The conflicting will of the gods in the direction of Odysseus’ fate are clear in the opposing actions of Zeus and his remittance of Hermes to tell Calypso to let Odysseus go. However, just as the positive effects of this divine intervention are realized and Odysseus is able to build his boat, another god, Poisedon collects powerful winds which obliterate the boat Odysseus built and send him reeling off to another distant land where he is, for a time, free from any divine vengeance. Zeus recognizes the cause for Poisedon’s fury with Odysseus and notes that even though he himself wishes to aid Odysseus, “it’s the Earth-Shaker, Poseidon, unappeased, / forever fuming against him [Odysseus] for the Cyclops / whose giant eye he blinded" (Homer I.81-83). While the volatile nature of the gods as they direct the fate of Odysseus is clear, this is an important moment to recall Zeus’ statement about how humans so often blame the gods when they themselves are the conductors of their fate through their actions (Homer I.37-40). Unlike in Virgil’s epic, fate is not a matter of some lofty divine prophesy, but is rather in the hands of the mortal who is attempting to fulfill his or her own destiny. Despite this difference, there is a similarity in the way the gods are at odds with one another rather than acting in union to enact an agreed-upon course of destiny. For instance, “baleful Juno in her sleepless rage" (Virgil I.6) is at constant odds with her fellow gods, most of whom act with their own best interest at heart, such as Venus. While these gods tend to have some genuine concern for the mortal enactors of their desires, in many ways, they alter the fates (or at least attempt to) for their own purposes rather in direct interest for the well-being of the human recipient of their action.

In Homer’s Odyssey, there is the statement made by Zeus that was mentioned previously that summarizes rather neatly the relationship between mortal fate and the intervention and reactionary nature of the gods and goddesses. Interestingly, there is a less descriptive, although equally revealing statement made to parallel this yet demonstrate a difference in Virgil’s Aeneid. As Aeneas speaks with the seer—which is an opportunity to directly communicate with destiny and fate that Odysseus is never offered as he is more capable of creating his own destiny, he learns how the gods operate. The seer tells him in two neat lines, “The Lord God deals out destiny so / And turns the wheel of change; so turns the world" (Virgil III.512-513). Unlike in Homer’s epic where the gods are more reactionary to the world of mortals and there is more of an equal balance between human action and divine interaction, this statement by the seer suggests that fate is in the hands of a supreme force that continues pulling the strings regardless of what is happening among mortals or the meddling of lesser gods and goddesses. The differences between these two perspectives goes beyond merely revealing differences in the ways the gods and humans interact and how destiny plays out in that interaction; it demonstrates the fundamental driver of the plot of both. Homer’s hero, Odysseus is a man of might and resource; he creates his own destiny and interactions with the gods in a reactionary sense. Aeneas, however, is powerless in his destiny and spins in time with the “wheel of change" that spins and turns, regardless of desire, intent, or lesser gods’ interventions.

Unlike in Homer’s Odyssey where the role of the gods in fate is present but not essential in determining a predefined destiny, much of the plot of Virgil’s epic is driven forward by fate as a unstoppable force. This force of destiny and fate is actually more powerful than the gods themselves in many ways and certainly triumphs over their desire to halt fate. The concepts of fatalism and destiny in Virgil’s epic influence every major part of the story, not simply its outcome. Despite all of Juno’s efforts to prevent the founding of the destined city and the other machinations of the gods and goddesses who all have conflicting motivations and desires, fate prevails and Rome is founded according to a predetermined plan. In the work of Homer, however, humans experience both setbacks and divine aid from the gods and goddesses, depending on the alliances they have forged (rather than the more impersonal form of fate, destiny, which is protected for its own sake, rather than out of the gods’ personal like of Aeneas—who is a rather flawed character). When Odysseus relates his grand struggles with fate in the form of reactionary divine forces, he is essentially detailing a struggle between god strength versus mortal might. When Aeneas relates his story, he is helpless and is adrift in a sea that has already chartered an unalterable course for him. “All the divine speech from the shrines agreed / I must find Italy, must pioneer" (Virgil III.496-497) and go forth he did as unlike Homer, he had no other way.

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References

Homer, (Robert Fagles, translator) (2006). The Odyssey.New York: Penguin Classics.

Virgil (Robert Fitzgerald translator) (2002), The Aeneid, New York: Penguin Classics.