Telling the Story of a Fallen Queen Dante's Artistic License in Canto 5 of the Inferno with Dido's Fate in Book 6 of Vergil's Aeneid
Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Classics, Philosophy, and Religion
Major or Concentration
This paper seeks to answer the question of why Dante treats Dido so harshly for her "fault" (culpa, 4. 172), when Vergil treats her so leniently for the same culpae. To answer this question, the paper discusses the nature of Dido's roles in the Aeneid and in the Inferno, respectively, as well as the role of the gods in the Aeneid in her culpa, the role of Dido's furor, and the implications behind Dante's change in Dido's fate. One opinion among scholars is that Dante's Inferno was a "Christianized" redaction of the Aeneid, so that Dido's punishment would fit her crime exactly. In his article, "Vergil's Inferno," Putnam (1991) argues that, Dante, by reviewing the Aeneid through a theological and a teleological lens, was able to conclude his poem in a way that satisfactorily concluded what Vergil had begun. The second approach is that Dante was aiming for the maximum aesthetic effect. In Dante's mind, Dido makes a better adulteress than a suicide; through the Dantean lens, one sees Dido as both the beautiful adulteress and the tragic suicide. Poggioli (1957), in his article "Paolo and Francesca," argues that Dante was more concerned with the spirit of the works he alludes to, rather than being literally accurate. Vergil's Dido is made to suffer needlessly on account of the machinations of the gods, and the nature of fate. This is because in Vergil's ontology the gods use mortals to tweak Fate, and the mortals suffer the consequence. Thus, Dido is more sympathetic as a victim in Vergil's Aeneid, and therefore, she is treated kindly in the afterlife. Conversely, Dante turns the "Dido story" into a didactic exposé of the nature of lust. Therefore, Dante's rendition of Dido in the Inferno enhances and explains Vergil's rendition of her in the Aeneid.
Anthony-Price, Kara E., "Telling the Story of a Fallen Queen Dante's Artistic License in Canto 5 of the Inferno with Dido's Fate in Book 6 of Vergil's Aeneid" (2015). Student Research Submissions. 13.