Ulysses and Urania

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Ulysses on Calypso’s island, by Detlev Conrad Blunck

Ulysses is the Latin form of Odysseus, which may be derived from the Greek word odyssomai (to hate). I’ve seen a number of potential alternative meanings from laypeople, but I can’t trust their veracity without any sources to back it up. Though I normally far prefer the original Greek forms of mythological names, I slightly prefer Ulysses over Odysseus.

Ulysses was the King of Ithaca, son of Laertes and Anticlea, husband of the faithful Penelope, and father of Telemachus. I’m assuming just about all of my readers are familiar with at least the basics of his story. He’s an important character in The Iliad, and the protagonist of The Odyssey. The latter documents his ten years of wandering after the 10-year Trojan War. He has all sorts of problems, sexual dalliances, and adventures along the way, while Penelope keeps a large number of suitors at bay.

In Canto XXVI of Inferno, he appears in the Eighth Ring of the Eighth Circle (false advice), being punished for his conduct during the Trojan War. Ulysses, wrapped in flames, tells a story about his last voyage, in the unknown sea below the Equator, ending in a shipwreck by the Mount of Purgatory. As this story is different from the one foreshadowed by Homer, it’s believed Dante invented it himself.

In Canto XIX of Purgatorio, Dante dreams about a Siren, who mentions how she fouled up Ulysses’s voyage home. In Canto XXVII of Paradiso, the imagined voyage from Inferno is referenced.

Urania, by Giuseppe Fagnani

Urania was one of the nine Muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who supposedly slept together on nine consecutive nights to produce these children. Some sources list her as the mother of musician Linus (by Apollo) and the god Hymenaeus. She was the Muse of astronomy, and later considered the Muse of Christian poets.

In Canto XXIX of Purgatorio, Dante asks for her assistance:

O Virgins [Muses] holy and high, if ever fast,
And cold, and vigil, for you I endured,
Now I am spurred to claim reward at last.
Helicon’s founts for me be full out-poured,
With all her choir Urania me uphold
To attempt in verse things scarce to thought assured.

Urania is the Latinized form of Ourania, which comes from the Greek word ouranios, “heavenly.”

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2 comments on “Ulysses and Urania

  1. That portrait is beautiful. I love the life-like sparkle in her eyes. The model looks like she would’ve been an interesting person, in her own right. 🙂

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