Dido Docta: A Scholarly Revision of Aeneid 4 in the Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri
Readers of the Aeneid, both ancient and modern, have long regarded Dido and the erotic diversions of Carthage among the most memorable parts of the Vergilian corpus. But Latin authors in the centuries after Vergil often fixated on Dido as a source of temptation, one who threatened to lure Aeneas from his heroic path. In Ovid’s Heroides, Dido tries to seduce Aeneas from Italy with the promise that her kingdom holds both “the terms of peace and the arms of war” (7.156). This critique of Dido intensified in late antiquity, as readers like Augustine and Claudian challenged the propriety and even the veracity of Aeneid 4 (Desmond 1994 and Hunsaker Hawkins 2013). By the time Tiberius Claudius Donatus dedicated his Interpretationes Vergilianae to his son (c. 430), it was clear that the figure of Dido needed to be explained or excused in order to preserve the moral integrity of Rome’s epic hero (Starr 1991).
This paper argues that one late antique Latin romance, the Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri (HA), set out to solve this “problem of Dido” by transforming her tragedy into a story of scholarly love. Many classicists, including George Kortekaas and Elizabeth Archibald, have noted how HA c. 11-24 replicate the structure of Aeneid 1-4: an exiled prince shipwrecks off the coast of Africa, finds shelter in a local kingdom, and captures the heart of the regina by narrating his sufferings. In contrast to the disastrous affair of Aeneas and Dido, however, the love between Apollonius and his African queen culminates in a happy marriage that fosters his imperial destiny. This research is the first to reveal how the HA actively adapts Dido’s story into a tale of intellectual romance. Apollonius and his wife join royal households, not through the erotic passion of Vergil’s lovers, but as “the wisest woman with the most knowledgeable husband” (sapientissima sociatur viro prudentissimo, HA 23).
I present this paper in three parts. The introduction reviews the Latin literary reception of Dido prior to the HA. Drawing on Ovid, Augustine, and Donatus, I highlight a strand of post-classical criticism that disapproved of the amor Didonis and sought to dissociate Aeneas from this romantic entanglement. The second part of the paper then treats the HA’s response to this tradition. I show that the HA activates its Vergilian model by importing plot lines and intertexts from Aeneid 1 and 4. I focus on the characterization of the unnamed African queen as a new Dido: “long wounded by love” (iamdudum saucia cura, HA 18), she “fixes his face, his words in her heart” (figit in pectore vultus, verba), and “love gives her limbs no rest” (nec membris dat cura quietem). These initial allusions prepare the reader to anticipate the second coming of the Carthaginian queen and a tragic end to her infatuation.
The final section of this paper, however, shows how the HA diffuses the threat of a second Dido by remaking her romance into a story of scholarly love. Apollonius, a hero of books rather than brawn, redirects the queen’s passion towards the study of music and literature, until she becomes docta et patefacta (HA 20). When at last Apollonius must depart her kingdom to fulfill his heroic journey (c. 24), his regina docta sets sail alongside him. Their departure from the African coast does not result in protracted enmity between the Greco-Roman world and its barbarous adversaries, but unifies the two domains under the scholarly sovereignty of Apollonius.
This paper showcases a vibrant example of Vergilian imitation and revision in late antique Latin prose fiction. The HA’s emphasis on erudition and learned love intervened in persistent controversies over the seductive dangers of Dido. Furthermore, the HA’s active adaptation of Aeneid 4 demonstrates that the epic trajectory of love and empire, once learned, could be rewritten.
Dido in and after Vergil