This paper intends to analyze homer’s Odyssey and Vergil’s Aeneid in order to find out similarities as well as differences between the descriptions of underworld and afterlife as portrayed in the two literary works. Further, Homer and Virgil two great ancient authors along with their reputed works are compared to know about their views on underworld and afterlife. It is interesting to see that what makes these two literary works similar to each other is what makes them different from each other.
A number of scholars believe that homer made considerable influence on religious views of Greeks while Virgil could not affect the religious views of Romans in that ratio. Both the authors represent two great ancient civilizations that helped in emerging some great nations of today’s world. Virgil was a genius and full of creative ideas but homer’s influence on his works is clearly visible. Homer who composed odyssey is undisputedly best among all the authors of his times and succeeded in influencing other contemporary as well as future authors. Like others, Virgil was also influenced by homer and followed the trend that was used by homer in odyssey.
In fact, it is not difficult to find out the similarities in homer’s odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid for a reader and it is easy to judge that first part of Aeneid resembles the homer in a great manner. Vergil seems to importing a number of instances from Homer’s odyssey including throughout the book. In homer’s odyssey, Odysseus meets up with his mother inside underworld. Odysseus makes efforts to hug her in his arms three times but gets nothing except air and then requests her not to go away from him. The same scene occurs in Virgil’s Aeneid when Aeneas sees his father into underworld. Like Odysseus, He also tries to hug his father three times and fails. Then he makes requests to his father to not leave him and stay with him.1
Another notable similarity in two literary works in respect of the underworld or afterlife occurs when both the heroes meet with their unburied companions. Odysseus meets up with Elpenor while Aeneas meets palinaurus. Both their dead friends asked for a proper burial for themselves and were assured by the heroes. This also reflects the similarity between Greek and roman civilizations. Both civilizations endorse the beliefs that dead are not allowed into underworld unless they are properly buried with all the rites and keep wandering on the earth as evils. Both the heroes get an entry in the hell after making sacrifices. Both the heroes see a number of other dead people in the underworld in almost same manner.
There should be no confusion in one’s mind regarding the similarities between the portrayals of these two literary works after having a look on the above mentioned analysis. Virgil followed the homer’s odyssey in a substantial manner and first half of Aeneid seems to following odyssey which is mainly about heroes travelling. Some people say that another half of Aeneid which is mainly based on warfare follows homer’s another creation, Iliad. Like similarities there are a number of differences between the portrayal and ideas of underworld or afterlife in the literary works of two legendary authors. The differences are not as eminent as the similarities but they appear sometimes as very prominent and make significant impacts in the events and stories.2
Homer’s odyssey is a story of a man, His fate, fearlessness, religion, different gods, and several other ideas. Odysseus is a brave human being who is fated and passes through several happier and unpleasant moments. On the other hand, Virgil’s hero Aeneas is a gizmo of fate and his creation Aeneid is all about prominence of Rome, about hubris, about fate and about gods. Both the heroes face almost similar incidents, circumstances during their journey but the way they handled these situations showed that they were different in some contexts.
When Odysseus meets up with his dead friend Elpenor, he was requested a proper burial and Odysseus as a man and as a friend assures him that he will bury him once he returns. On the other hand, when Palinaurus, an old friend of Aeneas requests a proper burial, he was scolded and later was assured a burial by locals. Here the difference in the character and dealings of both the heroes is very clearly visible. Odysseus as a leader and as a human being assures his friend a proper burial by himself while Aeneas assures his friend that he will be buried by locals. Homer appears to be more humane and portrays his hero Odysseus that way who values and cares for emotions and respect others. Virgil has portrayed his hero in a more glorified way that has to take care of bigger tasks. A massage is given here that Virgil’s hero Aeneas was made up for bigger tasks and not for such small ones.3
When it comes to enter into hell, both the heroes make sacrifices but Odysseus waits at the door and enters into hell as a common man but Aeneas opens the door and enters into hell as privileged one. After entering in hell, Odysseus talks to a number of people while when Aeneas enters into hell, people start running after seeing him. Here again he was portrayed as someone who is mightier than Odysseus and blessed with some special powers. When Aeneas goes into underworld, the reason behind was the Anchises and when he meet him he came to see a glimpse of the future that he had to build. Homer does not mention any such glorified reason behind Odysseus visit to underworld. It seems that Virgil in order to surpass the homer behind and in order to glorify Rome missed some humane as well logical issues in his poem.
The portrayal of underworld and afterlife by both the authors also suggest about their own thinking of underworld, afterlife and death. Both the authors have tried to interpret things their way. Homer considers death as end of all goodness. Death brings all the people at equal footage, whether one is mightier or is weaker but after death everyone is treated same way. Even Mighty like Achilles wish to serve on the earth under a peasant’s command rather than being the king in the hell. Homer believes that death is the end of life and after death there are only pain, sorrow and grief remains.4
Virgil believes that death is a beginning of a new journey and one can redesign his way on the basis of his piousness and good deeds. Virgil does not mourn about death and have a positive approach to see the things of after death. Instead of considering death as end of everything, Virgil glorifies the idea of Elysium or paradise and says that after death there is paradise which is full of pleasure.
After having observed the above mentioned analysis of the homer’s odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid, it is good to say that there are a number of similarities and differences in the views of both the authors in respect of their views on underworld or afterlife. These differences as well as similarities are clearly visible on same and different points. Homer’s hero Odysseus is more realistic while Virgil’s hero Aeneas is more glorified. Homer’s odyssey is a portrayal of a brave human being who is fated, it is about gods, religion and life and death while Virgil’s Aeneid is about greatness of Rome, fate, glory, gods and religion. One observable thing in both the plays is that there is nothing to hide and everything is there as it is. Readers can interpret the things as they see in both the plays and characters. Even after a long period of time these poems continue to attract the people and readers find these books still lovable.
Adams, Jeff. "Greek and Roman Perceptions of the Afterlife in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid." McNair Scholars Journal, 2007: 218-222.
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