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Comparison of (Greek) Homer-The Odysses, book 4 and (Roman) Virgil- Aeneid, Book 2

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12-9-15

A Comparison of Homer's Odyssey, Book 4 and Virgil's Aeneid, Book 2

Virgil's epic, The Aeneid tells the story of the founding of Rome. Virgil traces the origins of the Roman people to that of the Trojans and in the destruction of the Trojans, the Romans rise. This essay seeks to critically examine Virgil's Aeneid and compare it to The Odyssey by Homer. Virgil denies incorporating Greek culture into his work. This analysis will examine that claim by comparing the two works. The Odyssey is a cornerstone of Greek culture and if similarities can be found between it and The Aeneid then this will greatly support any assertions of Virgil incorporating Greek culture into his works. This will be done as follows. First this paper will examine a few key passages within both texts that share remarkable similarities. Following that this paper will discuss larger similarities between the two works such as the overall structure of the narrative. This will be followed by examining similarities in writing style and themes presented in each work. Finally this paper will confront Virgil's claim and examine possible motivations Virgil might have had in claiming to reject Greek culture from his epic. These arguments will lead to the conclusion that Greek culture was used in Virgil's Aeneid and that Greek culture continued on in Roman culture.
First it is important to examine the actual text of these respective works. If direct overlap can be found within each work then this will greatly lend credibility to the thesis expressed in the beginning of this essay.

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First we will examine Homer's Odyssey. Perhaps the most critical piece of evidence comes from the story of the Trojan Horse. The Odyssey describes the event quite clearly in Book VIII. To paraphrase the scene, the Greeks sit quietly inside while the Trojans haul the Horse inside the city and debate whether to keep the Horse or not. Inevitably, the decision is made to keep the Horse in order to curry favor with the Gods. Unfortunately for them, the Gods had already preordained that Troy was to be destroyed on that day. The Trojan Horse also makes another appearance though, this time it appears in The Aeneid. Virgil presents the event from the Trojan side in Book II of his epic. In addition to the Horse's presence, the debate itself between the Trojans on whether to keep the Horse is presented. Virgil provides greater levels of detail for the debate as well. This overlap in the two stories is quite significant. The overlap continues too as the fall of Troy is detailed in each epic. This overlap in itself seems to provide a significant amount of evidence in favor of Greek culture being incorporated into Virgil's work. By itself, however, this is not enough evidence to support the thesis presented at the beginning of this paper. The Trojan Horse merely sets the stage for The Aeneid as it does The Odyssey. To argue that because these stories both have similar beginnings they therefore constitute a direct incorporation of the culture of one by the other is tenuous at best. More evidence is required.
While both stories begin on similar notes they subsequently diverge, or so it seems. Odysseus (referred to as Ulysses by the Romans) embarks on a journey homeward which involves overcoming many challenges before he finally arrives home. Aeneas, however, travels west and eventually founds Rome. On the surface it does not appear as though there is much overlap between the two. Yet the basic structure remains quite similar. Both characters travel the Mediterranean and encounter a number of different challenge in search of home. In the case of Aeneas, he must find a new home for himself and the surviving Trojan people. The first six books of The Aeneid detail these wanderings. They conclude with a major war which is often argued to be quite similar to The Iliad which also includes a major war.
These similarities in overall structure can also be found when examining other aspects of each work. For example, both works are written in dactylic hexameter. This meter is commonly used in epic poems. Both works also open in medias res, that is, in the middle of the overall story. Earlier events are recounted in flashbacks or told to other characters. Similar themes are also examined in each story. Divine intervention occurs quite frequently with gods picking their favorites and trying to help or hurt. The role of Fate also plays a huge degree of importance within each story. Troy is destroyed because Fate wills it. Furthermore, in the Aeneid, we see the interactions between Fate and Divine intervention. One god, Juno, seeks to stop Aeneas from succeeding because his decedents are destined to destroy Carthage, which happens to be her favorite city (she fails). We also see a significant amount of violence within each story. For instance, when Odysseus returns home he finds his wife is being courted by a large number of men. When Odysseus reveals himself he kills them all in his house and is presented as being justified in his violent actions. Today, this level of violence would probably be frowned upon, to say the least. When Aeneas finally settles in Latium, the future site of Rome, it is already occupied. What follows is an incredibly bloody conflict which ends with Aeneas personally killing the enemy commander in battle, thus ending the poem. These similarities significantly lend credibility to our thesis. Virgil, in writing his epic poem, continued many of the styles and themes that had been created in the Greek epics attributed to Homer rather than create his own style and his own themes. Virgil does include a few distinctly Roman themes in his work but these are built on top of the foundation established in the Homeric epics.
Given this, it is interesting to examine why Virgil rejected the claim that his epic was at least inspired by or incorporated some themes from Greek culture. Perhaps the most obvious reason why is because Virgil was trying to write the National Epic of Rome's history. To so blatantly incorporate themes from a people the Romans were actually in the midst of conquering at the time of The Aeneid's writing would likely send a somewhat subversive message. Furthermore, by claiming to reject Greek culture the Roman's conquest of Greece becomes somewhat justified as revenge upon the people who killed their forefathers, the Trojans.
The Homeric Epics and the Aeneid are both highly interesting works that make up the cornerstone of Western literature. This essay critically examined Virgil's denial of incorporating Greek culture into his work. The analysis was done first by examining a key event covered in each work, then it examined similarities in the overall narrative and writing style of each work. Finally, this paper analyzed and compared each work on the broadest level by examining common themes of each work and concluding that given their number it is highly likely that Virgil actually did incorporate elements of Greek culture into his work and subsequently denied having done so for primarily political reasons. Studying each work and comparing them provides a great deal of insight into each of these cultures and what they valued. Both works were extremely popular and survived because both cultures felt the stories reflected something about their societies. In a way, their continued endurance today says similar things about our own culture.

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