Consider the scale of the severity of sins and virtues that Dante presents for his reader.
Dante’s Inferno presents a hierarchy of punishment levels based on sins that humans have committed in their life. In the nine circles of the Inferno, Dante the pilgrim encounters the many sinners who are sentenced to these punishments for eternity, and he discovers the severity of sins they committed by conversing with them. Many of the sins that Dante mentions in the Inferno are universally relevant, while others have particular relevance to the time period in which the work was written. For example, in the eighth circle of the fraudulent, those who committed simony were sentenced to have their feet licked by flames for eternity. Simonists were those who sold indulgences or offices of the church, which was popular in the 14th century. Dante also places sorcerers and false prophets in the eighth circle. Sorcery was feared during that time, and many of those who were accused of witchcraft were burned alive. In contrast, today we do not execute those who claim to have supernatural powers. These two sins and their corresponding punishments show that during Dante’s time, there was much emphasis placed on church doctrine, and those who dared to defy it were often exiled or executed. Unlike today, there was no separation of church and state, so the church dictated their societal expectations.
The story of Joseph is one that is told in multiple spiritual works. It is present in both the Bible and the Qur’an, and they serve similar purposes. In the Bible, the story of Joseph is told not only as a tale of the power of God, but also as a story of the importance of filial loyalty. In the Qur’an, much more emphasis is placed on the role of God and his great power over his followers. Throughout the story of Joseph, the characters are constantly harkening back to the teachings of God, especially Joseph and Jacob, who are descended from the great prophets Isaac and Abraham. Joseph demonstrates that unwavering belief in God and avoidance of sin will lead to a good life, even if some hardships are thrown in along the way. According to the Qur’an, if you are a good person who follows God’s teachings, you will have a fortunate life.
The Ramayana and The Odyssey are both epics of ancient societies that held some common beliefs. Ancient Greece and Ancient India both placed heavy emphasis on religion, which played a large part in their literature. These cultures also found honor in actions incredibly important, and those who acted without honor were looked down upon and shamed immortally in history and literature. For example, in The Odyssey, Odysseus murdered the antagonists, Penelope’s suitors, and then had their bodies disposed of without proper burial rituals. The Greeks found no honor in death for those who acted dishonorably in life. On the other hand, in the Ramayana, the hero, Rama, defeats his enemy Ravana, but still upheld his honor after death. Despite all the atrocities Ravana had caused for Rama, Rama respected his enemy’s life and honored his body after death. One aspect of Hinduism is the reincarnation of the soul after death, so Rama honored Ravana’s soul by not desecrating his body. In contrast, the Greeks did not place much emphasis on life after death, and therefore would not treat the bodies of the dead as sacredly as other cultures, especially not those of evildoers.
Sappho is considered the first female author in Western civilization. However, almost none of her work survived a few centuries after her death, and the poems that did survive are missing large chunks of text. Meanwhile, countless male poets and authors had volumes of their work preserved in libraries around the world. Why was Sappho’s work treated so haphazardly? One possible reason could be Sappho’s ambiguous sexuality, although this seems unlikely since Greek men often had relationships with both men and women, as seen in both Plato’s Symposium and Catullus’s work. Another reason could be that men wanted to erase the evidence of an educated woman from ancient times. The works of Sappho’s male contemporary from Lesbos, Alcaeus, partially survived, while hers almost disappeared, and was used to cover mummified bodies in ancient Egypt centuries later. In The Guardian article, “Lady of Lesbos,” one author writes, “…The damaged text of Alcaeus has no value as a political symbol, whereas the gaps in Sappho can be used as an image of male oppression. For Winterson, the loss of Sappho’s poetry represents the damage done to women’s bodies and women’s writing by centuries of patriarchy.” Perhaps the reason evidence of the works of Sappho are so few and far between is because the presence of an intelligent female threatened the patriarchy of Ancient Greece, and they squashed that threat by destroying her work.