One of the themes of The Aeneid is the danger of the temptation of the false homecoming. Aeneas is marked by destiny and called by the gods to found Rome, described in messianic terms. It will be heaven on earth. The plot of the epic is driven by Aeneas’ attempt to make it to this Promised Land, but along the way he is diverted by counterfeit homes.
Everywhere he stops, there is the temptation to make this place home—to stop here and make a life here, instead of pushing on to the true home. That is the real temptation of Dido. She offers him a kingdom and a kingship, but it’s the wrong one; it’s a counterfeit home. He realizes this and abandons Dido and moves on to the true home.
As I’ve been working on my syllabus for my Modern Great Books class, I’ve noticed this same idea. The books of the modern period are marked by the themes of alienation, isolation, and fragmentation. Man has been expelled from the Garden. He has lost his home. As a result, he feels alone and deeply isolated—from God and from man.
Modern literature—for all its bleakness and despair—can be understood as a variety of attempts to return to home. But, the homes offered are generally false homecomings, thus the bleakness and despair.
Every longing that man has is really a longing for the return to home. Modern literature demonstrates a desire to satisfy those longings through pleasure, or science, or government. And because those are all false homes, the longings are not satisfied and ironically drive us further from the true home and further into despair. It’s a vicious cycle.
In contrast to this, modern Christian authors like Flannery O’Connor and CS Lewis write stories about homecomings too. But their writings point us to the true home, the one that can only be reached through Grace.
That’s why readers connect so deeply to the books of Tolkien, for example. Because in his books, the picture he offers of true home so deeply satisfies the longings of the modern fragmented heart.