Sample Literature Argumentative Essay on the Epic as a Literary Genre: The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer and the Aeneid of Virgil

Introduction and Background

Traditionally, an epic is a long narrative poem, which is written in an elevated style whereby heroes of great legendary and historical importance carry out valiant deeds. The setting of the poem is of vast scope covering great nations or the universe, and the action is significant to a nation or people’s history. In literature, the term incorporates both written and oral compositions. The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer are examples of oral epic while Aeneid by Virgil is a case of a written epic. Notably, epics may deal with various subjects such as heroic legends, myths, edifying religious tales, histories, animal stories or even moral and philosophical theories. People across the world have and continue to use epic poetry to transmit their traditions from generation to another. Therefore, scholars often identify epic with a particular kind of heroic poetry that is in existence in heroic ages.

Commentaries on the difference between Iliad, Odyssey, and the Aeneid

Several literature commentators have written about different issues in Homers’ IIiad and the Odyssey, and Virgil’s the Aeneid. Rosenthal comments about war and ethics in IIiad of Homer, while highlighting the war aspects in the Odyssey by the same author. The commentator says that the IIiad portrays war as unsentimental, creates mayhem, and intoxicating bringing realism to the literature work. Rosenthal also describes war as destiny; that is inevitable, and the human nature has accepted it according to the Odyssey. In a similar manner, Higgins of the Guardian newspaper discusses how war in the IIiad has been adopted by modern day authors to show how the practice is part of the society. Higgins relates Achilles fights in the IIiad and modern-day conflicts in the Middle East and other terrorist activities. On the same note, the author highlights the different war journeys in the Odyssey and how they shaped war in the modern world.

Gender roles are the most commented on issues in the Odyssey. Whittaker pg. 1 bases the argument around Ithaka, Pylos, and Sparta situation in the book. The author says that both the IIiad and Odyssey define men as warriors. The two books are described as warfare based, which every man uses to prove their being. On the other hand, women are not mostly mentioned in the two poems, with both societies stratified in the stories. The role of women in everyday activities is limited in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. However, the author acknowledges that the Odyssey gives women more attention than the IIiad, where they seem to  assume a significant role in the society. For instance,  Penelope is portrayed an astute woman who remains behind to protect Odysseus home and raise  her child.

David Crump pg. 16 gives a unique commentary regarding the Aeneid, and the Odyssey, discussing marriage and murder in the poem from a contemporary American society point of view. The author questions if the marriage of Aeneas and Queen Dido would have survived in the current American society. Moreover, he wonders if the current American law could have treated Aeneas’ killing of Turnus as murder case. On the Odyssey, the author discusses Penelopes’s role as wife and mother and questions if the same can be witnessed in the current American society. Overall, Crump views the events in the Aeneid and Odyssey as timeless from a law and marriage perspective.

Homer’s Influence on Classical Writers and Different People perspectives

Homer is an ancient Greek author best known for his writings the Odyssey and the Iliad. Apparently, he was known to the ancient Greeks as the first and greatest epic poet, the first teacher of tragedy and the leader of learning (Plato, 471). The works of Homer which are mostly speeches provided persuasive writing and peaking models that were emulated throughout the worlds of Ancient and Medieval Greek. Arguably, the Homeric epics, fundamentally in oral poetic poems are the earliest works of Western literature. Almost all the Western epics including the Aeneid by Virgil are presented as a continuation of the tradition begun by Homer in the Odyssey and the Iliad. The works of Homer have had a significant influence on classical writers over the past three thousand years. Though it is unclear whether both the Iliad and the Odyssey are Homer’s solely doing, scholars contend that the two poems must have to be accumulated from various existing poems by a single poet, Homer, creating the epic (McMillan N.P).  This is evident in the consistency of the poetic expression of the writings.

While history incorporates a lot of fiction, fiction can also encompass history. Homer being the earliest Western author whose literary work still survives clearly portrays that. His literature, the Odyssey, and the Iliad are literary tales suffused in historical realities disclosing considerably about life and times of Ancient Greece (History and Civilization, N.P). Similarly, several years later, Virgil, an ancient writer who is among greatest Roman poets, preserves a sophisticated and complex politics picture in his days although his writing, the Aeneid is clearly a mythical saga.  Precisely, hen Vergil was writing the Aeneid he obtained his studies from the Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer to aid in the creation of national epic poetry for the Romans. He applied different characteristics regarding epic poems, particularly from Homer’s epics.  These include book division, hexameter verse, genealogies list as well as underlying themes to create a parallelism between the Romans and Greeks who are the cultural predecessors of the Romans.  Evidently, Vergil heavily borrowed from Homer with the aim of creating an epic that is worthy of surpassing the Greek poet. He did not come up with the story that Rome is of Troy descent but rather he crafted the narration of the Aeneid from an existent tradition besieging Aeneas that originated from the early Greek poet.

Homer is the river from which all literature flows (Quintilian, 48). Indeed, Homer is one of the first and best literary voices ever found in the European civilization. Nevertheless, his works are of extraordinary quality depicting an entirely developed sense of human psychology, and his narrative is ironic to some extent. That means the western literature with Homer comes out as fully blown history giving a minimal chance to weigh literature’s revolution in the West.  Thus, by being so unparalleled at such an early age, one would contend that no writer has ever outperformed Homer’s narrative quality. Ideally, Homer is not only the source but also the pinnacle of the Western literature, and every classic literature originates from there.  Whatever opinion one has, it is sure worth the effort to read the ancient Greek just to learn about Homer originally.

The Aeneid as a Historical Genre

            Long before the time of Virgil, the Romans believed that among their ancestors there were legendary Trojans who under the leadership of Aeneas traveled from Troy in the Asia Minor, currently Turkey, and westwards through the Mediterranean Sea to Italy where they settled in Latium the future site for Rome.   In the century that followed Timaeus a Greek told how Aeneas found the Lavinium city which is mentioned at the start of the Aeneid (Cole N.P).  The Aeneid written by Vergil is an epic poem that narrates a traditional story of a Trojan, Aeneas who traveled to Italy to battle Latinos and later became the Romans’ ancestor.  It is the best-known work of Vergil, and in his days, it was considered by the Romans as a Roman literature masterpiece. Notably, the poem has earned legacy as one of the Latino greatest poems due to its fluidity, rigorous structure as well as its vivid illustrations of human emotion (Mastin N.P).  It is a significant historical epic of the literary tradition of Rome as it comprises of not only the happenings that are considered historical but also contains the reflections of the history. 

In fact, Virgil grants privilege to speculations regarding history over the scientific sense of the historical truth (Mittal, 1). The poem was written during a time of significant social and political change in Rome with the Republic fall and the Roman Republic Final war having torn through the society and the faltering of the faith of many Romans. Notwithstanding, Augustus Ceaser, the new emperor started a mission to institute a peace and prosperity era notably through the reintroduction of moral values of the traditional Rome.  Thus, the Aeneid is a reflection of Ceaser’s aim by portraying Aeneas as a heroic devoted man who is loyal to his country and the country’s prominence instead of concentrating on personal gains and taking a trip to make Rome better. Moreover, the poem provides Julius Ceasar’s rule with a mythic legitimization and further to Augustus, the adopted son by making the tradition that renamed the son of Aeneas immortal.

Apparently, there is a reason for figures or people becoming high in the historical culture. The infamous heroes often integrate the culture’s ideal, the values that it most desires to uphold and the image it wishes to depict. To compare a culture’s heroes is similar to specifically comparing the cultures and in the Aeneid, Virgil diligently does that.  He makes a comparison between the father of Rome, hero Aeneas to the Greek Odysseus and all the time, mostly from the perspective of Roman, Aeneas emerges the victor. Notably, the typical hero is Aeneas and in various ways has also had a high influence on the contemporary ideas of a hero. Aeneas’ comparative triumph over Odysseus is a declaration of Virgil of the Roman culture’s triumph.

According to many scholars, Virgil distinguished his work within an epic antiquity tradition through representing human emotion’s broad spectrum in his characterization as the characters are incorporated in the historical sites of war and dislocation. Aeneas is portrayed as already in political leadership training taking part in a rite that was a requirement of the ancient legislators.  The Aeneid is about Rome’s foundation; thus it is also about social and religious principles on the Roman state functions.  Additionally, the poem represents the theoretical means through which the initiation into the mystery religion of the ancient legislators was done (Mark, 144). It is apparent that Virgil’s poetry particularly the Aeneid is somewhat concerned with questions regarding time and history nature.

At the point where Virgil talks about the return to Humankind’s pristine and ideal state in Saturnia regna which is expected to occur under Augustus, he certainly implicitly claims about history shape.  Ideally, this poetry aspect that is seen throughout the Aeneid integrates the philosophical approach of history practiced by the positivity philosophies of the nineteenth century (Mittal, 3). Also, it relates the topic in the same category as most of the ancient philosophical schools of thought.  The general comprehension of time for Virgil is assumed to be cyclic on the basis that philosophical systems of Plato, Pythagoreans, and Stoics. The Aeneas myth association with a history pattern that would be subsequently repeated is a suggestion that to some extent a historical cyclic concept was part of his thoughts.  Apart from the lack of well-defined boundaries between linear and cyclic temporal models, the interpretations of the conception of time of Virgil illustrates that there will be a revelation at the center of his perception of history.

One of the significant levels depicted in the poetry of Virgil there is the assertion that by participating in the history sacrificial process an individual valuably contributes to the progress of human in a broad sense. The sacrifice scene on the shield of Aeneas, therefore, shows that the world is in existence in relation to some other most instantaneously identifiable with those supreme creatures (Virgil 95). Virgil hints at specific events from the Sextus Pompey war and I so doing he reinterprets occurrences that probably had the potential to undermine or embarrass Augustus authority in a similar way that is observed in the forum’s artistic program. All in all, he makes use of a presumably relaxed book context to establish the final justification of the authority of Augustus that occurs in the Turnus and Aeneas’ duel at the end of the poem.  Thus this is only understandable given the history sacrificial conception of Virgil.

Comparing Homer and Virgil (Iliad and Odyssey vs. the Aeneid)

Similarities

Odyssey and the Aeneid

Funder mentally, Aeneid is a reflection of Odysseus in the Odyssey in different form despite the stories taking different spans regarding books. Some of the similarities in the two epic stories are described through their characters, the journey, stories within a story, and the homecoming.

The Characters

The two stories are centered on two royalties; Odysseus the Ithaca King and Aeneas, the Trojan Prince. Both Odysseus and Aeneas pursue parallel journeys that have the ultimate goal of returning home despite facing different challenges in their journeys (Hamner, 105). On the one hand, Aeneas approaches the journey with a Roman Empire way of duty fulfillment. He takes guidance from the gods, in this case, Mercury, who orders him to depart the cottage and establish an empire in Rome. On the other hand, Odysseus is not obligated by any call of duty, but self-interest. Both of them are rescued by divine interventions, which shape their destiny by providing them with timely hardships in their journey. Odyssesus destiny was shaped by the god of the sea- Poseidon, while Aeneas future was shaped by a goddess Hera (Hamner, 102). Poseidon was angered by Odyssesus, who blinded his son, Polyphemus. In return, the God revenges with storms that shook the Greek ship, killing some of the people aboard it.  Similarly, Hera used her power to block Aeneas prophecy because he was from the Trojan community which she hated.  Like Odysseus, Hera shows her anger by blowing away Aeneas and his Trojan fleet that took them out of the course and landed eventually landed them in the Carthage.

The Journey

  Both Odysseus and Aeneas have the ultimate goal of finding a way home, with Aeneas having a difficult mission of finding a new home (Vergil et al., 102). The heroes are said to have sailed on the same ship and even visited common places in their respective journey, where they face similar difficulties. For instance, in the Aeneid, book 3, Aeneas went through Charybdis and Scylla, which is repeated in the book seven of the Odyssey (Foley and Miles, 320).  Likewise, Aeneas in book four lands in the Cyclopes Island, which was also visited by the Trojan group, according to the Odyssey.  Again, the two heroes travel to the underworld to unearth helpful information from spirits in what is called the Katabasis.

Story within a story

Both authors of the Aeneid and the Odyssey use characters to narrate a story in their poems as depicted in the journey of the two heroes that have an epic start amidst things. In the Odyssey, the author uses the main character to narrate his journey in book four, five, six, and seven. Similarly, in the Aeneas, Dido asks Aeneas to tell his story when he arrives in the Carthage, which is illustrated in book two and three of the Aeneid (Vergil et al., 200).  Consequently, the hero narrates of Troy’s fall and how his people arrived in Carthage.

The Homecoming

In the Odyssey, as Odysseus arrives in his home, he is faced with the challenge of fighting and destroying suitors who want his home and wife. Likewise, Aeneas faces a challenge in marrying Princess Lavinia, when he tries to find a home in Latium. Aeneas has to defeat the Turnus army, the leading suitor for Lavinia and also Rutuli’s King.

The Aeneid vs. the Iliad

Ekphrasis

The ekphrasis is a shield that is used in the Iliad and Aeneas. According to book eight of the Aeneid the Roman god makes a shield for Aeneas before he goes to the battlefield, which is similar to book seventeen of the Iliad, where the Greek God creates and an Achilles’ shield (Due, 235).  Aeneas and lliad’s mother, who are goddesses in their respective emperors feared for their sons’ mission, which prompted them to ask Hephaestus and Vulcan to give them special armors in the form of shields.  It is after the firearm creation that the gods give a detailed description of the shields called the ekphrasis. The Achilles Shield ekphrasis is a description of what makes up the world, such as heaven and earth and war and peace. Similarly, the Aeneas ekphrasis shows Rome’s greatness and the glories that area yet to happen to the city such as Romulus. 

Prophecies  

Prophecies make an integral part of the Aeneid and Iliad such as the Greeks are predicted to triumph over their rivals, the Trojans in the Iliad, as prophesied by Zeus, the king of all Greek gods.  On the same, Achilles destiny was prophesized, where it was claimed that he would end up as a hero.  Likewise, in book two of the Aeneid, Aeneas was instructed by Hector the ghost to depart the burning Troy and find another city (Beye, N.P).  Moreover, in the rest of the epic, there is a constant reminder that Aeneas will eventually find Rome and Italy for other coming generations.

No Heroes

The prophecy of a Latin-Born Achilles in the Aeneid and the Iliad has created a debate among scholars on if there is an Achilles. The debate is whether the Latin-born Achilles is a Turnus, and Aeneas or another character in the two epics.  Relating Hector to Turnus and Achilles to Aeneas, we can draw several parallels such as Turnus laying waste for the Trojan army when Aeneas was not on the battlefield. Similarly, in the Iliad, Hector did the same for the Greek army when Achilles is missing (Foley, 150). On the same respect, while Turnus slaughtered Pallas, Hector killed Patroclus in both avenging the killing of their friends. In parallel comparison, both Aeneas and Achilles destroy their foes.

Differences

`           Aeneas and Odysseus are depicted as microcosms and heroes in their respective communities. However, according to Virgil’s narration, the Roman Empire is portrayed as a superior culture based on the journey of the two heroes.  Though both Odysseus and Aeneas seek parallel missions of finding a home, Aeneas adopts a Roman approach to his duty. He is guided by the orders of the gods and is willing to obey.  His obedience is shown by the fact that he is willing to leave a good life behind him including his lover and peaceful life.

Concisely, he sacrifices his happiness and a good life for the good of his people and fulfills a heaven course. On the contrary, Homer showed Odysseus, as a person who is motivated by personal interests and abandoned his subjects in some instances (Beye, N.P). Odysseus in most cases strayed from his duties- for example in the Cyclops Island he put his followers in a dangerous situation and almost betrayed his wife.  In fact, it is only after the gods asked him to return to his wife and Ithaca that he obliged for the same. Notably, he prioritizes his personal life over his public duties, a character that was not synonymous with the Roman Empire people.   Given this, Virgil uses the two heroes’ sense of duty to show that the Roman culture is superior to the Greek’s.

  Secondly, Homers uses the Trojan cycle to advance his epic work, where he represents two distinct themes; the Odyssey has the theme of a journey, while Iliad has the theme of war. On the other hand, Virgil in the Aeneid combines the two themes starting with the journey then followed by war. Interestingly, Homer’s Odysseus and Virgil’s Aeneas have unique approaches to war. On his part Aeneas, war is for a better future, by creating an empire for his son and also continues the Troy one (Due, 250). On the other hand, Odyssesus is shown as fighting for his personal gains where he intentionally eventers into conflicts to achieve self-glory. For instance, Odysseus should have avoided conflict in the Cyclops Island if he had ignored the urge of personal glorification.

Regarding the Aeneid and the Iliad, the major difference is based on the hero’s view of honor. Achilles is motivated by self-honor, while Aeneas honor is the duty that he has for his people. Based on this, despite the Aeneid and Iliad looking similar, they have a unique approach to honor.  Overall, Homer shows that Greek honor is based on me individual and heroic exploits. On the contrary, Vigil shows that the Roman concept of honor is delivering for one’s country and the public as the whole.

Conclusion

To sum up, epics are narrative poems that deal with a particular subject in the society that could be religion, myths, heroic legends, and animal stories.  Homer, an ancient Greek author, wrote two of the world’s best epics.  Arguably, the Iliad and Odyssey are the greatest epics in the globe that were based on heroism acts of the ancient society. The epics set a pace for authors such as Virgil and other western authors who were inspired by Homer. Though literature is largely dependent on fiction, Homer tales were majorly based on historical realities that showed life in ancient Greece. The writing style spread and was adopted by Vergil, who gave a view of the Roman Empire based on the Aeneid.  Based on the Aeneid structure, it is evident that Vergil was inspired by Homer work in the Odyssey and Iliad. What is more, Vergil is just one example, with other traditional and modern day epic stories writers’ getting inspiration from Homer. The major characteristics of works inspired by Homer are books with underlying themes, hexameter verse, genealogies and parallelism themes.  Similarly, other poets that have been inspired by Homer have tried to surpass the   Greek poet regarding narrations of epics. For example, The Aeneas that picks its inspiration from the Odysseys and Iliad has demonstrated how the Roman Empire was better than the Greek concerning servant leaders. Based on the two poets, it is evident that no Homer influence classical writers significantly. Similarly, Virgil’s story- The Aeneid functions as a historical count of the Roman Empire.

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