The first section of Dante Alighieri’s poetry is the Inferno, a divine comedy that chronicles Dante’s path to God (Barolini 35). It is divided into three sections: the inferno (Hell), the Purgatorio (Purgatory), and the Paradiso (Paradise). The poem starts in the year 1300, on Good Friday evening. Dante is riding through a dark wood when he finds his way and begins fearfully walking through the trees. He finds the sun shining on a peak above him and tries to reach it by scaling the mountain, but his route is blocked by a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. He feels helpless and returns to the dark wood where he encounters the great Roman Poet. The Roman poet has come to guide him back to the top of the mountain.
Vigil explains to Dante that the path of the mountain will take them through Hell, but they will eventually get to heaven where Beatrice awaits for Dante. At the gates of Hell, there is an inscription that asks the people who go through there to abandon all their hope. They go through the Ante-inferno which is the place where souls that did not commit to either good or evil are daily running after a blank banner. Throughout their journey through Hell, Dante sees many things including River Acheron which is the real border of Hell. He goes from one circle to another until he sees the three-headed giant Lucifer. Lucifer is chewing on three greatest sinners in history who include Judas, the man who betrayed Christ and the betrayers of Julius Caesar. In the end, the two poets reach the river of forgetfulness, Lethe and they travel back to earth. They emerge from Hell on the morning of Easter just before sunrise. Although some people may seek to limit the depiction of Hell as given by Dante, claiming that it only expresses the religious beliefs of his time, this paper will prove that his analogies fit into both ancient and contemporary religious views. It will look at some beliefs about the afterlife, punishments, and beliefs that are brought out in the poem by Dante.
The Figure of Hell
Christian Belief as Defined by Dante’s Vision of Hell
In Dante’s vision, he begins by losing his way through the woods. The ghost of Vigil explains to him that they will go through hell on their way to heaven where Dante’s beloved was waiting amongst two other holy women. The description shows that Dante had a Christian belief that only the holy people go to heaven. Moreover, throughout his journey in hell, he identifies that all circles are meant for individuals who did some wrong doings that are described by Christian beliefs. For example, when he goes to the peripheral region of hell, he says that people who had not committed to either good or evil in their lives were running in vain all day. The description given by Dante here suits that of Christian beliefs that the lukewarm people who are neither hot nor cold will not see heaven (Gillon and Dorlodot 63). When Dante goes to the second circle, he says that he saw the souls of the lustful people in a terrible storm. He even spoke to Francesca who explained to him about their illicit relationship with her husband’s brother that made them land in hell. Dante again gives illustrations of people who committed mistakes that are described as sin in the Christian faith and how they ended up in hell.
The Purpose of Hell for Dante
The purpose of Dante’s journey to hell was to give a catalog of the evil that dominates and defines the inferno. He uses the passage to describe many themes such as divine retribution and justice. During the whole journey, he has given unrelenting descriptions and categorizations of different sins and how they are punished afterlife. The journey has helped Dante to categorize various sins and realize the extent to which each one of them is punishable. For instance, he says that when he got to the ninth circle where Lucifer was, he saw in the mouths of the devil the greatest sinners of history being chewed (Forman 54). They were all people who committed fraud. He says that this is the greatest of all mistakes as it opposes love to a very high degree.
Influence of the Historical Context
Dante was writing the poem during a time of great change in his native homeland, Florence and Italian Peninsula as a whole (Reynolds 87). The city was growing tremendously in all areas especially those relating to commerce and politics. The major reforms constituted rights to hold public offices, participation in government and discrimination of the black people by the whites. Dante held power in very significant public offices at the time he was writing this poem. During most of his tenures, there was political unrest in Italy, and he was exiled for life by the leaders of the Black Guelph’s. It was a political faction in power furring his time.
Therefore, he wrote this poem when he was in exile when he was roaming from one court to another in Italy. Therefore, his description of hell and the events he saw there could have been influenced by the trauma and hurt he suffered during his period of exile (Reynolds 98). He was trying to relate what the turmoil was making him go through in the vision described in the poem. For instance, the Black Guelph’s betrayed him, and this must have hurt him so much. In his view he says that the greatest sinners or history were the betrayers of Christ and Caesar. He is trying to relate his betrayal to that of major characters before him. Clearly, the events of his time influenced the way he described events.
Hell as Illustrated in Other Religions
All other religions believe that there will be a distinction in reward between the holy and those who are not. Islam considers that the righteous people end up in heaven which is a place full of the love of God and is represented by physical delights. They also believe that hell will be a means of punishing unholy people after death with torment and boiling fire. It is similar to the Christian belief even as demonstrated by Dante.
However, Hinduism believes in reincarnation as a form of punishment. The people who live well by getting the proper karma, right knowledge are supposed to join the essential, unchanging nature of the universe. The ones who live unholy lives will reincarnate. It is different from Christian beliefs which talk about hell and heaven as the only means of punishment.
Hell is described in the Bible as a lake of fire. People will be judged according to how they lived their lives and then given their rewards. Those who will have committed sin will be thrown into hell which is described as a place of torment and eternal suffering. Therefore, this belief matches that of Daunte. He relates hell to a place of torment even as he describes the different categories of people he came across. His beliefs that those who are righteous will end up in heaven just like Beatrice. Therefore, the idea by Dante fits perfectly into both the contemporary and ancient beliefs of the afterlife.
In conclusion, it is important to agree that the beliefs expressed by Dante about hell are relevant for both his time and the contemporary society. Dante was only using the events he was going through to relate to the rewards of the afterlife. The period of exile where he moved from one court to another felt as though it were a time of judgment for him.
It is ten years since the fall of Troy and Odysseus who is the Greek hero has not yet gone back to his kingdom in Ithaca. Many rowdy suitors are seeking to court Penelope, his wife and they have pillaged Odysseus’s land. However, Penelope remains faithful to Odysseus, and although their son Prince Telemachus wants to throw these suitors out of their land, he doesn’t have any confidence or experience to fight them. Antinous who is one of the suitors plans on how he is going to assassinate the prince and eliminate the only opposition he has to acquire the palace.
On the other hand, Odysseus is still alive, and he longs for his family although he is imprisoned by Calypso who has an intense love for him. He wants to go back to his palace although he doesn’t have any means of transport. The gods are discussing his future and Athena, who is his strongest supporter uses Telemachus to help rescue Odysseus. Hermes finally rescues him. On the way, he faces many challenges such as a storm trying to wreck his ship. When he arrives at the palace, he is disguised as a beggar. The suitors insult him and only Eurycleia and Penelope recognize him. Penelope organizes an archery contest because she knows that only her husband can conquer.
On the day of the context he successfully fires an arrow through all twelve axes. He is also able to kill all the suitors with the help of his son and a few faithful servants. The figure of the hero and the way it is expressed in various literary works of different times intrigue me. The way that the hero is brought out in the poem Odysseus, Perceval and Don Quixote will be my basis of analysis. I will compare all these figures and relate them to the contemporary definition of a hero.
The Figure of a Hero
Qualities of Each Hero
Odysseus has very distinct character traits that bring out his position as a hero. He is full of strength, nobility, and thirst for glory, confidence, and courage. He is also very intellectual, and it is his quick thinking that has helped him out of very tight situations (Helms 43). For instance, when he escapes the cave of the Cyclops. Don Quixote, on the other hand, is driven more by the need for honor and glory to engage in an adventure. He has set it on himself to ensure that the world achieves purpose and beauty because he feels that they are the two dominant traits that are lacking.
He can remain true to his beliefs of right and wrong until he gets a sanity inducing illness (Greimas and Korostenskiene 172). He ends up retiring in honor, holding his vows and accepting the retirement as a part of the terms of defeat in the hands of the Knight of the White Moon. He is seen as an intelligent character throughout the book. However, he falls victim of his foolishness at times as is seen when he feigns madness.
Perceval is seen as a hero of the Arthurian romance. He has a character that is childlike and innocent, and it protects him from worldly temptations (Tan 130). It eventually sets him apart from other knights in Arthur’s fellowship. At the end of the book, he can find out the true meaning of chivalry and how it is intimately connected to the teachings of the church. Sir Galahad describes Perceval as a grail hero who played an important part in the quest.
Culture and Conception of the Hero.
All the three heroes can reflect the values in their culture in their legendary personality. They are also able to maintain what is valued by their culture in all their traditional lifestyles. The story of the hero Odysseus is brought out in the culture of the Ancient Greeks (Helms 78). They valued physical strength and intelligence. Odysseus can reflect and maintain all these values throughout the book. For instance, when he disguises himself as a beggar and later conquest all the suitors who had earlier insulted him, he shows both strength and a sharp wit.
On the other hand, in the story of Perceval, he is seen as an old hero who existed in the chivalric age (Tan 140). At that time, there was a strict code of honor and behavior in service to the king and Perceval was able to maintain all of it, his youthfulness which made him appear childlike and innocent, assisted him when learning the code of conduct and as a result, he became a heroic knight. He is another hero who upheld the values of his culture. During the Renaissance period, the culture supported learning and wit (Greimas and Korostenskiene 173). Don Quixote was crowned a hero at that time because he was able to demonstrate these values. He reflected the heroes who lived before him and even showed their qualities in an exemplary way. His adventures were an indication that chivalry and all other outmoded sets of values have the ability to produce either good or bad result. A hero should be in a position to drive success just like Don Quixote.
Development of Traits and the Heroes over Time
All the heroes can retain their values throughout their stories. They have a need to make the people of their culture proud of them, and they do not waiver even in the face of challenges. However, although Don Quixote feigns madness in some instances, he is still regarded as a hero. He is seen to be so wise that he fell victim of his intelligence. Therefore, the character of each hero operates well in every book.
Hero of the Contemporary Literature
In contemporary literature, a hero is seen as an individual who can be admired for noble qualities or outstanding achievements. Some of the most common examples of modern literary works include people who fought for freedom in their countries, those who contributed exceedingly to the welfare of the human race and so on. They include people such as Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi amongst others. They are individuals who just like the ones described in the analyzed literal works lived honorable lives that demonstrated and maintained the values of their culture.
In conclusion, it is clear that all the three individuals have brought out the figure of a hero as it appears in different cultures and times. The kind of person they draw can also be adequately compared with the heroes in the modern day. They have all maintained and demonstrated the values held in their societies at particular times, and that matches the current definition of a hero.
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Greimas, Algirdas and Julija Korostenskiene. “Cervantes and His Don Quixote.” Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 36.1 (2016): 171-179. Web.
Helms, Mary. Ulysses’ Sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Power, Knowledge and Geographical Distance. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Web.
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Tan, George Sylvester. “Perceval’s Unknown Sin: Narrative Theology in Chretien’s Story of the Grail.” Arthuriana (2014): 129-157. Web.