In Greek mythology, Dido was the founder and queen of Carthage, a city on the northern coast of Africa. She was the daughter of Belus (or Mutto), a king of Tyre in Phoenicia *, and the sister of Pygmalion. Dido is best known for her love affair with the Trojan hero Aeneas *.
King Belus had wanted his son and daughter to share royal power equally after his death, but Pygmalion seized the throne and murdered Dido's husband. Dido and her followers fled from Tyre, landing on the shores of North Africa. There a local ruler named Iarbas agreed to sell Dido as much land as the hide of a bull could cover. Dido cut a bull's hide into thin strips and used it to outline a large area of land. On that site, Dido built Carthage and became its queen.
Carthage became a prosperous city. Iarbas pursued Dido, hoping to marry her, but Dido refused. After her husband's death, she had sworn never to marry again. Iarbas would not take no for an answer and even threatened Carthage with war unless Dido agreed to be his wife. Seeing no other alternative, Dido killed herself by throwing herself into the flames of a funeral pyre. In another version of the story, she mounted the pyre and stabbed herself, surrounded by her people.
The Roman poet Virgil used part of the story of Dido in his epic the Aeneid . In Virgil's account, the Trojan leader Aeneas was shipwrecked on the shore near Carthage at the time when Dido was building the new city. After welcoming Aeneas and his men, the queen fell deeply in love with him. In time, the two lived together as wife and husband, and Aeneas began to act as though he were king of Carthage. Then Jupiter * sent a messenger to tell Aeneas that he could not remain in Carthage. Rather, his destiny was to found a new city for the Trojans in Italy.
pyre pile of wood on which a dead body is burned in a funeral ceremony
epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style
destiny future or fate of an individual or thing
Dido was devastated when she heard that Aeneas planned to leave. She had believed that the two of them would eventually marry. Aeneas insisted that he had no choice but to obey the gods, and shortly afterward, he and his men set sail for Italy. When Dido saw the ships sail out to sea, she ordered a funeral pyre to be built. She climbed onto to it, cursed Aeneas, and using a sword he had given her, stabbed herself to death. In 1689, the English composer Henry Purcell wrote an opera, Dido and Aeneas, that was based on the story and characters from Greek mythology.