Saturday, 19 March 2011

The First Dilemma

Nero hunting  Dido's (Queen Elissa) treasure

In 65 AD, a Carthaginian man named Caesellius Bassus sailed to Rome, purchased a private audience with the Emperor Nero, and claimed that he had discovered, on his own property in northern Africa, a vast cave containing a massive amount of gold (magna vis auri, Tacitus, Annales 16.1). The cache wasn’t limited merely to gold coins, either. It was a veritable thesaurus of ancient, unwrought bullion, with heavy bars of solid gold both lying on the ground and stacked up in columns. The gold had been hidden there, Bassus explained, by someone who didn’t want the colonists of the new Carthaginian settlement to be distracted by an unhealthy preoccupation with luxury, and someone who didn’t want the hostile Numidian kings, motivated by a desire of the gold (cupidine auri, 16.1), to invade her burgeoning city. It had been hidden there, in other words, by Dido herself.

Of course, by the first century AD, the legend of Dido’s treasure had been circulating around the Mediterranean for close to a thousand years, and many Romans would have been familiar with the version of the story told in Vergil’s Aeneid. An earlier version of the myth, however, comes from Pompeius Trogus, a contemporary of Vergil who was probably following in the tradition of the Greek author Timaeus, and whose works were later documented by Justin. In this account, the Phoenician Dido (Elissa) is married to her uncle Acerbas, a wealthy priest who hides his substantial treasure (magnae opes, 18.4.6) in the earth to keep it concealed from Dido’s brother Pygmalion, the greedy king of Tyre. A rumor of this treasure quickly spreads throughout the city, and Pygmalion, inflamed with avarice, murders Acerbas without any proper regard for piety (sine respectu pietatis occidit, 18.4.8). Dido hates her brother for this terrible crime, but she conceals her feelings, telling Pygmalion that she plans to move back to the family residence so that she can get over the memory of Acerbas. Pygmalion expects Dido to bring the gold with her (existimans cum ea et aurum Acherbae ad se venturum, 18.4.11), but she has a more subversive plan in mind. She pretends to throw the precious treasure into the sea – the bags were actually filled with sand rather than money (onera harenae pro pecunia, 18.4.12) – and then sails away with members of the Tyrian aristocracy, first to Cyprus and then eventually on to the shores of Carthage.(a)

In addition, attempting to recover Dido’s treasure was a means of legitimizing and reinforcing Nero’s family connections to Aeneas, Venus, and Jupiter, a legendary mythology so important to the Julio-Claudian tradition. Furthermore, it is important to remember that gold was a quintessential symbol of Nero himself. This was, after all, an emperor who worked tirelessly to associate himself with the golden sun god Apollo – the apotheosis scene in Lucan’s Pharsalia (1.48), for example, specifically describes Nero climbing aboard Apollo’s chariot – and who built himself an opulent palace called the Domus Aurea. In short, Nero was attempting to recreate an Augustan Golden Age during his reign, and so whether or not he actually believed that he was going to find buried treasure in Carthage, the quest for Dido’s gold was a symbolic celebration of his public persona, and he had every political incentive to pursue it.(b)

The thesaurus of Phoenician gold appears again in Ovid’s Heroides. For most of the story, Ovid follows the Vergilian tradition, with the greedy Pygmalion murdering Sychaeus at a sacred altar in Phoenicia (coniunx mactatus ad aras, 7.113), driving his sister Dido into exile (exul agor, 7.115), and looming as a constant physical threat to her safety (est etiam frater, cuius manus impia poscit / respergi nostro sparsa cruore viri, 7.127-128). Unlike Dido in the Aeneid, however, Dido in the Heroides, desperate to persuade Aeneas to stay in Carthage, proposes that he accept the treasure of Sychaeus ( Acerbas) as part of a very lucrative dowry (in dotem . . . accipe . . . opes, 7.149-150). The prospect of becoming one of the wealthiest men in the Mediterranean world overnight may have been very tempting for Aeneas, especially since he had observed the Greek army plundering the treasures of his native land as he escaped from the city (Aeneid 2.761-766). But because Helenus had filled his ships with gold, silver, and ivory (Aeneid 3.463-471) before he arrived in Carthage, the incentive to accept such an offer wouldn’t have been nearly as strong. (c)

Jarbas , a king and priest of the Gaetulians, in Northern Africa, and a son of Jupiter (Zeus) Ammon by a Libyan nymph. He built many magnificent temples to his father, and desired to marry Dido on her arrival in Africa. He was so pressing in demanding the hand of Dido, that the queen, who would not marry him, according to some traditions, saw no other way of escape except by self destruction. (Virg. Aen. iv. 196, &c.; Ov. Heroid. vii. 125; Auson. Epigr. 118; Justin, xviii. 6.) (d)

Conclusion

Many Historians and scholars explained the expedition of Nero to recover Queen Dido's lost treasure as fellow:
Suetonius and Tacitus, both of whom are heavily biased against Nero, offer similar interpretations: Suetonius attributes the episode to Nero’s insanity (furorem, 31.4), Tacitus to his foolish vanity (vanitatem, 16.1). Rather than reading the treasure hunt as a simple example of Neronian madness, however, several scholars interpret it as an illustration of a sophisticated political agenda.

I have a different interpretation to the expedition of Nero to recover Queen's  Dido lost treasure which is as fellow:
As we know that Aeneas is an ancestor of Nero from the Julius family. The story of Queen's Dido treasure was heard by Nero through the Julius family before Bassus revealed it to him. The telling of the dream about the treasure to Nero emphasised the reality of it's existence .
After the Departure of Aeneas and the death of Dido Jarbas Helped himself with the Treasure.

NB:
Jarbas was the highest priest in Numidia during the 8th century BC
Bassus was a priet as well during the first century AD
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a- http://ancientcarthage.wikispaces.com/Dido%27s+Treasure
b- c- http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/tac/a16000.htm
d- http://www.mythindex.com/greek-mythology/I/Iarbas.html

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