Unit 1B’s introduction to the Five Great Themes of World Literature states with regard to the hero: “The surest way to understand what a culture of the past most values is to focus on what it considers heroic, in that a culture recognizes its heroes as embodying its most important ideas, the values that are essential.” Discuss the diverse values that our two epic heroes, Rustem and Dante, embody. Which values embodied by these epic heroes are endorsed or celebrated by their societies? Are any of their values condemned or rejected by their societies? Illustrate your discussion with specific examples of the heroes’ obligations to their societies and what their values reflect about their cultures.
Shahnameh and Inferno: Heroic Depiction of Community Values
Heroes elicit admiration in people and are associated with significant achievements. Therefore, most societies align themselves to a particular hero as they represent them in both values and beliefs. It is thus right that the best and sure way to understand what is valued most especially by past cultures is to focus on what is considered heroic by that culture. Even though sometimes heroes may depict values not fancied by their culture, they are often renowned for positive attributes. This paper discusses how Rustem and Dante demonstrate qualities celebrated by their communities as well as those that are disliked.
Rustem was born big to the extent that he was compared to a young lion. At this point, he embodied the values of strength, which was a vital virtue for the community especially for men (Ferdowsi 31). His strength was put to the test when he killed the white elephant known for frequent rampaging within the palace. The incident won him praise as well as his ability to overcome rebels on the White Mountain. The action represents Rustem’s obligation to protect his community. Therefore, they depict love for his people that can be linked to patriotism. The quality is ideal within the society as everyone needs to engage in activities that will not only help him as an individual but also all the people within the community.
The strength of Rustem is complemented by his wisdom. For instance, while eliminating the rebels on the White Mountain, Rustem disguises himself as a merchant selling salt. The approach enables him to get closer to the rebels and defeat them. Wisdom as a virtue is highly cherished by the community as it means that individuals can make wise decisions at any time. Rustem is also prayerful. In traditional societies, various gods were known to control nature and all happenings. Primarily, prayer was used to show a connection with the spiritual world. As such, when Rustem and Rakesh get lost in the desert, they pray and a sheep appears to lead them to a stream.
Despite the positive attributes of Rustem that are cherished by his community, he also embodies qualities that are disliked by many people. Primarily, he is impulsive in his activities as he acts without much forethought. For instance, when dealing with the dragon. He fails to release that his horse was trying to warn him of the danger by striking the hoof on the ground (Ferdowsi 67). Instead, he wakes up and reprimands it for disturbing his sleep. Moreover, in the incident with the witch, he is quick to praise her beauty without wondering where she came from. Lastly, Rustem appears to be merciless, especially through the ways he kills. For instance, he cuts out the liver of the white demon.
The character of Dante represents the struggles of an ordinary person. Therefore, as a hero, many people celebrate him in his community because of his noble status. Primarily, he is determined and has a strong will power for good. The value is celebrated in the community as it infers hope to people even in times of difficulties. His determination is represented by his journey across the territory, a feat that no other mortal being had ever achieved. Moreover, his desire for the good and avoidance of sin is a celebrated virtue by his society (Hollander 289). For instance, he withstands various psychological challenges to cast his sins in the purgatory. For instance, he says, “Midway on our journey through life, I find myself in dark words as the right roads become lost” (Durling 1: 1-3).
The strong spiritual beliefs of Dante makes him lose touch with many people. Therefore, he is not social and only focuses on events that would help him alone rather than all the people. This aspect of unsocial conduct was not liked in his community. Therefore, his personal life bears no significance to the people.
In conclusion, it is apparent that Rustem and Dante were epic heroes of their societies. Ideally, both individuals achieved significant feats that had never been carried out by any other mortal brings. For instance, Rustem killed many dragons and was strong since childhood while Donte depicted firm willpower never exhibited previously. Consequently, they both present hope to the people. However, despite their positive attributes, they had undesirable weaknesses such as the impulsive nature of Rustem and Dante’s unsocial behaviors.
Durling, Robert M. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Volume 1: Inferno. Vol. 1. Oxford University Press, 1996.
Ferdowsi, Abolqasem. Shahnameh: The Persian book of kings. Penguin, 2016.
Hollander, Robert. “Dante on Horseback? (Inferno XII, 93-126).” Italica 61.4 (1984): 287-296.