The Underworld 

When Odysseus enters the Underworld for the first time, his initial illusion of death as repose is shattered much the same way Aeneas in Virgil’s The Aeneid is struck with grief at the sight of the tragic Dido roaming in the underworld. To better understand the differences and similarities between why Odysseus of The Odyssey and Aeneas of The Aeneid travel to the underworld, it is important to first understand the time period in which each great work was written, the social aspects from which Homer and Virgil came from, and the context of each masterpeices itself. Taking these three aspects into consideration, the reasons why these two different men went on such a perilous journey and their experiences there can be easily identified.

the concept of time between the publication of the two works is the first major difference that shaped The Odyssey and The Aeneid. The Greek poet Homer began with his greatest two masterpieces, The Iliad and The Odyssey which date long before the beginning of the Greek literacy in the late eighth century B.C. (p. 96). Credit is given to this poet for becoming the architect that manipulated the vast wealth of oral tradition present in his time and “fused what he took with original material” (p. 96) to create the two poems. However, Homer was not “on the modern sense, the [creator of the poems] and [much] less an expression of his personality” (p.96). Still, the Italian poet Virgil of the 70th century B.C., “borrows Homeric turns of phrase, similes, sentiments, and whole incidents” (p. 636). Like the Homeric epic of The Odyssey, Virgil’s hero, Aeneas, must face various struggles in the search for home. Yet, unlike Homer, Virgil creates a hero who disregards his own personal gains unlike Odysseus who is told by the prophet in the underworld that he will achieve a peaceful death if he follows the prophet’s instructions. Aeneas states to Dido at the sight of her in the underworld, “The gods’ commands drove me to do their will, as now they drive me through this world of shades” (1. 245). That is to say, there is something greater than himself: The pre-bestowed purpose of finding a city from which in time, will spring the Roman state.

The Roman Empire had a solid foundation when it came to its social aspects and thus became a major influence in the Latin literature of that time. Something that creates a large gap between the Greeks and Romans is that the quality Romans most admired was “gravitas, seriousness of attitude and purpose”, and their highest words of commendation were “manliness, industry, and discipline”(p. 627). Aeneas is an exemplary figure of this Roman regiment because he becomes, in a sense, the “ideal Roman ruler; his qualities are the devotion to duty and the seriousness of [an organized government]” (p. 636). All the while, Aeneas does not satisfy the great passion of his life like Achilles had, nor, like Odysseus, does he find home and peace. As book six of The Aeneid states, his sole reason for traveling to the underworld was to find his father and see the vision of his people, which is to be his only reward, “for he will die before his people are settled in their new home [Rome]” (p.668). Having a closer look at the context of each voyage to the underworld in both The Odyssey and The Aeneid  reveals a more precise and obvious picture of why both these characters make such a perilous journey while still intertwining both Greek and Roman values in their respected aspects.

Even though Odysseus and Aeneas travel to the underworld for different reasons, comparisons can be made between the two journeys. Odysseus is on a long journey home from the Trojan War. throughout his journey he not only faces struggles but also temptations to test his ingenuity and will to return home. Odysseus comes to believe that death seems the only real escape from his struggles and so he is sent living to the world of the dead to see for himself what death actually means; which is anything but the illusion of repose. The main reason, however, why Odysseus travels to the underworld is because he is seeking the council of Teiresias, to guide him home with the help of his prophetic powers. Parallel to the Sybil in The Aeneid which guides Aeneas through the underworld, Odysseus too must seek the council of his father in order to see what his future holds and what to do next. Both Aeneas and Odysseus encounter the ghosts of their dead companions, but in each situation each character makes a different decision. At the clamor of his dead friend asking him to bury his remains in the world of the living in order for his soul to move on, Odysseus replies “I promise you the barrow and the burial” (1. 85). Whereas Aeneas when faced with the same situation is told by the Sybil to disregard his dead friend’s wish. Both characters are faced with ghostly figures of deceased loved ones that were close to them as well. Odysseus, unknowingly, discovers that his mother has taken her life out of loneliness for him (1. 215). They converse and Odysseus is overcome with such emotion that he tries to embrace the ghostly figure of his mother but to no avail. In contrast, Dido has taken her life out of heartbreak because of Aeneas’s departure from her. At the sight of her Aeneas is overcome by grief and calls out to her in an attempt to justify his leaving by saying, “I left your land against my will…the gods commands drove me to do their will, as now they drive me through this world of shades” (1. 245). However, just as he had left her without a word, Dido says nothing to him and leaves to join the ghost of her previous dead husband in sorrow.

The journey to the underworld in both The Odyssey and The Aeneid, although they come from different time period that strongly shape each work, along with different influential social aspects, parallel each other in various ways. By taking these three aspects into consideration, the reason why these two men made such a perilous journey and their experiences in the underworld can be easily identified. Understanding the background of each masterpiece sets the stage to understand the character’s motives and actions in a broader, culturally-infused, and in-depth view that is supported by each work’s context.

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Father-Son Relationship In Things Fall Apart

Reviewed by Dr. Soloman O. Iyasere, professor of African-American Literature and African Literature at California State University of Bakersfield

*Essay was written with citations derived only from the text itself as required by the professor.

From the beginning of China Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, we see that the main character of the novel, Okonkwo, is not a man of thought but rather a man of action. This means that he rarely thinks on what he does before he does it and does not seethe consequences of his actions. He exerts a heavy hand on his wives and children as a sign of masculinity and dominance over his household. However, no matter how hard he handles his family, Okonkwo begins to feel an emotional fatherly attachment to his adoptive son Ikemefuna. Throughout the story, unto Ikemefuna’s death, Okonkwo’s relationship with his children create an a contributing factor in the internal conflict between Okonkwo’s reputation and his fatherly instincts.

Okonkwo’s relationship with Ikemefuna begins from the start of the novel. After a woman of the Umuofia tribe is killed at Mbaino village’s market, the Mbaino tribe offers Ikemefuna to Umuofia as recompense for their crime. Ikemefuna is put under Okonkwo’s care for three years until the elders of Umuofia decide that he must die as sacrifice. When Okonkwo takes Ikemefuna into his care, the relationship between the two starts off as nothing else – in the eyes of Okonkwo – but another child to feed.

Ikemefuna, naturally being homesick in the start, progressively adapts to the life of Okonkwo’s family. “At first Ikemefuna was very much afraid. Once or twice he tried to run away, but he did not know where to begin. He thought of his mother and his three-year-old sister and wept bitterly” (p. 27). Young Ikemefuna soon learned that Okonkwo “ruled his household with a heavy hand” (p. 13). However, Okonkwo did not do this because he was a cruel man but rather because “his whole life had been dominated by fear, the fear if failure and of weakness [that he saw in his father]” (p.13). This was the whole underlying reason why Okonkwo renounces all emotional dealings of gentleness and idleness because in his eyes, these such things are effeminate.

No matter how hateful he was towards gentleness, Ikemefuna managed to wiggle his way into the likings of Okonkwo because “he was by nature a very lively boy and he gradually became popular in Okonkwo’s household, especially with the children” (p. 28) and hence, a fatherly bond was created between the two. “[He] himself became very fond of [Ikemefuna]…Sometimes when [Okonkwo] went to big village meetings or communal ancestral feasts, he allowed Ikemefuna to accompany him, like a son, carrying his stool and his goatskin bag. And indeed, Ikemefuna called him father” (p. 28).

Comparatively, Okonkwo treats his two children, Nwoye and Ezinma differently from his adoptive son Ikemefuna, opening a window to show the large differences and similarities between the three. From the beginning of the novel, Nwoye “was then twelve years old but was already causing his father great anxiety for his incipient laziness” (p.13). However, Okonkwo genuinely cared for daughter Ezinma because of her strong masculine qualities. “I wish she were a boy”, Okonkwo thought within himself. “She understood things so perfectly. Who else among his children could have read his thoughts so well” (p. 173). In comparison, Ikemefuna was well on his way to becoming liked by Okonkwo possibly as much as Okonkwo liked Ezinma. That is to say Ikemefuna cared had what Nwoye lacked; for hie was well-spirited and lively and all the while, even if Okonwko did in fact care for Ikemefuna as much as he did for Ezinma, he chose not show it because of his own fear of weakness that ultimately brings upon his downfall.

The fact that Okonkwo has come to like Ikemefuna and vice versa makes Ezedu warn Okonkwo not to participate in the death of Ikemefuna – once the elders had decided that he should be sacrificed- because as Ezedu said, “that boy calls you father”(p.57). This is the key example of how Okonkwo’s fear of being liked his father – gentle and caring – drives him to make the poor decision of striking down Ikemefuna himself. In order to understand why Okonkwo killed the boy he was becoming closely attached to, one must understand that Okonwko is a man of action and not a man of thought. Yet, the death of the child was all too unbearable for Okonkwo but not so much the death itself but the fact that he had participated in it for fear that if he hadn’t done it himself, he would be seen as weak and cowardly.

By the time Okonkwo has slain his adoptive son, Ikemefuna, Okonkwo is overcome by the emotions of fatherly love and care and in a way also feels guilt and regret yet shows no outward emotion specifically on the matter. Nonetheless, “Okonkwo did not taste any food for two days after the death of Ikemefuna” (p. 63).

Throughout the novel, Ikemefuna was a boy who was liked by his adoptive family and yet became the very epitome of the fear that rages inside Okonkwo. It was not the death of the boy itself that troubled Okonkwo for days but rather because he himself had slaughtered the boy against all wise counsel that urged him not to do so.

 

I realize that I have only begun to scratch the surface on this particular aspect of the novel but it has been my pleasure to have provided, if any, insight on what the father-son relationship between these two characters represents and how it ties into the tragic fall of Okonkwo.

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