Student Question

Is Ulysses considered courageous or a coward?

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One could argue that Ulysses is a courageous man, as even in old age he's prepared to leave the court of Ithaca behind and embark upon exciting new adventures.

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Ulysses, or Odysseus as he's known in Greek mythology, was a brave, noble warrior who carried out numerous heroic deeds over the course of his many exciting adventures. Whether it was putting out the eye of the giant Cyclops Polyphemus or ridding his palace of hordes of troublesome suitors, Ulysses consistently showed remarkable courage, not to say intelligence and cunning.

In Tennyson's poem, we see Ulysses display a very different kind of courage, the courage to change his life. Ulysses is getting on in years and has become thoroughly bored by the daily grind of his kingly duties. Instead of meting out unequal laws to a "savage race," he'd much rather be on his travels again, heading out to sea to embark upon exciting new adventures.

Some may regard this as an abdication of his responsibilities as king. Ulysses, they might argue, has duties to perform, no matter how boring they may be. This means staying at home and letting other, much younger men prove themselves as heroes and warriors.

And yet there's something courageous all the same about a man entering into his twilight years being drawn to the ocean and all the thrilling experiences it still has to offer. Ulysses has seen much in his life, but he knows there's still more to explore. And so long as he's alive, so long as he still has strength within him, he is determined to keep on exploring:

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done.

That Ulysses is prepared to do such work, despite his great age, cannot be described as anything other than courageous.

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