Harry’s Underworld Journey: Reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows through Vergil’s Aeneid

Vassiliki Panoussi

Abstract


In this paper, I argue that a series of parallels make the Aeneid a compelling intertext for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (DH). My goal is not only to identify possible sources or parallels for Rowling’s work but also, and more importantly, to argue that only through reading the DH through the lens of the Aeneid can we appreciate the series as an ideological, foundational narrative. By the term foundational, I refer to the series’ ambitious agenda to present Harry’s victory as the dawing of a new world, governed by the principles of tolerance, democracy, and cooperation. The underwrold journey or katabasis motif is deployed in several episodes of the DH, each of which can be linked to the Aeneid, and each presenting a new stage in Harry’s realization of the magnitude of his mission. First, I examine Harry’s visit to Godric’s Hollow side by side with Aeneas’ visit to Buthrotum as expressions of their inability to overcome their horrific past; next, I analyze Dobby’s death and burial as a pivotal moment for Harry’s journey toward leadership, reading it against the death and burial of Aeneas’ comrade Misenus. Other katabasiselements deepen the connection between Vergil’s epic and the DH: the Golden Snitch and the Elder Wand can be seen as versions of the Golden Bough. Finally, I discuss Harry’s climactic encounter with Dumbledore in King’s Cross as a foil to Aeneas’ meeting with Anchises in Aeneid 6. My analysis helps us appreciate more fully how the modern novel combines ancient ideas on fatherhood, destiniy, and leadership, adapted to fit contemporary views regarding power, tolerance, and democracy.