Ulysses is may be the best known myth of Ancient Greece. His personality has fascinated all the great writers all over the times in the western culture from Dante to Joyce.
His original characters are depicted in the Homer's epic poems Iliad and Odyssey.
In the first, though the central role is played by monolithic epic warriors like Achilles, Agamemnon and Menelaus, emerges his cunning and his courage, jointly with his prudence and wisdom.
In the second, where he plays an absolutely main role, hits mostly his curiosity, his bravery and craving of knowledge but also his misfortunes and disgraces (po’lymetis and po’lytlas are the two Greek words that connote and mark his character soon in the incipit of Homer's late masterpiece).
Ulysses, with his anxiety of knowledge, sometimes even against the Greek’s gods will, reminds in someway to the biblical account of Adam and Eve, who tasted against the God’s prohibition the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
We cannot be sure that Homer (or better the more ancient traditions that the classic fonts assign conventionally to his collection) was influenced by the direct vision of the biblical reports; but we can neither exclude it utterly, so mysterious and intricate are the contaminations between different cultures, all over the human history.
But in the Ulysses of Dante we can notice that jointing with the Greek-roman tradition, the new Jewish-Christian vision prevails on the eldest basic characters: in the XXVI Canto of Dante’s Comedy, the immortal Greek hero doesn’t follow the knowledge at any rate, but his intentions are moved for thirst of “virtues and knowledge”. That’s what we read in the Ulysses prolusion to his mates “You were not born for living like brutes/ but for following virtues and knowledge”.
As matter of fact Dante puts his Ulysses with the cheating advisers (jointly with Diomedes) and not with the Angels rebelled against God (though we must observe that they are nevertheless very close each other, in the bottom of the horrible hell).
In other words we can say that modern western culture accepts the Dante’s vision of the Inferno’s Ulysses.
The rebellion against God is therefore reserved to Adam and Eve and to the Angels who fought against God for supremacy; Ulysses is the positive hero whose anxiety of knowledge is to be framed in the quest of God; or at least that’s the positive idea that western culture accepts unanimously now days.
This perspective of Ulysses‘ myth is also accepted by the graduated poet, the English Alfred Tennyson.
Totally opposite is instead the vision given by Irish writer James Joyce in his controversial novel Ulysses.
Ulysses chronicles the passage of Leopold Bloom through Dublin during an ordinary day, 16 June 1904 (conventionally the day Joyce's married his wife, Nora Barnacle).
The novel establishes a series of parallels between its characters and events and those of the poem (Leopold Bloom corresponds to Ulysses, Molly Bloom to Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus to Telemachus).
Ulysses is divided into eighteen episodes. Since publication, the book has been a highly regarded novel in the Modernist pantheon.
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Ulysses first on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday.
It's useful to describe now the equivalence between the epic's characters and the main subjects in the modern Joyce's Ulysses. As everyone knows the three main characters in the Irish novel are Bloom, his wife Molly and Stephen Dedalus (a sort of autobiographic profile, already featuring in a previous author's novel as The portrait of an artist as a young man). The story establishes a series of parallels between its characters and events and those of the Homeric's poem: Leopold Bloom corresponds to Odysseus, Molly Bloom to Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus to Telemachus.
It could have been very hard to find a real coincidence in the two stories (the Homeric and the Joycean) if Joyce himself had not given a precise, peculiar imprint in that direction. As matter of fact James Joyce divided his novel into 18 different episodes, each one reminding the Homeric's Ulysses events. But while the Homeric hero lives those events through a ten years journey all over the mediterranean basin, Bloom, Molly and Stephen are shown to the reader featuring all over a single day in Dublin.
We cannot correctly understand the Joyce's work, if we don't sight it in the right frame of the cultural background of the Joycean's times.
The Irish writer lives and creates in the same period of Picasso decomposing reality into the cubism painting technique. In the same time that Dadaism cries out its anti-war politics through a rejection against the war and the bourgeois way of thinking and behaving both in its political and colonialist approaches.
May be right title for the Joyce's opus could be "The hidden side of the Homeric hero Ulysses" also considering the probable freudian influence on the literature and arts in the same Joyce's epoch.
In fact the Ulysses' stream-of-consciousness technique, make me think that Freud’s concepts of the conscious, primary process and dreams can help illuminate Joyce's characters.
As matter of fact, in the first two decades of the XX century, ‘the stream of consciousness’ writing technique finds several followers, such as Marcel Proust in France and Italo Svevo in Italy (besides Joyce himself).
The great, innovative discovery of these three novelists, has been to turn fiction from the external to internal reality.
Of course you might like or not Joyce’s novel (its reading being so difficult and hard, though joyful and agreeable in certain pages, where humor and nonsense prevail on the apparent leisure of the full contest), and so, still prefer the myth as Homer has engraved it in his unforgettable masterpiece, but Joyce’s Ulysses is already like a shadow who will follow forever the Greek myth of Odysseus.