Classic western literature has been one of the staples of the modern learning experience and has been analyzed for decades. With a broad arrange of genres and topics, these books are a great way of gaining an understanding of oneself, other people, and society. The defining factor of such literature is the large variety of themes that resonate with the reader and the ability to provide useful life lessons. Although many of these books are still relevant today, it is nevertheless important to discuss their origin and context. By examining the themes presented in these works through the lens of particular worldviews, one can come to understand the literary texts and their meaning better. This essay will be focused on analyzing the influence of worldview on the themes of Dante’s Inferno, The Pardoner’s tale, Virgil’s Aeneid, and The New Testament.
The Pardoner’s tale, written by Geoffrey Chaucer, is an example of the mismatch between the Christian worldview and the nature of an individual person. Written to lampshade the titular character, the story describes both his work and principles, which are full of contradictions. While the figure of the Pardoner is supposed to be morally just and pure, the character himself is far from that, preaching to the believers that “greed is the root of all evil”, but seeking only to fill his pockets in doing so (Chaucer et al., 2000). The man talks at length about the vices of others, while doing nothing to remedy his own. The actions of the Pardoner clash with the selfless outlook on life presented in the Bible. Such an attitude goes against the core beliefs of Christianity and is supposed to represent many of humanity’s worst aspects as a way to reflect on them. The story presents the theme of religious corruption and personal greed as both a commentary on the issues of contemporary Christianity and an exemplum.
Dante’s Inferno presents an uncompromising view on Christian afterlife and hell, dealing with themes of sin, faith, and morality. The piece describes the protagonist’s, Dante’s, journey through hell. Finding himself suddenly lost in his own life “Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost”, the hero treads forward to find his beloved (Alighieri et al., 2018). Inferno, as part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, depicts hell with its inhabitants residing on their assigned levels. The grotesque descriptions of activities and torture methods are provided as a way to both enrich the atmosphere and instill fear into the reader. The piece is heavily informed through the author’s Christian beliefs and his vision of the afterlife. Dante’s vision of hell is grim and merciless, filled with the suffering of those that did not follow God or committed grave sins in their life. The book presents Hell’s judgment as inescapable and absolute, with no way for sinners to repent, only to writhe in their eternal agony. This interpretation, harsh and devoid of God’s forgiveness, is accurate to the biblical descriptions of hell that served as its basis.
Virgil’s The Aeneid was written before the spread of Christianity and it incorporates an ancient worldview presented in many stories and legends before it. As the author was Roman, the story has a strong connection to both Roman history and mythology, with its pantheon of gods. In the opening, Virgil connects his story to the ones written by the likes of Homer before him: “I sing of warfare and a man at war. From the sea-coast of Troy in early days” (Virgil & Mackail, 2020). The piece retells Aeneid’s fleeing of Troy with his followers in hopes of founding a new city. The hero meets different people and overcomes obstacles along the course of his journey. The themes of suffering and the importance of fate are prevalent through this piece, with the hero enduring various trials on the way to his predetermined goal. While overcoming challenges on his way, the protagonist does not lose sight of his ultimate goal and is regarded as a great hero as a result. The reader is shown the consequences of defying destiny in the fate of Aeneid’s lover Dido, who dies after failing to make the hero stay with her. Such themes are often found in the early Greek and Roman literature, stemming from the belief in the supernatural and the perceived influence that gods had over humanity.
Lastly, The New Testament is written as an example of Christian values and beliefs, exploring kindness, forgiveness, and faith in great detail. Presented as both the description of Jesus’s life and the life of his followers, the story presents an organized view on Christian faith. The book reinforces the core teachings of God and Jesus Christ, weaving them into a complex narrative about the past, present, and future of humankind. The main message and goal of the New Testament is the achievement of salvation through Christian faith and good deeds. As stated in Galatians 3:26, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith”, which shows the accepting nature of Christian faith. The themes find their roots in the biblical explanation of the world, with God’s ability to lead people to a happier life and each them, as well as condemn those that do not follow his ways.
In conclusion, one can note that the worldview of the author can influence the themes of his work in a big way. Both The New Testament and The Pardoner’s tale explore the core beliefs of Christianity and the individual’s relationship with them. Christian worldview dictates how a person must act and how they need to be judged on their actions. The first piece can be used as a guide for one’s own actions, while the latter sets a precedent on how not to behave. Dante’s Inferno also has Christianity as the crux of its messaging, taking a scarier approach to delivering its lessons. The whole book’s composition hinges in the biblical depiction of heaven and hell, sin and salvation, exploring the extremes of human vices. The Aeneid, as the only piece in this selection not based on the Christian worldview, is a bit different. Mainly focused on the theme of destiny and predetermined outcomes, the story takes inspiration from the Greek and Roman myth with its gods and creatures. The results failing to follow your destiny are shown through some of the side characters, who try to resist their calling but ultimately fail to change the outcome or meet an unfortunate end (Virgil & Mackail, 2020). Story reinforces the belief that a person’s life is determined from birth by the Gods, and that one should not stray from their path.
Alighieri, D., Nembrini, F., Dell’Otto, G., & D’Avenia, A. (2018). Inferno. Mondadori.
Chaucer, G., Cawley, A. C., & Pearsall, D. A. (2000). Canterbury tales. David Campbell Publishers. Web.
Virgil, & Mackail, J. W. (2020). The Aeneid. Macmillan Collector’s Library.