The poem “Ulysses” was mainly occasioned by Tennyson’s grief for Arthur Henry Hallam. Its materials, however, have their origin in Homer’s epics. But the central thought of the poem is founded not on Homer but on Dante’s Inferno XXVI.
Ulysses is the Latin name of Odysseus, the famous Greek hero of Homer’s celebrated epics, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. The tale of his life, as found in Homer, is given below very briefly.
The elopement of Helen, the queen of Athens, with Paris, the prince of Troy, led to a war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Ulysses, the king of a small island Ithaca of Greece, went with other Greek princes to besiege Troy. Troy fell after ten long years. After the fall of Troy, Ulysses made his homeward journey along with his crew. His ships were led astray. He had to wander ten more years in order to reach his home country. All his mariners died, or were killed. And Ulysses returned alone. After some scuffle with the island princes’, he became the king of Ithaca again.
Tennyson’s source is Homer. But his ‘Ulysses’ is his own creation. The ideal of life, that Tennyson’s Ulysses breathes, is no Homeric thing.