by Sam Leo


The Anaeid tells the story of the Trojan hero Anaeas, son of Aphrodite, who escaped the Greeks after the Trojan War and went on to help found Imperial Rome. On the way he made an extended stop at Carthage, then ruled by the legendary Queen Dido, and had a love affair with her. When he was called to his destiny by Hermes, she had a pyre built and killed herself atop it with a sword, while her subjects watched.

Historically, there may have been a Dido, Queen of Carthage. In another independent legend, she was being forced, under threat of losing Carthage to barbarians, to marry a Berber king; rather than do so she committed suicide as described above.


The funeral pyre had been raised some thirty feet into the air, so tall that a stairway had been built onto one side of it to permit access to the top. The people of Carthage had gathered round; from the viewing stands that had been constructed most of them could see the bed that was set up there, the garments lying upon it, the sheathed sword lying atop them.

Then Dido came out. Three times she slowly circled the base of the pyre while all her people watched; then, suddenly, she ran at the stair, in frantic haste rushed to the top. Once there, she stood beside the bed, took a moment to calm herself. Then she stripped off her robes, laying them on the bed as well. Her slim and lovely body could be seen plainly by all; the breeze swirled her long dark hair, and her nipples stood erect in the coolness.

Then she unsheathed the sword, lifted it, and examined the bronze blade minutely. Finally she knelt on the bed, still holding the sword, and looked at the garments lying there. "Sweet relics," she wept. "sweet as long as destiny allowed, now receive my lifeblood, set me free from this suffering. I have lived my life and finished the course fate alloted me. Happy should I have been if only the Dardan ships had never reached my coast!" She threw herself down on the bed for a moment, burying her face, then came back up, kneeling again. Carefully, she located the pommel of the sword against the bed; just as carefully, she pressed the point against her right breast, just at the lower edge of her delicate nipple. Her hands moved back down the blade, gripped the guards, and she leaned onto it a little; her breast folded inward, her nipple turning down and resting on the metal. She frowned momentarily, then stopped herself, held herself balanced in place. Raising her eyes, she looked out over the assembled people again.

"I shall die," she cried. "and die unavenged; but die I shall. Yes, yes! This is the way I like to go into the dark!" With these words she hurled herself forward; her head went back and her eyes snapped shut as the wide blade ripped into her tender breast. Slowly, she looked down at herself. Her arms trembled, and blood was already starting to stream down the blade. Carefully, she pulled herself back a little, just enough to allow her pressed-in breast to resume its normal contour. The sword could clearly be seen piercing it, her smooth skin clinging to it, the blood flowing from the wound.

She gazed at herself for a few moments before proceeding. "And may my heartless Trojan," she continued, "Far out on the deep, drink in the sight of my funeral pyre and take with him the evil omen of my death!"

So saying, she hurled herself forward again; the sword cut more deeply into her. Panting, eyes clenched, she clutched the guards and forced herself even further down onto it. Then, as foamy blood surged down it and spread out onto the bed, she held up her hands, showing her bloody palms to her people, her body sliding a little further down on the propped blade.

Then her strength deserted her. Groaning, she rolled onto her side on the bed. The sword remained in her body, and her blood continued to stain the blade.

By that time her sister, running frenziedly up the stairs, reached her. "O sister!" she cried. "You have destroyed my life with your own! Come, let me see your wound, I must wash it clean with water, I must gather with my own lips any last hovering breath!" Clasping Dido to her breast, she fondled her, sobbing, and tried to staunch the flow of dark blood with her dress. Dido attempted to raise her heavy eyes again but failed; the wound in her chest, where the sword still stood planted, breathed loud. Three times she rose, supporting herself on her elbows, but each time she fell back on the bed. With roaming eyes she looked toward the sky, searching the heaven for daylight, and found it. She gave a sigh, all her warmth passed away, and her life passed out into the moving air.