The Marlowe Society

Marlowe's Works

Marlowe's Works
Dido Woodcut


Dido, Queen of Carthage









Dido, Queen of Carthage

Dido, Queen of Carthage

Dramatis Personae

1. The Gods


In Roman mythology, Jupiter is the king of the Gods, and the God of the sky. Juno is both his sister and his wife. Jupiter was the grandfather of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, and thus venerated in Roman religion.

In the opening scene of Marlowe's play, Jupiter is "dandling" Ganymede on his knee and offering him his wife's marriage jewels (he has made Ganymede cup-bearer to the Gods at the expense of Juno's daughter Hebe). Confronted by Venus concerned for her son's life, Jupiter agrees to quell the storm that endangers Aeneas, and affirms that his ultimate fate is unaltered: to re-establish Troy in Italy through the founding of Rome. Jupiter is thus pitted against his wife Juno on two fronts.


In Greek mythology, Ganymede was a Trojan prince and the most handsome among mortals, which is why Zeus abducts him in the form of an eagle to serve as immortal cupbearer to the gods. Jupiter is the equivalent of Zeus in Roman mythology, and a similar legend exists.

In poetry, Ganymede was often used as a symbol for idealised beauty of youth and also for homosexual love, sometimes contrasted with Helen of Troy in the role of heterosexuality. In the opening to Marlowe's play, Ganymede is being "dandled" on Jupiter's knee, whilst bemoaning Juno's wrath towards him (he has usurped her daughter Hebe as cup-bearer). A clearly smitten Jupiter reminds Ganymede that all the Gods are at his command, and even offers him Juno's wedding gems. This opening scene is introduced by Marlowe (it is not in Virgil's Aeneid), and serves to underline the resentment between Jupiter and Juno.


The winged messenger of the Gods. Dispatched by Jupiter to instruct Aeolus to quell the storm, and later to remind Aeneas of his Italian destiny (again at the behest of Jupiter).


Son of Venus and half-brother of Aeneas, Cupid is the God of love and erotic beauty in Roman mythology. He is able to make a person fall in love with another, and is often shown with a bow and arrow as the means by which he achieves this.

In both Virgil's Aeneid and Marlowe's play, Venus arranges for Cupid to be substituted for Aeneas's son Ascanius (whilst in the care of Dido) in order that he may make Dido fall in love with Aeneas and guarantee his safety.

The later scene involving Cupid and Dido's nurse is wholly Marlowe's invention.

2. The Goddesses


Roman goddess, daughter of Saturn, sister and also wife of the chief God Jupiter.

She is the main antagonistic character in Virgil's Aeneid, resentful towards the Trojans and determined to thwart Aeneas' mission to found a new Troy in Italy. Juno is angry, because she was not chosen in the judgement of Paris against Aeneas' mother Venus, and also because her favourite city Carthage will be destroyed by Aeneas' descendants.

The opening of Marlowe's play finds Ganymede bemoaning his treatment by Juno to a sympathetic Jupiter. Ganymede, a Trojan prince, was chosen to be the god's cup bearer, replacing Juno's daughter Hebe.

Juno bribes Aeolus, ruler of the Winds, to blow up a storm that forces the Trojan fleet heading towards Italy back across the Mediterranean Sea onto the North African coast in Carthage (modern day Tunisia).

Later, Juno makes an opportunistic pact with Venus, the two goddesses putting their enmity temporarily aside in order to hatch a plan that will lure Aeneas into marrying Dido, an outcome that suits both their aims.


The Roman goddess associated with love, beauty and fertility, she is mother to both Aeneas and Cupid.

At the opening of the play, she is concerned for her son's life in the storm created at Juno's behest, and berates Jupiter for not saving him. Venus arranges for her other son Cupid to replace Aeneas's son Ascanius and cause Dido to fall in love with Aeneas to ensure the safety of her son against Juno's wrath.

Later, Venus makes an opportunistic pact with Juno, as mentioned above.

3. The Trojans


Aeneas is a Trojan hero, son of Anchises and the goddess Venus, and related to the Trojan king Priam. In Homer's Iliad, he is leader of the Trojan allies, the Dardanians, and his mother frequently comes to his aid in battle.

However, it is Virgil in his Aeneid who builds on this minor character from Greek mythology and turns him into the full-blown hero who eventually founds Rome. Marlowe, of course, uses Virgil as his source.

The play opens with Aeneas' and the Trojan fleet having escaped the fall of Troy and heading for Italy to fulfil their heaven-decreed fate. But after Juno has caused their ships to wash up in Carthage, Aeneas initially falls in love with a Cupid-struck Dido, subsequently battling at some length with his conscience before eventually succumbing to destiny and setting off once again for Italy.

Marlowe's sympathy is perhaps slightly more with Dido than was Virgil's. The title of his play perhaps suggests this, but Marlowe also adds some minor tweaks to the narrative that paint Aeneas in a less sympathetic light.


Aeneas and Creusa's son, also known as Iulus (or Julius). The young boy is substituted by Cupid for much of the play. He travels on to Italy with his father, and eventually founds Alba Longa there, becoming the first of a long line of Kings.


In Roman mythology, Achates is Aeneas' close and faithful friend who accompanies him throughout his journeys, most notably leading him to the Sibyl of Cumae where Aeneas descends to the underworld. In Marlowe's play, his main dramatic role is to repeatedly persuade Aeneas that he should depart Carthage to resume his original mission to Italy.


Other companions of Aeneas who escaped the fall of Troy together.

4. The Carthaginians


Queen of Carthage. Marlowe's tragedy is perhaps more sympathetic to his eponymous heroine than Virgil.

According to Roman historians, Dido (also known as Elissa), Phoenician princess of Tyre, founded Carthage (modern day Tunisia, on the North African coast) in about 814 B.C. and subsequently a powerful Carthaginian (or 'Punic') civilization that rivalled Rome. Her brother, King Pygmalion of Tyre, had arranged the murder of her rich husband Acerbas (a.k.a. Sichaeus, as he is named by Virgil and Marlowe). But Elissa had found out and chose to flee with a party of loyal followers, eventually settling in Carthage. She chooses to stay true to the memory of her husband, but after declining the marriage proposal of Iarbus, king of Mauritani, who otherwise threatened to make war on Carthage, Elissa creates a ceremonial pyre and sacrifices herself on it.

In both Virgil's Aeneid and Marlowe's Dido, the Queen of course falls in love with Aeneas, angering Iarbus (King of the Gaetulians) whose offer of marriage was previously spurned by Dido. These tragedies both end with Dido similarly sacrificing herself on a self-made pyre, in despair at the loss of Aeneas who has finally sailed for Rome.


Queen Dido's sister. Plays a minor role in the Aeneid, but both the sub-plot of her love for Iarbus, and her following Dido into the pyre, are Marlowe's inventions.


Dido's elderly and widowed nurse, who is instructed to take Aeneas' son to her house in the country by the Queen as a means of keeping the Trojan in Carthage. But it is Cupid still masquerading as Ascanius, and the nurse is soon consumed with thoughts of love. This scene (IV.5) is Marlowe's own invention. A nurse appears briefly in the Aeneid to help Dido build her pyre.

5. Other Characters


King of Gaetulia in Virgil's Aeneid, and just one of Dido's many suitors. However Roman historians record Iarbus variously as King of Maxitani or Mauritani, who demanded the hand of Dido in marriage or he would wage war on Carthage. The Queen wished to stay faithful to her first husband (murdered back in Tyre) and on pretence of creating a ceremonial pyre in preparation for marriage, instead sacrifices herself on it.

In Marlowe's Dido, Iarbus is rather the Queen's only jealous suitor, angered when Dido falls for Aeneas after his advances have been spurned.


Other Trojans and Carthaginians in the retinue of Aeneas and Dido; servants and attendants.

Tweets by @Marlowe_Society