In the poem "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson, is Ulysses a heroic or an unheroic figure?

Expert Answers
huntress eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To answer this question, you must decide what you think is "heroic" and why. Ulysses presents himself, at the beginning of the poem, as a rather pathetic figure. He is an "idle king," living among "barren crags," his wife is old, and all he does is "mete and dole / Unequal laws unto a savage race" whose lives consists of collecting stuff, eating, and sleeping. He realizes that he has "become a name," meaning that he once made a name for himself, but all his heroism is in the past. Throughout the poem, he speaks of what he has done and how he cannot stop; he must go on, "cannot rest from travel: I will drink / Life to the lees." But consider: to do this, he must leave his "aged wife"--a wife who waited twenty years, being faithful to him and fending off her suitors while he fought at Troy and got lost coming home.

The poem has some of the most heroic lines in it of all literature, in my opinion, but the actions Ulysses is considering are quite the opposite.