Created in different times, climes and around the apex of their respective civilizations, the immortal “Aeneid” and “Iliad” were resonant sagas.
Achilles and Aeneas were the quintessential heroes of their people, embodying the true, good and ideal as Greeks and Romans saw it.“The goddess sings of the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus,” begins the Iliad. In that single sentence, Homer threw the spotlight on his hero and presaged the havoc an angry, hubris-ridden warrior could wreak on Greek and Trojan alike.The bard chronicled how the fortunes of the Greeks rose and ebbed when they had not his aid.
For Achilles was the mightiest of the Greek warriors. Even Hector could not withstand his onslaught. He feared not the Fates, as shown by his willingness to do battle with Hector despite the counsel of his mother that he and Hector will die soon after the other.However, Achilles was not without his flaws.
Stubborn about his own code of honor, he abandons the fight and sulks in his tent. Consequently, the Greeks scatter like sheep before Hector and the Trojans. Even as the Trojans threaten the Greek ships and Odysseus intercedes for the slight suffered at the hands of Agamemnon, Achilles remains unmoved of the he does absolutely nothing. Only the death of Patroclus, his dearest friend, impels him to forego wounded honor and lead the Greeks to battle once again. One last time, hubris when he desecrates the corpse of the vanquished Hector by dragging it behind his chariot.
“Arestaya”, greatness, sums up Achilles. For the Greeks the ideal was to be the best in whatever one is called to do. Odysseus may have more wit and Agamemnon the greater power over Greeks but none equaled the prowess of Achilles on the battlefield. The ancient Greeks valued honor and principle even to the point of foolhardiness. Heedless of doom or mortality, the wrath Achilles is indeed worthy of song and praise.
Virgil, on the other hand, composed the “Aeneid” to glorify the rise of “Pax Romana”. No less than Aeneas, son of Venus, could the father of Rome. Out of the sack of Troy and after daring many perils exacted by the wrath of Juno, Aeneas arrives upon the shores of Latinum to display the valor and political astuteness that would mark the Roman empire.Virgil drew on the Homeric myths to portray an Aeneas valiant and skilled in war.
Beyond deeds of bravery, however, the overarching theme of the “Aeneid” is “pietas”, piety, which in this case meant fidelity or staying the course toward one’s destiny.Unlike Achilles, Aeneas needed his fortitude and conviction shored up. The interlude in Carthage, in the embrace of Dido, would have tempted a lesser man. But it imperiled the goal of finding a new home for the Trojans and, in the process, becoming founding father of the greatness that would be Rome. The visit to the underworld may also be interpreted as building up his conviction for the many battles that lay ahead.
At the same time, Virgil magnified the heroic generals of his own time as true descendants of a great forebear.Aeneas also foreshadows the daring of future Romans. Despite the wrathful devices of Juno, he eventually comes upon Latinium to establish his new realm. Even as Juno unleashes war upon the weary Trojans, Aeneas stands tall and eager to do deeds of valor in defense of his people.
The “Aeneid” speaks often of “Pious Aeneas”. Pious to his father, bearing him on his back at the sack of Troy. Pious to his people in not forsaking their quest for the bliss of Carthage. But most of all, pious to his destiny to found Rome. Aeneas was thus the perfect exemplar for the Roman people who, in the days of Virgil, continued to seize the day and forge an Empire whose legacy endures to this day.