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Dido , Queen of Carthage

Most of the information surrounding the Queen of Carthage (Dido) comes from the Roman poet Virgil, who described the woman in his publications of the Aeneid. Dido (also known in some circles as Elissa) was known as the founder and first Queen of Carthage to the ancient Greeks and Romans , in what is now referred to as Tunisia. Living in the Mediterranean around 470 BC, she is the stuff of legends, who ultimately died because of love.

As the daughter of the Phoenician king of Tyre, Dido was destined to play a role in the country. According to legends, when her father died, Dido’s brother, Pygmalion, took the lide of Dido’s rich husband, Sychaeus. It was the ghost of her dead husband that supposedly revealed what happened to him. At the same time, he told her where he had hidden his treasure. Fearing the consequences of her brother and the city-state under his rule, she recovered the treasure and fled, ending up in Carthage.

Bartering with the locals, she offered a great deal of wealth in exchange for what she could hold within the skin of a bull. Upon agreeing to an exchange they felt was to their advantage, Dido revealed her cleverness by cutting the hide into strips and laying it out in a semi-circle with the sea forming the other side. This is the tale as to how she became the queen of Carthage. On his way to Lavinium from Troy, the Trojan prince Aeneas encountered Dido and she was quite taken by him. However, he believed he had a destiny to fulfill and left Dido behind. She was heartbroken when he left and decided to commit suicide.

Dido instructs her sister Anna to construct a pyre where she will burn any objects that remind her of Aeneas, like clothing and weapons he left behind. Watching Aeneas’ fleet leaving, she curses him and his Trojan , making an announcement that there will be continuing hate between Carthage and the descendants of Troy. This is seen as a foreshadowing to the Punic Wars.

Raising the pyre, Dido sits on the couch she once shared with Aeneas, and in despair , falls on a sword that her former love had gifted her. Anna tries to comfort her dying sister, but according to mythological texts, Juno sends Iris from heaven to release Dido’s spirit from her body. On their ships, Aeneas and his crew catches sight of Dido’s burning funeral pyre. Some argue that the pyre played a part in the suicide of the first queen of Carthage.

If you read the Aeneid, you’ll find that the former lovers meet again in Book VI , this time in the Underworld. However, when the two encounter one another, Aeneas is unsuccessful to plead his case to Dido. Instead of embracing him, she turns away and makes her way to a grove where her former husband Sychaeus waits for her.