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, as her sister, Anna, climbs to her on her pyre. 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 the  limbs that clung to it.
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.


More Poems by Virgil

  1. Aeneas’s oath
  2. Love is the same for all
  3. Aeneas comes to the Hell of Tartarus
  4. King Mezentius meets his match
  5. The Harpy’s prophecy
  6. Aeneas arrives in Italy
  7. Omens for Princess Lavinia
  8. Aeneas reaches the Elysian Fields
  9. The Aeneid begins
  10. Aeneas saves his son and father, but at a cost
  11. Signs of bad weather
  12. Jupiter’s prophecy
  13. The death of Euryalus and Nisus
  14. The Fury Allecto blows the alarm
  15. In King Latinus’s hall
  16. Aristaeus’s bees
  17. Souls awaiting punishment in Tartarus, and the crimes that brought them there.
  18. The Trojans prepare to set sail from Carthage
  19. The farmer’s happy lot
  20. Virgil’s perils on the sea
  21. Virgil’s poetic temple to Caesar
  22. The death of Pallas
  23. Virgil begins the Georgics
  24. Aeneas learns the way to the underworld
  25. The Trojan Horse enters the city
  26. The infant Camilla
  27. Catastrophe for Rome?
  28. The journey to Hades begins
  29. Dido and Aeneas: royal hunt and royal affair
  30. A Fury rouses Turnus to war
  31. Dido falls in love
  32. Fire strikes Aeneas’s fleet
  33. Mourning for Pallas
  34. The portals of sleep
  35. Laocoon and the snakes
  36. The death of Dido.
  37. The Trojans reach Carthage
  38. Aeneas sees Marcellus, Augustus’s tragic heir
  39. Help for Father Aeneas from Father Tiber
  40. Dido and Aeneas: Hell hath no fury …
  41. How Aeneas will know the site of his city
  42. The death of Priam
  43. Rumour
  44. Laocoon warns against the Trojan horse
  45. Aeneas is wounded
  46. Sea-nymphs
  47. The natural history of bees
  48. Mercury’s journey to Carthage
  49. Palinurus the helmsman is lost
  50. Anchises’s ghost invites Aeneas to visit the underworld
  51. Aeneas tours the site of Rome
  52. Turnus is lured away from battle
  53. Hector visits Aeneas in a dream
  54. Juno throws open the gates of war
  55. King Latinus grants the Trojans’ request
  56. Vulcan’s forge
  57. More from Virgil’s farming Utopia
  58. Charon, the ferryman
  59. Aeneas prepares to tell Dido his story
  60. Storm at sea!
  61. The farmer’s starry calendar
  62. New allies for Aeneas
  63. Virgil predicts a forthcoming birth and a new golden age
  64. Aeneas rescues his Father Anchises
  65. The Syrian hostess
  66. Aeneas finds Dido among the shades
  67. Turnus the wolf
  68. Juno is reconciled
  69. Aeneas’s vision of Augustus
  70. Rites for the allies’ dead
  71. Turnus at bay
  72. Aeneas’s ships are transformed
  73. Aeneas joins the fray