While reading articles for my final paper, I came across a lot of divided opinions on whether Anna Karenina, Dido, and Scarlett O’Hara should be considered guilty. Many critics are quick to point out that they broke society’s rules, but does that mean they should be judged? In Dido’s case, it is difficult to say whether she even had a choice. She was pushed into her affair with Aeneas by the intervention of the gods. However, looking back on her story from a modern perspective, cupid’s arrow does not seem like a good enough excuse to put your personal happiness before the welfare of your kingdom. Dido breaks a vow of loyalty to her late husband and has nothing to show for it. Is love a good enough excuse for her actions?
The first part of my research involved a lot of reading. I started with the shortest text — Ovid’s Heroides VII. While only a few pages long, this dramatic letter is packed with meaning. In typical Ovid style, what is left unsaid is often just as important as what is stated directly. Since Dido’s character is most well known from the Aeneid, Ovid assumes that his reader is familiar with this text. This familiarity with the character highlights any differences between Vergil’s telling and Ovid’s. The latter author takes full advantage of this, giving the reader a big surprise in the middle of the text — Dido’s pregnancy:
Most people know the character Dido from Vergil’s Aeneid. She is a strong woman, a leader in her own right, who falls in love with the hero Aeneas. When he leaves her to found Rome, she kills herself out of heartbreak. Love destroys her. In his Heroides 7, Ovid paints a somewhat different portrait of Dido. He frames his work as a letter from Dido to Aeneas, composed as she is preparing to ascend her funeral pyre and end her own life. The letter is deeply emotional, with Dido alternately pleading with Aeneas and cursing him as the vindictive queen and the heartbroken lover battle within her. She comes across as a strong character, wholeheartedly committed to her love and to her decision to die since she cannot fulfill it.