The Scots poet Gavin Douglas would chide his master Chaucer for failing to keep the promise Chaucer made in the first lines of this life: "I shal, as I can, / Folwe thy lanterne, as thow gost byforn" (926). In the Prologue to the first book of his translation of the Aeneid , Douglas specifies this place in Chaucer's "legeand of notable ladyis." It is not through inadequacy of translation, Douglas writes, that Chaucer "greitlie Virgile offendit," for Latin is a difficult language and must often be translated for general meaning rather than word for word. The offense is rather to have "greitlie the prince of poets grevit" by saying that "Eneas to Dido was forsworne." This,
Douglas rightly observes, is alien to the Virgilian portrayal; but this lapse can be excused in Chaucer, "For he was ever, God wait, wemenis trend." In this generous manner does Douglas exculpate his great predecessor, who not only fails to follow Virgil scrupulously, but, in substituting Ovidian material (Heroides 7), replaces the epic-heroic viewpoint with a contradictory lyric-erotic scenario from the seduced-and-abandoned female's point of view.
But it is worse than Douglas acknowledges, for Virgil himself was what some medieval rigorists might consider a liar. It was Virgil who invented the Dido who comes down to us thereafter, the Dido whom Aeneas met and loved and abandoned, the amorous Dido characterized in medieval Heroides commentaries as stultus amans , because she loved a stranger, was overhospitable, and fought against (the hero's) fate. Before Virgil there was no connection between the two figures; indeed, they were thought to have lived three centuries apart, so there could have been no meeting. Before Virgil, Dido was an emblem of faith in love. Married to Sychaeus and widowed, she killed herself in order to avoid the advances of a second suitor, Iarbus. Macrobius criticized Virgil for portraying an amorous Dido (Saturnalia 5. 17. 4–6); Ausonius has an epigram in which Dido blames not Aeneas but Virgil for destroying her virtue. Among the Church fathers, Tertullian was especially proud of the chaste Dido; he refers to her often and "spared no effort in promoting the fame of the heroine of his native Carthage," as Mary L. Lord observes in her thorough review of the chaste-Dido tradition (to which most of my comments here are indebted). The tradition was sustained by various grammarians, Virgil commentators, and medieval authors including Servius, Macrobius, Prisclan, Petrarch, and early Dante commentators; indeed, the question seems to have attained the status of a fairly significant debate in fourteenth-century Italian letters. A modern text readily available to Chaucer was Boccaccio's De mulieribus Claris , which Chaucer used for his Monk's account of Zenobia. Boccaccio's extended version of the Dido material argues that although Dido's death took place during Aeneas's visit, its oc-
currence had already been determined as a gesture of fidelity to her dead husband Sichaeus. Boccaccio retains the meeting with Aeneas, but, following the lead of the historian Justin's Historiae Philippicae , makes every effort to rehabilitate the queen's good name and to remove "the infamy undeservedly cast on the honor of her widowhood." Higden aligns himself firmly with the anti-Virgilians, pointing out that on chronological grounds, "it may nought stonde that Virgilius and Phrygius Dares in his stone of the bataille of Troye seith, that Eneas sih that womman Dido, for Eneas was dede thre hundred yere and more or Cartage was i-founded" (1.21, and cf. also 2.26). As Lord observes (225), Chaucer must have been aware of this tradition, for Dorigen's complaint in the Franklin's Tale (V. 1367–1456) draws heavily on the list of exempla in Jerome's Adversus Jovinianum , and this set includes the chaste Dido (although she is not used in the Chaucerian passage).
Chaucer's program differs, I suggest, from that of the defenders of Dido, for had he wanted to portray an unequivocally "good" and chaste Dido, in accordance with Eros's command, he need only have drawn on the tradition that shows her true to her dead husband, Sychaeus. In terms of plot, Chaucer is firmly on the Virgilian bandwagon by virtue of narrating Dido's affair with Aeneas—even Ovid did that much. Tonally, though, he will, like Ovid, deflate the epic-heroic dimension of the story, along with its lyric-sentimental version: that is, he will side with neither lover. Chaucer does not show Dido as unequivocally virtuous, merely as decent, human, and flawed—like Aeneas. His treatment of both characters subtly but strongly implies that they must each take responsibility for their fates. The resultant ambiguity of character and tone receives linguistic expression in an egregious pun strategically placed near the beginning of the tale: "And fyr, so wod it myghte nat been steered" ( wood: made of wood / crazy) in recounting the fall of Troy. This is a favorite Chaucerian pun, perhaps the favorite Chaucerian pun. It occurs twice in the Knight's Tale (1299–1302, 2950) and in the legends of Thisbe (736) and Phyllis (2419–20) as well as here. Even the description of Troilus's dismay after the decision to trade
Criseyde reaches after this pun, comparing the "wood" (crazed) Troilus to a bare tree and then giving a homonymic play on "bark" (tree bark/boat [TC 4.225–31]).
The moral equivalency of the sexes is suggested in the opening movement, which, as in the first legend, is about history and the hero's place in it. The story is not of Dido only but "of hym and of Dido" (956): both of them of heroic stature, both of honorable history (hers summarized by Venus but not by the Narrator: 994–97), and with faults. In the Aeneid , the Oriental Dido accuses the Trojan hero of savagery and barbarism because of his Asian origins: he was begotten on jagged cliffs and suckled by Hyrcanian tigers (4.366–67). Lee Patterson observes of this locus that "her accusation reveals both the deep kinship between her lover and herself and, more profoundly, her own fate as the stigmatized other in the thematic economy of imperial historiography. She must be banished from Virgil's narrative because she too closely expresses those aspects of the hero's own personality that are discontinuous with the ideology of his mission" (168). In the late-medieval English treatment, the similarity is much plainer than in the Roman national epic: Chaucer represents the pair as two of a kind—and, as noted of the two preceding legends, not only this pair. If Virgil invented (or appropriated) Dido as a figure for what the hero must divest, Chaucer retains her in the Virgilian mode to show the impossibility of such auto-amputation.
I have already noted Aeneas's suicidal despair when confronted with his own story. The picture begins to show a few more cracks when the hero and heroine are brought together. Rhetorically, the anaphoric "and" (eight out of eleven lines, 1061–71) suggests—as it did with Criseyde (Troilus and Criseyde 2.449–69, 2. 1300ff.)—the search for "an heep of weyes" of justification. Dido likes Aeneas not only for his story (as Desdemona liked Othello) but for his looks as well; moreover, "for he was a straunger, somwhat she / Likede hym | the bet, as, God do bote, / To som folk ofte newe thyng is sote" (1075–77). She is, we see, vulnerable to appearance and to newfangledness. Later, to her sister Anne, she will describe her motives this way:"For that me thynketh he is so wel ywrought, / And ek so likly for to ben a man" (1173–74): motives scarcely more elevated than those of a present-day adolescent.
At first, the queen's provisioning of Aeneas's fleet is no more
than the generous hospitality one would expect of a monarch (1090–99). Even here, though, the telltale anaphoric "And" (five times in eight lines: 1090–97) duplicates the piling up of goods and the piling up of reasons or motives. In the next section, eight lines running begin with "ne" (1115–22), listing all the gifts Dido bestows upon Aeneas: not only hospitality but horses, jewels, falcons, hounds, sacks of gold, cups of gold, and a great deal of money. The money is a particularly distasteful and discordant note, for it signals that Dido is engaging in a game of sexual and material power, in an attempt to buy the man she desires. Aeneas is her kept man:"And al is payed, what that he hath spent" (1125). She is giving too much materially, as she will shortly give too much of herself both physically and emotionally. Chaucer has Aeneas acknowledge the economic dimension in the Narrator's comment, just before his long apostrophe to victimized women, that
Now laugheth Eneas and is in joye
And more richesse than evere he was in Troye. (1252–53)
But this sexual economics will backfire, for paradoxically Dido sets herself up as victim by this too-generous giving, allowing herself to be used, representing herself as "easy." The passivity that lies at the heart of her aggressive giving comes dear in Dido's interview with her sister. Twice she hands over her life to Aeneas (1176, 1181), and she begs her sister to make a decision for her:"if that ye rede it me, / I wolde fayn to hym ywedded be" (1178–79). The moral abdication apparent here becomes generalized at the end, when Dido abdicates her social responsibility as governor of Carthage in order to indulge her personal disappointment. Like Cleopatra, she is a queen whose private life has overwhelmed her public obligation.
And so, victim to her own subjectivity, Dido believes she is wedded to Aeneas, although the Narrator's pointed deliberate mystification about the lack of a witness makes it dear that socially their union has no validity at all. "I not, with hem if there wente any mo [into the cave to consummate their desire]; / The autour maketh of it no mencioun" (1227–28). But the author does make mention; indeed, both authors do. Virgil has rather a lot of stage business around the cave scene, which parodies the traditional Roman ceremony so decisively reinforced by Augustan marriage and morality
legislation. Instead of the marriage torch, there is lightning; instead of the ceremonial chants, there is the howling of nymphs; instead of attendants, there are Tellus and Juno. In short, instead of civil society, there are the forces of nature—scarcely, for Virgil, or for Chaucer, an adequate substitute. As for human witness, Virgil is quite clear that only "Dido and the Trojan leader came to the cave" (4.165–66). When we turn to Ovid, Dido's letter in Heroides (7.93–94 specifies nos —we: herself and Aeneas—in connection with the cave scene. Chaucerian disingenuity thus creates a reader response: it is not something the reader would normally wonder about, until reminded by the Narrator to do so. Once we do think about it, and realize that there was no witness, we understand that this is no marriage in the generally accepted sense of the term, but only in the imagination of the fictional speaker, whose subjectivity is so prominently at stake throughout the narrative. This perspective is confirmed when Virgil summarizes the episode this way: "conjugium vocat; hoc praetexit nomine culpam" ("she called it marriage, and with this word concealed her guilt" [4.172]). Henry Ansgar Kelly insists on the validity of clandestine marriage, particularly in his analysis of the story of Dido in the Legend; he nonetheless admits that "clandestine marriage was declared illegitimate by papal law" (210). It is important to note, furthermore, that Kelly's view of the relationship between Dido and Aeneas is part of an overall interpretation of the Legend as a poem in which "Chaucer strove to portray his lovers as sympathetically as possible, and therefore made them as moral as possible" (59). A different interpretation of the poem would require a different view of the "marriage," and I agree here with V. A. Kolve, who, in another context, observes that "pagan marriage does not normally carry sacramental value for a medieval poet" (173). Yet however ambiguous medieval attitudes toward clandestine marriage may have been, it seems to me that Chaucer stakes out a rigorist and conservative position here, and not—as observed elsewhere in this study—for the first or only time. A short generation after Chaucer's death, such rigor would be strongly enforced: in the Norwich heresy trial of 1428, one Margery Baxter, wife of William Baxter, wright, was accused, among other things, of having said that a vow of mutual love between man and woman sufficed to the sacrament of marriage, without any other words or ecclesiastical solemnization (Tanner, 46).
As for Aeneas, his behavior is nothing short of sleazy. Chaucer does not directly depict the apparition of Mercury that provokes the hero's departure in the epic. Instead, we are given this episode only in the hero's verbal account of it (1295–1300), which may or may not be true. Coming as it does between the Narrator's assurances of Aeneas's dishonesty, the passage virtually presents itself as a lie. Its rhetoric, moreover, is not such as to inspire confidence. We hear not only of one but of two nocturnal visions—surely a little overdone; and the hero's assertion of misery is interrupted by the distancing phrase "me thynketh" (1300). Even if the appearance of Mercury were to be interpreted not as a lie but as a real dream, it would remain equally an expression of the hero's subjectivity.
This puts Aeneas's assertion of his dream in the same category as Dido's assertion of pregnancy (1323): possibly true, possibly a hope, or a mistake, or a lie and desperate last resort. The detail of the pregnancy is imitated from Ovid, where it is equally ambiguous. Forsitan , Ovid begins his sentence about the pregnancy (Her. 7.133): perhaps. But this hint, this possibility, creates a moral double bind. If it is untrue, Dido is a liar; if true, a double murderer—of herself and the unborn child. Like Ovid, Chaucer questions not only a heroine's and a hero's motives but, more important, the tradition through which such personae survive, the fama and its inherent contradictions, the conventions according to which we read: in short, their subjectivity and ours.