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Abstract

This paper offers a comparative analysis of the bee similes in Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid to demonstrate that there are significant thematic connections between the similes in the two epics. In both works, bee similes illustrate the structure of the ideal society, as a close reading of each simile reveals. This paper demonstrates that both Homeric and Virgilian bee similes focus on the concept of community. In the Iliad, Homer’s first extended simile compares the Greek forces to a colony of bees. This prominent placement foreshadows the significance of bee similes in the Homeric epic. As a Greek poet, Homer demonstrates that his understanding of community has been influenced by the social structure of the individualistic Greek city-states. In the Iliad, his bee similes exemplify a tension between unity and self-interest within the Greek camp. Homer’s bee similes emphasize the need for mutual interest and cooperation, lest the Greek forces disintegrate. For Homer, the ideal community is not homogeneous, but it is unified. Unlike Homer’s similes, Virgil’s three bee similes exalt homogeneity as a central characteristic of the ideal society. Individuality is erased in the bee similes of the Aeneid. The wellbeing of the hive transcends the purpose of the individual. This paper examines these similes as a unit to provide a unique perspective on the two poets’ worldviews, thus contributing to the analysis of the relationship between the epics. Clearly, Virgil is well aware of the Homeric epics, and intentionally provides further commentary on the ideal society through his bee similes. When compared with each other, Homer’s and Virgil’s similes artfully depict two divergent portraits of the ideal society.

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