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Dante and Greek Mythology

How and why does Dante choose to combine allusions to Classical mythology and Ancient Greece and Rome with Christian theology?

Dante’s Commedia is laced with references to classical mythology and Christian theology. As a devout Catholic, one might think that Dante would base his vision of hell on strictly Christian beliefs, but this is not so. As an example, in Canto VI, Dante and Virgil come across Cerberus, a three-headed dog with beastly attributes. In Greek and Roman mythology, Cerberus is Pluto’s pet that sits at the gates of Tartarus, the mythological underworld, and guards against souls trying to escape death. Cerberus is just one example, but there are many other references to Greek and Roman mythology throughout the work. Some other references include Minos, the Styx, and Plutus. Dante most likely writes of Cerberus and characters like it because he wants to imitate and incorporate the works of the great classical poets. It is clear that Dante has great admiration for these men and it is possible that he wanted to be considered among their ranks.

The Odyssey and the Ramayana

There is a stark contrast between the way that evildoers are portrayed in the Odyssey and the Ramayana. In the Odyssey, the suitors, who are the evildoers, are portrayed to be cowardly scoundrels who should not be respected. At the end of the Odyssey, Odysseus slays the suitors and their bodies were simply thrown outside without a proper burial. In the Ramayana, the reader is led to dislike Ravana, the main evildoer, but is also led to respect Ravana in some sense. Ravana is described as a great warrior with massive strength and we are told he has received a boon from Indra, the god of gods. At one point in the story, Hanuman thinks to himself, “Ravana would indeed have been a good man if he had thus got Sita too, to be his wife.” When Rama defeats Ravana, Rama has great respect for the dead body and allows Ravana’s brother, Vibhisana, to give Ravana proper funeral rites and take the throne of Lanka.

The Story of Joseph – Quran

The retelling of the story of Joseph displays God’s great power. God has a plan for Joseph to become great and blesses him with the gift of interpreting dreams. Joseph’s brother’s know that Joseph is special and become jealous of him. The brother’s try to spoil God’s plan by throwing Joseph down a well. But, Egyptians rescue him from the well and bring him to Egypt as a servant. When Joseph reaches maturity, he interprets a dream of the pharaoh. Because of this dream interpretation, Joseph becomes an advisor to the pharaoh and saves all of Egypt from a famine. This shows that, “God always prevails in His purpose, though most people do not realize it.”

Plato’s Symposium

Describe how Plato, Sappho, and/or Catullus conceive of love (and/or friendship). You can choose to only discuss one of the three works or compare two or three of them. You can also choose to compare their views on love with The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, or Lysistrata. You can also choose to focus more specifically on either the lover or the beloved if you like.


Plato’s Symposium is an account of a conversation between men, including Socrates, on the greatness of Love. Most of the men participating in the conversation praise love passionately, but Socrates gives a slightly different speech on love. Contrary to what the others believe, Socrates says that Love is not a god but a spirit, which is in between a mortal and a god. Likewise, Love is in between good and bad, beauty and ugliness. Everyone loves things that are good and desires that they become his own in the present and the future. Socrates states plainly “love is wanting to possess the good forever.” He goes on to say that reproduction is truly love because through reproduction one lives forever through their children. So, in a sense reproduction would be a way of possessing the good- that is, life- forever. Parents love their children very much because it is their children that make them immortal. Other men, like Achilles, seek immortality of soul that will make their memory live on forever. They achieve this immortality of the soul through performing glorious acts instead of through reproduction.