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We first learn about Dido at second-hand, from the goddess Venus, in her disguise as a Tyrian huntress when she meets Aeneas and Achates in the woods in Book 1.
Venus tells how Dido was once married to Sychaeus, the richest man of the city of Tyre (in modern-day Lebanon). Her brother, Pygmalion, was the king of Tyre.
Unfortunately, Pygmalion was very greedy, and ended up killing Sychaeus for his money. He managed to keep what he had done from Dido for a little while – but then Sychaeus appeared to her in a dream and explained what had happened.
Sychaeus told Dido to flee the city immediately, and also told her where some treasure was buried, to finance her trip. (Sweet.)
Dido gathered up some men from Tyre and sailed over to North Africa, where she is now building the city of Carthage.
Then Venus wraps Aeneas and Achates in a cloak of invisibility and brings them into the middle of Carthage.
In a short while, they see Dido approach and take her seat in front of the temple of Juno.
There, they see her receive emissaries from the ships Aeneas thought he had lost in the storm.
Dido apologizes for any inconvenience caused by her ramped-up security. Then she tells them that they can sail wherever they want, with a Carthaginian escort. Or, if they want, they can stay in Carthage as equal citizens.
Dido says that she wishes Aeneas were there, and promises to send out scouts to search the coastline for him.
Then Venus reveals Aeneas and Achates; she makes Aeneas look super impressive and handsome.
Dido is suitably impressed, and tells him so, explaining how she is an exile too, from Tyre.
She leads Aeneas into her palace and declares it a feast day. Aeneas sends Achates back to get his son, Ascanius, as well as some gifts for Dido. But Venus does a switcheroo, replacing Ascanius with Amor, the god of love, whom she has transformed to look like him.
Amor comes and delivers the gifts. After saying hi to Aeneas, he goes and sits on Dido's lap.
Amor inflames Dido with love for Aeneas, and slowly takes away her memory of her dead husband, Sychaeus.
At the end of the feast, Dido fills a huge bowl with wine, drinks from it, and starts passing it around.
Dido is growing more enthralled by the minute, asks Aeneas question after question about the Trojan War. Finally, she asks him how Troy was captured, and how he came to North Africa.
Aeneas tells his story, which takes up all of Books 2 and 3.
When Aeneas is done, Dido totally has the hots for him.
The next morning, she confides in her sister, Anna. She says that even though she swore she would never love anyone after her dead husband, Sychaeus, she seriously wants Aeneas. But she decides she can't do that.
Anna says, "What do the dead care if you're faithful or not? Anyway, Carthage is surrounded by enemies. We could use a strong alliance. At least get the Trojans to stay for the winter."
The days pass, and Dido becomes more and more in love. The city's building projects stall with no one to oversee them.
Then Juno and Venus team up to do some matchmaking between Dido and Aeneas. Juno thinks this will be good for Carthage in the long run and Venus thinks it will be good for the Trojans in the short run.
Soon afterward, when Dido and Aeneas go out hunting, Juno whips up a rainstorm, and the two rulers make their way to a nearby cave.
The magic happens, and Dido begins to see herself and Aeneas as married. (Notice a certain lack of symmetry?)
Eventually, word gets to Jupiter of what's going on, and he isn't pleased. He sends the god Mercury down to tell Aeneas to get a move on.
He tries to keep the preparations secret, but Dido gets wind of it and becomes furious.
When she confronts Aeneas about it, Aeneas says that he has to leave – and that he and Dido aren't married anyway.
As you might expect, Dido doesn't take this too well. In fact, she tells him to get lost – and that she hopes his ship sinks.
Then Dido runs off and faints; her maids carry her back to her bedroom.
When Dido comes to, she sees the Trojans preparing to leave. She tells her sister Anna to go and tell them to wait for better winds at least.
Anna goes and tells him, but Aeneas won't listen.
Dido then gets troubled by a bunch of weird happenings. For example, water blackens on her altars, and wine turns to blood. Voices seem to arise from the shrine of her dead husband.
It seems that everything is going to Hades in a hand basket. Dido decides to commit suicide.
Dido tells Anna to prepare a pyre, claiming she only wants it to burn some things that Aeneas has left behind.
That night, Dido ponders again what she should do. She considers following the Trojans, but decides against it. She reaffirms to herself her intention to commit suicide. Now she is also motivated by guilt at having been unfaithful to the memory of Sychaeus.
Then Dido wakes up and sees the Trojans leaving. She wishes she had killed Aeneas when she had the chance.
She prays that his mission will fail, and that her people and his will become enemies. (We know from subsequent Roman history – i.e., the Punic Wars – that her wish will come true.)
Then Dido sends her sister's old nurse to tell Anna to get a pyre ready; she claims that she wants to burn some stuff that Aeneas left behind.
After Anna builds the pyre, Dido climbs on top of it and stabs herself with a sword once given to her by Aeneas.
Anna climbs onto the pyre herself and tries to save the dying Dido, but it is too late.
Juno sends down Iris, the messenger of the gods, to take a lock of Dido's hair and prepare her for death. Iris does this, and Dido dies.
We next see Dido when Aeneas runs into her in the underworld.
He tells her he is sorry, and how it wasn't his fault for leaving her: he was only doing the gods' bidding, just as he is now.
But Dido doesn't listen to him. Instead, without a word, she runs off to join the shade of her dead husband, Sychaeus.