As everyone who has read Homer’s Odyssey knows, the long-wandering Odysseus manages to make his way home to Ithaca, to his faithful wife Penelope, his son Telemachus whom he left twenty years before when the boy was a little baby, his aged father Laertes, his estate, and the few servants that have remained faithful to him and his family, with an unshakable devotion. There’s no sense that Odysseus will go any farther. He is back where he belongs. And he is the only survivor from his ship. In fact, there’s a prophecy that says that he will know he is home to stay, when he meets a back-country fellow who sees an oar from a boat and doesn’t even know what it is.
But the poet Dante had something else in mind for Odysseus — whose name the Sabine Romans pronounced as Ulysses, turning the D to an L. Dante imagined that Ulysses did not stay where it was his duty to stay, but persuaded his mariners to embark with him on a mad voyage beyond the Pillars of Hercules into the unknown western oc…
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