Discussion: Virgil Merely Copying Homer Essay

Homer and Virgil are both astounding writers of epic poetry. Homer with his Iliad and Virgil with his Aeneid. However when you look below the surface the Aeneid and the Iliad are startlingly similar, in particular that of Aeneid Book 5 and Iliad book 23 which both focus on the funeral games. However though there are structurally similar, ultimately the narratives of both books are very different, so in effect Virgil is not simply copying Homer. This is evident from the different views and values portrayed, the timelines of both books and the ideas depicted. Aeneid book 5 and Iliad book23 make use of different views and values.

Where Homer incorporates the honour code in his heroes, the heroes of Virgil show more pietas. The heroes of Homer aim to achieve honour, that is the esteem received from one’s peers. Honour is so essential to a hero that life itself would be meaningless. A hero’s honour is determined firstly by his courage, physical abilities and to a lesser extent by his social standing and possessions. The highest honour can only be won in battle. Other heroic activities include hunting and athletics but can only gain an inferior honour; an even lesser honour was won by giving advice in council.

Through Homer’s Heroic Code Iliad book 23 is more centred on gaining honour through the funeral games. Whereas Virgil includes Pietas in Aeneid book 5 this is different to honour as pietas is a roman value which is the respectful and faithful attachment to the Gods, nation and family, especially parents. Though funeral games are held in Aeneid book 5 which include numerous contests the main aspect of the book is to commemorate Anchises. Through these different ideas it can be seen that Virgil is not simply copying Homer, however the structure of both books can be seen to be very alike of each other.

The timelines of both books are very different as The Iliad was written in approximately 700BC and is probably one of the first written texts. Prior to this the Iliad was a story that was spoken and told to families, it was a story that every Greek knew. This is very different to the Aeneid which was written in 29-19BC. Virgil wrote this book for a literate audience and so incorporates more specific techniques as Virgil probably only wrote three or four sentences a day. Virgil uses the Iliad to his advantage as a reader can see numerous similarities between the text of Aeneid book 5 and book 23 of Iliad.

Virgil models Homer’s Iliad and so certain parts of book 5 can look to simply be Virgil copying Homer. This can be seen in the structure of both books, they both begin with a period at the beginning where they commemorate their loved one, they then have the contests and they both finish with a resolution. Furthermore both books have similar contests, though the Iliad may have more what can be seen in the Aeneid resembles that of Homer’s. Book 23 begins with a chariot race while the ship race which is the first contest in Aeneid 5 is likened to a chariot race.

Another similar event is the shooting contest, when reading this the Roman reader would be mindful of the shooting contest in Iliad as Virgil seems to copy the exact events that occur in the Iliad book 23. So a reader may think that Virgil is merely copying Homer. However, though there are similarities in the two texts structurally, it can be thought that this use of mirroring is simply a technique and so it is just Virgil employing another technique into the Aeneid as mentioned prior, Virgil chose his techniques carefully.

Though there are structural resemblances between the two books the whole narrative of both are overall different. Aeneid book 5 though it makes use of the funeral games this is simply a stopover for the discovering of Rome, whereas Iliad book 23 is a time of peace after the death of Hector and Patroclus in the Trojan War. Moreover the funeral games in Iliad book 23 are set after a few days of Patroclus’ death, this creates a more tragic tone and the games are more serious as the pain is still fresh, this in contrast to Aeneid book 5.

In this book the games are set a full year after the death of Anchises, Aeneas’ father and so it is more commemorative the games are not so serious or filled with emotion as that of Homer’s. There is also this sense of individualism in the Iliad book 23 and community in Aeneid book 5. This sense of individualism versus community can be seen as a result of the honour code made use of in the Iliad as the heroes are more centred on gaining honour for themselves in the funeral games as opposed to in the Aeneid.

Virgil creates this sense of community as the Aeneid is a piece of Augustan propaganda and so reflects the pride of the Augustan era such as the Roman Empire. Because Rome had an empire it had to work more closely together to make sure the whole Empire could work and so Virgil reflects this sense of community into Aeneid book 5 as can be seen between Nisus and Euryalus. Both were participants in the footrace with Nisus leading most of the way however he slips and falls and so he trips Salius who was coming second in order for Euryalus to win the race.

This sense of community is not seen in Iliad book 23 where little Ajax trips and falls in the footrace and everyone just laughs and jeers at him so instead Odysseus goes on to win the race. As result proving that both stories are very different from one another. Virgil is not merely copying Homer. Instead Virgil bases his Aeneid book 5 on Homer’s Iliad book 23 intending for the reader to detect the similarities between his poem and the works of Homer, something that all literate Romans would have learnt therefore making use of this mirroring as a technique rather than plagiarised work.