Evaluation of Telémakhos’ Actions

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Evaluation of Telémakhos’ Actions

Authors and poets in ancient and modern literature laud the actions of heroes and condemn the actions of villains—judging which is laudable action comes from understanding the virtues. Our greatest stories are nothing if not conflict between antagonist and protagonist, a battle against that esteemed as good and that which is evil. In ancient literature, our understanding of virtuous action comes principally from Aristotle. The path of virtue is the middle ground, such that it “is an intermediate between excess and defect” (Aristotle 1220). Just as Aristotle gives a framework with which to judge virtuous action, so Dante presents a framework with which to punish actions deemed outside of virtue. In Dante’s Inferno we meet non-Christians, those not baptized, whom God punishes according to the severity of their sin. At the entrance to Hell, Dante reads an inscription above the gate that says, “Abandon every hope, you who enter here” (Dante 1416). Hell is a place of stasis—the dead found there can never leave. Drawing from Homer’s Odyssey, this essay explores the actions of Odysseus’ son Telémakhos. By applying Aristotle’s Nichomacean Ethics and incorporating Dante’s system of punishment, this essay evaluates Telémakhos’ actions and places him in his proper place in hell: submerged in a hot river of blood forever.

In order to know what virtuous action is, one must carefully choose between too much and too little. Aristotle says, “It is possible to fail in many ways, while to succeed is possible only in one way” (Aristotle 1221). This teaching is the premise of Nichomacean Ethics; Aristotle teaches what modern readers know as “The Golden Mean”—the understanding that moral virtue “is a mean bet...

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... audience just as Virgil warns Dante of his own fate. In the opening lines of the Inferno Dante says, “In the middle of the journey of our life I came to my senses in a dark forest, for I had lost the straight path” (1408). This straight path is the way of virtue. The relevance of virtue is as applicable today as it was in the time of Homer, Aristotle, and Dante—and in a Dantean understanding of the world, failure to follow the mean carries with it the punishment of an eternity in Hell.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Nichomacean Ethics. Trans. W. D. Ross. Wilkie and Hurt 1220-1225.

Dante, Alighieri. The Divine Comedy. Trans. H. R. Huse. Wilkie and Hurt 1398-1571.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. Wilkie and Hurt 273-594.

Wilkie, Brian, and James Hurt, ed. Literature of the Western World Volume 1. 5th Ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 2001.
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