Comparing Tennyson's Ulysses and Heaney's Hercules and Antaeus

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Among the best known and most popular works of literature are those dealing with the mythologies of ancient cultures. From classical sources like Homer's Iliad and Ovid's Metamorphosis, to modern adaptations like Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses" and Seamus Heaney's "Hercules and Antaeus," mythology has shaped the body of western literature. There exists a marked difference, though, between the purposes of the classical mythologies and their modern counterparts. The majority of the classics focuses on exploration of the human spirit and the teaching of moral lessons, while modern mythological poetry tends to concern itself with the social and political aspects of contemporary society. This modern, socio-political, focus is the basis for the branch of literary criticism known as Marxist theory. According to Peter Barry, Marxist critics examine both the "covert" (167) and "overt" (167) aspects of a literary work to determine how its structure, message, and theme were shaped by the author's "social-class status" (167) and by the "social period which produced' it" (167). Literature, according to the Marxist critics, makes use of ideology, "a system [. . .] of representations [. . .] endowed with an existence and an historical role at the heart of a given society'" (qtd. in Barry 163), to identify with and establish a kinship with its readers. One such ideology is ancient mythology. The works of both Tennyson and Heaney provide prime examples of Marxist utilization of ancient myt... ... middle of paper ... ...eir emotions, their experiences, and their civilizations. All authors work with the medium of humanity, but each sees a different shape hiding within that clay. And each sculpts it to reflect his or her own unique viewpoint. This is how it has always been, and how it shall continue to be. Works Cited Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory. New York: Manchester UP, 1995. "The Battle of Maldon." Old English Pages: Electronic Texts and Manuscript Images.Trans. Douglas Killings.Online. 9 April 2000. Heaney, Seamus. "Hercules and Antaeus."North. New York: Oxford UP, 1976. 52-3. Tennyson, Alfred. "Ulysses."The Norton Introduction to Literature. Eds. Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 1998. 1139-41.

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