In Canto XXVI of the Inferno, Dante encounters Odysseus and Diomedes. Odysseus account of his exploits after Troy differ from the more familiar story in Homer’s Odyssey. Notably, Dante’s Odysseus does not return to Ithaca, deciding to travel beyond the known world instead.

Where did Dante learn about Odysseus? Is his version of the story original?

3 Answers 3


For one thing, Dante never read Homer.

Like most medieval Christians, Dante did not have direct access to the original Greek texts. Instead, they would've learnt of ancient Greek mythology through the works of later Roman poets, principally Virgil and Ovid, who inevitably added their own interpretation to the epics. Dante, moreover, seem not to have even read the Ilias Latina, a Latin version of the Illiad.

He seems to have been unfamiliar with Ilias latina, a Latin version of the Iliad, now thought to have been the work of Baebius Italicus in the first century CE.

Barański, Zygmunt G., and Lino Pertile, eds. Dante in Context. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Specifically, Virgil portrayed Ulysses as a deceitful manipulator, whereas the Greeks seems to have considered Odysseus' cunning and quick wits a virtue. Virgil's version is the one that Dante encounters in Hell.

That said, the specific story Dante's Ulisse tells of his fate appears to be original work.

Dante's apparently original reworking of the conclusion of Odysseus' story is well known. The disastrous last voyage of this voracious and restless intellect has been read as a metaphor for the "misguided philosophical Odyssey" of Dante's own experience just after the death of Beatrice.

Lamberton, Robert. Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist allegorical reading and the growth of the epic tradition. University of California Press, 1989.


Dante is using Odysseus freely as a metaphor for the Greek Tradition in Canto 26. It is meant to illustrate the intellectual/rational hubris, when detached from a larger spiritual and embedding frame of the Heavens. This is why Odysseus drowns as he sees mount Purgatory. His denial of the transcendent blocks it by nature.

And Dante himself largely related to this impetus of rationality-alone hubris. Which is why, he's almost falling down into the little valley of fires in circle 8.


Yes, the Divine Comedy and Dante's Odysseus is an original fictional allegory, a fantasy, an epic and technically an Aristotelian comedy because it has a happy ending. The Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso came out of Dante's own trauma of being expelled from Florence. He is the hero on his own journey through hell and back (Joseph Campbell).

Dante's Odysseus differs from Homer's in the same way his versions of hell and purgatory diverge from the Bible's and his version of Aristotle isn't completely Aristotelian. His attributions of Cleopatra, Judas Iscariot, or his own enemies diverged from other writer's versions of history as well. It is not a matter of ignorance of what Homer or Virgil had to say, or not knowing what the Bible says about purgatory or hell. He was re-writing Myth. That Myth could easily contradict Homer, the Bible and Aristotle, usually with simultaneous praise. It was a new paradigm with its own internal validity.

The evidence Dante was successful in writing new myth is that it has been echoed through time and throughout Western culture. Renaissance painters Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Hieronymus Bosch, William Blake, and Gustave Doré painted Dante's infernal imagery. Centuries later, John Milton based Paradise Lost on The Divine Comedy. According to a number of 18th Century writers such as Samuel Coleridge and James Joyce, The Divine Comedy was on par with Homer. Dante succeeded in writing a different myth than the ones he referenced.


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