The poems ‘Divine Comedy’ and ‘The Odyssey’ have characteristics of an epic piece of literature. Epic poems have distinct features that separate them from other poems. To start with, they are lengthy and usually in a narrative style. Their themes are grand and the main characters are heroic figures. The protagonists face many challenges in the course of the poems, culminating into victory or failure. Some epics have supernatural figures or powers, while others have physical combats exemplary displayed by one or two characters.
Moreover, epics tackle the daily routine of life not just entertaining or glorifying some characters. Instead, they capture events that transpired in a given period. This paper will demonstrate that ‘Divine Comedy’ and ‘The Odyssey’ are classic epics depicting the events happening in their respective periods. It will also compare and contrast the two poems under consideration.
In ‘The Odyssey’, by Homer, Odysseus is the heroic figure, who has fought in the Trojan War and achieved victory. He struggles to get back to his homeland, Ithaca, but his journey is full of tribulations. Odysseus is constantly under the danger of attack and dodging death, giving him ample time to think about his life, in particular, the spiritual life. However, he has to go home to Ithaca and save his people. The fact that Odysseus is a hero in a mission to save his nation distinguishes the poem as an epic.
‘Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri reflects on life after death. The poet pens down his imagination of how hell would look like. It is a poem about the supernatural more than about a hero, which is the first difference between the current poem and ‘The Odyssey’. ‘Divine Comedy’ has 14, 233 lines, the number that is almost equal to ‘The Odyssey’ (Dante 43).
Dante makes himself the main character in the work that can be viewed as an aspect that distinguishes it from other epics. In spite of these differences in main characters, the two poems fit perfectly within the definition of an epic.
The beginning and setting of the two poems epitomize the writings as well. ‘The Odyssey’ starts by invoking a muse. Then, Homer follows this by extrapolating on the themes in the poem, which is a characteristic of an epic.
The setting covers a vast distance as Odysseus travels back to Ithaca across the Mediterranean Sea after the Trojan War. Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ also begins in medias res. There are three different settings in the poem: the inferno, purgatorio, and paradise. The many settings afford epic poets an opportunity to develop their themes without space constraints.
It should be outlined that a major characteristic of epics is the use of heroic figures. Odysseus is the hero in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’, who is venerated and fondly sobriquet the “Odyssey, master mariner and solder” (Homer 436). Odysseus undergoes numerous trials and tribulations but he emerges stronger each time. In the poem, the main hero and his men run into Cyclops. Facing imminent defeat, the brave leader intelligently fools Cyclops and blindfolds him.
Thus, Odysseus secures his men’s safety. In another episode, the king of Ithaca encounters Circle, the Greek goddess with powers to turn men into animals. Again, he secures the safety of his men by defeating the mighty woman. In the third encounter, visiting the underworld and meets his mother and other fallen heroes. Notably, the interaction between dead and living men is a distinct feature of epics.
‘Divine Comedy’ is different because it does not have a human hero who excels in war. Instead, the author enters into the afterlife and presents it to his audience. Thirty-five-year-old Dante makes entrance into a dark forest where he sees a light from a distance and attempts to reach it. However, a ferocious and angry lion stands on his way.
A spirit comes to rescue him but not without a price. The main character will have to go through hell, purgatory, and then get his way to heaven. Dante is ready to take the journey because of his desire to escape from a sinful world. In this poem, the author makes extensive use of supernatural beings, animals, and dead people, which can qualify the writing piece as an epic poem.
Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ extensively applies supernatural forces, an aspect of an epic. Gods and goddess appear in the poem in many instances. Some of the supernatural forces help the hero while others are viewed as a hindrance to the hero’s progress. Poseidon hinders Odysseus’ progress by putting him through Calypso, a very dangerous island. Goddess Circle opposes Oedipus’ trespass and threatens to kill his men.
However, other gods and goddess facilitate Oedipus’ journey back to Ithaca. Athena, for instance, helps Oedipus escape from goddess Circle in Calypso. Hermes too facilitates Oedipus’ sojourn by offering protection against Calypso. As mentioned earlier, the use of superpowers is one characteristic of epics. Calypso, Hermes, Poseidon, and Circle elevate Homer’s poem epic stature.
Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ uses supernatural powers and unreal settings extensively. As mentioned before, Dante makes his poem unique by presenting himself as the main character. In his epic, he narrates his afterlife in hell and finally the journey to heaven. He also describes Virgil as the other main character in his poem, who was a Roman poet widely acclaimed for his Christian ways and moral rectitude. Capturing war escapades of the man who founded Rome, Virgil redeems Dante by offering him the way to heaven.
The other deceased character in Dante’s poem is Beatrice, the author’s first love, who guides him in heaven. There are other mythological personages and creatures in the poem, including Arachne and Harpies, supernatural figures like demons, angels, and the devil. Just like in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’, the use of mythological and supernatural figures enhances the poem’s epic nature.
One should bear in mind that the epic poems do not merely entertain or detail lives of heroes for their own sake. Instead, they pass across a message that resonates with what was happening at the particular period. Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ captures the materialism and moral decadence that plagued his society. The poem employs deep allegory to depict the consequences of sin. Thus, it begins on the eve of Good Friday with the setting in the thick of dark woodland.
On the opposite side, allure of the sun beckons but a ferocious lion stands on the way. It could be considered that the dark forest symbolizes sin. The sun, however, represents salvation. The lion embodies all the things that hold human beings back from heaven. By timing his death on a Good Friday, Dante captures how Jesus died to save humanity. He argues that peoples’ greed and self-seeking pursuit set them apart from God.
Homer’s ‘ The Odyssey’ captures Odysseus’ trials and challenges as he attempts to get back to his people. The theme of homecoming runs through the poem. Temptation as a theme is also recurrent. Thus, Odysseus resists numerous temptations as he makes his way to Ithaca.
However, some of his solders suffer psychological peril because of falling into temptations. At a symbolic level, the poem shows how weakness makes human beings vulnerable. Identity and exile also run through the poem where Odysseus is in a foreign country to fight for his homeland. After winning the war, he has to go through hostile land to his people back at home that also need him. At a symbolic level, this journey represents human pursuit of identity.
In conclusion, the paper has extrapolated some characteristics of epics that are genres of long poetry, often classical. They are narratives with the elevated themes usually focusing on success and failures of heroes. Additionally, they may have supernatural characters that interact with mortals.
The poems ‘Divine Comedy’ by Dante and Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ are epics. They start in medias res and invoke a muse in the beginning. Homer’s poem concentrates on extraordinary acts of king of Ithaca who is returning home after a successful war in a foreign land.
Throughout his journey, he encounters stiff resistance from some gods and goddess but manages to arrive home at the end. Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ focuses on afterlife where the author imagines the life after death and commits himself to investigate it for the audience. His poem is a protestation against materialism and decadence that rocked his society. The two poems fit perfectly within the characteristics of an epic.
Dante, Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. London: Laurence King, 2010. Print.
Homer. The Odyssey. London: Penguin Classics, 2009. Print.