Homer in the Wilderness
We suggested in the last two posts that some form of “sojourn in the wilderness” seems to be necessary for the evolution of the soul. Let’s check in, then, with the seminal myth of Western Civ on this subject: Homer’s Odyssey.
Odysseus’s ten-year ordeal in the aftermath of the Trojan War is the Ur-saga of this type of passage. There’s a reason the tale is still around, three thousand years after it was written.
Let’s examine one specific passage. See if Homer’s verses below comport with whatever “odyssey” you yourself might be on right now (or have been in the past).
…. this song of the various-minded man, who, after he had plundered the innermost citadel of hallowed Troy, was made to stray grievously about the coasts of men, the sport of their customs, good and bad, while his heart, through all the seafaring, ached with an agony to redeem himself and bring his company safe home.
I don’t know about you, but that’s my wilderness story to a “T.”
There’s too much here to unpack in one post, so let’s start with just one takeaway (we’ll get to the others in subsequent posts):
” … after he had plundered the innermost citadel of hallowed Troy … “
In other words, the Odyssey starts with a crime. A crime committed by Odysseus. In story terms, this is the “inciting incident” that kicks off the great warrior’s ten years in the wilderness.
Note: Homer could have used any adjective (or none) to describe Troy. He could have said “windswept” or “glorious” or “doomed,” as he did in other contexts.
Instead he chose “hallowed.”
In other words, Odysseus has not just committed a crime but a crime against heaven.
Here’s my theory: I think ALL sojourns in the wilderness start with a crime. For sure, mine did. I hurt someone I loved deeply. That was what cast me out.
But every crime against another is really a crime against ourselves because, in committing that crime (and it may be one of omission as well as commission), we betray and violate the Self we were born to be. This crime is against heaven because the Self we’ve betrayed is that which the gods have vouchsafed us at birth as their noblest and most precious gift.
Let me jump ahead to the third of the five takeaways in this passage from Homer:
” … while his heart ached with an agony to redeem himself … “
The “criminal,” on his or her passage through the wilderness, knows he/she has done wrong.
Again, I don’t know about you, but that describes my feelings exactly on my own passage. I was excruciatingly aware, every second, that I had committed some betrayal, not just of another, but also of myself and of heaven (even though I refused to bring it specifically into consciousness) … and I wished like hell that I could atone and be released.
To be clearer on the definition of “crime”in this interpretation … the violation doesn’t have to be a literal felony or even a conscious act. The crime you and I commit may be one of naivete. We were clueless. We knew not what we did.
Our crime can be well-intentioned. We only tried to do what our parents/elders/tribe/religion told us was the right thing.
Or we may simply have failed to act. We took a job/enrolled in a school/married a spouse and stuck with this choice even though it was taking us—and others—straight to hell (and even if we were utterly blind to this.)
The crime, nonetheless, is against heaven, i.e. our Highest Self, the self we were born to be. And for that, we must pay, like Odysseus, by an ordeal “in the wilderness.”
More on this passage in Homer next week.