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

http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Article/623976

Odyssey 1

http://www.siu.edu/~dfll/classics/Civ2004/guides/lecturenotes/od1.html

Xenia (Greek)

http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/757673

Tennyson’s Use of the Ulysses Myth

http://jlguretzki.ca/essay/ulyssestennyson.htm

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