Apology of Dante’s Ulysses

Reading other content I have published, you will surely have realized that the Dantesque admonition made to utter to a forlorn Ulysses (i.e., Odysseus) in his Inferno is as sublime as poetry has bestowed on the quest for factual and only knowledge (at least along with the very famous Luciferian anathema cast by Milton in Paradise Lost).

A knowledge that cannot be denoted in any other way outside of the fate that, though blatantly steeped in unprecedented Christian-Catholic orthodoxy, admirably paints its salient features. As Stanislaus de Guaita also points out, the “materializing” effect of Circe is manifested in the transformation into pigs of Ulysses’ companions (incapable, esoterically speaking, of approaching actual knowledge) but not the latter, a man who will save the entire crew but will be eternally self-condemned because of the sparkling spirit of divinity that pervades his every action.

Dante meets Ulysses in hell
Dante meets Ulysses in the Divine Comedy (Canto XXVI of the Inferno).

A touching encounter in the flames of hell

Dante encounters Ulysses and freezes; the firm condemnation that, only in the case of Paolo and Francesca seems to waver once again, is replaced by an admiration for a model that, after all, he had decided to imitate when, while still alive, he “decided” to embark on a journey to a place destined for pure spirits.

But why is there so much emphasis on the negativity of knowledge? In the Eden of Genesis, the tree with this attribute is planted in the north and seems to share roots (or bases, origins, depending on your point of view) with that of life. It exists, it is accessible, and anyone can pluck its fruits. Still, the God who wants man, the Adam image of His “prototypical” model Qadmon, does not want him to see in the image and likeness (attributes, after all, so bizarre, given the consequences) with It, a reason to push himself even in the direction of ultimate knowledge. But, perhaps because a God who creates a complete microcosm no longer has the power to limit what is imbued with his spirit, or perhaps also because “vain” and mindful of the rebellious deeds of his most beautiful archangel, Father “mocks” Adam.

He knows that man is destined to re-deify himself, to vertically travel the perpendicular that leads from origin to infinity (wherever that may be). Still, he cannot allow this to happen painlessly. These creatures, superior to angels, will have to be enmeshed in materiality, caged, as Sartre put it, in the condemnation of freedom that only the overcoming of the present state (with the full attainment of the cosmic domain of Yetzirah) could solve by restoring “normalcy” to what seems to be the daily repetition of a perpetual Odyssey.

Conclusion: the true identity of Dante’s Ulysses

Who, then, is Ulysses? He is the man who, with a lantern in his hand, searches the night, reckless, fearless of neither the shadows nor the howls echoing in the distance. He is the one who desires to live only to feel the material world unravel (in the esoteric and metaphorical sense) beneath his feet as animated by the healing power of complete gnosis. He slowly rises to places where the hell is known as the pit where slaves, “respectful of their ignorance,” spin the wheel of life.

One of the best editions of Dante’s Inferno (illustrated by Gustave Dore):

Inferno: 1
  • Translated by Anthony EsolenIllustrations by Gustave Doré
  • A groundbreaking bilingual edition of Dante’s masterpiece that includes a substantive Introduction, extensive notes, and appendixes that reproduce Dante’s key sources and influences
  • Leggi di più Leggi meno

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