Women and Love I
Women and Love II
Dido's Anger I
Dido's Scorn I
Bill Long 3/29/09
These 31 lines present one of the strongest poetic expressions of scorn, indignation, and desire for vengeance that I have encountered. Dido sees herself justified in these emotions because Aeneas, to whom she has utterly given herself, with the result that rumors are flying about their illicit and lustful conduct, has decided to leave her. His excuse? The gods told him to depart--they reminded him that his destiny is to be in Italy and not on the African continent. So, he pressed his cares with great effort under his heart (obnixus curam sub corde premebat--IV.332) and told Dido this was his reality (4.331-361). His words have a hollow ring to them, especially because he seemed to be making plans to ditch her in the dead of night. So, after he utters these words, she lights into him with a vengeance and vehemence that should be pored over with patience and sympathy. Perhaps these will be words or thoughts that you will need on some occasion!
The Rhythm of the Speech/Poem
Six distinct emotions or lines of thought are presented in these 31 lines. First, there is the reference to her eyes (362-364); second are her words of biting scorn, contempt and derision directed at Aeneas (365-367); third are the cynical rhetorical questions, ending with a statement expressing skepticism of divine interest in justice (368-373); fourth are her plaintive words recounting the care she gave to Aeneas and his crew (373-381); fifth is her most chilling declaration of desire for vengeance, where she hopes that Aeneas will drink the cup of torture down to the dregs (382-391); finally, there are a few words describing how her system broke down under the pressure of these words (391-392). When a woman who has given everything to a man, and has reserved nothing for herself, is deserted or scorned, she is as it were overwhelmed with a tsunami of grief, anger, rejection and desire for vengeance. Her entire life has become thrown into question. If she can fight the man, she does so with her words and actions; if she can no longer do that, she is left with few palatable alternatives. Dido, in this instance, has lost all the respect of her subjects; she has given her heart completely to love, even though she did so against her own better inclinations (her sister Anna encouraged her to love again); she has humiliated herself and now has nowhere to go. Her life is over, and suicide will be the only rational choice she can make. But before we get there we hear the torrential outburst of her emotion, directed at the man who meant so much to her and seemed to promise so much to her, but only to withdraw it at the behest of the gods. How can such a woman ever love the gods or even respect them? Thus, we can see how suicide is just about the only satisfactory option left for her.
Before we allow her the choice of suicide, however, we need to caress this passage of extreme poetic poignancy.
1. Her Eyes (362-364)
While Aeneas has been giving his long-winded explanation for why he has to depart, he has averted her eyes. Actually the phrase aversa tuetur carries with it a sort of contradiction in terms--she looks away intently (looking). Usually one uses tueor to express a focused glance. The last principal part of the verb is tutus--"safe," so that it is the kind of glance that makes sure that things are safe and secure. But in this case she is looking at him "askance"--sideways, obliquely, askey, asquint. Perhaps she can't bear to meet his eyes. Why not? Because she cannot believe that anything he says is true anymore. He is just using the excuse of the gods as a "cover" for a cowardly withdrawal. They who expressed such intimate signs of love, which the gods themselves approved (IV.167-168) now were breaking up. Huh? It just makes no sense at all. She can't even raise her eyes to him. It would be too painful to confront that stolid, determined look. So that is pius Aeneas. He is the one who respects his "piety" so much that he would love and leave a person in the most desperate condition. She can't look at him not because she is ashamed at what she has done but because she can't bear to look at a visage at one time so seemingly connected to her and now so irretrievably removed. She will ultimately collapse when the full scope of this rejection engulfs her. Now Dido can't even look at him...
But these lines go on to suggest that she does roll her eyes to him finally, after he has finished, gazing at him from head to toe. She meets his babbling effort with stony silence, with "silent glances" as her eyes look him over from top to bottom. She has to get a good look at the man who has destroyed her life--and she probably can barely believe what she sees.
Then, she is ready to attack him with her words--which we will examine in the next essay.