Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Ulysses and the Sirens by John William Waterhouse

One of the things I truly enjoy while writing this blog is the art that sometimes comes with the name, which I feel separates this blog from a lot of the others, and in the case of Ulysses, there's some great stuff here. Case in point:

"Ulysses" by Josh Garrels
Another song to check out is "Tales of Brave Ulysses" by Cream

Ulysses is not just the name of the 18th U.S. president, it is the Latin name of Homer's epic hero Odysseus. You know the one - he leaves his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus for the Trojan War, then it takes him 20 years to come back home. Now, most stories written by the ancient Greeks are a little weird (truth be told) so the fact that he met some other ladies along the way, was forced to live with a goddess/witch, well... Penelope was on his mind the whole time. How she waited for him for so long... who knows. And the fact that he disguises himself upon returning home, well... that was completely necessary.

The story goes like this: Odysseus/Ulysses was the King of Ithaca, is known for being a great man. He leaves for the Trojan War, which lasts ten years, then his journey home ends up lasting another ten years. He did some good deeds during the war (unless you're asking a Roman, because they didn't like him much) and his wife stayed at home, waiting patiently, entertaining unwanted suitors who believed him to be dead. His son, Telemachus, was not yet a man and could do nothing to help his mother or bring back his father. Ulysses meets a cyclops, gets a gift from Aeolus, meets the witch-goddess Circe who turns some of his men into pigs (probably for good reason), but then she turned his men back and forced Ulysses to stay on her island with her for a year, for she fell in love with him. Now, I'm not clear how much force there really was in that situation, what with feasting and drinking and all. But, they parted ways after the year was up, and he kept sailing until he met the ghost of his mother, who told him what was going on at his house. He continues sailing, but a monster named Scylla destroys the ship. Ulysses is washed onto the shore, where he meets the goddess Calypso. This time, Ulysses was forced to stay on Calypso's island for 7 years, as her lover. (I know, I'm not really making the case in his favor...) Anyway, he finally makes his way home and Athena disguises him as an old beggar so that he can spy on the situation with the suitors. Only his son knows what's going on, but together with Penelope, Ulysses/Odysseus wins the competition set for her hand in re-marriage. He kills the suitors and all ends well. Except for some maids.

Ulysses and Nausicaa by Guido Reni

Still with me? Good. Ulysses's/Odysseus's story (The Odyssey) has been told and retold, most recently inspiring the movies "O Brother Where Art Thou" and "Cold Mountain," and a much older movie called Ulysses, as well as one called Ulysses' Gaze. In fact there might be a few more movies with similar titles. (There are retellings of Penelope's side of the story, but this post isn't about her.) As far as books go, check out Ulysses by James Joyce, and Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson. And of course, he appears in the Iliad.

Hiram Ulysses Grant, however, 18th president, was well known for quite a few things himself, such as destroying the Ku Klux Klan in 1871. He was a Civil War man for the Union side, a Republican, and a conservative Southern man. He stabilized the nation after the Civil War (going for two terms) and was accused of financial corruption, but still believed to be a good man. I do believe he was also responsible for the 15th Amendment and the Indian Peace Policy. Fun fact: his nickname, Sam, came from his initials (besides his never-ever-talked-about real first name becaused the initials would have spelled "HUG") U.S., which was intended to represent "Uncle Sam," aka the military, especially since he was a career soldier.

Ulysses and the Sirens by Hubert James Draper

In 2011 there were 178 baby boys named Ulysses, last ranking in 2005 at #983 after two years of not ranking, and 355 spelled the popular Latin way, Ulises, ranking at #661 and no drop outs. There were also 36 spelled Ulices, which highly resembles the word slices, 24 Ulisses, 14 Ulyses, 5 Ulysse (no S at the end, who knows why) and 5 Ulyssis. The meaning of Ulysses and Odysseus is debated, but two guesses include "wrathful" and "hated."

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