Throughout time, authors have always utilized the works of others
to make their stories great. Virgil was no exception. In Book Nine of The
Aeneid, Virgil draws from Homer’s Iliad to construct a uniquely Roman
epic using Greek culture as a base.
One main connection that can be seen to the Iliad is that of
characterization. Nisus and Euryalus are analogous to Achilles and
Patroklos of the Iliad. Equal to Achilles and Patroklos in sentiment, they
are portrayed as having an inseparable bond with each other. Euryalus
was “renowned for handsomeness and for his fresh youth, Nisus for his
honest love of the boy” (5. 389-391).
The adventure of Nisus and Euryalus begins with a hunt for glory.
This seems to be similar to the case of Diomedes and Odysseus in the Iliad,
with one exception. The search for glory leads to the deaths of Nisus and
Euryalus, but Virgil’s description of the tragedy is very anti-Homeric in
style:

So was he pleading when
the sword, thrust home with force, pierced through the ribs
and broke the white breast of Euryalus.
He tumbles into death, the blood flows down
his handsome limbs; his neck, collapsing, leans
against his shoulder: even as purple
flower, severed by the plow, falls slack in death;
or poppies as, with weary necks, they bow
their heads when weighted down by sudden rain. (9. 573-581)

Although this deep, emotional depiction is not in the same fashion as
Homer’s, the similes used here by Virgil are very much like those of

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Homer. The flower simile is modeled after the scene of Euphorbus’ death
in the Iliad (Iliad. 17. 50-60) and the poppy simile is parallel to the death
of Gorgythion (Iliad. 8. 300-308).
Despite the kindred similes, the descriptions are used in very
different ways. Homer had used them to bring out the heroic nature of the
characters he described. Virgil, though, applied the similes to the horrible
death of Euryalus.
I believe that Virgil might have done this to evoke sympathy in the
reader for Euryalus. He was being shown as heroic, but not invincible.
The flowers and poppies symbolize his vulnerability, despite heroism.
After Euryalus’ death, Nisus is once again like the character of
Achilles. He seems to be grieving much like Achilles did after Patroklos
died. This is evident through his great grief and despair after Euryalus has
died.
Everything about the relationship of Nisus and Euryalus seems to fit
into the rapport of Achilles and Patroklos. Then, Virgil includes a
contradiction to the theme, such as the death of Nisus. His death is unlike
any found in either the Iliad or the Aeneid. He dies alone as he “cast
himself upon his lifeless friend, there, at last, he found his rest in death”
(9. 590-591).
Again, Virgil sets the Aeneid apart from the Iliad by emphasizing on
the loyalty of Nisus to Euryalus. While attempting to protect Euryalus,
Nisus gives himself up in a noble, not necessarily heroic, act of allegiance.
Here, Virgil redefines the meaning of a hero by showing that it is an act of
courage, responsibility, and sacrifice.
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The Aeneid is a truly Roman creation as Nisus and Euryalus are
praised for attaining beautiful, glorious deaths while exemplifying
devotion and fidelity. The inclusion of such Roman values sets this
stunning epic apart from the Greek sagas that preceded it.
I feel that the embrace of Nisus and Euryalus is akin to the stability
of the Roman empire. While magnificent and beautiful in appearance,
both situations assimilate from pain and suffering. The beauty is fleeting
because order and balance are difficult to control in a setting of change and
violence.
In Book Nine alone, Virgil has used and improved on many Iliadic
qualities to make a raw new Roman epic. Through the story of Nisus and
Euryalus he brings readers to terms with mortality, but teaches Roman
values as well. This portion of the Aeneid is a fussion of the Iliad and
Virgil’s views on Roman morals. Nisus and Euryalus are examples to all
that people, empires, and things of beauty do not last in a world of
violence and destruction.









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