COMPARE AND CONTRAST THE PORTRAYAL OF THE GODS IN VIRGIL'S AENEID AND
There is a significant difference in the treatment of the gods in the
Aeneid and the Metamorphoses, even though both authors were writing in
the epic tradition.
Virgil wrote his Aeneid in the last ten years of his life, between
29BC and 19BC, after the Battle of Actium, in 31BC, which was
significant, as it established Octavian as the sole emperor, Augustus,
of Rome. The Aeneid is a celebration of Augustus' achievements and
rejoices in the development of Rome. There is a great sense of
political propaganda, as well as an historical element, as it
illustrates the origins of the Roman people.
In contrast, Ovid conceived a different purpose for his epic. He wrote
fifteen books, compared to Virgil's twelve, with many of his stories
originating from Greek and Roman myth, concerned with the
transformations of shapes, from the creation of the world to Julius
Caesar's death and deification. He focuses on entertaining the reader
in a humorous fashion, and rather than establishing Rome's origins in
history, he is more concerned with establishing his own fame, for the
These different backgrounds of the two authors illustrate that they
each had contrasting agendas for their books. Thus, the portrayal of
the gods differs greatly-Virgil's are austere and purposeful, whereas,
Ovid's are humorous, reflecting his neoteric style, and intentionally
different from the Virgilian gods.
Firstly, we must take into consideration that Homer's Iliad and
Odyssey, were the only main models of epic for Virgil and Ovid.
There is a strong element of Homeric influence on the Virgilian gods,
for example, Juno has been likened to the Homeric Hera, as she
portrays many of her characteristics. That is, Juno displays a deep
hatred for the Trojans, due to the judgement of Paris, and her
husband's high regard for the Trojan youth, Ganymede; more
significantly, she dislikes the Trojans because they will destroy her
beloved Carthage. Virgil highlights this resentment, when he describes
Juno hounding Aeneas and his men:
'Aeneas, fugitive, this captain, buffeted cruelly on land as on the
sea by blows from powers of the air-behind them baleful Juno in her
Likewise, Hera despised the Trojans, for example, both she and
Poseidon openly supported the Greek camp, while Zeus had been
distracted from the battlefield; she even seduced the king of the
gods, so that Poseidon could give strength and support to the Greeks,
thus ensuring their victory over the Trojans.
Furthermore, Virgil highlights the Homeric power and dark feeling of
hatred in Juno, when he likens her to Poseidon, when he features in
the Odyssey. That is, Poseidon avidly pursued Odysseus, throughout his
journey back to Ithaca, as he had blinded his son, Polyphemus; for
example, in Book 5, he creates a storm and shipwrecks Odysseus.