It was kind of mind blowing to learn even the basic outline. Somehow I'd been sheltered from this particular classic epic saga and I think it's an important bit of glue that ties together a bunch of stories that we know. So here's my attempts to piece the bits I've gleened together into a quickie summary for those of you who are curious.
So there was the greek empire before there was the roman empire. One of the legendary things that happened during the greek empire was the Trojan War.
Ok. First thing that surprised me. All that stuff about Eris and the golden apple: taken directly from old greek legend. I thought those guys from the bowling ally just made it up. She threw a golden apple in a room of gods that said "for the fairest", they got this trojan prince (Paris) to judge which of the female gods was the hottest, he picked aphrodite (venus), and she awarded him the love of the prettiest women in the world. The most beautiful woman in the world was the Greek Helen and she was all tied up in a bunch of political intrigue about who would marry her for the best gain for her family. Paris kidnapped her away from all that. The greeks were pissed and launched a thousand ships to get her back.
So anyway there's all this war stuff and that's what Homer wrote the Illiad and the Odyssey about. The Odyssey being basically about the journey home by a Greek leader after the war.
During the war apparently the Greeks were having a damned hard time getting into Troy. It was a well fortified city and many of their best warriors were dead. So they made this big horse and we all know that story. A shocking part of the story that I learned from Dido was that in order to let the horse in, not only did the vain king of Troy open the gates, but he ordered the walls around the gates destroyed because the horse was too wide to get in the door. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts indeed!
Anyway here's where it gets interesting. We all know what happened to the Greeks trying to get home. But what does any of this have to do with Rome? It never even occurred to me that any of this had anything to do with Rome.
So a group of Trojans, led by their general, Aeneas, set out in many ships to sail to Italy. Jupiter (Zeus) himself commanded Aeneas (Venus's son) to do this as his destiny. Aeneas is to take the trojans to Italy to _found_ the roman empire. On their way, Jupiter's sister (and wife) Juno (Hera), trys to mess with them because she hates the Trojans. From what I can gather, she's pissed that Jupiter spends all his time loving Ganymede instead of her. Ganymede is this Trojan mortal that Jupiter swept up and made a god just because he had the hots for him and well top gods can do that kind of thing.
So anyway Juno tries to stop the Trojans and gets them stranded in Carthage, north africa. Venus, his mother, wanted to help him get to Italy. Juno, his enemy, wanted to keep him stranded. The two of them grudgingly worked together to make him and the Queen of Carthage fall in love. Venus does it so that the Queen will give him some nice ships so he can leave. Juno does it so that he won't want to leave.
Ultimately he does leave in Dido's nice ships. Dido kills herself and curses the trojans. The trojans go on to found Rome. Rome goes on to have some terrible bloody wars with Carthage which becomes it's enemy.
Dido's sister, Anna, also gets caught up in the complex love polyhedron of this event (you'll have to see the play for the details). In classic tragic style, she kills herself too. But she goes on to become a roman goddess, Anna Perenna! So even though you want to cry at the end of the play, just remember it all works out in the end!
What's interesting is that the Aeneid part of all this, the part with the trojans founding rome, was writen by Roman poet Virgil. I guess he had something of a political agenda in writing this. For one thing, by linking the founding of Rome to "Ilium" (the roman word for Troy) he was able to use some word play to imply that Julius Cesar and his line (spelled "Iulius" in roman, notice the similarity to "ilium") were descended from the original Trojan founders of Rome. But then there's a wrinkle. The Trojans were defeated by the Greeks, the Greeks were part of the Roman empire. How do you save face on that myth? Virgil was the one who really fleshed out the whole horse story. Homer had alluded to it but didn't go into detail. Virgil told it in detail and thus established that the Greeks only won through treachery NOT through superior strength. Hence they weren't a threat to the mighty roman empire.
An interesting thread through all of this is the link between minor personal tiffs (vanity, jealousy, pride, love for a son, insistence on fulfillment of destiny) between the gods and MAJOR drama (war, death, suicide, murder, natural disaster) in the human realm. Parallel to that is the link between the minor personal drama of love between aeneas and dido and THE FATE OF ROME. Very cool complexity in perspective there.
Reading about this stuff has been EXACTLY like trying to read up on the history of the Marvel universe. There's this HUGE continuity of thousands of little stories that all tie together. There's human dramas, there's cosmic dramas, there's cosmic intervention in human dramas and vice versa. And then there's guys like Aeneas taking two totally different story lines and COMBINING them in the original fan wank or crossover story! I really want to read the entirety of greek legend in comic book format. Like with multiple titles for all the different gods and heros, with occasionally company-wide cross overs for things like the trojan war. That'd be awesome.
Anyway there's a lot more to learn and tell. I took some liberties in the telling of some parts. But so did Marlowe. And so do the publishers of comic books. Hopefully these little tidbits will give newcomers to Dido enough context to grasp onto to follow the story.