Yes, it is. The Carthage episode is the principal one in the Aeneid selections included in my World Lit I anthology, and since it brings together a lot of important aspects of the story as tale and as poem I like to take time on it. With Aeneas we gaze in amazement at the busy and sophisticated city of Carthage, still under construction; with him we look upon its Queen and marvel at her beauty, her wisdom, and her power. My student has clearly taken those aspects to heart.
The Queen’s name is Dido, and there is some debate about how to pronounce it—Latin (DEE-doh) or Britified (DIE-doh). In fact I comment on this and warn my students that I will try to consistently use the former but will probably slip into the latter, which was the pronunciation favored by the professor in whose class I first met The Aeneid.
I hope some students found this small digression interesting, especially in a class where we frequently comment on the losses consequent on reading material in translation rather than in its original language.
The student here, however, did not; or at least he did not absorb much from the actual pages of the epic, because he added not only a third pronunciation option but also quite a new spelling:
“In the Aeneid the power of the Queen of Carthage is impressive. She is described as a beautiful woman. Her name is Ditto.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I always looked forward to the Sunday “funny papers.” If Wikipedia is to be trusted, I was four years old when Mort Walker created the comic strip Beetle Bailey. I could read the newspaper by myself at that age (indeed, at three!), but I didn’t make a regular practice of it. I think I started reading the funny papers around age six. And there, along with Nancy and Our Boarding House and Dennis the Menace and Dondi (Korean War orphan) and Little Orphan Annie (not a Korean War orphan, but ward of Daddy Warbucks) and the gorgeous Prince Valiant and the exotic Buck Rogers and the great role model Brenda Starr and the angular Dick Tracy and, blessedly, Peanuts, was Camp Swampy, populated by the lazy eponymous Beetle, the irascible Sergeant Snorkel and his faithful dog Otto, the luscious Miss Buxley, and many others, including Beetle’s brother-in-law and sister, Hi and Lois, and their kids—Chip, Trixie, and the twins, Dot and Ditto. In 1954 Hi and Lois got their own strip, where their kids had plenty of room to shine; but they still occasionally visited Beetle, and Beetle occasionally visited them. In my mind, if your name is “Ditto,” you’re a chubby blond eight-year-old boy with nice parents, a lazy lowly GI uncle, and a big dog (“Dawg”), and you have something to do with lazy soldiers.
For Aeneas, the murals adorning the walls of the temple of Juno in Carthage evoke tears for the destruction of Troy. For me, the name Ditto evokes neither wonder nor admiration—a queen named Ditto can’t be powerful or beautiful. Someone named Ditto lies prone on the Sunday carpet, coloring book in hand, shaggy dog nearby, and is visited by an uncle in sloppy fatigues.
For someone who wasn’t a devotée of the funny papers, “ditto” is the double dot, or an uncurly quotation mark, meaning “same as above.” And that’s not a very good name for a queen, either.
Blame student laziness (à la Beetle Bailey!) or AutoCorrect if you will, but this howler made its way onto my desk in a paper the student hoped would impress me. Impress me it did. I’ll never be able to think of Queen Dido without seeing those dots, and that little blond kid—dots over her head maybe, kid in her arms next to Aeneas’ boy Iulus.
Farewell, O tragic queen.