The Journey Of An Epic Hero In Dante’s Inferno Critical Thinkings Examples
Inferno is one of the books Dante’s novel “Divine Comedy” where he takes the readers to afterlife and introduces the realm of the dead- along with Paradiso and Purgatorio. The book of Inferno is where Dante Alighieri (the writer) narrates the journey of Dante (the hero) to the different circles of hell. Unlike other epic heroes in Greek and Roman mythologies that chronicle the majestic adventures and fearless plights of the protagonist, the book of Inferno features a common man who examines the past in order to give light to the present.
The poem reveals Dante’s heroic behavior through the presentation of the sinner’s suffering. He was sympathetic towards the miserable punishment that the sinners in hell have to endure throughout eternity. Like other heroes, Dante possess a flawed character. He finds pleasure at the sight of his political rivals who are in a constant, agonizing pain. The presence of his rivals is a major challenge as he finds it difficult to sympathize with the suffering of his enemies. One of his rivals who lives under the torments of hell is the corrupt Pope Boniface VIII. Dante disapproves Boniface’ advocacy that meant to separate the church from the state. Dante’s emphatic reaction towards the damnation of the pope is because of his nurtured anger against him who was the reason for his exile. When he saw the pope in the eight circle of hell, Dante was consumed by his anger that he celebrated his suffering instead of showing pity.
Dante’s failure to show pity at the sight of a suffering rival provides the readers another side of his character that alters, as well as deepens their perception about the hero. They begin to understand that Dante is not different from them; a person who is capable of sympathy, but is also vulnerable to anger. Dante provides a deeper exploration of the protagonist’s character including his political and philosophical ideals. Throughout Inferno, Dante strives to attain the “righteous mean” according to the ethical philosophy of Aristotle. Aristotle’s concept of the righteous mean requires one to possess emotional balance. Emotional balance is one of the traits that all of the sinners in hell does not have. This Aristotelian description of a moral man suggests that Dante is also a sinner as he does not possess emotional balance. This balance is attained through the practice of moderation between two extremes. Dante was not able to maintain this moderation as he showed intense anger when he sees Pope Boniface and other rivals in hell. To note, even with a wide understanding of the righteous mean he was not able to control his anger.
As the story progresses, Dante introduces other characters that manifest seemingly heroic qualities but they still receive the pain and terror of punishments. Paolo Malatesta and Francesca Ramini serve as a fitting example. Francesca is married to a lame and old man and feel in love with the handsome and young Paolo during their life. While their sin is a result of love, both lacks the will power to defy their intimate desires. The sight of these lovers presents a major challenge to Dante- he is overpowered by his intense compassion towards their true love and suffering. This scene is a major complication in the novel as Dante have included them in the list of sinners who are damned in hell, but he is broken at the sight of their eternal suffering. The scene where Dante faints because of uncontainable compassion and mercy towards Paolo and Francesca presents a great difference between moral principles and values of Dante as the character and as the writer.
Dante introduces this type of complication to stress the moral responsibility of man to follow the words of God than to follow the dictate of their flesh. Paolo and Francesca love each other so much that they succumb to their desires. Desires that are against the commands of the Divine Power. They traded their faithfulness to God for the sake of satisfying their worldly lusts. Even if they only acted on the provoking and almost uncontrollable impulse of their emotions, their decision puts them to the wrong path. This part of the book implies the moral principle regarding continence and incontinence. Incontinence refers to a person’s knowledge of virtue, but lacks the willpower to live up with such virtue. Paolo and Francesca were aware that the consummation of their mutual love is immoral. However, they were overpowered by their human emotions that their reason where clouded- ultimately urging them to commit sin.
Through the journey of Dante in hell where he sees different sinners, he provides a different depiction of heroism. For him, heroism calls for a balance of reason and constant practice of moral choice even during situations that provoke one to divert from the way to Beatrice- or the path leading to God.
Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Trans. Rev. H. F. Cary. The Gutenberg Project. Sept. 2005. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/8800/8800-h/8800-h.htm>
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