Ulysses, a Man for Our Time

In honor of Odysseus’ victory in the Homeric Heroes Poll, here are some passages from Latin authors on their favorite villain:


Plautus, Bacchides 945

“I heard that Ulysses was bold and wicked, as I am.”

Vlixem audivi, ut ego sum, fuisse et audacem et malum.


Vergil, Aeneid 2.43-44:

“Do you think that the enemy have fled? Or do you think that any Greek gifts could be free of treachery? Is Ulysses thus known?”

creditis avectos hostis? aut ulla putatis
dona carere dolis Danaum? sic notus Ulixes?


Vergil, Aeneid 2.264:

“…Ulysses, that contriver of evil deeds.”

…scelerumque inuentor Vlixes,


Vergil, Aeneid 3.272-273

“We avoided the crags of Ithaca, the kingdom of Laeertes, and we cursed the land that nourished savage Ulysses.”

effugimus scopulos Ithacae, Laertia regna,
et terram altricem saevi exsecramur Ulixi.


Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares 10.13.1:

“Whoever finally puts Antony down will be responsible for finishing the war. It is for this reason that Homer calls Ulysses – not Ajax or Achilles – the destroyer of cities.”

qui enim M. Antonium oppresserit, is bellum confecerit. itaque Homerus non Aiacem nec Achillem sed Ulixem appellavit πτολιπόρθιον.


Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.34:

“Yet he lives, because he did not accompany Ulysses.”

ille tamen vivit, quia non comitavit Ulixem.


Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.62

“Thus is Ulysses to be feared!”

sic est metuendus Ulixes!


Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.711-713

“And now they had passed the ports of Dulichium, and Ithaca and Samos, and the homes on Neritus, the kingdom of deceitful Ulysses.”

et iam Dulichios portus Ithacamque Samonque
Neritiasque domus, regnum fallacis Ulixis,
praeter erant vecti

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4 thoughts on “Ulysses, a Man for Our Time

    1. I hear that! We always lament the fact that so little from antiquity survives, but it hardly feels that way when you’re trying to comb through and post excerpts in this fashion. You could spend your whole life looking at the relevant Greek material… and then there’s still a wildly unmanageable amount of Latin stuff out there!

  1. This is why there needs to be a divorce between the word “hero” and the concepts of goodness or morality. As you know, “heroes” in the Ancient Greek sense are spiritual beings as opposed to paragons of virtue (with Herakles and Theseus being exceptions to the rule in many ways since Their cults differ significantly from the cults of most other heroes). More often than not, what made someone a hero was how they died or how extraordinary their lives were before they died rather than any kind of moral virtue (though again this is not necessarily unheard of). One of the most illustrative examples of what being a hero meant to our classical predecessors can be found in the story of a wrestler who could eat an entire bull in one sitting. One day he snapped and killed some children. This caused the grieved parents to form a mob and go after him which resulted in the conflict spilling into a temple. The fight caused a part of the temple roof to fall on the wrestler and he died as a result of his injuries. A plague later hit the town and an oracle discovered that the plague was caused by the dead wrestler and that giving him offerings as a hero would drive the plague away. Does any of that sound like a moral paragon? I would question the sanity of any person who would say that this guy is someone to be emulated. And yet he was given offerings. Why? Because of his power. As a hero he could give and take away. The extraordinary strength he had in life was preserved in death. That’s why Odysseus can be a hero without being good because it’s not goodness that one requires to be a hero. The only thing necessary is to be a dead person of immense power. As a friend once told me, “Heroes are great, not good.”
    For anyone who wants a more in-depth explanation I would recommend my colleague P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ essay on the topic titled What Deadpool Can Teach Us About Hero Cultus. Google the title and you can read it on Polytheist.com

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