by Aulden Foltz, Lindsey Chan, and Eric Silver
Through our Calder Classics course, we read Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey in Greek. In this book, Odysseus approaches the end of the world and opens a portal to the underworld. Through this portal, he sees and speaks with many εἴδωλα: spirits of the dead. We hear of many different figures: mournful mothers, prancing heroes, and sinners doomed to suffer for all of eternity.
But Homer’s underworld was only one interpretation of life after death. Through our course, we learned about two other perspectives as well.
Every couple of days, we had joint lectures/discussions with the Latin class in order to compare scenes between the Odyssey and Vergil’s Aeneid. We got to see how Vergil, the Romans, and the Augustan regime all contributed to Vergil’s re-working of the Homeric epic.
We also got to study the Etruscan underworld, not through an epic tale (since one does not exist, or at least has not been discovered, in the Etruscan language) but rather through their tombs. We climbed into underground passages to look at tomb reliefs and wall paintings. Just as Odysseus never truly entered the underworld, but viewed it all through a portal, we too saw glimpses of the Etruscan underworld through strange-but-familiar images of bearded snakes and ferry men.
These visits were especially interesting for us because they branched beyond the traditional Classical narrative. We got to see not only how Greek and Roman views on the underworld interacted, but also how the Etruscan narrative fit into this story: a narrative which is all too often ignored and will definitely stay in our minds as we continue on our classical journeys.