Virgil and Homer are two well known poets. The former is a Roman writer, while the latter is from Greece. Their works reflect some of the most famous myths and beliefs held by their people at the time. Virgil’s work, “The Aeneid”, describes the culture of the Roman people around the time of Jesus. Homer’s poem, “The Odyssey”, takes the reader through the Greek social and political world around 700BC. In essence, ‘The Odyssey’ was written 700 years before the ‘Aeneid’.
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Homer and Virgil create very similar (yet different) moral worlds in their epic poems ‘The Odyssey’ and ‘Aeneid’. A number of instances highlighted in Aeneid are discernible in Odyssey. The reason is that the Greek culture later influenced the Roman way of life. Both cultures believed in the presence of gods. The supreme beings are in charge of various forces of nature, such as the sea and the wind. Human beings are inferior to these gods. Failure to adhere to the morals prevailing in the land is viewed negatively by the deities. However, the two cultures represent two different moral worlds. Some of the issues that differ between the two societies, as highlighted in the two poems, include marital love, representation of the underworld, the idea of fate, and pride/hubris.
A Comparison of Themes Found in Odyssey and Aeneid
The Theme of Marital Love
Love is a common feature in both poems. The heroes featured in the two epics enjoyed some form of companionship at some point in their journey through life. However, the idea of marital love is more prominent in the Odyssey than in the Aeneid. Homer portrays Odysseus as a man who is very devoted to Penelope, his wife. He longs to be at home with his partner, especially given the challenges he faces in his journey. In extension, the poem portrays how Greek men valued the commitment between them and their wives (Lattimore 67). Lattimore states that “his heart [is] set on his wife and his return” (p. 67). In spite of having another companion in Calypso, Odysseus still insists on getting back to his home. He also declines the offer made by Alkinoos of Skheria. The hero was promised a home, land, and other forms of wealth if he agreed to marry the daughter of his benefactor. Odysseus still remembers his responsibilities as a husband, even when in compromising situations.
Like the Odyssey, the Aeneid also shows value for marital love. However, the quality and quantity of this affection is less than that illustrated by Odysseus. Aeneas is viewed as an individual who is not committed to marriage (Humphries 12). He is also a wanderer and does not have a place he can call home. He is not married and shows no intention to settle down with a woman. Humphries argues that “when he starts a relationship with Dido at Carthage, he initially shows great interest in her before Hermes chastises him” (p. 16). He eventually decides to leave her, a situation that makes Dido commit suicide.
Representation of the Under World
The two poems are full of fictitious scenes, especially in their description of the Roman and Greek gods. In Odyssey, the supernatural beings are portrayed has having provided the society with customs that are to be adhered to without fail (Lattimore 82). It is believed that the intention of the Greek gods is to safeguard the safety of the people.
According to Homer, the Greek gods believe that it is only civilization that can keep the people safe. When individuals go against the customs given to them, the wrath of the supreme beings is unleashed on the land. Such persons are no longer considered to be part of humanity. The transgressors fail to acknowledge the Greek gods and honor the norms of the land. As a result, the harmony of society is compromised. At one point, Odysseus questions their powers of as he flees Cyclops. According to Lattimore, “every god took pity, all except Poseidon” (p. 2). As a result, the trip back home was full of challenges for this hero.
Like Odyssey, Aeneid showcases the presence of the Roman gods. The poem is mostly about the Trojans and their tribulations. Unlike the Greeks who invited the wrath of the gods by failing to honor their customs, the Trojans believe that they are tied to disaster by fate. According to them, one does not have to dishonor the Roman gods for catastrophes to strike. Misfortunes occur at their own pre-destined time. The people can do nothing to avert the situation. For example, Aeolus releases winds that could have completely destroyed the Trojans (Humphries 60). The disaster was not a result of Trojans’ disrespect for the Roman gods. On the contrary, it is Juno who is afraid that the soldiers may eventually defeat her army and acquire most of the Greek territories, including her empire in Libya. As such, she requested Aeolus to wreck havoc on the Trojans to destroy them before they can get stronger. Virgil is also of the view that individuals can change the will of the Roman gods with the help of another supreme being. When Aeolus unleashes the typhoons, Neptune intervenes and secures the survival of the Trojans. Humphries writes that “he said, and hurl’d against the mountain side his quiv’ring spear, and all the gods applied. The raging winds rush thro’ the hollow wound, and dance aloft in air” (p. 5).
The Idea of Fate
Fate refers to acts that are preordained to happen. Nothing can stop such events from taking place. Both Aeneid and Odyssey illustrate this idea. However, the former pays greater attention to the subject compared to the latter. The Odyssey is full of myths as opposed to fate. The poem pictures Greece as a perfect society that is free of war and other disasters (Lattimore 53). The culture of the people is static and all have the desire to do well. The kind of society pictured in this case can be likened to a scene in a fairy tale. According to Homer, the situation will persist as long as the people of Greece maintain a good relationship with the gods.
The poet’s perception of Greek society is evident in his description of the city of Phaiakia. The city can only be described as a utopia. It represents an ideal society that enjoys the benevolence of the Greek gods. According to Lattimore, “the city is so perfect that it has never encountered war” (p. 53). In addition, none of the residents has the intentions of fomenting a civil strife. Their good nature and pious existence makes the Greek gods happy. As such, the people of Phaiakia have never been subjected to hunger and other calamities.
On the other hand, the author of Aeneid believes that life is dynamic (Humphries 74). As such, it is bound to change at any given time. The author uses the city of Carthage to explain this point. When Aeneas first arrives in this urban centre, he sees a perfect city that is under construction. Humphries says that “the people here appear to be blessed” (p. 74). Peace prevails and there are a lot of development projects going on. A number of structures are coming up in the city. However, Aeneas discovers that the tranquility in the urban center has not always been there. The residents are trying to establish a new city after they fled from their old one as a result of war. As such, it is clear that the peace prevailing in the town covers a painful past.
The Subject of Pride/Hubris
Hubris is a Greek word that means extreme pride. The trait makes an individual lose contact with reality. As such, they are exceedingly confident of their achievements. Such persons are often subjected to punishment by the gods as a result of their arrogance (Lattimore 37).
Homer portrays hubris as a form of stupidity. Throughout the narrative, arrogance is punished by the gods. Odysseus is depicted as a proud man. On his way home, he encounters Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant. He raids food belonging to the giant. Instead of fleeing, Odysseus wants to remain behind to challenge the beast. Lattimore is of the opinion that “the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all” (p. 37). Odysseus is well aware that his decision may lead to the death of his men. When the beast arrives, two of his men are devoured. The rest are trapped and are left behind by their colleagues. Regardless of this, Odysseus clings to his pride. When the beast seeks to know his name, he refers to himself as ‘nobody’. He later seizes an opportunity and injures its eye, blinding it completely. Early the following morning, the party departs for home. The hero brags that he is ‘Odysseus of Ithaca’ (Lattimore 37).
The hero’s behavior is a depiction of pride and foolishness. He discloses his true identity to the beast, something that could lead to a retaliatory attack. As he flees, Odysseus questions the powers of the Greek gods. His transgressions aggrieve the supreme beings. His disrespect is a ‘stupid’ move since all Greeks at the time were aware of the repercussions of such behaviors. He suffers the consequences when his journey back home becomes a challenge.
In Aeneid, Virgil acknowledges the pride of the Romans. The Trojans hold themselves in high regard, especially in matters to do with warfare (Humphries 7). During combat, mercy is viewed as a sign of weakness. It is a trait associated with women in the society. However, some form of humility is also encouraged in the text. Humphries is of the view that “when Aeneas comes across a one-eyed monster, he urges his men to flee” (p. 9). The troops ensure that they do not provoke the monster. They also free one of the Greek men left behind by Odysseus. Critically, his actions can be regarded as a form of cowardice and weakness (Humphries 9). However, it is obvious that he has some measure of pride, especially when it comes to winning wars.
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Homer and Virgil demonstrate the various attributes associated with two of the most popular cultures in the world. It is clear that Greece had significant impacts on the Romans considering that the Aeneid was written 700 years after ‘The Odyssey’. However, the moral pictures created by the two poems are different. Homer and Virgil express varying views with regards to the relationship between gods and man. The importance of the two poems in relation to Greek and Roman history cannot be downplayed.
Humphries, Rolfe. The Aeneid of Virgil, New York: Scribner, 1951. Print.
Lattimore, Richmond. The Odyssey of Homer, New York: Harper & Row, 1967. Print.