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The Aeneid: Virgil's Heroic Underworld Essay

3473 words - 14 pages

It is clear when reading the Aeneid that Virgil was familiar with the earlier works of Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Virgil, more than just being aware of these earlier works, uses themes and ideas from these poems in his own. Far more than just copying scenes and ideas, Virgil expands and alters these themes to better tell his story, unique from the Greek originals he is drawing from. Virgil reveals what qualities he regards as heroic through the juxtaposition of Aeneas’ character and the negative aspects of the underworld. By looking at which qualities are esteemed and derided respectively, we can identify the qualities that Virgil would like to emphasize positively to his readers. Also, we can argue that Virgil is indeed trying to convey a particular set or morals to those readers. Beyond the underworld, it is possible to clearly identify these traits in the other sections of the poem where Virgil is borrowing and making his own alterations. Using these distinctions we can very clearly derive Virgil's morality from the poem, and see where Virgil's ideal characters veer away from the Greek ideal that came before.
Virgil's heroes bear a strong resemblance to the heroes of the earlier works of Homer, however there are some differences that are not merely the result of differences in character. Virgil is depicting his ideals through the traits of his heroes and villains, and some of these traits are different from the Greek traits from The Iliad and The Odyssey. The best way to identify the specific traits that Virgil is trying to plant in the mind of his readers is to look at the main hero, Aeneas. Through Aeneas we see a slightly different variation on the Greek hero. Aeneas is strong and deadly in battle, but far less brash than an Achilles or Odysseus. He possesses a great desire to safely deliver his people to a new home, this single goal is his most powerful driver throughout the poem. Contrasting this to Achilles who allows his fellow Greeks to suffer repeated defeats at the hands of his enemies in order to regain his personal glory which he feels has been compromised due to an argument about the dissemination of war spoils. Odysseus also repeatedly seems far more interested in the gifts and spoils we receives than the well-being of the men who serve him. These comparisons however, could be simply the personal differences between Aeneas and these other heroes. In order to truly see that the qualities of Aeneas are indeed specific and an important part of Virgil's message about morality we must look at Virgil's underworld, and the people who inhabit it.
During the events of book six in the Aeneid, Aeneas travels to the underworld to speak with his recently deceased father and learn what the future holds for him. This visit resembles a similar expedition that Odysseus makes during his journey home in The Odyssey during book 11. Both heroes are traveling by sea in search of home, or a home in the case of Aeneas, and...

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