Odyssey and Aeneid: Comparative Analysis
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Odyssey and Aeneid are epics that need no introduction in the literary world. They are considered the greatest works of Greek and Roman literature and numerous interpretations and analysis were already based on these two great epics.
Such, is also the purpose of this research paper.
A brief summary of Odyssey and Aeneid would be presented to give a background on the commencement and culmination of their journeys. A comprehensive analysis on the personal traits of the two main protagonists, namely, Odysseus and Aeneas, alongside their journey and the things that they encounter along the way, would also be given light. An analysis of the epics’ themes and their connection with their author would also be presented, as well as the correlation of the epic with the environment or the current state of the society the author belonged; a historical and political examination.
Heroism and liminality in the epics would be further discussed as well as themes ranging from both men’s (Odysseus and Aeneas) relationship with women; the role of gods, and the significance of their journey and discovery.
Therefore, the main intention of this research paper is to [show the difference and similarity of the two epics, although created centuries apart, in different times, a connection can be found and can be proven through the various cited themes and the origin in which the authors have found their inspirations].
- Brief Summary and Analysis of Odysseus and Aeneas
Odysseus was part of the ten thousand fleets that set sail for the city of Troy to reclaim a “kidnapped” wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. Helen, who was the most beautiful woman in the world, also had Odysseus wooing her. Thinking that Helen might choose him out of the many suitors, and to avoid conflict, he made all men swear to respect Helen’s decision regarding her choice for a husband; and to protect Helen and her husband and to see through it that nobody would come and ruin their union. So, all the suitors of Helen, who were mighty Kings and men of Greece, took an oath. However, Odysseus was not lucky enough to be chosen as husband, and instead, he met Helen’s cousin Penelope, and married her.
This is just the beginning of Odysseus’ display of wit through out the epic. Although, he was wrong about whom Helen is going to choose, he displayed a persona, of that of a diplomat, a smooth talker, an eloquent and persuasive speaker. Odysseus is known to be the man of immense self-control and reasoning. Odysseus was also known as a man of peace, who hated squabbles and firmly believes in self-preservation. A best example of this self-preservation was when the envoy from Sparta came to solicit his oath to Menelaus in reclaiming Helen. Thinking about his infant son and the future of his city Ithaca (for there was a prophecy that says of a long journey for him if he went to Troy); Odysseus pretended to be insane, put on ragged clothes and sowed the field with salts. Nonetheless, the envoy was also clever and knowing Odysseus’ insanity was just a show, he placed the infant Telemachus along the path of the plough, and Odysseus immediately stopped, scared of hurting his son, thus showing, he is on his right mind.
Odysseus went to Troy and built the famous Trojan horse. He convinced twenty Greek soldiers to hide inside its belly (including himself), and leave the horse as an offering to the gods while the rest of the Greek fleet pretentiously sailed away. The Trojans, fiercely superstitious, took the wooden horse inside the city and had a feast celebrating their victory. Then, at nightfall, through the command of Odysseus, the men inside the horse slowly descended while the whole of Troy was asleep. They opened the gates and lead the army of Greece inside the walls of Troy. Hence, the destruction of the city of Troy.
Among the Trojan aristocrats was Aeneas, the son of Anchises and Venus, was barely able to escape life from the hands of the Greeks, if not for Venus’ direct intervention. He managed to escape and sailed to Latium, where he founded the City of Rome.
Odyssey then begins on Odysseus’ journey towards home, after the ten year battle with Troy. However, Odysseus’ had incurred the wrath of the gods (especially Poseidon) that he was condemned to sail for another ten more years before reaching his hometown, Ithaca.
“Unhappy Odysseus, he does not know the sufferings that await him; or how these ills I and my Phrygians endure shall one day seem to him precious as gold. For beyond the ten long years spent at Troy he shall drag out other ten and then come to his country all alone…” [Cassandra. Euripides, Daughters of Troy 431]
Through out the voyage, Odysseus and his men met many interesting figures, such that of the lotus-eaters, the land of the Cyclops where Odysseus employed one of his tricks of introducing himself as Nobody, so that when the Polyphemus (the Cyclops who captured them) was blinded by Odysseus and his men, called out to the other Cyclops for help. They asked Polyphemus who had blinded him and he shouted Nobody, so the other Cyclops went back to their dwelling. They met the happy king Aelous who gave them a bag of fast winds, gone to the island of the cannibals, and met Circe and she bore him a son (Telegonos). They also passed through a strait in which Circe advised him to sail close to Scylla a monster who had six heads and would eat six of his men, than risk sinking the ship in the whirlpool of Charybdis. Here, Odysseus willingly sacrificed six of his men to save the ship.
They are then brought to the island where Calypso lived and kept Odysseus for seven years. It was then that Athena, the goddess that favored Odysseus begged Zeus to help Odysseus get home. So, Zeus sent the Hermes to tell Calypso to release Odysseus, which she did and Odysseus, after a lot more trouble still from Poseidon, finally reached Ithaca and warned against the many suitors of his wife Penelope by the goddess Athena disguised as young boy, Odysseus concealed his identity and disguised himself as a beggar. Upon reaching the castle, he saw the many suitors of Penelope and asked permission to perform the task required of the suitors so they could marry Penelope, to shoot with Odysseus bow a straight arrow through the holes of twelve axes in a row. So, Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, was able to pull his own bow and successfully shot an arrow through the holes, after which he directed the bow towards the suitors and killed them all one by one. He then claimed his Kingdom and his wife once more. However, many says that the Odyssey does not end there, but rather continued to another event that lead to Odysseus marrying another woman and his death brought about by his son with Circe, Telegonus, who mistakenly killed him when Odysseus was defending his flocks. Telegonus was at that time looking for his father, and had slain Odysseus already when he found out he was his father.
Aeneid is a Latin epic written by Virgil in the 1st century BC. The poem was about the legendary journey of Aeneas, a Trojan escaping from the burning city of Troy, along with some of his comrades and son, traveled to Italy and consequently founded the city of Rome. The poem is divided into two, the first six of the twelve books acquaints us with his journey from Troy to Italy, while the second half, relays of the victory of Trojans over Latins when Aeneas was able to kill Turnus. The hero Aeneas is already a common figure since he first appeared in Homer’s Iliad, Virgil then continued to write about him and as a result made a historical epic about the founding of Rome.
Aeneas was a refugee from the burning city of Troy, from Homer’s Iliad. With the aid of her mother Venus, the Roman goddess of love, he fled together with his father Anchises, wife Creusa, the daughter of King Priam, and son Ascanius. However, through the carnage Creusa got separated and was never seen again (until Aeneas met her in the underworld and confirms that she is dead). He sailed for days, destined by Jupiter to find a city which he will name Rome. However, due to Paris of Troy’s not choosing Juno (Hera) to receive the apple of discord, Juno had the biggest disdain for Trojans that she set a strong wind to spin Aeneas’ ship away from Italy, and make land on Carthage, through the help of Neptune.
Aeneas was the second strongest warrior of Troy, and could be considered as half-god since his mother was Venus. Venus helped Aeneas with his endeavor in Carthage and through Venus’ Aeneas was able to capture the heart of Dido, Queen of Carthage. Although Dido promised faithfulness to her dead husband, she can not help but feel love towards Aeneas and they became lovers and savored each other’s presence; until time came that Jupiter sent Mercury to remind Aeneas of his duty and to go on with his voyage. Dido was heartbroken when Aeneas left, that she struck her own heart with Aeneas’ sword and threw herself on a pyre as Aeneas was leaving. Turning around to see Dido, Aeneas saw only the smoke from the pyre and knew what had happened. Aeneas’ strong regard for duty is one of the Roman’s great attributes. Through out the voyage, Anchises peacefully died.
He then made an adventure into the underworld to speak with his father Anchises, and was told of the prophecy of Rome. Upon returning to land, he led his men to Italy, near the city of Cumae. Then he guided the ship towards the river Tiber, where he would build the city of Rome. Upon arrival, the local inhabitants called Latins did not favor the foreigners and a big war emerged when King Latinus of Latium, gave his daughter Lavinia, who was formerly betrothed to the leader of the locals, Turnus, to Aeneas to be his wife. A battle emerged between Trojans and the local Latins. The battle ended with Aeneas killing Turnus, for he had disgraced the armor of his friend, Pallas, whom he had killed beforehand.
Historical and Political Significance
Homer and Virgil
The difference of Homeric epics to Virgils’Aeneid. Homer’s poems are primitive and are orally recited, there was no definitive written text by Homer that vividly describes and punctuates each line or spoken verse. Hence, the texts of Iliad and Odyssey, as we know now are merely a recording of an oral performance made centuries ago, and each recording differs since for every performance, various “versions” would be introduced. The hero’s tales may be abruptly cut to an ending, omitting some parts; while in another version, the endless wanderings of the hero would be meticulously detailed.
In contrast to the Aeneid by Virgil, this was a real written piece of art. Real, in terms that there is one existing written text in Latin about the epic Aeneid by a poet named Virgil. Through this existing written text, various interpretations and supplementations would just be added, but the main ideas and adventures as originally written by Virgil, remains unchanged and untouched. The reason why Aeneid remains to have a strong influence among Roman poets and historians because they have a definite text to compare to.
Greece by far is more artistically inclined and more creative than the unimaginative Romans, this is why Virgil took the story of Aeneas from Iliad and created their own epic I the form of Aeneid. Although hundred years apart in time, similarities emerged between the two epics. The characters used by Virgil were a spin-off from Homer’s Iliad. This may be because Aeneid is purely inspired and derived from Iliad.
Odyssey and Greece
The Greek culture started long before the Romans, and thief civilization performed through smaller governments. They love life and are carefree, imaginative and spent many leisurely hours singing and just marveling with the beauty of life and nature. They also believe that even though dead, their love ones could still communicate with them, but death is something unpleasant and feared even by Greek heroes. They marvel with life and did everything possible to be remembered, to have their names repeated in stories and their lives glorified. Like in the case of Achilles, he was given a choice to live and die an old man but no one would know who he is, or dying in the Trojan War but his name and legend would remain forever. Achilles chose the latter. Prestige and reputation are important for Greeks; we could say they are selfish, self-centered and self-absorbed. Odysseus demonstrated this trait when he willingly let six of his men be eaten by the monster Scylla as they pass through her waters. Another would be his lack of trust to his men that they took the bag of wind given by Aelous and mistook it as gold and opened it. Greeks exercised individualism unknowingly. They know that men are not perfect and take pride whenever one would triumph over his demons; they marvel at this ability to dance with fate. A man can be cruel and horrible but this aspect of him would be replaced of virtuosity once he had completed his tasks. Odysseus was as selfish and self-absorbed man, but his actions were glorified and rationalized as intellectual strategies aimed to achieve his goals, of preserving his life and returning to Ithaca.
Aeneid and Rome
Virgil’s Aeneid was often suspected as a historical epic utilized by Augustus as propaganda. Since Virgil and Augustus were friends and Virgil was a devout scribe and Roman citizen, he fundamentally created a work that would reflect his opinions and feelings about Rome, and the emperor.
Aeneas was often described in many scholarly articles “allegedly” as Augustus himself. That Aeneas’ journey to Italy and found Rome is an allegory of Augustus (previously named Octavian) rise to power and the golden age of Rome. Another notion reflected by Aeneid’s characters, is that Marc Anthony was Turnus, Julius Caesar as Anchises, Dido as Cleopatra, and the orator Drances as the statesman Cicero (Glover, 1904).
In Aeneid, the whole of Rome was interpreted differently by Virgil. The architecture as he described in Aeneas’ world were the same structures that he had seen erected in Rome; the nationality and patriotism that Aeneas showed is a representation of what a Roman should be like; Aeneas’ soldiers devotion to him is an allegory of Roman soldiers’ deference to their generals and superiors. Lastly, the pictures engraved in Aeneas’ shield was a historical depiction of Rome – from its founding through the twins Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf, to the victory of Augustus over Marc Anthony in the Battle of Actium.
The epic hero plays a very significant part in literary criticisms. His encouraging existence assures the wholeness of the epic poem and guides our analysis when we search for a theme. If he is not easy to pick out, there ensues a quarrel over his identity, and the poem in question would be formless and episodic, lacking continuity of adventure. For it was concluded by modern critics that the norm for ancient and also, modern epics, tends to center on one individual, who will carry out with him the meaning and the purpose of the poem. In layman’s terms, we synonymously correlate the word epic with adventures of great proportion, where only one individual is apt to undertake. This individual would be a hero, and in him has the power to overcome all obstacles to complete his epical journey and destination.
The hero’s actions can be a basis for other events that happen through out the epic, and it could also be a foundation for other norms outside of the epic, as interpreted by scholars. Odysseus and Aeneas are the heroes of their own epic and the story revolved around them. Odysseus was a hero in the Trojan War because of his ingenuity, and became a hero of the Odyssey because it showed only not his strength of mind and body, but also his various personalities and tactics to escape any situation. As with Aeneas, he is a hero because, he embodies in himself the Roman way and he found the great city of Rome.
Both heroes achieved their goals in the end, killed the enemies and retrieved their rewards. For Odysseus, getting back his kingdom and seeing his wife and son again; and for Aeneas, escaping from Troy, and fulfilling his destiny of building Rome.
Gods and Men (Greek and Roman gods)
Greek mythology commenced ages before the Romans. The Greek gods are often depicted as mischievous and frequently interfere with human lives. They constantly play with human emotions and act just according to their whim. This playfulness of the Greek gods in part where taken after by their Roman counterparts. Through Aeneid, the Greek gods were given Roman names and were given another role.
With Odysseus, the gods demonstrated, through Athena their helpful side. They treated man (Odysseus) as an important being and helped him in any way possible. Nonetheless, not all gods are as helpful as Athena and Zeus towards Odysseus. Through out the journey of Odysseus he was constantly attacked by Poseidon, because Odysseus blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus, who is also a god. Poseidon sent whirling tides and strong winds to capsize Odysseus’ ship. In addition, the monsters Scylla and Charybdis exist only to hurt man. Most of the gods are often depicted as man-eaters and Odysseus, through his wits and additional help or advice from the other gods, was able to escape being eaten by Polyphemus and Scylla.
In Aeneid, gods play a different role. They were helpful and kind, except for the vengeful Juno. Venus’ helped Aeneas escape along with his family. While in the sea, Juno’s wrath caught them and she tried to capsize the ship, but good god Neptune saved the ship and landed them on Carthage. After which, Aeneas and Dido had a love affair, but ended abruptly because Jupiter sent Mercury to remind Aeneas of his duty. Therefore, in Aeneid, gods exist to direct and guide.
Odysseus and Aeneas had to go through adventures to be reach their final goals. They undertook steps and obstacles along the way, and this could be best described as the liminality of their characters. It means a rite of passage that involves a change in the character, especially regarding their social status.
There are three stages of liminality as demonstrated by Odysseus and Aeneas. The first or the preliminary stage requires the separation of the heroes from their usual social setting; Odysseus was recruited to participate in the Trojan War and Aeneas escaped from Troy. The second is the liminal stage where in the heroes are in the middle of their journey, they are in between worlds, more like “not a boy, not yet a man” or “neither here nor there”. Odysseus’ character on his odyssey home encountered many events that tested his courage and personality, as a leader, a father, a husband and as a King. Although, he is already a King in Ithaca, he arrived in Ithaca disguised as a beggar – no longer just a soldier from Troy, but not yet the King of Ithaca again. Aeneas journey to Italy also led him to different parts of the world. In these times, he was no longer the Trojan warrior but still not the founder of Rome.
The third and final stage is called the postliminal stage, a period in which the heroes’ social status is already confirmed. Upon proving Odysseus’ real identity to Penelope and killing all the suitors, he finally re-integrated himself as the King of Ithaca. As with Aeneas, during the battle where he killed Turnus, he finally triumphed over the local Latins and finally established a city that will be called Rome.
The role of women in both epics were pivotal but at the same time unlike. Women in Odyssey were given special roles and they helped Odysseus through out his journey. Perhaps the most helpful woman was the goddess Athena who provided Odysseus with wisdom and at the same time helping Penelope ward off the many suitors who had come to Ithaca. She also helped Telemachus, Odysseus’ son in his tasks. Penelope’s role as the loving and faithful wife is the stronghold that Odysseus leaned on during his long travel. Other women like Circe tamed Odysseus’ pride and love for his men when she all turned them into pigs. He fought valiantly for them to be placed back in their human form; Ino, saved Odysseus when he was drowning by giving him a magical cloak; Calypso offered Odysseus a choice between immortality and death, and he chose none of the above but due to his fear of her power he stayed with her for seven years.
“Nay come, put thy sword into the sheath, and thereafter let us go up into my bed, that meeting in love and sleep we may trust each the other.” said Circe (Odyssey, Book X)”
However, in Aeneid, women took a backseat. They were not given much emphasis or important role through out the poem. Aside from the tragic fate of Dido for falling in love with Aeneas, her misfortune was further re-iterated when she committed suicide. Women such as Andromache, the wife of Hector and Cruesa, Aeneas’ wife, bore the burden of the ransacked city of Troy when Andromache witnessed her son Astyanax thrown from the towers and Cruesa, separated from Aeneas during the great escape, “had to” die so that Aeneas was said to marry another girl in a foreign land where in he would erect a destined city.
Perhaps with the exception of the wrathful Juno and the kind yet mischievous Venus, these women were not as strong as Homer’s. Probably because the Roman culture at that time gave less importance to women, providing a very patriarchal society. While in Homer’s time, Greece was just emerging from a matriarchal society wherein women were regarded as equals with men. Although there was one character in Aeneid, that of Camilla, who demonstrated strength when she provided aid for the falling Trojans; and that of Lavinia, the princess fought over by Aeneas and Turnus, where in her bosom the future of Aeneas’ race lies.
As was always the issue with men, not just with Odysseus or Aeneas. Just like soldiers who have lovers in every destination, perhaps loneliness has something to do with them accumulating women through out their journey.
Odysseus, although married somehow gained fervor from the various women he met and took pride from this in this passage:
“Verily Calypso, the fair goddess, would fain have kept me with her in hallow caves, longing to have me for her lord; and likewise too, guileful Circe of Aia, would have stayed me in her halls longing to have me for her lord. But never did they prevail upon my heart within my breast. So surely is there nought sweeter that a man’s own country and his parents, even though he dwell far of in a rich home, in a strange land, away from all that begat him (Odysseus, Odyssey in Book IX).”
Aeneas stayed with Dido and was only through the message of Mercury sent by Jupiter was he reminded of his mission to find the land of the Romans. He reluctantly bound for his ship and longingly looked back to see the pyre that burns the flesh of Dido who committed suicide because of him. For Aeneas, women was never a problem for him, he would always get them without even doing anything. His wife Cruesa was given by Priam as an appreciation for his being a good Trojan warrior; Dido was charmed by Venus into falling in love with him; and Lavinia was given by her father to Aeneas as an offering of peace and fulfillment of a prophecy.
Journey and Discovery
Odyssey translated means voyage or long journey. Both the Odyssey and Aeneid were tales of extended expedition towards their end goals. However, aside the literal journey of the two characters, a metaphorical voyage also happened that eventually lead them to the persons that they became once they reached their final destinations.
Odysseus in his journey battled with his pride and his longings for his family. However, a veteran of war and trickery, he suppressed his eagerness to come out and introduce himself to Penelope upon seeing her beauty once again. He kept his calm and stayed in the beggar disguise until that the right time. His was also a journey of a man who became wiser than he was before. That his journey started with twelve ships and he returned home alone. Odysseus was quick to realize his mistakes and took responsibility for his and his men’s actions.
As with Aeneas, from the prized warrior of Troy, second to Hector, he evolved into a stronger individual determined to fulfill his destiny. A devoted son, he cared for his father Anchises very much; from carrying him out of the burning city of Troy, to his peaceful death on board his ship; and to his following him in the underworld to seek his advise. Aeneas’ journey had changed from just being a soldier, to a leader of a new civilization.
Fate or destiny played an important part in the adventures of Odysseus and Aeneas. Fate, in part is presumably designated by the gods and therefore, in this sense, fate and the god’s whim are synonymous. Prophecies stated by seers were sent to them by the gods who have seen what will happen, and through their actions, as well as the mortals action, the future will be set into action, unknowingly. Fate, at times were tried to be stopped by some gods, like Juno diverting Aeneas’ attention from ever getting to Italy through offering marriage between him and Dido; but when gods intervene, other gods also intervene, and Jupiter reminded Aeneas of his duty.
Fate, then, as destined by the gods, has a habit of making itself accomplished. It was a part of life of the Odyssey and Aeneid. An inescapable certainty that shaped both of the hero’s lives.
In general, as evidenced by the topics discussed in this paper, Odyssey and Aeneid has more than one thing in common, aside from being just epics. They shared a commonality in various themes such as heroism, relationship between gods and men, the liminality stages, their women, the meaning of their journey and the role of fate.
Therefore, it is sufficient to say that perhaps, a little bit of Odyssey was “copied” by Virgil to create Aeneid. These similarities are not coincidental as Odyssey existed seven hundred years before Aeneid. Nonetheless, using Homer’s works as an inspiration for writing did not limit Virgil’s capacity as a writer. Yes, he may have spun Aeneas from Homer, but he created a totally different character, and a totally different circumstances and environment.
As is the focus of all epics, ancient and modern, these two works became a basis for comparison and no one, up to now, could ever surpass the standards that the two poets had set. Various interpretations and supplementations were added to Aeneid but nothing still beats the original.
As for Homer, little was known about him but he achieved immortality, the most valued deed for Greeks, for his works. His name became a household name even thousands of years after his death.
In conclusion, Odyssey and Aeneid are two of the most important literary works ever made.
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