If there is any possibility that a comparison could be made with the famous
journeys of Odysseus and Aeneas, it must be known that Aeneas is actually a hero in
search of his own soul while Odysseus is a hero trying to find his old life and in a sense,
his old soul. The Aeneid is very much of a spiritual quest, which makes it unique in
ancient literature and in contrast with the Odyssey. Only Virgil admits to the possibility
that a character can change, grow, and develop. In the story’s earlier stages, the character
of Aeneas is obviously unsure of himself, always seeking instructions from his father or
from the gods before committing himself to any course of action. In the underworld he
sees a perspective of the future history of Rome down to the time of Augustus, and that
vision gives him the self-confidence to act on his own initiative. Comparatively, Odysseus
is driven though his journey beginning with apparent self-confidence and continuing with a
While reviewing the myth’s fantastic journey, I wondered if Aeneas was great
because his fate made him great or was he great because he had the courage and
determination to live up to the role fate handed him? There is a side to Aeneas, I noticed
that is not very impressive, even when I could almost understand why he feels the way he
does. He is sad, tired, always waiting for his father or the gods to tell him what to do.
But Aeneas always fulfills his duty to his family, to his country, and to the gods, even
when he is depressed. He is never selfish. He always puts his responsibility to others first.
In that way, his actions throughout his journey to the underworld were somewhat different
In Aeneas’ case, he too was as great of a survivor as Odysseus. In fact, he at least
matches him in the way that he is one of those people who can lose everything and still
start all over again. Aeneas goes from being a victim of the Greeks at Troy to becoming a
conqueror in Italy. Virgil’s Aeneas is the first character in Western literature who actually
changes and develops. His struggles help him discover who he is and what he thinks is
If I had to name one quality that defines Aeneas throughout his journey, it is his
devotion to duty, a quality that the Romans called pietas or piety. This quality keeps him
going even when he would rather forget about his fate. Ultimately, this same quality
makes him accept, even welcome, that fate. Because, when Aeneas finally realizes that all
his efforts will make the glorious Roman Empire possible, his love of his family and his
country are fulfilled. The result is that the Aeneas we see at the end of the Aeneid is
determined, sure of himself, and confident that he knows what is right. He has become a
great leader who is able to impose order on people who display more selfish and unruly
Odysseus, as the classic definition of his name suggests, is truly and individual who
causes great trouble. Throughout the Odyssey, there are many direct and indirect
circumstances in which Odysseus wreaks havoc upon others. He leaves Troy, fights at
the island of Ismaros, and witnesses the sleepy life of the Lotos Eaters. He blinds and then
tricks the one-eyed cannibal, Cyclopes, the son of Poseidon. Eventually, he even buries
Elpenor, one of his crew members who was killed during all this trouble. Never does he
begin nor end with a lack of self confidence anywhere close to the one exhibited by
Aeneas at the commencement of his journey.
After his first stage of havoc, Odysseus resists the song of the Seirenes, and sails
between the whirlpool and the cliff, personified by the names of Skylla and Kharybdis.
But his men make the mistake of eating the forbidden cattle of the sun god, Helios. So
Zeus wrecks Odysseus’ ship, drowning all of his men. Odysseus manages to survive
Skylla and Kharybdis again, and washes up at Ogygia Island where he stays eight years
with Kalypso. After all that, he is still able to build a ship and set out again for Ithaka, but
he becomes shipwrecked by Poseidon and swims to Skheria, where Nausikaa, King
Alkinoos’ daughter, finds him. Homer seems to purposely intrigue us by having other
characters describe Odysseus, ?He had no rivals, your father, at the tricks of war.?
described Nestor rather early in the story.
If all of the graphically horrid events and ?warrior descriptions? do not help to
classify Odysseus as a troublemaker, I do not know what would! In extensive recounts of
the story, his killings are graphically described in a vulgar fashion adding to his
troublesome image ?Did he dream of death?? Homer askes later on when Odysseus kills
Antinoos. ?How could he??. Antinoos’ nostrils spurt blood and in his death throes he
kicks over his table, knocking his meat and bread to the ground ?to soak in dusty blood.?
It is indeed a graphic description and it exemplifies Odysseus’ ?pain-inducing image.?
Even with such stories, however, it is indeed very suitable to label Odysseus as an epic
hero. He is in fact a legendary figure with more than the usual amount of brains and
muscle. Sometimes throughout the stories it appears almost as though he is a
superhuman. At the end of the story, with only his inexperienced son and two farm lands
to help, he kills more than one hundred of Penelope’s suitors. He is able to do it because
he has the help of the goddess Athena. He embodies the ideals Homeric Greeks aspired
to: manly valor, loyalty, piety, and intelligence. Piety means being respectful of the gods,
acknowledging their control of fate and evidently, consciously knowing you need their
help. Odysseus’ intelligence is a mix of keen observation, instinct, and street smarts. He
is extremely cautious. Also, Odysseus is good at disguises and at concealing his feelings.
As is necessary for ?his line of work?, Odysseus is a very fast and inventive liar. In these
respects, his random lack of integrity put him in sharp contrast with Aeneas and his actions
on his journey.
Western Literature Vol.2