The Ulysses Theme: A Study in the Adaptability of a Traditional Hero

The Ulysses Theme: A Study in the Adaptability of a Traditional Hero

The Ulysses Theme: A Study in the Adaptability of a Traditional Hero

The Ulysses Theme: A Study in the Adaptability of a Traditional Hero

Excerpt

Being curious to know why some modern variations on the Ulysses theme--Dante's, Tennyson's, and Joyce's, for example --differed so much from the classical prototypes, I looked for some comprehensive study of the tradition and found none. The Greek and Roman periods had been summarily surveyed in two German encyclopaedias and in a series of articles by an Italian scholar. There were many scattered essays and monographs on special phases of the classical and vernacular traditions. But no one, apparently, had tried to trace the development of the theme continuously from ancient to modern times. So it seemed worth while as a sequel to editing Homer Odyssey to undertake this study of Ulysses's strangely varied wanderings in European literature.

Some explanations are due. Readers primarily interested in the classical period must be warned that my interpretation of Homer's Ulysses is based on a belief in the artistic unity of the Iliad and Odyssey as we now have them. This hypothesis, of course, begs a big question. But, whatever may be said against it on scholastic grounds, it at least has the support of almost every creative writer who has written on the Ulysses theme; and I found nothing in my further studies of Homer's characterization to make me disbelieve it: on the contrary the portraiture of Ulysses in each poem seemed more and more to reveal a unity of conception. It remains open for someone else to write another book based on the assumption of several Homers and more than one 'Homeric' Ulysses.

To readers more interested in the modern tradition I owe an apology for the comparative brevity of the later chapters. I originally planned a second volume for the post-classical period, but eventually ('let the cobbler get back to his last') decided against it. So, instead of trying to cover the modern ground as fully as the classical, I have offered an outline of what seemed to be the most characteristic developments in the Western traditions. Some details have been published in earlier articles, as cited later. If through ignorance or misjudgement I have omitted any major modern variations on the classical themes, I can only apologize, warning the reader that my knowledge of the post-classical period is mostly that of an inquisitive amateur.

I am grateful to many friends for help in collecting material and . . .

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