Culture against Nation
Plato’s Socrates suggests that such poets like Homer put the state in danger in terms of viewing the heroes and their gods. Citizens must not admire the postures that jeopardize the image of the state. Greeks and Romans had a different viewpoint on the leaders praising different values. The first depicted their cultural legacy; the latter praised the nation. The leaders in different works of those nations bear different characteristics of the rulers. Comparing the main character traits, actions, intentions, and desires, the reader gains the insight into the vision of Greeks and Romans about the leaders and values of the two peoples.
The Authors’ Notions
The fact that the authorship of the Odyssey is doubtful sets thinking that this eternal epic does not belong to a blind bard from Greece named Homer; but it is the bright example of the oral poetry. Consequently, being a written folklore, the Odyssey concentrates the attention of the reader on the main hero and his epic adventures. No matter who the author is, the cultural aspect is high above the state’s interests. The Odyssey is a hero-centered story with the main Odysseus who has strengths and weaknesses, who makes mistakes, and who withstands all gods’ challenges to get back home.
Virgil, the author of the Aeneid, drew inspiration from Homer’s works. However, the historians claim that the author created his works under the pressure of the governing regime. Virgil was a good citizen of the Great Roman Empire and served the nation well glorifying it in his masterpieces, in particular, the epic of the Aeneid that bears political-centered context.
I shall build a great temple [...] Augustus shall be in the centre [...] on the portals I shall depict his conquest of Egypt and Asia and his subjection of the whole world. There also shall be statues of his Trojan ancestors... (Virgil, 1986, p. xvi).
Taking into account that Virgil valued the Greek literature with its most eminent postures and events, the most striking common feature of the Odyssey and the Aeneid is the irony of a tragedy that accompanies the main heroes in their deeds even against their will. Odysseus fails to reach the homeland and his wife for ten years while Aeneas has to leave the beloved in favor of the supreme goal to create a new city.
Odysseus and Aeneas
Odyssey and Aeneas represent two opposing camps – the Trojans and the Greeks. The leaders face all the challenges to fulfill tasks and achieve supreme goals. However, the first glance does not expose the reader to them as the men of glory. By coincidence, they both are in the hands of goddesses. Calypso is in love with Odysseus and keeps him for eight years on her island. Aeneas fights back the storm summoned by goddess Juno. Although he stays with his men at the sea, he is unable to stop his tears in no hope but despair. Thou even in despair he is able to hide his worries not to disrupt the morale of his crew:
Hold on, and find salvation in the hope of better things!
Thus spoke Aeneas; and though his heart was sick with anxiety,
He wore a confident look and kept his troubles for himself. (Virgil, 1986, pp. 10-11)
Eloquence is also peculiar of Odysseus, who is able to find exact words to encourage people to follow him:
Friends, have we never been in danger before this? More fearsome, is it now, that when the Kyklops penned us in his cave? What power he had! Did I not keep my nerve, and use my wits to find a way out of this? (Homer, 1998, p. 216, V. 269-274)
Regarding the true-to-life story of the way the Greeks won the war against the Trojans, Roman society condemns any kind of trickery in favor of strength and strategy. Another example is the horse that placed the Greek militaries inside that helped them to finish the siege of Troy. Odysseus had all chances to feel all the hate from the Greeks due to his cunning nature of making decisions. In the dangerous situations, he tends to be spontaneous. In spite of being an epic hero, as a leader he was unable to save his men. His leader’s choices were cruel sometimes; like in the case with Scylla and Charybdis where he decides to sacrifice his six men saving the rest of the crew. In this respect, Aeneas successfully omits most clashes to save the people who trusted their lives into the hands of a good leader. Moreover, Odysseus often puts his interests first endangering his party:
My men were begging me to take some of the cheeses, then quickly to drive some sheep and goats from the pens and go back and sail over the salt sea. But I did not listen to them – it would be much better if I had! – because I wanted to see the creature and find out whether he would offer me gifts.(MacKendrick & Howe, 2012, p. 64)
Such inappropriate behavior reveals the worst of a leader. In addition, Odyssey chose the tactics without knowing the enemy. Cyclopes did not care about gods and customs mentioned by Odysseus. However, such heroic behavior and the search for all the ways to success is peculiar to the Greeks placing him back on the pedestal of glory, wit, and courage for his people. Unlike Odysseus, Aeneas is more thoughtful, responsible, and considerate. When he arrives in Libya, he takes the responsibility to search and find the men who were missing. He is a good comrade as he is ready to serve them in spite of having a higher rank. He is able to comfort his men with a good word or find something to eat by himself. Such determination in a calm and cautious manner is a part of a true leader for the Trojans.
The reader’s admiration concerns both characters mentioning the attitude towards their hometowns. Odysseus has a duty to defeat his home and to take part in the war in Troy. Being victorious, he faces the odds played by gods on his way back going through difficulties, temptations, and even Hell. Although he stayed with Calypso too long, he makes a decision to return. The need to be home portrays the Greeks’ nature to stay within their walls, borders, and traditions. They have no ambitions of conquerors or colonists as well as their boarders never changed.
At some point, Odysseus and Aeneas are alike as they both had a fight in the Trojan War and proved their heroic fame. Being a true worrier, Aeneas could not find the glory of a struggle anymore. Similarly to Odysseus, Aeneas turned his sails home. The difference is that Jupiter designated Aeneas’s intention to go home. Given this fact, Aeneas sometimes digressed from the route. He made a stop at Carthage to be temporarily happy in love with Dido. It is worthy to note that his love was the result of interference of Aeneas’s mother, Venus. However, he has to place his nation before his feelings. Being the leader of his people and the hand of gods, Aeneas must set up the homeland that he does not feel the need. The soldier who lost his home in Troy, who lost his home with the beloved who committed suicide after his departure, he had no obvious desire to build new home except for fulfilling the duty of a citizen.
Culture and nation are the opposing aspects in these two epic stories as they differentiate the forces that drive the intentions and actions of the leaders. For Greeks, family and close family ties are as important as the homeland. In spite of having love affairs, Odysseus decides to go home for his free will. His wife is waiting for him all those years applying her imagination to artifices against any attempts to win her heart and kingdom of her husband.
I long for home, long for the sight of home.
If any god has marked me out again
For shipwreck, my tough heart can undergo it.
What hardship have I not long since endured
At sea, in battle! Let the trial come! (Homer, 1998, p. xviii)
On the contrary, the Roman Empire was a military nation where rules and obedience were crucial for a sustainable order. Therefore, Aeneas had to give up on his personal intentions in favor of god’s will.
Two different worlds, two different visions, two different reflections on the images of leaders encourage the reader to look into the deeper sense of the story than the plot. The Greeks with home- and culture-centered traits describe Odysseus as a wise leader able to make fast decisions. His wish to get home deserves admiration as much as his wife’s wishing to wait until her husband returns. However, he has flaws that sometimes result in the loss of his men (but the loss would be the least of possible). Odysseus is fast, wise, and decisive; these qualities are peculiar of the Greek homeland. He challenges any obstacles on the way home created by gods. The triumph of the human over the gods signifies boundless abilities of a man with a lack of respect to authorities.
On the contrary to initially peaceful Greece, The Roman Empire had great military ambitions. Conquering the land after land, the nation-oriented vision became essential. Virgil’s Aeneid serves this need. The book glorifies the leaders of the nation, highlights the leader’s skills and qualities beneficial in the battle, and shows the relationships between people aimed at help and respect between the comrades. The need to serve the nation is the highest priority. When Aeneas lost the touch with his duty, gods guided him on the way to the goal. Such dependence on gods and gods’ predetermination tells the reader that subordination and responsibility are the key factors of prosperous society, i.e. the leader who passes the will of gods to the masses was favorable for the Roman society.