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A section from

‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II

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ULYSSES OF ITHACA I: A Past Worth Forgetting

 

‘What a wicked world it was that drove a man to sin.’ - The Last Don, Mario Puzo

 

In the film Troy, between Achilles and Hector the character of Ulysses got a rather small role - one that is politely known as a character role. Given the deadly constraints of film length and the straightforwardness of Achilles and Hector, that a deeply complicated and sometimes hated Ulysses was sacrificed in understandable. This feature explores Ulysses, who is Homer’s most enduring hero - one for whom the phrase ’history is written by the winners’ could have been coined.

 

Ulysses has wide appeal but he is also sometimes justifiably hated. Despite enjoying his stories, his misdeeds are also plainly chronicled here; simply because anti-heroes with hints of cruelty make reading more entertaining than vanilla good-guys.

 

CONTENTS

The Perils of Crossing Ulysses I: Palamedes

Recruiting Achilles

Enemy Within

The Unpardonable Act

 

If Achilles stood for strength & war, and Hector stood for honour & duty, then Ulysses has come to symbolize cunning and perseverance. Not because these are his only traits that take away from his martial prowess, but because Ulysses guile was a rare trait among the Greek contingent. His lateral thinking was so unique and dispassionate that it often borders on cruelty, and sometimes crosses into. It is ironic then that in one of our first encounters with the man he is bettered in a battle of wits…

 

The Perils of Crossing Ulysses: Palamedes

 

The Greek invasion of Troy was in the initial stages and the kings of Greek states were being recruited into the cause. A recently married Ulysses - King of Ithaca and father to the infact Telemachus was reluctant to leave his domestic bliss for what was clearly going to be a long drawn out battle. He feigned insanity by pretending to till the lands of Ithaca in a manner that only a lunatic would. Palamedes, sent to recruit the Ithacan king tested Ulysses madness by placing the baby Telemachus in his path. Ulysses was forced to avoid the child and expose his rational nature, and was left without an excuse to avoid battle.

 

Ulysses became devoted to the Greek cause from then on but never forgave Palamedes. During the course of the Trojan War when chance permitted, Ulysses falsely implicated Palamedes as a traitor by placing incriminating documents and wealth in his tent before having it searched. Palamedes was subsequently stoned to death by his own people. 

 

Recruiting Achilles

 

Once again the film Troy failed to do justice to the recruitment of Achilles. It took more than polite conversation between our man Ulysses, the man-o-war Achilles and cousin Patrocolus during a mock saber-rattling session.

 

Achilles mother - Thetis was an immortal sea-nymph who knew that if her son went to war at Troy he would be killed. She dispatched him to the court of King Lycomedes where the warrior remained disguised as a lady of the court. Cunning Ulysses apparently had a web of spies who made him aware of Achilles whereabouts. He approached the ladies of the court in the guise of a merchant with a wide selection of wares. Among his merchandise was a cache of arms and weaponry to draw out the alpha-male Achilles. While the ladies busied themselves with whatever it is that ladies busy themselves with, Achilles (still dressed as a maiden) was drawn towards the classical weapons of mass destruction, and before he knew it he  had fallen into Ulysses trap and betrayed himself.

 

Enemy Within

 

The Ithacan King had a large ego and a keen sense of politics. Not only did he do battle with the Trojans but his conflicts within the Greek contingent are at least as famous.

 

Prince Ajax - the son of King Telamon of Salamis was a gigantic man and second only to Achilles on the battlefield and he would have ended Hector outside Troy had it not been for divine intervention. But the fact that Ulysses was close at his heels in battle proved to be Ajax’ undoing.

 

At the funeral games of Patrocolus a wrestling match between Ajax and Ulysses ends without a clear winner because the smaller man’s mind prevented the giant Ajax from a clear victory. Indeed, Ulysses’ skill put Ajax strength into doubt and the bout ended in a draw. The match ended amicably, and when Achilles was slain on the battlefield Ulysses and Ajax together fought off the Trojans who were baying for the warrior’s body, and returned the corpse of their dead friend to camp for the Greek rites.

 

As was customary, the fallen hero’s arms were to be passed on to the warrior deemed most worthy of them and once again Ajax and Ulysses were the only contenders. Guile was put above strength and the Achilles weapons and body armour passed into Ulysses possession. Ajax, unable to contain or deal with his fury went insane and committed suicide. The Prince of Salamis was denied an honourable burial.

 

Years later (in Homer’s Odyssey) Ulysses meets many of his fallen comrades in Hades; and when he and Ajax face each other the prince’ stare is blank and he turns away without entering into any dialogue with Ulysses. Charles Lamb poignantly describes Ulysses reaction to this silence, where the Ithacan King wishes that the arms had been given to ‘so illustrious a chief’ rather than himself. Despite Ulysses pleas Ajax refuses any relief to him by way of words.

 

"He might have spoke to me," said Ulysses, "since I spoke to him; but I see the resentments of the dead are eternal."

 

The Unpardonable Act

 

But Troy was no feeble enemy. Priam, the king, was now old, but he had been a wise prince and had strengthened his state by good government at home and numerous allies with his neighbours. But the principle stay and support of his throne was his son Hector, one of the noblest characters painted by heathen antiquity. - The Golden Age of Myth & Legend

 

War is cruel to warriors but more so to prisoners of war and the families of soldiers. The women, children and the old wait for husbands, fathers and sons, knowing that if their men fail then a fate not worth contemplating awaits them. Such was the fate of the family of Hector. Andromache - Hector’s wife saw her husband being killed and brutalized by the dreaded war-machine that went by the name Achilles. At this sight her consciousness left her and when she came to she wept for her pitiable state and that of Troy for she knew it’s fate now that Hector was dead. In her state of shock she saw her future as a captive and her son Astyanax as a beggar-orphan at the mercies of charity. As it turns out - she was being too optimistic.

 

After the fall of Troy Andromache became the slave and concubine of Pyrrhus (Achilles’ son) and bore him three sons. But this was after ‘cruel’ Ulysses forever ended all chances of a Trojan vengeance by throwing Hector’s son from the walls of Troy.

 

Further Reading on FactBehindFiction.com

The Trojan War: Kings, Warriors & Women

Archery: The Sublime & Deadly Art

 

References

The Adventures of Ulysses by Charles Lamb

The Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World

The Golden Age of Myth & Legend by Thomas Bulfinch

 

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Ulysses was one of Homer’s most enduring character’s. Cunning, intelligent & sometimes cruel. Homer’s Odyssey chronicles his tumultuous journey home after the Trojan War.

Palamedes is credited with inventing counting, currency, weights & measures, jokes, dice and a game that was the forerunner of Chess.

The Kingdom of Ithaca is covered with mountainous, tough terrain. Modern Ithaca is generally identified with Homer’s Ithaca

The war machine known as Achilles.

The Wrath of Achilles by

F. L. Benouvile

The tragedy that befell the mighty Ajax rivals the fall of honourable Hector. The circumstances of Ajax’ death denied him an honourable burial.

This illustration depicts Ajax carrying the corpse of his fellow warrior Achilles to safety from the scavenging Trojan soldiers looking to violate the man’s corpse as he had brutalized Prince Hectors.

Andromache in captivity. Painting by Frederic Leighton

Further Reading at

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