in Language, Literature

Verbal Artistry in Vergil: Allusion in Aeneid 1.498-504

As Dido enters the temple of Juno in Aeneid 1 she is likened in a simile to Diana (Artemis):

Qualis in Eurotae ripis aut per iuga Cynthi
exercet Diana choros, quam mille secutae
hinc atque hinc glomerantur Oreades; illa pharetram               500
fert umero, gradiensque deas supereminet omnis:
(Latonae tacitum pertemptant gaudia pectus):
talis erat Dido, talem se laeta ferebat
per medios, instans operi regnisque futuris.

Dido is like Diana leading the hunt as she proceeds carrying her quiver (pharetram), towering above the other goddesses. One cannot help but recall here the description of Venus disguised as a Tyrian huntress earlier in Book 1; for instance, she too carried a quiver (virginibus Tyriis mos est gestare pharetram, 336). She there presents herself as one of Dido’s subjects: she dwells in the Punic realms (Punica regna, 338; cf. regnis futuris, 504). Aeneas suspects from the beginning that she is a goddess (dea certe, 328), even thinking she might be Diana (an Phoebi soror?, 329). Diana in the simile is followed by Nymphs (Oreades, 500), while Aeneas previously thought Venus might be a nymph (an nympharum sanguinis una?, 329).

The irony is rich: Venus, an immortal, is likened in appearance within the poem to a mortal; Dido, a mortal, is likened by Vergil in a simile to an immortal, the same goddess for whom Aeneas had mistaken Venus; Venus-as-mortal is on a hunt; Dido-as-immortal is on a hunt; Venus presents herself as a  subject of Dido, though we know that Dido is and will be shown to be subject to Venus. The picture of Dido as chaste maiden strikes an odd note when one remembers what happens in the poem, just as the earlier picture of Venus did. Thus Dido is drawn into a symbolic connection to Venus, only for the dark irony of the connection to be exploited later.