Aeneus and Virgil’s Aeneid
How was the Aeneid influenced by Homer, and how did it differ from the Greek poet’s epics?
The Aeneid is made up of what are, in effect, two parts. The first part describes the travels of Aeneas from the fallen city of Troy to Italy, where the New Troy will be founded. This part of the epic owes a great deal to Homer’s Odyssey. As does Odysseus, Aeneas faces many extraordinary adventures, including sexual temptation and a descent into the Underworld. Also, as in the case of the Greek hero, Aeneas has a specific goal in mind, the arrival at a particular place. The second part of the Aeneid reminds us of the Iliad. Like the older epic, it is a story of war and heroic struggle.
The Aeneid, however, differs from the Greek epics in significant ways. The Greek epics are primary, oral epics—developed gradually out of a collective folklore and given form orally by the probably collective imagination we call Homer. The Aeneid is a secondary or literary epic, created according to a fully conscious form by a known literary artist. Even though it makes use of an ancient Roman legend, it is not a folk epic but rather a literary work written for a particular purpose, the celebration of the founding of Rome by a particular family.
Most important, the whole tone of the Aeneid differs from that of the Homeric epics. This is primarily because Aeneas is a Roman hero who would have been distinctly out of place in Greece or the Troy from which we are told he flees. Epics were considered educational in Greece. Augustus required an epic that would educate according to Roman ways. If Achilles and Odysseus and Agamemnon and the other Homeric heroes represented individual heroism, the self-based pride called hubris, Aeneas represented Roman values of perseverance, piety, honesty, and subservience to a higher cause—Rome itself. There is no room for hubris in Aeneas, whereas there is a great deal of room for it in Agamemnon, Achilles, and Odysseus. As the Aeneid progresses, Aeneas becomes increasingly an instrument of the fate that has determined that Rome must be founded.