Aeneas’s Choice to Leave Dido: Pietas Aeneas is one of the few survivors who managed to escape when Troy fell. When Troy, a city on the coast of Asia Minor, was sacked by Greeks, he assembled a force and then traveled around Mediterranean Sea to find the promised lands, Italy. The Aeneid is about his journey from Troy to Italy, which enables him to accomplish his destiny. After six years of overcoming many hardships posed by gods and several failed attempts to found the city, his group made landfall at a Carthage, a city she brought into being on the coast of North Africa.
Characterized by a reverence for the will of the gods, Aeneas subordinates all other concerns to the task, founding Roman race in Italy. Before Aeneas’s arrival, Dido is the confident and pro active ruler of Carthage, maintaining her center of attention on her political duties as a queen of Carthage. However, as Virgil illustrates the suddenness of the change, by the Cupid’s arrow set up by Juno, who tries to distort the future that her favorite city would eventually be enslaved by the Trojans’ descendants, Dido risks everything by falling for Aeneas, and when this love fails, she finds herself unable to reassure her dignified position.
With that said, it is worthwhile to look at whether Aeneas’s abandonment of Dido is a rightful decision or not. Due to a lack of self control and her indulgence of selfish passion, Dido becomes deteriorated into a bad ruler, which undermines all her civil responsibilities and sends her city into disarray. She falls in love with Aeneas passionately, telling her sister that a flame has been reignited within her. While flames and fire are traditional, almost cliched images associated with love, fire is also a natural force of destruction and unmanageable chaos.
At the expense of falling for passionate love, she loses the support of Carthage’s citizens since she ignores her civic duties as a queen. Moreover, by accepting a foreigner as her lover, Dido isolates herself from the local leaders who had been claiming her as a rightful ruler and now pose a military threat. Her unreasonable obsession of love drives her to a frantic suicide, out of desperateness of her current situation as well as diminished promises for the future. From a modern or Christian perspective, the manner that Aeneas leaves Dido ould be considered as contemptible and lacking duties towards his partner. Clearly, as spoken in many passages, Aeneas is not a character without compassion; yet if Aeneas feels genuine compassion for his lover whom he is about to abandon, he fails to express it well. He speaks formally and tersely to Dido, offers her little relief, and denies that an official marriage bound them to each other. Although this dutiful Aeneas talks about his fate to originate new country in Italy for his son’s future destined by gods, he cannot be faultless in leaving Dido since he fails to express enough to make her understood.
Considering one’s self to reside in one’s will and emotions, Aeneas betrays himself by leaving Dido, and he admits as much, claiming that her words set them “both afire” (IV. 498). Virgil, however, writes Aeneid with different perspective from ours who live in 21st century. The contemporary people he lived with seemed to have different view about love. Virgil treats love as he treats the gods—as an outside force acting upon mortals, not a function of the individual’s free will or innate identity.
He does not idealize love; rather, he associates it with imagery linked to madness, fire, or disease, presenting love as a force that acts on Dido with a violence that is made literal by the end of Book IV in her suicide. Virgil’s language in the first lines of the book indicates that Dido’s emotions corrode her self-control; he describes her love as “inward fire eating her away” (IV. 3). Later, Dido’s decision to have a funeral pyre erected and then kill herself upon it returns to this imagery, and Virgil compares Dido’s suicide to a city taken over by enemies, “As though . . / . . . / Flames billowed on the roofs of men and gods” (IV. 927–929). Cupid’s arrow, shot to promote love between Aeneas and Dido, causes hatred, death, and destruction. Love is at odds with law and fate, as it distracts its victims from their responsibilities. While with Aeneas, Dido abandons her construction of Carthage. She even admits to Aeneas that her own subjects have grown to hate her because of her selfish actions. Aeneas, too, must move on because the time he spends with Dido only keeps him from his selfless task of founding an empire.
In the Aeneid, Pietas, translated usually as “duty” or “devotion” resides with the male. An attitude that might be termed misogynistic seeps into Virgil’s descriptions of Juno and even Dido. Aeneas’s dream-vision of Mercury articulates this sentiment: “woman’s a thing / forever fitful and forever changing” (IV. 792–793). Virgil clearly enjoys making Juno look foolish, and he also likes to depict Juno’s vain efforts in comic terms as a domestic quarrel—a battle of wills between husband and wife played out before an audience that knows Jupiter has the power in the divine family.
Dido also shows herself to be less responsible than her partner. Whereas Dido kills herself for love, leaving the city she founded without a leader, Aeneas returns to his course, guiding the refugees of a lost city to the foundation of a new city. Both Aeneas and Dido face a conflict between civic responsibility and individual desire. Aeneas sides with his obligations, while Dido submits to her desires, and so their love is tragically impossible. In terms of his patriotic duty, Aeneas acts impeccably, though he may be faulted for staying with Dido in Carthage as long as he does.
His abandonment of Dido is necessary his service to Troy, his allies, his son, his father, and fate. From this point of view, Aeneas acts correctly in subjecting his desires to the benefit of the Trojan people. Dido fails her city by ignoring her civic duty from the point when she falls in love with Aeneas to her suicide. Virgil suggests that Dido’s suicide mythically anticipates Rome’s defeat of Carthage, hundreds of years later. Aeneid is a political poem that was to be written for the favor of Augustus.
As a result, Virgil had to show the supremacy of Roman virtues: gravitas, dignitas, and pietas. Among these Aeneas particularly embodies in pietas, and is emblematic of it in book II of the Aeneid when he flees burning Troy bearing his father, who carries the household gods, on his back. Since pietas means to be dutiful to family –specifically to the father which is expanded to the community and to the state in ancient Roman world, Aeneas is not culpable for leaving Dido if we follow the author’s viewpoints.
With that said, Virgil seemed to use the love affair between Dido and Aeneas to show superiority of Roman race over Carthage and to provide rightful reason for Roman’s ruling over the world. Dido descends from an ideal leader who ‘bore herself joyfully among her people.. like Diana'(Bk1,502) to a woman dominated by her passion who ‘raged and raved round the whole city like a Bacchant. ‘(Bk4,307). In contrast, Aeneas is forced to endure his own suffering, to ‘fight down the anguish in his heart'(Bk4,580) and to remain ‘faithful to his duty much as he longed to sooth her sorrow. (Bk4,583) His decision to abandon Dido becomes ‘a heroic and kingly choice of virtue’ (Cairns, 50) an expression of Pietas, an an action worthy of great admiration in the Roman world. Aeneas, the Virgil’s hero, makes a choice to leave Dido followed by his conscience that is characterized by pietas, one of the supreme virtues in Roman society, and it is rightful and impeccable. Still, the manner that he leaves Dido could be problematic in that he leaves her in a contemptible manner without expressing understandable emotions and reasons from her perspective.
However, it should be understood within historical background that even the contemptible manner is also designed by Virgil since he needed to express the obvious Roman’s superiority over Carthage as a rightful ruler of the known world at that time; the wars between two countries were so brutal that they both were damaged severely although Roman made a final victory, claiming most territories around Mediterranean Seas. This book also is written to be an example of governing philosophy of Augustus and how the followers of his dynasty rule the empires.
Aeneas is a heroic figure in this book that shows Augustus’s political philosophy; he is a man with pietas who prioritize duty to the state and gods over other tasks which is an archetype of Roman leaders that was needed in the empire. Historically, it has been proven that most Roman emperors who were considered to be “good governors” at the times were equipped with pietas over individual desires. Aeneas is not only a Virgil’s hero, but also a prototype of great Roman leaders that Augustus wished for his empire equipped with pietas, “a duty to the empire”.