There are many similarities between the Divine Comedy and The Aeneid, two of the most famous works of literature from the medieval period. Both works feature a protagonist who descends into the underworld, where he encounters various demons and other creatures. Both Dante and Virgil, the author of The Aeneid, use these underworld journeys to explore themes of redemption and morality.
However, there are also some significant differences between the two works. For one, Dante’s Inferno is significantly darker and more gruesome than The Aeneid. This is likely due to the fact that Dante was writing during a time of great turmoil in Italy, while Virgil was writing during a time of relative peace. Additionally, Dante includes numerous references to Christian theology, while Virgil largely avoids such references.
Ultimately, both the Divine Comedy and The Aeneid are masterpieces of literature that continue to be studied and admired centuries after they were first written. While they share some similarities, each work is unique in its own right, and each offers insights into the medieval world that are still relevant today.
In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dante uses Virgil’s depiction of Hades (In The Aeneid) as a basis for his poem, and there are comparisons between the Inferno and Hades, however no one was attempting to duplicate Virgil’s work. Despite the fact that the underworld described in Dante’s Inferno is largely based on Virgilius’ Aeneid, in their particulars, they are quite distinct.
In Virgil, the underworld is a series of concentric circles that decrease in circumference according to the severity of the crimes committed by the damned; Dante’s Hell, on the other hand, comprises nine different levels that correspond to specific sins.
There are also differences in how the two poets conceive of Satan. In Virgil, Satan is not a character but rather a force that resides in the center of Hades; Dante’s Satan, however, is very much a personality and occupies the lowest level of Hell. In addition, while Virgil’s Aeneid focuses on the deeds of great human beings such as Aeneas and Dido, Dante’s Divine Comedy focuses on the spiritual journey of an everyman (Dante himself) through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
Despite these differences, there are a number of similarities between Dante’s Hell and Virgil’s Hades. Both poets conceive of the underworld as a dark and forbidding place; both have rivers (the Acheron and the Styx in Virgil, the River Cocytus in Dante) that divide the realm of the dead from the living world; and both have gates that must be passed through in order to enter the underworld (the Golden Gate in Virgil, the Gates of Hell in Dante).
In addition, both poets use their descriptions of the underworld to comment on contemporary social ills: Dante criticizes the moral corruption of his society while Virgil denounces the violence and bloodshed that characterized Rome in his day.
While the Divine Comedy and The Aeneid are both epic poems about journeys through the underworld, there are significant differences between Dante’s Hell and Virgil’s Hades. However, both poets use their descriptions of the underworld to make social commentary about their respective times.
The gods remain uninvolved in the underworld, and Aeneas goes about it entirely oblivious to the landscape or quality of suffering that occurs there among the dead. Aeneas’ first concern is for his friends’ safety; next he must see his father once more: the metaphysical and religious significance of sin and death are meaningless to him, and no moral judgement is implied in the deaths of those who have gone before him.
By contrast, Dante’s Inferno is a highly ordered and organised space, in which each sinner is punished in a way that corresponds to their particular crimes. The geography of Dante’s underworld is also significant, with the further one descends into it, the worse the punishments become. This mirrors the medieval Christian belief that Hell was a place located beneath the earth.
The Aeneid also has no real concept of sin or morality: Aeneas’ descent into the underworld is simply a practical necessity in order to achieve his goals. By contrast, Dante’s Divine Comedy is very much concerned with moral issues, and with illustrating the consequences of sin. In particular, Dante is interested in showing how different types of sinners are punished in different ways. This is evident in the fact that Dante’s Hell is divided into a number of different circles, each of which contains sinners who have committed particular types of crimes.
It is clear, then, that Dante’s Divine Comedy is a much more morality-based work than Virgil’s Aeneid. This is perhaps not surprising, given that Dante was a pious Christian, whereas Virgil was a pagan. However, it is interesting to note that even within the pagan tradition, there was room for moralising works such as the Divine Comedy. This just goes to show how flexible and adaptable the literary genre of epic poetry can be.
In Dante’s Inferno, the landscape is divided into separate categories, with each level of hell implying a more severe sin. As he descends through the circles of hell, Dante’s empathy for the deceased diminishes, and his kindness to them grows.
In the Aeneid, on the other hand, Aeneas’ journey to the underworld is much more emotional. He encounters his dead father and many friends who were killed in the Trojan War, and he weeps for them. There is no sense of differentiation between the different areas of the underworld; it is simply a place where the dead reside. This emotional encounter with death contrasts sharply with Dante’s Inferno, where Dante becomes more callous as he moves further down into hell.
There are a few more connections between Dante’s and Virgil’s hells, most likely owing to Dantesque close reading of the Latin and his desire to use Virgil as his guide and mentor.
For example, there are periods when living individuals must overcome challenges as they walk through hell, and the boatman informs Virgil, “It is against eternal law for the Stygian boat to transport live persons.” He also came up with the notion of separating dead infants’ screams in one location, wrongly accused and condemned people in another, and suicides in a third.
Some other common features include the use of fire and heat as punishments, the image of Satan with three faces, and the role of Charon. There are a number of significant differences between the two works as well. Dante’s geography is far more detailed and complex, with nine different levels or “cantos” in hell, compared to Virgil’s three. Dante also has a much more active Satan, who is not only physically present in his work but interacts with the characters.
Ultimately, both The Divine Comedy and The Aeneid offer compelling visions of hell that provide insight into the medieval and classical views of the afterlife. While there are many similarities between the two works, there are also a number of significant differences that make each one unique.
However, all Virgil’s victims are sentenced to the same hopeless fate, and it is only the memory of life that torments them. Aeneas apologizes to Dido for deserting her at the behest of the gods; however, Dido rejects him and joins Sychaeus, her old lover. Many of Aeneas’s encounters focus on whether or not burial practices have been followed; those who have not been buried are not permitted to pass over the Styx, and those whose rituals have not been correctly completed appear to be in some sort of pain as a result.
The punishments in Tartarus are more severe, and it is here that Dante locates the worst of sinners: those who have betrayed their benefactors. The lowest circle of Tartarus is reserved for traitors, and the souls there are frozen in a lake of ice. Among them is Judas Iscariot, frozen up to his head; Brutus and Cassius, entangled in each other like serpents; and Satan himself, who flaps his great wings and causes an icy wind to blow. It is clear that Dante believes that treachery is the worst possible sin, and he reserves the most hideous punishments for those who have committed it.