Virgil’s Prevailing Hero

1 January 2017

The heroic characteristics introduced in Virgil’s Aeneid are different in comparison to the Homeric epic characteristics. Unlike Homeric epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, Virgil depicts Aeneas, the Aeneid epic hero, in a modern way, making Aeneas more relatable and better understood by the audience. The three major differences between Virgil’s epic hero, Aeneas, and Homer’s epic heroes, Achilleus and Odysseus, from the Iliad and the Odyssey are the use of inner struggles within the epic hero, the compassion towards personal relationships, and situational self-awareness with oneself and ones fate with the Gods.

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In the introduction of the epic hero, Virgil stage sets Aeneas in the middle of a storm at sea, created by Juno with the intention of killing Aeneas and his Trojan men. With the rage of the winds and waves destroying seven of the twenty ships, Aeneas expresses a sense of inner struggle through the quote, “Aeneas on the instant felt his knees go numb and slack, and stretched both hands to heaven, groaning out: Triply lucky, all you men to whom death came before your fathers’ eyes below the wall at Troy!

Bravest Danaan, Diomedes, why could I not go down when you had wounded me, and lose my life on Ilium’s battlefield? ” (Aeneid I. 131-140). From first impression, Aeneas is not considered the conventional epic hero in contrast to the epic heroes depicted through Homeric epics; as one would not recollect Achilleus or Odysseus begging for the oncoming of death due to fear. In the introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey, both classic heroes are portrayed with an outward appearance of strength and pride, showing no fear against enemies or monsters; they were primarily focused with conquering their external battles.

Unlike Aeneas, Achilleus and Odysseus by no means let their terror over-power their mentality. Secondly, Aeneas has a trait of heroism that is absent within Homeric epics, which is having compassion towards his personal relationships. Aeneas has developed a deep love and devotion towards his father, son, wife, and lover. However, he is mainly focused on his duty to fulfill his destiny to the Gods; Aeneas was aware of the consequences of his actions towards his loved ones and felt remorse for the grief he had caused.

An example of his remorse is through Aeneas’s descent into Hades to retrieve advice from his father, Anchises, he recognizes a shade of Dido, that confirmed what Aeneas had feared would happen after his departure from his former lover, “He wept and spoke tenderly to her: ‘Dido, so forlorn, the story then that came to me was true, that you were out of life, had met your end by your own hand. Was I, was I the cause? I swear by heaven’s stars, by the high gods, by any certainty below the earth, I left your land against my will, my queen. (Aeneid VI. 610-620). In Homer’s Iliad, epic hero, Achilleus, is callous and arrogant but he expresses fondness for his dear friend, Patroclus, when he is murdered by Hektor. Achilleus mourns the death of his friend by translating this emotion into rage and revenge. Although Achilleus has a compassionate connection towards Patroclus, he lashed out with anger instead of expressing remorse from the loss of his friend.

Finally, none of the Homeric heroes seem to posses the same ability to develop self-awareness and acceptance to fate from the Gods as Aeneas did in the Aeneid. Piety, being defined as the obedience to the will of the gods, is a key element into understanding Aeneas’ motives for continuing his journey to discover the land which will become Rome. An example of Aeneas understanding his path in following his fate is through the end of the text when Aeneas is deciding the spare Turnus’ life.

However, he notices the belt of Pallas and kills Turnus without hesitation. The killing of Turnus is the result of his fate and proof that his destiny cannot be hindered by his enemy, Turnus, and is convinced that he had fulfilled the destiny that had been prophesized. In Homer’s Iliad, Achilleus ignores the fate of the Gods and does what he feels is more acceptable towards himself and his pride. An example of this, is at the end of the text, Achilleus defies the Gods and murders Hektor with the knowledge that if he should do so he in turn would be slain.

Overall, the decisions of the Gods played a large role in the choices Aeneas made throughout his journey. In conclusion, the depiction of an epic hero is either defined by whether they are being strong and weak. To me, this makes the heroes more relatable to real- modern characters. The different character developments of classic heroes between Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey give an implication of character growth throughout Virgil’s epic.

Witnessing the inner conflict struggles Aeneas undergoes and his discovery of his fate, gives a feeling of understanding towards the epic character as he finds himself as a hero and a leader of his people.

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