Dante and Ulysses (reader response)

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I think that nothing in Dante portrays the beauty and the nobility of the human condition, including its imperfections, better than Canto XXVI of Inferno, where Dante meets Ulysses.

For Ulysses, the greek hero protagonist of the Odyssey, Dante invents an original death, imagining that he attempted, moved by his desire for exploration, to travel beyond the boundaries of the known world (i.e. the Mediterranean Sea) and dying in a shipwreck.

Dante imagines Ulysses in Hell, because he’s a product of the Catholic faith of his era and he can not but condemn Ulysses’s ambition and hubris. Yet, he admires him for his quest for discovery.

…né dolcezza di figlio, né la pieta
del vecchio padre, né ‘l debito amore
lo qual dovea Penelopé far lieta,
vincer potero dentro a me l’ardore
ch’i’ ebbi a divenir del mondo esperto,
e de li vizi umani e del valore…

Nor fondness for my son,
nor reverence for my old father, nor the due affection
which joyous should have made Penelope,
could overcome within me the desire I had to be experienced of the world,
and of the vice and virtue of mankind…

Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.

Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
you were not made to live your lives as brutes,
but to be followers of worth and knowledge.


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