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A Hero Among Men, A Man Among

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A Hero Among Men, A Man Among

A Hero Among Men, A Man Among Heroes

The name Ulysses instantly conjures up images of heroism and adventure. Even modern readers who are less versed in classical literature recognize the larger-than-life character, if not the specific details of this legend. It is with these associations in mind that one approaches the poetic monologue 'Ulysses' by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Tennyson, hwoever, presents the reader with a man rather than a hero. The Ulysses of his imagination is restless rather than self-satisfied and irresponsible and selfish rather than altruistic. This Ulysses harbors unrepentant contempt for his home and mostly for the people who have cheered him on and anxiously awaited his return from battles. Yet in spite of his faults ' indeed because of his faults ' Ulysses posesses the venerant power of inspiration. Were he entirely flawless, he would be out of the realm of the reader's experience, and though we would admire him, we would not see ourselves in him as we do in Tennyson's poem. Ulysses' human strengths despite his many weaknesses embodies the will and ability of man, and the audience's awe-inspired response to his monologue demonstrates the desire of man to elevate and admire the individual who achieves greatness through determination and hard work.

The initial contrast between myth and man comes within the first few lines. Ulysses does not gracefully acquiesce to the duties of old age, as every person must eventually do; instead, he whines like a spoiled child. Nothing suits his taste: his homeland is too barren, his wife too old. He treats his loyal subjects, whom he ought to rule with the wisdom that should be learned over the years, with such disrespect and shameful disregard that one might think that they had done some grave disservice to Ulysses to earn such a reputation in the eyes of the king. He describes his subjects as ''a savage race, / That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me' (Lines 4-5). Ulysses maintains his superiority complex throughout the first two-thirds of the poem, and he includes absolutely everyone in his criticism, especially his own son, Telemachus. He devotes lines 33 through 43 to mocking Telemachus' 'slow prudence,' blamelessness, and decency. These traits, he sneers, are harmless but hardly worthy of great men like himself.

In addition to his incredulous arrogance, Ulysses possesses a level of irresponsibility which few have the luxury to afford. He spent his entire life on the road, consorting with generals, kings, and even gods, visiting 'cities of men / And manners, climates, councils, governments' (Lines 13-14). Yet he seems to have gained nothing from the experience by an unquenchable thirst for more recognition, glory, and power. Ironically, he does not have the will-power to carry out his quotidian responsibilities; though he does have enough strength to endure war and hardship. Furthermore, he cannot muster the emotional strength to endure transitioning into a pleasant retirement because he sees it as a sign of weakness and pathetical uselessness. Ulysses instead yearns for adventure purely for the thrill of it, and he thinks the life of those other than himself too dull to bear.

The poem 'Ulysses' would have been lost ...

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