David Bruce: Christopher Marlowe’s DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE: A Retelling — Act 2, Scene 1

— 2.1 —

Aeneas, Achates, and Ascanius stood in front of a wall of a stone building in Carthage. The wall was decorated with bas-relief sculpture. The sculpture depicted the city of Troy, including its walls.

“Where am I now?” Aeneas said, looking at the depiction of Trojan walls. “These should be the walls of Carthage.”

“Why stands my sweet Aeneas thus amazed?” Achates asked.

“Oh, my Achates,” Aeneas said, “Theban Niobe, who for her sons’ deaths wept out life and breath and, dry with grief, was turned into a stone, had not such passions in her head as I.”

The mortal Niobe had several sons and several daughters, causing her to be proud and consider herself worthy of more respect than the goddess Latona, who had given birth to only one son and one daughter: Apollo and Diana. Unfortunately for Niobe, Apollo and Diana killed all of her sons and daughters.

Aeneas continued, pointing at various places in the bas-relief, “I think that town there should be Troy. Yonder is Mount Ida. There is the Xanthus’ stream. I know these things because here is Priam, King of Troy. But when I know it is not Troy, because Troy has been destroyed, then I die inside.”

Achates replied, “And sharing in this mood of yours is Achates, too. I cannot choose but fall upon my knees and kiss the hand of this bas-relief of King Priam.”

He kissed Priam’s hand and then continued, “Oh, where is Queen Hecuba?”

He pointed to the place beside King Priam and said, “Here she was accustomed to sit, but, except for air, there is nothing here. And what is this but stone?”

Aeneas said, “Yet this stone makes Aeneas weep! And I wish that my prayers (as Pygmalion’s did) could give this bas-relief of King Priam life so that under his command we might sail back to Troy and be revenged on these hardhearted Grecians who rejoice that nothing now is left of King Priam.”

Pygmalion was a sculptor who sculpted a perfect woman, with whom he fell in love. He prayed to the gods to make the sculpture live and the gods granted his request.

Aeneas engaged in wishful thinking, wishing that Priam were still alive and the Trojans could board ships and return home and get revenge on those who had conquered Troy: “Oh, Priam still exists, and this is he! Come, come aboard; pursue the hateful Greeks.”

“What does Aeneas mean?” Achates asked.

Aeneas replied, “Achates, though my eyes say this is stone, yet my mind thinks that this is Priam, and when my grieving heart sighs and says no, then it would leap out to give Priam life. Oh, I wish I were not alive at all, as long as you — Priam — might be alive! I would gladly lose my life in order to give you life.

“Achates, look! King Priam waves his hand! He is alive! Troy is not overcome and conquered!”

Achates replied, “Your mind, Aeneas, that wishes what you say were true, deludes your eyesight. Priam is indeed dead.”

Weeping, Aeneas said, “Ah, Troy has been sacked and Priam is dead, and why then should poor Aeneas be alive?”

“Sweet father, stop weeping,” Ascanius said. “This is not Priam, for if it were Priam, he would smile on me.”

Achates said, “Aeneas, look. Here come the citizens. Stop lamenting, lest they laugh at our fears.”

Cloanthus, Ilioneus, Sergestus, and others arrived.

The Trojans did not recognize each other. Cloanthus, Ilioneus, and Sergestus were now wearing rich Carthaginian clothing, while Aeneas, Achates, and Ascanius were wearing ragged, travel-stained clothing. The storm had been rough on their clothing.

Aeneas said, “Lords of this town, or whatsoever title belong to your names, out of compassion for us please tell us who inhabits this fair town, what kind of people and who governs them, for we are strangers driven on this shore and we scarcely know within what territory we are.”

“I hear Aeneas’ voice,” Ilioneus said, “but I don’t see him, for none of these men can be our general.”

 “This noble man speaks and sounds like Ilioneus, but Ilioneus doesn’t wear such robes,” Achates said.

“You are Achates, or I am deceived,” Sergestus said.

“Aeneas, see Sergestus or his ghost!” Achates said.

“He says the name of Aeneas,” Ilioneus said. “Let us kiss his feet.”

“It is our captain!” Cloanthus said. “See Ascanius!”

“Live long Aeneas and Ascanius!” Sergestus said.

“Achates, speak, for I am overjoyed,” Aeneas said.

“Oh, Ilioneus, are you still alive?” Achates asked.

“Blest be the time I see Achates’ face,” Ilioneus replied.

Overcome with emotion, Aeneas turned aside.

“Why does Aeneas turn away from his trusty friends?” Cloanthus asked.

“Sergestus, Ilioneus, and the rest,” Aeneas said, “your sight amazed me. Oh, what destinies have brought my sweet companions in so good a situation? Oh, tell me, for I long to know.”

“Lovely Aeneas, these are the walls of Carthage,” Ilioneus said, “and here Queen Dido wears the imperial crown. She for Troy’s sake has entertained us all and clad us in these wealthy robes we wear. Often has she asked us under whom we served, and when we told her, she would weep for grief, thinking the sea had swallowed up your ships.

“And now when she sees you, how she will rejoice!”

Cloanthus, Sergestus, and Ilioneus led Aeneas and the others into the building, which was Queen Dido’s palace.

Sergestus pointed and said, “See where her servants are passing through the hall, bearing a banquet. Dido is not far away.”

“Look where she comes!” Ilioneus said. “Aeneas, view her well.”

“Well may I view her, but she does not see me,” Aeneas replied.

Dido and her retinue walked over to the Trojans. Anna, her sister, was with her.

Aeneas was wrong: Dido did notice him and asked, “What stranger are you who eye me thus?”

“Formerly I was a Trojan, mighty Queen, but Troy no longer exists,” Aeneas replied. “Who then shall I say I am?”

“Renowned Dido,” Ilioneus said. “He is our generaland leader: warlike Aeneas.”

“Warlike Aeneas, and in these lowly and base robes!” Dido said.

Due to travel, travail, and the recent storm, Aeneas’ clothing was ragged.

Dido ordered an attendant, “Go fetch the garment that Sichaeus wore.”

Sichaeus was her late husband.

The attendant exited and quickly brought back the robe, which Aeneas put on.

“Brave Prince, welcome to Carthage and to me, both happy that Aeneas is our guest,” Dido said. “Sit in this chair and banquet with a Queen. Aeneas is Aeneas, even if he were clad in clothing as bad and ragged as ever Irus wore.”

Irus was a beggar who appears in Homer’s Odyssey. He begged from and ran errands for the young men who were courting Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Odysseus’ Roman name is Ulysses.

“This is no seat for one who’s comfortless,” Aeneas said. “May it please your grace to let Aeneas wait on you and serve you food, for although my birth is great, my fortune is mean — too mean to be companion to a Queen.”

“Your fortune may be greater than your birth,” Dido said. “Sit down, Aeneas, sit in Dido’s place, and if this is your son, as I suppose he is, let him sit here.”

She sat Ascanius on her lap and said, “Be merry, lovely child.”

“This place is not suitable for me,” Aeneas said. “It is too grand, pardon me.”

Aeneas’ humility irritated Dido, who said, “I’ll have it so. Aeneas, be content and don’t complain.”

Aeneas sat next to Dido.

“Madam, you shall be my mother,” Ascanius said.

His mother had died during the fall of Troy.

“And so I will, sweet child,” Dido said.

She then said to Aeneas, “Be merry, man! Here’s to your better fortune and good stars.”

“In all humility, I thank your grace,” Aeneas said.

“Remember who you are,” Dido said. “Speak like yourself. Humility belongs to common servants.”

Aeneas asked, “And who is as miserable as Aeneas is?”

“It lies in Dido’s hands to make you blest, so then be assured that you are not miserable.”

“Oh, Priam! Oh, Troy! Oh, Hecuba!” Aeneas said, mourning.

“May I ask and persuade you to discourse at large, and truly, too, about how Troy was overcome?” Dido asked. “Many tales are told of that city’s fall, and scarcely do they agree upon one point. Some say the Trojan Antenor betrayed the town. Others report that it was Sinon’s perjury that led to Troy’s fall. But all stories agree that Troy is conquered and Priam is dead. Yet how that happened, we hear no certain news.”

“A woeful tale Dido asks me to unfold,” Aeneas said, “whose memory, like pale Death’s stony mace, beats forth my senses from this troubled soul and makes Aeneas sink at Dido’s feet.”

“Does Aeneas faint to remember Troy, in whose defense he fought so valiantly?” Dido said. “Look up and speak.”

Aeneas replied, “Then speak, Aeneas, with Achilles’ tongue, and Dido and you Carthaginian peers hear me, but do so with the Myrmidons’ harsh ears, which were daily inured to broils and massacres, lest you be moved too much with my sad tale.”

Achilles and the warriors he led — the Myrmidons — were strong and tough and used to bloodshed, of which Aeneas’ story would include much.

Aeneas began his story:

“The Grecian soldiers, tired with ten years’ war, began to cry, ‘Let us go to our ships! Troy is invincible. Why do we stay here?’

“Atrides — Agamemnon, leader of the Greek soldiers — being appalled by their cries, summoned the Greek captains to his princely tent. Then the captains, looking on the scars we Trojans gave, and seeing the number of their men decreased and the remainder weak and out of heart, cried out their votes to dislodge the camp.

“And so all marched in troops to Tenedos, where when they came, Ulysses on the sand attempted with honey words to turn them back.”

Tenedos is an island. The Greek soldiers marched to the shore, from where they could see the island.

Aeneas continued:

“And as Ulysses spoke to further his intent, the winds drove huge billows to the shore, and heaven was darkened with tempestuous clouds. Then he alleged the gods would have them stay, and he prophesied Troy would be overcome.”

Ulysses claimed that the gods had sent contrary winds in order to keep the Greeks at Troy. The winds were contrary because they would not allow the Greeks to sail home.

Aeneas continued:

“For that purpose he called forth false Sinon, a man compact of craft and perjury, whose enticing tongue was made of Hermes’ pipe, to force a hundred watchful eyes to sleep.”

Hermes once played his musical pipe — a flute — to lull Argos, who had a hundred eyes, to sleep.

Aeneas continued:

“And once Epeus had made the horse, Ulysses sent lying Sinon, with sacrificing wreaths upon his head, to our unhappy town of Troy. Our Phrygian shepherds dragged Sinon, groveling in the mire of the banks of the Xanthus River, his hands bound at his back, and both his eyes turned up to heaven, like one resolved to die, within the gates of Troy and brought him to the court of Priam.”

Ulysses thought up the trick of the Trojan Horse, which Epeus built. The Trojan Horse was a huge, hollow, wooden horse that Sinon told the Trojans was dedicated to Minerva. The Greeks built the Trojan Horse and left it at Troy as they pretended to sail home, but instead of returning to Greece, they sailed behind the island of Tenedos, which hid them.

The Greeks left behind Sinon, who told the Trojans that he had escaped from being made a human sacrifice by Ulysses and the other Greeks.

Aeneas continued:

“Sinon acted in such a way that he aroused pity in King Priam of Troy. Sinon looked so remorseful and made so many seemingly forthright — but actually perjured — vows that the Greeks had treated him badly that the old King, overcome by Sinon, kissed him, embraced him, and untied his bonds. And then —

“Oh, Dido, pardon me!”

Aeneas was overcome by bad memories.

Dido said, “No, don’t stop telling your story! Tell me the rest!”

Aeneas continued:

“Oh, the enchanting words of Sinon, that base slave, made King Priam think Epeus’ pine tree horse was a sacrifice to appease the wrath of Minerva. In addition, Priam believed Sinon’s words because the Trojan Laocoon threw and broke a spear on the hollow breast of the Trojan Horse, after which two winged serpents stung him to death.”

Minerva was said to be angry because Ulysses and Diomedes had broken into Troy and had stolen a statue of her.

Aeneas continued:

“Aghast at Laocoon’s death, we were commanded immediately to draw the Trojan Horse with reverence into Troy. In this unhappy work I myself was employed. These hands did help to haul it to the gates, through which it could not enter because it was so huge.

“Oh, if it had never entered Troy, Troy would still stand today! But King Priam, impatient of delay, ordered that a wide breach be made in that fortified wall, which a thousand battering rams could never pierce, and so came in this fatal, deadly instrument, at whose accursed feet, overjoyed we banqueted until, overcome with wine, some grew ill and others soundly slept.

“Seeing this, Sinon caused the Greek spies to hasten to Tenedos and tell the military camp. Then he unlocked the Trojan Horse, and suddenly from out its entrails Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, setting his spear upon the ground, leaped forth, and after him came a thousand more Greek soldiers, in whose stern faces shined the quenchless fire that soon burnt the pride of Asia.

“By this time, the Greek army had come to the Trojan walls, and through the breach we had made they marched into the streets, where, meeting with the Greek warriors who had exited from the Trojan Horse, they cried, ‘Kill! Kill!’

“Frightened by this confused noise, I rose, and looking from a turret, I saw young infants swimming in their parents’ blood, headless carcasses piled up in heaps, half-dead virgins dragged by their golden hair and with main force flung on a ring of pikes, and old men with swords thrust through their aged sides, kneeling for mercy in front of Greek lads who with steel poleaxes dashed out their brains.

“Then I buckled on my armor and drew my sword, thinking to go down and fight, but suddenly came Hector’s ghost, with an ashy visage and bluish sulfurous eyes, his arms torn from his shoulders, and his breast furrowed with wounds, and — something that made me weep — thongs at his heels, by which Achilles’ horse drew him in triumph through the Greek camp.”

After Achilles had killed Hector in single combat, he cut holes in his feet through which he tied thongs so that he could drag Hector’s corpse behind his horse.

Aeneas continued:

“Yes, Hector’s ghost burst from the earth, crying ‘Aeneas, flee! Troy is on fire! The Greeks have conquered the town!’”

Dido said, “Oh, Hector, who does not weep when they hear your name!”

Aeneas continued:

“Despite Hector’s words, I flung myself forth, and desperate concerning my life, I ran into the thickest throngs of the enemy and with this sword sent many of their savage souls to hell.

“At last came Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, deadly and full of anger, his armor dropping blood, and on his spear the mangled head of Priam’s youngest son, and after him came his band of Myrmidons, with balls of wild-fire — incendiaries — in their murdering paws, which made the funeral flame that burnt fair Troy. All of them hemmed me about, crying, ‘This is he.’”

“Ah, how could poor Aeneas escape their hands?” Dido asked.

Aeneas continued:

“My mother, Venus, very protective of my health, conveyed me away from their malignant nets and bonds. So I escaped the furious wrath of Pyrrhus, who then ran to King Priam’s palace, and at Jove’s altar finding Priam, about whose withered neck hung Hecuba, enfolding his hand in hers, and jointly both beating their breasts and falling on the ground.

“Pyrrhus, with his sword’s point raised up at once, and with the eyes of Megaera, one of the Furies, stared in their faces, threatening a thousand deaths at every glance.

“To Pyrrhus the aged King Priam, trembling, said, ‘Achilles’ son, remember what I was, father of fifty sons, but they are slain; lord of my fortune, but my fortune’s turned; King of this city, but my Troy is on fire; and now I am not father, lord, or King. Yet who is so wretched but they still desire to live? Oh, let me live, great Neoptolemus!’”

Neoptolemus is another name for Achilles’ son, Pyrrhus.

Aeneas continued:

“Not moved at all, but smiling at Priam’s tears, this butcher, Pyrrhus, while Priam’s hands were yet held up, treading upon his breast, used his sword to cut off his hands.”

“Oh, stop, Aeneas!” Dido said. “I can bear to hear no more.”

Aeneas continued:

“At this the frantic Queen Hecuba leaped on Pyrrhus’ face, and in his eyelids hanging by the fingernails, for a little while prolonged her husband’s life. At last the soldiers pulled her by the heels and swung her howling in the empty air, which sent an echo to the wounded King Priam. Hearing the cries of his wife, he lifted up his bed-ridden limbs, and would have grappled with Achilles’ son, forgetting both his lack of strength and his loss of hands.

“Pyrrhus, feeling contempt for the aged King, whisked his sword about in the air, and the wind the sword created caused the King to fall down. Then from the navel to the throat at once Pyrrhus ripped old Priam, at whose last gasps Jove’s marble statue began to bend the brow and scowl to show his loathing of Pyrrhus for this wicked act.

“Yet Pyrrhus, undaunted, took his father’s battle flag and dipped it in the old King’s chill, cold blood, and then in triumph he ran into the streets, through which he could not pass because they were choked with slaughtered men.

“So, leaning on his sword, Pyrrhus stood stone still, viewing the fire wherewith rich Ilion — Troy — burned.

“By this time, I had gotten my father on my back, gotten this young boy who is now sitting on your lap in my arms, and, was leading fair Creusa, my beloved wife, by the hand.”

This sounds as if Aeneas had a third arm, but this is how he told the story.

Aeneas looked at Achates and said, “We met up with you, Achates, and while you with your sword made a way for us, and while we were surrounded by the Greeks, oh, there I lost my wife. If we had not fought manfully, I would not have lived to tell this tale.

“Yet manhood would not serve to achieve victory. We were forced to flee, and as we went to our ships, you know that we saw sprawling in the streets Cassandra, whom Little Ajax raped in Diana’s temple. Her cheeks were swollen with sighs, her hair was all torn, and I took her up to carry her to our ships.”

This sounds as if Aeneas were now carrying his father, his son, and Cassandra, but that is how he told the story.

Aeneas continued:

“But suddenly the Greeks followed us, and I, alas, was forced to let her lie. Then we got to our ships, and once we were aboard, from the shore Polyxena, one of Priam’s daughters, cried out, ‘Aeneas, wait! The Greeks pursue me. Stay and take me in your ship!’

“Moved by her voice, I leaped into the sea, thinking to bear her on my back aboard, for all our ships were launched into the sea, and as I swam, she, standing on the shore, was by the cruel Myrmidons surprised and captured and afterward Pyrrhus made a human sacrifice of her.”

Dido said, “I die with melting pity. Aeneas, stop.”

Dido’s sister, Anna, asked, “Oh, what became of aged Hecuba?”

Iarbas asked, “How did Aeneas get to the fleet again?”

Dido asked, “How did Helen, who caused this war, escape?”

Aeneas said, “Achates, speak. Sorrow has quite tired me.”

Achates said, “What happened to Queen Hecuba, we cannot tell. We hear they led her captive into Greece. As for Aeneas, he swam quickly back to the ship. Helena betrayed Deiphobus, who had become her lover after Alexander, aka Paris, died, and so she was reconciled to Menelaus.”

“Oh, I wish that enticing strumpet had never been born!” Dido said about Helen. “Trojan, your pity-arousing tale has made me sad. Come, let us think about some pleasing entertainment to rid me of these melancholy thoughts.”

They began to exit. As they were exiting, Venus showed up with Cupid, her son.

Venus took Ascanius, Aeneas’ son, by the sleeve, making him stay behind as the others left.

Pretending to be one of Dido’s serving women, she said to him, “Fair child, stay with me, Dido’s waiting maid. I’ll give you sugar almonds, sweet candied fruits, a silver belt, and a golden wallet.”

Pointing at Cupid, she added, “And this young Prince shall be your playfellow.”

“Are you Queen Dido’s son?” Ascanius asked.

“Yes,” Cupid lied, adding, “and my mother gave me this fine bow.” He nearly always carried a bow and a quiver of golden arrows.

“Shall I have such a quiver and a bow?” Ascanius asked.

“Dido will give to sweet Ascanius such a bow, such a quiver, and such golden shafts,” Venus said. “For Dido’s sake I now take you in my arms and stick these feathers, which are sparkling because bits of metal are embedded in them, in your hat. Eat candied fruits in my arms, and I will sing to you.”

She sang Ascanius a lullaby, and he fell asleep.

Venus said, “Now is he fast asleep, and in this grove among green bushes I’ll lay Ascanius and strew sweet-smelling violets, blushing roses, and purple hyacinth over him. These milk-white doves shall be his sentinels; if anyone seeks to hurt him, these doves will quickly fly to Venus’ fist.”

In addition to their other superpowers, the gods and goddesses are shape-shifters. Cupid also had the superpower of making people fall in love by shooting — or merely scratching — them with one of his arrows.

Venus said, “Now, Cupid, turn yourself into Ascanius’ shape and go to Dido, who instead of him will set you on her lap and play with you. Then touch her white breast with this arrowhead, so that she may dote upon Aeneas’ love, and by that means repair his broken ships, feed his soldiers, and give him wealthy gifts. He at last will depart to go to Italy, or else make his kingly throne in Carthage.”

“I will, fair mother,” Cupid said, “and I will so play my part that every touch shall wound Queen Dido’s heart.”

Cupid exited.

Venus set Ascanius down amid some bushes and said, “Sleep, my sweet grandson, in these cooling shades, free from the murmur of these running streams, the cry of beasts, the rattling of the winds, and the whisking of these leaves. All shall be still and nothing shall interrupt your quiet sleep until I return and take you away from here again.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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This is an easy-to-read retelling of Christopher’s Marlowe’s DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE. People who read this version first will find the original much easier to read and understand.




FREE eBook: davidbrucehaiku #14 (pdf)




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