International Journal of

Arts , Humanities & Social Science

ISSN 2693-2547 (Print) , ISSN 2693-2555 (Online)
DOI: 10.56734/ijahss
To Your Promised Empire Fly and Let Forsaken Dido Die: Character and Destiny in the Early Modern Era


Nahum Tate and Henry Purcell’s early modern opera Dido and Aeneas has been popular since the early nineteenth century. Librettist Nahum Tate inherited and adapted topoi representing fate, destiny, love, death, grief and piety among others from Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, Elizabethan and seventeenth-century literary sources. This article reconsiders Dido’s traditional representation as a heroic victim reappraising her legacy. It argues that rather than simple reproducing the meeting between Dido and Aeneas in Virgil, Tate combined Ovid’s heroine, Tertullian’s ‘monument to chastity’ and other characterisations in Virgil’s Aeneid (29–19 BCE); Ovid’s Heroides (c. 5 BCE–8 CE); Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women (14--); Douglas’ Eneados (1513); Howard’s Virgiles Æneis (1557); Phaer and Twynne’s AEneidos (1573); Stanyhurst’s Aeneis (1582); Marlowe’s The Tragedie of Dido, Queene of Carthage (1594); Tertullian’s Ad Nationes (published 1625) and Dryden’s Aeneis (1697) transmogrifying Dido’s portrayal. The list itself demonstrates the transmission of Dido’s story from antiquity to the Early Modern era. ‘When I am laid in earth’ is part of Britain’s national consciousness performed in an arrangement for brass band on Remembrance Sunday every year since the 1930s. Why does this piece of music still have so much significance? The article calls for Dido’s re-evaluation as a phoenix rising again every year on the second Sunday in November — today’s erstwhile symbol of remembrance.