Dido's Deductio

Lauren P. Caldwell

Georgetown University

Allusions to marriage are plentiful within the Dido and Aeneas episode in Aeneid 4. Most notable is the language Vergil uses to describe the stormy evening on which the couple consummates their relationship in a cave: he refers to a hymenaeus, the couple's conubium, and Juno's role as pronuba.  The ill-starred relationship, of course, ends in extreme misunderstanding: Dido believes she is married to Aeneas, and Aeneas firmly denies it.    

In this paper, I will further explore references to marriage in Book 4, paying special attention to Vergil's description of Dido as she prepares to accompany Aeneas on the hunt.  Elements in this scene – including Dido's clothing, her delay in her bedroom, her accompaniment by his entourage, and even the description of Aeneas himself – strongly recall the deductio, or customary Roman wedding procession.    To bring these features to light, I will compare Vergil's description of Dido in Aeneid 4 to Catullus' description of Junia Aurunculeia, a young bride whose leading from her parents' home to the home of her new husband is portrayed in poem 61.  Juxtaposing Dido with Junia reveals that Vergil begins the hunting scene with elements that resemble the beginning of the deductio, just as he concludes the scene in the same way a traditional deductio ended, with the consummation of the newlyweds' relationship.  Scholars have previously observed that the hunting scene ends up like a marriage, if an ambiguous one, in the cave, but comparison to Catullus 61 shows that references to marriage appear even at the beginning of the scene.

More important than the parallels between Aeneid 4 and Catullus 61 is their significance, particularly for better understanding what Vergil intends his readers to think about the relationship of Dido and Aeneas and what he is implying that his characters believe.  Is he, for instance, implying that a marriage actually took place?  Does the resemblance of this scene to the deductio explain why Dido interpreted the relationship as marriage?  The cave scene suggests that the poet means to convey that some kind of marriage took place; the description of Dido's preparation for the hunt reinforces this impression.

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