The epic poems of Homer and Virgil (The Odyssey and Aeneid, respectively) both include facets of similarities and differences. This paper specifically argues that there is a difference in the conception of both writers of a family as well as its significance as a basic social unit. However, before the paper discusses or illustrates such differences in the conception of both writers, it is worthwhile to note that history influences writers and vice-versa.
It is therefore helpful to look at the conditions which played a role in shaping the writer’s works, which resulted to differences in both writers’ conception of a family and its significance as a basic social unit. A Concise Overview of Homer and Virgil’s Condition during their Period Virgil’s case fits more perfectly into this standpoint—events that happened in his period largely accounts for the way Aeneid was written. Virgil was under the circumstances of political turmoil in Rome when he started writing Aeneid.
Under those conditions, there had been long events of wars, assassinations or murders among the highest leaders of Rome including Julius Caesar, Anthony, Octavius and then the latter who was to reign, Augustus. Because of the wars which plagued Rome during the time—there was much political instability and naturally, the whole of Rome including its citizens were affected. The events or circumstances happening during those times prompted Virgil on his second work, the Aeneid that gave emphasis to a hero that was to reunite and establish the new Rome.
Virgil achieved this through Aeneas, his principal character which showed much of the enduring qualities of Romans that made a legacy in Augustus’ time—this was shown in the next two centuries for which Romans were to rule the rest of civilization (John Boardman, 109-113). To quote, “Aeneas’ future is Virgil’s present” for Virgil’s life of effort and suffering is the consolidation of the Roman peace under the new leader, Augustus (Grant, 63). Homer on the other hand very much differed from Virgil: Homer’s work had not been largely influenced by events which happened around him.
Though he had taken inspiration such as that of the Minoan civilization (and related events) for material into his poem (Bury, 201) it had not been the primary ‘shaping force’ of his work, however. His poem was in fact a product of long lineage of poets before him (Martin, 45); though he still had much recognition for it in that it had been a product of his ingenuity of mind, attested by the incredible structural and emotional unity of his poems.
Contrary to Virgil, Homer’s poems instead influenced the early Greek setting—Homer’s poems took shape during periods of social, cultural and political developments in Greece. And along with the changes that came were inevitable conflicts and debates that gave rise to public discussions of issues such as peace and war. Such issues were the central conflict in his poems which were believed to have been publicly performed in that period (Hexter, 54). Differences in the Conceptions of Homer and Virgil on Family and its Significance as a Social Unit
Hence, understanding the conditions under which the two poems, The Odyssey and Aeneid were written could clearly give an idea as to how and why such works have come out the way they are today. This paper will first examine Homer’s conception of the family and will relate it to Virgil’s own conception based from his work. One of the differences between the conceptions of both writers is that Homer emphasizes or highlights positive family values in the Odyssey whereas Virgil emphasizes a different aspect. It seems that Homer’s conception into the nature of the family is an abode of good values.
Positive family values he emphasized or highlighted in his work for example are fidelity or faithfulness, (as seen from Penelope when she continues to wait for her husband even for twenty years) solidarity, (as when Penelope and Telemachus tries hard to avert from the latter’s suitors) strength and persistence or determination in the midst of obstacles, (this applies to Odysseus, Penelope and Telamachus) and the greatest family value emphasized by Homer is love for the family, as when Odysseus tries hard to overcome difficult obstacles to return home (Butler, 43).
Virgil’s Aeneas, on the other hand also contains a similarity with Homer’s protagonist. This is shown by both characters in the importance they place in the family. There are situations where this has been shown: when Aeneas, for example ensured the safety of his family in the event that Troy had been sacked by the Greeks and was a burning city; there are other circumstances also—such as when he tries with much difficulty to restore themselves, their bloodline, and their family into their once great nation (John).
Unlike Homer though, Virgil emphasized other aspects or values from what Homer emphasized in his work. His concept into the nature of the family seems to emphasize strongly family honor and sense of responsibility. Unlike Odysseus, Aeneas does not find a home and peace. In Homer’s The Odyssey, the personal objective of his hero is return to his family whilst Virgil sacrifices his’ for a higher purpose: the mission imposed on him by the gods to establish a city which will in the fullness of time spring to become the Roman civilization (Vernant, 22).
Aeneas is presented as more than an individual—he embodies the ideal Roman leader; he is presented with exceptional qualities that gave Romans two centuries of ordered government after Augustus: devotion to duty and seriousness of purpose (John). Aeneas mission begins in the burning city of Troy where he leaves, carrying his father on his shoulder and leading his little son by the hand.
This picture emphasizes Aeneas in a strong backdrop of family line: the story is securely set in a continuity of generations, the immortality of the family group along with his noble purpose: the mission to establish a city while carrying the gods of Troy which places him in a political and religious continuity. Odysseus in contrast to Aeneas has a father, a wife and a son and his heroic efforts were directed at reestablishing himself in the proper context—in his home where he will no longer be in a world of magic and terror but in its place, an organized and continuous community.
Odysseus however, fights for himself, for the said objective. Aeneas does not suffer and fight for himself, but for the future since his own life is unhappy, his death miserable. However, he can console himself with the glory of his sons to come, the display of Roman achievement that was shown to him by his father when he went to the underworld and in the emblem which he carries on his shield (Grant, 60).
This apparent devotion to duty and seriousness to purpose is seen when Aeneas betrays the great passion of his life, Dido. He leaves her reluctantly, though in the end he succumbs to the task only to have realized his lost when he sees her ghost in the underworld. He weeps for the loss of Dido and pleads stronger than when he left her in Carthage, “I left your hand against my will, my queen.
” The spirit of Dido leaves him however, unreceptive to the pleas and cries of Aeneas as he had done so in Carthage when he left her. This part of the poem has produced so many angry reactions on the part of Virgil’s critics but it was what measured his success. Aeneas acted opposite to our sympathy but this it what Virgil wanted (Grant, 63). This episode showed Virgil’s empathy to the Roman ideal of ‘duty demands’ and this picture of Aeneas’ sacrifice is what transcends Virgil’s Aeneid in contrast to Homer’s The Odyssey.
Hence, the concept into the nature of the family being emphasized by both authors from their works is clearly different from one another—this is understandable however in that the two works aim to tell different stories. The Odyssey, mainly deals with the return of Odysseus to his family; the Aeneid on the other hand primarily tells about the quest of Aeneas, his family and kindred in looking for another land to establish the new Troy that was to become ancestor of Rome.
Virgil’s work was primarily driven by political conditions during his time whereas for Homer, the opposite appears—his work contributed to the social, cultural as well as political changes in his period. In terms of differences between the authors’ conception on the significance of a family as a basic social unit, Homer and Aeneid both have different ideas as well, as evidenced from their works.
Homer’s conception on the significance of the family as a social unit emphasizes more on closely-knit ties between family members. This is seen from the following instances: Odysseus’ determination in overcoming many obstacles in order to return home to his family, his wife’s long patience in believing that her husband is still alive and will return home and a son’s persistence to find his father and the strength he had in facing the dire circumstances such as the evil suitors abusing their household (Gregory, 14).
Hence, his conception is a family that embodies the characteristics of an ideal family—a wife’s patience and firm belief in her husband, a son who does everything he can under the circumstances to hold the family together and a father who will subject himself to risks just to be with his family. Homer highlights this specific points and it seems that in here lies the significance of a family: an abode, a comfort, a refuge, a stronghold, a social unit providing support and exhibiting great love to each of its members that is characterized by sacrifice.
Virgil’s conception on the significance of the family meanwhile emphasizes more on the role or duty as well as responsibility of the family to its succeeding generations—this can be seen in the primary purpose of Aeneas in Aeneid. In the epic, Aeneas’ main goal primarily in his family was to restore the once great Troy (John).
It can be noted therefore, that Virgil’s epic greatly emphasizes the significance of the family as a social unit in a completely different light from that of Homer. While Homer emphasizes the significance of the family as a small social unit providing support and embodies great love to each and every one of its members, Virgil on the other hand focuses more on the family’s purpose of restoring Troy—which may be considered a bit pragmatic compared to that of Homer.
Conclusion This paper concludes that the conception of the two authors on family and its significance as a basic social unit differ in the sense that they stress or emphasize different points—in the case of Virgil it was brought along by events which largely influenced the plot of his poem whilst in that of Homer his works largely influenced his early Greek setting.
Virgil’s conception of the family therefore is one in which he emphasized greatly the importance of continuity of generations—by the values that was seen from Aeneas, seriousness to purpose and devotion to duty. This is different from that of Odysseus in that his was the embodiment of the ideal if not at all perfect model of a family. Homer pictures this in the values that were shown in his story.
Works Cited: Bury, J. B. A History of Greece. 1975. Butler, Samuel. “The Odyssey by Homer”. 2000. Grant, Michael. History of Rome. 1978. Gregory, Crane. “The Odyssey”. 2000. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Hom.+Od.+8.1