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.


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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