George de F. Lord
THE WESTERN WORLD
Mr. Eliot's recent article, "Vergil and the Western World" (Sewanee Review, Winter, 1953), has redefined for us the Christian-like qualities of the Aeneid and its hero. Virgil is seen as a sort of prophet, perhaps unconsciously inspired by Judaic thought, who anticipated some of the values of the Christian world. The pietas of Aeneas requires his acceptance, at the cost of his personal feelings, of a mission on which a future civilization depends, and this acceptance requires the subjection of his own will with all humility to the will of the gods. Aeneas' mission is everything, its fulfillment ordained by destiny, and yet destiny does not relieve him of moral responsibility for its fulfillment. Thus Virgil fills "a significant, a unique place, at the end of the pre-Christian and at the beginning of the Christian world."
Mr. Eliot's description of the unique place which Virgil fills in the evolution of Western culture seems to me invaluable for a proper understanding of the Aeneid. But the occasional comments that he makes on the Odyssey in the course of defining the spiritual qualities of the Aeneid give, I think, a wrong impression of Homer's poem. His discussion of Aeneas as "an analogue and foreshadow of Christian humility" is brilliant in itself, but when he tries to show the superiority of Virgil's hero to Homer's heroes he misconceives or underestimates the character of Odysseus and the part it must have played, consciously or not, in the Roman poet's conception of Aeneas. The Odyssey presents through the experiences of its hero the birth of personal and social ideals which are remarkably close to those of the Christian tradition and repudiates the old code of the heroic warriors at Troy as resolutely as does the Aeneid. In the Odyssey we can witness the origin and evolution of values which made the Roman ideal possible. Aeneas could not have been without Odysseus, and the drama of Odysseus lies in his struggle out of chaos toward an order which we can still respect. The conflict between Aeneas and Turnus in the final books of the Aeneid epitomizes the victory of the new hero, the builder of a civilization, over the old—one might say obsolete—warrior hero with____________________