Junos Mercy: Iris Frees a Soul from its Mortal Shackles

Categories: Love

“Then almighty Juno, pitying her long agony and painful dying, sent Iris down from heaven to release her struggling soul from the prison of her flesh.”

- The Aeneid, Book 4, line 693

            In Book four of the Aeneid, the selection narrates the tragic story between the protagonist of the story, Aeneas and Dido, the queen of Carthage. Although Aeneas and Dido's relationship only spans a small chapter in the entirety of the Aeneid, it still represent striking themes on love, betrayal, and omnipotent interference of the gods in the affairs of human beings.

The story of Aeneas and Dido is a classic symbolism of love; the man, compelled by duty, sheds love that he could never have while the woman scorns for her downcast state yet finds retribution with death as she escapes her mortal prison full of pain and anguish.

            After the death of her husband, Dido swears that she will not marry again. However, the interference of Venus and her son Cupid causes the love of Dido for Aeneas to grow as she listens to his tragic tales.

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Dido's sister Anna consoles the queen and reassures her that by marrying Aeneas, Carthage's military power will increase since Trojan warriors loyal to Aeneas will follow him. Juno, the wife of Jupiter and the goddess of marriage, sees that Dido's love for Aeneas has consumed her and plots to prevent Aeneas from going to Italy. Juno convinces Venus to aid her into getting Dido and Aeneas together so that they could be alone together.

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Juno promises a storm so that they could take shelter in a cave.

In doing so, the Trojans and Tyrians would forge a truce and the two goddesses will end their squabble. The following day, the queen of Carthage and the Trojan warrior leave the city to go hunting. In the middle of the forest, Juno brings down the promised storm and the couple takes refuge under a cake. The two enjoy a moment together and openly declare their love for each other as they returned to Carthage. Dido considers their experience together as a married couple yet to be consecrated in ceremony. Meanwhile, rumors spread around the mismanaged city that couple submitted themselves to lust and began to neglect their duties as rulers.

            Jupiter learns of the situation of Dido and Aeneas and sends Mercury to convey a message to Aeneas to remind him of his duty and must immediately leave for Italy. Aeneas is shocked but obeys the command. Yet he is in dilemma; compelled by his divine responsibilities, he is left to think by himself on how would explain his leave to Dido. Aeneas commands his men to secretly prepare the ship for departure but Dido catches him in the act. Dido's anger is unexplainable as she began to insult Aeneas and accusing him for stealing her honor. Aeneas is torn by regret, yet he pushes aside his emotional burden for his greater responsibility with fate. Dido sends her sister Anna to persuade Aeneas to stay, but the Trojan warrior has made up his mind.

            Amid a period of distress, love, and anger, the queen appears one day calm and replete and quietly orders her sister to start a fire the courtyard. By starting a fire, she can get rid of Aeneas memory by burning all his clothes and things that he left. Dido's grief causes her a sleepless night while Aeneas dreams of Mercury again and sends him another message that he has lingered too long and must leave soon. With this, Aeneas leaves the city of Carthage.

            The queen sees Aeneas fleet depart and falls into emotional disrepair. Running to the roaring flames burning all their memories together, she turns it into her own funeral pyre. In her grief, she takes a sword and stabs herself while cursing the departing Aeneas. Her sister and their servants run up to the dying Dido and Juno takes pity and sends Iris to redeem Dido's struggling soul from her mortal prison.

            Dido and Aeneas’ story of love is only for a brief moment as Aeneas leaves for Italy, leaving Dido behind. As implied by the introductory passages, Dido is already torn between her emotions and better judgment as early as her relationship with Aeneas begins to grow. “But the queen, long since smitten with a grievous love-pang, feeds the wound with her lifeblood and is wasted with fire unseen” (IV, 1). Her character is put to the test between the coming of Aeneas and the recent death of his husband.

The use of lifeblood in the sentence implies that Dido already hides her emotional scars and attempts to restart a new life. Dido mentions, “He who first linked me to himself has taken away my hear; may he keep it with him, and guard it in the grave!” (IV, 6). Dido engulfs herself in her own grief, denying her change in rekindling love and an opportunity for happiness. It can be deduced from the passage that she has suffered a number of painful experiences with love and has lost the will to love again.

Consequently, the goddess Juno sees Dido's love for Juno grows to a point that it could kill her: “Soon as the loved wife of Jove saw that Dido was held in a passion so fatal, and that her good name was now bar to her frenzy...” (IV, 90). This means that her love for Aeneas was true and real, so true that if ever she has her heart broken again, it would cause her a tragic death. Dido already gave all her love to a man who she knew in herself that she would love forever. Dido's tragedy is reflected her own love; she was unable to see past the consequences of the choice she was making because of her already miserable state.

            With help of Juno and Venus, Dido's love grows and plans to set the couple alone during the hunt. The goddesses’ plan may be mistaken as pity in the case of Dido but she is only a distraction for Aeneas to not embark on his journey. Dido and Aeneas are unaware of this ploy and enjoy happiness for a short period of time. As the couple goes hunting, Dido and Aeneas finally have the time to be alone together as they shelter themselves in a cave against a violent storm.

The two make love and Dido is satisfied and happy “...for no more is Dido swayed by fair show or fair fame, no more does she dream of a secret love: she calls it marriage and with that name veils her sin” (IV, 160). Dido at last experiences true happiness and Aeneas feels the same for her. Their love was no longer a subject of suspicion and their acts in the cave made Dido feel that they were already married and only to be ‘officialized’ by a formal ceremony. For a brief moment of time, Dido and Aeneas find happiness with each other, finally separating themselves from their tragic lives even though only quantified with physical pleasure.

            However, Aeneas receives a message from Jupiter to remind him of his duty to Italy. He is torn with regret. “He burns to fell away and quit that pleasant land, awed by that warning and divine commandment. Ah, what to do? With what speech now dare he approach the frenzied queen?” (IV, 279). Aeneas tragic trait falls under his burden of fate but not of choice. Aeneas immediately considers his divine responsibility without any choice of disregarding his duty. He is bound to his fate without means of escape. Based from his initial reaction, he immediate thinks on how to address his fate to Dido, who is hopelessly in love with him. Dido, upon hearing of the news, flies into a maddening rage and confronts Aeneas: “False one! Did you really hope to cloak so foul a crime and to steal my land in silence? Does neither our love restrain you, nor the pledge once given, nor the doom of a cruel death for Dido?” (IV, 305).

Her love causes her madness, torn between the idea of her kingdom's fate without a strong army and her blinded love for Aeneas. It can be observed in the passage that she cannot contain her emotion anymore and says what she truly feels. Aeneas, in turn, replies: “Now, too, the messenger of the gods sent from Jove himself – I swear by both our lives – has borne his command down through the swift breezes; my own eyes saw the god in the clear light of day come within our walls and these ears drank in his words. Cease to inflame yourself and me with your complaints. It is not by my wish that I make for Italy” (IV, 331).

Aeneas is compelled by his duty and tries to explain his situation to Dido, making her understand. Dido, enraged by her loved and fear, retorts: “Truly, this is work for the gods, this is care to vex their peace! I detain you not...Yet I trust, if the righteous gods have any power, that on the rocks midway you will drain the cup of vengeance and often call on Dido's name. Though far away, I will chase you with murky brands and, when chill death has severed soul and body, everywhere my shade shall haunt you” (IV, 362). Dido's love causes her uncontrollable rage and he imparts Aeneas a haunting thought for him before leaving. Clearly, she is angered over this development and curses Aeneas from being adamant in his quest. She even favors her sister to persuade the Trojan hero from leaving as a last resort.

            In the end, Dido prays for her death. She instructs her sister to construct a fire that would burn all her memories of Aeneas: clothes, weapons, armor, etc. “I want to destroy all memorials of the abhorred wretch, and the priestess to directs” (IV, 474). Driven by madness of love, regret, and bitterness, she throws herself into the pyre and stabs herself with Aeneas' sword.

            Aeneas' has the greatest tragedy as a character. He spurns the love of Dido, compelled by his duty to Jupiter and his quest to Italy. After a night thinking about Dido, he falls asleep and in his dream, he sees the messenger of the gods hastening him with his journey. Without any other thought, he calls his men and leaves the ports of Carthage that same night. He feels no remorse or regret as shown in this passage: “Thus indeed Aeneas, scared by the sudden vision, tears himself from sleep and bestirs his comrades.

'Make haste, my men, awake and man the benches! Unfurl the sails with speed! A god sent from high heaven again spurs us to hasten our flight and cut the twisted cables...' The same zeal catches all at once; with hurry and scurry they have quitted the shore; the sea is hidden under their fleets; lustily the churn the foam and sweep the blue waters” (IV, 571). Aeneas cares nothing about his feeling or his emotions once the divine gods imperiously command his return. He is more fearful of his life and fate rather than his love for Dido.

            For Dido, her most tragic trait was her selfless love for Aeneas. She did not once waver in her love, yet she was driven by madness. After a fruitful experience with Dido, she viewed their relationship beyond physical pleasure. Aeneas also felt exactly the same way, but he considered his duty before love. Consequently, Dido's painful and bitter remark represented her regret, anger, and sorrow at the same time: “At least, if before your flight a child of yours had been born to me, if in my hall a baby Aeneas were playing whose face, in spite of all, would bring back yours, I should not think myself utterly vanquished and forlorn” (IV, 305).

This is probably her ultimate sacrifice and the cause of her eventual downfall. Dido was ready to establish a new life with Aeneas. Yet, after all her love and sacrifices, she feels betrayed by Aeneas sudden departure. She feels a mixture of fear, anger, sorrow and hopelessness in her part. The passage implies her most tragic trait – torn by love yet a memory of him survives in form of his child is alive to remind her of a tragic and painful love from the past.

Works Cited

Virgil. “Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid.” trans. Fairclough, H. Loeb Classical Library Volumes

63 & 64. Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge University Press, 1916.


Updated: Apr 29, 2023
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Junos Mercy: Iris Frees a Soul from its Mortal Shackles. (2017, Mar 05). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/love-is-pain-essay

Junos Mercy: Iris Frees a Soul from its Mortal Shackles essay
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