“Homer’s The Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid as Propagandistic Literature” Propaganda is a powerful social tool that influences audiences through manipulation and selective viewpoints and has been witnessed in history as far back as written records exist. It has been used to sanction the rise of new leaders, herald a society and its dominance, and push ideological agendas to audiences of all backgrounds throughout civilizations. The methods that propaganda has been used are numerous and include both written and spoken forms of communication to reach the audience.
Literature is not exempt from the use of propaganda and Homer’s The Odyssey and Virgil’s The Aeneid are two historical sources where it can be found. The propaganda seen in these texts share similarities and differences which can be compared and contrasted and include the values of the societies they represent, the destinies of the heroes and what each represents to the society, and how the backgrounds of the creators influence what occurs in the story with emphasis on politics and traditions.
The Odyssey shares similar propaganda to The Aeneid, although it is not as immediately apparent given the historical backgrounds that led to the creation of each, in regards to the political and social changes being experienced around the time The Aeneid was written. The type of propaganda that is emphasized in The Odyssey is based around the dominance and traditions of Ancient Greek society and culture, the necessity of honoring the gods and goddesses, and maintaining virtues that are universal throughout society while emphasizing the importance of the individual.
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It is demonstrated through the journey of Odysseus, which begins with the Trojan War and follows with each adventure that he experiences on his return to Ithaca, ending on a message of the importance of homecoming when he reaches the shores of his island. The dominance of Ancient Greek society is displayed immediately in the backstory of how the Achaeans overcame the city of Troy and won the Trojan War. It emphasizes the intelligence and cunning of the Achaeans through the example of the Trojan Horse which Odysseus thought of that was used to infiltrate the city. That the Greeks would emerge victorious at the end of a en-year siege over a powerful foe demonstrates the strength of the society militarily. Cultural influences that are affected by propaganda in The Odyssey demonstrate the achievements, values, and traditions of Ancient Greece through references to the ideal individual, proper hospitality, and the honoring of the gods and goddesses. The individual in Ancient Greek society was valued as a strong mental and physical person, who displayed cunning and strength, had a silver tongue and demonstrated articulate thoughts through powerful rhetoric, that could handle any challenge while creating an eternal legacy.
The ideal individual was also loyal to his family and society, and was dedicated to the values and traditions instilled in them from birth. This is all demonstrated through Odysseus and his actions, from creating the idea of the Trojan Horse and displaying leadership in battle, to outsmarting the cyclops Polyphemus, to having an unfaltering love for his wife Penelope. Proper hospitality is explained through the suitors that have overrun Odysseus’s home, who slaughter his animals, drink his wine, and made themselves unwelcome guests. Homer is able to provide an example of how not to act when a person is a guest in another’s home.
Conversely, he demonstrates proper hospitality by using the goatherd as an example when he takes a disguised beggar that is Odysseus into his home. The honoring of the gods and goddesses that were above all mortal men and women was important in the culture of Greek society, and this is demonstrated through the events of The Odyssey, whether it is praying to a god for safety and wellbeing, acting in a way so as not to anger a god such as Poseidon, offering sacrifice to honor the legacy of a god or drinking to the honor of a god to gain their support.
Homecoming is the destiny that is attributed to the story of Odysseus and his fate of returning to Ithaca emphasizes the importance of never leaving the place you were born or the ones you love, a value that was important to Ancient Greek society. These are all examples of propaganda that was used in The Odyssey, which was shared through a rich oral tradition that helped instill these ideals and virtues into the core of Ancient Greek society. Unlike The Odyssey, which began as an oral story and then written at a later date, The Aeneid was written from the point of its creation.
It originated at a time of political and social change in Roman society, which influenced not only its creation but the characters and story in it. According to the “Vita Servii [which] states that the writing of the Aeneid had been undertaken at the express proposal of the emperor” (Avery 225). As it was commissioned by Augustus Caesar, this meant that it was rife with propaganda that emphasized the dominance of Roman society, its importance, and its values such as duty and honor.
Caesar sought to restore tradition to Rome and remind its citizens of its history at a time when this was important to the continued prosperity of Rome under new rule. Aeneas was used a vessel for examining these functions of propaganda and his journey reinforced these virtues. In effect, Virgil “draws certain parallels to achieve one of his many political aims-constructing a national identity for Rome as glorious and ancient as that of Greece” (Bell 228). Virgil offered a new perspective on the Trojan War, immediately dispelling the Achaeans as scum for their trickery, which reinforced the dominance of the Trojans.
He allowed Aeneas to survive the Trojan War, and used the gods and goddesses that were integral to Roman religion to create a destiny where it was his duty to found Rome and bring about its prominence, despite not being entirely aware that this was his fate. Due to this, Aeneas embodies the ideal Roman citizen, much as Odysseus embodied the ideal Greek individual. He is filled with duty and honor and not giving up in a time of strife, as when he loses his home of Troy.
This is compared to the society of Rome at the time of writing, which was under new leadership and government, and emphasized the importance of society remaining strong and prosperous. Duty to the gods was emphasized through Aeneas and his support from Juno, who reminded him that he has to continue on despite finding love in Dido. The importance of Roman society is examined when despite being injured in combat, Aeneas is able to recover due to the interference of Venus, and was gifted a shield that depicted the future of Rome.
In the scenes on the shield, Julius Caesar can be seen, as well as the Battle of Actium, and several other key events known at the time of writing to be integral to the history of Rome and all of which would be a direct result of the duty that Aeneas was to serve through his piety. Virgil was effectively able to create a politically driven and supported example of propaganda through his writing of The Aeneid, and the significance of its creation led to a more unified Rome which benefited Augustus Caesar in his rule and cemented Virgil is the annals of history as a great epic poet.
Propaganda was a useful tool for both Homer and Virgil, and both men were able to use it in effect to instill and remind the audiences of The Odyssey and The Aeneid of the dominance of the Ancient Greek and Roman societies as well as their values and traditions that remained deeply rooted in each society until the downfall of the respective civilization. Works Cited Avery, William T. "Augustus and the Aeneid. " The Classical Journal 52. 5 (1957): 225-29. Print. Bell, Kimberly K. ""Translatio" and the Constructs of a Roman Nation in Virgil's "Aeneid"" Rocky Mountain Review 62. 1 (2008): 11-24. Print.
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