Interaction and Reaction in Virgil and Homer
"May it be right to tell what I have heard,
May it be right, and fitting, by your will,
That I describe the deep world sunk in darkness
Under the earth." (Aeneid VI, 366-369)
The remarkable resemblance between the Underworld of Homer's Odyssey and that of Virgil's Aeneid reveals, upon closer examination, several important differences; these adaptations and corrections by Virgil of the Homeric vision lend credence to the Bloomian concept of influence, and show the many-faceted reactions of Virgil to the "burden" of his eminent precursor. In addition, they provide the reader of the poems with a fascinating basis for comparison, not only between the two poets, but between their characters and poetic creations as well.
One of the most striking of these contrasts appears in the detailed geographical and topological imagery with which Virgil has built his Hades. Not only do we see, in the passage relating the tortures and torments of the mythological figures, specific geographical formations, such as the fiery Styx which "rushed with scorching flames and boulders tossed in thunder," but also artificial, man-made (or in this case god-made) elements: "wide buildings girt by a triple wall" and "a massive gate with adamantine pillars." (Aeneid VI, 738-742) Nothing of this sort appears in Homer's tale; although individual figures seen by Odysseus are described in settings with mountains or pools of water, the backdrop for the stage on which the Underworld is portrayed is barren and devoid of scenery. The world of Hades for Homer is far more a dreamland, topologically undefined, while Virgil has in mind an earth-like but twisted vista, well-defined in its geographical features.
Interestingly, however, the figures which come to view in the Odyssey, despite a general lack of background environment, are portrayed much more as separate individuals: each is given a name, and a full paragraph is devoted to painting the...