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 and they will also read the best stories aloud. As always, all work will be published right here on our website.
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 – beyond the boundaries of human knowledge.
Ulysses’ guilt in causing the damnation of his own men is the driving force behind this passage. In this speech to the crew, Ulysses shares his view that humans are defined by their desire for knowledge. Yet his own pursuit of that knowledge condemns him to an eternal hell. Write a story about the consequences of the pursuit of nagging curiosity, be they positive or negative.
‘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”.
We can’t wait to see what you come up with. With Dante as your guide, we’re sure it’ll be something special.