William Blake's rendition of Ulysses and Diomedes in hell.
Goat Rope is winding up on long series on the Odyssey of Homer. You'll also find links and comments about current events. At this point, we've covered the epic pretty well and are now looking at what other writers have done with the character of Odysseus, aka Ulysses.
As noted in yesterday's post, Plato imagined that he would choose a calm, non eventful life next time around. But other writers, such as Dante, just weren't buying it. They imagined that Ulysses wouldn't be able to give up the itch for more travel and more adventures.
In Dante's Inferno, he wound up (or down) in the Eighth Circle of hell, a place reserved for fraud for the whole Trojan horse thing. Dante, after all, was a fan of Rome and the mythical founder of that city was the Trojan prince Aeneas. But it sounds like the real reason for his punishment was an endless thirst for adventure which leads him to set out again.
From the horse's mouth:
From Circe had departed, who concealed me
More than a year there near unto Gaeta,
Or ever yet Aeneas named it so,
Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence
For my old father, nor the due affection
Which joyous should have made Penelope,
Could overcome within me the desire
I had to be experienced of the world,
And of the vice and virtue of mankind;
But I put forth on the high open sea
With one sole ship, and that small company
By which I never had deserted been..."
(Dante, of course, never read Homer. In the medieval period, knowledge of Greek was mostly lost in the west and he didn't know the whole story--like the fact that Odysseus returned alone from his wanderings.)
In Dante's version, Ulysses/Odysseus made the blasphemous decision to push beyond the boundaries of the known world and sail out into the ocean where his ship met disaster:
I and my company were old and slow
When at that narrow passage we arrived
Where Hercules his landmarks set as signals,
That man no farther onward should adventure.
On the right hand behind me left I Seville,
And on the other already had left Ceuta.
'O brothers, who amid a hundred thousand
Perils,' I said, 'have come unto the West,
To this so inconsiderable vigil
Which is remaining of your senses still
Be ye unwilling to deny the knowledge,
Following the sun, of the unpeopled world.
Consider ye the seed from which ye sprang;
Ye were not made to live like unto brutes,
But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.'
So eager did I render my companions,
With this brief exhortation, for the voyage,
That then I hardly could have held them back.
And having turned our stern unto the morning,
We of the oars made wings for our mad flight,
Evermore gaining on the larboard side.
Already all the stars of the other pole
The night beheld, and ours so very low
It did not rise above the ocean floor.
Five times rekindled and as many quenched
Had been the splendour underneath the moon,
Since we had entered into the deep pass,
When there appeared to us a mountain, dim
From distance, and it seemed to me so high
As I had never any one beheld.
Joyful were we, and soon it turned to weeping;
For out of the new land a whirlwind rose,
And smote upon the fore part of the ship.
Three times it made her whirl with all the waters,
At the fourth time it made the stern uplift,
And the prow downward go, as pleased Another,
Until the sea above us closed again."
As we'll see tomorrow, Tennyson picked up on this theme as well.
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