Whom do you admire more as a leader – Odysseus in the Odyssey or Aeneas in the Aeneid?

Authors Avatar
Whom do you admire more as a leader - Odysseus in the Odyssey or Aeneas in the Aeneid?

These two heroes have embarked from the same destination but on very different journeys. Whilst they are both Iliadic heroes at the start of their stories, they develop and adapt their manner towards the characteristics required of them to succeed. Before we judge them, it is necessary to determine our definition of a successful leader. A hero from the Iliad must be "a speaker of words and one who is accomplished in action", according to the horseman Phoinix (Iliad.9.413). A leader must have these primary qualities then, as he must lead by example, but to create the ideal we must add to this. The leader should rely on no others but in turn listen to sound counsel. He should be fair in his justice, in control of his situation and surroundings, keep his men abreast of the plan of action and reasoning behind it, remain calm under pressure and have compassion and understanding for his people. Thus his primary concerns should be the welfare of his people, their security and maintaining peace at all costs. His men, a good indicator of his leadership to us, should therefore give him loyalty, trust, and obedience, if the leader has led them suitably. The performance of the men is also important, and what they achieve under his direction is representative of his strength of leadership, though this must be compared with how they act without his presence. These measures can be seen as the important assets of a competent leader, though extenuating and uncontrollable circumstances must be taken into account, as we make a sound judgement of our two heroes.

Aeneas and Odysseus themselves are different, both in character and in their quest. Whilst Aeneas is born of the goddess Venus, Odysseus' lineage has no close link to a deity. However, whilst Aeneas is of divine descent, he receives little or no help from his mother. When he lands at Carthage and Venus is kind enough to give him information about Dido's people, she is disguised and departs immediately after having spoken, to the despair of Aeneas ("you so often mock your own son...you too are cruel" A.1.406). The other help he receives is limited ("thick mist" A.1.411) and with no knowledge of its existence. Whilst his mother is vehement in defending her son and his people when she is on Olympus ("it is unspeakable. We are betrayed" A.1.252 "take pity on them" A.10.60), no action is taken to ease him in his distress or console him in person. Within the Aeneid, the gods are not the ever-present guardians that Athene is to Odysseus in the Odyssey, whether they agree or not ("Hercules checked the great groan... helpless tears streamed" A.10.465). Athene on the other hand, not only helps Odysseus with her divine power but she gives him advice ("go to the swineherd" O.13.403), disguises him ("change you beyond recognition" O.13.396), and even cares for his family ("instil more spirit into Odysseus' son" O.1.89, "prompted the wise Penelope" O.21.1). She is very intimate with Odysseus, conversing at length and speaking very openly ("you are so persuasive, so quick-witted, so self-possessed" O.13.333). Whilst Venus never alights on the earth to console Aeneas in his grief ("heart sick at the sadness of war" A.8.29), Athene can not bear to leave her hero in distress ("I cannot desert you in your misfortunes" O.13.332). Aeneas is in fact quite a lonely character and doesn't even compete in the games of Book 5, which we can easily imagine Odysseus competing in (as in the Iliad). His lack of personal contact with the gods shows that he is just a pawn, merely a very important pawn. However, the actual tangible help that Aeneas receives is far greater than Athene's to Odysseus. The son of Venus receives divine weapons "beyond all words" and of "shining splendour". Neptune's actions against the work of Juno allow his crew to survive the shipwreck ("calming the swell" A.1.145). Thus, whilst Aeneas is never given a piece of news from the Olympians that he actually wants to hear ("dumb and senseless" A.4.280), his physical aid from the gods is great. Odysseus receives emotional and strategic help from Athene ("the two of them sat down...to scheme" O.13.371), as well as assistance from Hermes in person. However, his encounters with monsters and magic are largely left to him. He is given no divine armour, and Athene checks her aid in deference to Poseidon. But Venus just goes head to head with Juno, despite her lesser status, and aids Aeneas.
Join now!

Odysseus walks with the gods and they interact with him regularly but this counterbalances his character as a loner. Aeneas' leadership begins in conjunction with his father Anchises who dies in Sicily, but his son Ascanius is on the voyage also. He also has no alienation from his men, such as Achates, and listens to their words ("there is no danger" A.1.584). Odysseus on the other hand has a difficulty with listening to people. Despite Agamemnon's warning in Book 11 ("make a secret approach" O.11.456), it takes Athene's reminder ("tell not a single person" O.13.308) to prevent catastrophe ...

This is a preview of the whole essay