The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid are major ancient Greek and Roman works of the Western literature. While the Iliad is written in Homeric Greek, it alludes to many of Greek legends about happenings during the battle and events which followed the weeks of the quarrel between King Agamemnon and the renowned warrior Achilles. In essence, the story incorporates the earlier events of siege which include the gathering of warriors for the battle and the root causes of the Trojan War which is depicted in the poem. Similarly, the Odyssey is another Greek story written in the Homeric poetic dialect that mainly centered on Odyssey and his entire journey home after the fall of Troy. While it is translated to conform to Homeric writings, it is usually described as a work that has lost the sequel and the Telegony associated with Homeric writings (Sowerby, p.2). The Roman epic poem, the Aeneid, narrates the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who not only traveled to Italy but also became the ancestor of the Romans.
The cyclic epics of Homer, the Iliad, and the Odyssey, Virgil’s national epic and the Aeneid have one common trait: the humanistic nature of characters or heroes displayed in the stories. Through their humanistic nature, themes of fate, the gods, patriotism, prayer, religious rituals and omens, respect for ancestors, and more significantly, humanity, are portrayed. It is in this concern that this paper discusses the heroes of the classical world as outlined by the stories.
Achilles of the Iliad is one of the major heroes in the above stories. In most cases, heroes are usually depicted in the literature as normally undertaking the most difficult tasks that place them in mortal danger. Best described as the strongest and most fearless warrior, Achilles was the greatest hero of the Trojan War (Sowerby, p.10). Even though he did not have the divine favor, he had the capacity for great love and sympathy which influenced his good choices that amounted to his heroism. He chose not to abandon his fellow soldiers even in times of need, but rather rallied them with a moving inspirational speech in order to engage in the fight. Additionally, he made a good choice in standing up for his rights against Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army. For instance, when King Agamemnon conquers and takes Trojan women as slaves including Chryseis, the daughter of the priest, Achilles stops fighting (Sowerby, p.13). This was done to avoid a great plague that stroke the Greek army due to Apollo’s divine curse.
However, the choice taken by Achilles to reject the option of safe homecoming while he already knew of the consequences of his decision as had been prophesized was a poor move. He knew that staying at Troy and continuing to fight in the war would lead to his death, nevertheless, he chose to give up his life in exchange of getting a never fading glory. “Unlike natural flowers that go through the cycle of blooming and then wilting, this unnatural flower, this kleos (glory) will forever stay the same, never losing its color, aroma, and overall beauty,” (Holmer and Fagles p.34). Having said these, Achilles confesses that he chooses to sacrifice his life for the sake of glory that will continue forever by providing other heroes the best ways to be immortalized and live forever.
On the other hand, considering two wandering heroes, Odysseus and Aeneas, their actions during their time of wondering seem to denote the worst moments they encounter on their adventure. Misfortunes that Odysseus faced in his attempt to return home after the Trojan War portray him a one who was not famous for his great strength or bravery, but rather his ability to deceive and trick others. To his friends, this was a brilliant strategist, to his enemies he was a deceiver and a manipulator. On his journey home, Odysseus usually makes mistakes of bragging to his enemies not knowing that it gives them an upper hand of revenging against him. This was evident when he had to flee from the town of Cicones after many of his men were killed by his enemies (Holmer and Fagles, p. 65). By using cunning, guile, and superiority of intellect in overcoming the worst moments, he fits in the definition of an epic hero whose actions were central to his culture.
Odysseus is depicted as the one who keeps going even when everything is against him. For instance, apart from being continuously frustrated by divine nemeses such as storms and wind, he managed to return home. Significantly, Aeneas deeds in overcoming the hardships of his journey conform to the definition of an epic hero. His fate as the Rome’s founder drives all the actions of the narrative which makes an emphasis on Aeneas’ heroism. As noted in the story, Aeneas often respects prophecy thereby attempts to reconcile it with the idea of his own destiny and more significantly, his actions. His ability to accept his destined path despite his unhappiness depicts him as a graceful hero who is worthy of the honor that was bestowed upon him by gods (Smith, p.1). The story focuses on Aeneas’ deterministic effort to overcome worst moments such as storms in order to fulfill his destiny which is done not for his own benefit, but rather for his son, Ascanius and a generation of other heroes who will succeed him (Smith, p.1). This emphasizes patriotism as the characteristic feature of Aeneas which singles him out from other Odysseus’ characters and shows him as a worthy ancestor of Romans.
In conclusion, the heroes in the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid have portrayed the humanistic nature of characters that conforms to the definition of epic heroism. In the stories, culture, nationalism, and racism provide the proverbial themes of fate, respect for gods, and patriotism that best captured the actions of the ancient warriors and people. It is therefore imperative for literature writers to incorporate the current issues or the modern culture in their writings in order to make people understand themselves.
- Smith, Nicole. Character and Divine Influence in the Iliad and the Aeneid: The Role of the Gods and Goddesses and the Direction of Fate, 2012. Web. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
- Sowerby, Robin. The Greeks: An Introduction to Their Culture. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
- Virgil, Holmer and Fagles, Robert. The Iliad; The Odyssey; The Aeneid. New York: Penguin Group, 2009. Print.