John Freccero


DANTE'S ULYSSES:
FROM EPIC TO NOVEL

In antiquity, history seemed to be made in the image of man. Civilizations, like men, succeeded one another according to the life cycle: a coming-to-be and a passing away to which men and all things of men, as well as the universe itself, seemed forever subject. Time seemed to move in an eternal circle, with repetition as its only rationale. In the face of inexorable destiny, man's only hope for permanence, or at least for its pale reflection, resided in his aspiration to worldly glory and human renown.

For St. Augustine, the advent of Christ changed all of this by introducing into history an absolutely new event. In the twelfth book of the City of God he asserts that the "circles have been shattered" for all time. The coming of the Redeemer seemed to cut through the circle of time and to establish a fixed point, making of the circular flux a linear progression toward that new and eternal event. Time seemed at last to have been moving toward its consummation, the fullness of time, which in retrospect gave to all of history a meaning, as a target gives meaning to the flight of the arrow. Christ seemed to have wrought a change not only in universal history, but in the history of the individual soul as well, whose story could no longer be reduced to the curve extending from birth through maturity to death, but was rather a continuous trajectory toward the target: a death that would give meaning to life. It was this new linear conception of time that some have claimed as the ancestor of our own idea of progress.

Whatever the accuracy of such a dichotomy, the circle and the straight line, time as continued repetition and time as a progression toward an apocalyptic goal, these do seem to be logically opposite poles of historiography. They are at the same time logically opposite poles of the narrative art, insofar as that art gives a picture, however idealized, of human existence. Homer's Odyssey, for example, seems to reflect in the spatial circularity of the journey's trajectory a temporal

____________________
From Concepts of the Hero in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, edited by Norman T. Burns and Christopher J. Reagan (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975), pp. 101-19.

-189-

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Odysseus/Ulysses
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Odysseus/ Ulysses *
  • Contents *
  • The Analysis of Character ix
  • Editor's Note xv
  • Introduction i
  • Critical Extracts 7
  • The Odyssey and the Western World 89
  • The Name of Odysseus 103
  • Homer and Hamlet 118
  • Kazantzakis: Odysseus and the "Cage of Freedom" 133
  • Shakespeare's Ulysses and the Problem of Value 144
  • The Fugitive from the Ancestral Hearth: Tennyson's "Ulysses" 161
  • Seeds for the Planting of Bloom 176
  • Dante's Ulysses: from Epic to Novel 189
  • Odysseus in Sophocles' Philoctetes 203
  • Joyce and Homer 214
  • The Platonic and Christian Ulysses 228
  • The Philosophy of Th E Odyssey 249
  • Odysseus and the Suitors 273
  • Chronology 289
  • Contributors 291
  • Bibliography 293
  • Acknowledgments 299
  • Index 303
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