David Bruce: Christopher Marlowe’s DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE: A Retelling — Act 5, Scene 1 (Conclusion)

— 5.1 —

Aeneas drew on a piece of paper the layout of Carthage. With him were Achates, Cloanthus, Ilioneus, and Sergestus.

“Triumph, my mates,” Aeneas said. “Our travels are at an end. Here Aeneas will build a statelier Troy than that which grim Atrides — Agamemnon, the son of Atreus — overthrew.

“Carthage shall boast petty walls no more, for I will grace them with a fairer frame and clad her in a crystal livery wherein the day may forevermore delight. I will build higher walls made of glittering crystals.

“From golden India I will fetch the Ganges River, whose wealthy streams may wait upon the towers of Carthage and with three moats entrench her round about.

“The sun shall bring rich odors from Egypt. The sun’s burning beams, like laboring bees that load their thighs with honey from Hybla, shall here unburden their exhaled sweet scents and plant our pleasant suburbs with their fumes. Yes, the sun shall inhale sweet scents from Egypt and then exhale them here in Carthage.”

“What length or width shall this brave town contain?” Achates asked.

“Not past four thousand paces square at the most,” Aeneas said.

“But what shall it be called?” Ilioneus asked. “Troy, as before?”

“I haven’t decided on a name yet,” Aeneas replied.

“Let it be called Aenea, after your name,” Cloanthus said.

“Rather, call it Ascania, after your little son,” Sergestus said.

“No, I will have it called Anchisaeon,” Aeneas said, “after the name of my old father: Anchises.”

Hermes arrived with the real Ascanius.

“Aeneas, wait!” Hermes said. “Jove’s herald tells you to wait.”

Jupiter did not want Aeneas to build the walls of Carthage; Aeneas’ destiny was different.

“Whom do I see?” Aeneas said. “Jove’s winged messenger? Welcome to Carthage, this newly erected town.”

Both Aeneas and Hermes were related: Both Aeneas and Hermes could trace their ancestry back to Jupiter.

“Why, kinsman,” Hermes said, “do you stand building cities here and beautifying the empire of this Queen Dido, while Italy is clean out of your mind? You are too, too forgetful of your own affairs. Why will you so betray your son’s good destiny?”

Not only was Aeneas ignoring his own destiny in Italy, but he also was ignoring his son’s destiny in Italy.

Hermes continued, “Jupiter, the King of gods, sent me from highest heaven to sound this angry message in your ears: Vain man, what monarchy do you expect to have here, and with what thought do you sleep on the shore of Libya? If you have forsaken all thought of and you despise the praise of such undertakings, yet think upon Ascanius’ prophecy, and young Iulus’ more than a thousand years of empire.”

Another name for Ascanius was Iulus, from which the name Julius, as in Julius Caesar, derived. Ascanius was destined to found the town of Alba Longa in Italy, and from him would descend many Kings. Romulus and Remus would then found the city of Rome, and the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire (the eastern half of the Roman Empire) would last more than a thousand years.

Hermes continued, “I have brought Ascanius from the Idalian groves where he slept, and I carried young Cupid to the island of Cyprus.”

Aeneas immediately knew, if he had not known earlier, what had happened: “This was my mother who beguiled the Queen of Carthage and made me mis-take my half-brother, Cupid, for my son. It is no marvel, Dido, that you are in love with me because daily you dandled Cupid in your arms.”

This is an additional reason for Aeneas to leave Queen Dido and Carthage and go to Italy. Dido’s love for him is not real love: Venus and Cupid made her love Aeneas. Dido had no choice: She did not fall in love of her own free will.

“Welcome, sweet child,” Aeneas said to his son. “Where have you been this long while?”

“Eating sweets with Queen Dido’s maid,” Ascanius replied, “who ever since has lulled me in her arms.”

Apparently, Hermes went to the nurse’s house and substituted Ascanius for Cupid, flew Cupid to Cyprus, and then returned to take Ascanius to Aeneas.

“Sergestus, bear Ascanius to our ships,” Aeneas ordered, “lest Dido, spying him, keep him for a hostage.”

Sergestus exited with Ascanius.

Hermes said, “Do you spend your time thinking about this little boy, and do not think about Jove’s order I bring you? I tell you that you must sail immediately to Italy, or else endure the wrath of frowning Jove.”

Hermes exited.

Aeneas asked, “How can I set sail into the raging deep, when I have no sails or tackling for my ships? Would the gods have me, like Deucalion, float up and down wherever the billows drive?”

When Jupiter decided to cause a great flood, he allowed Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, to survive on an ark Deucalion built.

Aeneas continued, “Although Dido repaired my fleet and gave me ships, yet she has taken away my oars and masts, and left me neither sail nor rudder on board.”

Iarbas arrived and asked, “How are you now, Aeneas? Sad? What is the meaning of your sad mood?”

“Iarbas, I am entirely beside myself,” Aeneas said. “Jove has heaped upon me such a desperate charge, which neither skill nor reason may achieve, nor can I devise by what means to contrive to carry out what Jove has ordered me to do.”

“What have you been ordered to do, may I ask?” Iarbus said. “May I persuade you to tell me?”

“Jove orders me to speedily sail to Italy,” Aeneas said, “but I lack both rigging for my fleet and equipment for my men.”

“If that is all, then cheer up your drooping looks, for I will furnish you with such supplies,” Iarbus said. “Let some of your followers go with me, and they shall have whatsoever things you need.”

Iarbus was happy to help Aeneas, his rival for Dido’s love, leave Carthage and sail to Italy.

“Thanks, good Iarbas, for your friendly aid,” Aeneas said. “Achates and the rest shall wait on you and gather the equipment, while I rest thankful for this courtesy.”

Iarbas and Aeneas’ companions exited.

Aeneas said to himself, “Now I will hasten to the Lavinian shore in Italy and raise a new foundation to old Troy. But let the gods witness, and let heaven and earth witness, how loath I am to leave this Libyan territory, but I must because immortal Jupiter commands me to.”

Dido, accompanied by attendants, walked over to Aeneas.

She said to herself, “I fear I saw Aeneas’ little son led by Achates to the Trojan fleet. If it is so, his father means to flee from Carthage to Italy. But here he is. Now, Dido, use your intelligence in talking to Aeneas.”

She wanted to persuade him to stay in Carthage.

Dido said out loud, “Aeneas, why do your men go on board the ships? Why are your ships newly rigged? For what purpose, launched from the haven, do the ships float in the calm water? Pardon me, though I ask you. Love makes me ask.”

“Oh, pardon me if I tell you why,” Aeneas said. “Aeneas will not lie to his dear love: I must go from here. This day, when I was laying a platform for these walls, swift Mercury, sent from Jove, his father, appeared to me, and in his father’s name rebuked me bitterly for lingering here, neglecting Italy.”

“But yet Aeneas will not leave his love,” Dido said.

“I am commanded by immortal Jove to leave this town and journey to Italy, and therefore I must obey,” Aeneas said.

“These words don’t come from Aeneas’ heart,” Dido said.

“Not from my heart, for I can hardly go,” Aeneas said. “Leaving you is difficult, and yet I may not stay. Dido, farewell.”

“‘Farewell?’ Is this the amends for Dido’s love?” Dido said. “Are Trojans accustomed to leave their lovers like that? Dido may fare well, as long as Aeneas stays. I will die if my Aeneas says farewell.”

“Then let me go and never say farewell,” Aeneas said.

“‘Let me go’! ‘Farewell’! ‘I must leave’! These words are poison to poor Dido’s soul,” Dido said. “Oh, speak like my Aeneas, like my love. Why do you look toward the sea? The time has been when Dido’s beauty chained your eyes to her. Am I less beautiful than when you first saw me? Oh, if I am not, Aeneas, then it is out of grief for you. Say that you will stay in Carthage with your Queen, and Dido’s beauty will return again.

“Aeneas, say how you can take your leave. Will you kiss Dido?”

She kissed him.

Dido continued, “Oh, your lips have sworn to stay with Dido! Can you take her hand?”

She held his hand.

Dido continued, “Your hand and mine have plighted mutual faith.

“Therefore, unkind Aeneas, must you say, ‘Then let me go, and never say farewell’?”

“Oh, Queen of Carthage, even if you were ugly and black,” Aeneas said, “Aeneas could not choose but hold you dear.”

This society regarded black complexions as ugly.

Aeneas continued, “Yet Aeneas must not gainsay the gods’ behest. I must obey the gods’ orders.”

“The gods?” Dido asked. “What gods are those who seek my death? In what have I offended Jupiter that he should take Aeneas from my arms? Oh, no! The gods don’t care what lovers do. It is Aeneas who calls Aeneas away from here, and woeful Dido, by these blubbered cheeks, by this right hand, and by our spousal rites, desires Aeneas to remain with her.”

She then said in Latin:

Si bene quid de te merui, fuit aut tibi quidquam

Dulce meum, miserere domus labentis, et istam,

Oro, si quis adhuc precibus locus, exue mentem.”

These are lines 317-319 from Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid.


“If you owe me anything, if anything in me

“Ever pleased you, take pity on my fallen fortunes and our fallen house [— the family we made together!]

“If prayer is still possible, I pray that you will change your mind.”

Aeneas replied in Latin:

Desine meque tuis incendere teque querelis;

Italiam non sponte sequor.”

These are lines 360-361 from Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid.


“Stop upsetting yourself, and me, with these complaints.

“I do not seek Italy of my own free will.”

Dido replied, “Have you forgotten how many neighboring Kings were up in arms because I made you my love? How the citizens of Carthage did rebel, Iarbas storm, and all the world call me a second Helen of Troy — a whore — for being entangled by a foreigner’s looks?

“As long as you would prove to be as true to me as Paris did to Helen, I would wish, as fair Troy was, that Carthage might be sacked, and I be called a second Helen.

“If I had a son by you, my grief would be less because I could see you, Aeneas, in our son’s face. Now, if you go, what can you leave behind except that which will augment rather than ease my woe?”

“In vain, my love, you spend your fainting breath,” Aeneas said. “If words could move me, I would have already been overcome by your words.”

“And won’t you be moved with Dido’s words?” Dido said. “Your mother was no goddess, perjured man, nor was Dardanus the author of your stock — he is no ancestor of yours. But instead you are sprung from the Scythian Caucasus mountain range — you are hard-hearted — and the tigers of Hyrcania nursed you when you were a baby.

“Ah, foolish Dido, to endure this long!

“Weren’t you wrecked upon this Libyan shore, and didn’t you come to me, Dido, like a peasant fisherman? Didn’t I repair your ships, make you a King, and make all your needy followers noblemen?

“Oh, you serpent that came creeping from the shore and I out of pity harbored you in my bosom, will you now slay me with your poisonous fangs and hiss at Dido for preserving you?

“Go, go, and spare not. Seek out Italy. I hope that that which love forbids me to do — destroy your fleet — the rocks and sea-gulfs will fully perform, and you shall perish in the billowing waves to which poor Dido bequeaths revenge.

“Yes, traitor, and the waves shall cast you up on shore where you and treacherous Achates first set foot.

“If that happens, I’ll give you burial and weep upon your lifeless carcasses, although neither you nor he will pity me now even a whit.

“Why do you stare at my face? If you will stay, leap into my arms. My arms are open wide. If you will not stay, turn away from me, and I’ll turn away from you, for although you have the heart to say farewell, I have not the power to stop you and keep you here.”

Aeneas exited.

“Is he gone?” Dido said to herself. “Yes, but he’ll come again. He cannot go. He loves me too, too well to treat me so. Yet he who in my sight would not relent will, being absent from my sight, continue to be obdurate.”

She engaged in wishful imagining:

“By this time he has gotten to the shore, and, see, the sailors take him by the hand, but he shrinks back, and now, remembering me, returns as quickly as he can. Welcome, welcome, my love!”

She returned to reality: “But where’s Aeneas? Ah, he’s gone, he’s gone!”

Anna entered and asked, “Why does my sister rave and cry like this?”

“Oh, Anna, my Aeneas is on board ship, and leaving me, he will sail to Italy. Once you went after him, and he came back again. Now bring him back, and you shall be a Queen, and I will live a private life with him.”

“Wicked Aeneas!” Anna said.

“Don’t call him wicked, sister. Speak well about him, and look upon him with a mermaid’s eye.”

Mermaids often admire sailors.

Dido continued, “Tell him, I never vowed at Aulis’ gulf the desolation of his native Troy, nor sent a thousand ships unto the walls, nor ever violated faith and was disloyal to him.”

Aulis is the port in Greece where the Greek ships met before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to attack and conquer Troy.

Dido continued, “Request him gently, Anna, to return. I crave only this: He will stay a tide or two, so that I may learn to bear his departure patiently. If he will depart thus suddenly, I die. Run, Anna, run. Don’t stay to answer me.”

As she left, Anna said, “I go, fair sister. May the heavens grant us good success.”

Anna exited, and the nurse entered.

“Oh, Dido, your little son — Ascanius — is gone,” the nurse said. “He slept in my bed with me last night, and in the morning I discovered that he was stolen from me. I think some fairies have tricked me.”

“Oh, cursed hag and treacherous, lying wretch,” Dido said, “you kill me with your harsh and hellish tale. You for some petty gift — some bribe — have let him go, and I am thus deprived and defrauded of my boy.”

She ordered, “Take the nurse away to prison immediately.”

She then said to the nurse, “You are a traitoress, a too keenly cruel and cursed sorceress!”

“I don’t know what you mean by treason, I don’t,” the nurse said. “I am as true as any other servant of yours.”

“Away with her,” Dido ordered. “Don’t allow her to speak.”

An attendant took the nurse away.

Dido looked up and said, “My sister is coming. I don’t like her sad looks.”

Anna entered and said, “Before I arrived at the harbor, Aeneas was already on board the ship, and, seeing me, he ordered the sailors to quickly hoist up the sails. But I cried out, ‘Aeneas, false Aeneas, wait!’ Then he began to wave his hand, which because he continued to hold it up, made me suppose he would have heard me speak.”

Anna may have been mistaken: The waving of his hand may have been part of Aeneas’ giving orders to his men.

She continued, “Then they began to drive into the ocean, which when I viewed it, I cried, ‘Aeneas, stay! Dido, fair Dido, wants Aeneas to stay!’ Yet my tears and laments could not mollify a whit his heart of hard adamant or flint.

“Then heedlessly I tore out my hair for grief, which being seen by all the sailors, although he, having turned his back on me, did not see me doing it, they began to try to persuade him to remedy my grief and stay a while to hear what I could say, but he, imprisoning himself below deck, sailed away.”

Anna may have been mistaken: The sailors may have been advising Aeneas to go below the deck.

“Oh, Anna, Anna, I will follow him,” Dido said.

“How can you go after him, when he has all your fleet?” Anna asked.

“I’ll make myself wings of wax like those of Icarus, and over his ships I will soar close to the sun, so that the wax of my wings will melt and I will fall into his arms.”

Daedalus and his son, Icarus, were imprisoned on Crete. To escape, Daedalus made wings for himself and his son from wax and feathers. He warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, but impetuous Icarus did. The wax of his wings melted, the feathers fell out, and Icarus fell into the sea and drowned.

Dido continued, “Or else I’ll make a prayer to the waves so that I may swim to him like Triton’s niece.”

Dido was mixing up mythological stories. Two Scyllas existed. The Scylla who was related to the sea-god Triton was a monster that devoured some of Ulysses’ men as he returned home from Troy. The other Scylla was the daughter of King Nisus of Megara. She fell in love with King Minos of Crete, and when he sailed away from Megara, she attempted to swim after him but drowned.

Dido continued, “Oh, Anna, fetch Arion’s harp so that I may entice a dolphin to the shore and ride upon its back to my love.”

According to legend, Arion, a skilled musician, was on a ship that pirates captured. The pirates were going to force him to commit suicide, and Arion requested the boon of playing one last song. After playing the song, he jumped into the sea, but a music-loving dolphin brought him to shore.

Dido now began imagining things:

“Look, sister, look! Lovely Aeneas’ ships! See, see, the billows heave him up to heaven, and now down fall the keels into the deep. Oh, sister, sister, take away the rocks. They’ll break his ships. Oh, Proteus, Neptune, Jove, save, save Aeneas, Dido’s dearest love. Now he has come on shore, safe without hurt. But see, Achates wants him to put to sea, and all the sailors make merry for joy. But Aeneas, remembering me, shrinks back again. See, he comes! Welcome, welcome, my love!”

“Ah, sister,” Anna said, “leave these idle fantasies. Sweet sister, stop. Remember who you are.”

“I am Dido, unless I am deceived,” Dido said. “And must I rave like this for a runaway who renounces his vows? Must I make ships for him to sail away? Nothing can bear me to him but a ship, and he has all my fleet.”

She thought, What shall I do but die in fury at this oversight? Yes, I must be the murderer of myself. No, but I am not; yet I will be very quickly.

Dido said out loud, “Anna, be glad. Now I have found a means by which to rid me of these thoughts of lunacy. Not far from here is a woman who is famous for the occult arts and daughter to the nymphs called Hesperides, who are the guardians of the golden apples. This woman wants me to sacrifice Aeneas’ enticing relics — the things he left behind.

“Go, Anna, tell my servants to bring me fire.”

Anna exited, and Iarbas entered.

Iarbus asked, “How long will Dido mourn the flight of a foreigner who has dishonored both her and Carthage? How long shall I with grief consume my days, and reap no reward for my truest love?”

Some attendants entered, carrying wood and lit torches. They put down the items and then left.

“Iarbas,” Dido said, “don’t talk about Aeneas; let him go. Work with your hands, and help me make a fire that shall consume all that this foreigner left behind, for I intend to perform a private sacrifice that will cure my mind that melts for unkind love.”

“But afterwards,” Iarbus asked, “will Dido grant me love?”

“Yes, yes, Iarbas,” Dido said. “After this is done, none in the world shall have my love but you.”

They made a fire, and Dido said, “So! Leave me now. Let none approach this place.”

Iarbas exited.

Alone, Dido said, “Now, Dido, with these relics burn yourself, and make Aeneas famous throughout the world for perjury and the slaughter of a Queen.”

She began putting Aeneas’ relics into the fire as she said, “Here let lie the sword that in the dark cave he drew and swore by to be true to me. You shall burn first; your crime is worse than his.

“Here let lie the garment that I clothed him in when first he came on shore. Perish, too.

“These letters, lines, and perjured papers all shall burn to cinders in this precious flame.”

Having put the relics in the fire, she said, “And now, you gods who guide the starry universe and order all things at your high bestowal, grant, although the traitors land in Italy, that they may be still tormented with unrest. And from my ashes let a conqueror rise who may revenge this treason to a Queen by plowing up Aeneas’ countries with the sword. Between this land and that land of his let there never be peace.”

Later ages would say that the conqueror Dido called up was Hannibal, a Carthaginian general who warred against Rome and spent many years in Italy with an army hostile to Rome.

Dido said in Latin:

Litora litoribus contraria, fluctibus undas

Imprecor, arma armis; pugnent ipsique nepotes.”


“Let your shores oppose their shores, let your waves oppose their waves, let your weapons oppose their weapons. That is my curse. Let them fight — they, and their sons’ sons, forever.”

Dido continued, “Live, false Aeneas! Truest Dido dies!”

She said in Latin:

Sic, sic juvat ire sub umbras.”


“Thus, thus I am pleased to go into the shadows.”

Dido threw herself into the flames.

Anna entered, saw what had happened, and screamed, “Oh, help, Iarbas! Dido in these flames has burnt herself. Oh, me! Unhappy me!”

Iarbas, running, entered the room and said, “Cursed Iarbas, die to extinguish the grief that tears at your inward soul. Dido, I am coming to you. Oh, me, Aeneas!”

He jumped into the fire.

Anna said, “How can my tears or cries help me now? Dido is dead, Iarbas is slain. Iarbas, my dear love! Oh, sweet Iarbas, Anna’s sole delight. What fatal destiny hates me thus, to see my sweet Iarbas slay himself? But Anna now shall honor you in death and mix her blood with yours. This shall I do, so that gods and men may pity my death and bitterly regret our ends, senseless and without life or breath.

“Now, sweet Iarbas, wait for me! I am coming to you!”

She jumped into the fire.


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.





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