The Divine Comedy by Dante, Confessions by St. Augustine and the Aeneid by Virgil are three different works of literature, written in different times and exploring different topics. However, there is something that unites them. What can be common between these three works? In this paper, I am going to compare and contrast the works by Dante Alighieri The Divine Comedy (chapters Purgatorio and Paradiso) and The Confessions by St. Augustine concerning the issues of the “spiritual journeys” and the role of Virgil in both works.
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Before analyzing the works by Dante and St. Augustine, few words should be said about Virgil and his famous Aeneid. The most important reason for this is that both authors (Dante and St. Augustine) referred to this work in their stories. So, Virgil is a famous Roman poet that wrote an immortal story of Aeneas wonderings.
It is one of the most prominent writings of the Roman period and it is an innovative interpretation of the Iliad and the Odyssey, “the essence of both the Iliad and Odyssey has been poured into a new mold” (Lancel and Nevill 12). Thus, we can find the subjects of the tree works (Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid) in the Divine Comedy and the Concessions. But why Dante and St. Augustine, who were Christians, chose Virgil and his work as a basis for their writings?
First of all, Virgil’s work has a deep context of human’s fate and life journey. Among all epic heroes, he is the most progressive in terms of his “responsibility, social consciousness and serious moral purpose” (Lancel and Nevill 9). Second, “Virgil lived and died in a most significant period in the History of Rome, one rendered peculiar important to Christianity, because about then Christianity has its origin” (Ó’Meara 32). Finally, Virgil was a prominent historical figure and both authors respected his wisdom and achievements.
As it has already been mention, Dante and St. Augustine allude to Virgil and his Aeneid. Dante mentions Virgil only as his guide and Virgil compares his life journey with the journey of Aeneas. But the first thing that unites, and at the same time differentiates, those works is the biographical account of these stories. The common thing is that both of the works are religious poems that are aimed at discussing the way of a person to salvation, his sins and virtues.
The divine comedy is a spiritual journey of Dante to God through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. It may seem that the only biographical moment in the Divine Comedy is the name of the author. However, Dante meets people he knew in Purgatio and Paradiso, moreover, describing sins and stories of different people in those chapters, he describes the Italian society in which he lived. Dante’s journey is imaginative, in other words, it was created by the author’s imagination and never happened in the real life.
Comparing St. Augustine’s Concessions to the Divine Comedy, we can say that there are some common things. First of all, it is also a spiritual journey of a person to God and salvation. Second, the main character is the author and he tries to resist sins that he meets on his way. However, as opposed to the Dante’s “imaginative” journey, St. Augustine described his real life. It was the first theological autobiographical work that contained a detailed description of the author’s life, feelings and discussions.
The Dante’s work is written as a dialogue with Virgil and other characters of the story. The Augustine’s writing is written in the form of conversation with God. But the common thing is that both authors discuss the same questions of Christianity as sins, virtues and sense of human life. Finally, both authors come to one conclusion that love is the highest benefactor that can save people’s souls and show the way to salvation:
The next common thing for both works is the allusion to Virgil. In Dante’s Purgatorio and Paradiso, Virgil plays the role of a guide. He accompanies Dante through his journey and gives him advice how to gain a salvation. Hardly Dante could continue his way without Virgil. Thus, Virgil is the allegory to reason and character of Dante is a personification of a man’s soul. The main point is that people need some reason that will encourage them to go through the thorny path to salvation.
St. Augustus does not mention Virgil as his guide. From his point of view, it is a person who is responsible for his/her life. The way St. Augustus dresses Virgil is the way he compares his life journey with one of the Aeneas in the Virgil work, “Augustine himself compared explicitly the “wondering of one Aeneas”, a principle theme in the Aeneid, with his own wonderings” (Ó’Meara 38).
Just like “Aeneas he moves to Carthage” to continue his education” (Nielsen n. pg.) and then to Italy. As Aeneas he lives his past behind and enters a new life (new journey).
Thus, the works by Dante and St. Augustus are very different and very similar at the same time. Both works contain biographical information, show the ways to salvation of human’s soul and address a great Roman poet, Virgil. But each author does it in his own way.
Lancel, Serge, and Antonia Nevill. Saint Augustine. London: Hymns Ancient & Modern Ltd, 2002.
Nielsen, Cynthia R. Augustine’s Confessions as a Re-Write of Virgil’s Aeneid. Per Caritatem, 2009. Web.
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Ó’Meara, John. “Virgil and Augustine: The “Aeneid” in the “Confessions”. The Maynooth Review / Revieú Mhá Nuad. 13, (1988): 30-43.