Either Odysseus was the worst sailor in Greek history, or he took the scenic route home for a reason. Dante tended toward the second interpretation. His Odysseus is punished as the Ulysses of the Aeneid, a dirus (dreadful) type who is scelerum inventor, a “contriver of crimes.” In Canto XXVI of Inferno, Dante condemns the Homeric original to the Eighth Circle, among the false counselors, for misusing the gifts of reason and rhetoric, a ten-year streak of lying and trickery. When he gratifies his desire for knowledge and experience, it is at the expense of his family and duties in Ithaca.

This Ulysses is a secondhand scoundrel: out of Latin not Greek, and damned by medieval Christian morals. In Ulysses, James...

 

New to The New Criterion?

Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.

Popular Right Now