How does Virgil’s Aeneid compare to Homer’s Odyssey? How is it different?
Virgil took a minor character from Homer’s Iliad, Aeneas, and crafted his whole epic poem detailing the founding of Rome around him in the Aeneid. Virgil was writing six- or seven-hundred years later, and for the Romans instead of the Greeks, so of course his story is going to be different. One of the most striking differences to me was how he dealt with fate. Fate is a major element of the Iliad, but in the Odyssey, Homer evolves human interaction with this mysterious force and favors fortune over fate. In a way, Virgil turns the clock back and makes fate a major thing again. This time, however, fate is an even bigger deal, as the gods are even subject to its power.
One of Homer’s literary images I was surprised to see directly borrowed by Virgil is the gates of horn and ivory. The Odyssey is the first time this image appears, and it is likely a unique invention by Homer. In The Odyssey, Penelope explains that her dream about Odysseus is probably not prophetic:
Stranger, dreams verily are baffling and unclear of meaning, and in no wise do they find fulfillment in all things for men. For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfillment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them. But in my case it was not from thence, methinks, that my strange dream came.
Virgil borrows the literary image, but he makes the metaphor literal when he has Aeneas return from the Underworld through one of the gates:
Two gates the silent house of Sleep adorn;
Of polish’d ivory this, that of transparent horn:
True visions thro’ transparent horn arise;
Thro’ polish’d ivory pass deluding lies.
Of various things discoursing as he pass’d,
Anchises hither bends his steps at last.
Then, thro’ the gate of iv’ry, he dismiss’d
His valiant offspring and divining guest.
Homer. They Odyssey, trans. A. T. Murray. Theoi. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.
Virgil. The Aeneid, trans. John Dryden. Wikisource. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.