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Sally's Journal
August 1st, 2006
02:29 pm


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I am a stupid mathmo who doesn't understand Art. More to the point, I am trying to understand Dido and Aeneas before Saturday. Although I am coming to the conclusion you don't have to understand the plot to enjoy it.

My current understanding of the plot is behind this LJ cut. However, I have a few questions, and enlightening answers to them would be really appreciated. I did read the wikipaedia article, but it wasn't much use.

Dido and Aeneas

Belinda: Life is great, we're pretty and powerful, and should be happy all the time
Dido: I don't want you to guess why I'm unhappy. I can't tell you why I'm so unhappy. Repeat several times[1]
Belinda: I know why you're unhappy. You fancy Aeneas. But that's a really good thing as it'll unite our cities. Besides, it's OK, because he fancies you too. Oh, here he is.
Aeneas : Hi
Dido: Fate forbids what you pursue [2]
Aeneas: Dido, I love you. Have some pity on me!
Belinda: Oh, come on, it's obvious she fancies you too.
Chorus: Yay! Let's all go and party! [3]

Sorceress: Mwahahahaha! I hate Dido because I hate everyone who's better off than me! I will cause terrible things to happen to her!
Witches: Hahahahahah! Tell us how! [4]
Sorceress: I'm going to get my elf to pretend to be a God, and tell Aeneas that he has to go away!
Witches: Hahahahahaha!
Sorceress: Oh, and I'm going to spoil their party by raining on them.

Belinda: Yay, what a great party!
Aeneas: Look, look, I've got a really big pig on a stick!
Dido: Damn, it's going to rain. Let's go home.

Sorceress The Sorceresses fabulously evil Pet Elf: Hey, Aeneas! I'm God. You've got to go to Hesperia to restore Troy[5]. Tonight.
Aeneas: Better do what God says then. Bother. Dido's going to be a bit upset about this.

Saliors: We're sailing soon!
Witches: We're really evil. We're going to storm them as soon as they're at sea. Yay! Elissa bleeds tonight[6] and Carthage flames tomorrow! [7] Mwahahahaha!

Dido: My only refuge is Death! [8]
Aeneas: I'm really sorry. It's God's fault.
Dido: Hah! People always blame God when they're doing bad stuff. Go away and let me die in peace [9]
Aeneas: No! Tell you what, I'll ignore God and stay with you for love's sake.
Dido : Humph. I'm not going to forgive you just because you stay. You said you were going to leave me. That's just as bad.
Aeneas: I'll stay!
Dido: Go away.
Aeneas : I'll stay!
Dido: Go away! I'll die if you don't go away! [10]

Aeneas gives up

Dido: I'll die now.
Dido dies [11]

[1] Why? Is her loving Aeneas a bad thing in some way?
[2] Why does Dido think Aeneas is fated not to get together with her? I feel I'm missing some back story.
[3] Did I miss something here? I didn't hear Dido say yes!
[4] No questions here. This bit's great
[5] Yep, definitely missing some back story. What's Troy got to do with this? I wish I'd done classics.
[6] Who / what is Elissa?
[7] That's here, right? Dido is the Queen of Carthage? I still can't see why the city's going to spontaniously combust... Or does it mean that they're going to burn the Queen in her funeral pyre?
[8] Now I'm really confused. This seems a bit of an overreaction to some guy she only told she fancied yesterday vanishing. Is this an opera thing?
[9] I still don't get why she's going to die. Death of a broken heart might be a good plot device, but even Juliet used a dagger.
[10] If she's going to die if he doesn't stay, surely this doesn't actually matter?
[11] I mean, is it that there's some crucial stage direction involving poison or a dagger or something I'm missing, or was the style of the day that people really did just drop down dead of broken hearts?

(33 comments | Leave a comment)

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[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 02:45 pm (UTC)
I am not familiar with the opera in question, but I've read the Aeneid so I'll take a crack:

1. She vowed never to love another man after her first husband, Sychaeus, died. Made a whole big production about it. So naturally she's embarrassed to find herself in love again.

2. Aeneas is supposed to be founding a new Troy, so shacking up with a barbarian queen is kind of a detour.

3. Er, don't know. Yes by proxy/duenna? (I don't know who Belinda is, she isn't in the book.)

4. Hee.

5. Backstory: Aeneas, a nobleman of Troy, and his intrepid band of survivors escaped the sack of Troy and are now wandering around under orders from Hector, the gods, and various and sundry of Aeneas' dead relatives to found a new and more glorious Troy with the ancient bloodlines intact (which they will eventually do, except it will be called Rome). Only they have wound up in Carthage, exhausted and starving, and Aeneas' mom, Venus, decided it would be a great idea to make Dido fall in love with Aeneas so she would be especially nice to Venus' pwecious baby boy. Except if Aeneas stays in Carthage he won't be able to found a new Troy, so this relationship was doomed from the get-go. Tragedy ensues.

6. Elissa is Dido's other name. I don't know why. It just is.

7. Hmm-- dunno actually. In the book there's a subplot about a barbarian prince who wants to force Dido to marry him or else he'll sack Carthage, but I don't know if that's what's going on here or not.

8. Heh, well in the Aeneid they had been shacked up together and living happily in sin for over a year before the god told Aeneas he had to get on with the founding of the new Troy, so her drama was a bit more appropriate.

9. In the Aeneid she gets her sister to help her build a big pyre to symbolically burn away her stupid feelings for Aeneas, and then she climbs up on top of it and stabs herself and lights it on fire. It's very sad. Perhaps the opera skips this bit.

10. Hee, again. In the Aeneid he does not offer to stay with her for love's sake. She is all, "I'll DIE if you leave me! No, literally! See, I will bury this dagger in this heart and it will cease to beat!" and he is all, "That is very upsetting and I will mourn you with great sincerity for the rest of my life. In the new Troy. Bye now." Aeneas would NEVER disobey god(s). His epithet throughout the book is pius Aeneas, "devout Aeneas."

This opera sounds fantastically trippy. I must see if I can locate it.
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 02:49 pm (UTC)
*lightbulb moment*

Thankyou :-) I feel slightly more educated now. Perhaps in the 16th century they didn't let you go to the Opera until you'd completed your Classics degree.
(Deleted comment)
Date:August 1st, 2006 02:52 pm (UTC)
I know nothing about the opera but I know about Virgil's version of Dido and Aeneus from studying it at school and I've seen a production of 'Dido: Queen of Carthage' (so there's the answer to one of your questions). From what you've written both of these versions of the story differ from the opera in significant ways but I'll give it a go.

[1] Dido does not want to enter into a new relationship with Aeneus because she is a widow and in the Roman culture at the time that Virgil wrote the Aeneid a widow remarrying was generally disapproved of. Due to this Dido has been refusing the affections of a local king who could have been a valuable alliance so by marrying Aeneus she would be both sullying her honour and pissing off her next door neighbour who has an army.

[2] This might be because she thinks she should remain single for the rest of her life or could be because she knows about Aeneus's fate. Aeneus is fated to found Rome which obviously would involve him not being in Carthage.

[3] No idea. In Virgil's version she invites him to go on a hunting party with her at this point.

[5] Aeneus was one of the few survivors from the city of Troy. He only survived because his mum is Venus. His destiny is to found Rome the 'new Troy'.

[6] I don't know who Elissa is.

[7] Carthage may end up in flames because shunned other love interest to Dido will get pissed off and attack the city and Dido will be too love sick to defend it.

[8] In the Virgil version Dido is delusional and thinks that she is married to Aeneus because during the thunder storm they sheltered in a cave together and there's a weird 'did they get married/did they have sex' scene. Dido and Aeneus have been living as husband and wife for a while when he leaves.

[9,10,11] In the Virgil version Dido builds a big funeral pyer jumps on top of it and stabs herself with Aeneus' sword having set fire to the pyre. She's also seriously pissed off with a Aeneus for leaving and tells him that she will reck revenge on him from the underworld for the way he treated her.

Hope some of that helped.
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 02:53 pm (UTC)
That was me.
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, others have got there first. But you completely missed out my STARRING ROLE. It is not the Sorceress who pretends to be Mercury, but her PET ELF. That's me!
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
My apologies. I have an overwhelming urge to dress you in a little green outfit with bells and a collar now.
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 03:08 pm (UTC)
[11] But Dido dies *really prettily*

I need to pass round my recording of John Blow's Venus and Adonis which is regarded as the direct model for Dido...
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 03:37 pm (UTC)
Love this opera. I've played Second Witch in two productions - one was at the ADC a couple of years back :) All that cackling is such fun!

Belinda isn't a sister, but a handmaid or lady-in-waiting, as is "Second Woman", who despite having no name still has a LOT of singing to do!

Do enjoy it, it's absolutely wonderful and at just under an hour the perfect length, too.
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 03:40 pm (UTC)
So did your Dido just drop dead of a broken heart, or did she kill herself in some interesting way?
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 05:13 pm (UTC)
Maybe she should go with him :)
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 05:35 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I've not seen the opera version (but I'd like to!), but the Virgil version is pretty much this:

Dido falls in love with Aeneas. Rainstorm happens, as does shagging in a cave which apparently makes them officially married. Aeneas has to leave and save the world, Dido throws a strop, but Aeneas leaves anyway. Dido wibbles a lot then stabs herself with his sword, and her sister burns her on a funeral pyre. The end!

Of course, there will no doubt be added bonus extra bits in the opera, but that's my fuzzy Classicist account of the whole thing anyway! :)
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 06:11 pm (UTC)
Aeneas: Look, look, I've got a really big pig on a stick!

I am now dying of giggles.
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 08:17 pm (UTC)
I could not possibly answer your questions better than those before me have done, so I'll just sit over here and laugh happily. =)
[User Picture]
Date:August 1st, 2006 09:59 pm (UTC)
This was a marvelous comment which for reasons I know not wot of got deleated. I hope its author won't mind me reposting it anonymously, because it greatly amused me and I would like it to live in the right place:

Right, I'll freely admit I've very little idea of the plot of Dido and Aeneas, however I did manage the Aeneid during High School, which is basically Aeneas' life-story. Here are relevant bits from the plot of that that I remember (they may not be true in your one, but I'm betting the Aeneid was the main influence here):

1. Aeneas is the son of Venus, the goddess of Love.

2. He grew up in Troy. Juno (wife of Zeus) hates Troy (see the Iliad for why).

3. Troy is sacked, look up stuff about the Trojan war for more details of this (remember that there's an awful lot of gods interfering in this).

4. Venus appears to her son, and prophesies that he *must* leave in order to found a city. This city would then 'give birth' to the greatest civilisation of all time. (Romulus and Remus were born in the city Aeneas is said to have founded).

5. Aeneas is told to flee and take folk with him. He loses his wife, but manages to take his son and father with him.

6. Juno stirs up a storm to drown the escaping Trojans, this pisses off Neptune who calms the storm and allows them to get to Carthage.

7. Dido is a strong, competent ruler of Carthage, who is negotiating for an arranged marriage with various of the surrounding rulers. Carthage is a new city, still being built.

8. Dido welcomes Aeneas with open arms. They become lovers and he helps her build up her city, beginning to forget about the prophecy, and thinks about marrying Dido.

8. Venus is worried by this, and uses a storm to get Aeneas on his own. She then berates him into leaving, by pointing out his responsibility to the Trojan refugees he has with him, and to his son.

Then there's the complicated bit of Dido not really knowing what she wants, and knowing that she can't go up against a goddess. Aeneas leaves.

Dido then says that in order to get over him she wants a funeral pyre of all his stuff - somewhat akin to chucking out your old boyfriend's belongings. The pyre is built, then at night she sneaks to the top of it, lies on their bed (it's a *big* pyre), drenches herself in oil, then sets light to herself.

Hope this vaguely helps. Prophecy's a bitch.
[User Picture]
Date:August 2nd, 2006 07:56 am (UTC)
Eh, don't mind - I deleted it with the intention of reposting it with some of the mistakes removed, but got distracted and wandered off.
[User Picture]
Date:August 2nd, 2006 08:50 am (UTC)
I am completely ignorant about this but just wanted to say that I really loved this summary (and am now slightly less ignorant having read it and the comments).
[User Picture]
Date:August 2nd, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC)
I know there has been much commenting on the Virgil version, but seeing as I'm teaching it next year I thought I'd do the narrative account thing for practice. The first paragraph following is general backstory that Virgil doesnt give, and the second is the blow-by-blow account according to Virgil.

Firstly, back story to the Aeneid. Dido is the sister of evil Pygmalion and had to flee from him. She was married to Sycchaeus, whom she loved very much and because she loved him so much didn't want to marry again - it's not so much that remarrying was looked down on in Virgil's Rome, indeed it was very common among the nobility because the men used to go and get killed in wars all the time (think of Cornelia wife of Crassus and Pompey), but the main point is that she loved Sycchaeus so much.

The Aeneid opens with Aeneas in a storm, and he ends up washing up in Carthage. His mother, Venus, visits him but pretends to be a young hunteress type, which annoys him when he realises it was her. When Aeneas gets to Carthage, he see the temple they're building with all the scenes from the Trojan War and starts crying, at which point Dido notices him and invites him to dinner. Venus replaces Aeneas' real son, Ascanius/Iulus with her own son, Cupid, and Dido thinks he's lovely and has him on her lap all night - in fact, Venus has decided Aeneas will be safer if Dido falls in love with him (Venus is a silly girly sort of goddess whose main traits involve making sure Aeneas is safe and lying a lot), and this is what she is making happen. At dinner, Aeneas is persuaded to tell his story, Odysseus-style, and so he launches into a two-book-long narrative of a) the Trojan War (when he was given his mission to go and found a new Troy that's going to turn out to be Rome in the end), and b) his adventures on the journey from Troy to Carthage (involving Harpies and things). In Book IV we get all the lovey dovey stuff - they go hunting, it rains, Aeneas and Dido go and have sex in a cave and then spend quite a while sleeping together. Dido is smitten and thinking of herself as wifey, but suddenly Aeneas gets a message from Mercury that he really should be getting on with his quest, and because his main trait is piety he has to go along with this. There is a very interesting exchange between him and Dido in which he says he has to leave, she cries, he says he really does love her, she cries, he leaves, she cries, she's not-comforted by her sister, she builds a big pyre and jumps on top of it and kills herself. Iris (random deity, not important) takes pity on her and cuts the threads that tie her to life, so that she can die properly and her soul can pass on (suicide is complicated, you see). Aeneas forgets about her for a while but when he gets to Italy ends up going to the Underworld, where he meets her soul - she ignores him, he cries after her. But it turns out she's now with Sycchaeus, which is rather sweet. But it's all a bit complicated and bound up with eschatology - I wrote a whole thesis about the life cycle in the Aeneid, so believe me there's no easy answer to the suicide and morality question ;)

Um, did that help? Hope so!
[User Picture]
Date:August 2nd, 2006 11:28 pm (UTC)
I am coming to the conclusion you don't have to understand the plot to enjoy it.

Indeed. Operas in general are not plot driven. The thing is that everything takes a very long time when you sing it (compare the length of your summary with the length of Dido), so lots of plot has to throw out to make room for more arias. Sometimes the composer has a really great idea for a witches' song and so inserts an entirely gratuitous plot element. (It might also be because operatic convention says that love is the highest good, and therefore not something the gods would interfere with, so it must have been witches.)

[8] Yes, that's an opera thing. When some one falls in love, they fall instantly, madly, uncontrollably in love. They usually die in the next act.
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