One of my favorite teaching experiences was designing an advanced undergraduate course on Vergil’s Aeneid, a class for which I was awarded a teaching fellowship in graduate school. Students read portions of the Aeneid in Latin and the entirety in English. And just for fun, I translated all of Book 4, my favorite section of the poem.
My translation of Book 4 is below, with Latin line numbers given in section headings. (I’ve translated other sections, and they might appear here in the future!)
But the Queen, now battered for some time by heavy cares,
nurtures a wound with her lifeblood and is seized by blind fire.
Into her mind course that man’s virtues, the great honor
of his family; his face and words cling to her heart,
fixed there, and from her limbs care withholds peaceful rest.
Dawn-goddess Aurora surveyed the lands with the torch
of Phoebus Apollo and dispelled the dewy shadows with bright sky,
when Dido—hardly rational—spoke to the sister of her heart:
“Anna, sister, what dreams terrify me in my distress!
Who is this new guest who approaches our home,
with such looks, and so brave in soul and strength!
Indeed, I believe—and not with empty faith—that he is of divine descent.
Fear reveals the cowardly mind. Oh, but by what fates
he has been thrown about! What arduous battles he sang!
If only he did not remain, fixed and unmoving, in my mind—
then I wouldn’t wish to bind myself to him with wedlock’s chain,
after my first love tricked me, deceived me with his death;
if I were not disgusted by the bridal chamber and torches,
perhaps I could have yielded to this one fault.
Anna—for I will speak—after the fate of my poor Sychaeus,
my husband, our household gods splattered with brother’s blood—
this man only has bent my senses, has struck my wavering
mind. I know the trace of that old flame.
But I would sooner wish the deep earth to gape open for me,
or the all-powerful father of gods to drive me with a thunderbolt
down among the shades, the pale shades of Erebus and deep night,
before I outrage you (my conscience) or dissolve your vows.
He—the first man who joined me to himself—he carried away
my love. Let him keep it with him, and guard it in his grave.”
So she spoke, and drowned her heart in a rising flood of tears.
[Aeneid 4.31-53. Dido’s sister responds.]
Anna replied: “Sister more loved than day’s light,
mourning alone for all your youth—don’t you know
how to capture sweet children for yourself, or Love’s prizes?
Do you believe that ashes or buried ghosts care?
Let it be. No men have moved you til now, my heartsick girl,
not here in Libya nor before in Tyre; not despised Iarbas
nor the other chieftains whom Africa, rich with triumphs,
nurtures; do you fight even against a pleasing love?
And do you understand whose lands you have settled?
Here the Gaetulian towns (a tribe invincible in war),
and the unbridled Numidians and hostile Syrtians surround you;
there the far-ranging Barcaei in a land sapped
by drought. And what shall I say of battles rising in Tyre—
and our brother’s threats?
I truly think that under the gods’ protection, Juno’s too,
the Trojan ships have held their course here on the wind.
Sister, what a city you see before you! What kingdoms will arise
from such a marriage! With Trojan arms on our side,
Punic glory will reach the greatest heights!
Now ask the gods for blessing with holy sacrifices,
indulge in hospitality and weave some excuses for delay:
for watery Orion and winter storms rage at sea,
their vessels are shattered, and the sky intractable.”
[Aeneid 4.54-89. Dido wanders in Carthage.]
These words set her mind aflame with unbounded love,
gave hope to her doubtful mind and set her conscience free.
First they went to the shrines, and petitioned for peace
at the altars; they slaughtered yearling sheep, chosen by custom,
to law-giving Ceres, to Phoebus Apollo, to freeing Bacchus,
to Juno above all, whose concern is marriage-bond.
Beautiful Dido herself, holding the libation bowl in her right hand,
poured wine between the horns of a shining-white heifer,
and in face of the gods strode to the rich altars,
renewed each day with gifts, and with eyes wide consulted
the quivering entrails, the animals’ chests splayed open.
Oh, seers’ ignorant minds! What good are offerings, what good
are shrines to one gone mad? The flame eats away her soft marrow,
meanwhile, and a silent wound lives under her heart.
Unhappy Dido burns, and wanders all through city,
raging, just like a doe after an arrow’s been let loose—
carefree in the woods of Crete, when from far off a shepherd
pierced her with driving weapons, and left the swift iron there,
unaware: in flight she wanders through forest groves
on Dicte mountain; the lethal arrow clings to her side.
Now she leads Aeneas with her along the city walls
and displays the wealth of Sidon, the preparations for the city.
She begins to speak out and halts her voice;
now too as the day sinks down she wants a banquet,
and out of her mind demands to hear again of Trojan toils
and again hangs on the tale-teller’s every word.
After, when all are gone, and the dark moon in its turn
oppresses the light and the falling stars call for sleep,
alone she mourns in her empty house. On his abandoned couch
she lies down. Absent she hears and sees the absent one,
or she holds Ascanius in her lap, captivated by the likeness
of his father—as if love beyond words could be deceived.
The city towers, though begun, do not rise; the youths do not train
at arms, nor make the ports or battlements safe for war;
the works, the immense threatening walls, the sky-high machines
[Aeneid 4.90-128. The Real Goddesses of Olympus.]
As soon as Jove’s dear wife knew that woman was gripped
by the plague—that self-respect hardly checked her frenzy—
she, Saturn’s daughter, accosted Venus with these words:
“Truly you’ve won outstanding praise and ample spoils,
both you and your boy (great memorable spirit!)
if two scheming gods can conquer a single woman.
Nor am I unaware how you hate our city walls
and hold in distrust the halls of high Carthage.
But what’s your endgame? How far will you take this competition?
Why don’t we work out a lasting peace instead, and a marriage
by contract? You’ve got what you put your mind to:
loving Dido burns, sucks up madness through her bones.
So let us rule a common nation here, and with equal
authority; allow her to serve a Phrygian husband,
entrusting her Tyrian dowry to your hands.”
To Juno (for she sensed in her speech a false intent
to divert the kingdom of Italy toward Libya’s shores)
Venus said in turn: “Who would be mad enough to refuse
all this? Who would wish to battle against you?
If only Fortune would favor the plan you describe!
But Fate puzzles me—whether Jove intends
one city for the Tyrians and one for those come from Troy,
or whether he approves of mixing nations and joining treaties.
You are his wife, you have the right to ask his thoughts.
Go on, I’ll follow.” Then regal Juno thus rejoined:
“That little task is mine. Now, as for how to complete
these pressing matters, briefly (pay attention!) I’ll tell you.
Aeneas and poor miserable Dido prepare a hunt
together in the woods, tomorrow when at first rising
Titan’s uplifted rays lay bare the world.
I’ll send them black clouds and hailstones;
while the beaters scurry and lay their nets about the groves,
I will flood them from above and rouse the sky with thunder.
Draped in dark night, their companions will scatter;
Dido and the Trojan leader will take shelter
in the same cave. I will be there and—if your wish is mine—
I will join them in lasting wedlock and declare it permanent.
This will be their wedding.” Not opposing Juno’s desires,
Venus Cytherea nodded at this strategy, and laughed.
[Aeneid 129-172. Stormy weather.]
Meanwhile, rising Aurora left Oceanus behind.
At first light the chosen youths go through the gates
with wide-meshed nets, snares, broad-bladed spears;
out rush Massylian horsemen and fierce keen-scenting dogs.
At her chamber’s threshold the queen hesitates—but
the princely Phoenicians await, and vivid in scarlet and gold
her stamping mount stands fierce and champs the foaming bridle.
At last she goes forth with a great crowding band of youths,
swathed in a Sidonian cloak with embroidered trim;
her quiver is gold, her hair knotted up with gold,
a golden clasp nestles in her purple gown.
So too the Phrygian cohort and happy Ascanius
go forth. Beautiful Aeneas himself, ahead of all others,
takes himself toward her with his trooping men.
Just like Apollo when in winter he leaves Lycia
and Xanthus streams to look on Delos, his motherland:
he renews his band of followers, mingling Cretans and Dryopes
and tattooed Scythians who roar around his altars—
tramping down Mount Cynthus, he tames his locks
with a crafted wreath of gold-twined laurel;
weapons whir from his bow. With no less grace
goes Aeneas, glory shining in his splendid face.
Later they come to high mountains, pathless swamps—
Look! Wild goats, routed from their clifftop homes,
run down the ridges; from there they cross
sprinting to open fields, while deer gather
in a dusty troop, abandoning the mountainside.
And the boy Ascanius rejoices mid-valley
on his lively horse, passing his companions in chase—
his fervent wish: that a foaming boar or tawny lion
descend from the mountain upon the lazing herd.
Meanwhile the sky begins to churn and roar,
stormclouds and hailstones tumbling down,
and all the Tyrian cohort and Trojan youths
and the grandson of Venus, panicked across the fields,
seek cover; rivers rush down the mountains.
Dido and the Trojan leader take shelter
in the same cave. Primal Earth and Juno, matron of honor,
give the sign: fires flash, the winds bear witness
to the marriage, and nymphs crow atop the ridges.
That day was the first cause of evils, first cause
of her death. She cares no more for appearance
or reputation; Dido’s love is secret no longer.
She calls it marriage, and in this word cloaks her guilt.
[Aeneid 4.173-237. Rumor has it…]
And now Rumor flies through the great cities of Libya,
Rumor, the swiftest evil of all.
She thrives on speed and gains force as she goes:
first shy and small, she soon grows sky-tall,
feet on the ground and head among the clouds.
Mother Earth bore her last (so they say) full of rage
at the gods—a sister to Coeus and Enceladus,
swift of foot and nimble of wing,
a horrendous monster, feathers all over,
and under each one a watchful eye (strange to say!),
and just as many tongues, echoing mouths, and pricking ears.
She flies across the night sky over shadowed lands
with hissing wings, her eyes never sinking in sweet sleep.
By day she sits vigil on mountain peaks or rooftops
or in high towers, terrorizing great cities,
as tenacious in lies and perversions as in truth.
Exulting, she stuffed the public with manifold gossip,
singing in equal parts fiction and fact:
that Aeneas, born of Trojan blood, had come,
a man lovely Dido deemed worthy to join herself to;
that all the long winter they indulge in fleshly pleasures,
forgetting their kingdoms, captives to filthy lust.
The foul goddess poured out these words to men everywhere.
At once she twisted her course toward King Iarbas
and inflamed his mind with words and swelled his wrath.
This man—sired by Jupiter Ammon on a ravished African nymph—
built a hundred huge temples to Jove through his wide kingdom,
a hundred altars, and consecrated a watchful fire,
eternal sentinel of the gods. The earth was rich with blood
of sacrifices, the lintels with varied garlands blooming.
It is said that he, out of his mind, inflamed by bitter Rumor,
before the altars amid the spirits of the gods
prayed to Jove as suppliant with upturned palms:
“Jupiter Almighty, to whom now the Moorish people
pour libations of wine after feasting on painted couches,
do you see this? When you hurl your thunderbolts, Father,
do we cringe for no reason? Do fires hidden in clouds
terrify our souls and stir up our groans in vain?
That woman—who, wandering to our borders, established
a city of meager worth, whom we gave land to farm
and laws and property—rejected the notion of marriage
to me, but received Aeneas as master in her kingdom.
And now that new Paris, with his effeminate entourage,
his greasy beard and slick-oiled curls tied in an oriental
headband, he wins the spoils! But don’t we bring gifts
to your temples? Clearly we worship an empty name.”
As he prayed with these words, holding the altars,
the Almighty heard him, and cast his eyes toward the royal
walls and the lovers forgetful of their better fame.
Then he spoke to Mercury with these commands:
“Go on, son, call the West Wind and glide on wings
to the Dardanian prince, who now in Tyrian Carthage
delays with no regard for the cities granted him by Fate.
Speak to him and carry my words through the swift air.
Not such a man as this did his beautiful mother promise
us, whom we rescued three times from Greek armies;
but he will be the man who with dominion and war will rule
roaring, teeming Italy, engender a race from the high blood
of Teucer, and subdue the whole world to his laws.
If the glory of such deeds does not spark his desire,
if he does not work for himself and his own praise,
does he—a father—begrudge Ascanius the Roman stronghold?
What is his plan? What mean hope delays him there,
no regard for his Italian progeny and Lavinia’s lands?
Let him sail! That is all. Let this be our message.”
[Aeneid 4.238-295. Aeneas gets a wake-up call.]
Jove had spoken. Mercury prepared to obey his great father’s
command: first he fastened the golden sandals
on his feet, whose wings carry him on high or above
the heavens, as swift as gusts of wind.
Then he seized his staff: the one by which he summons pale shades
from Orcus, sends others beneath sad Tartarus,
grants sleep or takes it away, and unseals the eyes of the dead.
With it he drives the winds and floats on clouds.
As he flies he discerns the brow and towering flanks
of harsh Atlas who props the sky on his head,
of Atlas, whose pinebearing brow, forever girded
by black clouds, is beaten by wind and rain;
a drape of snow covers his shoulders, rivers rush down
the old man’s chin, and his bristling beard is stiff with ice.
Here, at rest on steady wings, Cyllene-born Mercury
halted; then headlong he propelled his whole body
like a bird down toward the waves—a sea-bird flying offshore,
low to the water around the crags with their bounty of fish.
Hardly otherwise he flew between earth and sky
toward Libya’s sandy beach; leaving grandfather Atlas,
Cyllene-born Mercury slices through the winds.
As soon as his winged soles touch the housetops,
he sees Aeneas building the citadel and restoring
the dwellings. He wore a fine sword studded
with tawny jasper; from his shoulders hung a wool cloak
of burnished Tyrian purple, a gift from prosperous Dido,
into which she had woven strands of fine gold.
Mercury attacked: “So now you’re laying
foundations in high Carthage? Building a pretty,
henpecked city? Ugh! You’re forgetting your royal business.
The ruler of gods himself sent me down to you
from bright Olympus, he whose godhead bends heaven and earth.
He himself ordered me to bear these commands through swift air:
What do you build? Or what do you hope for, wasting leisure-time
in Libyan lands? If the glory of such deeds does not move you
[nor do you work for yourself or your own praise,]
look to growing Ascanius and the hope for your heir Iulus—
to him the kingdom of Italy and Roman lands
are destined.” Once said, Cyllene-born Mercury
deserted the sight of mortals mid-speech
and far off—into thin air—vanished from view.
But truly Aeneas, out of his mind, stood speechless:
his hair stood on end in horror, his voice caught in his throat.
He burns to run off in flight and abandon these sweet lands,
thunderstruck by such a warning and the god’s commands.
Oh what should he do? With what words would he dare
to placate the frenzied queen? Where to begin?
His swift mind splits, now this way now that,
seizing on varied thoughts and turning over it all.
This notion seems better than the alternatives:
he will call Mnestheus and Sergestus and brave Serestes;
silent, they will equip the fleet, drive their companions to shore,
ready their weapons—and the reason for these repairs
they will hide. He, meanwhile—since matchless Dido
does not know, cannot expect such love will be broken—
he will attempt an approach, find the gentlest time
for speaking, the right mode for the matter. All his happy men
swiftly prepare his command and carry out his order.
[Aeneid 4.296-361. Previously on “The Aeneid,” Mercury told Aeneas to get out of Carthage and sail to Italy to build his political future. Aeneas failed to tell Dido that he was getting ready to leave.]
But the Queen felt foreboding of a ruse (for who
can deceive a lover?) and sensed his next move,
fearful though all seemed safe. That same evil Rumor reported back
to the frenzied queen: the fleet was armed, the journey prepared.
Bereft, she raged in soul and afire through all the city
she raved—just like a maenad aroused by the rites
when triennial orgies incite her with cries of “Bacchus!”
and Cithaeron echoes with screams in the night.
At last she confronts Aeneas with these words:
“Liar! Did you hope that you could hide
so great an offense and leave my land in silence?
Our love, our former promises, don’t they
hold you here—or Dido bound to die in cruel ruin?
How can you ready your fleet under winter’s stars
and hasten to cross the deep under the North Wind,
cruel man? If you were not seeking foreign fields and
unknown homes, if ancient Troy remained, why
would your fleet seek Troy over the wavy waters?
Is it me you want to escape? By these tears and by my hand
(since that’s all I have left for my wretched self),
by our marriage, by our sanctioned wedding,
if I deserve anything from you, or if anything of mine
is sweet to you, have pity on my collapsing home and, I pray,
if prayers have a place here, banish this intent of yours.
Because of you the Libyan people and Nomad tyrants
hate me, my Tyrians are hostile; because of you my honor
is destroyed, and—my only means of reaching the stars—
my prior reputation. You desert me when I am ready to die,
stranger (that word is all that’s left of ‘husband’)—why?
Why do I delay? Until my brother Pygmalion destroys my walls
or Gaetulian Iarbas leads me away a captive?
At least if before your flight you could have given me
a child—a tiny sweet Aeneas who would play
in my halls, who would yet recall you in his face,
truly I would not feel so captive and defeated.”
She spoke. Because of Jove’s warnings he held his eyes
unmoving; he struggled, suppressing emotion in his heart.
At last he sketched a reply: “I—much more than you
could count in words—I will never deny, my Queen,
that you are deserving, nor will it displease me to recall Elissa
as long as I am mindful of myself, as long as breath rules my body.
On this matter I will speak briefly. Neither to hide this flight
by stealth have I hoped (don’t pretend), nor ever as husband
did I hold out the wedding-torches or enter into that pledge.
If the Fates allowed me to live by my own authority
and by my own will to settle my concerns,
first I would honor my Trojan city and the sweet remnants
of my people, Priam’s high halls would still stand,
and by this hand I’d build a new Pergamon for the conquered.
But now, the oracles of Apollo send me to great Italy,
the Fates have ordered me to try to seize Italy;
that is my love, that is my homeland. If Carthage citadel
holds you here, my lady of Phoenicia, and the sight of Libya’s city,
then why should you begrudge the Trojans to finally settle
in Ausonian land? It is divine right that we seek foreign lands.
My father Anchises—as often as with dank shadows
night covers the lands, as often as the fiery stars arise—
his ghost warns me in my dreams, agitates, terrifies me;
my boy Ascanius warns me, and the wrong to his dear self
whom I cheat of the Hesperian kingdom and the fated lands.
Now even the messenger of the gods sent from Jove himself
(I swear on both our heads) carried down these commands
through swift air: the god himself in manifest light I saw
entering the walls. My own ears drank in his voice.
Cease to inflame us both with your complaints;
I pursue Italy not of my own free will.”
[Aeneid 4.362-415. The confrontation, continued.]
As he speaks she looks at him askance, a while now
looking him up and down, her eye wandering
in silent gaze, and ablaze she speaks out:
“Your mother is no goddess, nor Dardan the author of your race,
liar, but jagged Caucasus gave birth to you
on harsh cliffs, and Hyrcanian tigresses nursed you.
Why should I lie or hold anything back?
Does he sigh at our weeping? Does he bend his gaze?
Does he shed a tear? Is he moved to pity his lover?
Where should I start? Now neither great Juno
nor father Jupiter looks on with impartial eyes.
Faith is never safe. I took you in, a resourceless
castaway; mad, I shared my kingdom with you.
I led your lost fleet, your companions back from death
(oh I am burning up, driven by furies!): now prophet Apollo,
now his Lycian oracles, now even the messenger of the gods,
sent from Jove himself, bears horrible commands through the air.
Obviously this is a task for the gods, a cause of great concern
for the serene ones! I will not keep you here nor refute your speech.
Go, follow the winds to Italy, seek a kingdom across the waves.
Truly I pray—if a pious spirit may—that you will drink in
punishments upon the rocks, and at each disaster call out
Dido’s name. Absent I will hear and follow in dark fire,
and when chill death has seduced my soul from my body
I will be everywhere a shade. You, faithless, will be punished.
I will hear of it. Rumor will reach me in the depths of hell.”
She breaks her words off, heartsick, fleeing the air
and takes herself away, out of his sight,
leaving him hesitating in fear and wanting to say
something. Holding up her collapsed limbs, her maids bear her
back to her marble chamber and lay her on the bed.
But dutiful Aeneas—though he yearns to ease her suffering
with comfort and to dispel her cares with words,
sighing for so much, his mind so shaken by love—
still carries out the gods’ orders and returns to his fleet.
The Trojans drive onward, leading the whole shore
toward the tall ships. Caulked keels float with leafy oars,
woodland oak unhewn in eagerness for flight.
You could see them leaving, rushing out of the whole city.
Just like ants when they plunder a huge pile
of grain to store at home, mindful of winter:
a black line crosses the meadow, conveying spoils
in a narrow path through the grass: some, striving,
hoist the grain on their shoulders, some close ranks
and punish the stragglers; the whole path seethes with the work.
What did you feel then, Dido, seeing all this?
How did you cry out, when from your high citadel
you saw the shoreline far and wide and all the sea
churned in uproar, before your very eyes?
Deceitful Love, how you compel mortal hearts!
She is compelled again to tears, again to entreaties,
a suppliant subjecting her soul to love—all to be sure
that, bound for death, she leave no course untried.
[Aeneid 4.416-449. No clever subtitle this time.]
“Anna, you see the haste along the shore!
They gather on all sides; now the sails hail the breeze,
and the happy sailors festoon their ships.
Sister, I could bear even this, if I had been able
to foresee such sorrow. But do just one thing,
Anna, for your wretched girl; you know that faithless man
cares for you only, trusts his secret feelings to you.
Go, sister, and as a suppliant tell our proud guest:
I did not conspire with the Greeks at Aulis to destroy
the Trojan people, nor send a fleet to Pergamon,
nor steal the ashes or shade of his father Anchises.
Why does he deny hearing my words in harsh air?
Why run? Let him give this last gift to his poor love:
let him expect an easy flight with favorable winds.
I do not pray now by our former marriage, which he betrayed;
he need not abandon his kingdom in lovely Latium.
I seek but idle time, rest, and space for a troubled mind,
while Fortune teaches me the sorrows of conquest.
I beg this last favor (pity your sister)—
and when he gives in, I will repay him with death.”
Thus she prayed, and her dejected sister
bore the message in tears. But no weeping
moves him; intractable, he hears no voices.
Fate stands opposed; god blocks the man’s kind ears.
Just as when Alpine winds together vie
with gales and blasts to uproot a great oak tree,
mighty with aged strength: it creaks and groans, the topmost
leaves strew the earth around the shattered trunk;
the tree itself clings to the rocks, and as far as its top stretches
skyward, so far do its roots stretch down to Tartarus.
No differently the hero from all sides was assailed
with unceasing voices; care lies deep in his great heart,
but his mind remains unmoved, tears fall in vain.
[Aeneid 4.450-503. Nightmare.]
Then unhappy Dido, terrorized by Fate, prays indeed
for death; the sight of the sky’s vault wearies her.
And greater cause to commit the deed and abandon the light:
placing gifts on the incense-burning altars, she sees
(horrible to say) the sacred waters turn black
and the wine, once poured, transform to foul gore.
Of this vision she said nothing, not to her own sister.
There was also in her home a marble shrine
to her late husband, which she tended marvelously,
wreathed with snowy fleeces and festal fronds:
yet there she seemed to hear strange words, the voice
of a man calling out; when dark night covered the lands,
the lonely owl in the eaves wailed her deadly song
and distant weeping voices drew her in;
and yet more omens predicted by ancient seers
horrified her with dire warnings. Aeneas himself, savage
in her dreams, drives her mad—and she always seems
to be left all alone, always to walk alone down a long,
empty road, seeking her people in a desert land.
As raving wild as Pentheus she sees a troop of Furies
and a twin sun and doubled Thebes appear, just as when
Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, is driven across the stage
fleeing his mother, armed with torches and black snakes,
while vengeful Dire Goddesses crouch on the threshold.
So utterly conquered by sorrow, recognizing Fury,
she decides to die; the time and manner she devises
for herself alone, and addressing her mournful sister
she hides her intent and makes her face serene with hope.
“Sister, I have found a way—congratulate me!—to either
return him to me, or set myself free from loving him.
Near the rim of Ocean and the setting sun
is the far Ethiopian land, where huge Atlas
hoists on his shoulders the sky studded with burning stars:
there, I’m told, is a priestess of the Massylian people,
guardian of the Hesperides temple, who prepares feasts
for the dragon that guards the great tree’s sacred boughs,
feeding him liquid honey and sleep-soothing poppy.
This woman promises she can free the mind
with song, or send harsh troubles onto others,
or stay the river’s flow, turn back the stars
and move the shades of night; you’d sense the earth
bellow beneath your feet and trees descend from mountains.
I swear by the gods, and by you, dear sister, by your
sweet life, I arm myself reluctantly with magic arts.
Build me a pyre in secret in my airy courtyard
and on it place that ungodly man’s arms—he left them
in our bedroom—and all his mementos and our marriage-bed,
which was my ruin. May it help me destroy all reminders
of that unspeakable man, as the priestess instructs me.”
Done speaking out, she falls silent; pallor veils her face.
Yet Anna does not imagine that her sister conceals her death
in these strange rites, nor that she conceives such frenzies
in her mind. She fears no worse than after Sychaeus died.
And so she prepares her commands.
[Aeneid 4.504-583. Black magic and a divine visitation.]
But the queen raised a pyre in her airy courtyard,
vast with tall broad planks of pine and oak.
She drapes the mound with garlands, festoons it
with funeral wreaths; atop the trophies, abandoned arms,
and the man’s own likeness she lays the bed, mindful of what’s to come.
Altars stand around it. The priestess with disheveled hair
thunders forth three hundred times the names of gods,
Erebus and Chaos and triplet Hecate, the three faces of virgin Diana.
She sprinkles waters from the springs (they say) of Avernus,
and scatters herbs rich with the milk of black poisons
harvested with bronze scythes by moonlight;
she brings in a new love charm, ripped
from the forehead of a newborn foal by its mother.
Dido herself pours grain on the altars with pious hands.
In a loose flowing dress and with one foot bare,
death-bound, she calls to witness the gods and the stars
that know Fate; then, to any just and mindful spirit there is
who cares for those who love with unequal faith, she prays.
Night fell. Tired bodies throughout the land
seized sweet sleep, and the woods and wild seas
were at rest; the stars turned over mid-course,
all the countryside was silent; the flocks of painted birds
who dwell far and wide on glassy lakes
or in bristly country thickets lay down in night’s still sleep.
But the Phoenician woman, unhappy at heart, never
relaxed in sleep, nor did her eyes or heart admit
the night. Her worries redoubled; rearing up again,
Love rioted and tossed her on great tides of wrath.
Thus she began, pondering aloud and in her heart:
“Look—what am I doing? Should I try again with former suitors,
only to be laughed at? Go as suppliant bride to the Nomads,
a match I have scorned so often in disdain?
Or should I pursue the Trojans with my fleet,
following their last commands? Do my previous help, my aid
and favor stand well with those mindful of old deeds?
But even if I wished—who would allow me or welcome my proud ships,
hated as I am? Oh—don’t you know yet, don’t you see,
poor woman, the faithlessness of the Trojan people?
What then? Will I follow his triumphing ships alone in flight?
Or should I go with my Tyrians—attended by every one
of my people (my people, whom I already tore away from Sidon),
will I drive them again to sea, command them raise their sails to the wind?
Why not die as I deserve, and turn away sorrow with the sword.
You started this, sister—overcome by my tears, you first burdened
my frenzied mind with thoughts of that man, my enemy.
I was not allowed to live my life free from marriage,
guiltless as a wild creature, never to touch such cares!
I broke the faith I promised to Sychaeus’s ashes.”
Such lamentations burst forth from her heart.
Aeneas, now certain of leaving, all duly prepared,
grasped for sleep on the deck of his swift ship.
The god returned to him again: the same face and form
presented itself in a dream, seeming again to warn
him—Mercury to all appearances, same shape, same voice,
same tawny curls and limbs all glorious in youth:
“Goddess-born, can you sleep when disaster looms?
Don’t you see what dangers lurk about you,
madman, and yet you dare to breathe the kindly air?
That woman mulls deceits in her heart, a dreadful crime
and certain death, awash in great and varied tides of wrath.
Won’t you plunge into flight, while you still can take the plunge?
Any moment you will see ships churn the sea, and savage
torches gleaming all at once, the shore seethe with flames,
if dawn’s light finds you delaying in these lands.
Hey! Go! No delay. A changeable and fickle thing, always,
is woman.” Thus he spoke and melted into black night.
Then Aeneas, wholly and truly terrified by sudden shadows,
snatched up his body out of sleep and roused his comrades,
impetuous, with these words: “Wake up, men, and sit at your oars;
quick, release the sails. A god sent from high heaven
(look!) again goads us on to hurry in flight
and cut the twisted ropes. We will follow you, sacred among gods,
whoever you are, and in triumph we prepare your commands.
Be with us, Kind One, and help us, and guide us right
by the stars in the sky.” Swiftly he unsheathed
his flashing sword and struck the hawsers with the drawn blade.
The same ardor seized the Trojans all at once: they rush
to desert the shore, their fleet covers all the sea; striving on,
they churn the foamy waves and sweep over the deep blue.
[Aeneid 4.584-641. Penultimate.]
And now Aurora scattered new light over the land,
arising first from Tithonus’ saffron bed.
The Queen from her watchtowers at pale first light
saw the Trojan fleet set out with its square sails,
and saw too the abandoned shore, the empty harbor,
and three times and four times striking her lovely breast
and tearing her golden hair, “Jupiter!” she cried,
“Is he gone? Has a foreigner mocked my kingdom?
Why doesn’t my city take up arms and follow,
lay waste to the vessels in the shipyards? Go,
quick, set fires, seize weapons, drive on your oars!
What am I saying? Where am I? What madness bends my mind?
Unlucky Dido—guilty, now? The fitting time for that
was when you divided your power. Look at his honor, his faith,
he who carried (they say) his native household gods,
supported on his shoulders his aged careworn father!
Could I not have seized him, ripped apart his body and scattered it
on the waves? Could I not have put his comrades to the sword,
or made Ascanius himself a feast fit for a father’s table?
But the outcome was always uncertain. So what!
I will die; who do I fear? I could have torched their camp
and sunk their ships in flames, father and son and all their kind
extinguished—and on those fires I would have flung myself.
Sun, you who purify all works on earth with your flames,
the agent of all my cares, and you, Juno all-aware,
and Hecate whose name is howled at darkling crossroads,
and you avenging Furies and gods of dying Elissa,
accept these words, and may a spirit worthy of such evils heed
and hear our prayers. If that unspeakable man
must sail toward his lands and reach safe harbor,
If Jove’s fates demand it, let this finality still hold:
once vexed by war and a bold nation’s arms,
exiled from his borderlands, torn from his son’s embrace,
let him beg for help, and let him see his people meet
undeserved destruction; and once he rules a fragile peace,
let him enjoy neither his kingdom nor longed-for light,
but let him fall before his time and lie unburied on the sand.
This I pray. I pour out my last words with my blood.
Then, my Tyrians, punish his race and all his lineage to come,
hound them with hatred, and from my ashes send these
gifts: Let there be no love nor treaty for his people.
From my bones shall arise some great avenger
who with fire and blade will hunt the Trojan settlers,
now, at some time, at whatever time force will grant it.
Let them fight, I implore, shore to shore, wave to wave,
arms to arms: let them fight, now and in posterity.”
As she spoke she turned over every part of her soul,
seeking to break with hated light as soon as possible.
Then quickly she called Barce, the nurse of Sychaeus
(for black ashes held her own nurse in her former land):
“My dear nurse, stop my sister Anna here: tell her
to hurry to cleanse her body with flowing water,
and to bring in animals readied for the sacrifice.
Let her come, and crown your temples with pious bands.
We prepare for the mysteries of the gods below;
I intend to complete them and put an end to my cares
and commit that Trojan’s pyre to the flames.” Thus she spoke.
Barce quickened her step with an old woman’s zeal.
[Aeneid 4.642-705. Finale]
But Dido, shaking and wild at her immense undertaking,
her bloodshot eyes rolling and blotches staining
her trembling cheeks, pale with looming death,
bursts through the threshold of the palace and, fury-bound,
climbs the high steps and unsheathes a Trojan sword—
she once sought it as a gift, but not for this purpose.
Here, seeing the Trojan garments and the familiar
bed, in tears and somewhat halting in her thoughts,
she lies down on the bed and says for the first time:
“Sweet mementos—sweet as long as fate and god
allowed—accept my soul, release me from my cares.
I have lived. I have completed the course that Fortune gave me,
and now my great ghost will dwell within my lands.
I founded a glorious city, I saw my own city-walls rise high,
I punished my hateful brother and avenged my husband,
I was fortunate—alas, too fortunate. If only
the Trojan ships had never touched our shores.”
Then pressing her face to the cushions, she said,
“We will die unavenged, but we will die. Thus, thus we join the shades below.
Let the cruel Trojan see these fires at sea and drink them in,
and let him carry with him the omens of our death.”
She had spoken. Mid-speech her companions see her
collapse onto the sword, the sword foaming with blood,
and her spattered hands. The cry goes up to the high halls:
Rumor runs riot through the shattered city.
With lamentations and women’s howling sorrows
the rooftops roar, heaven echoes with great laments,
just as if all Carthage or ancient Tyre was falling
to enemy invaders, and the raging fires
went spinning through the homes of men and gods.
She heard—breathless and terrified, with trembling steps
her sister ran to her, defiling her face with her nails
and striking her breast, and called the dying woman by name:
“Was this it, sister? Did you seek to deceive me?
This pyre, these altars and fires, did you prepare them for me?
What should I weep at first, deserted as I am? That in death
you’ve shunned your sister, your partner? You should share your fate with me:
the sword would have taken us both by the same pain, the same hour.
Did I build this with my own hands, did I call on our native gods
just so that you, cruel one, could keep me away from you?
You have destroyed yourself and me too, sister, and our people,
our forefathers of Sidon and your own city. Help—give me water
to wash her wound, and if any breath is left in her body,
I will catch it from her lips.” She climbed up the high steps
and cradled her dying sister to her breast, embracing her,
weeping, staunching the dark blood with her dress.
Dido, trying still to lift up her heavy eyes,
failed; the piercing wound hissed under her heart.
Three times she raised herself up, leaning on her elbow,
three times she rolled back onto the bed. With wandering eyes
she sought the light of the sky, and moaned when she found it.
Then almighty Juno, taking pity on her long suffering,
sent Iris down from Olympus to this difficult death,
to free her struggling soul from her bound limbs.
For because her death had not been decreed by fate,
but wretched before her time and inflamed by sudden frenzy,
Proserpina had not yet claimed a golden lock from her head
to send her soul down to the banks of the Styx.
Therefore Iris with dewy saffron wings, trailing
a thousand sun-streaked colors across the sky,
flew down and stood above her head. “I have orders.
I claim this, sacred to Dis, and I release you from this body.”
Thus she spoke and cut the lock with her right hand: and all at once
all warmth slipped away and her life receded to the winds.
(Translation © Ariane Helou, 2014)