The Greek mythology literature focus on the relationship that people has with the gods and their roles in helping them win battles. The need to overturn a particular city and gain control made kings engage into physical battles as they sought the favor of the gods. Dante’s inferno is one literature that not only looks at the fights that different communities had, it also looks at the aftermath of such kings and their ultimate destiny in hell. Despite the physical wars that were fought on earth, it was believed that there would be an eternal reward and punishment depending on how the kings and their subjects behaved. One of such characters who had to suffer in hell for his conduct on earth was Ulysses (Dante 33). There are different circles where people are punished according to their sins. Ulysses was taken to the eighth circle where he was punished for committing a crime that involved stealing from the gods.
The gods being an important intermediary in Greek mythology, kings and their subjects were required to respect them. In one of the literatures in Greek mythology, we were told of an incidence where Ulysses conspired to overthrow the city of troy and even though he succeeded, he committed a sin that he would later be punished for in hell. Ulysses has been described to be a great warrior and a strong king (Berg, Enrico, and Stefan 45). His fighting tactics were incomparable as he led his men to dangerous zones just to fight. He gained a lot of favour even with other gods, but the simple action where he took away food that belonged to the son of a god was a crime that sent him to the eighth circle of hell. Hell is a place where sinners are punished; however, as we learn from Dante’s inferno, it is not just about the punishment but the sin that each person had committed. This was significant especially to Dante who was on his journey to the great hill.
The placement of Ulysses in this circle signifies that people in the medieval world looked at Ulysses as a person who had put his trust in himself rather than obeying the gods. This implies that it did not matter how great and big a person appeared to the world. There was an emphasis for people to pledge their allegiance to the gods. There was a tendency for people and more especially kings to earn fame from people by using their own crooked ways to win battles. The fact that people respected and feared instruments of worship, some leaders used such instruments to manipulate people and ultimately fulfil their selfish ambitions. Ulysses in one of his fights against troy, he used a wooden horse where he and his men hid as they plotted to capture troy (SparkNotes Editors). Even though he succeeded in his plot and ultimately won one of the greatest battles of Greek, a sin awaited punishment in hell.
Apart from the wooden horse he used to blindfold his enemies, he also led his men to forcefully take food and eat it not knowing that it belonged to the son of the god of the sea. Even though the sin was committed in ignorance, it implied that Ulysses did not consult with the gods in pursuit of their enemies. Ulysses relied much more on his strength and wisdom that he failed to realise that the camp and the tent he went for food was not for any immortal human being but for the gods. It should be notes that the different circles were arranged according to the magnitude of sin committed. A visitor like Dante was taken from the first circle to the last one (Turner 47). The intensity of the punishment increased with each circle, this was also to be a warning to the visitors, that there will be no evil that will be unpunished.
The emphasis that has been laid on the punishment rather than the reward for goodness also reveals on the evil that existed in the land. Most of the people that were being punished were prominent people who served in leadership positions. War in itself was unfortunately an evil that was glorified in Greek mythology. Kings took great delight in killing their enemies, which explains why there was not just hell, but different units where punishment would be administered. It appeared as if nobody would survive through the Greek culture without committing sin. The high values they were expected to observe and their cultural believes made it easy for them to stumble and fall (Barkan 72). With such knowledge, it was also important for hell to have different divisions just to ensure each person is punished according to their magnitude of sin. Contrary to what contemporary religious teachings tell us about the nature of hell and the fact that every sin will be punished with similar magnitude, Dante introduces us to different forms of punishments for sins. The punishment is also to encourage those still living to aspire to live righteous lives with the confidence that they will not have to suffer similar punishment for their minor sins.
Barkan, Leonard. The gods made flesh: metamorphosis & the pursuit of paganism. New Haven^ eConn. London Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.
Berg, Marcus, Enrico Pajer, and Stefan Sjors. "Dante's Inferno." arXiv preprint arXiv:0912.1341 (2009).
Dante (Alighieri.). Dante's Inferno. Ed. Mark Musa. Indiana University Press, 1995.
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Inferno.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
Turner, Alice K. The history of hell. Harcourt Brace, 1993.