How a Queen Died for Love

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Virgil reading the Aenid

Vergil (70 B.C.–19 B.C.). Æneid.
Vol. 13, pp. 167-177 of The Harvard Classics

Deserted by her lover, Queen Dido applied to her heart the only balm that could ease her pain.


The Fourth Book of the Æneis

[...]

  What pangs the tender breast of Dido tore,
When, from the tow’r, she saw the cover’d shore,
And heard the shouts of sailors from afar,
Mix’d with the murmurs of the wat’ry war!
All-pow’rful Love! what changes canst thou cause
In human hearts, subjected to thy laws!
Once more her haughty soul the tyrant bends:
To pray’rs and mean submissions she descends.
No female arts or aids she left untried,
Nor counsels unexplor’d, before she died.
“Look, Anna! look! the Trojans crowd to sea;
They spread their canvas, and their anchors weigh.
The shouting crew their ships with garlands bind,
Invoke the sea gods, and invite the wind.
Could I have thought this threat’ning blow so near,
My tender soul had been forewarn’d to bear.
But do not you my last request deny;
With yon perfidious man your int’rest try,
And bring me news, if I must live or die.
You are his fav’rite; you alone can find
The dark recesses of his inmost mind:
In all his trusted secrets you have part,
And know the soft approaches to his heart.
Haste then, and humbly seek my haughty foe;
Tell him, I did not with the Grecians go,
Nor did my fleet against his friends employ,
Nor swore the ruin of unhappy Troy,
Nor mov’d with hands profane his father’s dust:
Why should he then reject a suit so just!
Whom does he shun, and whither would he fly!
Can he this last, this only pray’r deny!
Let him at least his dang’rous flight delay,
Wait better winds, and hope a calmer sea.
The nuptials he disclaims I urge no more:
Let him pursue the promis’d Latian shore.
A short delay is all I ask him now;
A pause of grief, an interval from woe,
Till my soft soul be temper’d to sustain
Accustom’d sorrows, and inur’d to pain.
If you in pity grant this one request,
My death shall glut the hatred of his breast.”
This mournful message pious Anna bears,
And seconds with her own her sister’s tears:
But all her arts are still employ’d in vain;
Again she comes, and is refus’d again.
His harden’d heart nor pray’rs nor threat’nings move;
Fate, and the god, had stopp’d his ears to love.

  As, when the winds their airy quarrel try,
Justling from ev’ry quarter of the sky,
This way and that the mountain oak they bend,
His boughs they shatter, and his branches rend;
With leaves and falling mast they spread the ground;
The hollow valleys echo to the sound:
Unmov’d, the royal plant their fury mocks,
Or, shaken, clings more closely to the rocks;
Far as he shoots his tow’ring head on high,
So deep in earth his fix’d foundations lie.
No less a storm the Trojan hero bears;
Thick messages and loud complaints he hears,
And bandied words, still beating on his ears.
Sighs, groans, and tears proclaim his inward pains;
But the firm purpose of his heart remains.
  The wretched queen, pursued by cruel fate,
Begins at length the light of heav’n to hate,
And loathes to live. Then dire portents she sees,
To hasten on the death her soul decrees:
Strange to relate! for when, before the shrine,
She pours in sacrifice the purple wine,
The purple wine is turn’d to putrid blood,
And the white offer’d milk converts to mud.
This dire presage, to her alone reveal’d,
From all, and ev’n her sister, she conceal’d.
A marble temple stood within the grove,
Sacred to death, and to her murther’d love;
That honor’d chapel she had hung around
With snowy fleeces, and with garlands crown’d:
Oft, when she visited this lonely dome,
Strange voices issued from her husband’s tomb;
She thought she heard him summon her away,
Invite her to his grave, and chide her stay.
Hourly ’t is heard, when with a boding note
The solitary screech owl strains her throat,
And, on a chimney’s top, or turret’s height,
With songs obscene disturbs the silence of the night.
Besides, old prophecies augment her fears;
And stern Æneas in her dreams appears,
Disdainful as by day: she seems, alone,
To wander in her sleep, thro’ ways unknown,
Guideless and dark; or, in a desart plain,
To seek her subjects, and to seek in vain:
Like Pentheus, when, distracted with his fear,
He saw two suns, and double Thebes, appear;
Or mad Orestes, when his mother’s ghost
Full in his face infernal torches toss’d,
And shook her snaky locks: he shuns the sight,
Flies o’er the stage, surpris’d with mortal fright;
The Furies guard the door and intercept his flight.
  Now, sinking underneath a load of grief,
From death alone she seeks her last relief;
The time and means resolv’d within her breast,
She to her mournful sister thus address’d
(Dissembling hope, her cloudy front she clears,
And a false vigor in her eyes appears):
“Rejoice!” she said. “Instructed from above,
My lover I shall gain, or lose my love.
Nigh rising Atlas, next the falling sun,
Long tracts of Ethiopian climates run:
There a Massylian priestess I have found,
Honor’d for age, for magic arts renown’d:
Th’ Hesperian temple was her trusted care;
’T was she supplied the wakeful dragon’s fare.
She poppy seeds in honey taught to steep,
Reclaim’d his rage, and sooth’d him into sleep.
She watch’d the golden fruit; her charms unbind
The chains of love, or fix them on the mind:
She stops the torrents, leaves the channel dry,
Repels the stars, and backward bears the sky.
The yawning earth rebellows to her call,
Pale ghosts ascend, and mountain ashes fall.
Witness, ye gods, and thou my better part,
How loth I am to try this impious art!
Within the secret court, with silent care,
Erect a lofty pile, expos’d in air:
Hang on the topmost part the Trojan vest,
Spoils, arms, and presents, of my faithless guest.
Next, under these, the bridal bed be plac’d,
Where I my ruin in his arms embrac’d:
All relics of the wretch are doom’d to fire;
For so the priestess and her charms require.”
  Thus far she said, and farther speech forbears;
A mortal paleness in her face appears:
Yet the mistrustless Anna could not find
The secret fun’ral in these rites design’d;
Nor thought so dire a rage possess’d her mind.
Unknowing of a train conceal’d so well,
She fear’d no worse than when Sichæus fell;
Therefore obeys. The fatal pile they rear,
Within the secret court, expos’d in air.
The cloven holms and pines are heap’d on high,
And garlands on the hollow spaces lie.
Sad cypress, vervain, yew, compose the wreath,
And ev’ry baleful green denoting death.
The queen, determin’d to the fatal deed,
The spoils and sword he left, in order spread,
And the man’s image on the nuptial bed.
  And now (the sacred altars plac’d around)
The priestess enters, with her hair unbound,
And thrice invokes the pow’rs below the ground.
Night, Erebus, and Chaos she proclaims,
And threefold Hecate, with her hundred names,
And three Dianas: next, she sprinkles round
With feign’d Avernian drops the hallow’d ground;
Culls hoary simples, found by Phœbe’s light,
With brazen sickles reap’d at noon of night;
Then mixes baleful juices in the bowl,
And cuts the forehead of a newborn foal,
Robbing the mother’s love. The destin’d queen
Observes, assisting at the rites obscene;
A leaven’d cake in her devoted hands
She holds, and next the highest altar stands:
One tender foot was shod, her other bare;
Girt was her gather’d gown, and loose her hair.
Thus dress’d, she summon’d, with her dying breath,
The heav’ns and planets conscious of her death,
And ev’ry pow’r, if any rules above,
Who minds, or who revenges, injur’d love.
  ’T was dead of night, when weary bodies close
Their eyes in balmy sleep and soft repose:
The winds no longer whisper thro’ the woods,
Nor murm’ring tides disturb the gentle floods.
The stars in silent order mov’d around;
And Peace, with downy wings, was brooding on the ground.
The flocks and herds, and party-color’d fowl,
Which haunt the woods, or swim the weedy pool,
Stretch’d on the quiet earth, securely lay,
Forgetting the past labors of the day.
All else of nature’s common gift partake:
Unhappy Dido was alone awake.
Nor sleep nor ease the furious queen can find;
Sleep fled her eyes, as quiet fled her mind.
Despair, and rage, and love divide her heart;
Despair and rage had some, but love the greater part.
  Then thus she said within her secret mind:
“What shall I do? what succor can I find?
Become a suppliant to Hyarba’s pride,
And take my turn, to court and be denied?
Shall I with this ungrateful Trojan go,
Forsake an empire, and attend a foe?
Himself I refug’d, and his train reliev’d—
’T is true—but am I sure to be receiv’d?
Can gratitude in Trojan souls have place!
Laomedon still lives in all his race!
Then, shall I seek alone the churlish crew,
Or with my fleet their flying sails pursue?
What force have I but those whom scarce before
I drew reluctant from their native shore?
Will they again embark at my desire,
Once more sustain the seas, and quit their second Tyre?
Rather with steel thy guilty breast invade,
And take the fortune thou thyself hast made.
Your pity, sister, first seduc’d my mind,
Or seconded too well what I design’d.
These dear-bought pleasures had I never known,
Had I continued free, and still my own;
Avoiding love, I had not found despair,
But shar’d with salvage beasts the common air.
Like them, a lonely life I might have led,
Not mourn’d the living, nor disturb’d the dead.”
These thoughts she brooded in her anxious breast.
On board, the Trojan found more easy rest.
Resolv’d to sail, in sleep he pass’d the night;
And order’d all things for his early flight.
  To whom once more the winged god appears;
His former youthful mien and shape he wears,
And with this new alarm invades his ears:
“Sleep’st thou, O goddess-born! and canst thou drown
Thy needful cares, so near a hostile town,
Beset with foes; nor hear’st the western gales
Invite thy passage, and inspire thy sails?
She harbors in her heart a furious hate,
And thou shalt find the dire effects too late;
Fix’d on revenge, and obstinate to die.
Haste swiftly hence, while thou hast pow’r to fly.
The sea with ships will soon be cover’d o’er,
And blazing firebrands kindle all the shore.
Prevent her rage, while night obscures the skies,
And sail before the purple morn arise.
Who knows what hazards thy delay may bring?
Woman ’s a various and a changeful thing.”
Thus Hermes in the dream; then took his flight
Aloft in air unseen, and mix’d with night.
  Twice warn’d by the celestial messenger,
The pious prince arose with hasty fear;
Then rous’d his drowsy train without delay:
“Haste to your banks; your crooked anchors weigh,
And spread your flying sails, and stand to sea.
A god commands: he stood before my sight,
And urg’d us once again to speedy flight.
O sacred pow’r, what pow’r soe’er thou art,
To thy blest orders I resign my heart.
Lead thou the way; protect thy Trojan bands,
And prosper the design thy will commands.”
He said: and, drawing forth his flaming sword,
His thund’ring arm divides the many-twisted cord.
An emulating zeal inspires his train:
They run; they snatch; they rush into the main.
With headlong haste they leave the desert shores,
And brush the liquid seas with lab’ring oars.
  Aurora now had left her saffron bed,
And beams of early light the heav’ns o’erspread,
When, from a tow’r, the queen, with wakeful eyes,
Saw day point upward from the rosy skies.
She look’d to seaward; but the sea was void,
And scarce in ken the sailing ships descried.
Stung with despite, and furious with despair,
She struck her trembling breast, and tore her hair.
“And shall th’ ungrateful traitor go,” she said,
“My land forsaken, and my love betray’d?
Shall we not arm? not rush from ev’ry street,
To follow, sink, and burn his perjur’d fleet?
Haste, haul my galleys out! pursue the foe!
Bring flaming brands! set sail, and swiftly row!
What have I said? where am I? Fury turns
My brain; and my distemper’d bosom burns.
Then, when I gave my person and my throne,
This hate, this rage, had been more timely shown.
See now the promis’d faith, the vaunted name,
The pious man, who, rushing thro’ the flame,
Preserv’d his gods, and to the Phrygian shore
The burthen of his feeble father bore!
I should have torn him piecemeal; strow’d in floods
His scatter’d limbs, or left expos’d in woods;
Destroy’d his friends and son; and, from the fire,
Have set the reeking boy before the sire.
Events are doubtful, which on battles wait:
Yet where’s the doubt, to souls secure of fate?
My Tyrians, at their injur’d queen’s command,
Had toss’d their fires amid the Trojan band;
At once extinguish’d all the faithless name;
And I myself, in vengeance of my shame,
Had fall’n upon the pile, to mend the fun’ral flame.
Thou Sun, who view’st at once the world below;
Thou Juno, guardian of the nuptial vow;
Thou Hecate hearken from thy dark abodes!
Ye Furies, fiends, and violated gods,
All pow’rs invok’d with Dido’s dying breath,
Attend her curses and avenge her death!
If so the Fates ordain, and Jove commands,
Th’ ungrateful wretch should find the Latian lands,
Yet let a race untam’d, and haughty foes,
His peaceful entrance with dire arms oppose:
Oppress’d with numbers in th’ unequal field,
His men discourag’d, and himself expell’d,
Let him for succor sue from place to place,
Torn from his subjects, and his son’s embrace.
First, let him see his friends in battle slain,
And their untimely fate lament in vain;
And when, at length, the cruel war shall cease,
On hard conditions may he buy his peace:
Nor let him then enjoy supreme command;
But fall, untimely, by some hostile hand,
And lie unburied on the barren sand!
These are my pray’rs, and this my dying will;
And you, my Tyrians, ev’ry curse fulfil.
Perpetual hate and mortal wars proclaim,
Against the prince, the people, and the name.
These grateful off’rings on my grave bestow;
Nor league, nor love, the hostile nations know!
Now, and from hence, in ev’ry future age,
When rage excites your arms, and strength supplies the rage,
Rise some avenger of our Libyan blood,
With fire and sword pursue the perjur’d brood;
Our arms, our seas, our shores, oppos’d to theirs;
And the same hate descend on all our heirs!”
  This said, within her anxious mind she weighs
The means of cutting short her odious days.
Then to Sichæus’ nurse she briefly said
(For, when she left her country, hers was dead):
“Go, Barce, call my sister. Let her care
The solemn rites of sacrifice prepare;
The sheep, and all th’ atoning off’rings, bring,
Sprinkling her body from the crystal spring
With living drops; then let her come, and thou
With sacred fillets bind thy hoary brow.
Thus will I pay my vows to Stygian Jove,
And end the cares of my disastrous love;
Then cast the Trojan image on the fire,
And, as that burns, my passions shall expire.”
  The nurse moves onward, with officious care,
And all the speed her aged limbs can bear.
But furious Dido, with dark thoughts involv’d,
Shook at the mighty mischief she resolv’d.
With livid spots distinguish’d was her face;
Red were her rolling eyes, and discompos’d her pace;
Ghastly she gaz’d, with pain she drew her breath,
And nature shiver’d at approaching death.
  Then swiftly to the fatal place she pass’d,
And mounts the fun’ral pile with furious haste;
Unsheathes the sword the Trojan left behind
(Not for so dire an enterprise design’d).
But when she view’d the garments loosely spread,
Which once he wore, and saw the conscious bed,
She paus’d, and with a sigh the robes embrac’d;
Then on the couch her trembling body cast,
Repress’d the ready tears, and spoke her last:
“Dear pledges of my love, while Heav’n so pleas’d,
Receive a soul, of mortal anguish eas’d:
My fatal course is finish’d; and I go,
A glorious name, among the ghosts below.
A lofty city by my hands is rais’d,
Pygmalion punish’d, and my lord appeas’d.
What could my fortune have afforded more,
Had the false Trojan never touch’d my shore!”
Then kiss’d the couch; and, “Must I die,” she said,
“And unreveng’d? ’T is doubly to be dead!
Yet ev’n this death with pleasure I receive:
On any terms, ’t is better than to live.
These flames, from far, may the false Trojan view;
These boding omens his base flight pursue!”
  She said, and struck; deep enter’d in her side
The piercing steel, with reeking purple dyed:
Clogg’d in the wound the cruel weapon stands;
The spouting blood came streaming on her hands.
Her sad attendants saw the deadly stroke,
And with loud cries the sounding palace shook.
Distracted, from the fatal sight they fled,
And thro’ the town the dismal rumor spread.
First from the frighted court the yell began;
Redoubled, thence from house to house it ran:
The groans of men, with shrieks, laments, and cries
Of mixing women, mount the vaulted skies.
Not less the clamor, than if—ancient Tyre,
Or the new Carthage, set by foes on fire—
The rolling ruin, with their lov’d abodes,
Involv’d the blazing temples of their gods.
  Her sister hears; and, furious with despair,
She beats her breast, and rends her yellow hair,
And, calling on Eliza’s name aloud,
Runs breathless to the place, and breaks the crowd.
“Was all that pomp of woe for this prepar’d;
These fires, this fun’ral pile, these altars rear’d?
Was all this train of plots contriv’d,” said she,
“All only to deceive unhappy me?
Which is the worst? Didst thou in death pretend
To scorn thy sister, or delude thy friend?
Thy summon’d sister, and thy friend, had come;
One sword had serv’d us both, one common tomb:
Was I to raise the pile, the pow’rs invoke,
Not to be present at the fatal stroke?
At once thou hast destroy’d thyself and me,
Thy town, thy senate, and thy colony!
Bring water; bathe the wound; while I in death
Lay close my lips to hers, and catch the flying breath.”
This said, she mounts the pile with eager haste,
And in her arms the gasping queen embrac’d;
Her temples chaf’d; and her own garments tore,
To stanch the streaming blood, and cleanse the gore.
Thrice Dido tried to raise her drooping head,
And, fainting thrice, fell grov’ling on the bed;
Thrice op’d her heavy eyes, and sought the light,
But, having found it, sicken’d at the sight,
And clos’d her lids at last in endless night.
  Then Juno, grieving that she should sustain
A death so ling’ring, and so full of pain,
Sent Iris down, to free her from the strife
Of lab’ring nature, and dissolve her life.
For since she died, not doom’d by Heav’n’s decree,
Or her own crime, but human casualty,
And rage of love, that plung’d her in despair,
The Sisters had not cut the topmost hair,
Which Proserpine and they can only know;
Nor made her sacred to the shades below.
Downward the various goddess took her flight,
And drew a thousand colors from the light;
Then stood above the dying lover’s head,
And said: “I thus devote thee to the dead.
This off’ring to th’ infernal gods I bear.”
Thus while she spoke, she cut the fatal hair:
The struggling soul was loos’d, and life dissolv’d in air.


 

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