Tough Call: Vergil or God?

Vergil, Aeneid. 68-79.

Unhappy Dido burned from head to toe
and wandered the city frazzled,
like a doe that’s been struck by an arrow,
a doe that was at ease in a Cretan glade
when a distant shepherd, hunting with winged darts,
pierced her, and left, unaware of what he had done.
The doe roams Dicte’s woodlands and pastures
With the lethal arrow affixed to her flank.

Now Dido tours the walls with Aeneas,
shows off Sidon’s wealth, the half-built city.
She begins to speak but falters before she’s through.
Now she hosts the same feast at each day’s end:
mad to hear, yet again, of his struggles in Troy;
she pleads, and she hangs, yet again, on his words.

Augustine. Confessions. I.13.

I was made to learn about the wanderings of a certain Aeneas, while oblivious of my own wanderings, and to weep for dead Dido who for love took her own life. Meanwhile, amid these things, my own death far away from you, O God who is my life, I bore, in my great wretchedness, with dry eyes.

For what is more wretched than the wretch who does not pity himself but cries over the death of Dido, which came of love for Aeneas, and does not cry over his own death, which came of not loving you, O God . . . ?


uritur infelix Dido totaque vagatur
urbe furens, qualis coniecta cerva sagitta,
quam procul incautam nemora inter Cresia fixit
pastor agens telis liquitque volatile ferrum
nescius: illa fuga silvas saltusque peragrat
Dictaeos; haeret lateri letalis harundo.
nunc media Aenean secum per moenia ducit
Sidoniasque ostentat opes urbemque paratam;
incipit effari mediaque in voce resistit;
nunc eadem labente die convivia quaerit,
Iliacosque iterum demens audire labores
exposcit pendetque iterum narrantis ab ore.


… cogebar Aeneae nescio cuius errores, oblitus errorum meorum, et plorare Didonem mortuam, quia se occidit ab amore, cum interea me ipsum in his a te morientem, deus, vita mea, siccis oculis ferrem miserrimus.

Quid enim miserius misero non miserante se ipsum et flente Didonis mortem, quae fiebat amando Aenean, non flente autem mortem suam, quae fiebat non amando te, deus . . .?

a color photograph of a deer running in a meadow

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

Leave a Reply