Thus, knowledge for Keats is not only that which one acquires through empirical experience but also what is received from earlier generations.
The descent of the narrator into the netherworld speaks also of the poet’s desire to draw from poetic tradition. Keats uses descriptions of hell from earlier works of literature. Prominent among these would of course, be Dante Alighieri’s work, Divine Comedy, where the protagonist descends into hell in order to gain a better understanding of the cosmos. He is led there by his beloved, Beatrice. In the case of The Fall of Hyperion, a character like Moneta may be considered to be a substitute for Beatrice. The interest of the poet here, unlike in the case of Dante’s work, is not sexual love but the love for knowledge. The thirst to create something new draws Keats into the netherworld and he is rewarded not with spiritual bliss or salvation but with knowledge.
Another myth that one may read in Keats’s work is that of the Orpheus legend. The legend revolved around Orpheus going to the netherworld to bring his wife, Eurydice back to life. The god of the dead lays down one condition for the success of Orpheus’s mission- he would lead his wife out of hell but would not be allowed to turn back to see whether she was following him. Orpheus, a musician and hence an artist, is unable to contain his curiosity and fails to meet the condition. In a way, one may argue that Orpheus’s inability to do so stemmed from his need to know. The narrator of Keats’s poem too faces a similar problem. The difference, however, is that his/her curiosity is a disinterested one, unlike that of Orpheus’s. He is interested in knowledge and its acquisition for its sake rather than for marital love. Keats’s search, through the narrator, remains of permanence rather than something that would remain, in the final analysis, ephemeral.
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