Facing The Past : Dante's Encounter With Ulysses

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Kyle Elliott
Facing the past: Dante’s encounter with Ulysses
Throughout the Inferno, Dante has often presented characters in a way that reflects his own personality: there is the overly amorous and suicidal Dido for whom he shows sympathy and gives a lesser punishment, while there is the tragically suicidal Pier delle Vigne for whom he gives a much harsher punishment. This difference in placement should reflect a strict moral code that agrees with a pre-established divine order, and yet Dante demonstrates such obvious favoritism. Why? Dido loved Aeneas too much, as Dante loved Beatrice. Therefore, Dante can easily sympathize. Similarly, when Dante faces Francesca da Rimini and her lover Paolo, he experiences an immense
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Dante, being Italian and regarding Virgil with respect, likewise considers Ulysses a falsifier and therefore places him in the eighth bolgia of the eighth circle of Hell. However, Ulysses represents more than an embodiment of deceit: the Greek hero’s story happens to be one of an intellectual journey, giving a means for the pilgrim to draw a comparison between his own journey and that of Ulysses, as well as an idea of where that journey could lead. In the Commedia, Dante depicts himself as a prophet (for which God’s word is the Commedia itself) who undergoes a learning experience that transforms him into a perfect prophet who is able to convey God’s word without doubts or reservations. This transformation occurs gradually as Dante learns from various characters he meets throughout the journey, but probably the greatest contributor to this transformation is Ulysses. In Canto XXVI, Dante focuses on major themes regarding his spiritual condition in order to contrast Ulysses’ spiritual condition, some of which include the cause for damnation or salvation and a poetic and/or prophetic authority. The primary source of similarities between their spiritual states can be found in Dante’s Convivio, which employs a much more
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