The epos of ancient works is rich in vivid images and characters that embody the ideas of heroism and convey the moral character of past eras. Nevertheless, the approaches of some authors with respect to the portraits of the main characters were different, which makes their work even more unique. In order to demonstrate the distinctions in the display of heroic images, the principles of two outstanding authors will be reviewed – Virgil’s literary tricks in his The Aeneid and Homer’s style who presented Odysseus and Achilles in The Odyssey and The Iliad, respectively. Despite the similar traits of the characters, it is possible to contrast the individual approaches of the authors and give the examples of the distinctions that can be traced in their great epos. In general, the ways in which the heroes overcome the challenges and obstacles that come their way are the key factors that differ in the works of Homer and Virgil.
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Situational Nature of Heroism
When considering the portrayal of Homer’s heroes, it can be noted that their behavior in certain situations is the consequence of appropriate upbringing and morals embodied in them at an early age. In the author’s epos, characters turn into heroes due to their deeds but not life status at birth, and collective efforts are the result of courage and bravery. Odysseus is presented as “the blameless hero from his wish’d-for home” (Homer, The Iliad 3). He fights with opponents for the heart of Penelope, his wife; he has a wealth of experience in battles and dangerous confrontations, which makes him fearless.
In general, the nature of Homeric characters suggests that each person has the right to achieve the desired heights if he or she shows the strength of will and spirit. At the same time, both in The Iliad and The Odyssey, the heroes follow a certain moral law of behavior that distinguishes them from most ordinary people. For example, Achilles is the favorite of gods due to his generosity and valor, as seen in his relationship with Agamemnon who is a clear antagonist and steals the hero’s niece (Homer, The Odyssey 6). It is this promise of Homer that characterizes his epic and the portraits of key characters.
Regarding Virgil and his The Aeneid, several other aspects of heroism are reflected. It may be concluded that Aeneas as the main character of the work is influenced by emotions more strongly than reasons, and his heroism is often grounded rather with bitter rage than selflessness and impartial opinions. Despite the imitation of Homer in the style of the story, Virgil comes to the description of the key characters from a different perspective. In particular, an emotional hero is a typical technique used by the author, and unlike his predecessor, he rarely uses the interweaving of scenes and characters’ interactions and concentrates more on a linear plot with the pronounced position of the leader.
A divine background is a frequent theme raised in the work, and Aeneas behaves like a person from Olympus. The legendary journey to Italy is rich in the descriptions of scenes where the character appears in all his glory. He often turns to gods, and the whole context of the narrative is associated with the higher forces constantly. As Virgil writes, “young Romulus will take the leadership, build walls of Mars” (Virgil 60). This subtext suggests that Aeneas is often guided not by personal convictions but the faith and support of gods, which makes him more courageous. Therefore, the situational nature of courage has different implications, and Homeric heroes have deeper motives than those of Virgil’s.
Heroes’ Key Objectives
The characters of both Homer and Virgil go through difficult tests and become participants in dangerous events. However, the goals to which they go and the ways of achieving them are different. Odysseus falls into a storm and rescues by swimming, spending twelve days in the ocean. Aeneas travels with a team, and taming the weather is divine grace. Achilles also manifests the strangeness of courage by participating in the Trojan Battle and becoming its key character. Aeneas, despite his heroic nature, achieves success with the help of many like-minded people, and the help of gods contributes to him significantly. Thus, judging by the stories’ assessment and the behavior of the heroes, their goals are similar, but the ways of achievement differ. Homer’s characters are in more difficult and harsh conditions, which allows them to exercise willpower, while Aeneas is the envoy of gods and is not inclined to such self-sacrifice.
The ways that the characters of Homer and Virgil choose are different, which makes it possible to speak of different approaches to the interpretation of heroism and its manifestation. The situational nature of courage presented by the authors helps to understand that Odysseus and Achilles have more weighty reasons to be considered inborn heroes than Aeneas. The latter’s close relationships with gods help him overcome obstacles that stand in his way, and this proves the difference in the literature techniques of Homer and Virgil, despite similar narrative styles.
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Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1998.
The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1997.
Virgil. The Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 2008.