Aeneid Vs Odyssey
Both the Odyssey and the Aeneid share some similarities as epics; both describe the trials of a heroic figure who is the ideal representative of a There are even individual scenes in the Aeneid are
borrowed from the Odyssey. Yet, why are Odysseus and Aeneas so unlike one
another? The answer is that the authors lived in two different worlds, whose
values and perceptions varied greatly of a fundamental level.
To illustrate, two common ideas woven into the Odyssey are custom and
recklessness. Customs were handed down by the gods, and were meant to keep
men safe by giving them civilization. When men were reckless (when they
flaunted custom and the gods), they invited retribution and chaos by placing
themselves outside the ordained scope of humanity. Moreover, if the customs
are followed and proper respect given the gods, it is possible for man to live
in harmony indefinitely.
In contrast, the Aeneid propounds upon furor and civitas. Furor is the
discord that lies at the heart of each person which engenders violence, and
this furor must be restrained in order for civilization to work. This gives
rise to the idea of civitas, the overwhelming devotion to the state above
selfish personal desire; this is the only way man can chain furor on a large
scale. Moreover, it is always possible for furor to surface; even after years
of sacrifice and constant vigilance, peace is never guaranteed.
These differences in ethos are most easily seen when Virgil borrows a
scene and transforms it to his own ends. For example, Virgil adopts the
episode where Odysseus washes up on the shore of Skheria and meets the
Phaiakians and uses it to form the core of Aeneid I and II.
In the Odyssey, the episode begins with Odysseus on his makeshift raft,
heading home after all his trials. His eventual passage home has been agreed
upon by Zeus, "whose will is not subject to error."1 However, in the past
Odysseus wounded Polyphemos and in reckless abandon questioned the power of
the gods; while he was fleeing from the Cyclops he yelled "If I could take
your life I would and take your time away, and hurl you down to hell! The god
of earthquake could not heal you there!"2 For this affront, Poseidon decided
to make Odysseus' journey home a long and difficult one. The god of the sea
sends a storm his way but Odysseus survives with the nereid Ino's gift and
guidance. After Poseidon departs, he finally reaches Skheria's shore with
Athena's help.
The opening scenes in the Aeneid corresponds to Homer's sequence. Aeneas
and the Trojans are on their ships, heading to found a new city after many
travails. The eventual founding of the city has been agreed upon by Jupiter,
and thus the Trojan's "[d]estiny is unaltered"3 regardless of what calamity
befalls them. However, Juno is worried that the Trojans' descendants will
eventually surpass the Greeks, "root up her Libyan empire"4, and "enslave the
children of Agamemnon"5; so she convinces Aeolus to release to some winds to
destroy them now. The winds are so fierce that they need a "heap of mountains
[laid] upon them" and even then "[b]ehind the bars they bellow, mightily
fretting: the mountain is one immense murmur."6 Aeolus releases them by
pushing his spear at the flank of the mountain, and "in a solid mass, [they]
hurl themselves through the gates" and they nearly devastate the Trojans.
Neptune quiets the winds and the seas, and then rides away.
Odysseus and the Trojans have much in common. Both are plagued by gods
(the former by Poseidon and the latter by Juno). Despite their troubles, both
are also guaranteed eventual success, for their accomplishments have been
ordained by the supreme God, and this cannot be denied. However, the
distinction between the source of their difficulties is an important one.
Odysseus willingly invited disaster by flaunting the power of the gods. If he
had not done so and followed custom as he should, he would have returned home
much sooner with much less travail. The Trojans are simply subject to
disaster, for no reason whatsoever. The winds are specifically portrayed as
bound furor for this reason; in Virgil's world furor is always present and can
strike at any time. At the moment, this is just a subtle difference, but
further into the episode it becomes magnified.
In the Odyssey, Odysseus meets Nausikaa and wins her over, earning passage
into the city. He then proceeds to Phaiakia and meets Athena in the guise of
a little girl. With Athena's guidance he makes his way to the palace, under a
mist which screens him from sight. There he stops to admire the courtyard and
orchard, and pauses to form his thoughts before entering. He then finds Arete
and beseeches her to help him. The corresponding scenes have been fused and
altered in the Aeneid. Aeneas first tries to scout the area and meets Venus
in the guise of a Tyrian girl. With Venus's guidance he makes his way to the
temple/court, under a similar mist. While admiring the city builders, he
stops and laments over some frescoes of the Trojans war. He sees Dido
dispensing justice in her court, and then sees his comrade Ilioneus winning
her over. After observing this he reveals himself and thanks Dido for her
sympathy and help.
Here we begin to see the divergence between the episodes. Phaiakia
represents the ultimate god-blessed society, so fortunate that it has no
understanding of the suffering present in human experience. One is led to
believe that they have never known hunger or thirst, since their palace has an
orchard upon which "[f]ruits never failed"7; they feast on "abundant fare"8
and have a clear fountain to serve "all who came for water."9 Nor have the
Phaiakians ever known true conflict or division, as "[n]o grace or wisdom
fails in [Arete]; indeed just men in quarrels [go] to her for equity"10 and
"the power or [their] people stands"11 with Alkinoos. It is also certain that
the Phaiakians have never known war, since "there's no fool is so brash, and
never will be, as to bring war or pillage to [that] coast."12 Consequently,
they have no grasp of the horrors of war, for Alkinoos needs to ask Odysseus
why he "grieve[s] so terribly over ... the fall of Troy."13
Carthage is a newly founded city under construction, vibrant and growing,
where "[t]he work goes on like wildfire." Aeneas "marvels at [their] great
building, ... city gates, and the din of paved streets." and exclaims, "Ah,
how fortunate you are, whose town is already building!" Moreover, the city
has great potential, with the "prospect of great towers"14 and signs that
"[t]heir nation would thrive in wealth and war."15 Aeneas is moved by the
Carthaginians' renewal, and "first dared to hope for Salvation and believe
that at last his luck was turning." But then he notices "a series of frescoes
depicting the Trojan war," and cries, "is there anywhere, any place left on
earth unhaunted by our sorrows?" He is touched by "human transience."16
There are again basic similarities between the two situations; both
Phaiakia and Carthage represent ideal societies to the wanderers. Moreover,
even though the cultures are ideal, neither of them belong there. But again,
the differences between the two societies illuminate the differences in
ideology. Phaiakia is a static culture, a type of fairy tale place where
everything is in perfect harmony. As long as its citizens follow custom as
they should, it will continue to exist in perfection. Carthage is a dynamic
culture, one link in the chain of successively better societies. However,
even if they have extreme civitas and do nothing wrong, it is still possible
for furor to destroy it, just like it destroyed Troy. The former is an
immortal society, existing forever; the latter is a mortal society in the
process of birth, and consequently the possibility of death.
In the Odyssey, Odysseus sits in the ashes of the fire. Ekheneos, an
elder and oracle versed in the laws, admonishes Alkinoos for not instantly
offering his hospitality. Alkinoos then offers the wanderer a seat of honor,
orders food brought, and decrees the customary rituals to be performed. Then
he speaks to Odysseus, is taken by him, and offers him his daughter's hand in
marriage. Everyone rests, and the next day is spent in festivities.
Afterwards, Odysseus recounts his various wanderings to the Phaiakians. Then
he is sped on his way home. In the Aeneid, Venus sends Cupid in the form of
Ascanius to make Dido fall in love with Aeneas. Aeneas then recounts two
tales to Dido and her court: the fall of Troy and the Trojan wanderings.
Meanwhile, Dido has become enamored with Aeneas, and eventually Aeneas
reciprocates her love. He decides to stay in Carthage and help with the
building until he is chastised by Hermes. When he then prepares to leave,
Dido becomes enraged and then despondent. Finally, after he is gone she takes
her own life.
Even though Odysseus is given very good treatment by a variety of people,
he never doubts for a moment that he belongs home on Ithaka. For example,
when he was with Calypso, he had immortality and divine companionship;
moreover, his return home would be fraught with adversity. Yet, "each day,
[he longed] for home" and felt his "tough heart could undergo"17 any trail.
Hermes had to chastise Calypso to let Odysseus go, rather than spurring the
wanderer himself. On Skheria, Alkinoos would make Odysseus his "son-in-law,
if [he] remained. A home, lands, and riches"18 would be his as well. Offered
a place in this ideal society, Odysseus still chooses to return home. From
the Cyclops' island, where is known "none but savage ways"19; to Aiolia, where
they still "gave [sisters] to [brothers] to be their gentle brides"20; to the
"magic house of Circe", where there is "eating and drinking, endlessly
regaled."21; Odysseus realizes that he belongs in none of these places. His
wanderings merely represent his unceasing climb back to his proper place, were
he always has and always will belong.
However, Aeneas' tale is far different. He begins with the fall of Troy,
which was precipitated by the Trojan Horse. The Horse is portrayed as bound
furor just like Aeolus' winds. Laocoon throws a spear into its side, which
stuck "quivering" and the Horse "grunted at the concussion and rumbled
hollowly."22 Soon after, the potential for violence pent-up in the Horse is
released violently, and Troy is consumed in flames. Moreover, no one is proof
from this same type of disaster. Aeneas is the pinnacle of his culture, the
paragon of sacrifice and duty who carried his father out of Troy. Even he
falls prey to his human passions and stays with Dido; in so forgetting his
civitas, he relaxes his grip on furor. Dido is then consumed in flames just
like Troy, and her final words are prelude to strife between Rome and Carthage
in the future.
The comparison of these scenes shows the fundamental differences between
the Greek and Roman ideals. The Greeks believed in the everlasting power of
custom to protect and preserve them, and that any tragedy stemmed from their
own recklessness. In a sense, Odysseus brought his troubles upon himself. If
he had followed custom like the Phaiakians had, he would have remained within
the ordained scope of humanity. Moreover, in some absolute sense Odysseus
belongs at home on Ithaka, and once there he can remain there indefinitely in
safety. The Romans' world was much more uncertain because of the constant
possibility for disaster, and believed that human existence was inherently a
tragedy because of this everpresent furor. Even had all the Trojans done
nothing wrong, they still would have received the winds sent at Juno's behest.
All they had was vulnerable, their lives, their cities, and their
civilization; anything could be destroyed by the godless discord. Moreover,
no matter how devout and full of civitas one is, it is always possible for
furor to surface. Thus, it is not surprising that the Greek and Roman epics
were so different, since what the they perceived were really two different
worlds.
 
Bibliography:
1Odyssey V, line 34 2Odyssey IX, lines 571-73 3Aeneid I, page 20 4Aeneid I, page 13 of the 1952 C. Day Lewis translation; all further page references are from this. 5Aeneid I, page 21 6Both quotes are from Aeneid I, page 14 7Odyssey VII, line 124 8Odyssey VII, line 106 9Odyssey VII, lines 138-140 10Odyssey VII, lines 77-78 11Odyssey VI, lines 210-11 12Odyssey VI, lines 215-16 13Odyssey VIII lines 617-18 14Last four quotes from Aeneid I, page 25 15Aeneid I, pages 25-26 16Last four quotes from Aeneid I, page 26 17Odyssey V, lines 229-233 18Odyssey V, lines 337-38 19Odyssey IX, line 204 20Odyssey X, line 9 21Odyssey X, lines 473-74 22Last two quotes from Aeneid II, page 36
 
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    Some topics in this essay  
 
    Odysseus Aeneas | Greek Roman | Odyssey Odysseus | II Odyssey | Aeneid Aeneas | Troy13 Carthage | Horse Horse | Phaiakia Carthage | Alkinoos Odysseus | Meanwhile Dido | odyssey odysseus | portrayed bound furor | belongs home ithaka | return home | fall troy | ordained scope | greek roman | scope humanity | scope humanity moreover | civitas furor | ordained scope humanity | sense odysseus | consumed flames | followed custom |  
   
 
 
 
 
   
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