The Underworld and How It Reflects the Goals and Realities of Virgil and Homer

Topics: Roman Empire, Odysseus, Virgil Pages: 5 (1603 words) Published: October 9, 2012
The Underworld and How it Reflects the Goals and Realities of Virgil and Homer Two epic poems from two great civilizations depict their authors' varying views of the Underworld: The Odyssey and The Aeneid. The Greek poet Homer describes the hardships of Odysseus and his struggle to return home to his beloved wife and family after the Trojan War in The Odyssey. The Roman poet Virgil composed The Aeneid for the first emperor of the Roman Empire, Caesar Augustus, in order to rebuild Rome after the civil war had ended. The Aeneid portrays a demigod, Aeneas, whose mission is to create a grand city that will be known as Rome. This paper analyzes the differences and similarities in how Virgil and Homer view the Underworld in The Odyssey and The Aeneid. These epic poems are similar in showing the authors' customs and beliefs, but different in depicting the Underworld's topography and how the plot in the Underworld represents the diverging values and goals of Homer and Virgil. The Underworld expresses the paradox of being about the dead and the living at the same time, because The Odyssey and The Aeneid similarly explore the customs and beliefs of the Greeks and the Romans, as their heroes’ journey to the Underworld. In the Underworld, Aeneas and Odysseus learn that many souls cannot enter the afterlife without receiving their proper burial. Odysseus is surprised when he meets Elpenor, his friend, who died after falling from a roof on Circe’s island, and was left to rot, while Aeneas is taken aback when he meets Palinaurus, a citizen of his town who was killed by a group of strangers in Italy and also not given the respect of a proper burial. Both unburied friends begg for a proper burial, so that they can finally enter the Underworld. Odysseus responds to the request by promising to return to Circe’s island to bury Elpenor’s remains, while in Aeneas’ case, his guide, the Sybil, promises to persuade the locals to do the task. These promises reflect the underlying customs and beliefs of the living about the dead. Both Greek and Roman cultures assert the importance of burying the dead, so that they can have a restful afterlife. Thus, these two societies share the same values that respect the dead. In addition, Odysseus and Aeneas try to show respect to their parents who are already dead. Odysseus unexpectedly meets his deceased mother and tries to embrace her three times. He fails because she vanishes into thin air every time his fingertips touch her. In The Aeneid, Aeneas is led to the underworld to meet his deceased father. Similar to Odysseus, he reaches to embrace his father three times and fails each time, left embracing nothing but air. These acts of greeting depict the high regard for parents in Greek and Roman civilizations. For them, even when dead, one's parents deserve utmost respect through upholding traditional greeting behaviors. The Underworld also reveals the heroes' futures. Odysseus and Aeneas both go to the underworld to learn more about their mission and how it will unfold. Odysseus seeks to see Teiresias, because he can reveal directions back to his homeland and give more information about his family. Circe is the one who advised Odysseus to look for Teiresias: “You must go to the house of consult the ghost of the blind Theban prophet Teiresias whose reason is still unshaken. To him alone has Proserpine left his understanding even in death...” (Homer 10). In The Aeneid, Aeneas wants to visit his father in the Underworld and learn more about his future. A prophetess also helps Aeneas to speak to his father: “O goddess-born of great Anchises' line,/ The gates of hell are open night and day;/ Smooth the descent, and easy is the way” (Virgil 6). The Underworld is portrayed in The Odyssey and The Aeneid as a source of information. The Roman and Greek cultures believe that their heroes can seek guidance from their ancestors and other dead personalities, especially the great ones who have...

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