For centuries, authors have been writing stories about man's journey of self-discovery. Spanning almost three-thousand years, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer's Odyssey, and Dante's Inferno are three stories where a journey of self-discovery is central to the plot. The main characters, Gilgamesh, Telemachus, and Dante, respectively, find themselves making a journey that ultimately changes them for the better. The journeys may not be exactly the same, but they do share a common chain of events. Character deficiencies and external events force these three characters to embark on a journey that may be physical, metaphorical, or both. As their journeys progress, each man is forced to overcome certain obstacles and hardships. At the end of the journey, each man has been changed, both mentally and spiritually. These timeless tales relate a message that readers throughout the ages can understand and relate to.
Character deficiencies and external events force these three characters to embark on a journey that may be physical, metaphorical, or both. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is the king of Uruk, but he is not a kind or gentle ruler. The narrator describes Gilgamesh as "surpassing all kings, for his stature renowned" (I.30) and yet the people pray to the gods for help because Gilgamesh "would leave no son to his father" (I.67) or "girl to her mother" (I.73). In other words, Gilgamesh sees nothing wrong with taking what he wants from his people, including their lives. However, when Gilgamesh's best friend dies, he finds himself face-to-face with his own mortality, which he is not prepared to accept as inevitable. Gilgamesh states, "I have grown afraid of death . . ." (IX. 5). He decides to continue wandering the land until he finds the god Utanapishtim in order to learn the secret of eternal life (IX.7)
In contrast, the Odyssey introduces the reader to Odysseus' son, Telemachus, who is a timid young man and has not yet learned how to be an effective leader. After twenty years, his father has not returned from the Trojan War and the palace has been overrun by suitors trying to win his mother's hand in marriage. He tells Athena, "They continue to bleed my household white. / Soon--you wait--they'll grind me down as well" (1.292-3). Telemachus is at a loss as to what to do. Following the advice of Athena, Telemachus sets out in search of news about his father, Odysseus, and whether or not he survived the Trojan War (1.322-36). This journey will bring Telemachus in contact with strong leaders who were close to his father and provide him with an opportunity to do some much needed growing up, for as Athena says, "You must not cling to your boyhood any longer-- / it's time you were a man" (1.341-2). Telemachus must find the strength within himself to take control of his life and kingdom.
Dante, on the other hand, is neither a leader nor a ruler, but an ordinary man that has strayed off the path of enlightenment. In the opening lines of the...