Odysseus and Aeneas

Odysseus by Homer and Aeneas by Virgil

The Odyssey by Homer is a Greek epic poem, and The Aeneid by Virgil is a Roman epic poem. These two works brought success to their authors and made them famous in the whole world. Both poems tell about the journeys of two heroes – Odysseus and Aeneas. Each of them had noble aims – Odyssey wanted to return to Ithaca to his family after the Trojan War, and Aeneas wanted to build the Roman Empire. Both heroes used the help and advice of gods in their journeys. Although the plots of the poems are closely connected since they narrate about wars and dangerous missions and describe the protagonists as heroic and capable of great endurance, they represent people of diverse cultures with different values.

Virgil described the Roman Empire as the greatest empire in the world. Its citizens were patriotic and loyal to their land. They were proud that they lived there, and they often compared themselves to their forerunners, the Greeks. Thus, Virgil paralleled Homer’s Odyssey when describing the Romans. Therefore, the protagonists of these two epics represent their cultures and worlds. When Virgil made this comparison, he showed that Aeneas was better and higher than Odysseus and the Roman nation was superior to the Greek one.

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Homer paid much attention to the description of Odysseus’ way to home. The hero is shown as a self-confident and fearless warrior, who is not afraid of gods. After his victory over the Trojans, he refused to thank gods, and Poseidon punished him, telling that he would never find the way to home. However, Odysseus did not give up and went through the Islands of Kalypso, of the Lotus-Eaters and Cyclopes; the Island of Aiolos, where he got help from the god of wind. He went through the Island of Laistrygones and the Circe’s island; after that, he went to the Underworld, where he met his dead mother and got advice from Teiresias. Then, he and his friends sailed to the Island of the Sirens and Skylla, and then, to the cattle of Helios, where all his warriors died. Odysseus came to the Phaiakians, where he got a magical ship and finally reached Ithaca. However, his adventures did not end, and he had to battle his wife’s suitors before entering his house in his appearance.

Unlike Odysseus, Aeneas wanted to fulfill the task, given him by the gods. As soon as he heard the message from gods, “He burns to flee | from Carthage; he would quit these pleasant lands, | astonished by such warnings, the command | of gods.” It is obvious that Aeneas felt his duty for the gods and wanted to satisfy them, unlike Odysseus, who thought of his personal wishes. Moreover, it was Aeneas’ instinct to obey the gods and leave his beloved Dido for the sake of his nation. Thus, he was lead by the sense of duty for other people but not his personal desires. Aeneas defended his people, and Odysseus often abandoned them and betrayed those who loved him. For instance, when he got to the Island of Kalypso, he “was detained by the queenly nymph Kalypso, bright among goddesses.” He never thought of his wife when he was there. Thus, Odysseus acted selfishly in different situations. This fact made him a bad leader because he returned to Ithaca alone, and all his warriors died in their journey. Therefore, Virgil compared the sense of duty of Aeneas and self-interest of Odysseus in order to show that Roman culture was higher than that of Greek.

Both Odysseus and Aeneas were leaders for their people. However, Aeneas was more successful leader since he acted for the sake of his nation and even managed to avoid several dangers, such as, for example, Charybdis and the Scylla: “Helenus | had warned us we were not to hold our course | through Scylla and Charybdis, where each way | is neighbor to our death. We must sail back.” On the contrary, Odysseus did not want to avoid these monsters and lead his crew to them. At the same time, Odysseus is depicted as a more humane warrior since he always thinks of his family and tries to return to it after every battle. Moreover, he is described as an intellectual and tricky man, and these qualities help him to survive in the wars. However, Odysseus fought mostly for his personal purposes. Aeneas did not think of his personal happiness with Dido but he acted as a real warrior whose aim was to defend his nation. He illustrated the best features, valued by the Roman, such as military power and vigorousness.

The Aeneid is a reflection of the ideal Roman society. Virgil wanted to create a strong and fearless nation, which would be able to conquer the whole world. The main goal of his protagonist was to build an empire and become a perfect leader for his people. On the contrary, Homer was focused on the wars of a single hero, whose aim was to conquer his enemies and return to his wife and his son. Thus, one may conclude that the Romans valued the unity of the nation, and the Greeks appreciated the unity of the family, which is illustrated by means of the protagonists’ roles in both epics.

Interestingly, the Romans are shown as the creators and the Greeks as the destroyers. Aeneas wanted to build a society, to create a better place for his people. Odysseus, after the sack of Troy, destroyed everything in the Peloponnesian war. Thus, Virgil considered Aeneas the real hero and the father of Rome, unlike Odysseus, who was just a selfish and narcissistic man. At the same time, Odysseus was much wiser than Aeneas since he thought over his every step before beginning the fight. For example, he invented the way to render Cyclop harmless: “Next I told the rest of the men to cast lots, to find out | Which of them must endure with me to take up the great | Beam | And spin it in Cyclop’s eye when sweet sleep had come over him.” Unlike Odysseus, Aeneas was more impulsive, and he usually took his decisions without thinking them over. These qualities may identify the Greeks with a wise and reasonable nation and the Romans with an emotional and impulsive nation. Thus, through the protagonists’ characters, Homer and Virgil attempted to depict their nations as the best nations from their perspectives.
Both Odysseus and Aeneas represent their cultures when thinking of home and love. For instance, Odysseus was attached to his home, and even when he lived with Kalypso and could have stayed with her forever, he chose home. Aeneas did not think of home too much. He felt good in Carthage, and he left it only because Jupiter told him to leave it. When looking at Greek and Roman culture, one may notice that although Greece is small, it preserves its traditions and values its land. The Roman Empire is much bigger. However, Romans easily got their lands and did not value them. They had no particular sense of home since there were many places to go and have a rest. Thus, they did not appreciate home in the same way as the Greeks did. In addition, the attitude toward love and women was also different. Although Odysseus betrayed his wife with other women, those women were immortal, and he still wanted to return to Penelope. Moreover, Penelope always believed that he would return to her, and she “never did have any doubt,” which proves their strong love and devotion to each other. Aeneas, on the contrary, did not love his wife since he preferred to save his old father instead of her during the Trojan War. This moment shows that women in the Roman culture were of little importance; moreover, they were just additions to their husbands. Thus, Odysseus and Aeneas differ in some qualities, and this difference is influenced by their cultures.

After reading the two epics, one may say that the plots and the descriptions of the characters are similar. However, when looking through the details, it is obvious that there are many differences. Most of the differences illustrate the Greek and Roman cultures and diverse values of these nations. Odysseus is depicted as a selfish and fearless mortal human being, who is devoted to his home and who loves his wife Penelope. Aeneas is shown as a strong and powerful son of goddess and a mortal man. He acts impulsively and easily gets the victories. He does not have a strongly expressed sense of home, and he shows no love and respect to his wife. Nevertheless, both protagonists are heroes for their nations; they are ideal rulers and warriors for Homer’s and Virgil’s cultures. It is difficult to define who is a better hero and who is a worse one because it depends on the comprehension of culture and national standards. However, one may for sure claim that both Odysseus and Aeneas became the examples of heroism and intrepidity in the mythological world.