This semester we have studied and discussed the epic hero as s/he developed from the Classical world Odysseus, Oedipus, Antigone, Aeneas) to the Medieval world ( Dante). Choose one hero from the Classical and Dante from the Medieval world and discuss the hero’s development by considering the following questions.
The term epic is overused, misunderstood, and has become a bit cliche. In literature, an epic is a long narrative poem that focuses on a hero and his (typically a he) culture.
Characteristics of a Classical epic include:
1. A long narrative poem that written in a grand or elevated style.
2. The story focuses on a larger than life hero.
3. Many people (society, culture, kingdom, country) depend on the hero.
4. The hero goes on a great journey facing many obstacles before returning home.
5. Involvement of the supernatural.
6. A journey to an underworld.
7. The use of epic similes which are simply extended similes.
8. Invokes the Muse for inspiration to begin.
For example, in The Odyssey,the archetype of western epics, Odysseus uses his strength and intelligence to help defeat the Trojans, outsmart a cyclops, gain the love of godesses, visit Hades' underworld, and survive battles with monsters all on his way home to Ithaca. Once he is home, he is able to get his house in order and stay in the gods' favor.
The Divine Comedy follows many of these same conventions as the Classical or traditional epic. It is a long narrative poem, it invokes the muse, uses epic similes, and clearly there is a trip to the underworld.
However, the change of the Medieval epic reflects the cultural changes that had taken place. First, the Medieval epic reflects much of the strict Catholicism of the time in reference to original sin and the Christian afterlife. There is also focus on numerology, especially the number 3 and symbols. Finally, there is a harsh line of judgement between the saved and the damned-- there is not much grey area for anyone inbetween.
Dante's journey is also seen an allegory, where the surface journey of travelling through purgatory, hell, and paradise really represent the personal inward journey of Dante towards the righteous path of God. This is clearly different than the stories of Classical heroes which were typically taken quite literally as battle exploits.