What aspects of and influence from the genres of epic, tragedy, and comedy does Virgil’s Aeneid display? How does this make his epic different from that of Homer’s Odyssey?

Unlike The Odyssey, which is an epic comedy, the Aeneid features aspects of and influences from epics, comedies, and tragedies, making the classification of Virgil's poem harder to define.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Aeneid is doubtlessly an epic. Epics usually feature a hero who ventures from home to embark on a journey or quest. In Virgil's poem, Aeneas is forced onto this journey when Troy is destroyed. He must find a new home for his people, which will turn out to be Rome. In this sense, the Aeneid is similar to The Odyssey, which is also an epic. The main difference between the two is that Odysseus is trying to return home, while Aeneas wants to find a new home for himself and his people.

In terms of tragedy, while the Aeneid itself is not a tragedy, it does feature tragic fates for some of its characters. Queen Dido of Carthage is one such character. After a passionate love affair with Aeneas, Dido is heartbroken when he breaks off the relationship to continue his quest. She ends up killing herself, destroyed by her tragic flaw: an overabundance of passion. The Odyssey does not feature similar tragic elements.

Finally, when it comes to comedy, the Aeneid could only be considered a comedy in the broadest sense. For the most part, the story lacks humor. The Odyssey does have comic moments and even a humorous protagonist in the wily, cunning Odysseus. However, the Aeneid is only a comedy in that it has a happy ending. Scholar Christine Perkell states in an essay that because from the beginning of the poem, "the poet's anticipation of the hero's triumph marks the Aeneid formally as a comedy," it could technically be considered as such. Comedies tend to take an unhappy situation, such as the forced separation between two lovers, and show how the bad situation is made right in the end, usually culminating in a wedding. Such a transformation happens in the Aeneid. Aeneas goes from a nationless wanderer to the founder of Rome.

As a result, the Aeneid has a more ambiguous genre placement than The Odyssey. The Odyssey could be considered an epic comedy, but because the Aeneid has both tragic and comic elements, its genre is harder to place beyond its being an epic.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team