What are the characteristics of Ulysses in Tennyson's poem?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tennyson's characterization of Ulysses is a bit different from the Homeric vision.  The traditional texts present Ulysses as a character who seeks to be home with Penelope and Telemachus, an individual whose final destination is his home in Ithaca.  However, Tennyson casts a modern revision on such a notion in presenting him as not very content with the domesticated life.  Tennyson's analysis is reasonable in that if Ulysses was such a passionate and cunning warrior, one who battled forces that would intimidate other mortals, it seems that he would not be very content with a life devoid of challenges, obstacles, and hurdles that would test the character of most men.  In this light, the restlessness is not seen in battle, but rather in peace, in boredom, in domesticity.  Tennyson uses the dramatic monologue through his poem to explore this aspect of Ulysses, who returns to Ithaca not to settle down and establish roots, but rather as a transit stop for yet another challenge.  Tennyson casts Ulysses in the light of not being content with the mundane details of day to day life, and one who seeks adventure, purpose, and the life of the soldier.  The implication here is that like Ulysses, human beings must seek out challenges, and must be poised in conditions that test their own sense of fortitude for it is these moments that make life worth living.  The closing lines of "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" reveals a portrait of an individual who will only be content when he is immersed in situations that most would be running from, but he covets.