Compare and contrast Ulysses and Telemachus in Tennyson's "Ulysses."

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Ulysses" is narrated by Ulysses himself. In the first two paragraphs of the poem, lines 1-32, Ulysses expresses his restlessness with his relatively uneventful life at home in Ithaca. Having been a great adventurer and a warrior in his younger days, he is now just an "idle king," a mere administrator. He desires experience and adventure and therefore, because of his age and his obligation to his family, he feels trapped in this new sedentary lifestyle. 

In lines 33-43, Ulysses introduces his son Telemachus, describing him in more effeminate, less adventurous terms. In fact, Ulysses suggests that while he is the quintessential warrior, it is Telemachus who would not only feel more at home as a king/administrator; Telemachus would be quite successful at it. 

Ulysses concludes, in line 43, by noting this contrast between himself and his son. "He works his work, I mine." Ulysses is the adventurer and Telemachus is the more passive shepherd/king. Because of their personalities, Ulysses believes that he is more suited for adventure (even in old age) and Telemachus is more suited to be a king. 



Further Reading:
edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To compare denotes finding similarities; in this poem, the narrator finds few things in common with his son, Telemachus. However, they share a royal blood line and Ulysses is content to "leave [him] the sceptre and the isle," trusting that Telemachus would be an effective king of Ithaca. Ulysses is confident that Telemachus would express appropriate "adoration to [my] household gods" in his father's absence. Both men are dutiful, but it is much harder for Ulysses to humble himself than it is for Telemachus. 

Ulysses mostly contrasts himself with Telemachus; his son would be prudent and lead the people of Ithaca "to the useful and the good," while Ulysses chafes at being idle and letting old age set upon him. Ulysses believes that though he is old, adventures "may yet be done." He is a seeker, a restless man who "strove with Gods," and he is not ready to meet Achilles in the afterlife. Ulysses acknowledges that he is not as young and strong as he once was but avows he is still "strong in will."