Reader's Encyclopedia

Dido

The name given by Vergil in his Aeneid to the founder and queen of Carthage. According to Roman legend, Dido fled from Phoenicia to North Africa after her brother Pygmalion king of Tyre, had murdered her husband, Sychaeus, for his wealth. (See Byrsa. ) The name Dido was also an epithet of the Phoenician goddess Astarte.

In Vergil's poem, she hospitably receives Aeneas and the Trojans when they are shipwrecked on her shores. Through the plotting of the goddess Venus, she falls in love with Aeneas and tries to persuade him to settle in North Africa and share Carthage with her. But when the will of the gods is announced to him by their messenger Mercury, Aeneas yields, half against his will: he must abandon Dido and found his own nation in Italy. After his departure, Dido, in grief, takes her life by the sword and is cremated on a great funeral pyre, which Aeneas, now far out to sea, beholds burning on the shore.

Ovid's Heroides contains a letter, supposedly written by Dido to Aeneas, in which she reminds him of all she has done for him and begs him to remain. Other works dealing with the unfortunate queen include the tragedy Dido, Queen of Carthage (c1593), possibly written by Nashe and Marlowe; Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas (1689); and the opera Didon (1783) by Piccinni (1728 - 1800).

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