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Reading Dido

Gender, Textuality, and the Medieval Aeneid

Marilynn Desmond

Publication Year: 1994

If we view the Aeneid—the poem of empire, conquest, and male hierarchy-as the West's quintessential canonical text and Latin primer, then the history of Virgil readership should tell us much about the concept of education in the West. In this book, Marilynn Desmond reveals how a constructed and mediated tradition of reading Virgil has conditioned various interpretations among readers responding to medieval cultural and literary texts. In particular, she shows how the story of Dido has been marginalized within canonical readings of the Aeneid. Reaching back to the Middle Ages and vernacular poetic readings of Dido, Desmond recovers an alternative Virgil from historical tradition and provides another paradigm for reading the Aeneid. Desmond follows the figure of Dido as she emerges from ancient historical and literary texts (from Timaeus and Justin to Virgil and Ovid) and circulates in medieval textual cultures. Her study ranges from the pedagogical discourses of Latin textual traditions (including Servius, Augustine, Bernard Silvestris, and John of Salisbury) to the French and English vernacular cultures inscribed in the Roman d'Eneas, the Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César, and the work of Dante, Chaucer, Gavin Douglas, Caxton, and Christine de Pizan. The positions of all these readers point to the cultural specificity and historical contingency of all traditions of reading; thus, this book demonstrates how medieval traditions of reading Dido offer the modern reader a series of countertraditions that support feminist, antihomophobic, and postcolonial interpretive gestures.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: Medieval Cultures


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Title Page, About the Series, Copyright, Dedication,

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Frontispiece, Quote

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Reading Dido is a study of the reception and revision of the figure of Dido as she emerges from ancient texts and circulates in medieval textual cultures. This study also records my reception of cultural theory and my revision of my earlier work. Most notably, Reading Dido marks a revisionary departure from my dissertation on Virgil's Aeneid in medieval French and English literature (Berkeley, 1985). ...


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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction: Gender and the Politics of Reading Virgil

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pp. 1-22

Virgil's Aeneid has 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. ...

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1. Dux Femina Facti: Virgil's Dido in the Historical Context

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pp. 23-73

In this passage taken from his allegorical commentary on Virgil's Aeneid, 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, ...

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2. Dido as Libido: From Augustine to Dante

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pp. 74-98

A s 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 solitary lectio was probably still a vocal and highly physical activity.2 ...

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3. Dido in Courtly Romance and the Structures of History

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pp. 99-127

In0 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 ...

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4. Sely Dido and the Chaucerian Gaze

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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 the scriptor-role adopted by the narrator of the Roman d'Eneas. ...

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5. Dido's Double Wound in Caxton's Eneydos and Gavin Douglas's Eneados

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pp. 163-194

As we saw in the last chapter, the narrator in Chaucer's House of Fame1 initiates his version of the Aeneid with 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. ...

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6. Christine de Pizan's Feminist Self-Fashioning and the Invention of Dido

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pp. 195-224

In this programmatic passage from the beginning of the Mutacion 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 the Avision.1 ...

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Epilogue: On Reading Dido

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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. ...


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pp. 229-280

Select Bibliography

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pp. 281-288


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pp. 289-296

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About the Author

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Marilynn Desmond is associate professor of English and comparative literature at the State University of New York-Binghamton. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816685042
E-ISBN-10: 0816685045
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816622474

Page Count: 318
Publication Year: 1994

Edition: First edition
Series Title: Medieval Cultures
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OCLC Number: 122891327
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reading Dido

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- Roman influences.
  • English literature -- Middle English, 1100-1500 -- History and criticism.
  • French literature -- To 1500 -- History and criticism.
  • Literature, Medieval -- History and criticism.
  • Dido (Legendary character) in literature.
  • Carthage (Extinct city) -- In literature.
  • Literature, Medieval -- Roman influences.
  • Sex role in literature.
  • Queens in literature.
  • Virgil. Aeneis.
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