Last Updated 18 Jun 2020

Fate and Destiny in the Aeneid and the Odyssey

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From the dawning of modern human thought, humans have questioned the nature of life and its passing. One of the most fundamental questions to arise from this train of thought is the ideas of fate and duty. We humans desire to know whether the path of our lives is preordained and unalterable or if it is just a series of consequences from our past actions. If we live by fate and believe our path is already set in stone, then is it our obligation to fulfill that destiny to the best of our abilities or can we resist and hope to forge our own story?

It is quite obvious in the epics of both Aeneus and Odysseus that the idea of fate and duty plays a huge role. The difference we see between the two is which is more important and how each epic allows these two ideas to unfold. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneus is driven by the prophecy that he will leave a legacy that will go on to found the greatest and most powerful empire the world will ever know. Aeneus’s journey is filled with trials and tribulations; some are purposefully placed in front of him with the intention of undoing his fate while others are pure happenstance.

What drives Aeneus to press on is his sense of duty. One of Aeneus’s most significant obstacles is the princess of Carthage, Dido. The patron goddess of Carthage is Juno and she knows that Aeneus’s prophecy tells of his kingdom destroying Carthage in the future. So Juno sends Cupid to make Dido fall madly in love with Aeneus so that he will do the same and consequently will settle in Carthage never founding the foretold empire that will destroy Juno’s city.

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Once learning of this plan, Jupiter dispatches Mercury to remind Aeneus of his destiny. And are you at a time like this laying the foundations of stately Carthage, and building, like a fond husband, your wife’s goodly city, forgetting alas! your own kingdom and the cares that should be yours? ” (Virgil, Book 4, line 279-282) Aeneus is awe-struck, but he immediately goes to repair his fleet and sail for Italy’s shores. To Aeneus, his sense of duty is so great that he, without question, leaves his wife Dido and the safety of Carthage. Aeneus does not leave Carthage without regard for Dido though.

Aeneus attempts to leave before anyone will know they are gone, but he is caught and explains to Dido, “My quest to Italy is not of my own motion. ” (Virgil, Book 4, line 391-392) With this Aeneus leaves Carthage driven by duty and obligation. In Homer’s Odyssey, the idea of fate is more significant than the idea and sense of duty. Odysseus’s journey begins when Poseidon learns that Odysseus blinded his Cyclops son, Polyphemous while trying to escape from his capture. This enrages the already hot-tempered sea god, damning Odysseus, his men, and his voyage.

Poseidon attempts to delay and keep Odysseus from his home, Ithaca. His anger towards Odysseus is so great that Zeus has to step in to save him from the sea-god. Zeus, after Poseidon complains to him about the Phaenecians aiding Odysseus, states “Since for Odysseus now I vowed that he his home should win through many a misery yet utterly bereft not his return; for such your purpose was and decree. ” (Homer, Book 13, st. 45) Zeus, in the Odyssey, acts as the hand of fate by preventing Poseidon from further stalling Odysseus’s return home.

This is unlike Jupiter in the Aeneid, who dispatches Mercury to remind Aeneus of his purpose. Aeneas is then left with the duty of leaving Carthage and Dido behind, whereas Odysseus is more subject to each gods will. The idea of an inevitable and unchangeable fate is in both the Aeneid and Odyssey, what drives each character is the difference. Aeneus is driven by his sense of duty to start the lineage that will go onto to found Rome, whereas Odysseus is driven by his desire to return to Ithaca. This resembles the cultural and philosophical natures of the Greeks and Romans.

The Greeks placed much emphasis on the individual, life, and pleasure which would naturally honor a hero who struggles tremendously to return safely home. The Romans placed large amounts of emphasis on Rome, what it stood for and their duty, undoubtedly Aeneus’s epic was bred from this culture. Although the cultural differences are evident, these two works both share an inevitable fate which drives the journey. Also, the god’s interference in the hero’s journey for either personal gain or to assure the fulfillment of their fate is evident in both works.

Fate and duty have been human concepts for thousands of years; they both entail some form of obligation and are main themes in the Aeneid and the Odyssey. Aeneus’s obligation to his duty compels him to realize his fate. Odysseus, on the other hand simply desires to return home, but is subjected to the will of the gods which only stall his fate. Both works resemble their respective culture’s beliefs and ideals, but regardless of the differences, these two works are classic epics.

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