Everyone has different perspectives and ideas about what Hell is. This is especially true in The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and The Inferno. First, in The Odyssey, Homer’s explanation of Hell was very basic and contained the dead and was very dark and sad. Then, in The Aeneid, Virgil offered a more vivid and descriptive explanation of Hell that also explained that the souls of those who pass are being punished for their sins on Earth. Finally, in The Inferno, Dante presented a disturbing version of Hell and expressed how Hell was divided into sections; each section was dedicated to a certain type of sin. Dante then described the different punishments presented at each different level. While all three epics have different ideas of what describes Hell, there is no doubt that all three epics reiterate the same message that sins expressed on Earth do not go unnoticed. Though Homer’s The Odyssey, Virgil’s The Aeneid, and Dante’s The Inferno all shared the same characteristic of being epic poems and having a Hell or Underworld involved, each book offered different views of what exactly ‘Hell’ was.
Homer’s explanation of the Underworld in The Odyssey was described as an immense land of grief and sorrow. Odysseus referred to the residents of the Underworld as, “listless spirits of their ghosts” (Homer 250), and “the nations of the dead” (Homer 250), which gives off an image of crowds of souls congregating in one open area. There are no separations amongst the dead in the Underworld; young girls stand next to old men as well as fallen warriors. There are no distinctions between sinners and virtuous souls; all are shades, shadows, and spirits. In book eleven, Odysseus ventures to the Underworld and came across his mother and tried to embrace her:
“…how I longed to embrace my mother’s spirit, dead as she was! Three times I rushed toward her, desperate to hold her, three times she fluttered through my fingers, sifting away like a shadow, dissolving like a dream, and each time the grief cut to the heart, sharper…” (Homer 256).
Homer describes death as gloomy, cold, and dark. Tiresias asks of Odysseus, “Oh my son – what brings you down to the world of death and darkness? You are still alive!” (Homer 254). The Underworld in The Odyssey is filled with many souls that range from many different statuses, including half-gods, heroes, royalty, lovers, and everything else in between. Homer believed that the Underworld was a final place of residence for all dead and not a judgment space.
Virgil’s explanation of the Underworld in The Aeneid was described as a cave where the dead would go and were then evaluated. Those that had done well in life get beautiful, joyful and happy afterlives for eternity; those that had been evil in their lives were physically punished. Explaining this concept further, Virgil developed the Egyptian concept of a pleasant afterlife versus a miserable afterlife by creating the sectors of Tartarus and Elysium. Tartarus was reserved for sinners...