to the shadows,
the pale, glimmering shades in hell, the pit of night,
before I dishonor you, my conscience break your laws.

{ Si mihi non animo fixum immotumque sederet,
ne cui me vinclo vellem sociare iugali,
postquam primus amor deceptam morte fefellit;
si non pertaesum thalami taedaeque fuisset,
huic uni forsan potui succumbere culpae.
Anna, fatebor enim, miseri post fata Sychaei
coniugis et sparsos fraterna caede Penatis,
solus hic inflexit sensus, animumque labantem
impulit: adgnosco veteris vestigia flammae.
Sed mihi vel tellus optem prius ima dehiscat,
vel Pater omnipotens adigat me fulmine ad umbras,
pallentis umbras Erebi noctemque profundam,
ante, Pudor, quam te violo, aut tua iura resolvo. }[5]

Dreaming of being thunder-shaken and taken deep, Dido held her dead husband responsible for what she would choose to think and do:

He’s carried my love away, the man who wed me first —
may he hold it tight, safeguard it in his grave.

{ Ille meos, primus qui me sibi iunxit, amores
abstulit; ille habeat secum servetque sepulchro. }

If a woman cuckolds her husband, he’s to blame for not safeguarding her love. So it was for Dido’s dead husband Sychaeus and Dido’s love for Aeneas.

Dido and Aeneas embrace

Dido’s sister Anna was too smart of a woman to blame dead men for women’s choices. She described how Dido could use Trojan men:

O you, who to your sister are more beloved than light,
would you waste away, grieving your youth away, alone,
never to know the joy of children, all the gifts of love?
Do you really believe that’s what the dust desires,
the ghosts in their ashen tombs? Have it your way.
Granted that in Libya or earlier Tyre, no suitor ever
dissuaded you from sorrowing, and you scorned Iarbas
and other lords whom the African soil, rich in fame, bears.
Will you yet struggle against love that pleases?
Don’t you recall whose lands you colonized here?
Here Gaetulian cities, fighters matchless in battle,
unbridled Numidians, and inhospitable Syrtis surround you.
There endless desert in which wild marauders range at will,
the Barcans. And why mention war frothing out from Tyre
with your brother’s threats…?
I think the favor of all the gods with Juno’s backing
made the winds that drove these Trojan ships here.
Imagine what a city you will see, sister, what a kingdom
rising high if you marry such a man. With Trojan men marching
for our side, image the great deeds that will send
the glory of Carthage into the sky!

{ O luce magis dilecta sorori,
solane perpetua maerens carpere iuventa,
nec dulcis natos, Veneris nec praemia noris?
Id cinerem aut Manis credis curare sepultos?
Esto: aegram nulli quondam flexere mariti,
non Libyae, non ante Tyro; despectus Iarbas
ductoresque alii, quos Africa terra triumphis
dives alit: placitone etiam pugnabis amori?
Nec venit in mentem, quorum consederis arvis?
Hinc Gaetulae urbes, genus insuperabile bello,
et Numidae infreni cingunt et inhospita Syrtis;
hinc deserta siti regio, lateque furentes
Barcaei. Quid bella Tyro surgentia dicam,
germanique minas…?
Dis equidem auspicibus reor et Iunone secunda
hunc cursum Iliacas vento tenuisse carinas.
Quam tu urbem, soror, hanc cernes, quae surgere regna
coniugio tali! Teucrum comitantibus armis
Punica se quantis attollet gloria rebus! }[6]

Anna’s imagined great deeds of the Trojan men are brutal acts of violence against men in the horrific epic tradition. Women too often use men to fight battles. As an offering to the goddess Juno and the great mother goddess Ceres, Dido slaughtered sheep and scrutinized their bloody entrails. She then decided that she would seek Aeneas’s love, as her sister Anna had advised.

The goddess Juno conspired with the goddess Venus for Dido to have sex with Aeneas. Juno strove to prevent the Roman Empire from rising in Italy. She wanted that empire to be in Africa. She thus plotted to have Aeneas marry Queen Dido of Carthage, though Dido was then less powerful in Africa than Melinda Gates is today. Venus was concerned about what Juno’s husband Jove would think. He, after all, had prophesied the Roman Empire rising in Italy. With keen understanding of gender, Juno ignored her husband’s interests and declared: “This work is mine {mecum erit iste labor}.” Juno dominated the god nominally in charge of the cosmos. Venus prudently didn’t oppose this violent woman tyrant.

Unable to speak her heart to Aeneas as she showed him around the heart of Carthage, Dido resolved to go hunting with Aeneas the next day. Again she suffered through a long, sleepless night. Early the next morning, lavishly dressed and accompanied by a huge retinue, Dido went with Aeneas into the woods. Juno stirred up a massive storm to scatter their hunting party. Dido led Aeneas into a cave for shelter. There, as she desired, he sheltered in her. He was dependent on her. That power imbalance, according to modern understanding of rape, eliminated his choice to say no. Juno then flashed torches in the sky to indicate a marriage.

With Juno’s complicity, Dido deluded herself. Just because a woman rapes a man doesn’t mean that he has consented to marry her, even though he may have to pay his rapist “child support.” Dido refused to acknowledge this reality. She insisted instead that others describe her relationship with Aeneas according to her self-delusion:

She no longer thinks to keep their affair secret.
She calls it marriage. With this name she cloaks the fault.

{ nec iam furtivum Dido meditatur amorem;
coniugium vocat; hoc praetexit nomine culpam. }

As ruler of Carthage, Dido could establish official myth — the ruler’s ideology. Nonetheless, reality resists through informal communication:

Now rumor filled the people with endless words
in delight, singing equally of fact and falsehood:
“Aeneas has come, born of Trojan blood,
a man whom lovely Dido would deem worthy of marriage.
Now they warm winter together in lust, as long as it lasts,
forgetting their realms, captive to shameless desire.”

{ Haec tum multiplici populos sermone replebat
gaudens, et pariter facta atque infecta canebat:
venisse Aenean, Troiano sanguine cretum,
cui se pulchra viro dignetur iungere Dido;
nunc hiemem inter se luxu, quam longa, fovere
regnorum immemores turpique cupidine captos. }

Rumor was right. The official myth of Dido and Aeneas being married was false. He was merely doing what, as a vulnerable refugee, he had to do in his subordinate relation to her. Even without being her husband, he was soon put to other hard labor. Aeneas was thus seen “erecting towers and building houses {fundantem arces ac tecta novantem}” in Carthage.[7] At least Queen Dido hadn’t yet sent him into violence against men on her behalf.

Jove, who understood well a husband’s sexuality not being adequately appreciated, ordered Aeneas to flee Carthage. Jove staunchly opposed Roman colonization of Africa. His messenger Mercury appealed to Aeneas not to leave as a legacy to his son a partnership in Dido’s colonial African empire. Jove didn’t want the glory of the Roman Empire to arise from European colonization of Africa. A visionary man who understood his father’s values, Aeneas dared to defy a ruling woman’s desire. He resolved to flee from Carthage and head for Italy. If, like many others, Aeneas lacked the courage to reject gynocentrism, at least he rejected imperialism in Africa.

Captive men sometimes develop love for their captors. Quite unlike Odysseus in relation to Calypso, Aeneas grew to love Queen Dido. He didn’t want to hurt her any more than doing the right thing entailed. While secretly making preparations to flee, he also planned to tell her of his departure in a way that would hurt her least. Men face acute anti-men gender discrimination under divorce law. Breaking off even a non-marital relationship with a woman is dangerous for men. That’s why many men today prefer just to “ghost” — to vanish from the woman’s life. That’s an understandable choice, but not what Aeneas planned to do with respect to Dido.

Rumor of the Trojans’ departure reached Dido. That ignited her into a rage as passionate as women engaging in an orgy. After raving around the entire city of Carthage, Dido assailed Aeneas:

You traitor! Did you really hope to keep secret such
a great wrong? To steal away in silence from my land?
Will our love not hold you back? Nor the pledge
I once gave you with our right hands?
Not even the thought of Dido doomed to a cruel death?

Are you cruelly heartless? Even if not pursuing alien fields
and unknown homes, even if ancient Troy still stood,
who’d sail for Troy across such heaving seas?
You flee from me? I beg you by these tears, by your right hand
while nothing else remains for me to do in my misery,
by our union, by the marriage we began,
if ever I deserved well of you, or anything of me was to you
sweet, then pity a falling house, and more
I plead, if some place for prayers exists — push away this plan.
Because of you, the African tribes and the Numidian tyrants
hate me, and the Tyrians are enraged. Because of you, my
honor itself is extinguished and so too my prior reputation,
the sole way to the stars. Am I deserted here to die, my guest?
— that name from husband is all that remains for me.
For what do I stay? Until my brother Pygmalian batters down
these walls, or the Gaetulian Iarbas drags me off as captive?
If only from you I had taken offspring to my breast
before your flight, if only in my court were happily playing
a little Aeneas, whose face might still bring back yours,
I would not appear to be wholly betrayed and abandoned.

{ Dissimulare etiam sperasti, perfide, tantum
posse nefas, tacitusque mea decedere terra?
Nec te noster amor, nec te data dextera quondam,
nec moritura tenet crudeli funere Dido?

crudelis? Quid, si non arva aliena domosque
ignotas peteres, sed Troia antiqua maneret,
Troia per undosum peteretur classibus aequor
Mene fugis? Per ego has lacrimas dextramque tuam te
quando aliud mihi iam miserae nihil ipsa reliqui
per conubia nostra, per inceptos hymenaeos,
si bene quid de te merui, fuit aut tibi quicquam
dulce meum, miserere domus labentis, et istam —
oro, si quis adhuc precibus locus—exue mentem.
Te propter Libycae gentes Nomadumque tyranni
odere, infensi Tyrii; te propter eundem
exstinctus pudor, et, qua sola sidera adibam,
fama prior. Cui me moribundam deseris, hospes?
Hoc solum nomen quoniam de coniuge restat.
Quid moror? An mea Pygmalion dum moenia frater
destruat, aut captam ducat Gaetulus Iarbas?
Saltem si qua mihi de te suscepta fuisset
ante fugam suboles, si quis mihi parvulus aula
luderet Aeneas, qui te tamen ore referret,
non equidem omnino capta ac deserta viderer. }[8]

Aeneas thanked Dido for the kindness she had shown to him as an exile, an endangered voyager, and her suppliant. He explained that he never intended to keep his departure secret from her. He also declared the reality of their relationship: “never marriage’s torch / did I pretend to hold, nor into that contract did I enter {nec coniugis / umquam praetendi taedas aut haec in foedera veni}.” He pointed out that she had left her Phoenician home to colonize Africa. Why should he, a European, not be allowed to return to Europe? Aeneas didn’t want to wrong his father and his son. Despite his love for Dido, he respected Jove’s decree against colonizing Africa. Aeneas would sail away to Italy.

Dido excoriates Aeneas

Lacking any sense of global social justice and absorbed in self-pity, Queen Dido raged against her beloved Aeneas. She questioned his parentage, called him a liar, and aggressively cursed him:

Your mother wasn’t a goddess, nor did you descend from Jove’s son,
you betraying liar. No, you descended from frightful rough rocks
of harsh Asian mountains, and Asian tigresses suckled you.
Why hide it? For what worse do I hold myself back?
No, at my weeping he didn’t groan. No, he didn’t avert his eyes.
No, he didn’t concede tears in defeat, or pity her who is his lover.
What can I say first? So, so, so much said, neither mighty Juno
nor father Jove, Saturn’s son, gazes on this with tranquil eyes.
Faith is nowhere secure. He washed up on the shore, helpless,
and I took him in, madly gave him a share in my reign,
salvaged his lost fleet, saved his friends from death.
Oh, I bring forth furies, burned! Now prophetic Apollo,
now Lycian oracles, now a messenger sent from Jove himself
carries through the air a horrid command from the gods.
Truly this is work for superior beings, a care to trouble
their calm. Neither will I hold you, nor refute you.
Go, seek Italy with the winds, find your reign over the waves.
I truly expect, if righteous gods still have any power,
on rocks mid-sea you’ll drink sufferings, and Dido’s name
again and again you’ll call out. I’ll follow you from afar with dark fires,
and when icy death has severed my body from its spirit,
my ghost will stalk you everywhere. Shameless one, you’ll yield to pains.
I’ll hear of it. Yes, that news will come to me in the depths among the spirits of the dead.

{ Nec tibi diva parens, generis nec Dardanus auctor,
perfide; sed duris genuit te cautibus horrens
Caucasus, Hyrcanaeque admorunt ubera tigres.
Nam quid dissimulo, aut quae me ad maiora reservo?
Num fletu ingemuit nostro? Num lumina flexit?
Num lacrimas victus dedit, aut miseratus amantem est?
Quae quibus anteferam? Iam iam nec maxuma Iuno,
nec Saturnius haec oculis pater aspicit aequis.
Nusquam tuta fides. Eiectum litore, egentem
excepi, et regni demens in parte locavi;
amissam classem, socios a morte reduxi.
Heu furiis incensa feror! Nunc augur Apollo,
nunc Lyciae sortes, nunc et Iove missus ab ipso
interpres divom fert horrida iussa per auras.
Scilicet is Superis labor est, ea cura quietos
sollicitat. Neque te teneo, neque dicta refello.
I, sequere Italiam ventis, pete regna per undas.
Spero equidem mediis, si quid pia numina possunt,
supplicia hausurum scopulis, et nomine Dido
saepe vocaturum. Sequar atris ignibus absens,
et, cum frigida mors anima seduxerit artus,
omnibus umbra locis adero. Dabis, improbe, poenas.
Audiam et haec Manis veniet mihi fama sub imos. }

A female classics professor speaking from the commanding heights of today’s propaganda apparatus has proclaimed that women in the ancient world were silenced and that women still are. That’s nonsense. Dido said many harsh words to Aeneas, many more than he said to her. Aeneas took Dido’s vicious cursing like a man, that is, in silence. She stormed out, not concerned to have him explain his thoughts and feelings.

Dido then turned to an indirect attack on Aeneas’s plans. Her sister Anna had become a close friend to Aeneas. She was skilled in manipulating him. Again and again Anna told Dido’s tale of tears to him. Unlike so many men through the ages, he withstood women’s tears:

But now he is moved not at all
by tears, he doesn’t listen pliantly to any voices.

Though by incessant appeals from this and that side the hero
is buffeted, and he feel pains deeply in his great heart,
his will stands unmoved. Her failing tears are futile.

{ sed nullis ille movetur
fletibus, aut voces ullas tractabilis audit

haud secus adsiduis hinc atque hinc vocibus heros
tunditur, et magno persentit pectore curas;
mens immota manet; lacrimae volvuntur inanes. }

A man showing such backbone in relation to a woman is nearly impossible for anyone to imagine today. Aeneas’s strength was a miracle enacted through a message from the father god Jove. More men must be receptive to such miraculous messages.

Aeneas received another miraculous prompting. Asleep on his ship’s high stern, he dreamed that Jove’s messenger again appeared to him. Jove’s messenger had keen appreciation for women’s strength:

Goddess-born, with such hazards can you still sleep?
Can’t you see the dangers now circling around you,
demented one, or hear the favorable winds blowing?
Dido in her heart ponders ominous, evil deceptions.
Intent on death, she rises in her anger’s volatile surge.
Why not flee first, while you’re able to flee?
You’ll soon see the sea crowded with ships, savage
torches flaring, soon the shore will be aflame,
if dawn finds you lingering on this land.
Up then, cease delay! Dynamic and always adapting
is woman.

{ Nate dea, potes hoc sub casu ducere somnos,
nec, quae te circum stent deinde pericula, cernis,
demens, nec Zephyros audis spirare secundos?
Illa dolos dirumque nefas in pectore versat,
certa mori, varioque irarum fluctuat aestu.
Non fugis hinc praeceps, dum praecipitare potestas?
Iam mare turbari trabibus, saevasque videbis
conlucere faces, iam fervere litora flammis,
si te his attigerit terris Aurora morantem.
Heia age, rumpe moras. Varium et mutabile semper
femina. }

Scientists have recently recognized women’s superiority to men in intellectual dynamism, adaptability, and “web thinking.” Jove’s messenger much earlier understood such science. Dido was no passive, shrinking violet. She was a strong, independent, dangerous woman leader. For their safety, the Trojans had to leave Carthage immediately. Aeneas ordered their mooring cables cut, and so they sailed away from the raging Dido.

Early the next morning, Queen Dido caught sight of the Trojan ships sailing away from her African colonial city. The loving facade of this racist imperialist overlord vanished, and her bloodthirsty viciousness became readily apparent:

Couldn’t I have seized him, torn his body apart and scattered its pieces
on the waves? Slashed his friends with swords, butchered his son
Ascanius, served him up as a feast on his father’s table?
Was the outcome of this fight truly uncertain? Suppose so.
Doomed to death, what had I to fear? I should have torched their camp,
flooded their ships with flames. The son, the father, the whole Trojan
line I should have extinguished, immolating myself on top of all.

{ Non potui abreptum divellere corpus, et undis
spargere? Non socios, non ipsum absumere ferro
Ascanium, patriisque epulandum ponere mensis? —
Verum anceps pugnae fuerat fortuna: — fuisset.
Quem metui moritura? Faces in castra tulissem,
implessemque foros flammis, natumque patremque
cum genere extinxem, memet super ipsa dedissem. }

Because women in the ancient world weren’t silenced, Dido with many words went on to curse her ex-boyfriend with a miserable death and future Western civilization with endless war:

O Sun, whose flames light all works on earth,
and you Juno, knower and translator of all these pains,
and Hecate greeted by nightly howling at city crossroads,
and avenging furies, and gods of the dying Dido,
address this, turn your deserved power to these wrongs,
and hear my prayers. If it is necessary that
the abhorrent one should sail to land and obtain port,
if Jove’s dictates so command, and this outcome is set,
let him be vexed with war by a people bold in arms,
expelled from his lands, torn from his son’s embrace,
let him implore for help and watch his people ignobly
die. Then, when to oppressive peace treaty he has
surrendered himself, let him not enjoy rule or life’s delights,
but die before his day, unburied amid a desolate beach.
This I pray, these my final words I pour out with my blood.
Then you, O Tyrians, all his roots and future descendants
pursue with hate, to my ashes offers this as a
tribute. Between our peoples be no love or treaties.
May there rise from my bones some unknown avenger
to stalk these Trojan colonists with fire and sword,
now or in time to come, whenever the power is yours.
May shore oppose shore, sea against sea,
sword clash with sword — I pray between our peoples be endless war.

{ Sol, qui terrarum flammis opera omnia lustras,
tuque harum interpres curarum et conscia Iuno,
nocturnisque Hecate triviis ululata per urbes,
et Dirae ultrices, et di morientis Elissae,
accipite haec, meritumque malis advertite numen,
et nostras audite preces. Si tangere portus
infandum caput ac terris adnare necesse est,
et sic fata Iovis poscunt, hic terminus haeret:
at bello audacis populi vexatus et armis,
finibus extorris, complexu avulsus Iuli,
auxilium imploret, videatque indigna suorum
funera; nec, cum se sub leges pacis iniquae
tradiderit, regno aut optata luce fruatur,
sed cadat ante diem, mediaque inhumatus harena.
Haec precor, hanc vocem extremam cum sanguine fundo.
Tum vos, o Tyrii, stirpem et genus omne futurum
exercete odiis, cinerique haec mittite nostro
munera. Nullus amor populis, nec foedera sunto.
Exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor,
qui face Dardanios ferroque sequare colonos,
nunc, olim, quocumque dabunt se tempore vires.
Litora litoribus contraria, fluctibus undas
imprecor, arma armis; pugnent ipsique nepotesque. }

War is institutionalized violence against men. Relative to women, men die vastly disproportionately in war. Men must do more to stop women from promoting wars.

Dido decided to commit suicide. Because Aeneas had fled quickly from the threat of Dido’s scheming, he had left behind many of his arms and clothes.[9] Dido piled all of Aeneas’s belonging into her royal courtyard. She then dragged on top of that pile the bed in which they had enjoyed having sex. On fire with vicious passion, she climbed on top and stabbed herself in the loins with Aeneas’s sword. Her sister Anna found her dying. Just as three times Aeneas had sought to embrace his wife Creusa, three times Dido struggled to raise herself for her sister. Her effort was too late. Her spirit vanished through her successful suicide.

men dismayed at Queen Dido's suicide

According to Geoffrey Chaucer writing in fourteenth-century England, Dido had declared to Aeneas that she was pregnant with a little Aeneas. If he didn’t allow her to leave Carthage with him, she said that their unborn child would die:

She falls at his feet and swoons there,
disheveled, with her bright gold hair about her,
and says, “Have mercy! Let me with you ride!
These lords, which to me dwell beside,
will destroy me merely for your sake.
Yet if you now will to wife me take,
as you have sworn, then I’ll give you leave
to slay me with your sword this eve!
At least then I would die as your wife.
I am with child — give my child his life!
Mercy, lord! Have pity in your thought!”

{ She falleth him to fote, and swowneth there
Dischevele, with her brighte gilte here,
And seith, “have mercy! let me with yow ryde!
Thise lordes, which that wonen me besyde
Wil me destroyen only for your sake.
And, so ye wil me now to wyve take,
As ye han sworn, than wol I yive yow leve
To sleen me with your swerd now sone at eve!
For than yit shal I dyen as your wyf.
I am with childe, and yive my child his lyf.
Mercy, lord! have pite in your thoght!” }[10]

Surely Aeneas, like most men, would be deeply offended by the insinuation that as a husband he would be interested in killing his pregnant wife. Moreover, if Dido actually was pregnant when she committed suicide, then she herself aborted what she called a child. Many persons today don’t regard abortion as a moral wrong. But causing an abortion through vindictive, self-pitying suicide certainly should weigh negatively in any reasonable moral evaluation.

Despite Dido’s self-centered vindictiveness and her racist colonization of Africa, Aeneas remembered her fondly. He saw her in the underworld, the world of the dead. Even in death she maintained her final, enraged face and wild eyes. He wept and said:

Unhappy Dido, was thus the report that came to me true,
that you were dead, led to your end by the sword?
Oh, was I the cause of your death? By the stars I swear,
by the powers above, by whatever faith is in the earth’s depths,
unwillingly I left your shores, my queen.

{ Infelix Dido, verus mihi nuntius ergo
venerat exstinctam, ferroque extrema secutam?
Funeris heu tibi causa fui? Per sidera iuro,
per superos, et si qua fides tellure sub ima est,
invitus, regina, tuo de litore cessi. }

With his words and tears, Aeneas sought again to sooth Dido and convince her that he hadn’t betrayed her. He had probably heard that she had committed suicide with his sword and had contrived to have herself immolated on their bed on top of all his belongings. He tactfully didn’t mention these details. Nonetheless, she turned her face from him and silently walked away.[11] She went to her dead husband Sychaeus. Among the dead, he continued to love her despite her betraying him in the world above.

Why did Aeneas suggest that he was the cause of Dido’s death? She was the one who decided to kill herself. She almost surely could have continued to live a life of imperial privilege even after Aeneas left Carthage. According to Ovid, Queen Dido insisted that the epitaph on her luxurious marble tomb declare her own, independent activity:

Aeneas provided both the cause of death and the sword;
Dido fell by using her very own hand.

{ praebuit Aeneas et causam mortis et ensem.
ipsa sua Dido concidit usa manu. }[12]

Men cannot stop women from using their own hands. Men should however follow women’s gender example and insist on men being credited for men’s work. Men should also refuse blame for women’s actions. Dido committed suicide. That wasn’t Aeneas’s fault. A non-husband has no moral responsibility to be a woman’s love captive, nor has a husband such a moral responsibility under modern divorce laws and mores.

O guileless woman, full of innocence,
full of pity, faithfulness, and conscience,
what makes you to trust men so?
Have you such pity upon their feigned woe
despite such old examples you known today?
See you not at all how they betray?
Where see you one man who has not left his love,
or been unkind, or done her some mischief,
or robbed her, or boasted of his deed?
You may as well have seen it, or you may read.

{ O sely womman, ful of innocence,
Ful of pitee, of trouthe, and conscience,
What maked yow to men to trusten so?
Have ye swich routhe upon hir feined wo,
And han swich olde ensamples yow beforn?
See ye nat alle, how they been for-sworn?
Wher see ye oon, that he ne hath laft his leef,
Or been unkinde, or doon her som mischeef,
Or pilled her, or bosted of his dede?
Ye may as wel hit seen, as ye may rede }[13]

Men and women for nearly two millennia have overwhelmingly sympathized with Dido rather than Aeneas. Augustine of Hippo recalled his experience as a student in Roman North Africa about the year 366 : “I was forced to … weep for the death of Dido, who killed herself for love {cogebar … plorare Didonem mortuam, quia se occidit ab amore}.”[14] Augustine’s forced schoolboy identification with the sorrows of the African colonial ruler Dido wasn’t unusual. A scholar observed:

As Dido’s story, Aeneid 4 has had a separate itinerary all its own in Western literary traditions, perhaps only Aeneid 6 — the journey to the underworld — has been so frequently “cited” and rewritten over the centuries. Medieval and Renaissance vernacular literatures, in particular, focus attention on Dido, even to the exclusion of Aeneas. Indeed, a discernible tradition in the medieval vernacular adaptation of the Aeneid is characterized by the intense interest among vernacular poets in the character of Dido. [15]

Another scholar observed:

Across thirty generations of medieval study, schoolboys seemed regularly to cathect on the African Queen {sic, meaning Dido}, and ultimately to invent for her an autonomous life outside the classroom. [16]

From Augustine’s time to the present, literary authorities have predominately sympathized with Dido. That’s a telling literary testament to gynocentrism across nearly two millennia.

Consider the cultural context of the operatic political allegory Dido and Aeneas. Nahum Tate and Henry Purcell wrote this opera in England about the year 1689:

When Nahum Tate and Henry Purcell collaborated on Dido and Aeneas, the fourth book of the Aeneid was already the most translated, imitated and commented-upon episode in Virgil’s poem. Many Restoration critics found Aeneas’s abandonment of Dido unsettling. Why, they asked, should Virgil have degraded his hero, so tender of feeling elsewhere in the poem, by portraying him as a casual seducer? [17]

The vulnerable refugee Aeneas didn’t casually seduce Queen Dido. The goddess Juno set up a context for intimacy between them. Given the power imbalance between Dido and Aeneas, today’s gender ideology implies that Dido raped Aeneas, except that through ignorance, bigotry, and superstition women raping men cannot be recognized. Moreover, a man isn’t culturally permitted to choose to leave a woman who still loves him (“abandon her”), nor culturally or legally permitted to choose not to be a father after having sex of reproductive type with her. The literary reception of Virgil’s Dido starkly illustrates systemic sexism.

Women like Queen Dido surely exist outside classroom study of the Aeneid. Men must learn to flee from such women without regret. Women and men must learn that women like Dido aren’t worthy of sympathy or imitation.

Destined to love,
and destined to die,
how silly beyond the reaches of sense
to die of delusional self-pity. [18]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Virgil, Aeneid 1.71, Latin text from Greenough (1900) via Perseus, my English translation. Subsequent quotes from the Aeneid are similarly sourced. “The quality of the evidence for the text of Virgil surpasses by far that for any other classical author.” Fairclough & Gould (1999) p. 12. The most authoritative Latin text is currently Mynors’s Oxford Classical Text (1969), selections available via Francese (2016).

Francese (2016) provides helpful commentary and analysis for selections of the Aeneid’s Latin text. My English translation also benefited from the Vergil Project’s textual apparatus, including the English translations of John Dryden (1697) and Theodore C. Williams (1910), as well as the English translations of Fairclough & Gould (1999), Poetry in Translation / A. S. Kline (2001), and Fagles (2006).

The narrative above presents Aeneas and Dido as the figures in Virgil’s Aeneid. From a historical perspective, the Trojan War probably ended about 1180 BGC. Dido, also called Elissa, may have been queen of Carthage in the ninth century BGC.

Literature earlier than the Aeneid probably referred to Aeneas and Dido. The Punic War {Bellum Punicum} of Gnaeus Naevius, who lived from c. 269 to 204 BGC, describes Aeneas fleeing Troy to Carthage and perhaps also refers to Dido. Here’s a more detailed reconstruction of the surviving fragments of Bellum Punicum.

The quotes above follow, with a few exceptions, the narrative of Aeneid 1 and Aeneid 4. Subsequent quotes are (cited by book.verses in the Aeneid Latin text): 1.72 (most beautiful appearance), 1.421-9 (Aeneas marvels…), 1.446-9 (Here Dido of Tyre was building…), 1.303-4 (above all the Queen…), 1.569-74 (Whatever you choose…), 1.575-6 (If only the storm…), 1.588-93 (There Aeneas stood…), 4.1-2 (But the queen — too long has she suffered…), 4.15-27 (If my heart had not been fixed…), 4.28-9 (He’s carried my love…), 4.31-49 (O you, who to your sister…), 4.115 (This work is mine), 4.171-2 (She no longer thinks…), 4.189-94 (Now rumor filled…), 4.260 (erecting towers and building houses), 4.305-8, 311-30 (You traitor!…), 3.338-9 (never marriage’s torch…), 4.365-87 (Your mother wasn’t a goddess…), 4.438-9, 447-9 (But now he is moved…), 4.560-70 (Goddess-born, with such hazards…), 4.600-6 (Couldn’t I have seized him…), 4.607-29, (O Sun, whose flames light all works…), 6.456-60 (Unhappy Dido…).

[2] Carthaginian men developed a reputation as savage warriors fighting and dying in service to their Queen Dido. See e.g. Aeneid 1.14, 302, 539-41.

[3] Juno greatly favored the Tyrians’ African colonial city at Carthage:

An ancient city was held by Tyrian colonists.
It was Carthage, far from Italy and the Tiber’s
estuary, rich in goods and trained in fierce war,
a city Juno reportedly nurtured more than all other lands,
even placing Samos after it. Here was her armor,
here her chariot, here the goddess-ruler of all nations would be,
if fates had permitted what Juno already intended and favored.

{ Urbs antiqua fuit, Tyrii tenuere coloni,
Karthago, Italiam contra Tiberinaque longe
ostia, dives opum studiisque asperrima belli;
quam Iuno fertur terris magis omnibus unam
posthabita coluisse Samo; hic illius arma,
hic currus fuit; hoc regnum dea gentibus esse,
si qua fata sinant, iam tum tenditque fovetque. }

Aeneid 1.12-18. Dido could have ordered the Tyrian men serving her to burn the Trojans’ ships and kill as many Trojan men as possible. Yet even after building a mighty temple to Juno, Dido betrayed her, without even offering a good explanation. Commentators have tended to blame superficially Dido’s betrayal of Juno on Venus.

[4] Roman d’Eneas vv. 1228-56, Old French text from Salverda de Grave (1891) via Vaughan (1999), English translation from Vaughan (1999) (with minor changes). For an English translation of the whole poem, Yunck (1974). Roman d’Eneas apparently was written about 1156.

Roman d’Eneas here expands on Aeneid 4.82-3:

Alone in the empty hall, she grieves and rests on the couch
he left. Though he’s absent, she hears him, sees him

{ sola domo maeret vacua, stratisque relictis
incubat, illum absens absentem auditque videtque }

With its lengthy dilation of these two verses, Roman d’Eneas recognizes that men contribute greatly to women’s emotional and physical health.

Dronke excuses the poet-author of the Roman d’Eneas for not being more of an anti-meninist partisan:

He creates a “roman” — an extended verse narrative whose hero is Eneas. Thus the nature of his material and of his task meant that he could not present the Dido episode wholly from Dido’s standpoint: he could not, without capsizing his story altogether, become Dido’s partisan against his hero. And yet as artist the poet goes quite some way in this direction… .

Dronke (1992) p. 443.

[5] In the Roman d’Eneas, Dido declared of her dead husband Sychaeus:

I would prefer to die than betray him,
than place my affection in another.

{ Miauz voil morir que ge li ment,
Que an autre mete m’antante }

Roman d’Eneas vv. 1309-10, sourced as previously.

[6] Dido’s sister Anna was celebrated as early as classical scholarship immediately following the massive violence against men of World War II:

readers, absorbed in the drama of Dido, have sometimes passed some unwarrantably harsh judgments upon her sister, and have in effect blamed Anna for the tragedy. As we shall see, she has been called crudely epicurean, and coarse (this is the favourite charge), and unfeeling. But in fact, in Virgil’s story, Anna is none of these things, emerging rather, upon close scrutiny, as a balanced and dignified person who, caught in the whirl of spectacular events, endures nobly her own quiet tragedy, as the lesser characters in any great tragedy so often do.

Swallow (1951) p. 145. While backgrounding gender, this analysis essentially argues that Dido’s sister Anna is Everywoman. But not all women are like that.

[7] While putting Aeneas to hard labor, Dido gave him luxury goods:

Mercury saw Aeneas erecting towers and building houses.
His sword-hilt was studded with tawny jasper stars,
and a cloak of blazing Tyrian purple draped
his shoulders. These were gifts that wealthy Dido had
given him, and she had weaved the cloth with golden thread.

{ Aenean fundantem arces ac tecta novantem
conspicit; atque illi stellatus iaspide fulva
ensis erat, Tyrioque ardebat murice laena
demissa ex umeris, dives quae munera Dido
fecerat, et tenui telas discreverat auro. }

Aeneid 4.260-4. Writing immediately after the massive slaughter of men in World War II, a man classicist commented that these lines “are a glimpse, seldom seen, of Virgil’s hero as a happy man.” Austin (1955), comment to Aeneid 4.260. While at least no enemy soldiers were then seeking to kill Aeneas, these lines provide no indication that he was happy. These lines indicate that Dido was paying with luxury goods for Aeneas’s hard labor. Men historically have paid women for sex and provided women with luxury goods. Material compensation for a man’s hard work, while appreciated, typically isn’t sufficient to make a man happy.

[8] A medieval poem picked up and echoed Dido’s furious self-pity:

It is unfair
and an insane reckoning
if I suffer punishment
in return for my kindness!

{ Gravis conditio,
furiosa ratio
si mala perferam
pro beneficio! }

From “O gem and royal seat of Libya, city of Carthage {O decus, o Libye regnum, Carthaginis urbem}!” (Carmina Burana 100) 4b.9-12, Latin text and English trans. from Traill (2018) vol. 1, pp. 432-3. In addition to the Carmina Burana, this poem has survived in a twelfth-century manuscript. Ziolkowski & Putnam (2008) p. 528. Here’s a freely accessible full Latin text of the poem.

Like so many persons today, Dido projected her own hatred onto those she hated: “Why do they now treat me with cruel hatred {Qui me crudelibus exercent odiis}?” “O decus, o Libye” vv. 2b.1-2. Another poem written in the twelfth-century similarly complains:

Ha! O Phrygian faith,
O faith of a guest,
which thus for kind deeds
repays hate!

{ O ha fides Phrygia,
o fides hospitis,
quae sic pro meritis
rependit odia! }

“Sister Anna, why do I delay {Anna soror ut quit mori}” vv. 1b.4-7, Latin text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Ziolkowski & Putnam (2008) p. 531. In contrast to Dido’s self-delusions, the Trojans certainly didn’t leave Carthage out of hatred for Dido.

Dido’s self-pity is based on her self-centeredness and sense of love entitlement. All that matters to her is her kindness to Aeneas and the “punishment” she receives in his leaving her. True kindness, however, doesn’t make a person into a captive. Aeneas left his non-marital relationship with Dido for what he regarded as good reasons. She utterly failed to empathize with his concerns and desires.

An English book published in 1600 included an English translation of Ovid, Heroides 7 (Dido to Aeneas) and a responding poem from Aeneas in English. Aeneas’s poem doesn’t bluntly tell Dido to stop acting like a self-pitying entitled queen. Instead, he addresses her with utmost praise and solicitousness. For example, he wrote:

I both Oenone and the Spartan Queen,
I courtly dames, and Nymphs of woods and wells,
I have Chryseis and Bryseis seen,
Yea, Venus’ self, in whom perfection dwells.
But if some God to choose would me assign,
I all would praise, but Dido should be mine.

Aeneas to Dido, incipit “Aeneas read what Dido wrote” vv. 156-61, from Lyne (1999).

[9] Putting forward conventional scholarly gender bias, Tom Jenkins declared that “Aeneas’ (in)famous farewell speech to Dido” is:

an embarrassment to those who prefer an Aeneas unsullied by aspersions on his character. Some have falted the excessively rhetorical and almost analytical character of the speech; unlike the speeches of Dido, there are no ringing declamations of passion, no outbursts, no agitation. It is a cool and quiet speech, with some canny rhetorical moves. Some readers might gasp at Aeneas’ assertion: “I wasn’t going to flee in secret– don’t even pretend that I was” [Neque ego hanc abscondere furto speravi—ne finge—fugam]. Such protestations of innocence ring rather hollow given Aeneas’ preparations for exactly such a hasty departure.

Preparing for a hasty departure from a violent, vicious woman is prudent. Aeneas did in fact speak with Dido about his departure before he left. Blaming Aeneas for taking reasonable precautions in preparing to leave Dido requires an utterly narrow-minded reading of Dido’s character.

[10] Geoffrey Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women, Legend of Dido vv. 1314-24, Middle English text from Skeat (1899) vol. 3, my modern English version. Vaughan (1999) and Poetry in Translation / A. S. Klein provide freely accessible online modernizations of Chaucer’s Legend of Dido. Chaucer apparently began writing The Legend of Good Women in 1386.

Chaucer wasn’t the first to declare that Dido was pregnant with her and Aeneas’s child. In Ovid’s letter from Dido to Aeneas, Dido told Aeneas that “perhaps {forsitan}” she was pregnant with their child:

Perhaps, evil-doer, you abandon a pregnant Dido,
and a part of you lies hidden in my body.
The wretched infant will join its mother’s fate,
and you will be author of your yet-unborn child’s death.
With his mother the brother of Iulus will die,
and one punishment will carry away us both.

{ Forsitan et gravidam Didon, scelerate, relinquas
parsque tui lateat corpore clausa meo.
accedet fatis matris miserabilis infans
et nondum nato funeris auctor eris.
cumque parente sua frater morietur Iuli,
poenaque conexos auferet una duos. }

Heroides 7 (Dido to Aeneas {Dido Aeneae}) vv. 133-8, Latin text from the Latin Library, my English translation. benefiting from those of James M. Hunter and A. S. Kline.

Writing about 1349, the eminent French poet and musical composer Guillaume de Machaut blamed Aeneas for two deaths via Dido’s suicide and indicated the extent of social sympathy for Dido:

When he’d failed her by breaking the promise
he had agreed to make in good faith,
just as many lovers do
who pretend to be loyal lovers,
that desperate and crazed woman,
whom love had shamed, whom love had driven mad,
found the sword of Aeneas
and tried it out on her own body,
not sparing herself
until she made it bathe in her blood.
And so she died in pain
because she loved and went mad.
Yet she did not die alone,
but cut instead the throats of two,
for she was carrying the child of Aeneas,
and afterward she was much mourned and lamented.

{ Quant failly li ot dou couvent
Que heü li avoit en couvent,
Einsi com pluseurs amans font
Qui l’amant loial contrefont,
La desesperee, la fole,
Qu’amours honnist, qu’amours afole,
L’espee de Eneas trouva
Et en son corps si l’esprouva
Qu’onques ne se pot espargnier
Qu’en soy ne la feïst baingnier.
Dont elle morut a dolour
Pour amer, et par sa folour.
Mais elle ne morut pas seule,
Einsois a .ij. copa la gueule,
Car de Eneas estoit enceinte,
Dont moult fu regretee et plainte. }

Guillaume de Machaut, The Judgement of the King of Navarre {Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre} vv. 2107-22, Old French text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Palmer et al. (2016).

[11] In Lezberg’s tendentious interpretation, Aeneas’s compassionate and truthful words to Dido in the underworld are audacious and false:

Later, when Aeneas meets her in the Underworld after she has committed suicide, he has the audacity to say, “Alas, was I the cause of your dying?… I did not think my leaving there would ever bring such grief to you” (VI. 457, 462-463). He is either lying through his teeth or had truly been an imperceptive fool.

Lezberg (2016). One cannot easily predict what a crazy woman will do or say. Given structures of systemic anti-men sexism and the penal punishment apparatus, men must strive to do the best they can to protect themselves.

Tom Jenkins celebrated Dido’s cruel abandonment of Aeneas as “one of the most marvelously calculated and brutal responses in classical literature, entirely wordless.” Responding brutally to another person, particularly one that loves you, isn’t marvelous. It’s vicious. One medieval poem condemned Dido’s faithless to Aeneas:

Trust is shamefully decaying. No one is faithful to faithful companion,
not Jupiter to Juno, not Dido to Aeneas.

{ Perit fides turpiter, nullus fidus fido,
nec Iunoni Iupiter nec Aenaee Dido. }

Carmina Burana 3, Walter of Châtillon,”Behold! Integrity sleeps, virtue is dead and buried {Ecce! Torpet probitas, virtus sepelitur} (written c. 1162),” 4.2-3, Latin text from Traill (2018), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Another medieval poem suggests the sense in which Dido betrayed Aeneas:

Dido, may you dwell in your Elysian abode
and in the midst of your happiness hear Aeneas
offering his thanks for your kindness.

{ Dido, possideas sedes Elysias,
et inter gaudia Aeneam audias
pro beneficio reddentem gratias. }

Carmina Burana 99, “The carefree judgment of proud Paris {Superbi Paridis leve iudicium},” stanza 20, Latin text and English translation from Traill (2018). Stanzas 11-20 of this poem are thought to be a latter addition. Stanza 20 indicates that Dido’s brutal response to Aeneas betrayed what should have been her love for him.

[12] Ovid, Heroides 7 (Dido to Aeneas {Dido Aeneae}) vv. 195-6, Latin text from the Latin Library, my English translation.

Scholars have followed Dido in blaming her suicide on Aeneas. To suggest that Dido is responsible for her suicide Desmond characterizes as “blaming the victim” and indicative of “patriarchal biases.” Desmond (1994) p. 11. “To Creusa Aeneas is fatally inattentive. To Dido he is also irresponsible, even treacherous.” Perkell (1981) p. 370. To the academic Perkell, Aeneas leaving Dido who loves him and Aeneas allegedly not sufficiently chaperoning Creusa is morally equivalent to Aeneas brutally killing men:

The significance for the Aeneid as a whole of Aeneas’ behavior towards Dido and Creusa is that it reveals his otherwise astonishing brutality in Books 10 and 12 to be not entirely anomalous.

Id. p. 372.

Within gynocentric society, “unhappy Dido” has been a figure of intense scholarly concern. That concern has been significantly biased:

Scholarly debate on Dido focuses on several interrelated issues, of which the most contentious is perhaps the question of guilt. That is, does Dido deserve any blame for the “marriage” with Aeneas and its consequences — if not in our eyes then in Vergil’s or those of his original audience?

Nappa (2007) p. 301. The meek and reticent phrase “any blame” and the distancing of blame to Virgil and his original audience indicate the discursive, disciplinary risk of blaming Dido. In Nappa’s reading, Dido has the “anti-erotic and anti-marital sentiments” so highly promoted and valued today for heterosexual women. That social construction of women’s sexuality “points up the casual cruelty of the gods who need her to ignore this aspect of herself.” The world must be remade to support women’s anti-erotic and anti-marital sentiments:

Dido is forced to feel passion and act on it… . The lack of fit between her inner nature and her world is at the center of her tragedy.

Nappa (2007) p. 313. If such ideology were actually taken seriously, men would have reproductive choice, and men wouldn’t be forced to coerce women to have abortions.

[13] Geoffrey Chaucer, Legend of Good Women, Legend of Dido vv. 1254-63, Middle English text from Skeat (1899) vol. 3, my modern English version.

Ignoring Chaucer’s anti-meninism, Dronke observed:

For Chaucer as for the twelfth-century poets, Dido is love’s saint, love’s martyr. Both in the “Hose of Fame” and in the “Legend of Good Women” he outdoes the French “Eneas” poet in telling a keenly partisan, pro-Dido anti-Aeneas, version of the tale. Chaucer appears to be so deeply at one with Dido’s attitudes and emotions that his narrative orientation comes close to that of the lyrical laments, in which Dido pleads her own cause.

Dronke (1992) p. 449. According to Dronke, “the common substrate of meaning in this story, as Chaucer conceives it, still rings true.” Id. p 455. It surely rings true today in the anti-men bias in criminal justice systems and vastly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men.

Feminizing Chaucer hardly needs to be done. Cf. Mann (2002). Meninizing Chaucer is a task that medieval literary criticism is only beginning to address. To make literature classes more welcoming and inclusive, literary critics must prominently erect meninist pillars worthy of understanding and appreciation.

[14] Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 1.13.20, Latin text from O’Donnell (1992), my English translation. Augustine repeated this point with a scripture-like citation from Aeneid 6.457: “I wept for Dido, led to her end by the sword {flebam Didonem extinctam ferroque extrema secutam}.” Confessions 1.13.21. On Augustine’s scripture-like citation of the Aeneid, O’Donnell (1992), commentary on 1.13.21. For a freely available English translation of Augustine’s Confessions, Outler (1955). Augustine was about 12 years old when he studied the Aeneid. Woods (2019) pp. 13, 22.

Writing about 400 GC, Tiberius Claudius Donatus in his Commentary on Virgil {Interpretationes Vergilianae} provides further evidence of elite men’s attitude toward Dido. Donatus imagines a proposed declaration of Aeneas to Dido’s shade in the underworld and puts forth reasoning against it:

“I would have scorned all and remained, if I could have prevented you about to have this ruin of your life.” However, one cannot truly scorn commands of the gods. If with an apparently true falsehood Aeneas would please her, doing that would thus offend a god, such that the god would cut off by the sword the course of her life.

{ contempsissem omnia et remansissem, si praescissem hunc te habituram exitium vitae, non quia vere contemnere potuit deorum iussa, sed ut mendacio verisimili placaret eam quam sic laeserat, ut vitae suae cursum gladio praecidisset. }

Latin text from George (1905) vol. 1, p. 567, my English translation. According to Donatus, Aeneas effectively pleaded to Dido:

the accusations made in your complaints would embarrass me if it were willful, not in obedience to many dreadful orders, that I committed a fault in relation to you.

{ haererent mihi crimina querellis tuis expressa, si erga te non auctoritate multarum metuendarumque iussionum, sed mea uoluntate peccarem. }

Latin text from George (1905) vol. 1, p. 405, my English translation. From Donatus about 400 GC to many academics today, the view that Aeneas didn’t wrong Dido just isn’t conceivable. On Donatus’s interpretation of the relationship of Dido and Aeneas, Starr (1991). Id. misses the main point: Donatus provides an extraordinary poor model of explaining Dido to your son.

Ovid at least hinted that Dido wasn’t wholly wonderful:

On a pyre, built under the pretense of being for sacred rites,
she fell upon Aeneas’s sword. Deceived, she deceived all.

{ inque pyra sacri sub imagine facta
incubuit ferro deceptaque decipit omnes. }

Ovid, Metamorphoses 14.80-1, Latin text of Magnus (1892) via Perseus, my English translation.

[15] Desmond (1994) p. 2. Although the Aeneid literally describe a work about Aeneas, the reception of the Aeneid has inflated Dido’s significance close to that of Aeneas. Consider some statistical analysis. In Ziolkowski & Putnam (2008), ch. 3, “Virgil’s Texts and their Uses” (the chapter most representative of broad engagement with Virgil’s work), the word Aeneas is used only about a third more than is the word Dido (273 and 201 matches for Aeneas and Dido, respectively, in the Firefox pdf renderer, using matching for only whole words and respecting capitalization). For comparison, a WorldCat search shows about 60% more references to Aeneas than to Dido (kw:Virgil AND ti:Aeneas yields about 856 matches; kw:Virgil AND ti:Dido, about 536 matches). A variety of textual and technical issues (Eneas vs. Aeneas, textual mis-renderings, etc.) and the choices for the textual corpus affect the exact ratio, but not the broad magnitudes. Overall in the textual reception of Virgil, Aeneas apparently has slightly more references than Dido, but not anything near five or ten times more.

[16] Hahn (2005) p. 46. Another modern scholar observed:

By the end of the Middle Ages the sympathies of men of letters are usually on the side of Queen Dido, who was either traduced by Virgil or shamelessly abandoned by Aeneas.

Allen (1962) p. 58. Girls and boys and men and women tend to sympathize with women:

The pain and suicide of Queen Dido when her lover leaves her often remain a student’s most powerful memory of the text, even today. … medieval school manuscripts of the Aeneid manifest a classroom emphasis on her emotions, particularly her speeches.

Woods (2019) pp. 11, 35. Single-sex education for boys isn’t sufficient to overcome that gender bias:

while women were overwhelmingly absent from this schoolboy classical world except in texts, their emotions permeated and sometimes dominated the classroom experience.

Id. pp. 10-11, discussing medieval boys’ education.

Men continue to be taught that to become better persons, they must become more like women, even women like Dido:

Dido is what she is because we are meant to compare her story to Aeneas’s and then to ponder the differences. She is to be a second self for Aeneas, representing parts of himself unrealized, holding out the prospect of a richer, more complete life.

Van Nortwick (2016). Men who act like Dido would experience additional gender-biased persecution of men’s passion. Such men would also contribute to increasing men’s lifespan shortfall relative to women. Both effects would exacerbate fundamental social injustices.

[17] Welch (2009) p. 3. Dido preceding Aeneas in the opera’s title Dido and Aeneas is significant:

Book One {of the Aeneid} introduces the enigmatic and tragic figure of Dido [also known as Elissa], a woman so ripe for artistic recreation that portraits, paintings, and poems celebrating her doomed loved comprise a rich European tradition. (Compare Purcell’s sympathetic portrayal in his opera Dido and Aeneas, in which the first-billed Dido is definitely the protagonist!)

Tom Jenkins (2001), comment on Aeneid 1.

[18] Cf. the first stanza of “The Queen of Carthage” by Louise Glück:

Brutal to love,
more brutal to die.
And brutal beyond the reaches of justice
to die of love.

Glück was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature.

[images] (1) Portrait of Dido, Queen of Carthage. Painted enamel on copper. Made by Léonard Limosin c. 1564-5 about Limoges, France. Preserved as accession # 44.240 in The Walters Art Museum (Baltimore, USA). (2) Dido and Aeneas embracing. Illumination made in Paris about 1315-40. From Roman d’Eneas manuscript, folio 148r in Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Français 60. Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Dido excoriates Aeneid. Excerpt from illumination for Aeneid 4.369. Pen and brown ink and brown wash artwork. Made by Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune in 1803. Preserved as object number 99.GA.28 in The J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, USA). Source image available under the Getty’s Open Content Program. (4) The Suicide of Queen Dido. Illumination by Boucicaut Master or workshop. Made in Paris about 1413-15. Preserved on folio 41 of Ms. 63 (96.MR.17) in The J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, USA). Depictions of Dido’s suicide are relatively common. The Vergilius Vaticanus, made about 400 GC, shows Dido before and after she stabs herself. See Folios 40r and 41r of the Vergilius Vaticanus (Vatican Library, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225). The Carmina Burana, written in 1230, shows a self-stabbed Dido falling out of a castle into flames. See folio 77v of Carmina Burana (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 4660).


Allen, Don Cameron, 1962. Pp. 55-68 in “Marlowe’s Dido and the Tradition.” Hosley, Richard, ed. Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Austin, R. G., ed. 1955. P. Vergili Maronis Aeneidos: Liber quartus. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Desmond, Marilynn. 1994. Reading Dido: gender, textuality and the medieval Aeneid. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (review by Wendy Chapman Peek)

Dronke, Peter. 1992. “Dido’s Lament: From Medieval Latin Lyric to Chaucer.” Ch. 15 (pp. 431-456) in Dronke, Peter. Intellectuals and Poets in Medieval Europe. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura.

Fagles, Robert, trans. 2006. Virgil. The Aeneid. New York: Viking.

Fairclough, H. Rushton, revised by G. P. Goold. 1999. Virgil. Eclogues. Georgics. Aeneid: Books 1-6. Loeb Classical Library 63. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Francese, Christopher. 2016. Vergil / Aeneid Selections. Dickinson College Commentaries. Online.

Georges, Heinrich, ed. 1905. Tiberi Claudi Donati ad Tiberium Claudium Maximum Donatianum filium suum interpretationes Vergilianae. Volumen I: Aeneidos Libri I-VI. Volumen II: Aeneidos Libri VII-XII, Vitae Vergilianae. Leipzig: Teubner.

Greenough, J. B., ed. 1900. The Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics of Virgil. Boston: Ginn.

Hahn, Thomas. 2005. “Don’t Cry for Me, Augustinus: Dido and the Dangers of Empathy.” Ch. 2 (pp. 41-59) in Fiona Somerset and Nicholas Watson, eds. Truth and Tales: Cultural Mobility and Medieval Media. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Lezberg, Emma. 2016. “Politics and the Pen: A Subversive Reading of the Aeneid.” From Literary Theory course at Williams College (Williamstown, MA, USA). Online at Philosophy for the Many.

Lyne, Raphel. 1999. “Aeneas & Isabella.” Online, originally under CERES, the Cambridge English Renaissance Electronic Service.

Mann, Jill. 2002. Feminizing Chaucer. Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer.

Nappa, Christopher. 2007. “Unmarried Dido: Aeneid 4.550-52.” Hermes. 135 (3): 301-313.

O’Donnell, James J., ed. and comm. 1992. Augustine of Hippo. Confessions. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Outler, Albert C., trans. 1955. Augustine: Confessions and Enchiridion. London: SCM Press.

Palmer, R. Barton, Yolanda Plumley, Domenic Leo, and Uri Smilansky, ed. and trans. 2016. Guillaume de Machaut, the Complete Poetry and Music. Volume 1, The Debate Poems: Le Jugement dou Roy de Behaigne, Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre, Le Lay de Plour. Kalamazoo, MI: Published for TEAMS (Teaching Association for Medieval Studies) in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications.

Perkell, Christine G. 1981. “On Creusa, Dido, and the quality of victory in Virgil’s Aeneid.” Women’s Studies. 8 (1/2): 201-223.

Salverda de Grave, Jean-Jacques, ed. 1891. Énéas: texte critique. Bibliotheca Normannica, 4. Halle: Niemeyer.

Skeat, Walter W., ed. 1899. The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. 7 vols. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Starr, Raymond J. 1991. “Explaining Dido to Your Son: Tiberius Claudius Donatus on Vergil’s Dido.” The Classical Journal. 87 (1): 25-34.

Swallow, Ellenor. 1951. “Anna Soror.” The Classical Weekly. 44 (10): 145-150.

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Van Nortwick, Thomas. 2016. “Aeneas: The Wrong Man in the Right Place.” Introduction in Francese (2016).

Vaughan, Míċeál F. 1999. “The Legend of Dido.” University of Washington, online.

Welch, Anthony. 2009. “The Cultural Politics of Dido and Aeneas.” Cambridge Opera Journal 21 (1): 1–26. doi:10.1017/S0954586709990012.

Woods, Marjorie Curry. 2019. Weeping for Dido: the classics in the medieval classroom. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Yunck, John A. 1974. Eneas: a twelfth-century French romance. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., and Michael C. J. Putnam. 2008. The Virgilian Tradition: the first fifteen hundred years. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.

Eracle bride-show indicates hypergamy inconsistent with inner beauty

What do men want? Most men find physically beautiful women to be attractive. But men who seek long-term relationships with women usually desires more than just physical beauty. The Old French romance Eracle that Gautier d’Arras wrote between 1159 and 1184 considers what men want through a bride-show to select a wife for the Roman Emperor Laïs.

Emperor Laïs would satisfy any woman seeking to raise her status through marriage, i.e. through the socially significant female practice of hypergamy. Laïs was atop the twelfth-century male status hierarchy:

Just as he was the most powerful mortal man,
so he was of the highest repute.
Just as he was among all men the most beautiful,
so he was among all men the most loyal.
He was very well-built. He was very tall.

{ Tant con il est li plus hals hom
c’on sace et de plus halt renon,
de tant est il tous li plus biax
c’on sace et tous li plus loiaus.
Molt est bien fais, molt a grant cors. }[1]

Many women sought to become empress, a highly privileged position, by becoming Emperor Laïs’s wife:

Women much covet high status,
and when they saw that the emperor
in his beauty, in his appearance,
exceeded all other of the world’s creatures,
their covetousness doubled.
Not one of them wasn’t troubled
in her heart and very anxious,
and one to another was hostile
and bore toward the other great resentment,
thinking that she would have already married him
if not for her. Such was not merely
one of them, but each one of them
had these thoughts to herself.

{ Cestes covoitent molt l’onor,
et voient de l’empereor
qu’il n’a el monde creature
de se biauté, de se figure;
lor covoitise en est doublee.
N’i a celi ne soit troublee
en son corage et molt pensive,
et l’une en est vers l’autre eschive,
et porte li si grant envie
con s’eüst ja esté plevie
se por li non; ce n’est pas une
tant seulement, ains est cascune
qui ceste pensee a en soi. }

While seldom discussed publicly, female sexual competition can be intense and vicious. That can create unpleasant situations for men. Emperor Laïs thus refused to appear at the bride-show to select a wife for him among a thousand eager, beautiful women. Drawing upon the realism and insight of literature of men’s sexed protest, Laïs explained:

“My lords, I will not attend,” he said,
“because a thousand women covet this honor
and only one will be selected,
and each one has hope
such that each one has taken much pain
to be the one who is chosen,
and if she isn’t, I fear,
she’ll strongly believe that she was as worthy,
as the one who was crowned,
as the one to whom this honor has been given.
And I know that greatly aggrieved will be
all those who will see
one woman take in the sight of all
that for which each one has come to gather.
Then many nasty words
will be said in your presence,
because a woman knows much to say
when she has in her heart grief and anger,
and a woman makes herself childish
when another takes what she wants.
A woman has no regard for reason,
for whether what she wants can be or not.
That which pleases her seems right to her.
No other outcome can be found.”

{ “N’i irai pas, fait il, signor,
car mil covoitent ceste honor
et n’i ara eslite qu’une;
et esperance i a cascune,
si s’est cascune tant penee
con cele ki iert assenee,
et si n’i ara nule, espoir,
qui ne cuit bien autant valoir
con cele qui ert courounee,
cui ceste honors sera donee,
et saciés que grant duel merront
trestoutes celes qui verront
l’une prendre tout a veüe
ce por coi cascune est venue.
Mainte parole mal seant
i ara dite vostre oiant,
car feme set assés que dire
pour qu’ele ait au cuer duel et ire,
et feme enfantiument se deut
quant autre prent çou qu’ele velt.
Feme n’esgarde pas raison,
se il puet estre ensi ou non;
çou que li plaist li sanle bien,
n’i puet on trouver autre rien.” }[2]

Men, even a man as powerful as Emperor Laïs, with good reason fear women’s anger. Nonetheless, some men remain willing to marry a woman. So it was for Emperor Laïs.

Judgment of Paris in goddesses beauty competition

Instead of attending himself, Emperor Laïs entrusted his extraordinarily skilled counselor Eracle with the task of selecting a wife for him from among the thousand women participating in the emperor’s bride-show. Eracle could discern among stones that which was a most precious jewel. He could discern among horses that which was the most valuable, most capable mare or stallion. Eracle could also discern the unspoken thoughts of women and their hidden characters. While jewels and horses were highly valued in medieval Europe, nothing is more important to a man’s happiness within gynocentric society than the quality of his wife. Eracle’s extraordinary capability with respect to women was thus of utmost value to Emperor Laïs.

Eracle pondered the many beautiful women who had come for the emperor’s bride-show. Eracle’s judgment was more difficult than Paris judging the most beautiful among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. That latter competition turned into a rout when Aphrodite stripped off her clothes and invited Paris to gaze intensely at her naked body:

Here I am close by you. Examine me thoroughly, part by part. Don’t skip any part, but linger upon each.

{ Αὕτη σοι ἐγὼ πλησίον, καὶ σκόπει καθ᾿ ἓν ἀκριβῶς μηδὲν παρατρέχων, ἀλλ᾿ ἐνδιατρίβων ἑκάστῳ τῶν μερῶν. }[3]

The women who came for the emperor’s bride-show were lavishly dressed, and they kept their clothes on. That didn’t matter. Eracle with his extrasensory perception was concerned with much more than just appearances.

The first woman that Eracle considered at length had placed herself in the front row of the bridal contestants. Eracle saw that this woman was extremely beautiful. Yet Eracle perceived the deceptiveness of her appearance:

He knew all, both inside and out,
and saw the brass underneath the gold,
and the lead appearing below the silver.
Thus to all the people it seemed
that God had never before made a creature
so worthy, so generous, nor so pure,
and she had a guileless and shining face,
but in this age no one was more avaricious.
In a woman there is no worse vice,
no worse stain, than avarice,
because in this age there isn’t an avaricious wife
who doesn’t regard herself to be poor and needy.

She was an empty creature,
with only a golden exterior.
No man on earth could find more to her,
because all that glitters isn’t gold.
She is a virgin, yet to whom is that impassioning
when avarice is constantly attacking her,
and urging her to accept rings
and purses and jewels,
fine belts and brooches
from all, poor and rich men alike.

{ car il set tout, et ens et hors,
et voit le ceuvre desous l’or,
et le plont paroir sos l’argent.
Ensi est vis a toute gent
que Dix ne fist ainc creature
si preu, si large ne si pure,
et le ciere a aperte et clere;
mais el siecle n’a plus avere;
si n’a en feme pïour visse
ne pïor tece c’avarisse,
qu’il n’a el siecle avere espeuse
qui ne soit povre et soufraiteuse;

Il n’i a nule creature
fors seulement la doreüre;
n’a home el mont qui plus i truist,
car n’est pas ors tout canqu’il luist.
Ele est puciele, mais cui caut
quant Avarisse adiés l’assaut
et reuve qu’ele prenge aniaus
et aumosnieres et joiaus,
bones çaintures et afices,
de tous, de povres et de rices. }

This woman sought to marry the emperor. That’s the ultimate achievement of hypergamy. She had sufficient outer beauty to be regarded as a worthy candidate, but she lacked inner beauty of character. Eracle rejected her as a woman not fit to be the emperor’s wife.

Eracle saw another woman who was extremely beautiful and who seemed to be modest and chaste. All the other women thought that Eracle would choose her. The woman herself felt sure that he would choose her. She said to herself:

Ah, my fair brother,
how badly understanding the emperor was
when he believed you to have such great sense!
So little you know of what I have in me.
So little you know how it grieves me
about my lover whom I love and desire.
I love him and will always love him,
he who has had my loving intercourse.
He will be very pained when he learns
that the emperor will thus have me.
Lover, do not allow because of him
that you will not see your love.
You won’t do that, I think.
I will pretend to be sick at times.
You will come then to watch over me
at those times when my lord goes on campaign.
Then you will give me medicine
in my bedroom, behind the bed-curtains.

{ Ahi! bels frere,
con est mal sages l’emperere,
quant il si grant sens cuide en toi;
Molt ses petit qu’il a en moi;
molt ses petit con je me duel
de mon ami que j’aim et voel.
Je l’aim et amerai tous jors,
qu’il a eües mes amors;
molt iert dolans quant il sara
que l’emperere ensi m’ara.
Amis, ne laisiés por lui mie
que vos ne voiés vostre amie.
Non ferés vos, si con je pens;
malade me ferai par tens,
vos i venrés en liu de mire.
tel fois ostoiera mesire
que vos me donrés medecine
en me cambre, sos ma cortine; }

Having perceived all of the woman’s hidden thoughts, Eracle summoned her and four barons to have a private conversation with him. He told her to either reveal her true nature, or he would reveal it. She balked. Then he told her to tell about her adulterous plan with the fake doctor and the sexual medicine. The women confessed that she had wrongly believed him to be stupid. He then led her to confess that if she had married the emperor, she would have had Eracle killed. Given relatively little public concern about violence against men, Eracle wisely safeguarded his life and rejected this woman as the emperor’s wife.

Eracle moved on to consider other women. All were beautiful, and many possessed admirable characteristics. But the women, when viewed not through gyno-idolatry but with keen perception of reality, also had vices:

At one woman who seemed very worthy
Eracle stopped on account of the crowd,
because she was extraordinarily beautiful.
She was still a virgin, it’s true,
yet one should be grateful to her for this
only as to a woman who hasn’t been conquered
because she’s never been pursued.
I have never seen any tower
fall without pleading and without battle.
Eracle saw well that the rose
wasn’t surrounded by such a palisade
that it would have held out for a month
after a lover had come there.
This woman was still both clean and pure,
yet Eracle had no interest in her,
because he was very certain and sure
that before the wheat was at its best,
so many weeds would be mingled in
that the harvest would be ruined.

{ A une qui pert molt valoir
s’areste Eracles por le gent,
car molt fu bele estrangement;
ele est pucele encor, por voir,
si l’en doit on bon gré savoir,
con cele qui n’est pas conquise
por çou que n’a esté requise.
Je ne vi onques nule tor
rendre sans plait et sans estor.
Eracles voit bien que le rose
n’est pas de tel palis enclose
qu’il se fust ja un mois tenus,
tes i peüst estre venus.
Ceste est encore et nete et pure,
ne mais Eracles n’en a cure,
qu’il est bien certains et seürs
c’ainc que li formens soit meürs,
i venra tant de gargerie
que li messons sera perie. }

For the emperor’s wife, Eracle sought a woman who had it all. He explained:

I will go to see other women,
so that I myself may know whether loyalty
and courtly innocence and beauty
can endure in one body,
so that one can truthfully swear:
“this woman is good and beautiful and chaste.”
But I think to have yet a great burden to find one.

{ et nos irons aillors veoir,
savoir mon se ja loialtés
et fine simplece et bialtés
peüssent en un cors durer,
que on peüst por voir jurer:
“Iceste est boine et bele et caste”;
mais je cuiç ains avoir grant laste. }

Among the thousand beautiful women who had entered the emperor’s bride-show, Eracle found many character defects: avarice, sexual incontinence, unfaithfulness, talkativeness, arrogance, nastiness, or favoring liars, slanderers, and flatterers. Among the women who sought to be the emperor’s wife, Eracle found not one worthy of such hypergamy.

Traveling through the ancient quarter of Rome on his way back to the emperor’s place, Eracle saw a beautiful young woman wearing an old tunic. With his extrasensory perception, he perceived that she was without moral blemish. In fact, she had extraordinary inner beauty as well as extraordinary outer beauty. He rushed toward her. She in response ran into her aunt’s house. The young woman was a poor orphan under the care of her aunt. Eracle went to the aunt’s house and asked to see the young woman, who was named Athanaïs. The aunt thought that he was seeking to buy sex from Athanaïs. She insisted that Athanaïs wasn’t a sex worker and even in her poverty she would never do such work. Eracle wasn’t offended at being mistaken for a sexually impoverished and desperate man. He declared that he sought Athanaïs to be the emperor’s wife. Both Athanaïs and her aunt were thrilled at this huge change in their fortune. Hypergamy for them was an unsought blessing.

A thousand beautiful women from across the empire came to Rome to compete in the emperor’s bride-show. Not one of them was suitable to be the emperor’s wife. The problem couldn’t have been that none of them was perfect, for no mortal woman or man is perfect. The fundamental disqualifying characteristic for all the women at the emperor’s bride-show was hypergamy. Athanaïs didn’t seek to become the emperor’s wife. That made her fit to be the emperor’s wife.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Gautier d’Arras, Eracle vv. 2037-41, Old French text from Pratt (2007), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Raynaud de Lage (1976) represents an earlier, standard critical edition. Pratt improves significantly on that edition. I’ve capitalized the first word of each sentence, not the first word of each verse, as in Pratt’s Old French text. Pratt noted that with respect to capitalization at the start of each verse, the scribes were “inconsistent.” Id. p. lx. Subsequent quotes from Eracle are similarly sourced.

Pratt’s base text is Paris, BNF fr. 1444 (called manuscript A). That manuscript was copied by two thirteenth-century scribes. On dating Gautier d’Arras’s writing of Eracle, Pratt (2007) p. x. In editing Eracle, Pratt treated the medieval manuscript with admirable respect. See id. pp. lix-lxiii. My translation differs from Pratt’s in following more closely the Old French. Even readers with sparse knowledge of medieval languages should study the Old French text. Much can be appreciated from it without expert knowledge. The freely accessible online Anglo-Norman dictionary is helpful.

Although Gautier d’Arras was associated with Arras in northern France, Eracle is largely a Byzantine romance. “The influence of Byzantine history, literature, culture and customs pervades Eracle.” Pratt (2007) p. xxii. Bride-shows were used to select the wife for the emperor in eighth- and nine-century Byzantium. Eracle draws upon an account of the life of the Byzantine Emperor Heroclius, who reigned from 610 to 641. The Persian Emperor Chosroes II (Khosrow II), who ruled from 591 to 628, also appears in Eracle.

A woman named Athenaïs (also known by the Christian name Eudokia) was the wife of the fifth-century Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II. Theodosius came to suspect that Athenaïs was committing adultery with Paulinus, a young government official. Showing prevalent gender bias in punishment for adultery, Theodosius divorced Athenaïs and had Paulinus killed. For some additional details and references, Pratt (2007) p. xxii and note [8] in my post on the Byzantine reception of Octavian’s Actium victory monument.

Eracle combines hagiography, history, folk-tale, courtly romance, and crusader epic. Scholars have debated the genre and literary merit of Eracle. See, e.g. Lacy (1986), Pratt (2007) pp. xxiii-xxxi, and Pratt (2008). Eracle, like The Story of Apollonius King of Tyre, seems to be an example of intricately patterned art, which is an Islamic cultural key.

Gautier d’Arras was highly learned and well-regarded as an author in medieval Europe. Pratt (2008) p. 170. The thirteenth-century German cleric Meister Otte adapted Eracle into Middle High German. Meister Otte reshaped the story to be more historically accurate. Id. pp. 182-6, Pratt (1987).

Subsequents quotes above from Eracle are vv. 2091-2103 (Women much covet high status…), 2139-62 (My lords, I will not attend…), 2213-24, 2241-50 (He knew all, both inside and out…), 2283-2300 (Ah, my fair brother…), 2374-92 (At one woman who seemed very worthy…), 2356-62 (I will go to see other women…).

[2] In literary studies, men expressing their experiences and concerns in relation to women have tended to be marginalized and silenced through anti-meninist slurs. Pratt deploys the slur “antifeminist commonplaces.” Pratt (2007) p. 65, n. 43. That’s an anachronistic modern academic banality. Among other scholarly harms, it has deprived the unruly, uppity, and wildy creative Lamentations of Matheolus of the scholarly attention it truly deserves. King disparaged the bride-show in Eracle with a narrow-minded characterization: “the prudish misogyny of the pageant.” He read the bride-show so superficially that he wrongly claimed of the bridal candidates, “there is not a virgin in the bunch.” King (1999) pp. 153, 152.

Eracle uses a variety of metaphors for sexual intercourse: vv. 2112: “she had been out in the rain {il ait pleü sor li}”; 2114, 2414 “game {ju / gieu}”; 2339, “medicine {medecine}”; 2382, “battle {estor}”; 2410, “testing {asai}”; 4175 “my god {mon diu}”; 4586, “sweet game {douç giu}.” In literary metaphors, men’s sexuality tends to be brutalized. Eracle is admirably humane and progressive in not brutalizing men’s sexuality other than in the reference to “battle.” With respect to the reference to “rain,” that is best associated not with staining, but with basic sexual biology and fecundity.

[3] Lucian, The Judgment of the Goddesses {Θεῶν Κρίσις / Dearum Iudicium} 13, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Harmon (1913). Hayes & Nimis (2016) provides reading notes for the Greek. Here’s the somewhat bowdlerized English translation of Fowler & Fowler (1905).

[4] Gautier d’Arras here alludes to Ovid, Amores 1.8.43 (“The only chaste woman is one who hasn’t been propositioned {Casta est quam nemo rogavit}”) and the Gospel parable of the weeds, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. A rose has long been a figure of a woman’s vagina. The rose as a castle to be assailed figures in Jean de Meun’s conclusion of the thirteenth-century Romance of the Rose.

[image] Judgment of Paris in beauty competition among goddesses. Oil on panel painting by Frans Floris. Painted in the 1550s. Preserved as accession # ГЭ-6093 in Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Fowler, Francis George, and H. W. Fowler. 1905. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. 4 vols. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Harmon, A. M. ed. and trans. 1913. Lucian. 8 vols. Loeb Classical Library 14. London: Heinemann.

Hayes, Evan and Stephen Nimis. 2016. Lucian’s Judgment of the Goddesses: an intermediate Greek reader; Greek text with running vocabulary and commentary. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing.

King, David S. 1999. “Humor and Holy Crusade: Eracle and the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne.” Zeitschrift Für Französische Sprache Und Literatur. 109 (2): 148-155.

Lacy, Norris J. 1986. “The Form of Gautier d’Arras’s Eracle.” Modern Philology. 83 (3): 227-232.

Pratt, Karen. 1987. Meister Otte’s Eraclius as an adaptation of Eracle by Gautier d’Arras. Göppingen: Kümmerle Verl.

Pratt, Karen, ed. and trans. 2007. Gautier d’Arras. Eracle. King’s College London Medieval Studies 21. London: King’s College London, Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies.

Pratt, Karen. 2008. “The Genre of Gautier d’Arras’s Eracle: A Twelfth-century French ‘History’ of a Byzantine Emperor.” Reading Medieval Studies. 34: 169-190.

Raynaud de Lage, Guy, ed. 1976. Gautier d’Arras. Eracle. Paris: Champion. Published online in by ENS de Lyon in the Base de français médiéval, last revised 28-5-2013.

wife cross-dressed to save husband from devil’s castration

Castration culture is a deeply entrenched, devilish problem of social justice. A Byzantine woman resisted her husband being castrated in tenth-century Italy. An English woman resisted her husband being castrated in seventeenth-century Nottinghamshire. Women today must act similarly — strongly and independently — to resist castration culture.

The woman’s action in seventeenth-century Nottinghamshire underscores the importance of breaking the cycle of castration. According to a widely printed ballad, a baker was riding a castrated male horse, a gelding, to the Nottingham market. That horse had smooth skin and a soft, fatty figure. The first-century Roman emperor Domitian had his slave boy Earinus castrated to preserve Earinus’s similarly boyish appearance against the onset of puberty. After seeing the baker’s horse, a devil sought to have the baker castrate him so that he would have smooth skin and soft flesh like the baker’s gelding. At the devil’s request, the baker gelded the devil.

castrating the devil

Listening to the devil and facilitating castration is always a grievous wrong. Castration begets further castration. The devil suffered great pain from his castration and bitterly regretted it. The devil vowed that in revenge he would castrate the baker on the next market-day. The baker returned home full of fear and sorrow. He told his wife what had happened:

Oh, quoth the good wife, without doubt,
I had rather both thy eyes were out.

Although the baker, like most husbands, would do anything to please his wife, he didn’t know what he could do against the devil’s intent to castrate him.

The wife took charge of the fight against castration. She understood that gender is merely a social construction, and used that banality against the devil. She declared to her husband:

I’ll make the devil change his note.
Give me thy hat, thy belt and coat,
thy hose and doublet add also,
and like to a man I will go.
I’ll warrant thee next market-day
to fright the devil quite away.

On her way to the market, the devil accosted the cross-dressed baker’s wife and declared that he would castrate her. The cross-dressed wife then shrewdly deployed women’s privileged immunity against castration culture:

The baker’s wife to the devil did say,
sir I was gelded yesterday.
Oh, quoth the devil, I mean to see,
and pulling her coat above her knee,
and so looking-upward from the ground,
oh, there he spy’d a terrible wound.

Oh, quoth the devil, now I see,
he was not cunning that gelded thee,
for when he cut out thy stones,
he should have closed up thy wounds.
But if thou’lt stay some little space,
I’ll fetch some salve to cure the place.

The devil felt compassion for what he thought was a poorly done castration. Any castration is wrongly done castration. But the devil’s compassion seems to have been mixed with wound envy. When he saw a flea creeping up her belly, he touched her there, attempting to squish it. She then powerfully farted:

Oh, said the devil, thy life’s not long,
thy breath it smells so horribly strong.
Therefore go thy way and make thy will,
thy wounds are past all human skill.
Be gone, be gone, make no delay,
for here thou shalt no longer stay.

In twelfth-century England, Roland the Farter had to fart annually for the king in order to keep his land. Men trobairitz in thirteenth-century France were willing to fart so strongly as to generate enough wind to save women caught in a lull half-way to the Holy Land. Women’s farting ability, however, has been historically marginalized. This heroic, cross-dressed wife drove away the devil with a strong fart and saved her husband from castration. She should be celebrated equally with the traditional textual canon in literature classes.

Women must be men’s allies in the fight against castration culture. Women must resist castration culture by any means necessary. Women can cross-dress and fart. Yet too few women today are doing what’s necessary to drive off the devil, promote social justice, and help men. Drawing inspiration from marginalized, heroic women of herstory, women must do more to resist castration culture.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


The above quotes are from the ballad “The Gelding of the Devil, or the prettiest jest that ever was known, how the baker’s wife her skill has shown. Then listen a while, and I the news will tell, between the baker and the devil of Hell.” I’ve modernized the capitalization and punctuation, and made a few other insubstantial changes for ease of reading. The last couplet of each stanza is repeated. I haven’t included that repetition above. Textual transcriptions of “The Gelding of the Devil” are available online for the ballads British Library, Roxburghe, EBBA 30663 (dated 1670?); Magdalene College, Pepys, EBBA 22015 (dated 1674-79); and British Library, Roxburghe, EBBA 31054 (dated 1763?). Other online instances are Oxford, Bodleian Bod18828 (Douce Prints S 9) and Bod24092 (Douce Ballads 3).

From the middle of the seventeenth century this song circulated relatively widely in England:

“The Gelding of the Devil” was entered as a broadside in the Stationers’ Register in 1656 and in the same year a version was printed in Sportive Wit. … The poem was often reprinted, appearing in An Antidote against Melancholy, 1661, Merry Drollery, 1661, Merry Drollery Complete, 1670, Wit and Drollery, 1682, Wit and Mirth, 3d ed., 1682, in all editions of Pills, 1719-1720, III, 147, and in other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century collections. Henry Bold’s Latine Songs, with their English, 1685, preserves the stanza form in Bold’s translation.

Simpson (1966) pp. 248-9. For the version via Henry Bold, see Bold (1685) song 19 / canticle 19. Learned Latin literature commonly crossed over into popular vernacular songs and stories. Ziolkowski (2007). “The Gelding of the Devil” may have developed out of medieval Latin works such as Guibert of Nogent’s story of the devil’s misandry and the twelfth-century poem De pulice.

An early sixteenth-century German story tells of a bear asking a man to castrate him so that he could become a monk. The man then castrated the bear. But being a castrated bear wasn’t sufficient to become a monk. The bear threatened to castrate the man in revenge. Fortunately, the man’s wife, pretending to be him,  comforted the bear by showing him her vagina. See Hans Sachs, Complete Collection of Fables and Farces {Sämtliche Fabeln und Schwänke}, Goetze & Drescher (1900) eds., vol. 3, no. 25.

By the mid-seventeenth-century, “The Gelding of the Devil” was associated with a specific tune and a country dance with written instructions. The country dance instructions were first printed in John Playford’s Dancing Master (3rd ed., 1657). Here’s a historical printing of the tune combined with the dance instructions.

Recent scholarly work has greatly misinterpreted castration culture as a “battle for chastity” that concerns only men’s experience and men’s bodies:

Over the course of a millennium, the details of the mystical castration stories move away from the individual man’s battle for chastity, but the battle remained a quintessentially male discourse embedded in male experience and the male body.

Murray (2019) p. 116. While only men suffer castration, castration culture is intimately related to the female body and female experience.

[images] (1) Castrating the devil. Woodcut illustration from English broadside ballad Magdalene College, Pepys, EBBA 22015 (dated 1674-79) (2) Performance of “The Gelding of the Devil” by ゆるアコ (2014). Via YouTube. Here’s a performance by Nomen Est Omen Medieval and Renaissance Ensemble (2013).


Bold, Henry. 1685. Latine songs with their English, and poems by Henry Bold … ; collected and perfected by Captain William Bold. London: Printed for John Eglesfield.

Murray, Jacqueline. 2019. “The Battle for Chastity: Miraculous Castration and the Quelling of Desire in the Middle Ages.” Journal of the History of Sexuality. 28 (1): 96-116.

Simpson, Claude M. 1966. The British Broadside Ballad and its Music. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2007. Fairy Tales from before Fairy Tales: the medieval Latin past of wonderful lies. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.