Is It Fair To Call Aeneid Book 4 "The Tragedy Of Dido"?

1927 words - 8 pages

The suggestion that Book Four of Virgil's Aeneid ought to be called 'the tragedy of Dido' is a controversial one. It is firstly questionable as to whether Book Four fulfils the criteria of a tragedy in the ancient, or the contemporary sense of the word; and secondly if it is indeed a tragedy, whether the consequences are tragic for Dido alone.Virgil's motives in writing Book Four seem somewhat ambiguous. Throughout Books One to Three he presents Aeneas as the unfaltering protagonist, yet in this book he is verified as somewhat heartless, almost losing sight of his destiny. Classicists suggest a number of reasons for this. At the time of writing the people of Rome were still bitter about the loss of Anthony who could have become a fantastic leader. He fell in love with Cleopatra and neglected Rome, and so Octavian became the leader. It seems as though Virgil's inclusion of this episode is to show that although Anthony had the potential for greatness, he made the mistake of putting his personal life before the state, but although Aeneas faces a similar problem, he makes the right choice and puts his love for his people above the love of a woman because he epitomises the great leader.Book Four also gives Virgil the chance to show his knowledge of Greek tragedy by alluding to the works of Euripides and Aeschylus through direct references as well as mimicking their style. This is the closest Roman literature comes to having its own tragedy, and Virgil clearly wanted to demonstrate his ability to evoke pathos as well as moving Aeneas' adventure along.To begin with, Book Four is set up in the style of a Greek tragedy. The dialogue between Dido and Anna that opens the book is clearly reminiscent of the beginning of Sophocles' Antigone, with the conflicting conversation between the heroine and Ismene. Anna is characterised by her persuasive nature and optimistic view of love, and shows may similarities with Phaedra's nurse in 'Hippolytus', whose equally inappropriate attitude to an impossible devotion ends in the suicide of the lover. Fantasy clouds the impossible details of the relationship: 'o my sister, what a city and what a kingdom you will see rising here if you marry this man.'The formal debate between Dido and Aeneas also resembles the famous 'stichomythia' of Greek tragedy, with the content particularly reminiscent of the argument between Medea and Jason, mirroring the theme of betrayal and incompatible emotions. Like Sophocles' 'Medea', Book Four ends bitterly, the heated debate followed by a tragic act. Like Medea, Dido is, as Stephen Harrison remarked, 'a woman scorned, out for revenge on a deserting male.'The direct allusion to Pentheus from Euripides 'Bacchae': 'she was like Pentheus in his frenzy' and Orestes from Aeschylus' 'Eumenides' confirms the direct association with Greek tragedy. The reference Dido makes to Thyestes' feast also represents the idea of cursed houses so popular in Greek tragedy: 'could I not have put his men to the...

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