The “Aeneid”, Virgil’s major work, commissioned by Emperor Augustus, is the most important and extensive work in the Latin literary world. The “Aeneid” sings the travels of the hero Aeneas on his mission to found Rome. It is divided into twelve parts or books, and contains more than ten thousand verses in dactylic hexameters. The first six books cite Homer’s “Odyssey”, and the rest to the “Iliad”.
The fourth book includes one of the most sublime moments of literature of all times: Dido, queen of Carthage and in love with the Trojan Aeneas, commits suicide when she feels abandoned after the departure of her beloved, who leaves her to fulfill a greater purpose, that of founding the Eternal City. This stormy literary passage, written in the first century of our era, would inspire the creation of a great number of operas. This is the case of “Didone”, premiered in Venice in 1641, by Francesco Cavalli (1601-1676), and of “Dido and Aeneas” (1689), the first opera by the English composer Henry Purcell (London, 1659-idem. 1695), but also one of the most representative operas of the Baroque period, which turned out to be the foundational opera in the history of English lyric.
It is astonishing to realize the number of operas inspired by the misfortune of Queen Dido, that episode that reveals the innermost aspects of a soul wounded by abandonment. In the 18th and part of the 19th century, about a hundred operas were written around this theme and practically under the same title: “Didone abbandonata”. From Albinoni’s contribution (premiered in 1724), to Reissiger’s (premiered in 1824), to Handel’s opera pasticcio (premiered in 1737), with original music by Leonardo Vinci. Other composers who approached the theme are Alessandro Scarlatti, Nicola Porpora, Giovanni Andrea Fioroni, Giovanni Paisiello and many others.
Later, between 1856 and 1858, Berlioz composed “Les Troyens à Carthage”. He wrote not only the music, but also the script, based on the first, second and, naturally, fourth books of the “Aeneid”.
In the 20th century, the Virgilian poetics has not been abandoned by the Italian filmmakers Giorgo Venturini, with “La leggenda di Enea”, 1962; and even Franco Rossi’s miniseries, “The Aeneid”, 1971.
Virgil died in Brindisi, in the year 19 before our era, at the age of fifty. He left in the hands of Horace the Latin Literature. As for Horace,he died almost a decade later, having also built an astounding work, of which he himself affirms:
“I have upraised a monument more enduring than bronze, nor the voracious rain, nor the threatening Aquilon, can demolish, nor the countless succession of years, nor the flight of time. I will not die at all. And a great part of me shall elude death.” (Odes, III, 30)
By this time, a third major poet had already emerged: Ovid, who was 35 years old at the time of Horace’s death. His “Art of Loving” and, above all, his “Metamorphoses” ensured his immortality or, perhaps, that he died without dying at all. Ovid ended up in the exile imposed on him by Emperor Augustus for reasons unknown to this day. Towards the end of his life, expelled to the remoteness of exile, from the city of Tomis, today Constanza, in Romania, he paid tribute to Horace with a paraphrase with the next quotation:
“I have built up a work that neither the wrath of Jupiter nor fire, nor iron nor voracious decrepitude, will succeed in destroying…” (Tristes, IV)