The Aeneid and The Odysse

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.

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The Aeneid and The Odysse

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Where is “Uruk”? Say the name out loud and listen closely. Some things never change, even if the spelling does.

In Gilgamesh, who are Gilgamesh and Enkidu? If they are metaphors for something else, what would that be? What is the nature of their relationship? Are they a Doppelganger? Do they remind you of any other stories from ancient (or modern) literature? If so, which stories?

 

Uruk is in Southern Iraq, along the Euphrates, which plays an important part in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Reading Gilgamesh, if not for the mention of the Euphrates, one might think Uruk were somewhere other than the Middle East, since the forest plays such an important part in the story, and you do not typically think of forests when you think of Iraq.

Gilgamesh is a boisterous king, two-thirds god, who is very proud of his walled-city of Uruk. Enkidu is a wild beast-man, created by the gods from clay in order to oppose and/or tame Gilgamesh. Enkidu and Gilgamesh end up becoming the best of friends. Then Enkidu dies, which profoundly impacts Gilgamesh, to the point that Gilgamesh grows his hair out and wears wild furs like Enkidu did. I guess in this sense you could consider them doppelgangers, but other than that, I would not say they are. I normally consider a doppelganger to be a double, a duplicate, an exact copy—which Enkidu and Gilgamesh are not. If anything, they are more polar opposites: Gilgamesh being the narcissistic man, and Enkidu being the naturalistic force of nature.

For some reason, while reading of Gilgamesh’s larger-than-life adventures, I sometimes caught myself thinking of Achilles from Homer’s Iliad—specifically Brad Pitt’s portrayal of him in the 2004 movie Troy; which is weird, because I have not seen that movie in years. Beyond that, there was an underlying sense of familiarity with the entire Epic of Gilgamesh, as if I had heard it all before. This is most likely because all of these great stories can probably trace their roots back to the same oral history, so they all share motifs and archetypes. If I were more studied, and if I had more than three days to read over the Epic of Gilgamesh, I might be able to place my finger on all these feelings of familiarity and which stories from ancient and modern literature Gilgamesh reminds me of.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Myths and History

“Genesis” and “Exodus” tell cosmic stories, myths, if you will. However, they are also read as history by some. How can these two opposing viewpoints–myth and history–be reconciled? What similarities do you see in these two books of the Old Testament and The Epic of Gilgamesh? What are the differences?

 

The way I was raised was to take every word of the Bible as the literal truth, sent directly from God’s mouth to the writers’ hands without error. Since then, my views have changed 180 degrees. Now, I lump the stories of the Bible in with The Epic of Gilgamesh and the thousands of other myths from around the world. After all, even though three of the world’s major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) accept the Old Testament or Torah as truth, that still leaves out pretty much all of Asia and the Native Peoples of the Americas.

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Myths and History

The Odyssey

The Odyssey of Homer is the first great piece of narrative literature of the Western World. What is the relevance of The Odyssey and its influence on the rest of world literature, including the epic, pastoral literature, and lyric and dramatic poetry?

Remember to quote from the readings to illustrate and prove your points, followed by MLA citation, both in-text and on a Works Cited page.

 

Homer’s literature, probably being written around 800 BCE, is classified as Preclassical. Well, we call it Homer’s literature, but it is most likely he was not the original author—he is just the one who gets the credit:

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The Odyssey

The Odyssey’s Cyclops, Polyphemus

The Odyssey is full of fabulous creatures. Choose any one of them and indicate how such an image might have come into being. What is its relevance to the story and to the world? What does Odysseus’ interaction with the creature, even if it is a demigod, say about the place of human beings in the world of the ancient Greeks? What powers does the creature have that humans do not possess? How does Odysseus overcome that limitation?

 

The fabulous creature from The Odyssey I would like to examine is one of the earliest, strangest direct encounters Odysseus has with supernatural obstacles he has to use his cunning and guile to overcome: that is the cyclops, Polyphemus.

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The Odyssey’s Cyclops, Polyphemus

The Oresteia Trilogy and the Curse on the House of Atreus

The events of The Oresteia Trilogy are the result of a curse on the House of Atreus. Research the Internet and recount the earlier events resulting from the curse. What do these events have to say about the importance of Fate in ancient Greek civilization? Where have we encountered the idea of Fate before?

Remember to quote from the readings to illustrate and prove your points, followed by MLA citation, both in-text and on a Works Cited page.

 

The curse of the House of Atreus plagued five generations of the family before Orestes finally put an end to it in the final play, The Eumenides, of Aeschylus’s Oresteia Trilogy. The importance of Orestes ending the curse is underscored by the fact that we refer to the trilogy of plays by his name, even though he is not in the first play, which is all about his father, Agamemnon.

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The Oresteia Trilogy and the Curse on the House of Atreus

Aristotle’s Poetics and Sophocles’s Oedipus

Find the short volume of Aristotle’s Poetics on the Internet and read about the importance of the “reversal” and “recognition” in ancient Greek tragedy. And instead of a “tragic flaw,” think about the central characters “error in judgment” (a better translation of Aristotle’s idea). In Sophocles’ Oedipus, identify the central character, his or her error in judgment, and the reversal and recognition he or she endures. Do the reversal and recognition occur at the same time? What advantages accrue from the reversal and recognition occurring at the same time? What are the disadvantages?

Aristotle calls this the perfect tragedy. Do you agree?

 

Aristotle’s “reversal,” called the “Peripeteia” in Greek, is defined as the turning point of a story. In Poetics, Aristotle writes, “Reversal of the Situation is a change by which the action veers round to its opposite, subject always to our rule of probability or necessity. Thus in the Oedipus, the messenger comes to cheer Oedipus and free him from his alarms about his mother, but by revealing who he is, he produces the opposite effect.”

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Aristotle’s Poetics and Sophocles’s Oedipus