Compare and contrast the subject matter of the Iliad and Dante's Inferno.    

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Homer's Iliad and Dante's Inferno are both epic poems that examine the negative consequences of unbridled human emotion—of giving in to unethical personal desires that harm others.

A big difference between the two works is the role of the gods and of destiny. A background story to The Iliad explains...

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Homer's Iliad and Dante's Inferno are both epic poems that examine the negative consequences of unbridled human emotion—of giving in to unethical personal desires that harm others.

A big difference between the two works is the role of the gods and of destiny. A background story to The Iliad explains the role of the gods in setting up the conditions that lead to the Trojan War, the subject of the poem. Why does Paris of Troy abduct Helen, Queen of Sparta and wife of Menaleus, setting into motion the Trojan War? The goddesses Eris and Aphrodite had already set him up to carry out this brazen and selfish act. It was his destiny.

Sometime before the Trojan War begins, Zeus holds a banquet for the wedding of the goddess Thetis and King Peleus (parents of Achilles) and does not invite Eris, goddess of discord. She shows up anyway, determined to make trouble in revenge for the snub. She brings a golden apple for "the fairest." Zeus gives the touchy assignment of judging who is the fairest to Paris, a Spartan prince. When he chooses Aphrodite over Athena and Hera, the goddess of love rewards him with the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen, Queen of Sparta (later known as Helen of Troy). So Helen, though already married, and Paris become entwined by destiny as well as by unethical desires, thereby bringing about the Trojan War and all the loss, death, and brutality that ensues. Helen herself is a child born (hatched) as a result of one of Zeus's many indiscretions—the seduction of the mortal Leda while in the form of a swan.

In the ancient Iliad and its background stories, we see deities who can be both wanton and selfish, and we see flawed humans who, like the deities they worship, sometimes make choices based on unbridled desire, without thought given to the greater implications of their choices and the harm that could be caused to others.

Dante, on the other hand, writes from a worldview that is highly informed by the precepts of Christianity and the concept of free will. The Christian God and Christ are nothing like the deities of Homer's age. Christians must uphold a code of behavior that is ever-mindful of controlling passions that can harm others. In fact, Helen, Paris, and Achilles appear in the first of the nine circles of Hell in The Inferno (where each circle is increasingly more punitive) for the sins of lust and infidelity, while Odysseus is placed in the eighth circle for his far more serious sins of premeditated deception.

One might explore the question of why Dante did not place the gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon in the circles of Hell as well.

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Homer's Iliad is the story of part of the Trojan War concerned with the "wrath of Achilles." At the beginning of the epic, Achilles has a disagreement with Agamemnon concerning a war prize and withdraws from the fighting. Being the greatest of the Greek warriors, Achilles's absence limits the abilities of the Greeks to succeed on the battlefield. At the end of the epic, he returns to the fighting and kills Hector, the greatest of the Trojan heroes. It is a pagan poem, grounded in polytheism, and a story of a war, describing in detail many battles, discussions of strategy, and issues of honor in battle.

Dante's Inferno is a Christian poem detailing an imaginary journey through the circles of Hell as the narrator is escorted by the Latin poet Virgil. We encounter many famous historical people on the journey within the context of Christian religion. The narrator at the end of the poem emerges from his journey on Easter day.

While both poems are important works that became both standard reading and symbols of cultural greatness, they are very different, with one focusing on war and the other on religion and one belonging to oral tradition and the other to literary practice.

The major similarity between them is that ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy were not actually nations but rather collections of city states and territories united by cultural and linguistic ties. Thus poetry and other cultural performances gave them a sense of unity that did not exist in the political realm.

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Homer's other great epic, the Odyssey, probably has more in common with Dante's Inferno than the Iliad. Indeed, the Odyssey, like the Inferno, involves the hero descending into the underworld and returning after encountering its inhabitants. But both the Iliad and The Divine Comedy in general are epic poems, emphasizing the complex relationship between humanity and the divine. Perhaps the most obvious connection between the two poems is not really thematic, though. Dante populates hell with many of the figures from Homer's poems, including the blind poet himself. (Remember that the Roman epic poet Virgil is actually Dante's guide in Inferno). In Canto IV we discover Homer, along with other poets, including Horace, Ovid, and Lucan—all poets who would have been familiar to Dante's readers—and Hector, one of the main characters in the Iliad. These men are in the First Circle of Hell, reserved for those who were not evil people, but had been born before Christ and were therefore not able to be saved. One circle deeper into Hell, Dante encounters Achilles and Paris, two major figures in the Iliad, who are there for the sin of lust. Helen of Troy is there, too, for her betrayal of her husband, Menelaus. Their actions essentially set the events portrayed in the Iliad in motion. Odysseus, one of the most important characters in the Iliad, is in the Eighth Circle of Hell for his trickery. So there are many connections between Dante's Inferno and the Iliad, and a good essay might take this a step further by considering the reasons that Dante chose to portray these characters in Hell.

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