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Friday, January 30, 2015

Dido and Jezebel – Strong Women from Tyre

It’s been my personal challenge this year to read (or in some few cases to re-read) the classics of western civilization.  Thus far I have worked my way through Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and currently I am about halfway through Virgil’s Aeneid.  It has been a pleasant challenge, and I have enjoyed finding connections to my study of the Bible.

Today my thoughts were on Dido.  As told by Virgil, Queen Dido (who is known in some sources as Elissa) fled from the Phoenician city of Tyre when her brother, Pygmalion, murdered her husband.  Pygmalion wanted his wealth, and wanted to be king of Tyre.  She fled from her murderous brother to Africa and founded the city of Carthage.  When Aeneus and his rag-tag band of refugees from fallen Troy arrive, Juno (who hates Aeneus and all Trojans) caused Queen Dido to fall madly in love with him, and to break her oath to be perpetually faithful to her dead husband.  Aeneus, while he loves Dido, cannot be bound to Carthage; his destiny lies in Italy and though he is anguished to leave, he abandons Dido.  Consumed by despair and rage and sorrow, Dido stabs herself with Aeneus’ sword and lays down upon a funeral pyre. 

Tragic stuff…

But it was the connection to Tyre that caught my attention this afternoon - being that the city of Tyre is so frequently mentioned in the scriptures of both the Hebrew bible and the Christian New Testament. 

While the historicity of these ancient tales might be rightly questioned, the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, in his book The Antiquities of the Jews preserves a list of the kings of Tyre.  And from that list of kings and a comparison with the Hebrew Bible and other sources we can calculate that the infamous Queen Jezebel was the great-aunt of Dido.

Say what we might about them, it seems that Tyre had a tradition of raising strong willed and powerful women.


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