Odysseus in the Wilderness #2
Let’s jump back into the Odyssey and see what else we can glean from Homer’s synopsis of his hero’s ordeal “in the wilderness.”
…. 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.
Here’s my third takeaway from this passage:
… while his heart ached with an agony to … bring his company safe home.
All Odysseus wanted (and all you and I want on our passage) is to get home.
But what does “home” mean in mythic/legendary/metaphorical terms? It means that place where we belong. It means that sphere of action or contemplation that is our soul’s true epicenter. It means the Self we were born to be.
So why did we leave home in the first place? Maybe we were too young or too deluded to see it for what it was. Maybe we were cast out, as in last week’s post, by a crime we had committed or that someone had committed against us. Maybe “home” had become intolerable to us or wasn’t ready for the self we wished to become. Maybe we were summoned away to an emergency of our own or of someone to whom we were obligated, as Odysseus was by Agamemnon to the siege of Troy. Or maybe we just dreamt of “something better.”
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
This is T.S. Eliot from Little Gidding, but it could have been Homer as well. For the Ithaca that Odysseus returned to after his ten years “in the wilderness” was not the same place he had left, nor was he the man he had been a decade earlier.
The point for me is that our odyssey, whatever form it takes, is not random. It’s not going nowhere. Herman Melville in White-Jacket wrote, “Life is a voyage that’s homeward-bound.”
Whether that’s true or not, or whatever meaning Melville intended, certainly our passage “in the wilderness” is a voyage whose ultimate aim is the discovery of our True Home, our authentic Self, the calling or love that is ours alone.
It’s interesting to me that the way Homer describes Odysseus’s ordeal is not in terms of physical torment, as, say, Prometheus bound upon his Rock or Sisyphus toiling on his hill. Rather, the poet phrases it as a passage whose pain comes from being far from home.
… was made to stray grievously about the coasts of men, the sport of their customs, good and bad …
If you’ll forgive me for digressing to Liverpool in 1965, here are a few verses from Gerry and the Pacemakers that I’ve always hoped to be able to say for myself.
So ferry ‘cross the Mersey
Cuz this land’s the place I love
And here I’ll stay
And here I’ll stay
Here I’ll stay.