Inferno

by: Dante Alighieri

Ulysses

“Within there are tormented
Ulysses and Diomed, and thus together
They unto vengeance run as unto wrath.
And there within their flame do they lament
The ambush of the horse, which made the door
Whence issued forth the Romans’ gentle seed…”

Ulysses and Diomedes were two Greek kings who led the fight against the Trojans and eventually won the Trojan War in part through the ruse of the Trojan Horse, events described in Virgil’s The Aeneid. Here, Virgil explains that Ulysses and Diomedes are trapped together in Hell, and blame each other for what happened during the war. By inserting Ulysses and Diomedes in Hell, Dante reveals that he disapproves of the trickery they used to win the war.

“Not 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…”

Here Ulysses explains why he did not return to his kingdom after the Trojan War, but he instead set off on a series of adventures. Dante strongly disapproves of Ulysses’s wanderlust and views Ulysses’s refusal to return home as a lack of loyalty to family and country. As a poet, Dante attempts to convince the reader to share in his disapproval through the dialogue he creates for Ulysses.

“’Consider ye the seed from which ye sprang;
Ye were not made to love like unto brutes,
But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.’
So eager did I render my companions,
With this brief exhortation, for the voyage,
That then I hardly could have held them back.”

Here, Ulysses describes how he used his gift with words to convince his somewhat reluctant crew to continue their adventures together. Ulysses was so persuasive that his crew was literally willing to sail to the ends of the earth with him. As he recalls his words, Ulysses recognizes that his persuasiveness is a good part of why he is now in Hell: Many of his crew died on that voyage.