both visit the Underworld
; in Odysseus' case, in Book XII of Homer
, and in Aeneas' case, in Book VI of Virgil
. In discussing the differences between the two treatments of the Underworld episodes
, it is imporcant to first outline the similarities in the two situations:
Odysseus and Aeneas both journey to the Underworld in order to receive knowledge. Previous mythological warrior-heroes went there to fulfill a more specific, tangible purpose eg. Heracles' borrowing of Cerberus and Orpheus plea for the return of his wife Eurydice. The atypical purposes for the visits of our heroes leads to a logical conclusion: simce the Odyssey predates the Aeneid and we know Virgil to have been familiar with the earlier work, it follows that Aeneas' descent to Hades is loosely based on Odysseus'.
In both cases, the visit to the Underworld is the turning point in the hero's development during a long and treacherous voyage towards home. Rebirth, actual and spiritual, follows. Odysseus, dehumanised by his gruesome experiences at Troy, is symbolically cleansed, so that he may return to Ithaca fit for leadership. Aeneas, on the other hand, is purged of the human qualities which he possesed beforehand by the revelations of his great destiny in the scene known as the Parade of Future Roman leaders. In order to be the paterfamilias of an entire people, as he is destined to become, he must free himself of human frailty and doubt and become the unquestioning servant of fate. Aeneas' ultimate role as divine instrument is reminiscent of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Both heroes are confronted with their past misdemeanours in the Underworld: Odysseus meets his unburied, unwept companion Elpenor, whilst Aeneas is met with the sight of his former lover Dido. Burial rites are described often and ritually throughout the Odyssey, often with the use of stock passages, and Odysseus' failure to obey these divinely inspired customs must be rescinded before he can continue on his journey home. Aeneas' vision of Dido, reuinited in death with her former Phoenician husband, ensures that he is aware that his romance with her is confined completely to the past. He attempts to talk to her, but is rebuffed, thus freeing his conscience from all vestiges of guilt and loosening the last bonds of humanity.
The major differences are discussed below:
Homer's Hades is an ill-defined place. WE alre told nothing of the physical or political structure of the region. All we learn of any descriptive significance is that the proud Achilles, paragon of heroic virtue in Homer's Iliad, would " rather slave on Earth for another man than rule down here over all the breathless dead. Briefly we are informed that King Minos acts as a judge. However, the reasons for and results of his judgements are not described. Tantalus and Sisyphus characterise the suffering that some of the dead must bear, but this suffering is quite arbitrary in that it is only for those who offend the gods directly, not those whose foul misdeeds are against their fellow men. Contrast this with Virgil's Dis, where we are presented with a kingdom with distinct regions such as the Fields of Mourning and the Fields of Blessedness. We learn that residence in a particular reason is due to the 'goodness' of an individual.In fact, Virgil's Underworld bears as much resemblence to the Christian afterlife as it does to the one conceived by Homer. Dante's journey through hell in the Inferno is largle based on Virgil's Dis.
The primary civic purposes of both texts as the values of Iron Age Greek society and Imperial Augustinian Rome are dissimilar. Homer promotes the strict social laws that governed libations and the burial of the dead by means of Odysseus' recounting of the entire libatory ritual and the regretful incident with the unburied Elpenor. On the other hand, Virgil pomotes both the importance of family: Aeneas' revelations come to him through Anchises, his father; and the divinity and suzeranity of the Emperor Augustus by revealing his lineage to be through Aeneas' son Iulus, thus ultimately he is decended from the Olympians - Aeneas was the son of Venus who was generally held to be the daughter of Jupiter. The Odyssey, as a Primary Epic, was part of an ancient oral tradition and its civic purposes were to entertain, remind people of the power of the gods and ensure that customs such as burial and libations remain honored. The Aeneid, however, is a Secondary Epic, but, crucially, an early piece of propaganda, written in order to encourage piety and fealty to the gods, to the emperor, to Rome, to your comrades in arms, and to your family, in that order.
Revelation on the divinely desired course of action and the futures of both heroes comes courtesy of as chthonic dialogue. Aeneas' comes from his own father, and is listened to and heeded with characteristic pietas, or piety, and includes typical imperial propaganda such as "You, Roman, remember to rule peoples under your sway." Odysseus' information comes from the blind seer Teiresias; not as a gift, but in return fro a blood offering. Although the manner and ritual in which he was to elicit this information was told to him by the witch Circe earlier in his adventrues, he improvises in order to ensure his safety and get the most information about his comrades, his family and his homeland possible. This is yet another example of Odysseus' defining dolos, or cunning.