Gilgamesh, Okonkwo, Ivan Illych and Dante’s Hell Essay
Gilgamesh, Okonkwo, Ivan Illych and Dante’s Hell
Whether the embarked journey is for God, spiritual rebirth, or simply insight into ones’ self, knowledge is gained and lessons are learned. The Divine Comedy of the Inferno, Gilgamesh, illustrates journeys taken by travelers from darkness into light. During the course of their journey, the travelers encounter numerous obstacles and struggles in which they overcome and thus gain strength. Each of the travelers comes to a point on their journey where they observe their transformation and are thus approaching the end of their pilgrimage.
In Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy of the Inferno, Dante’s journey initiated with ignorance and concluded with comprehension and understanding of God and his ways. Where ignorance and sin represented his darkness and understanding represented his light. In the beginning of Dante’s inferno, it becomes evident that Dante is lost and is unsure of how he got this state of acute; His soul was corrupted by sin and abandonment from God. This is what the “shadowed forest” indicates when he said “…I found myself in a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray” (Cantos I, line 2-3). In line 5, he calls it a savage forest which portrays a very barbarous and untamed forest. Thus the readers see that he lies very deep in sin, worldliness and ignorance. He advances in his journey with the help of Virgil. Virgil takes him through the levels of hell and thus tries to teach Dante lessons by having witnessed such gruesome and disturbing punishments. With each punishment, one more grotesque then the next, Dante approaches his goal of enlightenment. Dante will be able to go back to his life on earth with a better understanding of the outcomes of his sins, thus he would be more careful and aware of his actions.
One of the first punishments that he witnesses is with two lustful lovers in the second circle of hell. He pities them because their love had brought them everlasting damnation. This incident illustrates how Dante is still in a state of ignorance. Instead of condemning their sins he’s condoning them. Eventually, Dante starts understanding the true impact of the sins and comprehends the reason for punishment. He begins to disapprove and feel no pity whatsoever for the sinners, as the readers will see in Canto XXXII. Consequently, Dante approaches the light.
In the epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh begins his journey out of darkness as an extremely proud and oppressive tyrant. His people don’t like him because of these qualities that he acquires. Because Gilgamesh is two thirds God and one third human he feels superior to his people. As a result the people request help from the Gods. The Gods create a man by the name of Enkidu, who obtains similar physical features as Gilgamesh. In time, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become very close companions because they are so alike in many ways. This allows Gilgamesh to humble and have some humility since he is no longer the only one who is great in size and courage. Gilgamesh and Enkidu venture off and fight beasts and wild animals in order to protect their city. They established an irreplaceable brotherhood. One day when Enkidu and Gilgamesh kill a bull sent down from the Gods, Enkidu insults the Goddess Ishtar. As a result Enkidu becomes ill, dies and is dragged into hell. Gilgamesh realizes he needs to attain immortality. (Gilgamesh, 1999) On his way back from the voyage, Gilgamesh has come back a new person and his light was present in the knowledge and wisdom he has attained on the way. His light is also present when he sees that he’ll be immortal through the things that he left behind. The legacy of his strength and adventures will keep his name alive as well.
On the other hand, Okonkwo grew up with hate and disrespect for his father, Unoka, because he was a failure. Okonkwo feared becoming him so he tried to be the complete opposite of Unoka. This fear was perennial and lasted to the rest of his life. Unoka was weak so Okwonko had to be strong. Unoka was a coward so Okwonko had to be fearless. This is why he had to kill Ikemefuna. Okonkwo thought if he did not he would seem weak. Okonkwo was even told not to go because it will bad with the gods but he still went because he wanted to look strong. He was in a dilemma. If he killed Ikemefuna he would seem strong but have a guilty conscience. If didn’t kill Ikemefuna he would appear weak but have a clear conscience. (Jeyifo, 2003) That is what he is afraid of since that’s what his father was. Although he did not want to kill him he had no other choice. Okonkwo never quite relinquished his memories of Ikemefuna since he loved him like a son.
Toward the end of his life Okonkwo felt like he failed because he lost all his past success and he died like his father; a disrespectful death. In the book although Okonkwo seems like the villain he is really the victim. Although he didn’t want to kill Ikemefuna he had no choice since he didn’t want to look weak. By the end of his life he had become everything he worked so hard not to become.
A few conflicts that Dante undergoes while on his journey to rebirth is feeling extreme sympathy and pity for the sinners, and the occasional struggles of getting into specific circles and levels of Hell. When Dante conquered his struggle of overcoming sympathy, Dante’s whole mentality about his sins in life changed. He is now a more conscious and aware being that no longer underestimates the power or punishments of God.
If we compare these characters to Ivan Illych, it transpires that Ivan Illych was irritated most of the time, all this because of the physical pain he was going through at the time. The medication the doctor was prescribing him was not making any effect on him, and he was getting crankier every day due to the acute pain he was suffering. His inappropriate solution to this dilemma at first hand was to blame everything on his wife. Even thought she had nothing to do with illness, Ivan Illych decided to pick on her for his suffering. This can also be seeing as a way for him to show her how uncomfortable he felt with her presence, since he was supposed to share the rest of his life with her even thought he did not love her anymore. He had to go through all this unhappiness, because society demanded him to have a wife and a family to show off during dinners and social events where he was expected to show up accompanied by them. After he realized he could not keep just blaming his wife for what was going on inside him, he decided to blame his children for it as well. Ivan Illych was a cold-blooded person who would blame them, because he did not feel any true love for them. Because of all these facts, we can simply state that Ivan lllych was an unhappy man who decided to blame his family for his sufferings, even thought they were not responsible for them at all.
Ivan Illych realized that everything he had done in life was wrong. During the period of time in which Ivan Illych had to rest at home because of the severe pain he would suffer if he tried to walk, he realized that the majority of achievements he had obtain in life were worthless compared to what true happy people achieve. He had been pursuing all his life a relatively high position in society, even if this meant that he had to sacrifice all the things that would make him happy. For instance he married his wife, not because of her beauty or her intelligence or because he loved her, but because society thought that they made a good match. (Tolstoy, 1960) He even recalled this when he said to himself that she was not that pretty, but she had strong influences in society.
Whereas Dante had a few struggles, Gilgamesh suffered many. Gilgamesh struggled on his journey to find immortality. Gilgamesh had to travel through extreme conditions. First he traveled through s very dark tunnel until he was blazed by the heat of the sun. Then he approached the seashore, but couldn’t cross because it would kill any humans who touched it. He had to build a raft and eventually he reached Uta-napishti, who held the secret to immortality. Gilgamesh was discouraged by Uta-napishti and was then given the ultimatum to stay awake for seven days straight. Gilgamesh had failed that the first night. Then he was told to get a certain plant from the bottom of the sea. When he finally got it, a serpent had stolen it from him. Thus he was left with nothing. The nothing that he was left with allowed him to think about the wisdom he gained during the course of his voyage. Indeed after his quest he was a new man.
Alighieri, Dante. 1999; “The Divine Comedy, Inferno.” The Norton Anthology World Masterpieces Vol. 1 7th Ed New York: W.W Norton Company.
“Gilgamesh.” 1999; Trans. N.K. Sandars the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces Vol. 1 7th Ed New York: W. W. Norton Company.
Jeyifo, Biodun. 2003. “Okonkwo and His Mother: Things Fall Apart and Issues of Gender in the Constitution of African Post-Colonial Discourse.” Callaloo. 16.4: 847-58.
Leo Tolstoy. “The Death of Ivan Illych”; In the Death of Ivan Illych ; Other Stories translated by Maude Aylmer (New York: New American Library, 1960)