Aeneas was a favourite of Venus (Afrodite), but Juno (Hera) hated his guts. She had her reasons. She really really liked an African city called Carthage. So much so, that she left her armour and her chariot there. She would prefer Carthage to rule the world, but according to a prophecy, the descendants of Trojans were destined to crush it and rule instead. Therefore, she decided to make things harder for them.
Only 7 of the 20 Trojan ships made it through the storm to the African shores. Aeneas, their leader, gathered the survivors and they built their camp right there. Now came the time to see where they landed. Aeneas himself with his trusted friend Achates took the role of scouts and set off to discover what awaits them in this new land.
They were soon told that they landed near a new city of Carthage founded by Queen Dido. Poor Dido arrived here with her people after they had been forced to flee their homeland of Tyros (Tyre in Lebanon) by her brother, the cruel Pygmalion. This guy didn’t hesitate to murder her fiancé, so Dido decided it was best for her to leave, taking huge treasure of gold and silver with her. You know… just in case.
Aeneas had a little chat with his divine mother Venus, who briefly informed him about the short history of Carthage and then finally proceeded to the city itself. He was very amazed by the accomplishments of the locals. Walls, castle, theatre… all was being built and all had the potential to look great. “What a fine city this will be,” he thought. I bet he even took some notes that would prove useful in his future city-founding career.
He found his way to the temple of June (of all places), where the queen was welcoming guests. To his amazement, the delegation talking to the queen was a familiar one – the Trojans from 12 of the ships he had lost in the storm. Trojans very politely told the queen their story about the storm that brought them there, made it clear that their intentions are not hostile. They merely wanted peace with the Carthaginians until they would be able to gather their strength, repair the ships and take off to Italy.
Dido was very nice and welcoming, “Do as you please, we will even help you. If by any chance, you would consider staying here with us, I would be delighted”.
Finally, Aeneas appeared. The deal was already made, but to show his charm, he gladly exchanged some serious compliments with the queen. The overwhelming joy about the fact that everybody is delighted to meet everybody else is a good reason to have a great feast. The Trojans didn’t come empty-handed. Aeneas brought a cloak embroidered with golden emblems, a veil, fringed with yellow acanthus, that had once belonged to the beautiful Helen, a pearl necklace, a sceptre, and a crown.
Venus, aware of the recent development, was quite cautious. Realizing, that her beloved son Aeneas was now absolutely at mercy of Dido and that the devious Juno could take advantage of this situation somehow, she needed to develop a fail-safe. She figured that nothing and nobody, not even Juno, would be able to force Dido to betray Aeneas if they were in love. Although the courting among the two had been going quite well, she decided to employ her other son and assistant Cupid/Amor to make Dido fall in love with Aeneas.
Cupid obediently did what he was asked to do. Disguised as the little Iulus, he attended the welcome party for the Trojans and cast his usual spell of love. No woman is strong enough to resist the charms of two sons of Venus, so very soon Dido realized, that Aeneas was the love of her life.
Dido was initially not happy about this. She had been devastated by an unhappy love once before. Back in the day, when she still lived in the home in Tyre, she loved a man deeply and what good did that bring her? That man was killed by her cruel brother and she was forced to flee far away. She lost her love and lost her home. Why risk something like that happening again?
But some feelings simply cannot be changed. Despite all her struggles and disagreements, there was nothing she could do. There was a handsome hero in her palace and she would have died to keep him there. While before the Trojans came, her days had been filled by noble tasks appropriate for a responsible ruler such as overseeing the construction of the temples and walls, she now spends her time listening to Aeneas’ wartime stories and hunting, so that she could witness his strong arms, manly skills, and general awesomeness. On one such hunt, she ended up in a cave with Aeneas. They ran there to seek cover from the storm, but could not resist such a romantic setting and made love passionately right there.
For Dido, this was a confirmation that Aeneas was really serious about her. From that night in the cave she considered them to be married and bound together for life. For Aeneas… not that much. Hero or not, he was just a man. He might have been a fearless hero when it came to leading men, defending homelands or conquering seas, but it seems that fear of commitment was still very real for him.
He enjoyed Dido’s company for a while. But then it started to be clear that he wouldn’t be able to do any more heroic deeds if he just stayed in Carthage in the loving arms of Dido. The gods noticed too. More than once they had reminded Aeneas that his future awaits him in Italy and Italy was obviously not in Africa. They had saved him not once, but twice from certain death in Troy. They didn’t do it for this! He was supposed to initiate the creation of the future Roman empire that would rule the world, not waste his time in Dido’s bed. The king of gods sent his emissary to tell Aeneas to sail away ASAP.
The pious Aeneas decided not to object. Without a single word to Dido, he immediately gave the order to make preparations for embarking. But Dido noticed. Just as you’d expect, she was absolutely furious. “Aeneas, my husband, what the hell are you doing? I welcomed you, gave you half my kingdom and the whole of myself and you just leave me without a single word?? What am I supposed to do now?”. Aeneas tried to calmly explain that he had in fact never promised to actually marry her and that Jupiter himself had just ordered him to go. Dido just didn’t seem to understand. Shocked by the recent events, she even asked her sister Anna to try to negotiate with Aeneas and at least get him to stay a little longer. Even this attempt was futile. The decision had been made and there was nothing left to be done about that.
Dido was still mad. She just couldn’t accept this whole situation. Her world just crumbled. Just a few hours ago she had imagined a happy future with a handsome celebrity hero. But now he left her in despair. Aeneas left in such a hurry, that she still had some of his staff. He even left his sword there. Dido couldn’t sleep the whole night and in the morning, she would just get even more depressed by the sight of Trojan ships on the sea. This was the final drop. She was determined to end her suffering by killing herself. She ordered to make a huge pile of all the Aeneas’ things to get them burned. Once this was done, she climbed on the top and stabbed herself with a sword that belonged to her beloved. With her last word, she didn’t forget to curse Aeneas and the Trojans, wish them suffering in Italy and promise that the Carthaginians will always fight with them and their descendants.
Virgil – Aeneid