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Essay on Ulysses Alighieri

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Ulysses Alighieri

In Dante’s “Inferno”, among many other sins, in Canto XXVI the “counselors of fraud” are being punished. These people are being constantly consumed by flames, and more importantly, as Dante points out, are forced to speak through the “tongues” or fire, which pains them greatly. This follows Dante’s idea of punishment that is the same as the sin -- just as they spoke falsely at ease, they should have great difficulty speaking now. The most prominent man in this bowge is a legendary figure -- Ulysses. The description of his sin, which Dante creates for Ulysses, is an account that conflicts with some of the previous works about him, like Homer’s, so we are forced to assume that Dante’s Ulysses is completely, save for
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The personality of Ulysses does not play a major role in Dante’s description of him and his sins, but rather one of his specific actions. Dante chooses to condemn Ulysses’s search for the unexplored, and his fooling of his crewmembers to follow him into sure death.

Dante’s seeming condemnation of Ulysses’s sense of exploration is understandable. During his time, search for new truths was not considered good, but rather the adhering to old rules, and the imitation of previous people. Ulysses chooses to go where no living man has gone without divine permission, and is punished for this deed by death. However, a closer look at Dante’s treatment of this sin reveals that Dante is only condemning Ulysses for convincing others to come along with him, but not for actually going there. Dante does not punish Ulysses for trying to interfere with the divine, but rather for his relation to his fellow man. It is logical for Dante not to condemn Ulysses for the rebellious exploration, because Dante himself was a rebel. Just like Ulysses decided that he is going to break the old conventions and explore a forbidden place, so does Dante, by his participation in the “Sweet New Style” school of poetical thought. By writing in this new style Dante is condemning the old style, and not imitating it. This is a rebellious act according to the philosophy of the times. Dante does not consider his participation in the new school a sin, but rather a greater good, as
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