Why Aeneas left Dido

Aeneas lost his home, Pergamum; his wife, father, friends, and revered heroic leaders: Priam, Hector, Paris, among others; his land; his pride; his reptuation; his identity; and perhaps most importantly, his purpose for living.

Aeneas, who was a minor prince; had to take a much bigger role, once of which he was not initially willing or able to take; but he was able, and the crux that enabled his realisation of his destiny, was coming to accept the inevitable decree of the Gods; and, finding hope for the future; in seeing the list (in the underworld) of all those unborn Roman heroes who would come to be our historical greats; but a prospect of a renewal of the hope of his former Trojan nation.

Aeneas wanted his own life to end, wanted not to be the leader his soldiers saw him to be; and couldn’t face his own losses.

Aeneas, had an oppurtunity, a way out. After years of travelling, he came to land at Carthage. A wonderful place ruled by a most spectacular, beautiful and headstrong woman. Unusual today it is for a woman to rule, how much more unusual is it in the ancient times! It mattered not that she was female; for she was more able, competent, confident, charismatic, pious than many of her contemporaries and most worthy of being leader for those qualities.

The Queen of Carthage; Dido, was struck, by the decree of divinity, to be struck by Cupid’s arrow; which fills one with involuntary infatuation, lust, and incredible yearning for another; and that other was to be Aeneas. Aeneas too, was taken by this Dido; for who wouldn’t be; she was perfect in every way. Helen was known for her beauty and indeed she was significant (for many people, including children died either in her name, or for her name). But how belittling is it to define femininity or feminine identity in terms of merely beauty and consequent impact in virtue of such beauty. It makes the beautiful woman more objectified and empty, and those that decree different treatment be granted to her more objectified and empty; making them less human in so many ways.

Dido was a real woman; an ideal woman. She was a leader, she was troubled by her lonliness at rule; she was troubled by the wellbeing of her people, by her nation’s fate. She was a person of the communal interest; a great military and political figure for that. But perhaps Virgil’s treatment of femininity here fails; insofar as it was Dido who became ruled by her private desires, her personal yearning for Aeneas; but this did not conflict with her communal duties; for a marriage with Beloved Aeneas would ensure protection and good rule by men of worthy stock for the nation of Carthage. It wasn’t a terrible decision or idea if Aeneas stayed in Carthage with Dido; ruling together….not terrible for Dido.

Reality, however, hardly favours the deserving individual. The Gods would not allow such a marriage; the Gods would not allow the destiny of Aeneas to be denied. If Aeneas indeed stayed with Dido; he would have to give up his destiny as an even greater ruler of Latium. How tragic it is for Aeneas to once again give up his own personal desires, his own needs, his own wants, projects, goals, hopes, aspirations, and sense of worth; for his destiny.

Destiny is seen as the greater goal; so great as to give up love itself? This seems too cruel a reality. But you don’t need to believe in deities to realise this is the case in our world.

Aeneas had to find his destiny, and it wasn’t with Carthage. He had to leave his bride, Dido; who is so perfect a woman. Truly it is a great personal tragedy; adding to his own loss of his nation. But the mindset of Aeneas overlooked that as he embraced his destiny…

It seemed that this hope that he had, this belief in realising the future, in bringing the events that destiny decreed by means of his own hand; made him overcome the loss of his beloved father, and wonderful Dido. I am yet to understand how Aeneas  could truly overcome the loss of Dido.

After Dido realised that Aeneas would leave Carthage to fulfill his destiny, which didn’t involve a union with her; she put a bitter curse upon Aeneas and his progenitors, so that in the future; they will be cursed enemies (realised by the Hannibal’s campaign centuries later), and in doing so, in falling in love, secured the downfall of Carthage, and ultimately her own life, by suicide.

How tragic, for Dido, to lose her heart, and her nation.
How tragic for Aeneas to lose his love to gain greatness; Aeneas seemed to be content with realising his destiny.

For years I used to think how amazing Aeneas was to overcome his problems and realise and actualise a destiny, a brilliant future, from the ashes of his old home, he sowed the seeds of a great Empire. The attitude imbued by Anchises, Aeneas father, as they entered the underworld to see the catalogue of heroes; inspired me.

But now, I feel saddened by the loss of Dido. What would you do if you were presented with a Carthaginian archetype of perfection, but had to give it up for a only possible and uncertain Roman future?

Why must we give up the wonderful in order to pursue the great?

It is cruelty that the Gods must make this our destined path. It is a cruel God who allows the chance of happiness in opposition to the chance of greatness.


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