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The Arguement Regarding Odysseus’ Fate Essay, Research Paper
The Argument Regarding Odysseus Fate
The story is known worldwide. Odysseus, the great epic hero, leaves his beautiful Ithaca, spends ten years of his life fighting bravely against Troy, and then spends another ten years reaching home. At this point he leaves Troy again. He leaves his family and loyal subjects to go exploring and questing to satisfy the wanderer inside him. Everyone agrees of the facts, but they do not agree of what to make of Odysseus. Pindar, said to be the greatest of Greek poets, makes Odysseus into a deceitful villain. Philoctetes of Sophocles portrays Odysseus as a rascal who believes in telling the truth only when he can afford to. Odysseus is also seen as an uncaring, icy man as he justifies his sacrificing of Hecuba s daughter in Euripides Hecuba. I am not sure of the reasons for these portrayals, but the thoughts and reasoning of Kazantzakis, Tennyson, and Dante are heartbreakingly clear. The works of these three men bring up some questions. Does ambition justify his leaving Ithaca again? Should he be damned to the Inferno, or does his actions prove to be his salvation? Kazantzakis believes that his second journey form Ithaca is his salvation and that he grows in spirit from the experience. Tennyson and Dante do not share this idea with Kazantzakis. In fact, they believe Odysseus is damned. Thus, the argument begins.
Nikos Kazantzakis presents Odysseus as a wise and spiritually dominant man in his epic poem Odyssey: A Modern Sequel. The adventures of Ulysses that begin after his return to Ithaca are parallel to Odysseus spiritual growth. Nikos says there are seven stages in man s advancement from being a savage to obtaining a pure soul. One of the epithets Kazantzakis uses in his epic is seven -souled. Not only is this epic about the modern man in search of a soul, but also it is an exploration of the meaning of freedom. In Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Odysseus is seen as being out of place in Ithaca. Ulysses father and his son are strong believers of discipline and order, but Odysseus will concede no boundaries. It is deeply rooted in Odysseus to wander under the stars, to experience and seek and find until he meets his death. Kazantzakis believes this was in him and it was only natural to do what comes naturally. He doesn t damn Odysseus for his wanderings, but praises him on growing spiritually and following his destiny.
For Dante, as well as Tennyson as you will soon see, deception is the key word. Dante believes Ulysses to be deceptive. One of his worst deceptions was the use of the Trojan Horse, which brought about the fall of Troy. Also, he came back to Ithaca for the wrong reasons. He didn t leave Circe s island for Penelope and his home, but for his own greediness. He wanted the ultimate quest and to go beyond the boundaries and limits of the world. In the poem, it read When I left Circe, it said, who more than a/ year/ detained me new Gaeta long before/ Aeneas came and gave the place that name, / Not fondness for my son, nor reverence/ For my ages father, nor Penelope s claim. Dante damns him for his neglecting his ties of family. Ulysses is disenchanted and his youth and adventure is the past. It is time for him to take his place in life and nature. Instead, he gives in to his lust to experience the far-flung world.
Tennyson developed his feelings about Odysseus from Dante. Tennyson s poem Ulysses is a demonic, dramatic monologue. For Tennyson, Odysseus is depicted as a deceitful character. He avoids the realities of his situation. Tennyson believes that Ulysses is trying to renew the past. He was untrue to himself, his family, and nature. For the same reasons Kazantzakis says Ulysses is natural, Tennyson damns him as unnatural. In Ulysses, the wanderer goes forth for knowledge, but seems to love no one and to scorn his wife and son. He thinks he is better than his people and speaks on them distantly, almost indifferently. What make the poem truly demonic and dark are the last words of Odysseus: Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/ To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. These words echo the words of Satan in Paradise Lost, in which Satan declares, And courage never to submit or yield/ And what is else not to be overcome? Odysseus, according to Tennyson, is taking and conquering, without giving anything and without regret for anyone he hurts. The first line of the poem also shows Ulysses as a cad. It little profits him to stay there in Ithaca with his aged wife. To his Apostles, Christ said For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul (Matthew 16:21)
Is Odysseus damned or saved? Is there anything wrong with his ambition and desire to wander and seek? Kazantzakis feels that Ulysses is completing himself by his constant wanderings. Tennyson and Dante feel that he s doing things for the wrong reasons, is deceptive, and not taking his place in nature. Who is right? Who has the most convincing argument? It all depends on how one looks at it and what one believes.
Odysseus/ Ulysses. Chelsea House Publishers. New York: Main Line Book Co, 1991.
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