Title

Grotesque, Bodily, and Hydrous: The Liminal Landscapes of the Underworld In Homer, Virgil, and Dante

Degree Year

2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Comparative Literature

Advisor(s)

Christopher V. Trinacty
Janet Fiskio

Committee Member(s)

Stiliana Milkova

Keywords

Underworld, Ecocriticism, Grotesque, Karst topography, Abjection, Wetlands, Material ecocriticism, Katabasis, Trans-corporeality, Liminal, Classical mythology, Hell in literature, Subterranean, Water in literature

Abstract

This paper traces the liminal hydro-geologies of the Underworld through the works of Homer, Virgil, and Dante with the intention of understanding the Western Underworld as an ecosemiosphere—a mythological place with a close reciprocity to a physical environment. I focus on the entrances and margins of the infernal realm, the places where myth and world merge most intensely. Located in the fluid interspace between the world and the Underworld, this project is fundamentally about permeable boundaries. Particularly because of the boundary-crossing nature of fluids, water guides this journey into the margins of the nether realm. The infernal realm is accessible through certain caves, sinkholes, lakes, and marshes, all of which are geological features generated by hidden groundwater systems. This paper approaches the liminal flows and orifices of the Underworld with the material ecocritical claim that “the ‘environment’ is not located somewhere out there, but is always the very substance of ourselves” (Alaimo 4). Drawing upon Alaimo’s notion of trans-corporeality, Kristeva’s theory of abjection, and Bakhtin’s grotesque bodily image, I assert that the wet and cavernous margins of the Underworld are bodily fluids and orifices that lead into the inner abyss.

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