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Divine Comedy and the Odyssey as Epics (Essay Sample)


The sample explains distinct characteristics of epic poems.

Divine Comedy and the Odyssey as Epics
The poems ‘Divine Comedy’ and ‘The Odyssey’ have characteristics of an epic poem. Epic poems have distinct features that separate them from other poems. To start with, they are lengthy and usually in narrative style. Their themes are grand and the main character is a heroic figure. The protagonist faces many challenges in the course of the poem, culminating into victory or failure. Some epics have supernatural figures or powers. Others have physical combat with exemplary display from one or two characters. Epics also tackle the daily details of life. The poems do not just entertain or glorify 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 that capture the events happening in their respective period. It will also compare and contrast the two poems.
In ‘The Odyssey’, by Homer, Oedipus is the heroic figure. The man has fought in the Trojan War and achieved victory. He struggles to get back to his homeland, Ithaca, but his journey is not without tribulations. He is constantly under danger of attack. Dodging death daily gives him ample time to think about his life. In particular, he reflects about his spiritual life. However, he has to go home to Ithaca and save his people. The fact that Oedipus is a hero who is in a mission to save his people 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 will look like. It is a poem about the supernatural more than about a hero. This is the first difference between the poem and The Odyssey. Divine Comedy has 14, 233 lines, a number that is almost equal to the Odyssey (Alighieri 43). Dante made himself the main character in his poem, 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 epitomizes an epic. The Odyssey starts by invoking a muse. Homer then follows this by extrapolating on the themes in the poem. This is a characteristic of an epic. The poem starts in media res. The setting covers vast distance as Oedipus travels back to Ithaca after the Trojan Wars. Dante’s Divine Comedy also begins in media res. There are three different settings in the poem. These are the inferno, purgatorio, and paradise. The many settings afford epic poets an opportunity to develop their themes without space constraints.
A major characteristic of epics is the use of heroic figures. Oedipus is the hero in Homer’s The Odyssey. He is venerated and fondly sobriquet the "Odyssey, master mariner and solder" (Homer 436). Odyssey undergoes numerous trials and tribulations but he emerges stronger each time. In the poem, Oedipus and his men run into Cyclops. Facing imminent defeat, the epic hero intelligently fools Cyclops and blindfolds him. He thus secures his men’s safety. In another episode, Oedipus encounters Circle, the Greek goddess with powers to turn men into animals. Again, Oedipus secures the safety of his men by defeating a god. In a third encounter, he goes into the underworld and meets his mother and other fallen heroes. 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, Dante enters into the afterlife and presents it to his audience. Thirty-five years old, Dante makes entrance into a dark forest. 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. He 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, Dante makes extensive use of supernatural beings, animals, and dead people. The poem’s supernatural figures qualify it 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 aid the hero while others are hindrance to the hero’s progress. Poseidon hinders Oedipus 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 to escape from goddess Circle in Calypso. Hermes too facilitates Oedipus’ sojourn by offering protection against Calypso. As mentioned earlier, 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 dead people extensively. As mentioned before, Dante makes his poem unique by using himself as the main character. In his epic, he narrates his afterlife in hell and finally to heaven. He uses Virgil as the other main character in his poem. Virgil was Roman poet widely acclaimed for his Christian ways and moral rectitude. He also wrote an epic poem 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. Dante’s first love, Beatrice guides Dante in heaven. There are other mythological personages and creatures in the poem including Arachne and Harpies. Supernatural figures in the poem are demons, angels, and the devil. Just like in Homer’s Odyssey, use of mythological and supernatural figures enhances the poems’ epic stature.
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 had plagued his society. The poem emp...
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