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Heroes of the Classical Western World

The Period of Antiquity comprises the interlocking ancient civilizations of Rome and Greece known as the Greco-Roman world.  One can name a lot of outstanding authors which immensely contributed to the development of ancient Greco-Roman literature such as tragedians Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, lyric poets Sappho and Alcaeus, Horace and Ovid. Nevertheless, one cannot but agree that Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”, and Virgil’s “The Aeneid” are those writers who contributed the most to the ancient literature, and launched a Greek and Roman idea of epic heroes. The Greek epic hero is mostly defined in terms of contrasting characters of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” and their central figures. The Roman epic hero Aeneas is the main character of “The Aeneid”. The main characters represent the Greek and Roman notion of what constitutes a hero. This paper seeks to discuss and critically analyze characteristics of three main heroes:  Achilles, Odyssey, and Aeneas, and decide which qualities define them as epic heroes. One can assume that these characters have much in common, and all of them have their strengths and weaknesses. However, they are driven by different motives, which this paper is going to analyze and discuss.

Achilles, as the main character of “The Iliad”, depicts two sides of human nature. On the one hand, he is a selfish person who denies giving up on his anger. On the other hand, he is full of consolation and compassion when Priam comes to him and asks to give his son’s body to bury appropriately. 

Some of the unpleasant aspects of Achilles’s nature one can witness after the first encounter with the character in the poem. In his argument with Agamemnon, Achilles demonstrates his pride, disrespect, bad temper, and stubbornness, “And then you will eat out the heart within you in sorrow, that you did no honour to the best of the Achaeans” (“The Odyssey” 13).

Therefore, he makes a choice: he leaves the battle and refuses to help the Achaeans in the war. Moreover, his mother Thetis with the purpose of revenge comes to Zeus and asks for help “Honour him then yourself, Olympian lord of counsel, and grant victory to the Trojans, till the Achaeans give my son his due and load him with riches in requital” (“The Iliad” 15). Consequently, because of Achilles’s pride, a lot of Achaians became victims of the war.

The next fatal choice he makes when allows Patroklos to put on his armament in order to frighten the Trojans. He realizes his mistake when Patroklos dies in the encounter with Hector.  Patroklos’s death brings out rage which can only be suppressed with Hector’s blood. Despite his barbaric hatred, one can see human emotions of love, sadness, and grief, which show his human side. Achilles demonstrates disobedience to Agamemnon, but to Priam he shows respect and loyalty to his own moral principles.

It is evident that Achilles is a true epic hero when he chooses to go to the war knowing that he is going to die. He chooses an eternal fame to his long and happy life as an ordinary person.   

Concerning Odysseus and Aeneas, these characters have much in common, as they were both guided by the gods along their wonderings. Moreover, they were both experiencing very similar adventures, had to visit underworld, and were kept by beautiful women - Calypso and Dido respectively. The most difficult both for Odysseus and Aeneas were the moments when they visited underworld, because they had to risk their lives in order to find answers to the questions.  However, they both were courageous and strong enough to overcome all the challenges.

One can think that Odysseus is a versatile person, whose devotion and commitment to his wife, son and Ithaca immensely impress the reader. However, in his adventures, he constantly relies on power given him by the gods, which makes him in some way gods’ servant. He successfully uses his far-sightedness and intellect to control fate and life as best as he can. Therefore, Odysseus is driven by regular human feelings and instincts. That is why some scholars consider him an epic hero of a new type representing a regular man in Homer’s epic poems. 

Therefore, one cannot but agree that there is a significant difference between Aeneas and Odysseus. First of all, Aeneas has a guide Sibyl who helps him in his way “Aeneas halted, and stood rooted, terrified by the noise. What evil is practiced here? O Virgin, tell me: by what torments are they oppressed” (“The Aeneid” 45). On the contrary, Odysseus, although his travel does not seem as challenging as the Aeneas’s one, must accomplish his mission entirely on his own. Aeneas is more passive and believes more in inevitability of the fulfillment of his destiny, while Odysseus finds his own way through the trials to build his own destiny.

The main antagonist of Odysseus in his journey is Poseidon “Poseidon’s anger had indeed been kindled. He roused the winds and tides against Ulysses and sent word to island ogres and monsters of the deep” (“The Odyssey” 67). Poseidon aimed to punish Odysseus for his disobedience to him, and became even more furious when Odysseus blinded his son Cyclops Polyphemus. Their confrontation perfectly fits into the definition of an epic hero who confronts the gods and stands against the relentlessness of fate.    

To conclude, each epic poem of Antiquity described in the paper has its own peculiarities. Undoubtedly, Achilles fits into the role of the epic hero the most. While Odysseus in many situations relies on god’s will and assistance and Aeneas blindingly believes in inevitability of his destiny, Achilles makes decisions and choices as well as creates his own destiny. 

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