Odysseus or Ulysses: the False Differences Between the Greek Hero and Roman Patriarch

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Odysseus or Ulysses: The False Differences between the Greek Hero and Roman Patriarch Carol Burns Professor Shelton English 121 May 14, 2012 One of the most interesting notions raised by Tennyson’s poem Ulysses is that Odysseus, having strived to return home for seven years from the Trojan War, upon successfully achieving this end becomes restless and wishes to return to a life of seafaring. In contrast to Homer’s Odysseus, Tennyson’s Latinate Ulysses is not the renaissance figure who returns to rule Ithaca after twenty-year absence. Instead, Tennyson’s Ulysses seems a tired more cynical version of Homer’s Odysseus, who realizes that, the ultimate expression of pietas and so fulfills man’s last duty in life. It is my contention that the voyage Tennyson’s Ulysses clamors for what is Shakespeare’s Hamlet terms “the undiscovered country”—death. There seems little doubt in Ulysses mind that this voyage would be his last. Nevertheless, why would a man who place such emphasis upon coming home, as Homer’s Odysseus, ever want to venture from it again? According to the values of Hellenistic Greek culture, such an act would be unconventional, which raises the question of how much Tennyson’s own Victorian values impact the Odysseus he chooses to portray. Tennyson’s poem could potential differentiate between Greek and Roman heroic values. However, this is not the case. Tennyson actually seems focus upon Roman values which originate, or become culturally codified, in Hellenistic Greece. In making a characterization of Ulysses that seems decidedly Roman, one could argue Tennyson’s hero culls a cultural ancestry from Greece. There are many qualities in common that Homer’s Odysseus and Tennyson’s Ulysses share. Both display the metis for which everyone knows the Greek hero. They do not diverge in their display of pietas. Both seem products of Pre-Hellenistic

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