Winning Entry in the 1999 Bernice L. Fox Writing Contest
Author: Danielle Pinto
School: Academy of Notre Dame de Namur in Villanova, Pennsylvania
Teacher: Dr. David Califf

ASSOCIATED PRESS–New York City, Monday, March 15. Closing remarks will be made today in what many have called "the trial of the millennia," the breach of promise and abandonment suit brought against the classical epic hero Aeneas on behalf of his former lover Dido, once queen of Carthage. The civil suit against Aeneas was filed by the WACD (Women Against Classical Discrimination), an extreme feminist group which exists, according to the WACD handbook, "to seek atonement for millennia of sexist practices in ancient Greek and Roman tradition." As both Dido and Aeneas have been dead for thousands of years, the WACD itself is seeking $100 million in retribution on Dido’s behalf from the American Classical Society. Some have argued that the case has no legal merit, and is a circumstance perpetuated by a society which is overly litigious. Others have argued that the trial has been a wake-up call to those ignorant of the detrimental effect which unacknowledged sexism in literature can have on the youth of a society. By the end of today, judgment will be in the hands of the jury.


The courtroom was silent as the defense attorney stood to present her closing remarks. As she approached the jurors, her footsteps echoed against the gray marble floor, and the echoes sounded against the massive oak doors leading to the corridor, where a throng of reporters awaited with a multitude of questions, few of which had not already been asked. She groaned internally at the thought of facing yet another blitz of who’s and what’s and when’s and where’s and how’s and why’s. She resolved to herself that she would make her closing comments brief, as there was nothing to be said about the matter at hand which had not been said already. It was a ludicrous lawsuit if ever there was one. Hopeful that the next five minutes would be the last five of her life wasted on such rubbish, she took a deep breath, and began.


"Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, for months now you have heard this case referred to as "the trial of the millennia." This lawsuit has perpetuated countless television news specials, paperback books, even a TV movie of the week. The names Dido and Aeneas, once known only to those who at one point in time studied the classics, are now known the whole world over. The WACD, a once little-known and laughable group, is now internationally recognized. And why, do you ask? Why was this suit even filed in the first place? I’ll tell you why. This suit was filed, as all ludicrous suits are filed, to grasp the attention of the public. Whether the purpose was to shift the focus of the media from more significant issues, to make money, or even to give the press something to do in between the White House scandal and the next big national crisis, the fact remains that this case has absolutely no legal merit. None. Zero. Nihil.

But I’ll humor the plaintiff for a moment. I’ll pretend that the relationship between Dido and Aeneas – neither of whom actually exist, might I add – is the real issue here. In Aeneas’ own words, as written by Virgil, Pro re pauca loquar. I will speak about this only briefly. If this Dido v. Aeneas case actually had some legal legitimacy, if it were really a matter of defending Aeneas, as opposed to a matter of proving the validity of the case, it would be evident that Aeneas was not at fault. After all, Dido based her claims of abandonment on the fact that she and Aeneas were married, that they were living together as husband and wife. They were not. Again, I’ll quote Virgil: "Nec coniugis umquam praetendi taedas aut haec in foedera veni." Aeneas, by his own admission, never was officially married to Dido. The Roman writer Donatus paraphrases Aeneas’ words by saying that there was no witness, no ceremony, no agreement, no marriage. The plaintiff may argue that Roman marriages were more a matter of cohabitation and mutual agreement than of official ceremonies. Yet, for men and women of Dido and Aeneas’ status and position, such unions were indeed formally marked. Again, to quote Donatus, "I am joined to you, he said, but the agreement of a man and a woman does not always make a marriage." Aeneas did not recognize Dido as his wife because he could not. His duty was not to her, but to his people. He was to settle Italy. To quote modern classicist D.C. Feeney, "the. . .story is a metaphor for what any politician must be prepared to do: to sacrifice every last personal tie. . .to help keep the political enterprise going." Not only was Aeneas not guilty of abandonment, as he had no legal obligation to Dido, but he also had a valid reason for which to leave her: the posterity of his people.

Thus it is clear that, if this were a legitimate case, the fair decision would most certainly be in favor of the defendant. Yet, this is not a legitimate case, and so Aeneas’ guilt is not really the issue. . . . . ."


Juror number four looked at his watch. The defense attorney had been speaking for at least thirty minutes. His stomach grumbled. It had been hours since breakfast, and all that had been was half of a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and a hash brown. To make matters worse, he had drunk an obscene amount of coffee, and was desperately in need of a visit to the little boys’ room. He looked at his watch again. It was no wonder they called it the trial of the millennia. Lunch recess seemed thousands of years away. Pro re pauca loquor? How ironic.