Sunday, February 22, 2015

3 Hells in Literature

While Milton, Dante, and Homer all present the underworld as unsatisfactory, they do it to vastly different degrees. Paradise Lost is meant to encourage mankind in demonstrating the meaning of the ways of God. The Inferno, being the first in three books, is only the beginning of the story of mankind and thus is meant to convict the reader. On the other hand, Homer, in The Odyssey, seems simply to be using the underworld as a bridge for Odysseus’ adventure.

The characters in these three books differ just as much as the authors; they pull out the different aspects of Hell. While Milton focuses on the powerful levels of demons in Hell and how destructive they can be on earth, Dante’s walk through hell keys in on the explicit torments of individuals in accordance to their sins. Homer, on the other-hand, chooses to depict the underworld as a place where all dead go, not only the wicked. It seems to be more a place of destitute holding rather than torment, although it is wretched.

Hell as demonstrated in The Inferno is depressing and gory, but it is a representation of justice. On the contrary Homer’s underworld seems almost to be there simply for the needs of the living, but it does not serve justice for either the living or the dead. In The Odyssey, Hell is where injustice is sent and therefore also a representation of justice, but it differs from Dante’s hell in that its inhabitants can and do harm the living.

All three of these representations of Hell/underworld shed light on humanity. They demonstrate the wickedness of humanity in the past. They show the utter wonderfulness in the grace of God. Milton shows the power of evil, and also the stronger power of good. Dante demonstrates the punishment for sin, and horrific as it is, its necessity. And Homer shows the nothingness and depravity of a Hell without a Heaven.