Dante Compare contrast Ulysses ACTUAL ESSAY by huanghengdong

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									Madison Scripture

Mr. Herbert

Literature

January 10, 2012

                           Dante/Tennyson Comparison-Contrast Essay

       While Ulysses is seen as a heroic being that is admired for his determination throughout

Alford Tennyson’s Ulysses, the contrasting viewpoints of Dante Alighieri in the Inferno argue

that Ulysses was a paragon for pride and condemned to hell for going beyond the bounds of

human knowledge and reasoning. Both imply that Ulysses was unwilling to abandon his

yearning desire for adventure in order to pursue his social responsibilities and duties as king of

Ithaca and a father.

       Although at the beginning of Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses has just returned to the kingdom

of Ithaca after a long, adventurous journey home from fighting in the Trojan War, he despises his

subdued lifestyle as an “idle king” (line 1). Ulysses is always “roaming with a hungry heart”

(line 12) and is implied by Tennyson to be a restless spirit who yearns to continue traveling and

roaming the ocean in search of adventure and discovery. He uses an arch to symbolize his life

and experiences, which is seen as an “untraveled world” (line 20) and a place that seems to

“gleam” (20) through the arch. One could see this “untraveled world” as a reference to death,

which stares him right in the eye through the arch of his adventures. As Ulysses becomes a “grey

spirit yearning in desire” (30), continuing on his quests for adventure and gaining new

experiences, he is saved from death. Ulysses feels that life is not just about the motions, such as

“breathe” (24), it is about the different adventures we encounter. He wants to “follow knowledge

like a sinking star” (31) suggesting that he wants to chase after knowledge and discovery
through travel to try to catch it as it sinks like a star, which is “beyond the utmost bound of

human thought” (32). Ulysses wants to “sails beyond the sunset” (60) to the “baths of all the

western stars” (61), which was the edge of the earth where the stars descend to, since at this time

the earth was considered flat. Ulysses feel that “tis never too late to seek a newer world” (47),

which could also be interpreted to mean improve the life of man, extending knowledge and

human reasoning.

        The forceful and simple language Tennyson uses expresses Ulysses conflict between his

past heroic adventures and his responsibilities. Ulysses tries to justify his desire for adventure by

suggesting that he is “part of all that [he] has met”. He feels that he has left a part of him in all

places he has traveled, implying that he is not fit for Ithaca. Tennyson suggests that while

Ulysses is a leader during battle, he is a coward when it comes to ruling as king. He says that

“when [he] is gone” (43), suggesting that he is going to fuel his desire for adventure with another

voyage, his son, Telemachus, “whom [he] leave[s] the sceptre and the isle” (34) to, will be king

of Ithaca because he is “decent [enough] not to fail” (39). Ulysses suggests that ruling as king is

more of “labour” (36) and their duties to be “common” (40) rather than an honor. With that being

said, although he says that he is confident with the Telemachus ruling, he does not value the

qualities in a man such as “slow prudence”(36) or of “soft degrees” (37). Tennyson also implies

that Ulysses is willing to “sail beyond the sunset” (60), even though the “gulfs [may] wash [him

and his crew] down”(62) to their untimely deaths.

        Although he is old in age, Ulysses continues to long for the days of his youth, willing to

sacrifice himself, as well as his loyal crew for a slight taste of glory. Because of his adventures,

Ulysses “became a name” (11) known to everyone giving him a sense of pride and glory.

Tennyson suggests that this is not so much a sin, especially when he alludes to Paradise by
suggesting that although Ulysses and his crew may be engulfed by the ocean, they may “touch

the Happy Isles” (63). Throughout Tennyson’s poem, one can see Ulysses continue to “strive, to

seek, to find and not to yield” (70) regardless of the consequences. Even though he and the

“mariners” are “weak by time” (69), they are “strong in will” (69) and will continue to seek out

challenges to overcome.

       Unlike Tennyson, Dante feels that although he suggests Ulysses search for knowledge,

his reason for leaving his family behind in order to fulfill his lust for adventure, shows that he is

not truly devoted to thought and knowledge or concerned with the lives of his men, but instead

barred by his own desire for pride and glory. Ulysses recounts his adventurous voyage during

Canto XXVI, where we learn that he is condemned to the eighth circle for false chancellors for

misusing his gift of reason. As Virgil guides Dante through this circle, they come across “souls

within those flames” (47) where “each sinner swathes himself in his own torment” (48). There

they meet Ulysses and Diomede who are “together in one flame” (76). Ulysses is the figure in

the larger horn of the flame, which is symbolic of his guilt as a leader. Dante’s judgment on

Ulysses’ punishment is suggested by saying "that it not run where virtue does not guide" (22),

meaning do not go beyond human reasoning. Ulysses is condemned to hell “for pursuit of virtue

of knowledge” (120) beyond human bounds and fulfilling his burning desire for adventure in

disregard for his sacred duties in Ithaca and his family. According to Dante, Ulysses is being

punished for his manipulative speech that convinced his men to sail to their deaths. He considers

Ulysses to be an archetype of pride, for seeking, striving, finding and not yielding regardless of

the circumstances. Therefore Ulysses condemnation from God is the sinking of the boat on “the

mad flight” (125).
       At the beginning of the poem Ulysses, Tennyson suggests that there is this heroic vision

of Ulysses and his men, admired for their determination and the will to “strive, to seek, to find,

and not to yield” (70) to in their quest for honor, pride and glory, but by the end we realize that

Tennyson intended for a different look to present the men with selfishness as they wither away

toward their death. Reading both Ulysses and Dante’s Inferno, one must remember that Dante

was Italian, and would have been a descendent of the defeated Trojans, while Ulysses was a

Greek. Knowing this, one can see that there may be a harsher point of view toward Ulysses, the

Greek, being that Dante would have been a Trojan.

								
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