As soap operas are wont to unfold, Dido finds out that Aeneas is poised to leave and confronts her husband in a raging, manipulative rebuke. “Oh heartless!” she exclaims, “Liar and cheat!” Who can blame her? Aeneas responds as any good warrior would, with a barefaced denial and a collection of reasons why he has to leave, well salted with his own devious guilt trip.
He starts with compliments about her royalty, how much she means to him, and how her memory will never dim during his lifetime. (Hmmm.) He denies planning to sneak away (even as he was, in fact, sneaking). Then he says he was not really and truly married because the rituals were not fulfilled. (He was just a little bit married.) Aeneas invokes the horror of a paternal haunting (who can argue with a ghost?), his family obligations and his destiny to build a new Troy. He points out that Dido herself is a refugee escaped from her wicked brother, and asks her why she would begrudge him the same privilege. (One word: Cheeky!) His ace card: the god Mercury has ordered him to Italy – his new home, his new love. He blurts out to Dido, “I drank his message in! So please, no more of these appeals that set us both afire. I sail for Italy not of my own free will.”
What could Dido do but fling a curse at him, which her gods will be obligated to fulfill?
And then send message after message via her sister pleading with him to stay, just a little bit longer (cue sad love song of your choice). Dido is shattered when Aeneas rebuffs it all. “So broken in mind by suffering, Dido caught her fatal madness and resolved to die.” And she does, in high drama, falling on a sword and expiring in her sister’s arms. The gods set her tortured soul free and off she flies to give Aeneas the stink eye as he sails away.
Dido would have undoubtedly agreed with Friar Lawrence as he chides young Romeo’s fickle heart saying, “Young men’s love then lies / Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” William Shakespeare