The seventh book is really a culmination of a journey I began with Homer and now it ends with Virgil. The Aeneid completes what I call the trilogy of Troy, the Iliad introduced the characters and told us about the great Achilles, the Odyssey filled in the gaps of the end of the war and tells us what happened after on the Greek side hilighting Odysseus’s struggles, and finally the Aeneid shows what happens to the remaining Trojans lead by Aeneas. There are a lot of similarities between Homer’s heros and Virgil’s hero and like in Homer’s epics the gods play a huge part in the success of Aeneas. I will take a look at the three main heros (because there are more) in the poems and how they are similar and different because as I will later note there are some interesting relationships between the three characters.
First though I’ll run through the Aeneid quickly before I look into the characters. The poem begins with Aeneas fleeing the city of Troy with a group of survivors while the Greeks sack the city destined for Italy to found the city of Rome. As they approach their destination a storm begins to rage, surprise here a storm delays an epic hero’s journey, and they land in Carthage home of Dido. Dido is the founder and queen of Carthage and welcomes Aeneas’ group and Aeneas recounts the end of the Trojan War to her. Aeneas tells Dido after ten years of siege the Greeks tricked the Trojans with the infamous Trojan Horse. The Trojans didn’t realize that there were Greek soldiers hidden in the hollow belly of the horse and took it into their city. Aeneas also goes into detail how he escaped the city with the group of survivors while the Greeks burned the city. Aeneas is guided to Italy by the gods who assure him of a glorious future in Italy as the founder of Rome. Twice Aeneas tries to build a new city elsewhere only to be chased away. Bad omens, plagues, harpies (half women half birds) cause Aeneas to fail, however he does come across some helpful natives as well. They also run into a bout of awful weather and with the death of Aeneas’ father Anchises, Aeneas packs up the second attempt and that’s when they landed in Carthage. Dido falls in love with Aeneas and makes him her lover for a while, but the gods remind him of his destiny and he decides to set sail again. Dido is devastated and kills herself, building a funeral pyre with Aeneas’ possessions, lighting it and then stabbing herself with his sword.
Aeneas takes off from Carthage for Italy, however another storm blows them to Sicily. In Sicily Aeneas holds funeral games for his father but the women in his group who are tired of the journey attempt to sabotage Aeneas by burning his ships however a downpour saves the ships. Aeneas’ father visits him in a dream and reinvigorated Aeneas sets sail again for Italy leaving a few members behind. As mentioned in Dante’s Inferno Aeneas descends into the Underworld once he reaches Italy to meet his father. Once there he is shown the future heros of Rome which gives Aeneas renewed motivation. Aeneas returns from the Underworld and sails further up Italy.
In Italy he meets a friendly king Latinus who believes Aeneas is the prophesied suitor of his daughter Lavinia. Latinius’ wife Amata had different ideas and has chosen Turnus for her daughter and begins to spin a web of enmity towards Aeneas. After Aeneas’ son hunts a stag of a local herdsman a fight breaks out. Several people are killed and because of it a battle ensues with help from Tarnus. Aeneas is visited by the god Tiberinus who advises Aeneas to sail north to Tiber to seek the aid of neighboring tribes. Wile on his journey Aeneas’ mother Venus visits him to bring him new armor forged by the god Vulcan. This armor is very important because it also shows the future of Rome on the shield. While away Turnus attackes Aeneas’ men, and by the time Aeneas returns he finds his men entrenched in battle. During the battle Evander, son to Aeneas’ new ally is killed by Turnus sending Aeneas into a fury leading to many deaths.
The next day the two sides agree to a short truce to bury and honor their dead. The Latin generals meet and decide that no further bloodshed need occur. The propose to the Trojans a single combat to decide the conflict between the two groups champions: Aeneas and Tarnus which is agreed. The combat begins but shortly into the battle arguing between the two sides begins and a full scale battle ensues in which Aeneas is wounded in the thigh. As the tide of the battle swings in favor of the Trojans Tarnus rides out to meet Aeneas. Aeneas grievously wounds Tarnus and was about to spare his life but was reminded of Pallas’ death at the hands of Tarnus and that sealed a similar fate. Virgil does not tell the end of the story as we know it where Aeneas marries Lavinia and Rome is built. He ends in the style of Homer with death. Similar to the Iliad’s conclusion where Hector and Achilles are slain Tarnus’ death closes this poem. Also Virgil wanted his then audience, Romans, to believe they were the glorious conclusion to the poem and not Aeneas’ exploits.
After reading three consecutive epic poems that collectively tell the story of Troy and it’s surviving combatants on both sides including the founding of Rome, I wanted to compare the three epic heroes. Achilles, Odysseus and Aeneas represent all things that embody the hero at that time.
Achilles, the hero of the Iliad was one of only two mortals to be described as god-like (the other being Great Ajax) and was the only mortal to experience god-like rage and anger. He was engulfed by the idea of attaining glory enough so to knowingly sail to his death after his goddess mother foretold his possible futures. Achilles obsession with war, glory and his name lasting through the ages aided in his decision to sail to Troy and his death. Achilles anger is the main focal point of the Iliad and ultimately brings about his death. Achilles kills the Trojan Prince Hector in a great one on one combat at the foot of the Trojan wall, and while Achilles defaces Hectors body by dragging him behind his chariot an arrow from Paris pierces Achilles’ heel killing him and giving him the glorious death he desired. Later Achilles will wish he stayed behind from the war and lived a long life when Odysseus visits him in the Underworld. Achilles is remembered as a great warrior and fatally passionate but two traits highly regarded in Greek society at the time.
Odysseus is the hero of the Odyssey but is one of the major Greeks to be mentioned in the Iliad. He is deviously cunning yet is sometimes portrayed as overly cautious favoring retreat and regrouping when opposed by a more powerful army. Nonetheless it is Odysseus who dreams up the famed Trojan Horse and ultimately brings to an end a ten year war in favor of the Greeks. Odysseus was not a coward however, he offered to battle Hector in single combat and fought with courage and honor in many battles before the Trojan War. Odysseus was best known for his sage council as exampled by his suggestion to stone Cassandra’s rapist to death which quelled the anger of Athena saving many Greek lives. Odysseus wins Achilles’ armor by his quick wit and sharp tongue by outsmarting Ajax who later kills himself. Also Odysseus’ cleverness was on display when he outsmarted Polyphemus the giant cyclops and son of Poseidon after he was imprisoned, blinding the giant and riding out of his cave on the underside of his herd of sheep. Odysseus represents the opposite side of the heroic coin that Achilles represents. Odysseus survives the war, but is celebrated for his wisdom and cleverness not his battlefield prowess. Odysseus is refined, thoughtful and is regarded as a great leader different characteristics than Achilles but equally regarded by the Greeks.
Aeneas is a different type of hero in comparison to Homer’s. The Romans hold different values than the Greeks do in terms of their heroes. Aeneas is more dutiful and pious that either of the Homeric heroes as can be seen with his stay with Dido. It’s true he needed to be reminded of his destiny but he makes the decision to sail on to Italy. He has a singular goal and goes to great lengths to achieve it, common to all epic heroes. Where Aeneas differs from Homer’s heroes is in glory. Homer’s heroes weather they attain glory on the battlefield or through cunning both achieve it for themselves personally. Aeneas’s glory is for future Romans and it is seen best on the shield Vulcan forges for him. The shield clearly depicts Romulus being nursed by the she-wolf, the victory over the Gauls, Caesar Augustus defeating Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actidum and more. Aeneas bears the future of Rome and all future Romans on his back not just the glory of his name. Aeneas is a great epic hero who holds the values most cherished by the Romans. Because the values differ does not make Aeneas less of a hero although it is sometimes questioned.
As we can see each person, Achilles, Odysseus and Aeneas had many things in common. They were beloved by their respective cultures and head the characteristics that were valued most by each. The Greeks valued glory weather it is attained on the battlefield or through leadership and both Achilles and Odysseus achieved such. The Romans
valued piety and selflessness and Aeneas was a representation of that. It is difficult to compare these heroes to what we believe is a hero in the 21st century because our values have evolved since, but these three were the quintessential heroes of their time.
I really enjoyed the Aenied as it completed the epic journey of the players in the Trojan War. It was really interesting to jump sides from the Greeks to the Trojans and to
see how the gods put the weight of Rome on the shoulders of one man. I really enjoyed the presentation of the new armor and the history (or future to Aeneas) of Rome on it. It was good to see not all of Troy was lost and the civilization was able to continue elsewhere, and the Aeneid proved to be a good close to the trilogy of epics. I really recommend the Aeneid but after the two Homeric epics are read. It’s an easier read after Homer and having the back story. It’s also a great way to see how different cultures saw what a hero is.