The Right Coast

July 22, 2004
The Iliad and the Aeneid
By Mike Rappaport

I previously endorsed the Teaching Company tape on the Iliad by Elizabeth Vandiver. Since then, I have listened to two more lectures by her: one on the Odyssey and one on the Aeneid. Both were excellent and are highly recommended.

After reviewing the Odyssey and Iliad, the inevitable comparison is between Odysseus and Achilles. To me, Achilles is a prima donna, an exceptional talent whose antics we put up with because of his exceptional ability. Odysseus by contrast is well rounded, personable and, of course, exceedingly clever. On the whole, he is an admirable character. Count me as an Odysseus man.

The lectures on the Aeneid were my first real exposure to this work, which was quite interesting. The way I think about it, Virgil had three basic guides: the traditional story of Aeneas, the Trojan noblemen who was an ancestor of the Romans; the Iliad; and the Odyssey. The first six books of the Aeneid are modeled on the Odyssey and tell the story of Aeneas traveling to Italy; the last six books are modeled on the Iliad, and tell the story of the Trojans’ war in Italy. I had not realized how much of the traditional stories come from the Aeneid, including most famously the line about "Greeks bearing gifts."

As always, Vandiver is superb in these lectures. She is clear, focuses on the key issues, has good judgment and presents both sides. I think she is pretty close to the best lecturer I have ever heard.