Febo, god of the Sun, rises over the sea riding his chariot. Together with the Nereids, he sings to mark the arrival of Venus. The observer and the narrators dive under the waves and discover, on the seabed, the city of Carthage.
At the Palace – arrival of the cortege
Aeneas, the Trojan hero, has fled burning Troy, carrying his father over his shoulders and abandoning his young son Ascanius. Zeus has commanded him to sail to Italy and found a new city with the surviving Trojans. Sailing across the Mediterranean, the Trojans reach Carthage. The city is governed by Queen Dido, who, after the death of her husband, has vowed never to marry again. She devotes all her efforts to guarantee the wellbeing of her people. Dido hosts a banquet to honour Aeneas and falls for him, but she is besieged by doubts. Her sister Belinda comforts her and assures her that the Trojan too is in love with her.
Witches scene – The hunters
The witches have gathered in a cavern. Their leader orders the destruction of Carthage to punish Dido and Aeneas for their negligence. A sorceress shares the news that Aeneas and Dido have gone hunting. She is requested to disguise as Mercury and tell Aeneas of Zeus’ command for him to leave for Italy immediately. The other witches unleash a storm so the hunters are obliged to return to the city. Meanwhile, Belinda and the rest of the cortege enjoy the beauty of the Sacred Cavern. The sorceress interrupts them and warns them that they are in a haunted place. Dido enters, followed by Aeneas, who has killed a robust wild boar. As soon as the two lovers return together to the tent, the storm breaks. They all return to the city in a haste except for Aeneas. The witches, disguised as Mercury, insist that the command is for him to leave for Italy immediately. The hero is devastated, but willing to fulfil his duty.
The sailors – Witches scene II – Dido’s Lament
The Trojans prepare to sail. The witches reveal themselves before the unhappy Queen. Dido considers Aeneas’ sorrow as a divine punishment for having breached her vow. When Aeneas volunteers to renege on his mandate, she refuses. She realises that her personal desires will not be fulfilled, and the couple accepts their fate, sacrifying their love. Belinda’s words provide little consolation. While Aeneas leaves with his cohort, Dido abandons herself to death.