Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 171

Dido then led her guests to the banquet hall, where they recounted their adventures by land and sea, while partaking of the viands and wines set before them. At this feast, Cupid, at Venus’ request, assumed the face and form of Iulus, Æneas’ young son, and, reclining on the queen’s bosom, secretly thrust one of his darts into her heart, and made her fall in love with Æneas.

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Day after day now passed in revelry and pleasure, and still Æneas lingered by Dido’s side, forgetful of the new kingdom he was destined to found. One whole year passed thus; and the [369] gods, impatient of delay, finally sent Mercury to remind Æneas of his duty.

To avoid Dido’s tears and recriminations, the hero kept his preparations for departure a complete secret, and finally set sail while she was wrapt in slumber. When she awoke and looked out of her palace window, it was only to see the last vessel sink beneath the horizon.

Death of Dido.

Concealing her grief, and pretending an anger she did not feel, she bade her servants make a funeral pyre, and place upon it all the objects Æneas had used during his sojourn in her palace; then, on top of it all, she set an effigy of her false lover, set fire to the pyre, sprang into the midst of the flames, and there stabbed herself.

“‘Yet let me die: thus, thus I go
Exulting to the shades below.
Let the false Dardan feel the blaze
That burns me pouring on his gaze,
And bear along, to cheer his way,
The funeral presage of to-day.’”
Virgil (Conington’s tr.).

From the mast of his vessel Æneas saw the rising column of smoke, and his heart sank within him; for he suspected its fatal import, and honestly mourned the death of the beautiful queen.

Funeral games.

The Trojans sailed onward until the threatening clouds made them take refuge in the Sicanian port, where they celebrated the usual games to commemorate Anchises’ death, which had occurred there just one year previous. While the men were engaged in the customary naval, foot, and horse races, boxing, wrestling, and archery matches, the women gathered together, and, instigated by Juno, began to bewail the hard lot which compelled them to encounter again the perils of the sea. Their discontent ultimately reached such a pitch that they set fire to the vessels. When Æneas heard of this new misfortune, he rushed down to the shore, tore his costly festal [370] garments, and cried to Heaven for assistance in this his time of direst need.

“‘Dread Sire, if Ilium’s lorn estate
Deserve not yet thine utter hate,
If still thine ancient faithfulness
Give heed to mortals in distress,
Oh, let the fleet escape the flame!
Oh, save from death Troy’s dying name!’”
Virgil (Conington’s tr.).