In celebration of Dante Alighieri, we at The Decameron Project are partnering with The Flying Whale to host a writing contest this April. We want you to consider the following passage –– from when Dante encounters Ulysses (Odysseus) in The Inferno –– and let it inspire your writing. Stories will be judged by a panel that includes Brian Selznick, who wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Daniel Mendelsohn, the Editor-at-Large of The New York Review of Books, and Maaza Mengiste, who’s novel The Shadow King was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. They will choose which stories receive prizes –– 1st will receive $500, 2nd a $150 certificate with Shakespeare & Co., and 3rd a $50 certificate –– and they will also read the best stories aloud. As always, all work will be published right here on our website.
‘Brothers,’ I said, ‘o you, who having crossed
a hundred thousand dangers, reach the west,
to this brief waking-time that still is left
unto your senses, you must not deny
experience of that which lies beyond
the sun, and of the world that is unpeopled.
Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
You were not made to live your lives as brutes,
But to be followers of worth and knowledge.’
“O frati”, dissi, “che per cento milia
perigli siete giunti a l’occidente,
a questa tanto picciola vigilia
d’i nostri sensi ch’è del rimanente
non vogliate negar l’esperïenza,
di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente.
Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza”.
When Dante encounters Ulysses, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey, his soul is damned; he has been condemned to hell because he led his men foolishly beyond the boundaries of the known world. Ulysses’ guilt is nuanced and complexed, and so is this passage. Here, we see Ulysses share his view that humans are defined by their desire for knowledge –– and that to refuse that desire would be to defy human nature itself. When we read these lines, we think about the broader themes of knowledge and discovery, doubt and ambiguity, fate and free will. Feel free to consider those ideas, or ones new entirely, in your writing. We can’t wait to see what you come up with. With Dante as your guide, we’re sure it’ll be something special.