Dido and Aeneas

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Dido Pyre

This is Storynory’s production of the ancient legend about the foundation of Rome. It’s a love story with plenty of tragic drama, and we think it will appeal to slightly older children and young adults. That said, it is pretty exciting too.

Aeneas, prince of Troy, is shipwrecked off the coast of Africa by the goddess Juno. He is taken in by Queen Dido of Carthage. He then finds himself torn between love and destiny.

The great Roman poet, Virgil (70 BC to 19BC) wrote a really long poem (12 books) called “The Aeneid”. In one of those books is the story of Dido and Aeneas. An Elizabethan playwright, Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) wrote a play called “Dido, Queen of Cathage” about Dido’s love for Aeneas. Bertie has written this special “Storynory edition” for your enjoyment.

The following story is written out, as a play script. Bertie suggests that you and your friends read it as a play – even act it out!

If you are following along with the audio, the narrator and the male characters are spoken by Richard Scott.  All the female characters are read by Natasha Gostwick. Music by Purcell and Handel from Partners in Rhyme
Adapted for Storynory by Bertie.
Duration 27 Minutes.

Dido and Aeneas.

Narrator

My story is of a man torn between love and destiny. Aeneas was his name, and he was a Prince of Troy. When that city was destroyed by the Greek Army, he fled from the flames carrying his old father on his back, and with his son at his side. He gathered a band of Trojans and set sail in a fleet of ships. But his journey was long and hard, beset by dangers and troubles.

Why should a just a man suffer so? The answer is not hard to find. All the evil and suffering in the world is wished upon us by the gods, or is the debris of their own quarrels and strife. A goddess hated Aeneas with all the fury of her immortal heart. Her name was Juno, and she was queen of heaven. Her enmity went back a long way.

It all began with a divine squabble. Three goddesses met on the island of Crete and wrangled over who was the fairest. And while the divine ones were bickering and threatening to scratch each other’s eyes out, along stumbled Paris, Prince of Troy, out hunting in the woods. The goddesses appointed him as judge of their beauty. He chose Venus, and won a great reward from her, in the fair form of a woman, Helen, who was more lovely than any other. But he earned the immortal hatred of Juno.

Paris and Helen. Their names united into the greatest scandal of the Bronze Age. He was Trojan, she was Greek, and while they lay in each others arms, their countries locked in armed combat. After ten years of war, Troy was destroyed utterly. You would think that the Goddess had taken enough revenge on Paris and all the Trojans, but still she was not satisfied. Now Juno looked down from the skies and spotted Aeneas, a near relative of Paris, sailing across the sea, escaping his burning city. And this is what she said to herself:

Juno
Another of those pomaded Trojan lover-boys is setting out to create trouble in the world. I see his destiny all too clearly. He is leading his men to Italy, where his decedents will found a new city: Rome. And Rome shall grow into a proud ,powerful, and disgustingly hypocritical empire. The toga wearers shall make slaves of free peoples in the name of the law, peace and religion. They will conquer nations and utterly destroy Carthage, the city which does more honour to me than any other. But do you know what? I think I’ll do the world a favour. I’ll spare it Rome. I’ll destroy this Aeneas and his fleet of ships before they touch land. No Aeneas, no Rome. Now Blow Winds Blow !

Narrator
And Aeolus, king of the winds, heard the command from the Queen of Heaven, and boy did he blow. He sent a ship splintering storm straight at the fleet of Aeneas. Aeneas and his men thought then that they would soon be fish food. But Neptune, the lord of the waters, heard the winds, and rolled his eyes around the earth, the sea and the skies, and when he saw the storm-tossed ships he said: Hey what’s all this? I’m in charge here. Jupiter and his dysfunctional family can do what they like up in the skies, but the waters are mine, and I won’t stand for any insubordination here. If there’s sinking to be done, then I’m the one to do it. And with a wave of his Trident, he sent the winds whimpering back into their box, and the seas settled down.

The battered ship of Aeneas, with broken oars and tattered sails, made its way to the shores of Libya. The sailors jumped over the sides and swam to the beach. They were plenty glad to feel the hot sand between their toes. As for the other Trojan ships, they did not know if they were lost of saved.

Now the goddess Venus looked down on the shipwrecked Trojans with more than a casual interest. Aeneas was none other than her own son. As any good mother would, she went to the Lord of the Skies and put in a complaint about her boy’s treatment.

( Venus)
This is too much! Is it not enough that jealous Juno burned Troy? Can’t you reign in that neurotic consort of yours? My Aeneas is destined to found Rome, and now look at him, poor darling, he’s a shipwrecked wretch on the shores of Africa. And it’s Juno’s doing as usual.

( Jupiter)
And father Jupiter sighed and sent a gush of wind over the mountain tops. Venus my dear, he said, Dismiss your fears. The fates are fixed. I’ve no intention that your son should be denied his destiny. There is an African Queen who will take good care of him. Dido is her name, and she lives in Great Splenour in the city of Carthage. She is just and fair. Send Aeneas to her, and she will give him all he needs.

Narrator
Venus took the hint. Lovely Dido would put vim back in her son’s limbs. And there was a nice twist to the tale. For Carthage was Juno’s city, and if its queen fell for Aeneas, that would be one in the eye for the Queen of Heaven. She liked that.

Aeneas left his men on the beach while he climbed a cliff to see what he could see. At the top he met a being who gave him cause for hope. She was a huntress, and by her beauty, had no doubt that she was at least partly divine. He saw her sitting on a rock, and as he came up to her she said:

Venus
Young man. Have you seen any of my sisters here about, wearing leopard skins and carrying bows?

Aeneas
No, I haven’t. Last night I was shipwrecked, and you are the first soul I have set eyes upon since I swam ashore.

Venus
And tell me shipwrecked sailor, what is your name?

Aeneas
Aeneas, prince of Tory. Winds and war drove me here across the seas.

Venus
Then your fortunes are changing for the better. Lucky you to be washed up on this courteous coast. Not far from here, a gracious queen is building a city that matches your famed Troy for splendor and beauty. Her name is Dido, and the city is Carthage. Seek an audience with her, and you shall receive a warm welcome. And now I must leave you, and find my errant sisters.
Aeneas

Goddess wait – I see now from the way you move that you are Venus – Oh Mother ! Why do you only ever appear to me in disguise ?

Venus

Fair-well my son. Make speed to Dido. I shall cloak you in an invisible cloud to protect you from danger.

Narrator

When the walls of Carthage came into view, Aeneas could not help but weep. For in every respect it was as if he was looking at his own dear home, the City of Troy at the height of its splendor, before the Greeks reduced it to ruins. As he passed through the arched gates, it was as if he was returning home. The inside of the portal was engraved with pictures of the greatest of the Trojans. Here was King Priam. There was Queen Hecuba. And totally true to life, Hector, the most formidable of the Trojans in battle, the tenderest family man at home, held his son in his great hands. The little boy cried because his father’s bronze helmet frightened him. His mother Andromache held out her slender arms. They were all gone now. Dust. Memories. Pictures. Gazing Aeneas said to himself:

Aeneas

These are the tears of the world.

Narrator

He made his way through the noisy streets, as invisible as a ghost, until he reached the Palace. In the great hall there was a sight to gladden his sad eyes. A crowd of his men from the lost ships, those whom he had thought to be drowned in the storm, were gathered there. Venus lifted the invisible cloud from her son. He appeared among his friends and greeted them with hugs and tears. While the reunion was still going on, Queen Dido came into the hall. She was a tall striking figure. She wore jewels in her black hair, and her robe was sewn with gold and silver thread.

Aeneas stepped forward and begged pardon for the tattered rags that he wore.

Dido

Never mind your clothes. Tell me who is the man within them..

Aeneas

Mighty Queen. Once I was a Trojan. But Troy is no more. It is no longer so simple to say who I am.

Dido

But you have a name presumably?

Narrator

At this, one of Aeneas’s men spoke up: “Gracious Queen. Behold our general, Warlike Aeneas, Prince of Troy, and though he wears rags, he is a no less a great man.”

Dido

Well then, Warlike Aeneas, be seated, and I shall send for splendid robes that befit your birth, and cover your recent misfortune. And then we shall hold a banquet in honour of our Trojan guests.

Narrator

And when the banquet took place, Queen Dido sat with her sister Dido on her one side, and Aeneas on the other. The Queen begged Aeneas to describe the last days of Troy, as she had heard so many conflicting reports. Aeneas described how the Greek Achilles slaughtered the Trojan Hector. How Prince Paris left his chamber of love and fired a poisoned arrow into the heal of Achilles. How the Greeks boarded their ships and left behind a wooden horse. The Trojans rejoiced to see their foes depart. But the belly of the horse was hollow and full of Greek spies. They opened the gates of Troy and let in the invading army. As Aeneas made his way out of the city with his father and son, his sword saved them from death a dozen times, but the doom of Troy was done. He described to the Queen the leaping flames, the clashing bronze, and the desperate cries, Dido could not help but weep.

Dido
“Oh stop, Aeneas, I can hear no more. I am melting with pity.”

Narrator

But Venus sent a sweet balm to heal the sorrow of the Queen. The young son of Aeneas lay asleep on a couch in a chamber away from the noisy feast. The Goddess willed Cupid to take on his exact likeness, and she sent him into the banqueting hall.

Dido
“Ah, who is this sweet sleepy-eyed boy? Is he your son.

Aeneas
He is my lady. His name is Ascanius. His mother, I am afraid to say, did not survive the destruction of our city by the Greeks.

Dido
Come Ascanius. Sit on my lap. I shall mother you a while.

Narrator
Venus had disguised Cupid so cunningly in the form of Ascanius, that even Aeneas thought he was his own son. Nobody recognised the boy who brings love.

Cupid hung his arms around the neck of Venus and his breath worked its charm on her. Sweetness flowed in her veins for the man who sat by her side – the shipwrecked prince whom the winds had blown to her shores.

While Aeneas was turned away to talk to a ship captain, she whispered in the ear of her sister Anna:

Dido
“Our Trojan Prince speaks as well as he looks, does he not?”

Narrator

And Anna agreed with her sister that their guest was worthy of their hospitality.

As yet, Cupid had worked just enough charm to keep things sweet between Dido and Aeneas, and to ensure that the queen gave her guest all the help that he needed. This was the way Venus liked to work things. As the goddess looked down with satisfaction on the scene, she received a visitor she had not expected. Juno hailed her across the skies.

Juno

Sister of Love. It is time to end our quarrel with a wedding. Our interests are united in Dido and Aeneas. Let them rule Carthage together as King and Queen. Their children shall build a glorious city that will surpass Troy in its beauty and fame. There will be no need for Rome. The toga-wearers shall never be. Carthage shall not be ruined by Romans. Your son shall be the father of a great people without touching the shores of Italy.

Narrator

And Dido saw advantage in this pact with her Sister. The following day, when Dido and Aeneas rode out hunting together, she sent Cupid to fire his arrows into the side of the Queen. They were tipped with love, and now Passion for Aeneas flowed Deep in the breast of the Queen. The African sun hid behind a cloud and a great storm, unusual for this time of year, broke out. The sharp eyes of Aeneas caught site of a cave, and he led the Queen their to shelter from the rain.

Aeneas

How are you my Queen? Your face suggests that something is troubling you. Do not fear this hurly burly in the heavens. The storm will pass soon.

Dido

Perhaps too soon for Dido.

Aeneas

What do you mean by this strange remark?

Dido

Only that Aeneas loves me not.

Aeneas

I would not presume to aim so high.

Dido

I will open my heart to you, even though I fear my words will bring shame on me. I love one who loves fame more than woman.

Aeneas

With this my hand I give you my heart. I vow on this sword which saved me from the Greek army that while Dido lives and rules in Carthage City, I will never love any but her.

Dido

Your words are like the sweet music of the gods to me.

Narrator

And so Aeneas, willed on by the colluding goddesses, swore a love that did not fit his destiny. The future that the fates had spun for him was to sail to Italy and found Rome. But for now he lingered in the arms of Dido.

His men mended the broken ships and gossiped and complained about their general’s new distraction. When they spoke of Dido and Aeneas it was almost as if they were speaking once again of Paris and Helen. It was a private love that did no public good.

The word spread, and reached even the Father of the Skies. Jupiter sent Mercury, the messenger of the gods, to whisper in the hero’s ear while he slept in the arms of his queen. And Aeneas dreamed of the Colosseum, the forum, and the seven hills of Rome. He saw a city more beautiful than Troy, more wealthy than Carthage.

In the morning he went down to the harbour to inspect his ships, and his captain told him that he was ready to set sail. He spoke to Aeneas

Ship’s Captain

“Sail with us now my Lord. If you return to the queen her womanly wiles will persuade you to stay. Her silver arms will coil around your neck. Her pearly tears will beg you stay. No man, though he face the fiercest foes without dread, can endure a woman’s soft tears. I speak plainly My Lord. But I say to your face what all the men say behind your back. “

Aeneas

I appreciate your blunt frankness, but beauty calls me back. I cannot break love’s law by stealing away like a thief. Let no one call Aeneas a coward in love or in battle.

Narrator

And so Aeneas returned to Dido to give her is final fare-well. But Dido had already heard news of the Trojan Fleet that was ready to sail, and her spies had informed her that Aeneas was ready to go with them.

Dido

Oh cursed Trojans that would steal my love from me ! Is this how they repay my hospitality? I would look they other way if they thieved my silver or gold, but they take my very life.

Aeneas

My queen. I have come to give you my goodbye, although I feared that you would try to keep me here.

Dido

False Aeneas ! You need not have feared. Be gone from my sight.

Aeneas

I cannot leave without kissing your hand one last time.

Dido

See I take the crown from my head and place it on yours. How it becomes you. Stay by my side King Aeneas. Carthage is yours. Is this prize not a fair exchange for the Troy that you have lost? Why seek you a new city when you have one here.

Aeneas

A bronze helmet fits my destiny better than golden crown.

Dido

Then you put to sea?

Aeneas

Duty calls.

Dido

Then duty is a murderer because I shall die if it takes you away from me.

Aeneas

I leave you my sword to remember me by. It is as much part of me as my right arm. It has saved my life many a time. It is the most I can give.

Dido

Be gone, be gone. I cannot bear to look upon your faithless face any longer. My sorrow is strangling me. My throat is dry. I can speak no more.

Aeneas

Fair well my queen. I will never love another as I have loved you. On the day that I die, I will think of you. I will go to the next world with your face before my eyes. Fair-well.

Dido

Be gone. It is time for Warlike Aeneas to run.

Narrator

And Aeneas went directly to his ship.

Dido

Fair sister Anna. Command the priests build a pyre. I will make a sacrifice to the gods. I will pray to Neptune and Juno to calm the winds and keep him here, or better, to send a storm and wreck him once more. Let the faithless wretch swim to Italy !

Narrator

And while the priests built a pyre in the courtyard of the temple, Dido stood on her balcony and watched the ships set sail.

Dido

The winds blew my love to me, and now they take him away. The nymphs of the sea carry him from me. Chains of gold could not anchor him here. What have I done to offend the gods that they separate me from happiness? If only I had the wings of Icarus I could fly out to him? Where is the friendly dolphin that will carry me on his back behind the ship of Aeneas? Or if I could swim like Neptune’s niece.

Oh how I am raving. Love has poisoned me with lunacy. See how Aeneas is rejoicing with his sailors as cross the waves away from me. He has forgotten his Dido already.

Ah the priests have set the fire. The flames are consuming the coals. I see in their light, a future full of destruction.

Oh Juno, protector of our city, I pray to you, let him build his precious Rome, for Jupiter wills it so, and let the city grow to be great and powerful, but let Carthage send a general to destroy it. May an African army ride elephants across the seas and over the mountains right up to the walls of Troy, and may Rome’s dust blow on the winds and mingle with Troy’s.

And now where is that sword of Aeneas? It protected his life but now it takes away mine. No, his frown has already destroyed the Dido who lived but a few short months ago before she set eyes upon the faithless Trojan. The woman whose sparkling eyes drew a 100 suitors from all Africa, Europe and Asia is gone. All that is left for me now is lunacy. I shall not go mad. Better die.

Narrator

And although Aeneas felt the wind in his hair, and the salt in his nostrils, and heard the cry of gulls above his ship – and although he felt that the chains of destiny were pulling him to freedom – he did not forget his Dido. He looked back at the walls of Carthage and saw smoke rising from the temple. He thought to himself.

Aeneas

“That is all that is left of my love.”

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