Topic:Character of Ulysses in the poem by Tennyson


Volume: 3 pages

Type: Essay

Format: APA


Concerning the character Ulysses (Odysseus) In an essay of at least 750 words, explain how the character of Ulysses in the poem by Tennyson can be judged from the following two viewpoints: a) He is a grand and noble man who recalls the heroic events of his past to justify his refusal to submit quietly to inertia, old age, and death b) He is a pompous and arrogant man, contemptuous of his seamen, his family, and his subjects Through your research, explain how each of the above viewpoints is valid. Use at least four sources to support your ideas. Sources can include: • “Ulysses” by Tennyson • The Odyssey by Homer • “Penelope” by Dorothy Parker • “Odysseus to Telemachus”by Joseph Brodsky • Canto XXVI of Inferno by Dante The paper must be double-spaced, using MLA format, which includes parenthetical documentation and a “sources cited” page In your conclusion, offer your opinion on the character of Ulysses – is he worthy of your contempt or your admiration? Explain.

notes from the source listed below

• Inferno 26 presents one of the Commedia’s most famous characters: the Greek hero of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus, known by his Latin name as Ulysses.
• The Ulysses episode is not ultimately cast in the mode of sarcasm or irony but of tragic, heroic, flawed greatness. The author does not intend to cut his hero down to size as he does Capaneus and Vanni Fucci, at least not within Inferno 26. The adjective grande that stands at the threshold of the bolgia that houses the Greek hero casts an epic grandeur over the proceedings, an epic grandeur and solemnity that Dante maintains until the beginning of Inferno 27.
• The Ulyssean lexicon is sutured into the DNA of the Commedia, and Ulysses himself has therefore a wholly unique status among sinners. Ulysses has a sustained presence in the poem: he is named in each canticle, not only in Inferno 26 but also in Purgatorio 19, where the siren of Dante’s dream claims to have turned Ulysses aside from his path with her song, and in Paradiso 27, where the pilgrim, looking down at Earth, sees the trace of “il varco / folle d’Ulisse” (the mad leap of Ulysses [Par. 27.82-83]), in a stunning reminiscence of the original episode’s “folle volo” (Inf. 26.125).
• The first thing to know before tackling Inferno 26, the canto of Ulysses, is that Dante did not read Greek and never read the Iliad or the Odyssey. Homer’s works were not available in the West until later humanists recovered the knowledge of ancient Greek and the texts of Greek antiquity. Dante’s Ulysses is entirely mediated through Latin texts, in particular through Book 2 of Vergil’s Aeneid and through Cicero’s De Finibus.
• The negative Ulysses is portrayed in Book 2 of Vergil’s Aeneid, where he is labeled “dirus” (dreadful [Aen. 2.261]) and “scelerum inventor” (deviser of crimes [Aen. 2.164]). Vergil’s portrayal came to dominate the Latin and later the medieval tradition, producing the conventional stereotype of a treacherous and sacrilegious warrior that leads directly to Dante’s fraudulent counselor, who is punished in one flame with his comrade-in-arms Diomedes, since “insieme / a la vendetta vanno come a l’ira” (together they go to punishment as they went to anger [Inf. 26.56-57]).
• However, Dante’s Ulysses is a complex creation that goes far beyond the negative stereotype. Dante borrowed also from the positive rendering of Ulysses that was preserved mainly among the Stoics, for whom the Greek hero exemplified heroic fortitude in the face of adversity. Horace praises Ulysses in the Epistle to Lollius for his discernment and endurance and especially for his ability to withstand the temptations that proved the undoing of his companions: “Sirenum voces et Circae pocula” (Sirens’ songs and Circe’s cups [Epistles 1.2.23]). From the Ars Poetica, where Horace cites the opening verses of the Odyssey, Dante learned that Ulysses “saw the wide world, its ways and cities all”: “mores hominum multorum vidit et urbes” (Ars Poetica, 142).
• Dante’s reconfiguring of Ulysses is a remarkable blend of the two traditional characterizations that also succeeds in charting an entirely new and extremely influential direction for this most versatile of mythic heroes. For Dante invents a new story, never told before. His Ulysses departs from Circe straight on his new quest, pulled not by the desire for home and family but by the lure of adventure, by the “the longing / I had to gain experience of the world / and of the vices and the worth of men”: “l’ardore / ch’i’ ebbi a divenir del mondo esperto / e de li vizi umani e del valore” (Inf. 26.97-99). As the classicist W. B. Stanford points out in his wonderful book The Ulysses Theme: “In place of [Homer’s] centripetal, homeward-bound figure Dante substituted a personification of centrifugal force” (p. 181).
• Stanford offers a remarkable tribute to the importance of Dante’s contribution to the Ulysses myth: “Next to Homer’s conception of Ulysses, Dante’s, despite its brevity, is the most influential in the whole evolution of the wandering hero” (The Ulysses Theme, p. 178). The wings of Dante’s alta fantasia may fail him at the end of the journey but they vouchsafe him remarkable insights along the way. It is indeed a testament to that fantasia that—without knowing Homer—Dante was able to summon the authentic Ulyssean spirit in his brief episode, and to impress his version of that spirit upon our collective imagination.
• Dante’s placement of Ulysses among the sinners of fraud, and specifically among the fraudulent counselors, depends heavily on the anti-Greek pro-Trojan propaganda of imperial Rome: the sentiment Dante found in the Aeneid. Aeneas, Vergil’s choice as mythic founder of Rome, is a Trojan, and Vergil’s Ulysses reflects the tone of the second book of the Aeneid, in which Aeneas recounts the bitter fall of Troy. The fall of Troy occurred, after ten long years of war, not because of military superiority but because of the stratagem—the Ulyssean stratagem—of the Trojan horse.
• On the other hand, despite this damning recital, countless readers have felt compelled to admire Ulysses’ stirring account of his journey beyond the Pillars of Hercules. He wants to experience what is “di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente” (beyond the sun, in the world that is unpeopled [Inf. 26.117]).
• Like humans then who were involved in the European explorations of the Atlantic that were just beginning in Dante’s day, like humans today who seek to go further into the solar system, Ulysses wants to go beyond the markers of the known world.
• Dante’s own fears of engaging in a “Ulyssean” quest. The question is: is one’s quest for knowledge a self-motivated search for personal glory or is it a divinely sanctioned journey undertaken to help others?

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