The Literacy Guild

Dido — an ancient feminist

In 1916, 218 women were arrested during a peaceful protest in front of the White House. The following year, the same thing happened. Half a decade earlier, a similar protest ended in violence. What united all these protests was the desire women had for equal rights, now known as the Women’s Suffrage Movement, a form of feminism in the fight for gender equality. Feminism is thought to only have begun in the past century or so, but that common misconception is untrue.

There were many ancient feminists, such as women who did jobs only men did in their society, and often even did them better. There are many examples in history of such ancient feminists, such as the ancient Wu Zetian, who was a female warrior of the Tang dynasty, and the poet Sappho of Lesbos of 580 B.C. who defied expectations. One particular shining example of an ancient feminist can be found in Dido of Carthage, or Elissa of Tyre, who was an ancient queen that founded Carthage, one of the most successful cities of trade and famous for its peace.

According to Ancient Origins, Dido was born in 879 BC as a princess with a brother named Pygmalion. When her father died, Pygmalion was crowned as king, and Dido was sent to be married to Acerbas, a powerful man that was wealthy and high in the former king’s favor. However, not only was he wealthy, but he was also popular with the people, and that quickly drew the attention of Pygmalion, who, out of jealousy, murdered Acerbas. When Dido found out about the tragedy, she fled for fear that her brother would come after her next. She sailed away in secret with a crew of loyal followers and made their way to the island of Sicily, where she used her own resourcefulness to secure land. 

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, when she first set foot upon her new land, the local ruler said that “they could only have the area of land covered by an ox-hide. The resourceful Dido had the hide cut into very fine strips and with these encircled a hill which, in time, became the city’s citadel and known as Byrsa Hill after the Greek word for ox-hide.” 

Faced with the ox-hide situation, most people would have panicked or not known what to do. However, Dido was able to think of a loophole through this, which shows that she was a quick thinker and good under pressure. This action showed her ability to outthink others to save herself as well as her friends and allies. Additionally, this showed Dido’s abilities to analyze her surroundings. 

However, Dido herself is commonly debated and questioned as to whether she is myth or fact. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Dido, also called Elissa, in Greek legend, the reputed founder of Carthage, daughter of the Tyrian King Mutto (or Belus), and wife of Sychaeus (or Acerbas).” Dido was mainly a figure of Greek legends, yet it cannot be disputed that Carthage is a real city, therefore, confusion arises as to whether or not Dido was real.

Dido’s life is shrouded in mystery, and there are very few concrete facts about her. If the story was true, Dido would have been even more revolutionary than portrayed. However, even if this story was a myth, this would mean that Dido’s legacy affected many people and inspired them. Fact or fiction, she was worthy to be the hero in the story.

In the myth (or maybe in real life), the king, Iarbas, the ruler who greeted Dido at first, proposed to her, after a year of getting to know here. While he grew fond of her, she did not return those feelings. Dido refused, and Iarbas threatened war. In response, Dido committed suicide to save her people. If she had refused, Iarbas would attack Carthage. If she accepted, Iarbas would control Carthage and expose it as a target to his many conflicts. The only option to save the city was death since she could neither refuse nor accept his offer when she was dead. If she had chosen life, she would have saved herself but doomed her city. 

Many men would have expected her, or any woman, to have chosen life, for that was the “feminine” thing to do. Instead, Dido sacrificed herself so that her people could live, disproving many people’s theories about women and proving herself worthy of respect. When faced with the choice of life and death, with her city at stake, Dido chose death to save her citizens. 

In Dido’s times, it was extremely difficult for any woman to gain such recognition and build such a splendid city. She started by running away from her brother, which showed defiance. Next, she founded a city and made it flourish. Finally, as if in answer to all the marvelous things she did, Dido died a noble death protecting her people. This display of bravery shocked many men, while Dido set new standards for both women and men. 

While many doubted Dido, she prevailed and displayed many qualities, which shows her ability to rule and showed that she was just as good as a man was if not better. Dido made a lasting impact in the society because she took her life into her own hands. She can be considered one of the first feminists in the world.