There is a number of extremely great literary works written hundreds or thousands of years ago but are still famous for their plot, style, or other unique characteristics. Many writers use these works of art or their elements to make their own poems and novels better. One such literary work is a Latin epic poem Aeneid created by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC. In 1747, a poet Thomas Gray was supposedly inspired by the Aeneid and borrowed some of its elements while writing his “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes.”
The Elements Gray Borrows from the Aeneid
Probably the main element borrowed by Gray is an indication of women’s irrational love for gold. In the Aeneid, during a battle, Camilla chases Chloreus because he is the enemy, but at the same time, she is said to have noticed his golden armor. Therefore, “Fond and ambitious of so rich a prize,” “Blind in her haste, she chases him alone,” and this ambitious action leads her to death (Virgil 383). In the “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat,” the cat, Selima, is also a female, and she notices “two angel forms” in a vase (Gray, line 14). They are two goldfish, and Selima sees that “their scaly armour’s Tyrian hue / Through richest purple to the view / Betrayed a golden gleam” (Gray, lines 16-18). Attracted by the glitter of gold, she tries to catch fish but drowns in the vase. Consequently, in both literary works, females die because of their blind love for gold. Additionally, Gray also borrows the heroic and pompous style of the Aeneid, turning a simple poem about a cat into an ode.
The Way Gray Diverges from the Aeneid
Despite the similarities, the ode and the epic poem have many differences, some of which have specific purposes. To begin with, Camilla from the Aeneid dies during a battle, and her attraction to gold is unlikely realistic: she had a more serious purpose when following her enemy (Virgil 383). In the ode by Gray, the cat’s attraction to the goldfish is explained by both the nature of cats and the nature of women, and this is the main comical feature of the poem. The reason for making the piece humorous is probably in the author’s desire to simultaneously entertain the readers, challenge the main features of the ode as a literary genre, and add a serious conclusion at the end of the poem.
Gray’s Treatment of Death
At first, it may seem that Gray’s treatment of death in his poem is entirely comical. Indeed, the author chooses rather humorous words and phrases when describing Selima drowning and trying to escape the vase: “Eight times emerging from the flood / She mewed to every watery god, / Some speedy aid to send” (Gray, lines 31-33). It is unlikely that readers feel sorry for the cat when reading these ironically funny lines. At the same time, Gray also adds serious elements. For example, the fact that no one saves Selima is not only comic but tragic as well. Additionally, the author adds that one false step or one mistake may lead to awful irreversible consequences (Gray, line 38). Consequently, though the poem itself is ironic and comical, it also has serious implications.
To draw a conclusion, one may say that the “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat” by Thomas Gray indeed has some elements borrowed from the Aeneid. Both poets use the same heroic and pompous style, but Gray also adds irony and comical notes. While the readers of the Aeneid sympathize with the deceased heroine, it is much more difficult for them to sympathize with the drowned cat.
Gray, Thomas. “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes.” Poetry Foundation, 1747, Web.
Virgil. Virgil’s Aeneid. Collier Books, 1909.