Chapter Four – Dido

While Dido and Turnus appear in completely different parts of the poem and never physically meet, I feel it is worth comparing the two on the basis of their parallels in theme and role. In the most basic terms, Dido and Turnus are both god-enhanced obstacles to Aeneas' destiny who need to be gotten rid of for the plot to progress.

Firstly, we have the violent and uncomfortable imagery associated with both characters. We may recall the passage concerning Allecto's inflammation of Turnus in Book XII – the images of fire, snakes and poison – and with that in mind, look to some of the ways in which Virgil describes Dido's madness:

"You can then breathe fire and poison into her and she will not know…" (II ll. 689)

"But the queen had long since been suffering from love's deadly wound, feeding it with her blood and being consumed by its hidden fire." (IV ll. 1-3)

"Dido was on fire with love and wandered all over the city in her misery and madness." (IV ll. 68-70)

"Driven to distraction and burning with passion, she raged and raved round the whole city like a Bacchant…" (IV ll. 300-3)

Turnus is frequently described as 'on fire' or 'blazing with passion'. Books IV and XII, Dido and Turnus' books respectively, are linked with what Pöschl calls a "common introductory symbol". The passion of both characters is echoed through the image of a festering wound. The Queen is "gnawed by love's invisible fire" (IV ll. 1-3); Turnus' wound is similar. In a way, these two are united as the greatest of Aeneas' obstacles – both antagonists through love, though one loves the hero and the other the hero's prize.

The irony is that although both characters are stirred to action by love – Turnus for Lavinia, Dido for Aeneas – the obstacles they present would not be so severe had their emotions not been tampered with by the gods. Although it is Venus that orchestrates Dido's madness, Virgil mentions the Furies in conjunction with her as well, another association with the Rutulian king: "She would be like Pentheus in his frenzy when he was seeing columns of Furies… or like Orestes, son of Agamemnon, driven in flight across the stage by his own mother armed with her torches and black snakes, while the avenging Furies sat at the door." (IV ll. 469-73) This is reiterated by Christine Clark in her article Regina Bacchatur: Sexual Roles and Politics in the Aeneid, where she affirms the similarity of Dido, Amata and Turnus' fates. In fact, Dido's suffering can be closely compared to that of Amata and Lavinia in tandem. Dido swears death for Aeneas, as does Amata for Turnus when she speaks for Lavinia in Book XII.

As Pöschl notes in The Art of Vergil, like Dido, Turnus also starts his road to destruction with religious rites and prayers. This connection is particularly interesting because it brings the Divine into the equation. Piety exists in both the orderly and disorderly characters (masculine vs. feminine), but has very different connotations for each. I will be discussing this in more detail in the later section concerning the Divine, but it merits a mention here as another connection between the dual tragedies of Turnus and Dido.

Chaotic imagery is not the only kind to unite these characters. Themes of hunting and being hunted are very common descriptors for the two. The first part of Book VI begins with Dido's suffering and madness, climaxing in the simile of a deer, enhancing the delusional quality of the scene. Likewise, Book XII opens with the torment of Turnus, fuelled by the youth's anger at Latinus' warnings, and culminating in the imagery of a frenzied bull. Both examples catalogue the long demise of Turnus and Dido into their animal instincts, slaves of passion and anguish. They trust again and again in false hopes (Dido of her lover choosing to stay, Turnus of keeping his betrothal to Lavinia), but in the end turn to a heroic death in order to save their honour. Unlike Dido, Turnus doesn't strictly commit suicide, but there is a recklessness that pervades his last battle, and the way he speaks to his sister Juturna ("I beg of you, let me be mad"(XII l. 680)) makes the reader wonder whether he has, at this point, abandoned caution to the wind and his life to the fates. Neither character is willing to surrender their heart's desire, but the more they chase it, the more it seems to slip through their fingers. Without Turnus' refusal to relinquish Lavinia the war in Latium would not have been necessary, and had Dido given up hope of Aeneas ultimately staying in Carthage, she may not have worked herself up into the suicidal frenzy that closes Book IV. However, for all they might be seen to have committed suicide, their attitudes have a slight but perceptible difference in the moment of the act. Dido leaves the earth with defiance and promises of vengeance, but Turnus seems resigned to his fate, only asking that his body be returned to his father. Like Dido, he works on Aeneas' pity, but instead of using romantic love to achieve his ends, he appeals to Aeneas' love for his father Anchises.

Pöschl also makes an interesting point in this vein about guilt:

"In both instances there is something like guilt in this clinging to life, this refusal to come to the final decision. Indeed, just as did Dido, [Turnus] bears a two-fold guilt. There is guilt in having started the war through demonic possession, and also guilt in refusing, through demonic passion, to end it. The realisation of this guilt contributes as much to Turnus' as Dido's tragedy, even though, in accordance with his role as a fighting hero, his inner drama is only suggested. But the fact of guilt cannot be overlooked, and its existence in his inner drama proves the tragic conception of his fate." (Art of Vergil, p.130)

This presence of guilt is intriguing – it is another very human aspect of Turnus, one that all readers can identify with. He is the cause of the war, which is reproachable, and had he been utterly unremorseful of that fact then we as readers may have hardened against him. As it is, his pervading guilt softens our judgement of him. The pitiable nature of this guilt is reflected in Amata directly before her own suicide, in this passage: "in that instant her mind was deranged with grief and she screamed that she was the cause, the guilty one, the fountainhead of all these griefs" (XII ll. 599-601). The conflict in Turnus' emotions puts him in contrast to Aeneas, who is fighting out of some arbitrary 'divine duty', and not the real and solid passion of something he loves dearly and doesn't want to lose. That Turnus is battling for the woman he loves but also feeling guilty about the bloodshed it has caused is, to many readers, deep and heart-wrenching.

I made mention earlier of characters being 'sacrificed to the plot'. Dido's case is another instance of this theme. She and Turnus are obstacles, not fully of their own making, but through a deadly combination of manipulation by the gods and their own personal flaws. Fowler describes this well in his discussion of Turnus, which can also be applied to Dido: "Some spirits of poisonous anger suddenly invaded his soul. Thus we have shame, rage, and an ungovernable passion of love, to confuse and paralyse him; yet his actions are not simply brute courage, but purity of nobility and motive." (Death of Turnus, p.199) Finally, like Turnus and Camilla, Turnus and Dido also share a similarity in their deaths. Before the final battle in Book XII, Turnus is seen "stepping forward quietly with downcast eyes to worship at the altar like a suppliant. His cheeks were like a boy's, and there was a pallor over all his youthful body." Compare this to Dido, who is "pale with the pallor of approaching death" (IV l. 644) – the use of 'pallor' evokes something delicate, something fragile to be cared for. The ending of the life with religious rites is also a common theme. Not only is it shared by Turnus and Dido, but the image of modest piety ("downcast eyes") makes us recall the reticent Lavinia at the altar of her father, where she is consumed by the fire of omen.

It is obvious that Dido and Turnus, though they never meet, have a two-fold purpose in the poem. The first, of course, is to lend drama and conflict by jeopardising the future of Rome. But the second is a product of the realism and ambiguity in Virgil's writing. He wants us to sympathise with these characters. They are present not as two-dimensional villains with no depth or personality, but to symbolise the overall loss of good life that war inevitably brings, that no struggle is black and white, merely good vs. bad. Even though those lost are the 'enemy', they are not to be reviled but to be pitied. In this way, Virgil brings a level of humanity to his writing which is unique in contrast to his epic poet predecessors.