How Virgil Portrays Humanity As Selfish Through His Writing In Virgil’s Aeneid Book IV: The Passion of the Queen, an outraged Dido bellows,“I hope and pray that on some grinding reef/ Midway at sea you’ll drink your punishment/ And call and call on Dido’s name! /From far away I shall come after you/ With my black fires, and when cold death has parted/ Body from soul I shall be everywhere/ A shade to haunt you! You will pay for this,/ Unconscionable! “(Virgil 506-511).
This is the response of Dido, Queen of Carthage, after being informed of her lover, Aeneas, and his intentions to surreptitiously leave her and create his own city in Italy. Not only has Dido been betrayed, but she has been left with nothing; nothing to remember him from, nothing to help her recover from such a loss, just anger and a sense of betrayal. To make matters worse, her eager lust towards Aeneas has led her to making decisions that have critically damaged her reputation with her kingdom and neighboring kingdoms.
Throughout the story Virgil uses the inconsiderate actions of Dido and Aeneas to emphasize his belief that humans are inherently selfish and self-centered, even when they do not realize it. The first way Virgil shows his characters as selfish is through Dido’s immense love and desire for Aeneas. Before Dido became the short-lived lover of Aeneas, she had been married to a man named Sychaeus; however, he was murdered by Dido’s brother long before her first encounter with Aeneas. After the passing of Sychaeus, Dido preserved her love to him with a vow.
This vow meant she was never to remarry, and she gave her best efforts to stay true to her word; however, upon meeting Aeneas, she realized that part of her wanted to break away from her vow and consider remarrying another man. She states, “I had not set my face against remarriage/ After my first love died and failed me, left mel Barren and bereaved – and sick to death/ At the mere thought of torch and bridal bed – I could give way in this one case/ To frailty… “(Virgil 20-25).
After treating the situation as though she had been abandoned, Dido chooses to simply abandon her vow towards her husband and work towards gaining Aeneas’s affection. In other words, she sees a better man than what she had, so she throws away her love and faith to marry the next best thing. After several attempts at gaining the approval of the gods for remarriage, she and Aeneas are confined together by the gods inside a cave as the result of a deliberately schemed storm from Juno. After having made love once, Dido chooses to classify them as married.
In the book it states, “Dido had no further qualms/ As to impressions given and set abroad;/ She thought no longer of a secret love/ But called it a marriage. Thus, under that name,/ She hid her fault”(Virgil 221-227). Even though there was no true ceremony for a marriage, Dido has taken it upon herself to classify her relationship with Aeneas as married, even without the say of the “spouse. ” For any reader who has simply skimmed through the book, Dido’s decision to try and gain Aeneas’s love is nothing more than a “cute” love story, but upon further inspection, it can also be seen as a major betrayal of faith, followed by a forced love.
Dido clearly decides to abandon her vow of love with Sychaeus, and after a long effort of trying to steal Aeneas’s love, she finally manages to seduce him while they are stuck in a cave; she declares it to be a marriage thereafter. Dido has not only broken her trust with her deceased husband, but she may have also broken her trust with her kingdom. Aside from an abandonment of love from Sychaeus and a forced love with Aeneas, Virgil also uses Dido to represent humanity as self-centered through her abandonment of duty.
Being the Queen of Carthage is not supposed to be an easy way for Dido to have whatever she desires, but in Book IV of the Aeneid, Virgil shows Dido doing just that. Before when Dido was trying to gain approval from the gods to marry Aeneas, she had taken livestock as offerings for approval. In the book it states, ‘Visiting the shrines/ They begged for grace at every altar first,/ then put choice rams and ewes to ritual death… “(Virgil 74-76). While sacrificing livestock is generally how approval was gained from the gods during this time, Dido’s source for livestock was not normal.
Considering that Dido is not a farmer, she had to be using the livestock of the people in her kingdom for her own personal affairs with the gods. This is a selfish act that causes her reputation with her people to crumble as the story progresses. Aside from taking from her kingdom, Dido also puts a full-on halt in the progression of her kingdom as well. While Dido is preoccupied in thougth about Aeneas, it states, “Towers, half-built, rose/ No farther; men no longer trained in arms/ or toiled to make harbors and battlements/ Impregnable.
Projects were broken off/ laid over, and the menacing huge walls/ With cranes unmoving- stood against the sky”(Virgil 115-120). Because of her undying affection for Aeneas, Dido chooses to place her desire to be wit him over the needs of the kingdom, and this causes the progression of the kingdoms projects to come to a halt. Dido is clearly being portrayed as selfish because of her willingness to use the kingdom’s resources for her own needs, as well as her willingness to set her kingdom aside while she makes attempts to gain Aeneas’s affection.
While Aeneas can be viewed as a victim of the situation, he is also given a sense of self-centeredness from the author. As the third and final way Virgil tries to portray humanity as selfish and self-centered, he uses Aeneas and his decision to abandon Dido in secrecy so he can attempt to make a new city in Italy. Some time after his “marriage” with Dido, Aeneas was informed by the gods that he had a destiny, and that destiny meant he would have to leave Carthage and head towards Italy.
At this point, it is fairly reasonable that Aeneas has to leave Dido, but it is his method for doing so that reveals him to be a more self-centered man. As Aeneas is planning a way to leave from Carthage, the book reveals, “As to the cause/ For a change of plan, they were to keep it a secret,/ Seeing the excellent Dido had no notion,/ No warning that such love would be cut short; He would himself look for the right occasion,/ The easiest time to speak, the way to do it” (Virgil 376-381). Essentially, Aeneas is trying to leave Dido in the smoothest way possible.
He wants to mention something about it to her, but he decides he must wait for the right time to speak of it. While it can be argued that this is a respectful move, it would have been much easier on Dido if he had spoke about it as soon as possible, but he did not because he was afraid. It is ultimately at the point where he must talk about his departure that shows how “low” he is willing to go in order to achieve his destiny; he states, “As to the event, a few words. Do not think/l meant to be deceitful and slip away. /I never held the torches of a bridegroom,/ Never entered upon the pact of marriage.
If fate permitted me to spend my days/ By my own lights, and make the best of all things/ According to my wishes, first of all/ I should look after Troy and the loved relics/ Left by my people” (Virgil 441-448). The start of his conversation is considerably accurate and respectful, but after he begins to speak about what he would do if he had not true destiny he begins to insult Dido; he says that he would rather return to Troy and help look after it than be with her. It is at this point that Aeneas is clearly being shown as a selfish man, preferring his home of Troy over the home that Dido was generous enough to share.
As a popular writer, it is interesting to think that Virgil would view humanity as selfish and selfcentered, but he is definitely not alone. Virgil’s beliefs that all humans are consistently selfish and self-centered are not just his beliefs alone, as there is another popular man of intelligence who agrees quite heavily alongside him. Bernard Mandeville, a majorly popular Anglo-Dutch philosopher, also believed quite strongly that all humans are made selfish or self-centered.
On Philosophy. lander. edu, a textbook site based around the ideas of philosophers like Bernard, it states, “Man is extraordinarily elfish, cunning, and stubborn, but capable of being socialized if he believes he can profit by it”(Mandeville 1). What Mandeville is saying is that we are all selfish as humans to large proportions, but we are willing o behave otherwise if there is something to gain from it. When Anna convinces Dido to try and gain the love of Aeneas, she specifically uses the benefits Aeneas may have towards the kingdom as her main reason for Dido to keep him. This shows how Mandeville’s beliefs overlap with what Virgil is trying to show the readers.
Mandeville does not just show humans as being selfish, but rather that all living things are selfish as well. He states, “Animals seek their own pleasure and do not think about the consequences to others. Those species who do live together have the fewest appetites to gratify”(Mandeville 1). What Mandeville is saying in that quote is that all living creatures are selfish and that those who live together have the fewest needs to satisfy. After she finally manages to have Aeneas living with her as lovers, Dido does not appear to have many more concerns thereafter, and Mandeville’s quote suggests that it is because she finally has a lover.
Overall, Mandeville and Virgil have very closely related beliefs and views on the general selfishness of humanity, as well as what makes some appear more selfish than others. When reading Virgil’s Aeneid Book IV: The Passion of the Queen, Virgil shows that humanity is overall selfish and self-centered through his display of Dido betraying her faith to her husband for a forced love, Dido placing her passion for Aeneas over her kingdom, and Aeneas leaving Dido with no way communication as he builds Rome.
The story of the Aeneid Book IV: The Passion of the Queen covers many different perspectives on the lovehate relationship with Dido and Aeneas, but while they may not realize the selfishness and hypocrisy they give each other, Virgil does. Without having the insight of the characters in Book IV being selfish, the introduction quote may show Dido as the sole victim, betrayed by her lover and left with no other option than suicide.
With this new knowledge over how both Dido and Aeneas are overly self-centered towards one-another, The sympathy that began as wuite strong for Dido begins to fade, as it is apparent now that she was not in a good place with Aeneas around. In the end, Aeneas and Dido both pay the price for the harm they brought upon themselves and others, and while their deaths could have been avoided, their egocentric actions could not have led them to any other destiny.