The ancient world literature is filled with epic tales of heroes and gods who go on perilous adventures to foreign lands and encounter many mythical beings along the way. These adventures usually teach a lesson or give insight as to the culture of the area and time period in which it was written. The Iliad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid are all similar epics in their adventures and their lessons.
Throughout the literary works of the ancient world there are many reoccurring motifs such as: the role of the gods, the role of suffering, and the roll of fate.
The role of the gods shows heavily in the literary works of this era through the god’s direct interference in mortal events. Within the Iliad Athena, who hates the Trojans, does not directly kill Hector but tricks him into facing Achilles which ultimately leads to his death. Thetis, the mother of Achilles, helps her son and the Greeks throughout their adventures in any way possible. Similarly in the Odyssey gods interfere with the mortals to show their own will over their lives. Although he could not kill Odysseys, Poseidon sent storms to delay him after he disrespected him and blinded his son.
Hermes, however, actually assisted Odysseus on Circe’s island by warning him about her potions and giving him a means to protect himself. After Odysseus’ men slaughter the sun god Helios’ prized cattle, Zeus is asked to bring about a storm which destroys all Odysseus’ ships and kills all his men. In the Aeneid, Juno convinces Aeolus to unless a storm on Aeneas as he searches for a friendly harbor, because of her strong hatred for Trojans (Aeneas and his men are destined to destroy her beloved city of Carthage). Neptune senses this storm within his realm so he immediately calms the storm and essentially saves Aeneas.
Another ally to Aeneas is his mother Venus who helps her son whenever she can. Although Venus and Juno are on completely different sides in the matter of the Trojans they both make sure Aeneas and Dido fall in love, for very different reasons. The reoccurring role of the gods essentially choosing sides in each battle shows that the people of this time very much competed in some respects to obtain the gods attention and bring them to be their allies. The role of suffering is also an obvious motif in the epics of the ancient era.
In the Iliad, Achilles suffers the loss of his friend/cousin Patroclus which is the cause of his rage in battle. King Priam also mourns the loss of his son Hector, by the hand of great Achilles in battle, as well as not immediately having his body to provide him with a proper funeral. This motif unifies the Iliad and Odyssey as Odysseus suffers throughout the entire epic because he is being kept from his home, his wife Penelope, and his son Telemecus. Penelope is also suffering because she is without her husband, raising her son alone, and having to deal with suitors pursing her to remarry.
Telemecus also suffers without his father. Again, the idea is reflected as Aeneas suffers initially because he lost in wife Creusa as they were fleeing Troy, as well as losing his home. Aeneas and Dido both suffer in their love story as they live together happily as lovers, but he is reminded by the gods that he has another purpose and must leave. To which such anguish is caused that Dido kills herself. Aeneas also suffers in that he is not ever able to see the fruits of his labors throughout his life.
Each characters suffering serves a purpose whether it is to teach them a lesson or to change how they are living it ultimately presents them with some greater knowledge. Each account of suffering is because of family and love, so the role of suffering in these epics ties together the concept of how important family was to the ancient people. The role of fate is another extremely frequent motif appearing in this time period’s literature. For the Iliad, this appears when Achilles was destined to kill Hector in the Trojan War as was Hector destined to be killed by Achilles.
The gods could not interfere with that final outcome. Achilles death had also been destined since he was born. The Odyssey follows in that Odysseus was destined to wander for 10 more years before returning home for his actions. Along the way, it was also destined that Odysseus would lose all his ships and men before he would return home. A third set of examples in fate lie within the Aeneid as fate destines that the Trojans will destroy the city of Carthage. The Trojans who fled will find their promised home land in Italy as designed by fate.
Aeneas also lived after he faces the mighty Achilles because he is destined for another purpose, such as fulfilling the previous prophecies. In the end, fate is the ultimate authority and shows how the people of the time believed that not even the mightiest of their world could not compete with the predestination idea they also believed in. The reoccurring motifs of the role of the gods, the role of suffering, and the roll of fate all give a strong insight as to what was important to the people of the culture and religion that were popular during the ancient era.
The people were deeply superstitious in their polytheistic religion and their epics reflect these beliefs. Their heroes are all extremely similar in their character traits and their stories themes alike. All of the heroes go on adventures away from their families and encounter suffering because of their decisions. Each work acknowledges that the gods are mighty and do control their suffering to an extent, but cannot control fate. The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid are all unified in that they possess some of the same motifs, as well as reflect the culture of the time period.