It has long been claimed that John Milton aligns Eve with Virgil’s Dido in order to oppose the Aeneid’s misogyny and to champion the merits of eros. This essay argues, by contrast, that Paradise Lost’s imitations of Aeneid 4 reflect the new, sympathetic interpretation of Dido’s tragedy that emerges in sixteenth-century scholarship on the Aeneid. Influenced by the recovery of Attic drama and Aristotle’s Poetics, sixteenth-century humanists depart from the allegorical tradition to read Dido mimetically, as a representation of a human whose misfortunes arouse pathos, rather than as an allegory for temptation. They depart too from the tradition that defends Dido by contesting the Aeneid’s version of her narrative; rather, they offer a new interpretation of the Aeneid itself. In its first part, the essay demonstrates how the humanist Nascimbene Nascimbeni, inspired by the Poetics, develops a humane approach to Dido’s tragedy that greatly influences Jacobus Pontanus’s popular 1599 commentary. It then illustrates how this interpretation shapes Milton’s Virgilian treatment of Adam’s tragic love for Eve. In its second part, the essay addresses the theological implications of representing Dido as a human with a soul. It examines Nascimbeni’s metaphysically libertarian and mortalist interpretation of Dido’s death and proposes that similar concerns inform the Virgilian dimension of Eve’s averted suicide and Abel’s murder. Ultimately, this essay aims to historicize our notion of Milton’s Virgil and therefore to depict him in some of his complexity.


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pp. 159-193
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