Greek and roman literature

Many works in the earliest days of Greek and Roman literature focused primarily on the military aspect of life. Through battles, vivid descriptions of armor and other battle utilities, and specific actions regarding wartime affairs, timeless authors were able to characterize their heroes, as well as enhance the plotline. Two of the great works of all time, Homer’s The Iliad and Virgil’s The Aeneid, are no exception, as both tales used detailed descriptions of shields and battle actions to both characterize the heroes and to further develop the story. Virgil, 800 years after Homer had written his greatest works, clearly chooses to model The Aeneid off of him. While Homer chose to focus his works primarily on warfare as it pertains to traditional warrior code, Virgil decided to focus on how war created the vast empire that is Rome, a much more political stance. Virgil literally took a character from Homer, and using methods such as the description of the main character’s shield, and allowing deception to play a key role in significant events, he tells his own story in a very similar way. Given how influential and significant warfare was during the time of both the Greeks and the Romans, it only seemed fitting that military technology played such a large role in the meaning behind each story. One method Homer used to exemplify traditional warrior code in The Iliad was by means of deception: a warrior would be forced into epic deeds due a terrible misleading. Take for example, the tale of Bellerophon. As Homer described him on line 159 in Book 6, he was “ A man of grace and courage by gift of the gods. ” His heavenly aura attracted Anteia, wife of Proteus, King of Argos. When Anteia asked Bellerophon to sleep with her, he declined, due to his “ virtuous and wise” demeanor. Out of spite, Anteia asked her husband to kill Bellerophon, falsely accusing him of forcing sex upon her. Instead, Bellerophon was sent to Lycia, home of Anteia’s father, where he was forced to partake in several battles with different monsters, as well as fend off an ambush when he returned to Sisyphus. Because Anteia was deceitful, and wrongly accused Bellerophon of trying to sleep with her, he was forced to perform acts of heroism. Through this deception, Homer draws attention to what, in his mind, made up the traditional warrior code: virtue, glory, and the willingness to meet any task head on, no matter how bleak the outcome appears. A parallel to this in The Aeneid would be the use of the Trojan Horse, and its role in the creation of Rome. One vital aspect of The Aeneid was the use of the Trojan Horse. In order to successfully take over the city of Troy, the Greeks hid themselves in a hollow wooden horse, and wheeled it in front of Troy’s gates. With several fellow warriors standing by, Sinon was able to convince the Trojans that the horse was an offering to Minerva, and that it should be taken inside Trojan walls, and to Minerva’s shrine (It also helped that Laocoon, the strongest skeptic of the horse, was strangled by snakes after he threw a spear at the body of the horse). That night, the Greeks ransacked the city of Troy, killing many citizens of Troy. One of those who survived was Aeneas, who is the hero in this story. Obviously, the Trojan Horse was much more than a Greek aid in the destruction of Troy. Without the Trojan Horse, an invasion of Troy would’ve been incredibly difficult, as Troy’s walls were historically impenetrable. Without a successful invasion of Troy, Hector, the fallen hero of Troy, would’ve never had any reason to appear to Aeneas in a dream: “ “ Ah! Son of the goddess, fly, tear yourself from the flames. The enemy has taken the walls: Troy falls from her high place. Enough has been given to Priam and your country: if Pergama could be saved by any hand, it would have been saved by this. Troy entrusts her sacred relics and household gods to you: take them as friends of your fate, seek mighty walls for them, those you will found at last when you have wandered the seas. ” The only reason Aeneas ever went on this journey was because Hector “ entrusted her (Troy) sacred relics and household gods” to him: he now had an obligation to continue living in the name of Troy. If Troy had seen through this trick, and destroyed the Trojan Horse before those inside could attack them, Hector would’ve had no reason to visit Aeneas in a dream. Troy would be safe, and there would be no need for Aeneas to carry on the legacy of the lost city, and more importantly, the founding of Rome would’ve never come to fruition. While there are several instances of military technology having significant meaning in both The Iliad and The Aeneid, shields played one of the more crucial roles in both stories. It is clear that Virgil imitated Homer in having a symbolic shield, using vivid depictions and imagery to summarize characters, motifs, and morals of the time. While Homer let the shield represent the life of a warrior, Virgil allowed it to represent the past, present, and future of Rome. Two very different ideals, represented in identical ways. First, Achilles’ shield. The Greek hero Achilles’ shield was incredibly intricate and lively. There are several images of life as an average Greek citizen, like “ brides led from their rooms by torchlight up through the town” (183), and “ a quarrel arising between two men over blood money for a murder” (184). These images came to life through this shield. For a moment, Homer escaped from the mundane act of war that had become so common in the novel, and allowed the reader to become acquainted with traditional life in Greece. Having said that, this was the shield of Achilles, the greatest warrior in the history of Greece, and this shield was meant to represent him, as well. There are representations of war on this shield as well, soldiers invading cities and disrupting the humdrum of everyday life, citizens forced to defend themselves. War, at least in The Iliad, was the central means of earning honor for a man and his family, and no man valued his own honor more than Achilles. He seemed almost robotic, ready to kill whenever called upon. At times, however, he did show signs of decency and mercy, unwillingness to fight. This was, however, only to spite Agamemnon, a hated rival of his, after he had threatened to take away a “ prize” Achilles had “ earned”: “ No, I do all the dirty work with my own hands, and when the battle’s over and we divide the loot you get the lion’s share and I go back to the ships with some pitiful little thing, so worn out from fighting I don’t have the strength left even to complain. Well, I’m going back to Phthia now. Far better to head home with my curved ships than stay here, unhonored myself and piling up a fortune for you” (6). While Achilles did occasionally show a side of himself that didn’t want to fight, it was usually for selfish reasons. In the end, however, Achilles always returned to battle. In short, Homer was trying to depict all of the great things about life away from the battlefield: cities bustling, families gathering, farmers farming. By creating the irony of placing all of these images on a piece of military technology, Homer showed that, no matter what Achilles did, he was destined to live, and die, as a warrior. While Achilles may not have fought for his countrymen or his family as much as he fought for his own gain, he still represented the perfect warrior, and as long as he was killing, everything was right with the world. Homer tried to use the shield to almost critique Achilles, not in disclaiming his status as a valiant warrior, but as a man, corrupted by the power that he possessed. Virgil took quite a different route in linking the images in the shield of Aeneas to the story of The Aeneid. Rather than focus on the present day, Virgil decided to not only retell the beginnings of Rome, but to also foretell the future successes of Rome, in all of its glory. From the humble beginnings of Romulus and Remus, to the glorious victory of Augustus Caesar, Virgil made sure to capture all that was and will be magnificent about Rome, making the journey of Aeneas all the more crucial and important. The shield is also very symbolic in its rags-to-riches approach, as compared to the quest of Aeneas. The description of the shield started off with Romulus and Remus, going from the teats of their foster-mother to the battlefield, and the beginnings of what would be Rome. Virgil later jumps to the triple triumphs of Caesar, who would eventually help make Rome the greatest empire in the world with his victory at the Battle of Actium, an epic struggle that pitted him against Marc Antony and a slew of Egyptian gods, in which the Egyptian side ran in terror when they saw the might of Apollo and his bow. Such a valiant voyage, from bleak beginnings to an ultimate conquest parallels precisely what Aeneas went through in order to aid in the founding of Rome. His beginnings as a humble citizen of Troy were forever altered when the Trojan Horse was wheeled into the city. From there, he went on to become the father of the greatest empire that ever existed in the ancient world. Virgil not only wanted to glorify the victorious reign of Rome, but also create a parallel between the shield and the character who wielded it. Writers of Greek and Roman mythology were some of the most brilliant minds our world has ever seen, creating worlds ruled by gods, and characters forced to live by their rules. In many mythological works, including Homer’s The Iliad and Virgil’s The Aeneid, war played a significant role. Because of this, there are multiple allusions to military technology, which were used both in characterizing epic heroes, and adding significant detail to the plotline. It seemed only fitting that wartime equipment was to have such a crucial role in the development of both stories, and the reader’s further understanding of them.