This is part the last :) of a six part article exploring the Classical traditions of heroism. My high school philosopher teacher once remarked that one can perceive perfection as a balance. With that in mind, consider the idea that perfection in a hero is found in the balance of masculinity and femininity.
This source (Rutherford) renders itself useful as it discusses the luck or fate of the heroes and how they are different. Aeneas suffers both loss of love and death whereas the other two heroes suffered significantly less. Ironically enough, the hero who is remembered the most and considered the smartest is in fact Achilles. Achilles suffers unto death whereas the two other heroes survive. This develops the question: why are the so called Homeric heroes so different from one another and do those differences prove anything about the mentality of the heroes? Drawing from this source, one can deduce that the Homeric hero changes to reflect the power of the civilization.
The Aeneid is the story of Aeneas of Troy, whose home was destroyed. Aeneas is a pious man fated to be the founder of the Roman Empire. First Aeneas sets sail from burning Troy and encounters tough waves and weather. Aeneas lands in Carthage where he meets Queen Dido. Dido is shot with a love arrow and falls in love with Aeneas and they begin an affair. Dido then kills herself when Aeneas leaves. Aeneas goes down into the Underworld with the Sybil. Later, Aeneas staged a huge war with the Latins, wins, and his descendants find Rome. While the Aeneid featured the man and the journey, it is an example of Romans trying to be deliberately better than Greeks. Aeneas constantly is praised throughout the work. Any mistake that Aeneas makes is justified as a sign of the piety of Aeneas. Furthermore, hubris is not a large part of the Aeneid. The same deadly pride that is a key characteristic of the Homeric hero is not present here. The reason being Virgil wants to illustrate that Aeneas is the better hero. Nethercut focuses on the oddities of the Aeneid. Particularly on the fact that Aeneas goes into the Underworld (which requires a death of sorts) and has two people die, he enters the gate of false dreams, and recalls a fighting scene in book twenty of the Iliad. The one in particular to focus on is the fact that in Odyssey and Iliad, only death occurs before the hero descends into the Underworld whereas in the Aeneid, Aeneas has to experience two deaths.
One death occurring before being able to cross over to the other side is a common and almost necessary part of mythology, however the double death hints at the death of both the men and the death of Greece. Again this is another instance where Vergil tries to upstage Homer. Homer only has the one death and then in the Iliad, Aeneas almost dies, but is spared. To the first point, the two deaths signify that something died on top of the original death required to enter the Underworld. The Underworld and mythology requires this, but does not require two deaths thus Vergil is trying to say that Aeneas suffered more and still did better. Another important part of this article is the fact that it discusses how throwing rocks recalls the part of the Iliad where Aeneas almost dies. Vergil brings this up to essentially declare that Aeneas lives due to strength and that he can overcome so much. This is a jab at Homer and the Greeks, even though much of the Aeneid is centered about the Homeric tradition. When Vergil synthesizes both the Iliad and the Odyssey, he adds a new spin to the idea of the Homeric hero to define heroism for Rome.
Achilles is the hero of the Iliad and Odysseus is the hero of the Odyssey. However, one must wonder how Homer developed these two epics. Important to note is that Odysseus did not have a large role in the Iliad until the very end of the poem where Odysseus as the mastermind of the Trojan Horse shines through. Before that, Odysseus claimed to be mad by plowing the sand to avoid the draft. However, Scott argues that one of Achilles’s largest flaws was his inability to be cunning, so in some sense Homer emphasized a two-fold idea of the Homeric hero. Achilles was more of strength while Odysseus had a higher mental capacity.
The idea of the two types of heroes readily supports the idea that Vergil attempts to combine both types of the Homeric hero through Aeneas. Aeneas’s fatal flaw is arguably his overt piety, but Aeneas has the best of both Odysseus and Achilles. Aeneas’s cunning manifests itself throughout the whole epic poem when he cleverly discerns how to deal with the war of the Latins and navigating the Underworld. The physical brawn that Aeneas has is shown through his fighting. While Aeneas is depicted as wearing excessive amounts of expensive clothing, an important characteristic to note is the fact that Aeneas is physically strong and a big man. It seems as though Vergil attempted to outshine Homer by taking only the best aspects of the Homeric heroes and minimizing the flaws that he gave them to create Aeneas. Aeneas does not make as many mistakes as Homeric heroes do along with the fact that Aeneas is presented as only adhering to piety, which in a sense excuses his flaws.
This article explores how the Homeric tradition does not traditionally or even mostly dictate how the Aeneid was composed. The inductions of all three epics carry some differences, however only between the Aeneid and the Homeric epic poetry is the difference apparent. The Aeneid up front enumerates Aeneas’s journey and provides a mini plot summary while Homer opts to wait to do this. Additionally, Homer focuses more on the aspects of Olympus than Vergil does. The concept of Olympus and the gods’ place there is more stressed in the Homeric epics and barely mentioned in the Aeneid. Another aspect is the fact that Vergil attributes far more to fama than Homer does. Homer’s epic poetry presents itself more as fact than plausible rumor while Vergil personifies fama and focuses on the antiqua of Carthage to promote Rome.
The most useful part of this article is the breaking of Homeric tradition that Vergil uses to elevate Aeneas as a hero. The problem that Vergil faces when writing the Aeneid is the fact that Iliad and Odyssey are older works of note and the Aeneid is more contemporary since Rome came to fruition later historically. Vergil (mostly Augustus) wants to drive home the point that Rome’s historical beginnings are as impressive if not more impressive than Greece’s history. Thus Vergil attempts to break from Homeric tradition by mentioning the antiquity of the cities that Aeneas interacts with and most importantly, using rumor to creatively emphasize the point that since Rome was founded a long time ago, some of the founding story is based on rumor.