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Greek and Roman heroes: Odysseus and Aeneas

Throughout history many heroes have come and gone. Every culture has their own view of what constitutes a hero. In the epic the Odyssey, Odysseus is the famed hero. In the Aeneid Aeneas is the hero. The cultures from which these stories came, Greek and Roman respectively, have many similar and different views on what they believe a hero should be. Odysseus and Aeneas are both kind to enemies and brave. The two heroes are different in their personalities. Odysseus is quick-witted and tends to think of himself at times, while Aeneas is a little nieve and thinks more of his family and the well being of his city rather than himself.

Odysseus and Aeneas share the traits of loyalty and bravery as heroes. Odysseus shows bravery when he goes after his men, trapped by Circe. When Eurylokhos comes to Odysseus and tells him of the men “vanishing” in Circe’s “palace,” Odysseus doesn’t even hesitate to go help his men. He says, When I heard this, I slung my… broadsword on,… and said ‘Come take me back the way you came’ (10. 278-280) Eurylokhos begs with Odysseus not to go for fear that he too may vanish. Odysseus simply says,”Let me go as I see nothing… but to go. ” (10. 0-291)

Odysseus is willing to go save his men, even if it means he may risk his own life in the process. Aeneas shows his bravery when he goes back to the dangerous city at war to look for his wife Cruesa. He says, I went back into the city again,… ready,… for any danger. (II. 766-768) There were Greeks all around the city, ready for attack, but Aeneas still yelled out his wife’s name over and over. He didn’t care if he got caught, he just wanted to find his wife. Being courageous and loyal was part of a strict code the Greeks subscribed to , according to the book Classical Greece.

The Romans as well took loyalty and courage as important traits. According to the book, The Decline of Rome, “Government was very important to Romans. Rome was the ‘fatherland’ and they lost their independence to stay loyal to it. ” (Vogt 17) Greek and Roman heroes, Odysseus and Aeneas both have a history of being kind to enemies. According to the book Classical Greece, part of the Greek strict code of conduct is “being courteous (even to enemies)” (Bowra 49) Odysseus shows this trait of being courteous when he is kind to Circe to get his men free and changed from swine back to men.

Odysseus also shows courtesy to the Cyclops when he gives him some of his finest wine. The book Classical Greece also says that the Romans learned much about philosophy and art from the Greeks. Young Romans went to study at The University of Athens, and educated Romans looked to Greeks as their masters in philosophy, science and fine arts. (Bowra 11) This may explain why Aeneas too was kind to enemies. When the young Greek man comes to Aeneas and his men telling them his pity story to get the Trojan horse inside the city, Aeneas has pity for him.

Even though the young man is an enemy to the Romans, Aeneas still pities him and treats him courteously. Unlike Odysseus and his clever quick-witted ways, Aeneas is quite gullible and nieve and doesn’t seem to be as clever. Odysseus shows his quick-wit when he devises a plan for him and his men to escape the Cyclops’ lair. I drew on all my wits… until a trick came… three abreast… I tied them [Cyclops’ rams]… then slung a man under each… to ride to safety. (9. 441-450)

It is important in Greek culture that their heroes are intelligent, quick-witted and able to dabble in trickery but not fall for it. Aeneas on the other hand has a very nieve and gullible personality. He and Priam believe the stranger that was being held hostage by Trojan shepherds. When the stranger tells them of how the horse was built as a gift and persuades them to bring it onto the city, Aeneas, Priam and many of his men not only believe the stranger (and enemy) but go as far as to help him bring the deadly horse into their city.

Aeneas and his men show potential for trickery when they dress as Greek soldiers to get close to the Greeks in the war. The plan isn’t thought out very well, however, because many of the Romans mistaken their fellow Romans for the real Greek enemy and kill them. Odysseus’ plans always seem to work out well and Aeneas’ don’t seem to work out so well. The Roman hero Aeneas has a little more of a sense of mortality and human nature, with faults, while Odysseus has a sense of immortality, rarely doing anything wrong. In the Greek society as opposed to the Roman, the individual is of great importance.

At the center of the Greek outlook lay an unshakable belief in the worth of the individual man. ” (Bowra 12) This belief of individuality caused Greeks to be self-centered at times. “They [the Greeks] believed man should be honored and respected just for being himself. ” (Bowra 12) The Roman culture, however, seems to place more importance on the city, government and family rather than on the individual man. In the book, The Decline of Rome, poet Ruitilus Namatianus says (speaking of Roman government), “Rome has given the diverse nations of the world a single fatherhood. (Vogt 17) Rather than thinking about the good of the individual, they thought in terms of the whole Roman nation joining together.

There are times when Odysseus seems to be full of himself and his own individuality rather than the well being of his crew all throughout The Odyssey. For example, when he and his crew escape the Cyclops, Odysseus has to blurt out: If ever a mortal man inquire ow you were put to shame and blinded, tell them- Odysseus, raider of cities took your eye: (9. 27-529) Odysseus and his crew would have gotten away without any problems if it weren’t for that self-centered remark, but Odysseus had to gloat about himself. This need for Odysseus to gloat may also stem from the Greeks need to be famous. According to the book Classical Greece being famous is even more important than victory in war. They could even accept death as long as they knew they would be remembered. Aeneas on the other hand always thinks about the well being of his city and family.

This is evident when Aeneas helps his family escape from the city safely. His father wants him to leave him there, but Aeneas says, Dear father, were you thinking I could abandon you, and go? What son could bear a thought so monstrous? (II. 673-675) Aeneas risked everything he had to save his family and didn’t seem to care about his individual fame. He only seemed to care about getting his family out safely and avenging his city. Greek and Roman cultures have many similar and contrasting views on what constitutes a hero to them.

Aeneas and Odysseus are both brave honorable yet they differ on traits such as being and gullible. Both heroes are very important and looked up to in both Greek and Roman cultures. The Romans, with their loyalty to government, look to Aeneas and his loyalty. The Greeks, with their quick wit and intelligence, look to Odysseus as an example of how to succeed. Both cultures use the heroes in their stories as examples and models of what to do, and many times what not to do, in life. By reading Roman and Greek literature one can learn many morals of life.

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