The Aeneid, the Odyssey, and Gilgamesh
1. Any war is always controversial in a sense that it produces numerous opponents and supporters and hardly ever leads to universal and unanimous compromise. That is why in case of Greece’s hitting Troy in Virgil’s The Aeneid, some readers may seek to support Greece, while many others will protect Troy’s interests. In my opinion, Troy is the direct victim of Greece’s material desires, and if in war, I would certainly fight for Troy. In such situation, I would view it as critical to die for my country, “meeting death was beautiful in arms” (Virgil). Simultaneously, even if defeated, I would make everything possible to provide my people with a good place for living, thus confirming Troy’s ability to survive even the most difficult circumstances.
2. Although both Virgil and Homer provide their own accounts of the underworld and afterlife, these accounts have only slight similarities and differ dramatically from each other. In The Aeneid we read: “May it be right to tell what I have heard, / May it be right, and fitting, by your will, / That I describe the deep world sunk in darkness / Under the earth” (Virgil). This is probably, the only similarity between Virgil’s and Homer’s descriptions of the afterlife, which for both of them comes out as the continuous torture in the underworld. For Virgil, the afterlife in the underworld is more structured than that in The Odyssey, and that the reader encounters numerous man-made features in Virgil’s underworld suggests that the latter tried to create a more detailed and realistic picture of afterlife. In Homer’s The Odyssey no geographical or topographic features are described, but instead, Homer pays special attention to the personalities of those living in the underworld; all of them are given names and are described in the major detail: “When lo! The mighty Theban I behold, / To guide his steps he bore a staff of gold; / Awful he trod; majestic was his look! / And from his holy lips these accents broke” (Homer, Book XI). Finally, these are the goals which Aeneas and Odysseus pursue when being involved into the underworld: while the former tries to fulfill his father’s wish, for Odysseus it is the need to hear Teiresias’s prophecy before coming back home, but for both of them the afterlife appears the source of undeniable truths.
3. That Virgil was inspired by Homer’s work is not surprising, because both epics bear significant similarities. The Odyssey was written before The Aeneid, and in Virgil’s eyes, The Aeneid is the direct but more personalized reflection of The Odyssey. If we look deeper into the two plots, we will find dramatic similarities. For example, Book V of Homer’s book described Poseidon’s attacking Odysseus in the sea; and where Athena saves him from inevitable death, Aeneas encounters similar circumstances and has to fight the storm in order to reach their fated home in Italy (Virgil). Both stories are concentrated around Troy. Both The Aeneid and The Odyssey provide accounts of the underworld. Although the names of gods and characters are different, it would be fair to say that Virgil’s epic was inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey.
4. Despite the fact that The Aeneid and The Odyssey comprise numerous similarities, the concepts of marriage in these two stories are rather different. The marriage between Aeneas and Dido bears the features of political and love alliance. That is, upon getting married with Dido, Aeneas is also becoming the master of her people implies a clear political character of such marriage. In case of Odysseus and Penelope, it is a kind of a sacred marriage. The whole Odysseus’s journey from Calypso’s imprisonment to his native land is justified by his search of spiritual completeness. The separation which Odysseus and Penelope have to experience does not break emotional ties between them, and where Penelope says “for we have signs that we know of between the two of us only, but they are secret from others” (Odysseus, Book XXIII), this statement confirms the true sacred nature of their marital union.
5. Aeneas and Gilgamesh are similar in that both epics pursue the principles of heroism and make heroic men the major elements of these stories. Nevertheless, while Aeneas is depicted as the founder of Rome and as a heroic figure fated to survive the Troy siege, Gilgamesh is described as a heroic figure in his utmost immoderation: “Gilgamesh does not leave a girl to her mother (?) / The daughter of the warrior, the bride of the young man, / the gods kept hearing their complaints, so / the gods of the heavens implored the Lord of Uruk” (Tablet I). In distinction from Gilgamesh, Aeneas intentionally seeks to separate his emotional influences from his duties, and while Aeneas represents the heroic future of the whole land, the character of Gilgamesh is limited to individual power, which he displays in the fight with other mortals and gods.
Anonymous. “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” Translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs. 05 July
Homer. “The Odyssey.” 800 B.C.E. Classical Literature Archive. 05 July 2009.
Virgil. “The Aeneid.” 19 B.C.E. Classical Literature Archive. 05 July 2009.