Ye were not form’d to live the life of brutes
but virtue to pursue and knowledge high

Echoing this exhortation uttered by Ulysses to his men, (Hell, Canto XXVI, verses 119-120) we have sought to launch the project of the Dantepoliglotta website dedicated to human rights and their preservation.  To re-read this introductory page, click here.

The person of Ulysses towers over the other damned souls of Malebolge, the dreadful ditches of the eighth circle of Hell where fraudsters are punished.  Some commentators have observed that the Greek hero would, if he were not guilty of the deceit of the Trojan horse, belong to the world which suited him better of the lofty noble spirits of Limbo (canto IV of Hell).  Instead, because of that sin, he is to be found in the pit of the fraudulent counsellors where he undergoes eternal anguish shrouded in an inextinguishable flame together with his old-time companion Diomedes.

And yet, for Dante, Ulysses is and remains «a noble person who is well aware of himself and his own abilities and does not hesitate to face the most arduous and risky undertakings; noble above all in his thirst for knowledge like Dante’s and which is discussed in the Convivio and The Divine Comedy in unforgettable tones».[1]

Moreover, since ancient times there have been many who have seen in Ulysses the incarnation of virtue and wisdom, the highminded hero who nobly and bravely follows the path of knowledge.  In Homer’s poem it is he who, when his companions would like to avoid going out of their way into the land of the Cyclops, declares that he absolutely wants to explore it in order to discover what sort of people live there.  Ulysses does exactly the same thing when he and his companions reach the island of the sorceress Circe.  And even more when they see the Sirens.  These Homeric flashes make up the base on which Dante draws his portrait of Ulysses as an indomitable explorer who dares to sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules which, at that time, were regarded as the extreme limit of the explorable world.  It should be added as well  that Greek tradition always is extremely generous in its praise of Ulysses to the extent that two famous historians, Herodotus and Polibius, considered him to be an authentic model for any history student.[2]

We too in Dantepoliglotta want to adopt Ulysses as a model of human nobility.

We have no information about the real circumstances in which Ulysses died.  However, we shall assume that the fantastic tale attributed to him by Dante is true: the story of the bold voyage beyond the Pillars of Hercules and of the shipwreck which killed him and his men when they had come in sight of the mountain of Purgatory.  And we intend to collect many readings of his account (Hell, Canto XXVI, verses 90-142) in very varied languages and dialects.

Like the “voices” of Francesca, so too the “voices” of Ulysses will continue to enrich this website for the enjoyment of its visitors and for us who build it, and they will be able to make their valuable contribution in specific circumstances to the initiatives which will keep alive our Human Rights Corner.

[1] Mario Fubini, in Enciclopedia Dantesca, Vol. V, p. 805.

[2] Piero Boitani, Ulysses and the Three Traditions, in AA.VV., I pensieri dell’istante. Scritti per Jacqueline Risset, Editori Riuniti, Rome 2012, p. 67.

Ulysses’ narration
(Hell, Canto XXVI, Verses 90-142)

mi diparti’ da Circe, che sottrasse
me più d’un anno là presso a Gaeta,
prima che sì Enea la nomasse,
né dolcezza di figlio, né la pieta
del vecchio padre, né ’l debito amore
lo qual dovea Penelopé far lieta,
vincer potero dentro a me l’ardore
ch’i’ ebbi a divenir del mondo esperto,
e de li vizi umani e del valore;
ma misi me per l’alto mare aperto
sol con un legno e con quella compagna
picciola da la qual non fui diserto.
L’un lito e l’altro vidi infin la Spagna,
fin nel Morrocco, e l’isola d’i Sardi,
e l’altre che quel mare intorno bagna.
Io e ’ compagni eravam vecchi e tardi
quando venimmo a quella foce stretta
dov’Ercule segnò li suoi riguardi,
acciò che l’uom più oltre non si metta:
da la man destra mi lasciai Sibilia,
da l’altra già m’avea lasciata Setta.
“O frati”, dissi “che per cento milia
perigli siete giunti a l’occidente,
a questa tanto picciola vigilia
d’i nostri sensi ch’è del rimanente,
non vogliate negar l’esperienza,
di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente.
Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza”.
Li miei compagni fec’io sì aguti,
con questa orazion picciola, al cammino,
che a pena poscia li avrei ritenuti;
e volta nostra poppa nel mattino,
de’ remi facemmo ali al folle volo,
sempre acquistando dal lato mancino.
Tutte le stelle già de l’altro polo
vedea la notte e ’l nostro tanto basso,
che non surgea fuor del marin suolo.
Cinque volte racceso e tante casso
lo lume era di sotto da la luna,
poi che ’ntrati eravam ne l’alto passo,
quando n’apparve una montagna, bruna
per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto
quanto veduta non avea alcuna.
Noi ci allegrammo, e tosto tornò in pianto,
ché de la nova terra un turbo nacque,
e percosse del legno il primo canto.
Tre volte il fé girar con tutte l’acque;
a la quarta levar la poppa in suso
e la prora ire in giù, com’altrui piacque,
infin che ’l mar fu sovra noi richiuso».

To listen to the reading of these verses through the voice of Giuliano Turone,
author and editor of this website ,
click here below:

Here are the same verses translated into English by Henry Francis Cary

«When I escap’d
From Circe, who beyond a circling year
Had held me near Caieta, by her charms,
Ere thus Aeneas yet had nam’d the shore,
Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence
Of my old father, nor return of love,
That should have crown’d Penelope with joy,
Could overcome in me the zeal I had
T’ explore the world, and search the ways of life,
Man’s evil and his virtue. Forth I sail’d
Into the deep illimitable main,
With but one bark, and the small faithful band
That yet cleav’d to me. As Iberia far,
Far as Morocco either shore I saw,
And the Sardinian and each isle beside
Which round that ocean bathes. Tardy with age
Were I and my companions, when we came
To the strait pass, where Hercules ordain’d
The bound’ries not to be o’erstepp’d by man.
The walls of Seville to my right I left,
On the’ other hand already Ceuta past.
“O brothers!” I began, “who to the west
Through perils without number now have reach’d,
To this the short remaining watch, that yet
Our senses have to wake, refuse not proof
Of the unpeopled world, following the track
Of Phoebus. Call to mind from whence we sprang:
Ye were not form’d to live the life of brutes
But virtue to pursue and knowledge high.
With these few words I sharpen’d for the voyage
The mind of my associates, that I then
Could scarcely have withheld them. To the dawn
Our poop we turn’d, and for the witless flight
Made our oars wings, still gaining on the left.
Each star of the’ other pole night now beheld,
And ours so low, that from the ocean-floor
It rose not. Five times re-illum’d, as oft
Vanish’d the light from underneath the moon
Since the deep way we enter’d, when from far
Appear’d a mountain dim, loftiest methought
Of all I e’er beheld. Joy seiz’d us straight,
But soon to mourning changed. From the new land
A whirlwind sprung, and at her foremost side
Did strike the vessel. Thrice it whirl’d her round
With all the waves, the fourth time lifted up
The poop, and sank the prow: so fate decreed:
And over us the booming billow clos’d».