Bilbo, Ulysses and the Greatness of the Unknown

Friday 09 Aug 01:00 PM (30 minutes)

Bilbo, Ulysses and the Greatness of the Unknown

Tolkien and Homer, the quiet County and the small island of Ithaca, Bilbo and Ulysses: the first who leaves home, the second who takes a very long time to come back home. Homer and Tolkien basically show us two epic characters, different and similar in the same time: they move away from the narrow horizons of their respective worlds and their steady roles for discover other territories, other worlds, other persons. They have different reasons: Bilbo is dragged into the adventure by Gandalf and the dwarves; Ulysses is pushed by the Gods; Bilbo would not want to leave home; Ulysses travels on the sea , but want to return home. Both in the story become characters of the myth, while maintaining their nature as men: after all their courage is in living the unexpected, in the imponderability of their human life. In fact Ulysses is the least hero of the Homeric heroes. He is hero primarily in his experience of life: first he is a pirate (as Vincenzo Di Benedetto writes), an astute leader, a robber in every place where he stops, but also a man, who overcomes himself, experiencing all that he has never seen before. Bilbo gradually discovers to be an adventurer and finds unsuspected qualities within himself: he leaves own safety and a humdrum life and becomes an explorer of an unknown world. Both represent the desire of men to overcome themselves not for a treasure, but for something more important: the sense of having a purpose in the life, for which it’s possible to be reminded. So in The Lord of the Rings Bilbo tells Gandalf, that he would like to go back to seeing the mountains: Tolkien underlines the word “mountains”, because for Bilbo the mountains are a metaphor of the immensity of the human soul, which cannot be closed in the narrow and flat view of the Hobbits’ County. So the unexpected opportunity offers to Ulysses and Bilbo the possibility to evolve: their change is in the discovery of the greatness of the unknown. Ulysses says in the Divina Commedia of Dante, Inferno XXVI, vv. 118-120: «Consider now what is your origin; / ye were not made like to the beasts to live / in virtue rather and in truth to shine». Perhaps this is the truest conclusion that Tolkien and Homer convey to readers through their two characters so different, but so similar: the life must be lived until the end, with all the dangers and all the unexpected events. In this way only it’s possible for the man to return home victorious.


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