Ulysses is the Greek hero of the ‘Iliad’ and the ‘Odyssey’ of Homer. He was one of those great heroes, who brought about the fall of Troy. As narrated in Homer, he fought for ten years on the battlefield of Troy and spent ten years more in wandering through different lands and seas. He returned to his home island of Ithaca after a long absence for twenty years.
Tennyson’s poem presents Ulysses after his return to and settlement in his kingdom at Ithaca.
Tennyson’s Ulysses, however, differs from the hero of Homer’s epic, the Odyssey. He is not a mere chivalrous knight and a powerful leader, like his Homeric counterpart. He is, above all, an idealist, who moves with an insatiable thirst for the unattainable ideal of life. His utterance illustrates and emphasizes his great mission of life and his robust dynamic vision.
Ulysses does not like to pass his days in his home at Ithaca in the company of his ‘aged wife and rugged people. Such a static life seems monotonous and soul-killing to him. He is haunted by a spirit of romance and adventure. He desires to leave this idle life and embrace a life of endless voyages and alluring visions.
Ulysses’s yearning has no end. His purpose in life is to see the unseen, to know the unknown and to attain the unattainable. He has not a circumscribed goal, which, when attained, leaves nothing further to ask for. His motto of life is to pursue new knowledge, new thrill and new experience without any halt. To him, the essence of life lies in movement, and not in rest, in aspiration, and not in mere attainment- “How dull it is to pause, to make an end.”
Tennyson’s Ulysses is a Homeric figure. But he is found to breathe the spirit of modern times. He is, in fact, an embodiment of the modern passion for knowledge, for the exploration of its limitless fields, for the annexation of the new kingdoms of science and thought. He is infused with the restless aims of the Victorian age that was agog with new inventions and new knowledge. Ulysses, Tennyson’s hero, bears the germ, the spirit and the sentiment of the modern age in his resolute pursuit for new activities and enterprises, in his iron determination to stand boldly against all the crosses of life.
In Ulysses’s bold assertion “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”-is felt a rapturous joy of fight with the stiff opposition of life. Here Ulysses, the hero of some forgotten days, seems to be animated with all that a modern man of science and knowledge dreams and desires.