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Dido, ready to kill herself with Aeneas' sword. 4534: Sacchi Andrea 1599-1661: Didon abandonnée ou Didon sur le bûcher. Musée des beaux arts, Caen.

Dido, also called Elissa, was Princess of Tyre in Phoenicia. Escaping tyranny in her country, she came to Libya where she founded Carthage, a great city which Aeneas and his comrades, who had become refugees after the sack of Troy, visited seven years after the end of the Trojan War. As Queen of Carthage, she received the Trojans exiles with hospitality, and having given Aeneas more love than he could take, felt betrayed when he left for Italy, and committed suicide.

 The broken promise of Cinyras 1

King Cinyras 1 of Cyprus has been regarded as a liar, or as the kind of man who breaks his promises; for he told the Achaeans that he would send fifty ships to support them during the Trojan War, but instead he sent only one. The reason for this, however, could have been that, at the time, Dido's father King Belus 2 was attacking Cyprus, forcing Cinyras 1 to keep all his military resources at home. When the Trojan War was over, Teucer 1, who had led the Salaminians against Troy, came to Sidon in Phoenicia (as Dido herself later recalled), seeking a new kingdom, and was helped by Belus 2 to settle in Cyprus, where he founded Cyprian Salamis. That appears to indicate that Cinyras 1 had to yield to Belus 2.

Death of Sychaeus

At that time, Princess Dido, who lived in Tyre, was married to Sychaeus, a man of great wealth and high position among the Phoenicians. But the kingdom was held, after Belus 2, by Dido's brother Pygmalion 2, a wicked tyrant, as he is described. And being also a great lover of gold, he murdered Dido's husband Sychaeus before an altar, keeping his deed secret for a long time, and cheating his sister's hopes with fictions about Sychaeus' death. But since not seldom the dead make their appearance in the dreams of the living, Sychaeus' ghost came to her wife as she slept, and revealing what had happened to him, told her where she could find a treasure, and urged her to leave the country. Dido then, after having organized for escape all those who opposed the tyrant, left the country in the ships that her friends had seized, and loaded them with gold and silver.

Dido founds Carthage

This Tyrian expedition came to the coast of Libya, where Dido purchased a site called "Bull's Hide" after the bargain by which they should get as much territory as could be enclosed with a bull's hide, and in that site Dido and her friends founded Carthage. This colonisation proved to be a fortunate enterprise as History remembers, for Carthage came to be in the course of time a great power until the city, despite its large resources, was utterly wiped out by the Romans. For Dido and her host had taken possession of that part of Libya in which nomadic life can be avoided; and so when Aeneas and his exhausted crew came to the country, they caught sight of a city that, although recently founded, was walled, had great buildings, magnificent towers, city gates, paved streets, and a citadel. And on the day of his arrival, Aeneas also noticed that a harbor basin was being dug, and the foundations for a theatre had been laid. Similarly, the Tyrians knew the meaning of civilized manners; for they lived by law, electing magistrates and parliament.

Aeneas' arrival

Yet such a land is aware of its borders, and usually dislikes intruders. That is why Zeus sent Hermes to Carthage in order to prepare the mind of Queen Dido and her subjects so that they would receive Aeneas and the Trojan refugees peacefully and with hospitality. Dido met Aeneas for the first time as she arrived to the temple of Hera where Aeneas and his comrades had come. This was a magnificent building erected in a grove at the city centre, and adorned with frescoes depicting episodes of the Trojan War, well known to Aeneas, who had participated in that war seven years earlier.

Dido's hospitality

When the queen, who throned herself under the temple porch, had given laws and ordinances, and appointed tasks, Ilioneus 3, the eldest, addressed her on behalf of the Trojans, asking her for permission to repair their vessels on the Carthaginian shore. And Dido, who had been softened by Hermes, offered protection, escorts, provisions, and even the choice to share her new kingdom on equal terms. And when the queen's generosity was apparent, Aeneas introduced himself uttering words more truthful than he imagined:

"Dido, we have not the means to repay your goodness …" (Aeneas to Dido. Virgil, Aeneid 1.601).

Those words sounded then like sweet music in Dido's ears. For he who had spoken them was, as she learned, famous Aeneas, the son of a goddess. And that is why she continued:

"… Gentlemen, do not hesitate to come under my roof." (Dido to Aeneas and his comrades. Virgil, Aeneid 1.627).

leading Aeneas into the royal palace, where a banquet was made ready. And Sychaeus' treasure must have been huge; for the purple hangings were richly embroidered, the service was of solid silver, and the vessels of gold. So when Aeneas saw all these riches, he thought the time had come for him to give the hostess gifts. So he sent one of his officers to the ships to fetch a robe of stiff golden brocade, and a veil that Helen, who had received them from her mother Leda, had brought with her from Sparta to Troy when she escaped with the seducer Paris, leaving husband and child behind. In addition to this Achaean property, Aeneas ordered to fetch other valuables, that he had succeeded in smuggling out of the ruined Troy at the end of the war, among which were precious stones, a pearl necklace and a sceptre that had been carried by a Trojan princess. And he told the officer to return with Aeneas' son Ascanius 2.

Aphrodite's tricks

It was then that Aphrodite, suspecting that Hera was behind the Carthaginian flattery, thus obstructing once more Aeneas' way to his fate in Italy, asked her son Eros to impersonate Ascanius 2 for the space of one night, and when coming with the gifts, inject into Dido the fire of love. And so, while Eros went to the palace looking like Ascanius 2, this one was drugged to sleep by Aphrodite, who put him gently to bed in a cradle of flowers in the Idalian groves in Cyprus. No wonder that at the palace everyone admired not just the gifts but the looks of the one they believed to be Ascanius 2; for a god has a radiance which seldom shows in a mortal. And Dido, they say, was moved alike by the gifts and the boy, who approaching the queen, effaced from her mind the memory of her beloved husband Sychaeus. And as the whole company drank wine from the same goblet, the queen, along with the wine, drank deeper and deeper of love.

Aeneas' tales

And since love stirs curiosity, Dido was never tired of hearing the war anecdotes that Aeneas related in a long recital which he called brief. In it, he depicted the Achaeans as wicked for having tricked them in the war with the stratagem of the WOODEN HORSE, after having failed to take the city by force. He defended Palamedes, called Diomedes 2 godless, and Odysseus he defined as a master-craftsman of crime. Then he referred the fantastic and unbelievable story of the twin snakes which just in time killed Laocoon 2, the Trojan seer who had warned the Trojans against the WOODEN HORSE. For now, Aeneas said, the Trojans concluded that Laocoon 2 had been punished by a deity for having thrown a spear at the WOODEN HORSE. These and many other tales about the Trojan War were told by Aeneas that night, and the more Dido listened the more she fell in love with the Trojan exile. For of all experiences of mankind war is one of the most impressive. And after the tales of war, came the tales of wanderings at sea, which are also touching and cause admiration, for those who experience them must use all their courage and skill in order to survive.

Anna 1 gives advice to Dido

So, when the tales were over, the queen was utterly love-sick, charmed not only by Aeneas' deeds, but also by his handsome looks and his powerful chest and shoulders. Yet she had promised herself not to let love enter her heart again, after death had cheated her with her first husband Sychaeus. This is why the day after, confiding her feelings for Aeneas to her sister Anna 1, she nevertheless said:

"He who first wedded me took with him, when he died, my right to love: let him keep it, there, in the tomb, for ever." (Dido to her sister Anna 1. Virgil, Aeneid 4.28).

But as nothing seems more natural than to yield when love comes and pleases, Anna 1 replied with the usual and often so welcome words:

"Must you go on wasting your youth in mourning and solitude, never to know the blessings of love and the delight of children?" (Anna 1 to Dido. Virgil, Aeneid 4.32).

And in case the arguments of the heart were not enough, she added others, saying that to have the Trojans as brothers in arms would be a welcome reinforcement for the city, encircled as it was by hostile nations, not to mention the menaces of Dido's brother back in Tyre. On hearing this, Dido felt how her love turned from spark to blaze; for when practical purposes seem to run in the same direction as the heart's desires, everything appears clear and reasonable, and even wild passions find in reasons a respectable abode where they may live in disguise.

City tours

This is how Dido, pierced by love, took every occasion to be with Aeneas, conducing him on city tours, showing him the land's resources, and thereby inviting him to regard the city as his home. And as men love to be listened to, she asked him to tell her the Trojan tales all over again. In such a way they spent the days in pleasant company, but the nights were still wasted in solitude. It was Hera, they say, who wishing Aeneas to stay in Carthage so that he would never found his new kingdom in Italy, provided an occasion for love, sending a deluge of rain during a hunt, and thereby making Aeneas and Dido find refuge inside the same cave. And although wishes are one thing and realities another, Dido called their union in the cave "marriage".

Public works

Now, the State knows nothing about love, and the public servants often very little; for they are mainly concerned with the construction of buildings and harbors, the defences of the realm, and all kinds of regulations and administrative issues. Yet all they do, as they see it, is for the welfare of the State. But if the head of the State were to be afire with love, indulging in negligence, then the public servants may lose their motivation and do nothing, as when they saw Dido possessed by her amorous passion towards Aeneas. And then there was what today goes under the name of "Public Opinion", which being a great lover of scandal, looks for debauchery everywhere. Stirred by Fame, who is, they say, the swiftest traveller on earth, whole cities are made to confuse fact and fiction, and to gossip endlessly with complete disregard of what is true or false. For the fun brought by Fame and her rumours is stronger than any other consideration. And powerful is also the indignation that Fame may cause. For when the Moor king Iarbas, son of Zeus-Ammon, who once had wished to marry Dido but was rejected by her, learned that now the queen of Carthage, wholly infatuated, recked nothing for appearance or reputation in her passion for Aeneas, he prayed to his father to put an end to that love story and thereby prevent Aeneas, and as he put it, his effeminate followers, to gain possession of Carthage, which he wished for himself.

Hermes visits Aeneas

Zeus, they say, heard his son's prayers, which were in agreement with his own designs, and sent Hermes to Carthage to remind Aeneas of his destiny; for he was not to stay in the Tyrian city, but instead was fated to found a new kingdom in Italy. And as Aeneas was inspecting public works, Hermes appeared to him and said:

"So now you are laying foundations for Carthage, building a beautiful city to please a woman, lost to the interests of your own realm?" (Hermes to Aeneas. Virgil, Aeneid 4.265).

Following these words Hermes reminded him of his Italian kingdom and of the future of his son Ascanius 2, and his message delivered, he broke off abruptly and vanished. It is easier for a god, whose life is sorrowless, to travel long distances and instruct a mortal, than for a mortal to carry out a decision of whatever size. For although nobody knows for certain which words Aeneas whispered in Dido's ears when they were in bed, he now felt that it would not be easy to break his engagement with the queen. And so his mind was in thousand pieces, while he twisted everything in order to find the words that could get round the queen, hoping that she should pay more attention to how he spoke than to what he said.

Aeneas confronts Dido

In the meantime, and while he tried to imagine the best way to deal with this delicate matter, Aeneas took the necessary measures to make his decision irrevocable: before informing Dido he ordered his ships to be ready, and mustered his Trojan friends on the beach prepared to fight. Aeneas, it is said, had the intention of talking to the queen before leaving, but she learned that the fleet was preparing to sail by herself, or as they say, through the works of Fame and her rumours. And when at last she found Aeneas, she reproached him:

"Unfaithful man, did you think you could … skulk from my land without one word?" (Dido to Aeneas. Virgil, Aeneid 4.305).

and she threatened:

"Our love, the vows you made me—do these not give you pause, nor even the thought of Dido meeting a painful death?" (Dido to Aeneas. Virgil, Aeneid 4.307).

and she begged:

"I implore you, and by our union of hearts, by our marriage hardly begun, if I have ever helped you at all, if anything about me pleased you, be sad for our broken home, forgo your purpose, I beg you, unless it is too late for prayers of mine!" (Dido to Aeneas. Virgil, Aeneid 4.315).

She also explained how, because of him, the Libyan tribes and the nomad chieftains hated her, how the Tyrians themselves had become hostile, and how her reputation had suffered. She recalled the threats of her brother Pygmalion 2, and those of the next-door King Iarbas. But she could neither awake in Aeneas a sense of debt, nor instinct of protection towards the woman he had loved. That is why she concluded:

"'Guest'—that is all I may call you now, who have called you husband." (Dido to Aeneas. Virgil, Aeneid 4.324).

Aeneas answered with the usual words, saying that she deserved all recognition and praise for her generosity and everything she could claim, and that he would always keep her memory alive for as long as he breathed. Yet he made clear that he had never offered her marriage, adding that his fate was to reach Italy. Aeneas also put himself, when confronting the queen, behind his son Ascanius 2, saying that he was much disturbed for the wrong he was doing to his son by staying in Carthage, thus defrauding him of his realm in the new homeland. Finally he referred to Heaven's orders, making clear that it was not his will but the gods' what made him sail away. This is what the castaway Aeneas, the defeated man from Troy, the pauper and refugee, said to the woman who had saved his lost fleet and rescued his friends from death, offering him shelter, and a share of her kingdom along with her love. So abandoning all hope Dido cursed him before leaving:

"When cold death has parted my soul from my body, my spectre will be wherever you are. You shall pay for the evil you have done me." (Dido to Aeneas. Virgil, Aeneid 4.324).

This is how this great love ended. Yet they say that while Aeneas, obeying the gods, went off to his fleet, his heart was still melting from love of her.

Dido asks for a last favor

From her high roof, they say, Dido followed the activity on the beach preceding Aeneas' departure. She then sent her sister Anna 1, who had been Aeneas' confidante, to ask from the Trojan captain a last favor: that he should not leave at once but wait for a favoring wind, giving the queen some time to learn to suffer. So Dido said:

"I ask a mere nothing—just time to give rein to despair and thus calm it. To learn from ill luck how to grieve for what I have lost, and to bear it. This last favor I beg." (Dido to Anna 1. Virgil, Aeneid 4.433).

Anna 1 conveyed to Aeneas her sister's prayers. But when fate has seized a man's mind, he often acquires a hard heart, and that is why Aeneas was unmoved by all entreaties, and adamant against all pleadings. When even this last favor was denied by him who had received and accepted her kindness, she started witnessing strange things: for she saw the holy water turn black, and the wine turn into blood, and she heard the voice of her dead husband Sychaeus calling upon her. And her sleep brought unwelcome dreams in which she saw herself as the prey of unending solitude and desertion, walking alone forever down an endless road, through an empty land. And when the queen was thus overmastered by grief, she doomed herself to death. In order to hide her resolve from Anna 1, Dido invented a story about a priestess and enchantress, telling her sister that this enchantress' spells could liberate a person's heart or inject love-pangs at will, stop the flow of rivers, send the stars to fly backwards, conjure ghosts, and many other things that those who resort to magic arts claim to be able to do. Dido then instructed her sister to build up a funeral pyre and lay on it Aeneas' arms, along with all his relics and the bed where they had lain together. And she said:

"To blot out all that reminds me of that vile man is my pleasure and what the enchantress directs." (Dido to Anna 1. Virgil, Aeneid 4.498).

Dido's death

Not suspecting that Dido was planning her own death, Anna 1 made the arrangements required of her. And on the same day the Trojans left Carthage, the queen scaled the funeral pyre and let herself fall upon Aeneas' sword. Too late came the servants and Anna 1, whom Dido duped with the tale of the enchantress. Yet Dido's agony was long, and they say that Hera, taking pity on her sufferings, sent Iris 1 to part the soul from the body. For, it is explained, as Dido was dying neither a natural death nor through the violence of others, but instead was driven by a crazed impulse, Persephone had not yet clipped the golden tress from her head. But as Iris 1 flew down from Olympus she announced:

"This offering, sacred to Hades, I take as bidden, and from your body set you free." (Iris 1 to dying Dido. Virgil, Aeneid 4.704).

With these words the goddess snipped the golden hair and Dido died. Such was the end of this queen, who escaping her country founded a great kingdom, but sacrificed everything, except her love, for Aeneas' sake. For this it has been written:

"Aeneas caused her death and lent the blade,
Dido by her own hand in dust was laid."
(Ovid, Heroides 8).

Dido's ghost

And this was what Dido herself thought. For when the fleet came to Cumae in Italy and Aeneas, led by the Sibyl, descended to the Underworld, he there met Dido, who reunited with her Tyrian husband Sychaeus, refused to talk to him. She was among those who death itself cannot cure of love's disease. There Aeneas tried once more to make her ghost understand that he had not left Carthage of his own will, but following Heaven's commands. And as if forgetting that she once had warned him, he said:

"I did not, could not imagine my going would ever bring such terrible agony on you …"

and as she began to vanish, he begged:

"Don't move away! Oh, let me see you a little longer!" (Aeneas to Dido's ghost. Virgil, Aeneid 6.463).

But she, they say, moved towards Sychaeus, who gives her equal love.

Epilogue: fate of Dido's sister

Now, when Dido was dead, Iarbas the Moor invaded the country and captured the palace. So Anna 1 sought refuge in the island of Melite, today called Malta, where she was received by King Battus 3. This king, however, could not observe the duties of hospitality to the end, as he feared Anna 1's brother Pygmalion 2 and his threat of war. So after three years, she was compelled to seek a new land of exile, and a storm brought her ship to Latium's beaches, where Aeneas, now married to Lavinia 2, offered her hospitality. As no other hope was left her, Anna 1 entered the palace and accepted to become Aeneas' guest. But that night Anna 1 saw her sister Dido, with her unkempt hair dabbled in blood, urging her, before her bed, to leave Aeneas' house. Anna 1 then threw herself out of a low window and escaped. Having come to the river Numicius, she vanished, and when Aeneas' men came looking for her, she appeared and said:

"I am a nymph of the calm Numicius. In a perennial river I hide, and Anna Perenna is my name." (Anna 1 to Aeneas' men. Ovid, Fasti 3.653).






Belus 2 & unknown


Belus 2, an Assyrian king, was also father of Thias, Pygmalion 2, and Anna 1. Thias succeeded Belus 2 as king of the Assyrians and became, according to some, father of Adonis.



Dido's first husband was a man of great status among the Phoenicians. He was killed by Pygmalion 2, but reunited with Dido in the Underworld.



Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Amyclas 1, Apollo, Atlas, Cleocharia, Creusa 3, Daphne 1, Dido, Diomede 2, Eurotas, Eurynomus 5, Gaia, Lacedaemon, Lapithus 1, Lelex 2, Orsinome, Peneus, Pleione, Sparta, Stilbe, Taygete, Zeus.

Related sections



Hyg.Fab.243; Ov.Fast.3.543ff.; Ov.Her.7; Ov.Met.13.79; Strab.17.3.15; Vir.Aen.1.299, 1.340ff., 1.620, 1.657ff., 4. passim, 6.451.