26 Oct 2009

Sample Essay: Aeneid vs. Odyssey

Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid and is a journey into the abyss of hell. Book VI of The Aeneid focuses on Aeneas’s descent into the underworld, where he sees people facing the harsh outcomes of their lives. Virgil portrays Aeneas’s journey into the underworld as a contrast of good and evil. Aeneas sees familiar faces who reflect the different philosophical and theological aspects of the poem. In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus’s journey home leads to encounters that shed light on the nature of hospitality and more specifically the code of Xenia. The code establishes a relationship between the resident of a home (the host) and the guest (xenos) who visits the home. In The Odyssey, the code of Xenia illustrates how Odysseus’s experiences enrich him and reinforce his desire for new experiences. This paper will attempt to demonstrate how The Odyssey and The Aeneid are based on a journey that reveal the consequences of behavior and actions that deviate from a Christian or other code of behavior based on hospitality and piety.

The Aeneid focuses on how Aeneas witnesses those who suffer as a result of their impiety in the underworld. It explores the nature of actions and their consequences in relation to adhering to or deviating from Christian piety. Aeneas represents Christian piety as he embraces virtue. Although Virgil composed The Aeneid before Christianity (he died nineteen years before the birth of Christ), his poem is centered on important theological concepts that impact on Christian beliefs. Virgil portrays Aeneas as a morally upright man who never risks being unconscionable at the expense of harming another person unjustly. When he encounters Dido, who walks in the eternal Fields of Mourning, Aeneas becomes emotional and weeps. He wonders whether he was the cause of her death. The depth of his emotions reveals that he is a man of virtue: “Was I, was I the cause? / I swear by the stars, by the gods, / By any certainty below the earth, / I left your land against my will, my queen. / . . . / And I could not believe that I would hurt you / So terribly by going” (Book VI 456-461). Deiphobë tells Aeneas about how Tityos’s evil deeds lead to his punishment in the underworld by a vulture that “forages forever in his liver, / His vitals rife with agonies. The bird, / Lodged in the chest cavity, tears at his feast, / And tissues growing again get no relief” (Book VI 498-502). Virgil emphasizes the extent of the injustice that Deïphobus caused Troy when he was fooled by Helen into being passive on the night the Spartans invaded the city. The gravity of the sin a person commits while alive is heavily impacts on the gravity of the punishment that person receives in the underworld.

Dis is not heaven, but rather one of the more positive levels of hell in which the Field of Gladness exists. The Fields of Gladness is a paradise-like world in which all the good souls abide. To Christians, the realm of Dis seems like a logical precedent to the Christian conception of heaven established in the New Testament. The Aeneid focuses on how one suffers in the underworld if he or she deviates from a Christian code of behavior.

Virgil’s work is similar to Dante’s The Divine Comedy in that it is based on the suffering of those who deviate from Christian piety. Dante’s poem is commonly viewed as the fulfillment of Virgil’s vision as it stretches the concept of heaven to its artistic limits. The theological components of Dante’ work delves into the different aspects of human nature. The contrast of heaven and hell in Virgil’s work reflects to some degree the intensity of Dante’s poem. Critics believe that the fact Virgil was a pagan is a severe limitation in itself, and that Dante’s Christian beliefs enabled him to capture the full extent of hell within the context of a poem. In Dante’s poem, once Virgil leads Dante through hell he is unable to enter paradise with Dante because he is a pagan. The fact that Dante is able to enter paradise while Virgil is restricted to everything outside paradise illustrates that The Divine Comedy is a much more powerful rendition of hell than The Aeneid:

But Dante’s epic is not just equal to Virgil’s-it surpasses it, since it is a Christian epic (while Virgil’s was Pagan one). Virgil is unable to enter the Earthly Paradise at the top of Mount Purgatory (he disappears after declaring that Dante no longer needs his guidance. The heavenly Paradise described in Paradiso is off limits to Virgil, a Pagan. Nonetheless, Virgil’s guidance is part of God’s plan. This feminine trinity is part of God’s plan for Dante’s salvation. (The Divina Commedia and The Aeneid 1)

Dante’s poem is the fulfillment of Christian piety as it can be interpreted in Virgil’s work. Virgil’s depiction of Aeneas is based on a representation of virtue that is a stark contrast to those who suffer in the underworld as a result of their sins.

In The Odyssey, the code of Xenia was of vital importance to the Greeks as it allowed them to travel extensively without having to worry about where to stay. It is a ritual of hospitality that allows a traveler to be treated as a friend. The concept of Xenia is based on the culture of ancient Greece. It is based on manners relating to the treatment of strangers who are in need of hospitality: “Xenia is the Greek concept of hospitality, or generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home. It is often translated as “guest-friendship” (or “ritualized friendship”) because the rituals of hospitality created and expressed a reciprocal relationship between guest and host” (Xenia 1). This concept is a vital component of Homer’s story as it involves the relationship between Odysseus and the people he encounters along his epic journey:

Xenia is an important theme in the Odyssey as well. Odysseus is a guest on his journeys, and meets the most varied set of hosts, from man-eating monsters to sexy goddesses to the luxurious, soft, and ultimately generous Phaeacians. Sometimes Odysseus’ manners leave something to be desired, as perhaps in his decision to welcome himself to some of Polyphemus’ cheese, and then hand around to demand a gift in addition, but by the time he arrives with the Phaeacians he is the perfect guest. (Odyssey 1, 1)

Xenia plays an important role in Homer’s epic as it pertains to Odysseus’s role as a guest throughout his journey. His hosts include goddesses, Phaecians, and monsters, but the theme of xenia has a common purpose throughout the different parts of his journey. The code of Xenia is based on principles of morality and ethics that are associated with the hosts.

Odysseus’s experiences are based on the knowledge he has gained from the hospitality of other peoples. There are instances in which the code of Xenia is respected. In Book Three (lines 77), Telemachus desires to respect the code of Xenia by stating his purpose for traveling . Telemachus’s journey to Pylos involves his warm reception by heroes of the Trojan War, Pylos, and Nestor. In Pylos, travelers are treated with respect and gracefulness. Telemachus behaves like a good guest and is treated like a friendly guest. The book contrasts the suitors of Ithaca, who are opposed to embracing the ritual of hospitality, with the people of Pylos. Telemachues travels to Pylos to prove his stature and his rightful inheritance of Odysseu’s status. The ritual of hospitality in Pylos demonstrates that Telemachus deserves to be treated with respect by the suitors of Ithaca, who treat him as though he is an outcast.

The book illustrates that the journey of Telemachus and Odysseus is based on respecting the code of Xenia in order for the suitors of Ithaca to embrace the ritual of hospitality when father and son return home. When Odysseus arrives home, the suitors of Ithaca treat him with disrespect. Odysseus proves to them that they are outsiders who do not deserve his power and authority. Throughout his journey, Odysseus does not always respect the code of Xenia, but he eventually embodies the code of Xenia with his moral uprightness.

The Phaceacians were well-known for their respect of the code of Xenia. The princess and her maids bathe Odysseus and then lead to the palace, where he is fed and treated with the utmost hospitality. Every household including that of Calypso and Circe reveal the nature of Xenia in Homer’s epic and how it is either violated or embraced. The disguised Odysseus is mistreated by the suitors of Ithaca, who demonstrate that they violate the code of Xenia.  In Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses,” Odysseus demonstrates that he is the embodiment of the code of Xenia as his journey has enhanced his stature and allowed him to return home and reclaim his status. His adherence to this code allows him to absorb other cultures and acknowledge the limitless nature of knowledge and wisdom:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use! (22-27)

Tennyson uses the myth of Odysseys to illustrate that the desire for knowledge is part of making the most of life: “Tennyson, the subjective poet that he is, used the Ulysses myth on several occasions to express his own attitudes toward life. The “traveling” figure of Ulysses gets away to an unknown land of fruit and flowers in The Lotus-Eaters. This is a clear expression of a characteristic of Tennyson-a certain life-weariness, a longing for rest and oblivion” (Ulysses Myth 1). Tennyson’s poem is a modern work based on an ancient work as it touches upon the concept of xenia and the knowledge and wisdom that Odysseus gained during his journey. Homer’s story incorporates the concept of xenia in order to illustrate the importance of manners and hospitality in ancient times. Tennyson’s poem portrays Odysseus as desiring to acquire more knowledge and wisdom. Virgil’s portrayal of Aeneas is based on Aeneas as a representation of virtue. Aeneas is a stark contrast to those who suffering as a result of committing sins. Both The Odyssey and The Aeneid focus on the nature of adhering to or deviating from a code of behavior that is based on Christian piety and hospitality.

Works Cited

Homer. The Odyssey. Penguin Classics; Ringland, 1991.

The Aeneid. Virgil. Wordsworth Editions (2002).

The Divina Commedia and The Aeneid


Odyssey 1


Xenia (Greek)


Tennyson’s Use of the Ulysses Myth


Filed under: Sample essays — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 9:20 am

03 Jul 2009

Sample Essay: Iliad/Odyssey Hubris Comparison

Iliad was written in 850 BC and Odyssey somewhere around 400 BC. This time was different from the modern times. In this age, pride and arrogance often came before everything else and wealth and power often provoked the pride. In the modern days it would sound strange. The pride or the element of Hubris of the heroes in Iliad and Odyssey have brought about their downfall or caused them some harm or other.
The characters of Hector and Patrocleus are two instances of pride in people bringing about their defeat or downfall. Hector was too proud to leave the battleground and the hence confronted Achilles. As well said by King Priam, “Ah for a young man all looks fine and noble if he goes down in war…he lies there dead…but whatever death lays bare, all wounds are marks of glory.” (Homer and Fagles, 1990, p.544) Hector’s pride allows him to think that all the pains and hurt inflicted by death would be mark of glory. He was also betrayed by his fellowmen and it was believed that if he has lived, he could have defended Troy. The most interesting instance would be Achilles in Iliad. He was also destroyed by his pride. When Agamemnon took his woman, he was too proud to participate in the battle and Achilles said “But now that he’s torn my honor from my hands, robbed me, lied to me…he’ll never win me over!” (Homer and Fagles, 1990, p. 263) this decision was based on pride and this made his fellow Acheans suffer. In order to preserve his ego he lent his armor to Patrocleus and this led to the downfall of his character as well as the death of his friend. Even though Agamemnon hurt Achilles’ pride, he did not let him dictate is actions. Achilles’ hurt ego is well reflected as he says,  “You overlook this, dogface, or don’t care, / and now in the end you threaten to take my girl, / a prize I sweated for, and soldiers gave me!” (Homer and Fagles, 1990, p. 157-62) he also calls Agamemnon a coward and thief.

Another example of pride is well reflected in Homer’s Odyssey, through the character of Odysseus. The story of The Odyssey, as written by Homer, reveals the character of Odysseus as a shrewd traveler in disguise who hides his identity to achieve his goals and narrates the wanderings of the hero of the Trojan War. We find that Odysseus reveals his strength as well as his flaws. He was held captive against his will by Calypso but with the help pf Athena and Zeus he escapes after politely telling her that all he wanted was a safe departure to home since he was tired and cleverly hides the fact about his wife. Again, the land of Helios teaches him how dangerous temptation can be and how disregard of the gods’ instruction could be deadly. The men uses their own judgment out of their temptation and this causes them to lose their lives. This once again reflects the extent of dependency on the gods. An example of recklessness is drawn upon in the land of the Cyclopes where Odysseus in his curiosity to meet Polymephos, the one eyed giant and the son of Poseidon (god of earthquake) gets trapped and many of his men gets eaten up by the giant. He at last finds a way out using his tricks but after escaping screams out curses at the monster and reveals his true name to the Cyclopes. When they escaped by hiding in the flings along with the rams, Odysseus narrates, ” I, too, had my own ram, the finest one in the whole flock by far.”(Line 571-572) This also reveals his arrogance to some extent. Odysseus mocks at the Cyclops, saying:

it seems he was no weakling, after all,

the man whose comrades you so wished to eat,
using brute force in that hollow cave of yours.
Your evil acts were bound to catch you out,
you wretch-you didn’t even hesitate
to gorge yourself on guests in your own home.
Now Zeus and other gods have paid you back.” (Line 630-636)

This angers Poseidon who vows to avenge him. “It made his heart more angry. He snapped off a huge chunk of mountain rock and hurled it.” (Line 637-639)

In the end after his return however he is advised to make a sacrifice to the god of earthquake in order to show respect to the gods. Odysseus carried on with his reckless curses unless his comrades warned him:

“‘That’s reckless.
Why are you trying to irritate that savage?
He just threw a boulder in the sea
and pushed us back on shore. We really thought
he’d killed us there.  If he’d heard us speak
or uttering a sound, he’d have hurled down
another jagged rock, and crushed our skulls,
the timbers on this ship, as well.  He’s strong,
powerful enough to throw this far.” (Line 651-659)

The land of the lotus-eaters however represents peace and that of the deaths represent knowledge. The land of death reveals to him various facts about his sailors and his family as well through the spirits. The visit to Kirke’s land teaches the readers how lust could snatch the power of a goddess and here one may find the remark of Calypso applicable. The experience also shows that some amount of caution is always essential and unnecessary curiosity and lack of tact leads to destruction. Again, the event of Hermes appearing before Odysseus to hand him the herb in order to free his men (whom Kirke has converted to pigs) tells us the important role of the Greek gods in the Greek society. Here his men were all turned into pigs but heroically rescued by Odysseus. Thus the hero had his heroism or courage as well as his reckless pride that invited more danger for him. Thus in both case pride begets downfall or at least a temporary harm (as I case of Odysseus who at least had the modesty to offer a sacrifice to Zeus in order to gain protection).

Another similar instance could be drawn from the present day hero, George W. Bush, president of America, whose pride encouraged him to avenge the 9/11 incident and hence launch the horrifying and inhuman phase of the war against the Iraq. His arrogance leads to a continuation of deaths on both sides. Besides the massive destruction of innocent lives in Iraq, the American soldiers (2577 as on August, 2006) have also risked and lost their lives. According to Bush, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”  Estimated number of Iraqi civilians (men, women, and children) killed in Bush’s war since Saddam Hussein was ousted is 38,960. (“Where Bush’s Arrogance Has Taken Us” informationclearinghouse.info) Another statement that reveals his pride and arrogance is:

“I’m the commander — see, I don’t need to explain — I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”
George W., August 2002.

(“Where Bush’s Arrogance Has Taken Us” informationclearinghouse.info)

Thus instances of pride are evident in all times, however taking a lesson from Iliad and Odyssey the present day leaders need to master modesty and diplomacy to win the world. Bush has however, till not faced the decline despite his enormous pride.


Homer, The Odyssey,  http://www.mala.bc.ca/~Johnstoi/homer/odyssey9.htm

Homer and Fagles, The Iliad, 1990, Penguin Publishers, pp. 1-683

“Where Bush’s Arrogance Has Taken Us”, http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article14665.htm

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