Ancient World Now: Introspection in the Character of Odysseus

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Now that I have told you the three most important tales of the ancient world, The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, we can turn our attention to going deeper into the characters and familiarizing ourselves with the cycle of stories surrounding each epic.

Ever since I was a little girl, I had the distinct feeling that Odysseus was really a scoundrel. In all the stories I knew, he was dishonest. He lied, he stole, and he got away with things. That was how I saw it. It just wasn’t fair. It didn’t matter to me that he triumphed over divine obstacles, was revered by his fellow soldiers, or that his wife Penelope thought he was worth waiting for (although I did so love the story of the bed he carved from the olive tree). What mattered to me was his truthfulness. Are there degrees of honesty? Or is honesty like pregnancy, you either are or you are not? Consider these questions and ask someone else what they think. Let’s create a dialogue of issues of great import—we seem to have less and less of that in our daily lives these days! To me, honor and truth were all. If I worked hard and told the truth, why should a man like Odysseus, who lies, runs and hides, and looks out for his own best interests to the peril of others, be held in high regard. Indeed, he is called “hero”. In today’s podcast, I delve deeper into the character of Odysseus, trying to get at the qualities others admire, while honoring my own personal biases against him.

In fact, one of the many benefits of the process of writing is that it brings clarity of thought. After much meditation, and revision after revision, I have come to an understanding with myself on the matter of Odysseus. I had to address the question as to why truth and honesty matter so much to me. I find it impossible to lie. To me, there are no little lies, and telling an untruth about something insignificant is as despicable as telling an untruth about something significant. Why does it matter so much to me, when people all around lie in their everyday lives and see no harm in it? Some of my very biases against Odysseus have to do with my own personal life struggles. The mark of good literature raises good questions, and this question, like all things worthwhile, made me face myself and who I am. For this new insight into my understanding of myself, I thank Homer and his wily hero, Odysseus, and hope you, too, find wisdom through these ancient tales.

I would be very interested in hearing what comes out of your discussions. Please leave a comment or write to me at the website by clicking on the “Contact” button above. I’ll post your comments in all their various hues. Oh yes, and be sure your little talk about honesty doesn’t “come to blows”, as there are many ways of seeing it! Have fun and see you next week!

Reference books used in today’s podcast: The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and Art by Oskar Seyffert and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Classical World by Michael Avi Yonah & Israel Shatzman.

Enjoy!

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