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Reading Dido

Reading Dido: Gender, Textuality, and the Medieval Aeneid

Marilynn Desmond
Volume: 8
Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 318
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  • Book Info
    Reading Dido
    Book Description:

    Marilynn Desmond recovers an alternative Virgil from historical tradition and provides a new model for reading the Aeneid. Following the figure of Dido as she emerges from ancient historical and literary texts and circulates in medieval textual cultures, Reading Dido offers the modern reader a series of countertraditions that support feminist, anti-homophobic, and postcolonial interpretive gestures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8504-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction Gender and the Politics of Reading Virgil
    (pp. 1-22)

    Virgil’sAeneidhas historically been read in circumstances that support social and cultural hierarchies, a fact characterized by Thomas Greene: “Virgil’s earlier poetry was taught in Roman schools even before his death, and from then on, from the first century to the nineteenth, he was generally at the core of European education. . . . If he [Virgil] teaches the schoolboy style, to themanhe imparts nobility”³ (emphasis added). Given such a Eurocentric reading context, one would expect the reception of theAeneidto epitomize the patriarchal concerns of Western culture. And to a large extent, it does. As...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Dux Femina Facti: Virgil’s Dido in the Historical Context
    (pp. 23-73)

    In this passage taken from his allegorical commentary on Virgil’sAeneid, Petrarch questions Virgil’s choice of Dido as the female counterpart to the exemplary hero, Aeneas (vir fortis ac perfectus). As Petrarch carefully documents in his letter, Virgil’s Dido is recognizably a poetic invention, a fact all too well known to be ignored, since Petrarch cites a number of historians and philosophers who testify to the “other” Dido.² Given Petrarch’s program of intensive reading, he is aware of two conflicting textual traditions of Dido’s story. For Petrarch, such awareness complements his allegorical approach to theAeneidas a narrative about...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Dido as Libido: From Augustine to Dante
    (pp. 74-98)

    As part of his larger discussion of the aims and methods of education, John of Salisbury carefully delineates and then defines various modes of reading the Latin language in this passage. Reading (legere) may be either interactive or solitary, though solitarylectiowas probably still a vocal and highly physical activity.²Lectioperforms a significant role in the formation of a textual community—one is able to practicelectioas an individual because one has been instructed by others and thereby initiated into a distinct community defined by the activity of readership. Such readership initially depends on the instruction of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Dido in Courtly Romance and the Structures of History
    (pp. 99-127)

    In these two passages, Gayle Rubin and Georges Duby extend the kinship theories developed by Lévi-Strauss into their own disciplinary concerns—feminist theory and medieval history, respectively. Taken together, these two excerpts articulate the cultural implications of European feudalism as a social order based on the “traffic in women.”¹ Twelfth-century feudal society developed around systems of land tenure based on inherited vassalage; the practice of primogeniture resulted in vertical conceptions of kinship that stressed lineage and genealogy.² The institution of marriage allowed each generation to renegotiate kinship networks and land. The resulting power relations are most visible in the arrangement...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Sely Dido and the Chaucerian Gaze
    (pp. 128-162)

    Chaucer’s narrators frequently exhibit an intense self-consciousness about their scribal roles; in this regard, they manifest some of the attributes evident in thescriptor-role adopted by the narrator of theRoman d’Eneas. In the dream visions especially, Chaucer’s narrators meditate obsessively on the relationship between reading and writing, thereby thematizing the act of reading. In addition, these narrators explicitly present themselves as readers of classical Latin texts, texts whose authors and titles they often name. Chaucer himself appears to have been well acquainted with poets such as Virgil and Ovid as Latinauctoiesmediated by commentaries and pedagogical practices. Most...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Dido’s Double Wound in Caxton’s Eneydos and Gavin Douglas’s Eneados
    (pp. 163-194)

    As we saw in the last chapter, the narrator in Chaucer’sHouse of Fame¹ initiates his version of theAeneidwith the statement: “I wol now singen, yif I kan” (143). The addition of “yif I kan” to Virgil’s stately opening lines—“arma virumque cano”—is a standard piece of Chaucerian irony, an irony that turns on questions of authorial authority in narrative. With his “yif I kan,” the narrator invites us to contemplate his poses, his irony, and our susceptibility to his manipulative strategies. Such a comment reminds us, if we need reminding, that Chaucer’s narrators continually draw attention...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Christine de Pizan’s Feminist Self-Fashioning and the Invention of Dido
    (pp. 195-224)

    In this programmatic passage from the beginning of theMutacion de Fortune, Christine de Pizan (1364–1430) represents her entry into literary activity as a change of gender, a formulation repeated later in her autobiographical text theAvision.¹ As Christine narrates her life story, the death of her husband, which made her a widow at the age of twentyfive, thrust upon her a set of responsibilities that ostensibly made a man out of her; most specifically, her widowhood made it necessary for her to support herself, and to that end, she turned to writing and the patronage it offered.² Christine...

  12. EPILOGUE On Reading Dido
    (pp. 225-228)

    Like the entire section of Jacob’s Room set in the British Library from which this passage is drawn, the scene depicted here ironizes in every direction: the complacency of Jacob and the predictable bitterness of Julia Hedge are soon enveloped in the larger ironies of museums, monuments, and culture. Woolf’s look at textual traditions monumentalized in the Round Reading Room is scathing. The energetic resentment of Julia Hedge (Unfortunate Julia) offers no more direction (and commands no more sympathy) than the complacency of Jacob Flanders. And ultimately the social apparatus that supports the entire enterprise of Western culture is evoked:...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 229-280)
  14. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 281-288)
  15. Index
    (pp. 289-296)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-297)