Ulysse Mérou was the main protagonist of the French novel La Planète des singes.
Journey to Betelgeuse
Ulysse was a little known journalist that had the honor of interviewing Professor Antelle. The two soon became friends, with Antelle inviting him to join his expedition to Betelgeuse, after learning he had no family and played chess reasonably well.
Seeing an opportunity for a story, even though one that would not be published in eight hundred years, accompanied Antelle and his colleague Arthur Levain on a year long mission to the giant red sun Betelgeuse.
A year had passed and the trio of astronauts soon discovered that Betelgeuse possessed a few celestial bodies. One of them being planet of Soror contained life. The astronauts decided to investigate the planet taking one of their launches to the surface. As they entered the atmosphere they discovered existence of civilization as they flew through the air. They landed their craft in a rural jungle. Wanting to see if the atmosphere was breathable the men allowed their pet chimpanzee Hector out of his diving suit. As the chimp ran off into the jungle, the astronauts followed suit and continued to explore their surroundings. Finding a waterfall they encountered a beautiful naked woman.
The woman frighten by the strange men was hesitant to approach them. However her curiosity won her over after the group pretended to ignore her as they splashed in the water. She mutely interacted with them, establishing the rules of a game in the water. Ulysse noticing its simplicity, and her the lack of expression and use of vocal chords decided to experiment. He smiled at her attempting a provoke a response, which she responded in fear, retracting her body immediately from the water. Her manner became worse when she saw Hector, his presence caused her to leap and immediately strangle the chimp before fleeing back into the forest. Despite the disastrous first contact both Levain and Ulysse overruled Antelle in relocating to a more civilized location on the planet in favor of repairing relations with the girl. Ulysse secretly christens her Nova after becoming entranced by her natural beauty.
Nova eventually returns to the water, accompanied by her father and several members of her tribe. The three astronauts who had stripped their clothes take to the water, and are soon followed by Nova and her tribe mates. Both groups engage each other in the same simple game of tag that Nova had laid out before. Ulysse notices that the members of the tribe on their lack of expressions like Nova. His attempts another action to provoke a emotional response ends in disaster when the astronauts laughter causes the savage men and women to turn hostile. When the Earthmen dressed themselves in clothes it completely infuriated the tribe and caused the men and women to attack. Ulysse, along with his fellows were stripped of all articles and watched helplessly as their launch and equipment are destroyed. Disarmed and stripped the men where forces to march into the depths of the jungle. Any attempt at conversation provoked menacing reactions, which the explorers resigned themselves to painful silence. Ulyssse continued to observed these creatures who were like them, ad noted had they been clad into clothes there would have scarcely drawn attention on Earth. While he admired their women to be beautiful, he held Nova to be unrivaled in splendor. The latter had followed close behind him, and on occasion he attempted to implore a sign of compassion from the girl, but when his gaze met her it only caused Nova to avoid it.
At the colony the group is released and largely forgotten by the tribe. Out of the entire colony Nova is the only tribe member that continues to show interest in them. The woman provides them their first meal on Soror by gathering bananas from a nearby tree for them to eat. Later when night falls Ulysse formed a physical attachment with Nova, who showed interested in their work, even approaching to help Ulysse build a nest with him much to the chagrin of Arthur who immediately laid down on he ground in the grass with his back turned towards the couple. Even after Professor Antelle had fallen asleep, Ulysse took some time to complete his bed, still watched closely by the woman. After he lay own, she too lay down beside the man, eventually snuggling up against him making them indistinguishable from the other couples occupying the nest of her tribe. Although the girl which he found himself in bed with was marvelously beautiful, Ulysse did not regard her as a woman, but that of a pet animal. He appreciated the warmth of her body but never cross the idea of desiring her.
The next morning, Ulysse awakens and tried to engaged Nova to communicate though it was mostly limited to animalistic gestures. Before the couple could continue, the colony is raided by a band of hunters. Ulysse was the only survivor from his group to have escaped the slaughter. After Ulysse was surprised that the hunters turned out to be clothed apes. Noting the utterly human expressions, which Nova's tribe lacked, he attempted to speak but was gagged and thrown into a cage with the other captives. Taken to a hunting lodge Ulysse witnessed the grotesque desecration of the corpses Nova's tribe mates by the she-apes who then busied themselves to make the slaughter tidy. After the trophies were laid out, Ulysse scrutinized the bodies in search of Nova and was thankful to see she was not among the dead. The same however could not be said of his late friend Arthur Levain.
Upon witnessing the corpse of Arthur being used as a cushion by a she-ape, Ulysse broke in a fit of hysterics, only to muffle himself as the other men begin to turn on him. The apes noticing the commotion restored order with a few blows from their pikes. After the gorillas had finished documenting their trophies and catch they retired leaving other to feed their captives mash to sate their hunger.
The apes then began making a selection of the captives, sorting out the best specimens. Ulysse was deemed an elite after a surly look and was placed among several handsome men and women. To his relief he found Nova was among them. He attempted to embrace her but was turned away from her feral behavior. Ulysse initially assumed that the apes were under direction of men, and that the men in the jungle were part of some sort of backward tribe. However he was later proven wrong after entering a city containing clothes apes and soon understood that apes reigned on Soror as the dominant species.
While held captive as a test subject in the study of man in the Institute for Advanced Biological Study, Ulysse made many attempts to prove his intelligence by mimicking Zaius and displaying his ability to speak the simian language.
Sadly his attempts of communication only earned him being labeled as a curious animal and a eccentricity. Determined to show he was a rational being, Ulysse, with pride and defiance, passed each test the apes thought-up, but was still regarded as a highly intelligent animal.
Later Zaius begins a study of sexual selectivity to which Ulysse felt humiliated until he learned he was paired with Nova who he had grown close to. Now sharing a cage with the woman of his affection, Ulysse witnessed the multiple couplings of the other captives and the mating ritual. What disturbs him is the attention the apes pay to the ritual. Ashamed and degraded, the Earthman refused to engage in relations with Nova, in full view of the ape scientists believing it to be the ultimate act of insult. Seeing his resistance Zaius then replaced Nova as the designated mate to her neighbor and Ulysse was given an old matron as a substitute. Upon seeing the other man with Nova, Ulysses finally responded in the manner of a savage man. The old orangutan satisfied with the human’s behavior returned Nova to him, sparing her the humiliation of being violated. Without any recourse the Earthman copulated with her before the simian audience.
For a month Ulysse was regarded as the Institute's most gifted man. The former journalist lived the life of a pampered animal with Nova as his mate, and was nearly content to remain in the Institute devoid of his freedom. However after rethinking his situation and his shameful behavior, it prompted Ulysse to communicate with the ape director Zira. Snatching her pad, he drew an accurate portrait of his mate. Later through the use of mathematical equations and other drawings of Earth and the Sol System Ulysse was able to display himself as a rational being.
Plans for Emancipation
Once Zira successfully taught Ulysee the simian language she promised to assist in freeing him. To allow him a greater understanding of simian culture she gifted Ulysse books on the simian world. When she managed to get the proper authorizations he was allowed outside the Institute as a leashed animal. Through these outings, he was able to observe the simian world first hand. During one of these trips he discovered that Professor Antelle had survived and was placed in a zoo.
With the help of her fiance Cornélius, Ulysse was able to bring his case to the Grand Council and free himself from captivity. After he became a free man, he rushed over to the zoo where his mentor was held captive. However much to his horror, the once brilliant scientist had gone mad and regressed to the state of an animal due to the company of the men of Soror. Ulysse remained with the Institute, acting as a collaborator in the study of man. He attempted to teach the men at the Institute, but they proved to have very little motivation. He met greater success with his former cell mate Nova who sought to please him during her lessons ever since he was freed. However due to his human-self Ulysse kept their former intimacy at a distance. To his eyes and this strange new society he was in, she was an animal on this world despite her human form and only saw a physical past relationship.
During his time on Soror, Ulysse delved in learning the true origins of the simian civilization and the primitive men. He traveled with Cornelius to a dig-site where a great ancient city was unearth. It contained common articles current in modern day simian society, however the only difference was that it apparently was home to a race of civilized men.
After the dig Ulysse was down with the flu in which his mind came to the realization that a civilization of man once dominated Soror. Though he understood how the apes rose to dominance through mimicry of their human masters, and why many simian enterprises were geared towards the medical science, a question bothered him on what kind of cataclysmic event caused man to fall so low.
Upon his return to the Institute he discovers that Nova is missing from her cage. It is later revealed that during his intimacy with Nova, he impregnated her. Zira noticing the signs of her condition, transferred to another location for her safety. Astonished by this news, Ulysse was allowed to visit his former mate, who welcomes and share an intimate moment. He noticed a change in her demeanor and her new sense of self, however Nova's animalistic nature is ever present and makes it difficult to fully reciprocate his feelings to the woman, causing Ulysse to turn to Zira for emotional support.
A chimpanzee scientist by the name of Hélius invited Ulysse to the encephalic section of the Institute. Here was where the apes performed complicated brain operations. The apes boasted that the experiments performed on the men and women held a high standard of suppressing useless suffering. Those words though echoed hollow when Ulysse witnessed the state of the subjects. There he was shown several examples of his kind being experimented on, their minds and senses warped by the cold hands of the apes.
Later Ulysse received the answer to his question, when the young ape presented a ground-breaking experiment that he learned the truth. In the experiment Helius had discovered a way to reawaken the memory of the human species. Ulysse listened to millennia old testimonies and was horrified to learn of the cerebral regression of the human race and the subsequent rise of the apes on Soror.
Fatherhood and Wife
Upon his son's birth, christened Sirius, Ulysse saw that the fleeting gleam of intelligence in Nova's eyes had become a radiant glow. Despite her animalistic mentality, her heightened self-awareness caused Ulysse to acknowledge her as a woman, and to accept her as his wife, dramatically changing their relationship. In his son he saw him as a new hope for the men on Soror and swore to ensure his safety.
Return to Earth
Ulysse was ultimately forced to escape back to Earth along with Nova and their newborn son Sirius from the alien ape planet. The recent discoveries by the Institute, evidence of the ancient civilization of man disseminated through the public. Many apes fear that a new race would be founded on Soror and by association saw Ulysee a danger to the status quo. While he was reluctant to abandon Soror and his fellow men to their fate, his two chimpanzee friends convinced it was in his best interest and family.
Upon his return, he discovered that Earth had meantime been taken over by apes too, thus forcing his family to once again flee into space in search of a friendly world to settle on. His first-person journal (which formed the narrative of the book) was left floating idly through interstellar space in a cheap glass bottle, to be found by space-travellers Jinn and Phyllis.
Personality & Traits
Ulysse is described as an intelligent and curious man. He is considered to be gifted in chess enough to impress Professor Antelle. A sharp mind he was knowledgeable in mathematics, behavioral sciences, and physics. He was also a competent artist as well.
Although cautious, he's never afraid of trying to understand his surroundings. He is also protective of those he cares about, especially Nova as she is often on his mind since meeting her. He possesses quite a temper and there are many instances where he yells at others out of anger and impatience.
Ulysse regarded himself to be a category above that of the men on Soror and held the apes to be his intellectual equals. Being stripped of his clothes and reduced to a beast, Ulysse was somewhat embarrassed at his indecency. While held captive as a lab animal he had grown used to it like Nova and the other captives. Still after being seen in public as a spectacle he still desired to cloth himself as a civilized being. His relationship with Nova is complicated as he feels a physical attachment to her but no real emotional attachment. This changes over the course of the novel as he delves further into the mystery of the simian civilization. He later accepts her as his wife realizing that she is with child and later sees the rest of her people as his brothers and sisters upon realizing their kind's history.
- The character of Ulysse Mérou inspired 'George Taylor' (originally 'John Thomas'), the protagonist of the movie adaptation, Planet of the Apes. Taylor's fate remained largely unchanged, except that in the original book he was a journalist accompanying the mission, rather than its leader; and he ultimately escaped back to Earth from an alien ape planet and discovered that Earth had meantime been taken over by apes too, rather than discovering the alien planet was actually Earth.
- 'Ulysse' is a French name based on Ulysses (Odysseus), the fictional ancient Greek hero famous for his epic adventure. The French word 'mérou' refers to the 'grouper' genera of fish.
- The character Ulysses from the Planet of the Apes (video game) is based on Ulysse Mérou from Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel La Planète des singes and also on Taylor from Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes.