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Dido (Queen of Carthage)

    In Greek and Roman sources Elissa or Dido appears as the founder and first Queen of Carthage in Tunisia She is best known from the account given by the Roman poet Virgil in his Aeneid

    Early accounts

    The person of Elissa can be traced back at least to lost writings of the historian Timaeus of Tauromenium in Sicily (c 356–260 BC) as referred to and used by later sources Timaeus dated the foundation of Carthage to 814 BC (or 813 BC) but he also placed the founding of Rome in the same year which suggests legend had been at work
    Other historians gave other dates both for the foundation of Carthage and the foundation of Rome Appian in the beginning of his Punic Wars claims that Carthage was founded by a certain Zorus and Carchedon (but Zorus looks like an alternate transliteration of the city name Tyre and Carchedon is just the Greek form of Carthage) Timaeus made his Elissa the sister of King Pygmalion of Tyre and modern scholars still put Pygmalion (Pumayyaton) on the throne at that time so Timaeus' date usually appears in modern chronologies as the normal dubious and legendary date for the founding of Carthage Yet archaelogy has yet to find any evidence of settlement on the site of Carthage before the last quarter of the 8th century BC So the whole story might be legendary or the synchronism between Elissa and Pygmalion might be legendary or archaelogists may have as yet missed important evidence for earlier settlement
    That the city is named Qart-hadasht "New City" at least indicates it was a colony (There is another Qart-hadasht in Cyprus) The name Elissa is probably a Greek rendering of Phoenician Elishat
    The only full account that has survives before Virgil's treatment is that of Virgil's contemporary Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus in his Philippic histories as rendered in a digest or eptome made by Justin two hundred years later
    According to Justin (184–6) a king of Tyre whom Justin does not name made his very beautiful daughter Elissa and son Pygmalion his joint heirs But on his death the people took Pygmalion alone as their ruler though Pygmalion was yet still a boy Elissa married Acerbas her uncle who as priest of Hercules is, Melqart was second in power to King Pygmalion Rumor truthfully told how Acerbas had much wealth secretly buried and King Pygmalion had Acerbas murdered in hopes of gaining the wealth Elissa desiring to escape Tyre pretended to wish to move into Pygmalion's palace But then Elissa ordered the attendants whom Pgymalion sent to aid in the move to throw all Acerbas' bags of gold into the sea as an offering to his spirit or so it seemed In fact the bags contained only sand Then Elissa persuaded the attendants to join her in flight to another land rather than face Pygmalion's anger when he discovered what had supposedly become of Acerbas' wealth Some senators also joined her
    The party arrived at Cyprus where the priest of Jupiter joined the expedition There the exiles also seized about 80 young women who were prostituting themselves on the shore in order to provide wives for the men in the party
    Eventually Elissa and her followers arrived in Libya where Elissa asked the local inhabitants for a small bit of land for a temporary refuge until she could continue her journeying only as much land as could be encompassed by an oxhide They agreed Elissa cut the oxhide into fine strips so that she had enough to use it to surround an entire nearby hill which was therefore aftewards named Byrsa "hide" That would become their new home Many of the locals joined the settlement and both locals and envoys from the nearby Phoenician city of Utica urged the building of a city In digging the foundations an ox's head was found indicating a city that would be wealthy but subject to others Accordingly another area of the hill was dug instead where a horse's head was found indicating that the city would be powerful in war
    But when the new city of Carthage had been established and become prosperous Hiarbas a native king of the Maxitani or Mauritani (mansucripts differ) demanded Elissa become his wife or he would make war on Carthage Elissa's envoys fearing Hiarbas told Elissa only that Hiarbas' terms for peace were that someone from Carthage must dwell permanently with him to teach Phoenician ways and they added that of course no Carthaginian would agree to dwell with such savages Elissa condemned any who would feel that way when they should indeed give their lives for the city if necessary Elissa's envoys then explained that Hiarbas had specifically requested Elissa as wife Elissa was trapped by her words But Elissa preferred to stay faithful to her first husband and after creating a ceremonial funeral pyre and sacrificing many victims to his spirit in pretense that this was a final honoring of her first husband in preparation for marriage to Hiarbas Elissa ascended the pyre announced that she would go to her husband as they desired and then slew herself with her sword After this self-sacrifice Elissa was deified and was worshipped as long as Carthage endured The foundation of Carthage occurred 72 years before the foundation of Rome
    Servius in his commentary on Virgil's Aeneid gives Sicharbas as the name of Elissa's husband in early tradition
    The oxhide story which explains the name of the hill must be of Greek origin since Byrsa means "oxhide" in Greek not in Punic The name of the hill in Punic was probably just a derivation from Semitic brt "fortified place" But that does not prevent other details in the story from being Carthaginian tradition though still not necessarily historical Michael Grant in Roman Myths (1973) claims:
    That is to say Dido-Elissa was originally a goddess

    It has been conjectured that she was first converted from a goddess into a human queen in some Greek work of the later fifth century BC

    But others conjecture that Elissa was indeed historical
    The name Dido used mostly by Latin writers seems to be a Phoenician form meaning "Wanderer" and was perhaps the name under which Elissa was most familiarly known in Carthage
    We do not know who first combined the story of Elissa with the tradition that connected Aeneas either with Rome or with earlier settlements from which Rome traced its origin
    A fragment of an epic poem by Gnaeus Naevius who died at Utica in 201 BC includes a passage which might or might not be part of a conversation between Aeneas and Dido Servius in his commentary (4682; 54) cites Varro (1st century BC) for a version in which Dido's sister Anna killed herself for love of Aeneas

    Virgil's Aeneid

    Virgil's back-references in his Aeneid generally agree with what Justin recorded Virgil names Dido's father as Belus this Belus sometimes being called Belus II by later commentators to distinguish him from Belus son of Poseidon and Libya in earlier Greek mythology If the story of Elissa/Dido has a factual basis and is synchronized properly with history then this Belus stands for Mattan I who was father of the historical Pygmalion
    Virgil (1746f) adds that the marriage between Dido/Elissa and Sychaeus as Virgil calls Dido's husband occurred while her father was still alive that Pygmalion slew Sychaeus secretly and that Sychaeus appeared in a dream to Dido in which he told the truth about her death urged her to flee the country and revealed to her where his gold was buried None of these details contradict Justin's account Indeed they clarify it and are likely enough to have been part of the tale Justin was abridging
    But Virgil very much changes the import and many details of the story when he brings Aeneas and his followers to Carthage
    (1657f) Dido and Aeneas fall in love by the management of Juno and Venus together for different reasons (4198f) When the rumour of the love affair comes to King Iarbas the Gaetulian "a son of Jupter Ammon by a raped Garamantian nymph" Iarbas prays to his father blaming Dido who has scorned marriage with him yet now takes Aeneas into the country as her lord (4222f) Jupiter dispatches Mercury to send Aeneas on his way and the pious Aeneas sadly obeys
    (4450f) Dido can no longer bear to live (4474) Dido has her sister Anna build her a pyre under the pretence of burning all that reminded her of Aeneas including weapons and clothes that Aeneas had left behind and their bridal bed (4584f) When Dido sees Aeneas' fleet leaving she curses him and his Trojans and proclaims endless hate between Carthage and the descendants of Troy (4642) Dido ascends the pyre lies again on the couch which she had shared with Aeneas and then falls on a sword that Aeneas had given her (4666) Those watching let out a cry; Anna rushes in and embraces her dying sister; Juno sends Iris from heaven to release Dido's spirit from her body (51) From their ships Aeneas and his crew see the glow of Dido's burning funeral pyre and suspect what has happened
    (6450f) During his journey in the underworld Aeneas meets Dido and tries to excuse himself but Dido does not answer him Instead she turns away from Aeneas to a grove where her former husband Sychaeus waits
    Virgil has included most of the motifs from the original: Hierbas/Jarbas who desires Dido against her will a deceitful explanation for the building of the pyre and Elissa/Dido's final suicide In both versions Elissa/Dido is loyal to her original husband in the end But whereas the earlier Elissa remained always loyal to her husband's memory Virgil's Dido dies as a tortured and repentant woman who has fallen away from that loyalty

    Later Roman tradition

    Letter 8 of Ovid's Heroides is a letter from Dido to Aeneas written just before she ascends the pyre The situation is as in Virgil's Aeneid except that Ovid's Dido is pregnant by Aeneas In Ovid's Fasti (3545f) Ovid introduced a kind of sequel involving Aeneas and Dido's sister Anna See Anna Perenna
    The Barcids the family to which Hannibal belonged claimed descent from a younger brother of Dido according to Silius Italicus in his Punica (171–7)
    The Augustan History ("Tyrrani Triginta" 27, 30) claims that Zenobia queen of Palmyra in the late 3rd century AD was descended from Cleopatra Dido and Semiramis

    Continuing tradition

    Remembrance of the story of the bull's hide and the foundation of Carthage is preserved in mathematics in connection with the Isoperimetric problem which is sometimes called Dido's Problem (and similarly the Isoperimetric theorem is sometimes called Dido's Theorem) It is sometimes stated in such discussion that Dido caused her thong to be placed as a half circle touching the sea coast at each end (which would add greatly to the perimeter) but the sources mention the thong only and say nothing about the sea
    Carthage was republican Rome's greatest rival and enemy and Virgil's Dido in part symbolises this Even though no Rome existed in her day Virgil's Dido curses the future progeny of the Trojans In Italy during the fascist Regime her figure was demonized perhaps not only as an anti-Roman figure but because she represented together at least three other unpleasant qualities: feminine virtue Semitic ethnic origin and African civilization Her name and her memory were very feared
    As an innocuous example: when Mussolini's regime named the streets of new quarters in Rome with the characters of Virgil's Aeneid only the name Dido did not appear
    In tragic compensation (in a sadly curious way) the British Royal Navy employed Dido-class cruisers against Italian objectives during the Second World War seemingly a devastating justification of fascist fears

    An alternative viewpoint

    An alternative viewpoint based on Gerhard Herm’s interpretation (Die Phönizier) supported by qualified classic sources (Virgil Ovid Silius Italicus Trebellius Pollio) and considering notorious weakness of Timaeus’ defamatory story conducts to a slightly different historiographical outline (main changes on italic followed by references):
    Dido or Elisha/Elissa was a Phoenician Queen founder of Carthage (a. 840–a 760 BC) First-born from King of Tyre her succession was struggled from the minor brother Pumayyaton/Pygmalion who murdered her husband and imposed his tyranny Probably to avoid a civil war she left Tyre with a large following starting a long voyage; main stages were Cyprus and Malta Fasti 3567f
    Landing on Libyan coasts about 814 BC she chose a place to found a new capital city for Phoenician people: Carthage She peacefully obtained the land by an ingenious agreement with the local Lord today known as "Theorem of Dido" During her widowhood she was consistently proposed by local kings; however she married again probably with a loyal Tyrian follower from the Barca family Italicus Punica 171f 2239
    Dido promoted a significant religious reform (in such way analogous to Christian one according to G. Herm) and after a long and prosperous reign she favored the formation of a Republic Aeneis 1426; After her death she was deified by her people with the name of Tanit and like impersonification of Great Goddess Astarte (Roman Juno) Aeneis 1446f Silius Italicus Punica 181f; and among others G. De Sanctis Storia dei Romani
    The great Latin writer Virgil introduced her figure in "western" culture through his "double writing" system (the first more superficial writing was intended for a national audience and viewing by Octavius Augustus while the second one deeper and hidden reflecting his personal point of view and his historical reconstruction)
    The cult of Tanit survived beyond Carthage's destruction by Romans and it was introduced to Rome itself by Emperor Septimius Severus himself born in North Africa It was extinguished completely with the later barbaric invasions Hannibal Barca was probably a direct descendant of Dido and also Queen Zenobia of Palmyra 1000 years later declared herself descendant and political heir of Dido Pollio Tyranni Triginta 271 302

    Selected bibliography

    • H. Akbar Khan "Doctissima Dido": Etymology Hospitality and the Construction of a Civilized Identity 2002
    • EB Atwood Two Alterations of Virgil in Chaucer’s Dido 1938
    • RS Conway The Place of Dido in History 1920
    • F. Della Corte La Iuno-Astarte virgiliana 1983
    • G. De Sanctis Storia dei Romani 1916
    • M. Fantar Carthage la prestigieuse cité d'Elissa 1970
    • L. Foucher Les Phéniciens à Carthage ou la geste d'Elissa 1978
    • Michael Grant Roman Myths 1973
    • M. Gras/P Rouillard/J Teixidor L'univers phénicien 1995
    • HD Gray Did Shakespeare write a tragedy of Dido? 1920
    • G. Herm Die Phönizier 1974
    • RC Ketterer The perils of Dido: sorcery and melodrama in Vergil’s Aeneid IV and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas 1992
    • RH Klausen Aeneas und die Penaten 1839
    • G. Kowalski De Didone graeca et latina 1929
    • FN Lees Dido Queen of Carthage and The Tempest 1964
    • J-Y Maleuvre Contre-Enquête sur la mort de Didon 2003
    • J-Y Maleuvre La mort de Virgile d’après Horace et Ovide 1993;
    • L. Mangiacapre Didone non è morta 1990
    • PE McLane The Death of a Queen: Spencer's Dido as Elizabeth 1954
    • O. Meltzer Geschichte der Karthager 1879
    • A. Michel Virgile et la politique impériale: un courtisan ou un philosophe? 1971
    • S. Moscati Chi furono i Fenici Identità storica e culturale di un popolo protagonista dell'antico mondo mediterraneo 1992
    • R. Neuse Book VI as Conclusion to The Faerie Queene 1968
    • A. Parry The Two Voices of Virgil's Aeneid 1963
    • GK Paster Montaigne Dido and The Tempest: “How Came That Widow In? 1984
    • B. Schmitz Ovide In Ibin: un oiseau impérial 2004;
    • E. Stampini Alcune osservazioni sulla leggenda di Enea e Didone nella letteratura romana 1893

    External links