Dido’s Culpa

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Title: Dido’s Culpa
Author: Brown, Jennifer Louise
Type: Thesis
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: Vergil’s Aeneid has enjoyed continuous popularity with readers, scholarly and otherwise, since even before its publication following the poet’s death in 19 B.C.E.1 From antiquity to the present day, the portions of Vergil’s Aeneid that tell the story of Dido have been the most frequently read.2 Despite prolonged popular and scholarly attention, fundamental questions remain about the narrative, on which there is not yet consensus among scholars. As Dido dominates this narrative far more than Aeneas himself, debate is most frequently concentrated on her. The most significant question, from which many others stem, is the nature of Dido’s culpa (“fault”). To elaborate, what, if anything, does Dido do wrong? Does she, in some way, deserve her fate? Is Dido an innocent victim or a partner in her own destruction? Of course these questions lead quickly to other questions: Was it wrong for Dido to seek to remarry after her husband’s death? Were Dido and Aeneas married? What were Roman attitudes toward widowhood, marriage, and sexuality? Did Aeneas play a culpable role in Dido’s downfall? Is there any truth to Dido’s claim that Aeneas is faithless and untrustworthy? If Dido is rightly viewed as a sympathetic character, how does this reflect upon Aeneas, given his desertion of her? A more thorough analysis is required to penetrate the layers of ambiguity and nuance in Dido’s characterization, which may very well be the key to understanding the entire poem. In order to assess Dido’s responsibility for her own fate, it is essential to examine the recurring theme of Dido’s pudor (which, in this context, means her adherence to prevailing sexual mores). Given the importance of questions of marriage – Dido’s commitment to remain unmarried following her first husband’s death, her claim that she and Aeneas were married and Aeneas’ refutation of this claim, Dido’s abandonment by Aeneas and her decision to commit suicide following Aeneas’ departure – we must start with a discussion of the Roman understanding of marriage from social and legal perspectives. As a widow, Dido is preoccupied with the archaic Roman concept of the univira, a woman who has only one husband during her lifetime. Thus it will also be important to examine widowhood and remarriage in ancient Rome. After examining these concepts in general, we will take a closer look at how such questions were affected by the Augustan marriage legislation. We will then turn to Dido and Aeneas, and to the text of the Aeneid itself, to apply this information to their circumstances. We will end with an examination of the connection between Dido’s sexual chastity and her power, which will be elucidated by a look at several other powerful women in the Aeneid.
Subject: Dido (Legendary character)
Subject: Aeneis
Subject: Aeneid
Subject: Virgil
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Brown, Jennifer Louise. "Dido’s Culpa". 2011. Available electronically from

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