Literary analysis for Odyssey and Dante’s Inferno
Though written in two different time contexts, Odyssey by Homer and The divine comedy-Inferno by Dante Alighieri have used journey as a metaphor for maturation. Odysseus is the hero in Odyssey whereas Dante s the hero in Inferno. Odysseus struggles against all odds to get back to his home. It is not a simple journey for him having been away for twenty years; (Montiglio, 2011 pp 99). Dante faces a human struggle between good and evil. Unlike Odysseus, Dante struggles within himself. He seeks to establish the main difference between good and evil. Dante envisions on heaven and hell as well as the intermediate purgatory. This paper is an in-depth analysis of the two epics regarding use of journey as a metaphor for maturation.
In Odyssey, Odysseus is a war hero travelling home after a period of twenty years. In this epic, Odysseus is brought out as a hero with superhuman courage. In most cases, he has been shown fighting with supernatural forces. One characteristic of this journey that is different from that of Dante is that the hero in this epic fights against external forces. Odysseus faces many challenges while travelling home. To begin with, he is cast on an island. Here is surrounded by waters. This metaphoric casting indicates the situations that one encounters in the process of maturation. Some situations appear to have no immediate solution as one is surrounded by problems. Secondly, he is strongly opposed by god Poseidon and the seas. The reason for this is a past grudge he had with god Poseidon. As he approaches his home, Odysseus fights suitors who had occupied his home. He manages to reclaim his home as well as his wife Penelope. In the epic Inferno, Dante is exiled from his home due to his political beliefs. This takes him on a journey of self pursuance. Unlike Odysseus who goes on a physical journey, Dante’s journey is more or less spiritual. He makes a choice between good and evil. His heroism comes n the form of humanity. Dante’s courage does not include great physical battles. Instead, he tests his inner strength. Settings in this epic include hell in inferno, heaven and purgatory. It can thus be established that both were on different journey.
Apart from the nature of these journeys, there are other factors that differentiate the two epics in terms of maturation. In his journey Odysseus makes several speeches. He not only used his physical strength to fight but also words. This is clearly seen when he gets home and had these words for the suitors who had occupied his territory.
“You yellow dogs, you thought I would never make in home from the land of Troy. You took my home to plunder, twisted my maids to serve your beds. You dared bid for my wife while I was still alive” (Pope, 1942 pp495)
Dante on the other hand did not make any speeches in his journey. His was an internal fight. He was struggling to establish equilibrium between good and evil. He said that
“Therefore look carefully, you will see such things as would deprive my speech of all belief” (Hollander & Hollander, 2000 pp 1873)
Another difference between the two voyages is the religious believes held by the heroes. During the time of Odysseus, the world was polytheistic. People believed n many gods that had special purposes. To cite a few, there was god of the sun, god of harvest, gods of animals and so on. This ideology is strongly held in the epic Odyssey. Odysseus is aided by goddess Athena in his voyage. He is also challenged by god Poseidon as a result of a past grudge he had with him. He says that
“Only the god who laps the land in water-Poseidon bears the fighter an old grudge since he poked out the eye of Polyphemus” (Pope, 1942 pp227)
The epic inferno was written during Christian age. Dante regarded polytheistic beliefs of the past as sinful. He reflects on past figures like poet Virgil and the hero Odysseus as being hell for their non Christian ways.
Apart from the differences, there are several similarities between these two metaphoric journeys. To begin with, both men long meet a woman they loved in the past. Odysseus longed for that moment when he would join with his wife Penelope. Dante on the other hand wanted to reunite with Beatrice (his wife). Both heroes joined with their loved ones as their levels of maturation advanced. However, Dante reunited with his wife later in the divine comedy (not in Inferno).
Another similar characteristic of the two metaphoric journeys is that both heroes seek guidance from those who lived before them. Odysseus travelled underworld to ask his mother about the welfare of his wife. This is the response he received:
“Still with her child indeed she is poor heart, still in your palace hall. Forlorn, her night and days go by, her life used up in weeping” (Pope, 1942 pp351)
Dante also seeks to learn from Virgil while in hell. He teaches him about sin and resurrection. He says:
“Remember how your science which says that when a thing has more perfection, so much greater is its pain or pleasure” (Hollander & Hollander, 2000pp 1854)
In both epics, a voyage has been seen the process of maturation. The results of maturation have been defined differently in the two epics. One thing that is clear is that at the end of the journey, both heroes attained their desired levels of maturation. These were humanity for Dante and getting back home for Odysseus. Maturation is herein referred to as heroism.
Hollander, R., & Hollander, J. (2000). Inferno. New York: Doubleday.
Montiglio, S. (2011). From villain to hero Odysseus in ancient thought. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Pope, A. (1942). The Odyssey of Homer,. New York: Heritage Press.