Aeneid Book 4, lines 685 - 705

Dido’s release

by Virgil

Death does not come quickly to Dido – she lingers in pain after stabbing herself with Aeneas’s sword. We are spared none of the details. Finally, Juno sends Iris, Goddess of the rainbow and Mercury’s female counterpart as messenger of the Gods, to release her. References to the cutting of a tress are to the practice of cutting hairs from the brows of sacrificial animals.

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Sic fata gradus evaserat altos,
semianimemque sinu germanam amplexa fovebat
cum gemitu atque atros siccabat veste cruores.
illa gravis oculos conata attollere rursus
deficit; infixum stridit sub pectore vulnus.
ter sese attollens cubitoque adnixa levavit,
ter revoluta toro est oculisque errantibus alto
quaesivit caelo lucem ingemuitque reperta.
Tum Iuno omnipotens longum miserata dolorem
difficilisque obitus Irim demisit Olympo
quae luctantem animam nexosque resolveret artus.
nam quia nec fato merita nec morte peribat,
sed misera ante diem subitoque accensa furore,
nondum illi flavum Proserpina vertice crinem
abstulerat Stygioque caput damnaverat Orco.
ergo Iris croceis per caelum roscida pennis
mille trahens varios adverso sole colores
devolat et supra caput astitit. ‘hunc ego Diti
sacrum iussa fero teque isto corpore solvo’:
sic ait et dextra crinem secat, omnis et una
dilapsus calor atque in ventos vita recessit.

She mounted the steep slope, hugged and cradled
her dying sister, wailing, and dried
the black gore with her dress. Dido tried
to raise her heavy eyes, but fell back;
breath rattled from her deep chest wound.
Three times she raised herself on her elbow,
Three times fell back to the couch, looked with vague eyes
up for light in the heavens, groaning when she found it.
Then mighty Juno took pity on her long agony and
painful passing and sent down Iris from Olympus
to free her struggling spirit from her stubborn limbs.
Because her death was neither fated nor deserved,
but grim, premature and in a sudden fit of frenzy,
Proserpina had not taken the golden tress of hair from
her head and sealed her for Styx and the underworld.
Fresh with dew, Iris flew down through the sky on saffron
wings, trailing a thousand colours against the sun,
and paused above her head. “As bidden, I take this,
sacred to Pluto, and free you from this your body”
she said, and with her right hand cut the tress: at once
all warmth was vanished, her spirit gone to the winds.

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