ULYSSES, (Lat. Ulysses, Ulixes, Olixes, Athen., Bot., Corinth. Gk. Olysseus, Olytteus, general Gk. Odysseus, probably of lllyrian origin, influenced by popular connection with odyssesthai, to be hated). A legendary Greek hero. According to the oldest legend, the Homeric, he was the son of Laërtes (q.v.), Prince of Ithaca, and of Anticleia, daughter of Autolycus. According to a later account, his father was the crafty Sisyphus (q.v.), whence he is sometimes called by way of reproach, Sisyphides. He married Penelope (q.v.), by whom he became the father of Telemachus (q.v.). When the expedition against Troy (q.v.) was resolved on, Agamemnon and Menelaus prevailed on Ulysses, though with difficulty, to take part in it. Later traditions represent him as feigning madness--an artifice which failed through the skill of Palamedes. Once enlisted, Ulysses devoted himself to the success of the expedition; with Nestor's aid he secured the help of Achilles, and with Menelaus he undertook a fruitless embassy to Troy to demand the return of Helen and her treasures. When the Greek fleet assembled at Aulis, Ulysses brought 12 ships. In the narrative of the Iliad Ulysses plays an important part. In prudence and ingenuity of resource he is the foremost of the Hellenic chiefs, while in courage he is inferior to none. His later trait of trickery is seen in the episode of Dolon, but in the Homeric poems he is generally represented as a model of the older, as Achilles is of the younger, hero. After the fall of Troy, the Homeric narrative of his long wandering on his return to Ithaca is contained in the Odyssey. His ships were driven by a storm on the coast of Thrace, where he plundered the land of the Cicones, but lost a number of his crew. When he reëmbarked, a north wind blew his vessels to the country of the Lotophagi (the Lotus-eaters), on the coasts of Libya, where some of the companions of Ulysses ate of the wondrous fruit, and wished to rest forever. But their leader compelled them to leave the land, and, sailing north again, they touched at the Island of Goats, where Ulysses left all his ships but one. Thence he proceeded to the land of the Cyclopes where occurred the adventure in the cave of Polyphemus (q.v.). With his reunited fleet he now visited the island of Æolus, ruler of the winds, who gave him a favoring breeze, and the unfavorable winds tied in a skin. This his companions, in search of treasure, opened, and at once they were swept back to the island, from which they were now sternly excluded. They then reached the land of the Læstrygonians, a race of cannibals, who destroyed all the ships but one. Escaping with his solitary ship, he next landed on the island of Ææa, inhabited by the sorceress Circe (q.v.). After a year's sojourn he was sent by Circe to the Kingdom of Hades, to inquire about his return from the seer Tiresias (q.v.). Tiresias disclosed to Ulysses the fact of the implacable enmity of Poseidon, whose son, Polyphemus, he had blinded, but encouraged him at the same time with the assurance that he would yet reach Ithaca in safety, if he would not meddle with the herds of Helios (the sun god) in Thrinacia.
Ulysses next passed in safety the perilous island of the Sirens (q.v.), but, when he sailed between Scylla and Charybdis, Scylla devoured six of his companions. He next cane to Thrinacia, where his crew insisted on landing, and while storm bound killed, in spite of their oath, some of the cattle of Helios while Ulysses was asleep. When they had sailed away a fierce storm arose, and Zeus sent forth a flash of lightning that destroyed the ship. Every one on board was drowned except Ulysses, who, clinging to the mast, was finally washed ashore on the island of Ogygia, the abode of the nymph Calypso, with whom he lived for eight years. The nymph offered him immortality if he would remain, but his love for Penelope and longing for his home were too deep, and at the entreaty of his special guardian, Athena, Zeus sent Hermes to command his release. Sailing eastward in a skiff of his own building, he was seen by the implacable Poseidon who roused against him a terrible storm, which wrecked his skiff. He barely escaped, by the aid of Leucothea, to the land of the Phæacians. Naked and worn by fatigue, he fell asleep, but was awakened by the sport of Nausicaa, daughter of the King, Alcinous, and her maidens. She received him kindly and brought him to the city. Entering the palace under Athena's protection, he was entertained by the King, who promised him safe convoy to his home. On the magic Phæacian ship he fell asleep, and was landed, with the rich presents of the Phæacians, while still unconscious.
Disguised as a beggar, he repaired to the hut of the swineherd Eumæus, where he met and revealed himself to Telemachus. The next day he was brought by Eumæus to the palace, where he was recognized by his old dog, Argus. Here he was harshly treated by the suitors of his wife, who were living riotously on his estate. After an interview with Penelope, to whom he foretold her husband's return, he was recognized by his old nurse, Eurycleia, whom he bound to silence. When the suitors all failed to string the great bow, he took it, easily strung it, and shot the arrow through a row of 12 axes, thus accomplishing the test Penelope had proposed for the suitors. Then, aided by Telemachus, Eumæus, and the neatherd Philtius, he slew all the insolent suitors. The last book of the Odyssey records his recognition by his father, Laërtes, and a final reconciliation with the friends of the suitors, brought about by Athena's aid. The Homeric poems have a tradition of further wanderings to appease Poseidon, by introducing his worship among a people who knew not the sea, and finally a happy old age and painless death. Allusions show that to Ulysses was also given a prominent place in other episodes of the Trojan War, such as the battle over the body of Achilles, the invention of the device of the wooden horse, and the final sack of Troy. The other epics (see CYCLIC POETS) enlarged these episodes and added others, in which Ulysses frequently played but a mean-spirited part. This degradation of his character continued in many of the plays of the Attic tragedy, and was further developed in later writers, especially the comedians, and, of course, by the Romans, since to them, as the descendants of the Trojans, he was the archenemy of their race. His death in these narratives was usually attributed to his son by Circe, Telegonus (q.v.), who had been sent by his mother in search of his father. Landing in Ithaca, he was met in arms by Ulysses, and slew him with a spear tipped with the sting of a ray, thus fulfilling the prophecy that death should come to him from the sea. Consult the article "Odysseus," in Friedrich Lübker, Reallexikon des klassichen Altertums (8th ed., Leipzig, 1914).
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XXII (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 634-635.