Dido – William Gager (trans. Elizabeth Sandis)

William Gager’s Dido is here translated by Elizabeth Sandis for EDOX (scroll down to see the play).  The Latin text, and an alternative translation by Dana Sutton, are available here.

The play survives in Christ Church MS 486 – on this manuscript as in Gager’s own hand see David Rundle’s blog

EDOX staged Dido in Christ Church dining hall, the site of its original 1583 performance, in a double bill with Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage; Gager’s play was performed by Oxford students, as in 1583, and Marlowe’s by boys’ company Edward’s Boys (it was written for boys’ company performance). A short documentary about these productions, by Maria Sachiko Cecire and Mark Jones, is available here. Footage of both complete performances can  be ordered on DVD

EDOX also sponsored, in collaboration with the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, some short talks about aspects of Gager and Marlowe’s plays, their historical context and their classical source:

Juliette Vuille (SNF researcher, University of Oxford) discusses an enamel vase that reproduces representations by the artist Raphael of scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid, particularly the feasting scene that is central to Gager’s play. Click here to watch the film.  

Tracey Sowerby (Keble College, Oxford) talks about the political allegory behind Gager’s presentation of Dido, in relation to Pieter van der Heyden ’s 1584-5 allegorical woodcut showing Elizabeth I as the goddess Diana. Click here to watch the film.

William Humphries (Magdalen College, Oxford) talks about references to travelling the world, both literally and figuratively, in relation to the Fool’s Cap Map. Click here to watch the film.

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Dido, Queen of Carthage

Performed at Christ Church, Oxford

on 12th of June

Anno Domini 1583


Dramatis Personae

Dido (Elisa)
Ascanius (Iulus)
Ghost of Sychae
Slave-girl messenger
Barce the nurse
Slave-girls for the sacred rites


[Scene title: characters present]

Prologue: Prologue

Prologue: All things chop and change in their turn, and sheer variety has a pleasing shape. Who takes delight in the same things recurring again and again? Change always has greater attraction. Yesterday the stage offered you silly Mopsus,1 today it will offer a lofty tale. The comic slipper turns into the tragic buskin.2 Yet happy stories are no more pleasing than sad ones, nor bitter flavours than any honey. Adding sad moments to jokes misses the whole point, but somebody can laugh so hard he cries, and likewise great joy can bring one to tears. Weeping brings our greatest moments of pleasure. Crying is a very enjoyable thing, when nothing’s actually wrong. Kindly lend me your ears, that’s all I ask, and if you like I’ll announce the plot.


Plot: Prologue

Prologue: Dido3 grants this play her famous name, and here for an hour or two is the kingdom itself. Here is the great city of Carthage, in the land of Libya. Aeneas,4 tossed over so many seas by the wrath of Juno,5 lands his ship on these shores. Kindly Dido welcomes him into her palace as a guest. But loving Venus 6 foresees the need to watch over her son (since this is the treacherous home of the double-tongued Phoenicians7 and she still fears the hatred of raging Juno) and she nervously asks of playful Cupid 8 that he take the appearance of the boy Ascanius and set the Queen’s breast afire with his silent torch. 9 He complies; Elisa10 is desperately in love with her guest; Anna11 encourages her; they go hunting in the forest; Juno’s storm-cloud wraps the day in darkness; they are united in a cave; Aeneas, given a warning, prepares to leave Libya; the Queen discovers his impending flight, she laments, she begs, she rants, she rages; unmoved, he sets sail, on Jupiter’s 12 orders; Dido, building a pyre, pretends to perform magic rites, but dies by her own hand.



Act I Scene i:13 Venus & Cupid

Venus:My beloved son (unless you are ashamed to be called my son… for you know how the gods oppose my other son, your brother),14 if you have any thought for your poor disrespected mother, if you still have any care for your hounded brother, if his downfall, his overthrow and my beseeching with prayers hold any sway (and I should hope they hold very great sway), show yourself loyal to me and to your brother.

Cupid: Mother, why strive to get with these speeches what you ought to get from your son anyway?
V: My son, born of Anchises, felt the wrath of bloody Minerva when he tried to carry his native gods through the burning houses and fires of Troy, forced to seek a foreign land for his home.15 A yet greater evil has succeeded Minerva’s anger. The wrath of Juno is raging. Ah! it is raging against him beyond measure, even as he is lying there overthrown; nor does she deem it enough to deny him his land, so that he is forced to find somewhere new to settle, but she urges all the gods to have him slain. The god Aeolus,16 who keeps the winds on a leash, began stirring up the seas. He sent the South wind, and then he sent the Southwest, packed with its storms, and he made the whole sea rock from its very depths. So then summon your powers, I pray. I have no doubt you are pained by my grief.

C: You spur and prick me on though I’m already willing. It is your task to discern what you wish to happen, and it is right for me to undertake your orders – so just command me. My hand shall let forth these arrows even if the other gods are against it.

V: Do obey; you’ll know in a few words what I want. After the wind had calmed and the crashing of the sea had dissolved, he retreated to the first shore he set eyes on. It was the land of Libya he saw. So that he could fit new planks, he set his wounded ships down here and rebuilt whatever the rage of ocean had dashed. And I, in disguise as a Carthaginian maiden, put myself in his path as he walked toward the shore. Feigning interest in other matters, I inquired as to the reason for his journey and the man’s misfortune (though I knew the answers already), and I directed him towards Elisa’s palace.

C: What hope have we in Elisa? To be sure, she is loyal to Juno.

V: She is loyal, but Jupiter has taken steps to ensure nothing happens to Aeneas in the city.

C: Indeed, would that be so! Yet I suspect the Carthaginians.

V: Why suspect them? Jupiter has sent down his own child, the grandson of Atlas, to earth, to dull the savage hearts of the Carthaginians and render them more gracious hosts to my men. But I do not know in which direction Juno’s rage will turn, and any house of hospitality over which Juno presides must be held suspect.17 Therefore, encircle the Queen with strange new flames,18 deceive her with mischief. See to it that she is captivated with love for my Aeneas; thus will Dido be a greater friend to our own people, thus will Juno be better placated in her anger against the Trojans.

C: In what way would you like me to deceive her?

V: Listen. Aeneas will feel gratitude to Elisa. Captivated by her alluring manner of speaking, he will string out a delay, and he’ll send his comrade Achates to the ships to bring Ascanius19 here, sole hope of his father, with royal gifts snatched from the pyres of Troy.20 I wish you to adopt the face of sweet Ascanius and put his well-known, boyish features o’er top of your own. So that, when the Queen takes you in her lap amidst the sumptuous banquet she’s prepared for the strangers, while she’s kissing, while she’s holding you to her, you may breathe out love, and light a torch within her with your flames.

C: What will become of the true Ascanius?

V: I will bury him away on Mount Ida, and press sweet sleep upon him, to stop him from stumbling in on our hoax.

C: Consider it done, mother, just as you wish it: I shall counterfeit his looks as you command; I shall deceive her with mischief; I shall beguile her with poison; I shall breathe fire into her very marrow and light a torch as fierce as Etna. Not even the god of ocean, mightier than land, will put out my fires. Nor will the Queen of Heaven21 set a limit on my flames, even if she should summon the god of the winds that he may release them all at once. But why do we delay? Look, Dido is coming out of the palace.


Act I Scene ii: Dido, Hanno,22

Dido: If the Fates had not wished to destroy me in former days, so that I, exiled from one kingdom,23 was searching for a place to establish my own and said to be down on my luck, my Carthage would not be standing here now. A fall gives one distinction, and my happy fortune has been built upon my misfortune. Now I must decide how my position in the city can be made secure, and by what means I can ensure that the gods who have supported me thus far favour me always.

Hanno: A powerful kingdom is maintained by the same arts that gained it. The piety that first made the gods favourable keeps them so – only show it. And because you have shown it, you keep us safe. However, a new evil at hand gives us cause for fear.

D: An evil? What is it?

H: Everybody’s talking about it.

D: What is it, I say?

Maharbal: They say that ships have come to our shore. Either a storm has driven them here or (as I rather think) they have come to plunder your lands, bringing war.

D: Whichever of these it is, I am indeed afraid. Why don’t we send someone to discover the reason for their journey?

H: No need, look, they have come, either to put your goodwill to the test (well known to your own people) or to test how strong you are.


Act I Scene iii:24 Dido, Ilioneus,25 Trojans

Dido: What’s this? Why have you come, men? What’s the reason for this disturbance? Who are you? From what lands, may I ask, do you come? Or whom is it that you seek? Do you suppose my shore is open to all ships? Do you suppose my land is open to everyone? Permission has neither been sought nor granted, so far as I am aware. Surely you do not put our country to the test? Should I consider you guests or enemies? Or both? For the two are often wont to be confused. Give me your answer in brief; let there be no delay in carrying out my orders.

Ilioneus: Queen Dido, to whom the King of the Gods gave his consent to found a new city and to rein in savage peoples with your kingdom’s just laws, we Trojans, who have been dragged across the waves by the roving tides, implore you. Hold back from ravaging our ships with the cruel flame, have mercy on our pious race, come to our aid as our patron in these troubled times. We have not come to plunder Libyan homes with barbarous sword – no such madness has come over us, no such craze has taken us over and driven us to the brink. Far from here, amidst distant peoples, there lies an ancient land (the younger nations call it Italy), a country rich in produce, once powerful indeed in war. As we were seeking this land, Orion26 buried us in a sea-surge, bringing his jittering clouds along with him, and he tossed and scattered our ships right across the strait. After being propelled over the ocean’s billows the few of us that remain have entered your country, seeking your help in troubled times. Your people are denying us the hospitality of your shore. What manner of people are you? What land can sanction such an abominable custom? If no human prayers can stir such a hard people, trust that at all events the just hands of the gods will be brutal avengers of right and wrong. The admiral of our fleet, Aeneas, was a man renowned for his manly virtue in war, and in peace alike. If the Fates are watching over him, if he still lives and has not yet arrived at the silent lakes of the Underworld, have no doubt that whatever you mete out you will reap, nor will you regret being the first to offer hospitality. Indeed, not all of Troy was destroyed along with Troy. In the kingdom of Sicily, there are men of illustrious name who set out from Troy and their king, Acestes,27 boasts that his people are of our race. We ask only that permission be granted to fit new planks to our fleet and cleave oars from your forests, so that, if our king be restored together with our other comrades, we may seek out Latium28 (the way to which the Fates are pointing). Or, if all hope of this is gone, that we may seek out once again the vast straits of Sicily. There Acestes, as our king, will restore our hope and support us in these troubled times.

All Trojans: He is one man who pleads for it, but we all entreat it.

Dido: Trojans, expel your fears and anxious burdens.

The newness of this kingdom forces me to pursue this policy. Who does not know of your city, who does not know of the race of Aeneas’ Trojans? Who does not know of the fires, the battles, your deeds of bravery, your warriors? We are not so dull at heart, nor does the Sun turn his horses so far away from us Carthaginians. Whichever way you bend your course, Trojans, I shall come to your aid with my resources and my support. But if you would like to stay here with me, I will grant you unfettered access to my home and city. I will make no distinction between the people of Carthage and of Troy; they shall live under equal law. Indeed would that your Aeneas had been driven by the same South wind to my land! I’ll send men to comb every shore; I’ll find what forest he’s sheltering in, or the areas he’s wandering.


Act I Scene iv: Achates,29 Aeneas, Dido

Achates: Son of a goddess, what are you waiting for? Step forward. You can see your comrades have been welcomed here; everything looks safe. Orontes alone is missing – we saw him swept away over the waves in mid-ocean.

Aeneas: Good advice; let us go to the Queen then. Before you stands the man you seek. I am Aeneas of Troy, snatched from the waves which batter Libya’s shores. Your highness, you alone support us during our troubles. And you alone offer aid in adversity, blessing us with your hospitality – we who have nothing, we who stand before you broken by land and sea, the only ones left after the Greeks’ wicked outburst and the burning of Troy. It is not just a place in your city you offer us, but even your home. It is not in our power, your majesty, to pay you adequate thanks, nor is all that remains of Troy able to equal such great wealth. If the gods attend to the pious when they are vulnerable, if just prayers have any influence, if there is any place for justice, then may the mighty gods reward you for your merits, as they ought. What happy age brought you into the world, what noble leaders produced such a one as you? So long as rivers feed the fathomless sea, so long as the land nourishes the trees, and the sky the stars, I shall sing your praises and sing of your name. The day I forget you is the day I forget myself. Since you restore me to my people (and I rejoice that they are safe, I embrace them gladly), I would rather fail myself than be failing in your praise.

Dido: What misfortune pursues you with all these evils? And what power forces you to seek savage shores? I recognise the name of your city and your race. When Teucer came to Sidon, he brought word of you30 and, though himself an enemy, had no small praise to offer his foes, and Teucer declared that his lineage derived from you Trojans. Therefore come inside my home, young men. A similar fate indeed put me through no lesser perils, and yet it granted me a kingdom. Having suffered troubles myself, I gladly come to your aid in difficult times.

A: (We are) your servants, noble Dido.



On shaky foot our lot is carried up high. It raises us, and presses us back down, equalises the lowest with the highest, fickle on every side. It brings perils in troubled times, oppresses those it sees on the brink. And it follows the worse course.

One opposing fate struggles against another, the gods are favourable in one instance, furious the next. Nor do they oppress everyone equally, or all appear for everyone.

There’s no reprieve when you’re at your lowest ebb. What cannot grow worse fades away. To have been without hope offers hope to those in trouble, and being without hope of salvation is said to be the salvation of the vanquished.

Night brings back the day, the clouds return the sun, happiness follows when hardships cease. Ah! we heard the crashing of the sea, but now inside the palace he’s triumphant.



Act II Scene i:32 Dido, Aeneas, Cupid as Ascanius

Dido: Come, my guest, let us see to it these things are forgotten. One day it will please you to be look back on difficult experiences, but in the meantime drive your worries from your mind. Look, a table laid with feasts awaits us. Recline, I beg you. Let Bacchus’33 wine bring release from your hardships. Great-hearted prince, if only you could be persuaded how welcome you are, arriving as a stranger to our court; no less Ascanius or your comrades. I do not say that you should completely forget Troy and your old family home, though you would doubtless be happier.

Aeneas: Your majesty, shining star of your people, the tongue cannot express the feeling in my heart, my countenance cannot express my thoughts. A fickle joy runs riot, whilst a mighty one is struck dumb, doesn’t pull itself together, and falls silent. Who could adequately recount the speeches of a queen so generous, her placid countenance, and the trust and help she has offered us wretched ones at our darkest day? This royal magnificence, such luxuries – who could do justice to describing them? Think of me – if you think of me – happily contemplating those merits of yours.

D: I do not put such great store by those virtues you mention. But, I admit, I do desire – and hope it is the case – that Aeneas does not regret having Elisa as his hostess. But why is Ascanius looking down at his food rather sadly?

Cupid: An image of the city of Troy presented itself to me, and at the wretched sight grief crept into my heart. The tale which my father told you last night in fuller detail – here you may see it set in summary before your eyes.

D: Ascanius, I beg of you, tell the story of Troy’s fate again.

C: Pretend this dish you see is Troy. This way the river Simois used to flow, here was the site of Mount Ida with its deep forests, on this road stood Tenedos, Cilla, Chryse, the circle of outlying towns which lie ruined from the war. Here were anchored a thousand ships of the enemy, here was their camp, here the field of battle lying between. Imagine that these are Troy’s great battlements: this is the Scaean gate, through which fierce Hector34 used to lead his troops out onto the battlefield. Here is Priam’s35 home, here my father’s. There (grandfather) Anchises’ house once stood. Here, when part of the wall had been torn down, with the insidious trick of the horse, a mighty patpyh opened up into the heart of the city. Here the slaughter began. Am I able to speak further? Only that, after all the burial ceremonies for the butchered bodies of our leaders, it was thus, through Sinon’s36 treachery, and thus, by the burning torches of the Greeks, that the city was turned into weightless ash.

D: Oh what an example of astonishing invention! Oh father blessed with noble offspring, and son born of such a parent. Ascanius, you must foster the divine talent that’s in your nature. I hope you win praises like those of your war hero father, and I pray you outdo the age of your elderly grandfather. Take this kiss as the pledge of my love.

C: Come, father, give your son a kiss?


The Hymn of Iopas37

What name from the gods may I assign to you? It is right to call you Mars,38 or Lycian Apollo,39 or Hercules born of Jupiter?

Or, if you deserve a lesser title, and it please you to be called mortal, how then can you seem indeed to have sprung from the blood of gods?

What praises may I sing of you and broadcast your fame? What note should I strike, what song could be worthy of performance for such a prince?

Welcome, distinguished hero, renowned glory of your country and ancient line. No ship has ever touched our shores more welcome than yours.

But, mighty as you are, and powerful beyond my comprehension, yet greater is Elisa – oh guest so very fortunate in having Elisa as your hostess.

Nobody is less important save in comparison to her, nor should it disgrace you to be declared her inferior. The world sees nothing akin to our Elisa, or even close.

Like the splendour of Cynthia40 amid the stars, such is our Elisa’s grace on earth. Look, dear guest, to whom you have come, on leaving your homeland behind.

Yet you’ve won praise of your name next to hers, and you follow a close second. Iopas’ song enshrines your achievements honoured alongside hers.

Let special garlands encircle our drinking-cups, pour wine into fine golden bowls, let clatter and din fill the hall: for Elisa orders it.

Distinguished guest, we rejoice in you, and it’s our pleasure to offer a double welcome of our applause. Lo, the joyful sound rushes through this great hall.


Act II Scene ii: Dido & Aeneas

Dido: Great leader of the Trojans, what dishes would you like?

Aeneas: Neither these, nor those, though they all look delightful to me. Serving upon serving is offered me, plate upon plate, and such an abundance impedes my choosing.

D: This is not Priam’s kingdom. What Carthaginian could ever compare their hospitality with that of your Troy? But I have heard a rumour whispered, that there were certain secret signs predicting the fall of Troy. Pray you tell me, guest, what sort they were.

A: Your highness, the accounts of these prophecies are many and varied. Among them are usually reckoned the death of Troilus,41 the destruction of the Scaean gate, the role of Helenus42 the priest, that of Pyrrhus,43 and the theft of Rhesus’44 horses. But the chief portents for Troy are said to be these two: the statue consecrated to the goddess of the yellow hair, Minerva, and the bow of Hercules along with its quiver and arrows.

D: What, pray tell, was this statue of Minerva?

A: While wealthy Ilus45 ruled over Asia and was building the walls for his new ‘Ilium’, Troy, this is said to have fallen from heaven on a festival day, poised as if to stride this way and that, holding a distaff in her left hand and a spear javelin in her right, representing the warrior goddess in all her regalia. Pious Ilus was astounded, he went to consult Apollo, and the god’s reply to him was as follows: “The ruin of Troy and her salvation will rest upon this one thing. Protect the goddess housed under your roofs, and you will protect your city. For once she has been taken away, gone with her is your imperial rule over this place.” So Ilus fortified the citadel, consecrating it to Minerva, and, placing the heaven-sent statue in this safe place, he set up guards around it. Nor did you, Laomedon,46 then inherit a lesser duty of care as his heir. But alas, it was not properly observed under the rule of Priam. This Minerva herself determined, in her fury at the judgement of Paris on the day she was beaten in the beauty contest.47

D: Who devised such a piece of villainy?48

A: Ulysses,49 ever ready for theft, born for deceit, contrived it while he was pursuing a secret path through the city’s sewers.

D: But come, tell me about the second sign governing the fate of Troy.

A: As Alcmenus’50 son Hercules approached his death, about to burn on his famous pyre,51 a hero en route to the stars and the gods’ homes in heaven, he said: “Philoctetes,52 son of Poeas, take this gift.” He made the man a present of his bow together with his quiver, weighed down with arrows. These weapons proved that he was Hercules.

D: Which god revealed this fateful sign to the Greeks?

A: Both this sign and the other were revealed by Helenus, priest of Apollo, who was himself an impediment to the course of destiny. Ensnared by the deceit of Ithacan Ulysses, thus he uttered the sacred prophecies to the Greeks, while he was possessed by the god Apollo: “Behold, this final labour awaits you with the arrows of Hercules. The Fates may have snatched him away, but they command that his heir should have a share in the glory. Hercules will play no small part in this great task. Troy, the kingdom of Priam, cannot be razed to the ground until Philoctetes, wounded by the snake’s deep bite and left to rot on Lemnos island, is come into your camp, when Hercules’ arrows can grow wet with the blood of Trojan men, in a massacre of their leaders. Let there be no further difficulty now that Hercules is dead.” See, these are the central features of the predictions governing Troy’s fate.

[Ghostly procession]


Act II Scene iii: Dido (with her retinue behind), Ascanius

Dido: Jupiter, king of the gods and father of mankind, (I pray to you) for it is you, they say, who bestow the laws of hospitality. If Belus my father and his descendants have duly kept the custom of filling this dish with wine for you, may you grant that this be a happy day for Carthaginians and Trojans alike, and that those who come after him, and after our own generation, remember it. Bacchus, the giver of joy, be with us, and Juno the gentle, who has already been generous to the Trojans. Lo, my Carthaginians, I pray you be silent.

[She pours her libation to Jupiter]

Ascanius: Your highness, I pray you, let the banquet finally draw to an end! Enough feasting, enough decadence has been offered. Beg pardon, but let us relieve our limbs with a stroll.

Dido: As you wish. Servants, clear it all away quickly. Meanwhile let this house resound with joyful music. We shall take a turn in the royal garden.


Act II Scene iv: Maharbal, Hanno

Maharbal: Hanno, how I fear all this hospitality will lead to disaster! If (but may a god avert the omen!) if Dido falls in love with this curious new guest of ours – it often happens (though I pray that it does not happen!), what wars, what chaos will this marriage unleash?

Hanno: Maharbal, what fear are you imagining? I don’t wish anyone to be careless, nor yet too cautious. Suppose that she did marry him – what wars are you singing of, poet?

M: Could Iarbas,53 still mad with love for her, bear to leave such a dishonour unavenged? Will the princes of Libya, whom she has spurned so many times, permit this guest to be received in her realm while those born in this land are treated with contempt?

H: Maharbal, if you consider it dreadful that those vacuous youths be rejected in order that our queen, rich and powerful, in the prime of her life, should make a lawful marriage, would you rather she wed according to your wishes or her own? Or rather Iarbas’? If I were minded to become king on such a principle, let me die. I don’t want her taken as a wife only to be thrust aside so that he may rule in her place. I deem this far worse. What threats of Iarbas, what threats of other princes are you referring to? With a Trojan at the helm leading the Punic54 troops, Carthage will hold her head up proud amongst the other nations.

M: But consider how the loyalty of guests is to be regarded. Let Theseus’ example teach you – his injury to Ariadne, Jason’s to Medea. 55 Desertion by a foreigner is a commonplace.

H: Ah, the sins of two men should not convict them all. But Dido is coming outside, grief spread across her face. Let us go back into the palace without her seeing.


Act II Scene v: 56 Dido, Anna

Dido: Anna! Sister! What dreams confuse and terrify me! Who is this new guest who has just entered our home? What a face he bears! How strong he looks with his broad chest, and his famous bravery at arms! Indeed, sister, I believe he was born of the gods. Nor is this the empty belief of one too trusting (for any weakness in one’s mind is exposed by fear). How many sufferings that man has borne over land and sea! How many battles he has waged with unbridled spirit! If it were not already settled and fixed in my mind that I do not wish to be joined to anyone by the bonds of marriage – ever since first love cheated me with the death of my husband57 – and if the wedding torches and the bridal bed were not perfectly odious to me, perhaps I could succumb to this one temptation. Even willingly. But I pray the earth gape and swallow me, or the almighty Father drive me to the shades with his thunderbolt – the pale shadows of the Underworld and grizzly River Styx – before I break your laws, before I violate you, Chastity. He who first joined me to him stole my love; let him keep it with him, let him keep it safe in his grave. Let nobody accuse me of inconstancy!

Anna: Oh sister, dearer than this, the sight of day. Will you always lead your life alone, a grieving widow? Are you never to know the proofs of Love, the lawful pleasures of the marriage bed and darling children? Do you think that shades are concerned about this? There it is, none of the men so far have managed to shift you from your malaise, neither Iarbas (scorned back at home in Tyre – though he be noble), nor the princes of the Libyan people, nor those reared by Africa, rich in her victories. Are you really going to fight against the God of Love, all on your own? Has it not occurred to you in whose land you’re living? On one side we are surrounded by the savage Gaetulians, unbeatable in war, and by the Numidians; over here we have a vast stretch of quicksand, a land choked with thirst, and from the other direction fierce raiders from Barca intimidate us, roaming at large. Need I mention the war rising up against you now in Tyre? What of your brother’s grave threats? In fact, I believe the wind carrying the Trojan ships here did so under the direction of Juno and the gods of heaven. O sister, what a city you’ll see your Carthage rise to be, and quickly, with Aeneas our prince, what a kingdom! With Trojan soldiers marching at our side, think how Punic glory will lift up your name across the world!

D: What you say is not lost on me. And now I shall confess, Anna, that, since the sad fate of my Sychaeus and the wicked bespattering of our household gods by my brother’s murder of him, this man alone has stirred my feelings and struck my wavering heart off balance. I recognise the first flickerings of an old flame. But hesitating fear splits my mind, as does my conscience. What hope can you give my prayer, sister?

A: My own sister, simply ask pardon of the gods: once you have made the right sacrifices you may turn all your attention to the new guest. Contrive reasons for his tarrying here: delay him while the heavy wrath of winter is storming against the sea, while their ships are still in pieces, while the winds are grumbling across an inclement sky.

D: Enough. You are worsening the burning grip of love upon me. I shall loosen the reins. Away with dull conscience. I have decided that tomorrow I will earn the gods’ favour at the altar with a full complement of victims58 and I will search for peace amidst the entrails. A heifer shall fall to you, Ceres,59 and to Bacchus. But first, and above all the rest, I shall offer sacrifices to Juno, whose special concern it is to watch over marriage ceremonies.



Alas, Dido, we pity you. Alas, the minds of priests know nothing at all! What is the use of touching the altar as a suppliant? No prayers will help her in her passion. Inside her very marrow there creeps a flame; a secret wound is alive beneath her breast. Bitten by desperate fires, Dido wanders everywhere in a frenzy – just like a deer shot by an arrow falling from afar, caught unawares by a shepherd in the Cretan groves. He himself is ignorant of the deed and leaves the blade implanted at the centre of her heart. Mournfully she flies to the woods, the creaking arrow grasping at her side.

Feverish Elisa now takes Aeneas the guest on a tour of the city walls. Now she shows off the Sidonian riches in her new city. She wants to speak, but soon stops in mid-sentence. Now she demands to hear the story of the Trojans’ sufferings, now, as the day is slipping away, she calls for more feasting. The towers once begun are no longer rising, the young men are not training with their weapons, nor are they storing up arms anymore for battle or preparing the harbours. They shirk from their work, and high hopes for lofty walls are left an empty threat. Oh which of the gods will show mercy and release Elisa from the madness of her disease?



Act III Scene i: Ghost of Sychaeus,60 characters passing over the stage

[They pass by en route to the hunt]

Sychaeus: The earth has been torn open and I, Sychaeus, have come up from Tartarus/the Underworld through jagged stone pathways with mournful step, holding in my left (hand) a black torch for the new wedding of Elisa, who was once my wife. For what rumour came to me in the depths of the Underworld? That Dido is madly in love with her Trojan guest. That a foreigner was/has been welcomed into the heart of her kingdom? That he is occupying the place of a husband? Where now for me? Where should I take my tears? If Sychaeus has already been wholly forgotten, if, Dido, you now desire a second marriage, has Libya not produced any princes worthy of your love? Are you, a prosperous woman, to marry this wretch? A pious woman marry this infidel? A queen for/to marry an exile? A woman from Tyre a Trojan man? Paris rendered the entire Trojan race a source of hate. He kidnapped his hostess, this wandering vagabond will cast his hostess aside. Hold back, Dido. True faith is rare in guests and their loyalty wanders the same way they do. He betrayed his fatherland. He will certainly betray a foreign one, and how much more a wife? He sails carrying his household gods with him, looking for Latium. But you, Megaera,61 go at his breast with your furies. Burn him. It is enough: let Aeneas beware of any wrongdoing. I am going inside, to stand guard and ward off sin.


Act III, Scene ii:62 Nymphs

[A storm]

[Wailing Nymphs]

Alas, pour out your querulous lament; with your palms strike your breast. Alas, reveal the bitter omen that is come upon the Carthaginians.

Let the earth cry out and heaven resound, let the river banks renew our sighs. Let the forests howl, and the mountains echo with the ocean.

Alas the wedding, alas the evil marriage. Alas for nuptials such as no age has ever seen, nor future hour will witness.

The glades’ lament will not dry up, and the nymphs we too shall weep. And grieving Echo will give out sighs from amidst her deep caverns.  


Act III, Scene iii: Cupid as himself

Cupid: It is done, and done well. We’ve obtained the result plotted by mother’s tricks, brought to fruition by mine. Did she fall in love? She is furious with love, she’s blazing with a new fire, and the price she’s paid for having held ‘little Ascanius’ on her knee and in her lap was not a little one. In return, with my little sweet mouth, I gave her a kiss that was not sweet. While she’s playing a game, I’m playing at treachery/betrayal. She sipped her drink? I took some. She looked at me? I brought my face to hers. She summoned me?  I came. She fondled me? I took possession of her lap. How artfully I deceived the simpleton, the clever one against the pious. And now I have left her ruined – though she imagines danger lies far away. My mother and Jupiter’s wife have struck a deal, shaking hands on the pretence. They named the day for the wedding, sent them into the forest, encircled the sky with showers, and decided upon this cave as the location for the nuptials. Soon the bridegroom will lead his bride outside. But as for me, an even greater task summons me to the city. Surely not! Someone in Carthage is always falling in love.

[They return from the hunt]


Act III, Scene iv:63 Mercury64

Mercury: Smooth-tongued son of Maia and Jupiter, King of the Gods, their swift messenger am I. I have abandoned the twinkling sanctuaries of heaven. What place is this? What region? What lands do I touch? Does what I see beguile my wish, or is this Libya? Is this new Carthage? Unless I am deceived, this is the place, I recognize the city’s landmarks. Here’s the entrance to Dido’s palace. Here Aeneas, Prince of Trojans, drags out his stay, enchanted – he is the cause of my coming. Let no one consider my function insignificant, since it is at Jupiter’s bidding that I fly around hither and thither. My divinity must be solemnly worshipped on earth. It is a serious thing to act as ambassador to the heavenly gods – and their business is not delegated except to one of stout intelligence. Whether it pleases me to roam over land or flit above sea, I am carried along by a quick swish of my wings. Then how mighty is my wand, how powerful an asset? With it I beckon souls out of the pale Underworld; other souls I cast down with it to the River Styx below. I induce sleep with it, again I put sleep to flight with it, and I unseal eyes pressed shut under the weight of death. I cross the sea relying on it; I chase winds and swim through whirling clouds of displaced air.
But look, who is it leaving the palace? It is Aeneas himself, joined by his friend Achates.


Act III, Scene v: Mercury, Aeneas

Mercury: Now you are laying down walls for a mighty Carthage and building a handsome city in obedience to your wife. You are forgetting your own affairs, disregarding your kingdom. The ruler of men and gods, master of the world, who spins heaven and earth with his divine power, he himself bid me bring you his orders through the swift breezes. Why are you building? With what intention do you idle away leisure-hours in the land of Libya, a country denied you by Fate? Where are your delays leading? If the fame of your great deeds doesn’t stir your heart, and you are not exerting yourself at your work to increase your reputation, let Ascanius enter your thoughts and reflect on his hopes as your heir, to whom the kingdoms of Latium have already been promised. Does the father envy his son the citadels of Latium? Not thus did gentle Venus describe you to me; not for this did she rescue you twice from the wiles of the Greeks, but because you would one day rule over defiant Italy, you would advance the Trojan race with its noble blood-line and, as conqueror, you would give laws and justice to the world. This is the crux of my message: set sail.


Act III, Scene vi: Aeneas, Achates

Aeneas: I’m shaking with fear all over and a mighty terror beats in my mind. Black night is stealing over my eyes, and I am struggling to get the words out. But what is there to say, Aeneas? What answer is there to give? How ought I to reply? My mind – now here, now there – races with different thoughts, just as the Euripus Strait is wont to ebb and flow with the tide seven times a day. I am stunned by such an order from the gods – and I am happy to go, to forsake these lands and flee. Yet… with what speech can I possibly approach you, Dido? While you are venting your fury… What expression should I put on? How should I begin my speech? What is an adequate excuse? I haven’t made up my mind, I’m swerving in different directions, like a boat cleaving a path through mid-ocean hauled one way by the captain and the other by the tide. O Juno, bring back, the tide that carried me to Libya. Your wrath fell upon it half-heartedly; it was just a prelude. Anyone who’s been sent across the sea on the waves of a god’s anger is accustomed to strong tides – trust me, I know.

Achates: Great-hearted Prince of the Trojans, sole bastion of our suffering nation, I pray you restrain your feelings, and show the messenger of Jupiter you obey him. When one is faced with two evils, one must choose the lesser of the two.

Aen: You’re right, Achates. But who will be the judge?

Ach: When Jupiter’s giving the orders, surely you know who the judge is?

Aen: But Jupiter is the god of hospitality – he does not permit guests to flee.

Ach: Our voyage has been sanctioned, why call it shameful fleeing?

Aen: Rumour will make it out to be so.

Ach: But Rumour is spurious and unreliable.

Aen: Yet one should fear it because it is so.

Ach: The gods are to be feared more.

Aen: But Dido is dear to me.

Ach: Keep your mind on Ascanius.

Aen: My mind is on great Carthage too.

Ach: Surely Italy, the land promised you by the Fates, is more important?

Aen: It’s far away over the sea.

Ach: Jupiter shows us the way.

Aen: What about savage Juno?

Ach: Adds to the glory of the achievement.

Aen: But I owe everything to Elisa: the fleet, my men, and Ascanius’ life.

Ach: Give her suitable thanks.

Aen: Whatever thanks are given, I will still be accused of ingratitude.

Ach: A person ruins their other virtues when they reproach a man who’s sufficiently grateful.

Aen: She’s in love with me.

Ach: Perhaps she will come after you.

Aen: She’s lost her mind.

Ach: Flee.

Aen: But she will entreat me – by the loyalty she showed me when I was in need, by her generosity to me, by her tears, our vows, every sweet thing I enjoyed when I was with her.

Ach: Then you likewise entreat – for the sake of Ascanius’ life, the dread warnings of the gods, the kingdom of Latium promised to you by the Fates, a future nation. Hold back your tears, be brave now, and show that you are steadfast and tough. Block your ears, get through her pitiful speeches, endure them, forget about them. Stand tall like a mighty oak, when it faces attack from bitter winds from the North, battering it with gales this way and that in their attempt to uproot it. Yet the tree holds fast to the rocks, and as high as it stretches its head into the air, just as far down does it thrust its roots into the depths of the Underworld.

Aen: You’ve said enough, Achates. May the command of Jupiter prevail. And you, sacred messenger of the gods, I obey you, whoever you were. I pray you, kindly be at hand and help me on my way: bring the stars into focus by manufacturing a peaceful sky.

Ach: Bid the captains Mnestheus and Coanthus assemble weapons in secret, draw up the fleet, and summon their comrades out of the city onto their ships. Bid them conceal by their expression the reason for this new resolution. Meanwhile, so long as Dido in her passion is unaware and does not think her great love affair is being torn apart, you must find a way to approach her, find the time that is ripe for speaking, use whatever method favours your own interests.

Aen: As for you, Achates, the task left to you is to get the fleet fitted out. I call to witness men and gods, and holy faith, that it is unwillingly that I leave your land, Elisa.

Aeneas to the Queen, Achates to the ships



Oh Rumour – what an impulsive evil! Changing with rapid inconstancy. Fiendish, she gains in strength as she moves, always small in the beginning, nervously; then she raises herself into the air and walks the earth, her head quickly buried in amongst the clouds.

Goaded by her hatred of the gods, it was Earth, so they say, who gave birth her, giving Caeus and Enceladus66 a younger sister. Swift on her feet, with weightless wings, the creature makes you shudder: she has as many feathers on her body as eyes underneath, and as many tongues, and as many mouths, chattering, as pricked-up ears hungry for the sound.

She flies through the sky in the middle of the night – she does not close her eyes in slumber. By day she keeps watch from the roofs of lofty homes and the high battlements. Gossiping, she panics great cities; she is both the messenger of lies and the messenger of truth.

She takes delight in saturating whole nations, moving from one language to another. At one and the same time she is singing of deeds and singing of deeds undone: ‘You know, of course, that a new guest has come, born of Trojan stock, and Dido considers him a worthy man to take as a husband. Now they are spending the whole of the winter together in luxury, neglecting the needs of her kingdom.’ Through Libyan cities far and wide the loathsome goddess pours this gossip into the mouths of men.



Act IV, Scene i:67 Dido

Dido: Ah! Gross misdeed! I am betrayed! I call to witness all gods and goddesses, and you, the River Styx of the lower world, and the waters of Erebus68 – all that exists from every quarter – if ever such a monstrous crime has been committed. I am ruined by deceit and innocent love, I, a Carthaginian, overthrown! What do I do? Where can I flee? My mind, unshakeable til now, is carried away by furious impulse and cannot pull itself together. Where is he? Alas has he gone so quickly? I want to talk to him, I want to make trial of him, pitiable as I am. Oh where am I being led in my misery!


Act IV, Scene ii: Dido, Aeneas

Dido: Deceitful lier, did you suppose you would be able to conceal such a crime? That such a wicked deed could be disguised? Are you ready to run away from Dido without even saying goodbye? Does the recent pledge we made together have no claim on you? The loyalty we promised one another? the love at our nuptials? our marital bed? Does Phoenician Dido about to die a cruel/violent death mean nothing to you? Are you really preparing to fit out your fleet under a winter’s sky…? While the south wind is laden with its rainclouds and the shrieking wind from the north is swirling up deep snow? and from the south wind is whipping up the Libyan beaches into quicksand?

Heartless man. If Hector’s Troy still remained and you weren’t looking for different fields and foreign homes, would you make for Troy across the billows of such a merciless sea? Is it me you are running away from? Do I deserve being abandoned by you? By these tears now I beg of you, by the pledge you gave me with your own right hand (- since this is all I have left now that I see that my kingdom and reputation are in crisis and the outcome is uncertain -), by the gods of marriage who will avenge this wicked deed, by your hopes of Ascanius, by the sceptre of my imperial power, and your own life, and by my body soon to become ash… if any of my virtues sway you, my piety, my sad fate, or the honour of my chastity now ruined, or if there was anything you ever found lovable about Dido, drop this absurd intention, I pray.

Pity me, and pay me back for my generosity. Whenever this may be (if there is still chance for prayer), lo, take note of this, the final wish of Dido. Because of you all the princes of Africa and the Numidian peoples hate me. Again because of you, the exemplary honour and celebrated reputation, which raised me up level with heaven before, now lies crushed, half-dead, along with my chastity. Who are you passing me on to, guest? This is the one name that I can still call you by, now that ‘husband’ is lost. Who are you leaving me to? Who will make plunder of me?

But oh! if only you had given me a child before this cruel departure, whose face could remind me of yours. If only I had some Ascanius playing in my palace, the sight of whom would cheer my heart – ‘Look, these were the features my husband had, Aeneas was just like this – the same imposing height in the shoulders, the same strong hands’ – my house would grow strong and prosperous with happy fortune.

Aeneas: Your highness, I do confess I desire to obey your entreaties, nor in speaking of your kindnesses would I be able to number them, nor shall I be called forgetful of Elisa or her kingdom if the Fates show a way. In my defence I shall be permitted to speak briefly but truthfully. Majesty, do not imagine that I intended to conceal my departure, yet neither did I bear marriage torches in front of me deceitfully – I did not enter into any such contract. If the Fates were to allow me to lead my life under fresh auspices and manage my concerns as I wished, I would live in what is left of Troy, and Priam’s houses, exempted from ruin, would still be there. I would give my native land its own name back, give it back to the Trojans who have been overthrown, and I would gather up our scattered citizens and lead them back to Hector, to Priam, to myself.

As it is, I am led by the prophecy of Apollo and look for Italy. Now Italy is my country, my wife, my empire, my salvation. If Carthage, your new city, has a claim on you, though you come from Punic Phoenicia, do you object to Latium for me? I too am permitted to look for kingdoms abroad. How often does the sad ghost of my father appear before my eyes, when the stillness has slackened my limbs and sweet sleep has taken my weary body? How often does the mournful image of my father enter my bedchamber and warn me to make a swift escape? Come, little Ascanius is being cheated of the land promised to him by the Fates. Even the messenger of the gods, the herald sent down to earth by Jupiter on high (I swear on both our lives), brought his commands to me through the soft breezes – I saw the god in the clear light of day, as he was looking upon these walls, and I drank in his sweet voice with my ears, the commands of Jupiter almighty.

Give up your laments, let that be an end to your protests. It is not by my own will that I look for Italy; I am directed to do so.

D: Traitor, your mother is no goddess, and nor is Dardanus69 the founder of your wicked people. Scinis or some Procrustes70 sired you, savage tigers suckled you on the hard rock of the inhospitable Caucasus: these are the first founders to which your kind have reverted. Bad blood always harks back to savage roots.

Ah unhappy! what am I to do? What should I, miserable woman, complain of first? Did he sigh at my weeping? Avert his eyes from my tears? Are his cheeks wet with crying? Did he yield, vanquished by my entreaties? I would have deemed this a great gift. What is there left for me now? Trust is not safe anywhere. Not long ago I welcomed in this man when he was in need, washed up on my shore, an exile from his homeland, and offering him consolation for so many of his misfortunes, I gave myself to him, and in the end I gave my kingdom. Oh monstrous crime! He offers a prophecy and the guiltless gods as his excuse. The seer Apollo, the angry father, and the Lycian oracles call him away to the promised kingdom. Come, the messenger of Jupiter, the son of Maia no less, Mercury, brought his horrid commands through the breezes. This duty, this labour incites/interests the gods of heaven…? Perhaps they are indifferent. I make my plea, but I do not detain him.

Go, follow the winds. Seek your kingdom over the waves, the land the Fates have promised to you overseas. If vows and prayers have any power, I trust you will be punished for your crime: shipwrecked in shallow waters against the rocks, raising your head amidst broken ships, you will call my name. I shall follow and be at hand with pitch-black fires, nor will my ghost ever leave you, and when I am dead I will overwhelm you with perpetual grief. You will pay the price for your crimes, traitor, you can’t hide them from me. When I am dead I shall hear of them; swift Rumour will come to me in the Underworld.


Act IV, Scene iii: Aeneas, Ilioneus

Aeneas: Has she left me thus? Has she gone away, preventing my reply by her swift flight, so as not to hear my complaint in return? Cruel woman. Oh, if (only) my grief could enter her tender ears though she be absent. Lo, one god compels Aeneas depart from Carthage, whilst another forbids it, and it is not possible for me to obey either one of these commands. You, you, Cupid, would I obey, and obey willingly, did not another greater command of Jupiter press upon me. Elisa, I would happily abandon my companions, myself, Ascanius, everything – if Jupiter were content. My departure is fated; I am not to blame.

Ilioneus: Your heart must be made of iron, Aeneas, and your mind fortified on all sides by many misfortunes – how else could you have been hard enough to bear her tears and rebuff her prayers? What are you waiting for here? Dido asks (and Dido deserves to know), why you are fleeing. Let your mind consider what it is you really want. Is it Italy you are searching for? You have been offered Carthage: a mighty empire will be yours. You will be leaving it behind, though it be powerful and no less secure. Has a new wife be promised you? Dido promises to make you her new husband, and king. Do you not realise that the gods envy the Trojans their kingdom in Italy? and that whatever blessing this star has given us is borne with ill-will? While you are safe, remain in that place – but I fear the gods will be hostile to the Trojans. Dido makes a small demand: to offer sweet comfort to you and your Trojans.

A: It is only her miserable grief and her entreaties that stand in the way of our voyage. The Trojans did have an enemy god once, while Troy was still standing, but now the gods above have had their fill and they are more favourable. Troy reduced to ash warns that the commands of heaven are not to be ignored.

I: The Trojans came to grief as much from a broken promise as they did from spurning the power of the gods. The death of Paris71 shows the contract of hospitality is not to be ignored.

A: But Paris yielded to uncontrolled desire. I am obeying the authority of the gods at their command.

I: The crime of Paris and your own is one and the same.

A: The intention is not the same: it is the wanting to commit that defines a crime. He is called guilty who does wrong willingly. I depart against my will. I am resolved to obey the command of Jupiter. Our escape is not to be delayed by any further discussion.


Act IV Scene iv: Anna, Dido

Anna: Your highness, though I am saying more than I should, and I am giving my tongue free rein to say things you have not asked for, nevertheless listen carefully to your sister. Your Anna was dear to you once, and my concern and worry for you is undiminished. Why do you torture yourself? Why do you willingly open your grieving heart to troubles? If the offer of an empire in Libya cannot keep him here, if he rejects your entreaties, despises your love, betrays the faith you have kept, I pray let Aeneas rather reign anywhere than that illustrious Dido should have to serve under a worthless leader. Keeping him back would only be to your disadvantage.

Dido: I am losing him, and gone with him is my chastity.

A: Shameful is the woman who breaks the promise she has given, not the woman who keeps it.

D: My chastity has been compromised. It little matters whether it was his fault or mine.

A: Can there be blame for holy wedlock?

D: When vows are made in secret, what witness can know of them? What of the fact that he has denied it?

A: I am aware of Trojan loyalty, I know of Paris. But the gods of matrimony and Juno, patron of marriage, are your witnesses.

D: It is not the gods I am afraid of. Rumour terrifies me, Rumour is scarce inclined to the truth.

A: Who is going to accuse you of having compromised your chastity?

D: You ask that? He who plundered it.

A: He is an exile searching for an unknown world.

D: That is what galls me. Why do you create delays sister? Trivial is a love that can heed advice. I only ask one thing (there isn’t time to waste the day in empty talk).

A: Speak and I will gladly see to it.

D: Now the sea gleams with his fleet, and Trojans on all sides are making for the ocean in haste, leaving the shore behind. The crew spread along the rowing benches pray to the gods for a stronger wind to stretch their sails full. The oars are fitted, Aeneas urges for departure, and in his rush any delay is too long. If I, wretched woman, was strong enough to anticipate so great an evil and will be able to bear it, it remains to you to seek out the proud enemy and supplicate him. It was not I who turned Troy, the ancient jewel of powerful Asia, to ashes, nor did I dig up his father’s sad grave or scatter his ashes. Why does he not let me speak to him? Let him give this final and only gift to me, the one who loves him: that he may put off his flight and await favourable winds. I do not ask for the sweet bed of marriage, nor that he, mighty man, give up his charming Latium. I only want what is possible – time and a delay – so that I may ease my misery. Go! Go, make haste! Carry out my command, sister.

A: I shall do it without delay. I shall make my way to the ships.



O Troy, empty of faith from your first foundation, when the cunning of Laomedon cheated the gods of their reward.

Why do we complain of deceits long ago? More recent times have brought greater outrage upon us. Why look for examples from abroad? A crime closer to home has touched the shores of Carthage and we are shocked to find the deception here.

Nowhere does purity of faith remain, everywhere it is tarnished with black stains. The guest’s betrayal of his host, the Trojan man’s betrayal of a Punic girl, the husband’s betrayal of his wife, have all shown what kind of respect Troy has for a promise.

Simple honesty has left the earth and made for heaven; ungodly deceit is disguised in her clothes. O that pure virtue would come back from the stars!



Act 5, Scene i: Slave-girl messenger

Slave-girl messenger: Oh! What a disaster plagues the Queen’s mind! What a dread disease consumes her. How it lives right inside her very marrow! No peace left for her now, nor any hope of peace: she is quiet neither in the daylight nor in the dark. Instead she wanders, out of her mind, groaning, shrieking, raging, and she’s no time for anything but laments. Over and over she remembers his flight, replaying it in her mind, and thundering in words like these she lets her tongue fly:

‘Lo, I am hopeless, helpless, abandoned, what am I to do? Surely not go after my former suitors, and be laughed at? Am I, now a suppliant, to seek husbands from the Numidians? Men whom I deemed unworthy before. Or shall I pursue the Trojans’ fates as far as they will go? I supported them on my resources – but will any of the Trojans welcome me onto their proud ships? Even supposing I should wish it! Once before, Dido, you came to know of their treacherous deceits… Nay, die as you deserve, and flee these deep-planted sorrows with the sword.’ With words just like these she drags out the night and the day.

And now she has ordered the building of a pyre and funeral stand: his baldric, his sword, the robe, the diadem, the sceptre, all the gifts from fugitive Aeneas, to be heaped up in one pile. She is preparing to soothe her mind with magic rituals. ‘For to be sure, it was an Ethiopian woman, from the land which feels the sun’s beam closest upon it, an African prophetess’ she says ‘who taught her this method for controlling love.’ We believe her, we prepare the pyre, and on that pyre we put all that she has commanded. And now, behold, she rushes forth in madness, out of the palace!



Act 5, Scene ii: Dido, Barce the nurse

Dido: My beloved Barce, whose arms often held my husband in an embrace, I swear by the gods, and on your dear life, and on this altar, that what you can see is not happening by my own will. Grief rules over me, and it tries to find a safe outlet in whatever way it can. I hope that my grief can be calmed hereafter.

Barce: If only it could be so – I am in doubt whether to believe or refute that it could be so. I pray that your madness return you to yourself, and to us, and put off all its strength.

D: Rather you take yourself off to some remote place far away and let me be left alone to my incantations.

Speak, O bard, commencing the strange chant for our rites. Move with special step wearing your rare costume – the one they say is like Medea’s.73 Mass of the silent Underworld, you voiceless race of timid shades,74 and you, deadly divinity of the squalid River Styx, abductor of your own wife,75 and triple-headed Cerberus76 opening your savage jaw wide, and night’s deep shadows, and threefold Hecate77 – who can never be invoked enough – and infinite Chaos, you shapeless mass, and the one they call triform, Diana,78 accomplice of night and arbiter of evil, be you present. Gloomy night owls and dread screech owls, and Hydra,79 whose neck, growing back again and again, wore down Hercules, and you, Python,80 foul plague of serpents, barely vanquished at the hands of a god, be you present. You who dwell in the palaces of heaven, wheresoever you have fled, be present, summoned to these sacred rites. Mountains, rivers, and winds, lakes, torrents, and valleys, seas and all herbs fresh with death-dealing flowers, come to my aid: the charm demands your handiwork. My love must be evicted. Bring your aid, bear away my grave burdens, put an end to my lamenting.

B: I pray they make an end to it. Let this restless pain cease and your mind cast off its passion, unschooled in suffering such a weight of sorrows.

D: Lo! A scream is beating at my ears, and numbness strikes my mind. I am trembling. My breast sucks in an icy fear, I shake and bristle at the horror – thus do tigresses, once bereaved, show their rage. Now the rowers spread wide their sails, plough the sea, and leave the coast of Carthage lying bare. Aeneas is escaping. Oh sacred, sacred Jupiter, never to be invoked too often, shall this foreigner mock my kingdom? Shall he thus depart? Why isn’t a choice band from all the city making chase and smashing his wicked ships, tearing his best men to pieces? Go! what are you standing there for? Away with delay, bring fire, fly at full speed, drive the oars.
But to what end do I speak in my madness? Where am I? What rage presses upon me and overturns my heart? Dido, O Dido, to be pitied for your harsh lot! Now your fate has caught up with you; it should have done so long ago. So much for his pious pledge! So much for his loyalty, the man who is supposed to have carried with him the gods of his homeland, and stooped to lift his aged father onto his thankless shoulders. I was slow to act — could I not have seized upon his body and cut it into a hundred pieces, and plunged his hateful head beneath the surging sea? Could I not have ripped apart his companions with my own bare hands and served Ascanius up as a novel tit-bit for his father’s table? But the outcome of a war would have been doubtful. But what of that? For, on the point of dying, would I have had any fear? I would have filled his camp with my torches, and the forum, and in these flames the father, the son, the entire family, would have perished. And at the last I would have thrown my own body on top of the pile.

B: Calm your torrid impulse. Hold back your cries. Let the traitor go where he pleases. Let him depart from Carthage. Is this the power of your magic, that you lose your mind all the worse? Stop, I beg of you, and rein in your wrath.

D: Let it be done. Summon my sister Anna to the sacred rites. Tell her to wash her body and set the cattle before me. And what is more, she should decorate her hair with a chaplet.81 You, accompany her when she comes. Now I shall offer up my prayers to the god of the Underworld.

B: Anna will obey your commands, majesty.

D: And Barce will be at hand. (Exit Barce.)

D: Have I spoken the rites of Jupiter? Rites which can never be reversed: for when earth, sea, and sky shall hear them, the world below shall hear them too, and everything everywhere will be seized with hatred for my crime. O Sun, golden Titan, drawn across your steep curve, and the accomplice in my mission – Juno – both wife and sister to your husband Jove, and Hecate invoked with howling at the crossroads, and untamed Eumenides, and you gods above, avengers of pious Elisa, hear my prayer. As I die, I pour out my last prayers.

Hear my prayer:

Nail him roughly to a cliff, and let him dangle, dripping blood into the ocean; may it flow with gore before he plants his foot on the shore he’s been searching for, our Trojan ‘guest’. But if it is fate and Jupiter’s will that the abominable man reach land as he hopes, then, harassed by war, banished from his homeland, even plucked from your embrace, Ascanius, let him seek foreign aid in his despair and see the death and slaughter of his own people. And when he has won peace again, let him be shed from his kingdom, and from life, to lie a headless trunk which the cold sands vomits up and leaves unburied. Let all things refuse him a tomb.

Elisa, Elisa speaks, near dissolved into soft air and drawing on the last of her breath.

Then, Punic offspring, long nourished as my charge, harass the future descendants of Aeneas’ race of Trojans, let there be no end to your wars and hatred. These are the offerings to the dead I pray you dedicate for my funeral and then for my ashes, and let there be no love or treaty between our peoples. Let these bones spawn an avenger who will extinguish the Trojan race by fire and sword; I call upon wave to be set against wave, and weapons against weapons, and shore to fight with shore. Let our descendants forever attack theirs, one grandson against another, and I command they attack forever.

Ah, my collection of trophies, a source of pleasure in former days – so long as fate held off adverse turns of fortune – receive my soul, weary from grieving troubles, and set me free from these cares. I have lived out, I have spent the time granted me by my fate, and now my ghost shall escape down to the lower world.

This high city was founded by me, and the glory of its walls outshone the others. I avenged my husband by wreaking punishment on my brother. Ah! if those cursed ships steered by a Trojan hand had never come to rest on our shores, how happy I would be now, so happy. And am I then to die unavenged? But yet, it is thus that I die? So, it pleases me to go down to the pallid shades. May the Trojan observe this fire with his godless eyes, and carry away with him the omen of a Punic woman slain.


Act V, Scene iii: Anna, Barce, slave-girls to perform the sacred rites

Barce: Alas what deed do my eyes behold? The queen is dying. She has wickedly thrown herself upon a sword.

Anna: She’s dying?

B: She lies drained of blood.

A: O pitiable fates, my wretched sister! Her miserable rites for the gods! Go, go, spread the news amongst the people, let Rumour meander wherever she will. Let the halls of the palace echo to the sound of cries mourning the queen’s death, let howling fill all the city. Let houses roar with wailing and the sky with our laments. O Dido, jewel of Phoenicia, Dido my sister. Think of your sister. All the time you were entreating me with lies? Is this what the pyre was for? And the altars, turf, torches, flames? I am abandoned! I don’t know what to say first, what to cry out at. How were you able to do without your companion? Could you not have shared your fate? How much better if the same hour and the same grief had slain us two sisters! Did I therefore build your funeral pyre myself, with my own hands?! Did I beseech the gods with my prayers for you only to be thus absent? I have destroyed you, sister, and our people, and our city, and myself, and our native ancestors. Give me, give me water: I will carefully wash the wound. And with my lips I will gather any last breath there may be.

B: O empty hopes, all my labour has been in vain. Lo! she lifts her head and lets it fall. Leaning on her elbow, she sinks back down. She moves her eyes to and fro, now looking up, now closing them again as they roll. Where be her former courage? Where her dignity of old? Where is the city’s ancient honour now? It is banished, and there is no hope of its return. Dido gave it and Dido has taken it away. See how I am dissolving into weeping for you, I shall never cease from crying. It is a grief that does not find any better way to appease; it only brings the same tears again and again.

A: If only Juno had compassion, she who was director of this marriage, she would allow her now to perish in a death that’s good and swift. Oh gods above, let her perish quickly!


Act V, Scene iv: Iris,82 Anna

Iris: I, daughter of Thaumas, am come, as servant to the Queen of the Gods. The command is given to fulfil your fate, and halt the delay to your impending death. Behold, as instructed, I consecrate this lock of hair, now sacred to Pluto, and free you from your body. [Exit Iris]

Anna: Elisa, if by chance I do not call you in vain: a final farewell, sister, farewell for eternity. Anna addresses a dead woman! Dido, farewell, never to return. Whither should I take my tears, whither my laments? The gods are tired of them, and I myself shall grow ashamed. And it is scarce enough to be numb with constant tears. The funeral rites of my sister demand something more: you gods of the hearth, our miseried household gods, shall I embrace you now that I am bereft of my companion? Or, abandoned as I am, shall I search for marriage? Can I enjoy the sight of heaven and the light, thus orphaned? All things are horrible, hateful, damnable! Do you hesitate, Anna? Hurry, and make your offerings to the dead — no small offerings at that – let your own life be sacrificed. Crush your throat with the belt – see, your sister has already probed her guts with the sword and ruptured her entrails. Go, run, follow her! Let this be a gift to please she who directed me to it. This gift is the best service I can render.



What fates harass the Punic race? What disaster hounds it? What mighty catastrophe is this! Our city’s glory is destroyed, and all our royal family are grown to hate their life. Dido kills Anna, the Trojan deserter Dido. Each of them has brought by their sudden death a day of mourning for the mothers of Carthage.

Oh, damnable ship which brought the Trojan stranger to these shores! Yet more savage the ship which returned the traitor back to the sea. More worthy of all our curses is that false faith which dissolved the royal marriage.

The Punic race once feared the Gaetulians,83 thinking them then the greatest evil. Now a greater ordeal has supplanted this fear. Salvation that is hopeless is utterly afraid of nothing.

Thus destiny has willed it; thus some god, whoever he was, commanded. The ruin of nations stands fixed, written in letters of adamant.

What remaining time grief has ordained for us, we shall bestow upon our dead queen. Our lament will be constant; no day shall ever see our cheeks dry of tears.



Now our tale of Dido has reached its end. Would that it were the ending we’d hoped for! Yet it went the only way it could. And let the shortness of time excuse both the script and its performance.

Now let each spectator consider what moral he may draw from this play:

Love forbids us trust an ancient foe. Though an enemy may favour, he is always planning schemes; though Juno may be kind to the Trojans, she is actually preparing plots against them. It is royal to give trust and help to the wretched, and great hospitality ennobles a distinguished house. But whosoever remains bound by an obligation is diminished in status, and ceases to be free. Though he may be ever so grateful, he will be considered an ingrate. The storm, formed by Juno with evil intent, demonstrates what faith should be placed henceforth in Prometheuses,84 and that no one can imitate the thunderbolt of Jove. It is right to obey the admonitions of the gods, and any delay, even if it be brief, is too much. Women are soft and can be moved by tears, but a man staying strong ought to barricade his ears. If personal obligations are holding back the greater good, then whatever they may have been, they hold nobody bound. Foreign marriages rarely turn out well; the power of Love is great; the heavier passion tends to seize hold of women, the lighter one kindles the men. But our era has witnessed few Didos. I think women have grown wiser: I doubt any would be about to die for a difficult love affair.

But, Dido, one woman excels you by far: our virgin queen. How many reversals of fortune has she borne with pious faith! What kingdoms has she founded! What generous aid does she offer to strangers! Yet she has not deigned to take any Sychaeus for a husband, and may no Aeneas manipulate her mind. But look, here is a greater guest than Aeneas. To this man, Dido, your words would more correctly apply:

‘Who is this new guest who has just entered our home? What a face he bears! How strong he looks with his broad chest, and his famous bravery at arms! I believe he was born of the gods, nor is this an empty belief.’       

Phoenician Elisa lies dead from a pitiful fate. But our Eliza lives, and, pray, may she live on, so that while she reigns she may long see such guests: let the queens of Sheba and great dukes hail her on all sides. You should offer your applause for this Elisa.



  1. Mopsus: This line references Gager’s lost play “Rivales,” a bawdy comedy apparently featuring a character known as Mopsus. The character may bear some resemblance to the Mopsus who features in Virgil’s “Eclogues,” a country poet and piper. Back to text

  2. Buskin: In ancient Greece, actors of Athenian tragedy wore “buskins,” a type of boot with a laced upper section and thick soles intended to increase the wearer’s height. Comic actors, by contrast, wore “socks” or shoes with much thinner soles. Back to text

  3. Dido: The founder and first Queen of Carthage in modern-day Tunisia. Virgil tells Dido’s story in books 1–4 of the “Aeneid.” Back to text

  4. Aeneas: The Trojan hero Aeneas is the protagonist of Virgil’s “Aeneid.” After the fall of Troy, he flees towards Italy but is shipwrecked at Carthage due to a storm sent by the goddess Juno who has a longstanding resentment against the Trojan people. There he begins the affair with Dido which forms the subject of the play. Aeneas was credited by Virgil and most other Romans with being the founder of the Roman people, having eventually settled in the area that would become Rome. Back to text

  5. Juno: Jupiter’s sister and wife, the queen of the gods, and an enemy to the Trojans and Aeneas. Back to text

  6. Venus: Venus, the goddess of love, prosperity, and victory, is Aeneas’ mother and Jupiter’s daughter. Venus is supportive of the Trojans and of Aeneas. Back to text

  7. Double-tongued Phoenicians: Carthage was the capital of the Phoenician civilization. The Carthaginians and Romans fought a series wars, the Punic wars, from 264–146 BC. The destruction of their Carthaginian rivals allowed Rome to become the dominant Mediterranean power. Back to text

  8. Cupid: Cupid, the god of desire and romantic love, is Aeneas’ half-brother by Venus. Back to text

  9. Venus has Cupid disguise himself as Ascanius, the son of Aeneas and his first wife Creusa. This arouses the motherly affection of Dido and begins the process of her falling in love with Aeneas. Back to text

  10. Elisa: Another name for Dido. Back to text

  11. Anna: Dido’s sister. Back to text

  12. Jupiter: The king of the gods, the brother and husband of Juno, and also the god of the heavens. Back to text

  13. Act I Scene i: Based on “Aeneid” book 1, 782–828. Gager places the events in Act I Scene i before the events of Act I Scene iii, though the events in Scene iii occur prior to those of Scene i in Virgil’s “Aeneid,” as described in book 1, 596ff. Back to text

  14. for you know how the gods oppose my other son, your brother: Juno resents Aeneas partly because of her hatred for all Trojans and partly because his descendants will destroy Carthage, a city she loves. Back to text

  15. My son, born of Anchises, felt the wrath of bloody Minerva when he tried to carry his native gods through the burning houses and fires of Troy, forced to seek a foreign land for his home: While they fled Troy, Aeneas carried with him his father Anchises and their family gods. Meanwhile Minerva protects the Greeks as they destroy the city. Back to text

  16. Aeolus: God of the wind (“Aeneid” book 1, 61–76). Back to text

  17. and any house of hospitality over which Juno presides must be held suspect: Juno is, among other things, the goddess of the city of Carthage. Back to text

  18. strange new flames: Flames of desire. Back to text

  19. Ascanius: Aeneas’ young son from his first marriage to Creusa. Back to text

  20. pyres of Troy: Troy was sacked and then burned when the Greeks took it in the Trojan war. Back to text

  21. Queen of Heaven: Juno, whose enmity with Aeneas and Troy more generally would lead her to oppose such a plan. Back to text

  22. Hanno: Maharbal: Another character of Gager’s invention, the name is probably derived from Hannibal’s Cavalry Commander during the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome. Back to text

  23. exiled from one kingdom: Dido was the daughter of the king of Tyre who had appointed her and her brother Pygmalion as joint heirs. However, when her father died and the people refused to accept this arrangement, Dido was forced to flee by those who wanted for Pygmalion alone to be king. Back to text

  24. Act 1 Scene iii: Based on “Aeneid” book 625–693. Back to text

  25. Ilioneus: A companion of Aeneas. The eldest of the surviving Trojans according to Virgil, and the first to speak to Dido when she encounters the Trojans. Back to text

  26. Orion: It is mentioned in passing in the “Aeneid” that the demi-god Orion was partly responsible for the storm which blew Aeneas and the Trojans off-course. Back to text

  27. Acestes: King of Segesta in Sicily.Back to text

  28. Latium: The name for the region in which Rome would come to be founded.Back to text

  29. Achates: A close friend of Aeneas who accompanies him throughout the events related in the “Aeneid.” Back to text

  30. When Teucer came to Sidon, he brought word of you: Tyre and Sidon were two principal cities of Phoenicia, where Dido’s father was King. Teucer fought on the side of the Greeks during the Trojan war. Back to text

  31. Chorus: The chorus in tragedies may or may not be audible to the individual characters in the play. Regardless, it generally serves as a poetic commentary on the action thus far. Back to text

  32. Act 2 Scene i: This scene is based on “Aeneid” book 1, 828–880. Back to text

  33. Bacchus: Roman god of wine. Back to text

  34. Hector: Son of King Priam of Troy, and the greatest Trojan warrior. He was killed by Achilles (Homer, Iliad book 22). Back to text

  35. Priam: King of Troy. Back to text

  36. Sinon: A Greek who pretended to have defected to the Trojan side, only in order to persuade the Trojans to bring the Trojan horse within the city walls. The Trojan horse, a hollowed-out wooden structure, contained a handful of Greek soldiers who enabled the rest of the Greeks to invade and destroy Troy. Back to text

  37. Iopas: A bard at the court of Dido who also appears in the “Aeneid”. Back to text

  38. Mars: God of war, son of Jupiter and Juno, and Venus’ lover. Back to text

  39. Apollo: God of music, light, poetry, and prophecy, and the son of Jupiter. Back to text

  40. Cynthia: Another name for Diana, Roman goddess of the moon. Back to text

  41. Death of Troilus: Troilus was counted as a son by King Priam although he was possibly fathered by the god Apollo. He is killed by Hector while he is still a boy, during the Trojan War. Back to text

  42. Helenus: Helenus is another of Priam’s sons. He possesses the power of prophecy. Unfortunately, when captured by the Greeks he reveals to them what they need to do in order to take Troy. Back to text

  43. Pyrrhus: The son of Achilles who kills Priam and his remaining sons. Back to text

  44. Rhesus: In the Iliad, Rhesus is the King of Thrace who fights on the side of the Trojans. His horses are stolen by Diomedes and Odysseus during a raid on Troy. Back to text

  45. Ilus: The founder of Troy, then known as Ilium. Back to text

  46. Laomedon: Son of Ilus. Back to text

  47. This Minerva herself determined, in her fury at the judgement of Paris on the day she was beaten in the beauty contest: The original feud between Juno and the Trojans is supposed to have started when the Trojan Paris was judging a beauty contest between three goddesses, Juno, Venus, and Minerva. Venus won, to Juno’s and Minerva’s consternation. Back to text

  48. Who devised such a piece of villainy?: There seems to be a gap in the explanation here–Ulysses carried off the statue of Minerva by means of the city’s underground sewers, thus sealing the fate of Troy. Back to text

  49. Ulysses: The Latin name for Odysseus, a hero of Homer’s Greek epic the Iliad and the protagonist in the Odyssey. Latin sources (such as the “Aeneid”) portray him less flatteringly, as a deceiver and a thief. Back to text

  50. Alcmenus: Or Alcmene, Hercules’ mother. Back to text

  51. about to burn on his famous pyre: Having been poisoned, Hercules famously choose to self-immolate on a funeral pyre he built for himself.Back to text

  52. Philoctetes: The prophet Helenus revealed to the Greeks that one condition of their taking Troy was obtaining the bow and arrow of Hercules. This bow and arrow had been presented to Philoctetes by Hercules just before he died. Back to text

  53. Iarbas: One of Dido’s suitors who is in love with her (“Aeneid” book 4, 47). Back to text

  54. Punic: Another name for the Carthaginians. Back to text

  55. Let Theseus’ example teach you – his injury to Ariadne, Jason’s to Medea: Theseus abandoned Ariadne, and Jason abandoned Medea. Back to text

  56. Act II Scene v: This scene is based on “Aeneid” book 4, 8–91. Back to text

  57. first love cheated me with the death of my husband: Dido’s first husband, who Virgil calls Sychaeus, was murdered by her brother Pygmalion while she was still in her home country. It was for this reason that she fled. Back to text

  58. victims: Animal sacrifices. Back to text

  59. Ceres: Goddess of agriculture. Back to text

  60. Sychaeus: Dido’s murdered first husband. Back to text

  61. Megaera: One of the Furies, who punishes marital infidelity. Back to text

  62. Act III, Scene ii: Act III Scenes ii and iii are based on “Aeneid” book 4, 112–218. Back to text

  63. Act III, Scene iv: Act III Scenes iv and v are based on “Aeneid” book 4, 274–345. Back to text

  64. Mercury: Swift messenger god who also ushers souls into the Underworld. Back to text

  65. Act III Chorus: Based on “Aeneid” book 4, 219–244. Back to text

  66. Caeus and Enceladus: Two of the Giants who once battled against the Olympian gods. Back to text

  67. Act IV, Scene i: Act IV Scenes i–ii are based on “Aeneid” book 4, 366–486. Back to text

  68. Erebus: Where the soul first goes upon death. Back to text

  69. Dardanus: According to Virgil, Italy was Dardanus’ first home. Back to text

  70. Procrustes: A demi-god and a bandit. Procrustes would invite people to spend the night on his bed, either stretching them or cutting them down to match its size exactly. Back to text

  71. Death of Paris: After having been mortally wounded by Philoctetes, Helen sought healing for Paris from the nymph Oenone. Paris had earlier spurned Oenone, however, and she refused, leading to his death. Back to text

  72. ACT FIVE: Largely based on “Aeneid” book 4, 514–876. Back to text

  73. Move with special step wearing your rare costume – the one they say is like Medea’s: When Jason abandoned Medea for Glauce, Medea sent Glauce a poisoned dress, resulting in her death. Dido likely sees a parallel between this story and her own, and wishes in some way to take revenge. Back to text

  74. shades: The spirits of the dead. Back to text

  75. you, deadly divinity of the squalid River Styx, abductor of your own wife: Hades, the god of the underworld, obtained his wife Persephone by abducting her at the behest of Zeus. Back to text

  76. Cerberus: The multi-headed dog who guards the underworld. Back to text

  77. Hecate: Triple-form goddess of sorcery and witchcraft. Back to text

  78. Diana: Virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt, Apollo’s sister. Back to text

  79. Hydra: Serpent monster with many heads who guards one of the entrances to the underworld. Back to text

  80. Python: Serpent who lived at the center of the earth, before the god Apollo killed it. Back to text

  81. Chaplet: A garland or wreath. Back to text

  82. Iris: A messenger of the gods. A rainbow personified. Back to text

  83. Gaetulians: The Berbers of North Africa. Back to text

  84. Prometheuses: Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus and brought it to humankind, for which he is eternally punished. Anyone who attempts to distract one from serving the gods is like Prometheus and not to be trusted. Back to text