"As If I Were Some Dishonored Vagabond": Exile and Identity in Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid

Home requires more than just a physical place in order for a people to thrive. In Homer's Iliad, home means belonging, comfort, and the recognition of honorable behavior. Homecoming for the Achaians is a reward for a glorious victory over the Trojans. Since victory would be winning back the stolen Helen, Homer personifies home as a Greek woman. The Achaians have a home, though; they have just been temporarily displaced due to military travel. In contrast, in Virgil's Aeneid, Troy has been completely destroyed by war. Home means settling down, which brings patriotism and national history. The Fates have predetermined the new Trojan homeland, unrelated to their sentiment. In both epics, home is intangible and not limited to a geographical place, though location does play a part in imagining homeland.

The conceptual construction of a homeland has the power to shape a people's sense of self. The journeys in Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid trigger nostalgia, with visual and verbal arts used by the characters as an outlet. Through characters' reflections on artwork and through storytelling, homeland becomes a shared national memory. That memory endures and cannot be obliterated, though it can be manipulated to enhance the imagination of home. In addition, the shared struggle of being displaced or a refugee alters identity. Feeling foreign accentuates discomfort, creating a need to fit in a culture as well as to find land. Homeland allays conflict by unifying those who are lost. Though place anchors identity, Homer and Virgil prove that the imagined elements of homeland strengthen and shape identity and belonging while in exile.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12.11.15

    "...Home is intangible and not limited to a geographical place, though location does play a part in imagining homeland."

    The Polish national anthem begins with a response to a rhetorical statement, that "Poland no longer exists."

    "It still exists as long as we are alive."

    It could be assumed that this would've been written at some point after 1945, but it was written a century and a half earlier, when that nation fell off the map for 123 years, and the fear of dissolving among partitioned melting pots seemed likely.

    During the post-1945 years, what did those resisting the loss of their homeland say? Those paradoxically living on "their" homeland, just in such a way that it was not home? An answer to a rhetorical question, "What do you want?"

    "Zeby Polska byla Polska."

    "That Poland felt like Poland."

    The power of songs, with the important lyrics rushed to the first line or to the chorus, providing the easy to remember responses to a people burdened everyday with rational pessimism, yet somehow it all worked out.

    Even now, I presume it implausible that Poland could not be Poland, a few decades after it wasn't, most likely because of the first line of the national anthem.