Virgil, like Homer, is a bard - but they are a world and an age apart. Homer composed orally, from memory, using formulae, repeated patterns of words and themes. These he skilfully wove into his narrative, always in accordance with the hexameter metre, which was reserved for such epic poetry. His audience may well have been royalty and commoners alike, the occasion probably weddings or festivals of one kind or another, the venue might have been palaces or public places, the time, we think, was some time around 700BC, although his story of the Trojan War and the Return of Odysseus was set in the Bronze Age, maybe around 1250BC. Homer's identity, of course remains a mystery and the subject of ongoing speculation. Homer's intention was to record and celebrate a glorious past, set in the Age of the Heroes. Or maybe it was just to entertain, for he was, after all, a professional rhapsodos, a singer whose job was to entertain.

Virgil was a Roman poet, living at a time of great change and upheaval in the Roman world. In his lifetime he saw the end of the Republic and the beginnings of the Empire, under the rule of Augustus. Unlike Homer, Virgil could both read and write and his epic work the Aeneid was composed for a sophisticated audience, including the Emperor himself. Note, nevertheless, that both poets performed their work before an audience who would hear the poetry, not read it silently, as we might a book. There is no doubt about Virgil's identity, go here for information about a Life of Virgil by the writer Aelius Donatus. Like Homer, Virgil takes the story of the Trojan War as his theme and uses the hexameter metre. But Virgil's method of composition is very different. His lines were meticulously crafted, written and rewritten until he was satisfied with them. Some of the lines never were finished, owing to his untimely death. These are the so-called "pathetic half-lines".

What was Virgil's intention or ambition in writing the Aeneid? Was it to celebrate the greatness of Rome? the greatness of Augustus? Is it, then, mere political propaganda?

He chooses a relatively minor character from Homer's Iliad, Aeneas, and has him escape from the destruction of Troy, embark on an "Odyssey" which results in his arrival in Italy, where he establishes, through an "Iliadic" effort the remnants of the Trojan race, with their gods. From Aeneas and his descendants will come Rome and, ultimately, Augustus himself.

The worlds of Odysseus and of Aeneas are very different, as are the characters of these two heroes. For the synoptic Greek and Roman module you will be expected not only to know the characters, themes and stories of two epics, but also how they and their authors relate to each other.

The Examination

Yo are examined on the content of both Greek Epic and Roman Epic. You should be able to explore the relationships between Greek and Roman Epic as it is evidenced from the prescribed material. ONE essay must be done plus ONE context question.

From June 2005 to June 2006 the passages for comment will be taken from prescribed books of the Odyssey (Books 5-7 and 17) and Aeneid (Books 3,4 and 10)

There are further notes here on both Virgil and Homer.