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In Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem titled “Ulysses,” the title character states or implies that he shares a number of qualities or characteristics with his men. These characteristics include the following:
- Mutual affection (9).
- Mutual courage in battle (16).
- Mutual toil, as when Ulysses refers to his “mariners” as
Souls that have toil'd and wrought, and thought with me-- (46)
- Mutual joy in undertaking quests and adventures (47).
- Mutual determination and confidence (49).
- Mutual old age (49).
- Mutual strife with the gods – that is, a mutual commitment to challenging fate (53).
- Mutual commitment to adventure (57).
- Mutual dedication to physical challenges (58-59).
- Mutual willingness to risk death (62-64).
- The possibility of mutual existence after death (63).
- Mutual admiration for the great hero Achilles (64).
- Mutual resilience despite advanced age (65).
- Mutual diminishment of the physical strength they had when younger (66).
- Mutual achievements when they were younger (67).
- Mutual “temper of heroic hearts” (68) – in other words, mutual courage.
- Mutual commitment to their new adventure despite their limitations (69-70).
Something extra: Tennyson’s poem invites attention from any critical theory that emphasizes the importance of intertextuality, or the way one text can allude to other texts. Tennyson’s poem almost demands to be read in light of the presentation of Ulysses (Odysseus) in both the Iliad and especially the Odyssey of the great ancient Greek poet known as Homer. Tennyson takes great liberties with Homer’s depiction of Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus. A biographical or historical critic might want to explore why Tennyson did this and how his adaptation of the Ulysses legend was received by his own contemporaries.
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