Analysis of Dante’s Inferno, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Margery Kempe’s Book

804192989_origAn essay I wrote in undergrad comparing Dante’s Inferno, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Margery Kempe’s Book. 

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In Dante’s Inferno, Christianity was the main focus of the epic; Dante explored the underworld showing his opinion of what was sinful and what would qualify someone for Hell. In Margery Kempe’s Book, all of her stories were also written about Christianity, however, she created a sexual relationship between herself and God who was also a character in her book. In Virgil’s Aeneid, the gods and goddesses also had active roles in the storyline and helped the plot progress. Although the time periods when The Aeneid, The Inferno, and Margery Kempe’s Book were written have drastically different religious views, they all incorporated their beliefs into their writing.

Roman gods had dialogue and actively participated in the story; they were an ever-present force in The Aeneid. The gods were able to control situations depending on what they wanted, even if that was not the way that things were supposed to work out. Throughout the epic, Juno tormented the Trojans and created unnecessary problems for them even though she knew that they would settle eventually and Rome would start; she held a grudge against them which was why she incessantly tortured them. Robert Coleman said, “Divine interventions were a traditional staple of epic, conferring status upon human events portrayed and evoking a world where gods and men were closer to one another” (143). In Roman epics, the gods usually played a major role in the storyline and their over exaggerated emotions would create problems for the humans. Their intentions to create some sort of drama usually conflicted with fate, but the gods still interfered and fate worked its way around their intrusions. The Roman religion was something that became apparent in all epics, especially The Aeneid because of how it was portrayed. Religion was a major theme in that epic, threading its way throughout the plot. It was obviously a main value of the Roman people as well because of the huge part that it played within the storyline. Fate and the god’s influence would conflict with one another causing the majority of problems throughout the epic. “Gods intervene in two general ways: by manipulating the external world and by influencing human reactions and decisions internally.” The gods were real characters in the epic and interacted with other characters, showing the importance of religion in ancient Rome.

Dante’s story had mention of religion and made the rules of Christianity clear, but God was not a character. Dante also made it known what would or would not get you put in Hell, showing how strongly influenced he was by religion. Although God was not actually in The Inferno, His will was still made known by Dante and His influence was apparent throughout the entire epic. Dante the Pilgrim was positive that he was heaven-bound and went around Hell from a spectator’s perspective. However, since Dante was also the writer, he was not the innocent bystander that he appeared to be in the epic; he felt that God was merciless and that if you sinned, there was a slim chance that you could repent and avoid going to Hell. “In Dante, there is no ‘development’ properly speaking: the soul itself continues to exist without change while the life of the body is utterly destroyed” (Spitzer 82). One of Dante’s beliefs about how the Christian afterlife was that the soul could exist but the body would be destroyed. He made a lot of assertions without actually using God to say what he believed, creating an experience that showed his opinions about Christian afterlife.

Margery Kempe was controlled by religion and her stories were entirely about her interactions with God and Jesus with both acting as main characters as well. Margery sacrificed having a normal life to be entirely dedicated to Jesus; she refused to have sex with her husband, she cried out and annoyed people around her—all so that she could be pure and entirely dedicated. “Margery demonstrated her mind’s kinship with spiritual realities” (Glenn 541). Margery’s entire book is based on “her divine visions,” and how Jesus or God would talk to her and tell her how much they loved her (Glenn 541). She was known for crying hysterically all the time because of how deeply she was affected by her visions. She would be in church, for instance, and have a vision of Christ being nailed violently to the cross as if she were there watching. “By associating her own development with incidents in Jesus’s life, Margery blurs her theology with her autobiography” (Glenn 544). Margery was seen as a nuisance but could also be considered special by some because of these visions. Her writing was entirely dedicated to Christianity and her level of infatuation with God. Margery showed her views in her writing by including her crazy visions, her supposed conversations with God and Jesus, and her overall commitment to Christianity.

The similarity between them all was that they lived in times when religion (no matter what kind) strongly influenced them and they made sure to bring it into their stories. There were many reasons why these writers would incorporate religion into their pieces. In their times, making religion a main theme of their stories or epics showed the values of the society and it was a way for the writers to appease to readers then. In each society, people would only want to read about stories that they could find a way to apply to themselves, and being able to relate to the religious aspects was a good way for the authors to appeal. Life during their times were usually centered on religion, which was another reason why it was a good way for the writers to get publicity for their works. There were also trends in literature with religion threaded throughout stories. Before Virgil and Dante’s epics, Homer and other epic writers also incorporated their religious beliefs into stories. Greek and Roman writers made the gods into characters, which is a trend that Virgil kept with, and although Dante deviated from the trend of keeping God as a character, he was also dealing with a new type of epic poem and a new type of religion. Aside from having similar messages due to the fact that religion was so strongly incorporated, there were similar characterizations and plots as well. Margery Kempe was inspired by God enough to feel His presence and see Him all the time, and Dante was inspired enough to create a version of Hell appropriate to what he believed. Similarly, Virgil used religion in the way that he and other ancient Romans believed, although he himself was not entirely embodied by the beliefs. He used what he believed in his storyline, but it was not a part of him as much as it was part of the story. All three authors were able to somehow incorporate their different beliefs into their stories in a way so that they told an interesting story while utilizing what they believed. For Virgil, it was a minor point to include the gods and just something that he did as a tradition in epic poems. However for Dante, it was more of a small focal point for him to branch off from. Margery used religion as the entirety of her book and made her beliefs into part of her autobiography. In different ways, they were able to show the varying strength of religious influence in their lives.

Dante, Virgil, and Margery Kempe all integrated their religious beliefs into their writing, whether it was the main focus of the piece or just a small part of the larger story. Kempe and Dante’s stories were more focused around religion while Virgil was more focused on the creation of Rome with the gods mixed in. Regardless of their approach to writing, they were all able to show their beliefs. Margery used her visions and conversations with God to show her dedication to Christianity, Dante used his decisions as to what made a person a sinner to show his devotion, and Virgil mentioned the gods and goddesses as characters to show his views.

Works Cited

Coleman, Robert. “The Gods in the ‘Aeneid’. “Greece & Rome. Vol. 29, No. 2.

Cambridge University Press, 1982. 143-168.

Glenn, Cheryl. “Author, Audience, and Autobiography: Rhetorical Technique in the Book

of Margery Kempe.” College English Vol. 54, No. 5. National Council of Teachers

of English, 1992. 540-553.

Spitzer, Leo. “Speech and Language in Inferno XIII.” Italica Vol. 19, No. American

Association of Teachers of Italian, 1942. 381-104.

 

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