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Odysseus Trip to Underworld

In: English and Literature

Submitted By daisy2013
Words 1094
Pages 5
Underworld, Hell, Hades ECT
(A comparison of the underworld from The Odyssey and The Aneid.)

Where one goes after death is a mystery. No scientist has proof, no Christian has proof, no ONE has any proof. All this world has is guesses, and what we are told through religious texts; and from there is where people draw their own personal opinion. “I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.” (Einstein) However in ancient Greece and Rome the afterlife did not have the illusive idea of a heaven and hell, they simply had an underworld ruled by the brother of the great god Zeus; Hades, or in Latin Pluto. However the underworld was described differently and similarly in several different cases, in several different takes of the stories. For example, Edith Hamilton in part IV of her book Greek Mythology, describes the visits of Odysseus and Aeneas to the underworld. Although they do relate in some ways, in others they are completely different. The decent into the underworld for each hero is radically different. Aeneas physically descends down by breaking off a golden bough off of the tree and giving it to the great priestess Sybil, and she leads him to the gate Just inside the gate runs the river Acheron. The ferryman Charon delivers the spirits of the dead across the river; however, Aeneas notices that some souls are refused passage and must remain on the near bank. The Sibyl explains that these are the souls of dead people whose corpses have not received proper burial. Charon explains to the visitors that no living bodies may cross the river, but the Sibyl shows him the golden branch. Appeased, Charon ferries them across. On the other side, Aeneas stands aghast, hearing the wailing of thousands of suffering souls. The spirits of the recently deceased line up before Minos for judgment. “The descent of Aeneas into the underworld is brief in the telling of the Aneid, yet pivotal in the influence of the Homeric influence.” (Toynbee) Odysseus too visits the underworld but in a different way. The author Homer does not describe a physical descent into the underworld but rather just the meeting of the sprits of the dead. To get to those sprits Odysseus travels to the River of Ocean in the land of the Cimmerians. There he pours libations and performs sacrifices as Circe earlier instructs him to do to attract the souls of the dead. The first to appear is that of Elpenor, the crewman who broke his neck falling from Circe’s roof. He begs Odysseus to return to Circe’s island and give his body a proper burial. Odysseus then speaks with the Theban prophet Tiresias. “[Greek] beliefs about what happened to a person at the point of death and afterwards were never fixed and always remained a subject for debate. But in the mid-eighth century BC, the Greeks possessed a belief that there was a necessity for burial based partly on what happened when the deceased were not buried properly.” (Richardson) So his experience and that of Aeneas’ were different with inflections of similarity. The reasons upon their visits also were different thus creating their experiences to also be different. Odysseus visits to see the blind prophet Tiresias to find out if and how he will ever make it back to him home island Ithica. Aeneas on the other hand, goes down to see his father. Anchises presses on to the reason for Aeneas’s journey to the underworld—the explication of his lineage in Italy. Anchises describes what will become of the Trojan descendants: Romulus will found Rome, a Caesar will eventually come from the line of Ascanius, and Rome will reach a Golden Age of rule over the world. “The religious ideas expressed in [Virgil’s] poetry are highly complex. Book VI, for instance, combines a wide range of traditional elements from Homer, Pindar, and Plato together with the mystic idea of a descent to Hades, … and fuses all these with specifically Roman beliefs and practices. The resulting vision would have puzzled most
Romans.” (Ogivlie) Although different reasons to visit it is still considered where ones goes when they die. Whether it be a good experience or bad. Although the experiences for Odysseus and Aeneas’ are radically different, there still exists a few similarities such as the fact that it is called the same to both, and both authors it existed “The Greeks apparently concluded that since death comes to all, Hades was the final destination for all. The virtuous and the sinners all lead the same life in Hades.” (Segal) In addition, the influence Homer had on Virgil would inevitably morph his understanding of the underworld also, thus creating simple similarities in the grand understanding of the world. The Roman and Greek understanding of the underworld indeed are different more than they are similar. Yet, culturally they cannot line up exactly because they are, well different cultures. No matter the facts each author has his or possibly her, own opinion and take of the realm of Hades. Just as Christians and Atheists do of the afterlife. Opinion is inevitable when addressing matters of religion, even if it is just mythology. Personally I think the Disney telling of the underworld is far more intriguing! However, each author brings to light something interesting in their own way.

Works Cited:

Einstein A., Ideas and Opinions, based on Mein Weltbild, edited by Carl Seelig, New York: Bonzana Books, 1954 (pp. 8-11)

Ogilvie, L. (R.M.) The Romans and their Gods in the Age of Augustus. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1969.

Richardson, N.J. Early Greek Views about Life after Death. Edited by P.E. Easterling and J.V. Muir’s Greek Religion and Society. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Segal, Alan F. Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West. New York: Doubleday, 2004.

Toynbee, J.M.C. Death and Burial in the Roman World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.

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