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Davis Briscoe
Mr. Van Wyk
Advanced Comp
28 September 2016
The Underworld
Although both the Greek and the Roman afterlives appear to have similarities, there are
also fundamental differences between the two spiritual journeys into their respective
underworlds. Both afterlives can be compared by analyzing the geography of the underworlds,
the arrival to the underworlds, their punishments and rewards, the state of the souls in the
afterlife.
Although both the Greek and Romans underworlds use bodies of water as a means to
reach their destination, each have unique characteristics that define the location of the
underworld itself. When Homer writes, So she came to the deep flowing Ocean that surrounds the
earth, and the city and country of the Cimmerians, wrapped in cloud and mist, the text is clearly

showing that water is used in transportation to the underworld (XI.1-50). Similarly this same
feature can be seen when Virgil writes, From here there is a road that leads to the waters of Tartarean
Acheron.A grim ferryman watches over the rivers and stream (296-298). In the text, the ferryman is
the person who transports people from life to the afterlife via the river, which is similar to the way it is
also reached in the Odyssey. A difference in geography can be seen when one looks at the location of the
underworlds themselves. In the Odyssey, the text states, The bright sun never shines down on them with
his rays neither by climbing the starry heavens nor turning back again towards earth, but instead dreadful
Night looms over a wretched people (Homer XI.1-50). This quote displays how the underworld is

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deeply hidden beneath the Earth by showing how the Sun cannot even reach the underworld. In
contrast, the Aeneids underworld is very distant, versus being deep in the Earth. This can be
seen when Virgil writes, Here thick with mud a whirlpool seethes in the vast depths, and spews all its
sands into Cocytus (296-297). In this part of the story, they are sailing to get to the underworld, versus
the Greek underworld that is beneath the surface of Earth.
The characteristic that sets the two apart from each other is how their human life affected their
life in the underworld. In Greek culture, no matter how you lived your earthly life, your place in the
underworld is unchanging, unless you were heroic or did wrong to a god. An example of this can be seen
when Homer writes, Then the ghosts of the dead swarmed out of Erebus brides, and young men yet
unwed, old men worn out with toil, girls once vibrant and still new to grief, and ranks of warriors slain in
battle, showing their wounds from bronze-tipped spears, their armor stained with blood (XI.1-50). This

quote does an excellent job of showing how different types of people have the same experience
in the afterlife. In contrast, The Romans believed in different areas of the underworld defined by
the actions of their human life. This separation of people into different versions of the afterlife
can be seen when Virgil writes, With the guard unconscious Aeneas won to the entrance, and
quickly escaped the bank of the river of no returnNearby are those condemned to die on false
chargesThen the next place is held by those gloomy spirits who, innocent of crime, died by
their own hand, and, hating the light, threw way their lives (424-436). In this comparison you
can see how each culture valued an individuals actions in human life by looking at the afterlife.
As previously mentioned, the Greeks believed that your actions in your human life did
not determine your afterlife unless you benefited or did wrong to a god. In the text, an example is
given of what happens when this occurs when Homer writes:

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I saw Tityos, son of glorious Gaea, spread out over a hundred yards of ground, while a
vulture sat on either side tearing his liver, plucking at his entrails, his hands powerless to
beat them away. He is punished for his rape of Leto, Zeus honoured consort, as she
journeyed to Pytho through lovely Panopeus. (XI.540-492)
Tityos received higher punishment for raping Zeus mistress instead of having the same treatment as the
average person. Unlike the Greek afterlife, the Aeneid clearly shows that the Romans believe in an
afterlife where your earthly actions and treatments of others determine what part of the underworld one
goes to. This is shown when Virgil writes, So they are scourged by torments, and pay the price for
former sins: some are hungthe taint of wickedness is cleansed for others in vast gulfs, or burned away
with fire: each spirit suffers its ownand we few stay in the joyous fieldsand the brightness of natural
air (739-747). The Greek and Roman cultures had different views on the importance of life and how it
affected the afterlife, with the Greek view seeming especially futile.
The underworld is a very important part of Greek and Roman culture, and even though there are
some similarities in their views on the afterlife, there are also differences that define the two cultures.
Both the Aeneid and the Odyssey have underworlds that place an emphasis on water as a way to reach the
underworld, however, the locations of the underworlds seem to differ. Also, a fundamental difference is
how a persons earthly life affects their situation in the afterlife, which is laid out clearly in both of these
classical texts. Regardless of the contrasts, there is no denying that the underworld is held in a position of
great importance in both of these cultures.