Here at the start we note two things coupled together which hint the nature of the whole poem: "He saw the cities of many men and knew their mind." Not alone the outer habitations of people Ulysses beheld, but also their inner essence, their consciousness. This last faculty indeed is the very vision of the sage; he looks through the external sensuous appearances of men into their character, into their very soul. The poem will describe many incidents, wanderings, tempests, calamities; but in them the poetic glance is to behold a great spiritual experience. The reader of the
must himself be a Ulysses, to a degree, and not only "see the cities of many men," but also he must "know their mind." Then he, too, is heroic in his reading of this book.
But not merely knowledge the Hero is to acquire, though this be much; the counterpart to knowledge must also be his, namely, suffering. "Many things he suffered on the sea in his heart;" alas! that too belongs to the great experience. In addition to his title of wise man, he will also be called the much-enduring man. Sorrow is his lot and great tribulation; the mighty sea will rise up in wrath and swallow all, except that which is mightier, namely his heroic heart. Knowledge and suffering—are they not the two poles of the universal character? At any rate the old poet has mated them as counterparts in his hero; the thirst to know drives the latter to reach beyond, and then falls the avenging blow of powers unseen.
Furthermore, there is a third trait which is still higher, also mentioned here: he sought to save not only himself but also his companions. That wisdom of his was employed, and that suffering of his was endured, not for his own good merely, but for the good of others. He must think and suffer for his companions; a suggestion of vicariousness lies therein, a hint of self-offering, which has not yet flowered but is certainly budding far back in old Hellas. He must do for others what he does for himself, if he be truly the universal man, that is, if he be Hero. For is not the universal man all men—both himself and others in essence? So Ulysses tries to save his companions, quite as much he tries to save himself.