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Epic Tradition: Dido through the Ages

ENGL 2000.401
also offered as: CLST 3708 / COML 2000 / GSWS 2000
TR 12-1:29pm

In his Aeneid (written between 29 and 19 BCE), the Roman poet Virgil created the most enduring narrative of Dido, Queen of Carthage. Virgil invents the romance between Dido and the hero Aeneas, and has her kill herself when Aeneas leaves Carthage to carry out his imperial mission to Italy. But the figure of Dido quickly got away from Virgil’s conception to establish a literary and artistic life of its own, from Ovid’s treatment of Dido all the way to the twenty-first century. In this class we will trace the reception of Dido in poetry, philosophy, drama, art, opera, and dance through antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and modernity. Dido is one of the most intriguing figures in literary history, on the one hand a feminist icon from the Middle Ages onward, and on the other hand a blank surface on which to test out different narratives of womanhood, gender roles, and political power. In this class we will study many cultural remakings of Dido, including: the poetry of Virgil, Ovid, Chaucer, and Christine de Pizan; the dramatic realization in Christopher Marlowe’s renaissance tragedy of Dido; Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas (1689) as well as other operas based on the Dido story; the regendering of Dido in Mark Morris’ dance adaptation (1989) of Purcell’s opera; and the Dido and Aeneas story in painting.

English Major Requirements
  • Literature Seminar pre-1700 (AEB7)
  • Literature Seminar pre-1900 (AEB9)
  • Sector 3 Medieval/Renaissance (AEMR)
English Concentration Attributes
  • Medieval/Renaissance Concentration (AEMC)
College Attributes