"No sooner had our hero retired with his Dido"

Aeneas tells Dido the misfortunes of the Trojan city
Public DomainAeneas tells Dido the misfortunes of the Trojan city - Credit: Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin
Dido, also called Elissa, was, according to ancient Greek and Roman sources, the founder and first Queen of Carthage (in modern-day Tunisia).  In one version of her story, Dido married Acerbas, a priest of Hercules, and second in power to Dido’s brother, King Pygmalion. Acerbas was rumoured to have great wealth.  King Pygmalion had Acerbas murdered in hopes of gaining this wealth. Dido fled her brother’s kingdom.  When she and her followers arrived on the coast of North Africa, she asked the local inhabitants for a piece of land for temporary refuge, no more than could be encompassed by an oxhide. They agreed. She then cut the oxhide into fine strips, giving her enough to encircle an entire hill, which she took possession of.  The settlement was founded and grew into the prosperous city of Carthage.  King Iarbas, from a neighbouring area, demanded Dido as a wife, under threat of waging war on the city.  Dido pretended to acquiesce, but her heart remained faithful to Acerbas.  She had a ceremonial funeral pyre built.  After sacrificing many victims to Acerbas, supposedly in preparation for marriage to Iarbas, Dido herself ascended the pyre, announced that she would join her husband, and killed herself with her sword.

In Virgil’s Aeneid, the story is a little different.  Aeneas visits Carthage, and he and Dido fall in love.  This enrages King Iarbas, who Dido has scorned.  The gods send Aeneas away from the city, to avoid war, and it is then that Dido sacrifices herself on the funeral pyre.  She also curses Aeneas and his Trojans and proclaims endless hate between Carthage and the descendants of Troy.