Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Virgil’s Aeneid, Book IV


What’s Love Got To Do With It?

  • Is what Dido feels for Aeneas love? If not, what is it?

“But the queen finds no rest. Deep in her veins
The wound is fed; she burns with hidden fire”
(IV.1-2).Love as we think we know it was not invented yet, but its forerunners are texts such as this and Ovid. What passes for love here involves an inward wound, a fire (metaphoric at first but eventually literalized in the story), a simile of a wounded doe, and imagery of disease, torment. “Soft fire consumes the marrow-bones, the silent / Wound grows, deep in the heart. / Unhappy Dido burns, and wanders, burning” (IV.69-71); “Dido is burning / With love, infected to her very marrow” (IV.100-101). Love as presented here leads to loss of control, of productivity, and of personal integrity. Love here is self-destruction, extremism, and madness. It even threatens to turn into plain viciousness.

In the arts, love tends to be best represented by what looks like infatuation, or obsessive lust. This is because infatuation is externally more dramatic. It’s a state that makes for good drama when manifested in a character’s behavior. Most good sitcom relationships are successful when they read like infatuation, rather than what we think we know to be “real love.”

Aeneas gives his poor excuses to Dido — he’s pseudo-cheated, pseudo-selfless, pseudo-victimized — and her irrationality is blamed on the fact of her being a woman. Phrases echo his cheesy parting from the ghost of his wife Creusa. The guy’s a cheese-weenie who we’re supposed to sympathize with because of his big bloody Roman mission. Dido kills herself.

Virgil: Introduction

Aeneid: Book 1

Aeneid: Book 2

Aeneid: Book 6