The Aeneid Essay, Research Paper
A Common Thread
While outwardly similar, the characters Aeneas and Odysseus are inwardly as different as the authors that brought them to life. The respective views of the authors societies on gender, race, and social conduct are seen throughout the epics in the characterization and interaction of their heroes. Despite these differences, however, there remain certain parallel themes in the two works that build off of the similarities and differences in the plot structures: honor, the role of fate, the importance of hospitality, and an emphasis on the inner vulnerabilities of the protagonist. Homer s Odyssey, written around 800 B.C.E. and Virgil s Aeneid, written over 700 years later, share a similar framework, which forms the basis for the comparison of two wholly dissimilar societies through the oral tradition.
The Aeneid and the Odyssey hold similar views on the concept of honor, or kleos as it was known to the Greeks. In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his companions sought to return to their homeland not only to rest their weary bodies, but also to receive the kleos and time (fame) due them by their countrymen for their participation in the Trojan War. Similarly, in the Aeneid, Aeneas and his companions, fearing death at sea, wish they had died with the other war heroes in battle at Troy a more glorious death, surrounded by family and friends. Both the Greeks and Romans esteemed war, seeing the glory in it, rather than the atrocity. This common thread linked the two civilizations, and inspired Homer and Virgil to use their heroes to focus on the positive side of war.
The role of fate also plays a prominent position in the lives of the two heroes. In the Aeneid, Virgil is detained in Carthage by Queen Dido, seemingly unable to accomplish his destiny to found Rome because of the wrath of Juno. Yet, despite this, and a score of other setbacks, Aeneas succeeds in founding Lavinium and has a child who will father the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Likewise, in the Odyssey, Odysseus fated return to Ithaca is delayed several times, by a variety of events, but no storm, goddess, or beast can prevent his eventual homecoming (nostos), despite the wishes of Poseidon. Zeus sees to it that his overall plan will come to pass, even if he must take sides against his own brother. Homer and Virgil emphasize the fact that the destiny woven by the Fates is unavoidable, no matter what opposes it an important part of two societies who placed blame on fate, rather than on personal choice.
The concept of xenia, or guest-friendship, was pivotal in Greek society. Zeus was the god of suppliants, so scorning a guest was also an offense against the King of the gods and men. Home is a place that provides strength, and for as long as Aeneas and his followers are without a home, they are at the mercy of the gods, the weather, and the inhabitants of the lands they stop at. Thus it was considered a great act to welcome a stranger into one s home, and Aeneas praises Dido for her generosity: May gods confer upon you your due rewards/if deities regard the good, if justice/and mind aware of right count anywhere. (847-849) The Trojans have learned how important the strength of the home is they were able to hold off the greatest warriors of the Greeks for ten years at home in Troy. They were defeated in the end because they allowed the enemy into their home. Accordingly, in the Odyssey, the guest-host relationship was violated by the suitors, who ate Odysseus food, squandered his wealth, and sought his wife s hand in marriage. For their actions, they too were destroyed, like their Trojan counterparts. The authors included the tradition of xenia in their epics because they were, and still are, integral parts of the societies they lived in.
A final theme common to both works is that of the protagonist s inner turmoil. As opposed to his warlike characterization in the Iliad, the Odyssey places a much greater emphasis on inner vulnerabilities emotions such as loss, loneliness, and homesickness. While stranded on the nymph Calypso s island, Odysseus weeps at the thought of returning home to his friends and family. He and his crewmembers face physical trials such as Scylla and Charybdis, but they also face emotional trials that can be just as deadly. The crew s lack of self-restraint with Hyperion s cattle, for example, cost them several extra years of wandering, all because they could not control their inner selves. The same is true in the Aeneid, as Aeneas and his crew constantly fall victim to dwindling spirits they lose hope in their destined action of founding Rome. After the shipwreck off the coast of Africa, Aeneas kills seven deer to lift the spirits of his men, knowing that their emotion well being is just as important as their physical well-being. The poets Homer and Virgil emphasized these undesirable qualities of their heroes to show their humanity to make them credible role models for a society whose gods could not.
In conclusion, the similarities and differences of the Odyssey and the Aeneid are used to annunciate the similarities and differences of their protagonists. The reason the authors knowingly used these differences was to focalize the myth on the society in which it was to be told. Homer catered to the tastes of his Greek audience, with its strong faith in the truth of the gods, while Virgil cast his epic to dovetail with the more moderate Roman audience of his day.