Everything you need to know to read Homer's "Odyssey" - Jill Dash
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Many years after Homer’s time, ancient Romans were given their own epic poem that could teach or remind them the virtuous traits of being Roman: The Aeneid by Vergil. Like Homer, Vergil utilized a particular poetic rhythm called dactylic hexameter throughout his nearly 10,000 lines of poetry. However, The Aeneid was a written epic and not sung or performed like The Iliad and The Odyssey, and was composed in Latin at the behest of the then-emperor Augustus Caesar. The Aeneid likewise tells the story of a hero, supported by many members of the pantheon, returning from the Trojan War. The poem begins with the same epic convention as Homer’s poem does, the invocation of a Muse to sing to him about the hero of the story–this time, Aeneas rather than Odysseus. Though in some ways it feels like a “spin-off” of The Odyssey, Vergil’s poem does not simply recast the story of The Odyssey with Trojan counterparts. Rather, the story follows the Trojan hero Aeneas across the Mediterranean in search of a new place to call home and to found a city. Along the way, his encounters are similar to Odysseus’, and at one point he even recounts the story of Ulysses (Latin for Odysseus) creating the Trojan Horse, the clever trick that undid the Trojan army and led to the Greek victory. His idea was to present a gift to the Trojans, a peace offering in the form of a large, wooden horse. The Trojans were so beguiled by this gift that they took it into their city walls without question, assuming the Greeks’ surrender. Inside the horse, however, were Ulysses and his men, who sacked the city as soon as the foolish Trojans went to sleep. The plan worked, and not only did the Greeks win the war because of this, the world got the fun proverb “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.”
While we are certain that a city like Troy existed in what is now Turkey, scholars mostly agree that the legends of Odysseus and Aeneas were just that–legends. The Aeneid was for Roman audiences what The Odyssey was for the Greeks: tales of virtue, heroism, adventure, and cultural values that together helped bolster a national identity. Through the study of these poems, modern readers can glean a sense of who the ancient Romans and Greeks were, and what values and customs they held dear.
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