In literature, the feats of a main character are defined by the sacrifices he/she makes with respect to those he/she holds dear. In this way, loved ones are woven into the story to give perspective; they multiply the joys as well as the sorrows, allowing the protagonist to experience a wide range of emotions. In Virgil’s Aeneid, an epic narrative about the legendary founding of Rome, Dido is present to strengthen the character of the protagonist, Aeneas. Many tragedies befall her throughout the work, especially in Book IV, which initially evoke sympathy in the reader. However, upon further inspection, the reader understands the importance of Dido for developing and defining Aeneas’ character, and therefore does not pity her. Nor does the reader condemn Virgil as treating Dido grossly, because he really does care about her as a character, so much so that he consents to allowing her to experience tragedy. Dido’s misfortunes, and the love she inspires in Aeneas, are necessary in order to create an honorable and revered hero as well as a powerful literary work.
Although she is initially presented as a strong and capable ruler of Carthage, Dido’s heart has been wounded in the past. She has built up walls in order to protect herself from further pains. Indeed, she has sworn never to love another man after the death of her husband Sychaeus: “For he who first united me with him took all love out of my life; and so it is he who should keep it close to his heart and guard it even in the grave” (97). She vows to remain loyal to her dead husband by not remarrying. It is in this light that Virgil appears to treat her grossly, because he forces her to break this vow and therefore betray herself and her lo...
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...n in order to command the attention of the readers, and to evoke a reaction towards Dido. If she had not been wronged, the reader would feel nothing towards her. But because we feel, we acknowledge her presence and take an interest in her character. Rather than sympathy towards Dido, our feelings are those of reverence and respect for Aeneas because of how he deals with the issue of love versus civilization. Virgil is not a shameless misogynist because he does not belittle Dido; rather, he makes her a powerful, expressive, vibrant persona. When the reader truly sees the big picture – i.e. the importance of the founding of Rome – then he/she is able to understand that the tragedies that befall Dido are imperative to accomplishing a grand aspiration. As such, Virgil creates Dido, not to evoke sympathy, but to create a powerful epic full of love, loss, and honor.
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