For the Curious and the Brave

Are you an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist? Are you curious? Are you brave?

Think of your life as a challenging but unique voyage. Just as we find ourselves in the churn of a pandemic, so others we call heroes endured and survived their own dangers.

Take the ever-resourceful Odysseus (Ulysses) in Homer’s Odyssey.

The 10-year Trojan War is over. Ulysses and the men of his isle-domain proceed home to Ithaca. The warrior soon angers the sea god Poseidon. The fleet is taken off course, all but his own ship destroyed.

The journey home will match the length of the siege of Troy.

Can our protagonist “bend history” as it is happening?

Observe his encounter with a set of lovely-voiced, lute-playing enchantresses. Odysseus has been warned of them by the sorceress Circe.

First you will raise the island of the Sirens; those creatures who spellbind any man alive, whoever comes their way. Whoever draws too close, off guard, and catches the Sirens‘ voices in the air – no sailing home for him, no happy children beaming up at their father’s face. The high, thrilling song of the Sirens will transfix him, lolling there in their meadow, round them heaps of corpses rotting away, rags of skin shriveling on their bones. ...

The greathearted leader discerned more than caution in Circe’s advice. He recognized a chance to listen to songs so lovely they would make him oblivious to the danger of mindless drowning.

In effect, he wondered whether he might find a way to have his cake and eat it!

Ulysses directed his crew to plug their ears with beeswax, as his advisor suggested. All but his own.

He ordered the men to lash him to the ship’s mast and ignore whatever ravings and directions he shouted until they were past the singers’ reach.

The crisis revealed an opportunity for Odysseus. Our own challenges are less fantastic, but perhaps not less mindless. The times require the best of ourselves for ourselves and the fraternity of our fellow humans.

We can weep the fate of flash-frozen, aborted plans. Many are deserving of tears. But, our wits have not been lost. If we can keep them, and benefit from luck, sound judgment, and those who take risks on our behalf, calmer waters may yet appear.

Ulysses had no guarantee of achieving his goal of reaching his loved ones, but a god bent on frustrating him. He survived to attain Ithaca, embrace his wife Penelope, reunite with his aged father, and clutch his grown son Telemachus for the first time. Moreover, he regained his kingdom.

Though the resourceful one was no longer a young man, Alfred Lord Tennyson imagined him speaking of leaving home once more with vessel and company of sailors:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Ulysses’s desire to leave home once again is the English poet’s invention. It is not present Homer’s original tale. Indeed, the Ithacan had wept for Penelope more than once during their separation.

Why might the poet’s version of Odysseus wish to depart for further adventures?

Did he regret giving up the offer of immortality, love, and comfort proposed by the beautiful Calypso? Might his nature simply have been restless? Did this “master of exploits” hunger for attaching more glory to his name and legend?

Perhaps the camaraderie of his Greek companions in wartime made him most alive. Or he felt empty except when the Sirens shared their melody.

Decide for yourself. But whatever you believe, your immediate task remains this:

Find the music in your confined life.

Even now.

The first image is Ulysses and the Sirens by Léon Belly. Next comes The Sirens (1872) by Gustave Moreau followed by Odysseus and the Sirens by Otto Greiner. The same title describes the Attic Red-figured Stamnos, ca. 480-470 BC (a type of Greek pottery used to store liquids). All were sourced from Wikiart.org/

12 thoughts on “For the Curious and the Brave

  1. gb fragmented gumdrops

    I never read those books. My outlook on life is dynamic and thus constantly changing. I am brave in some areas but a coward in others. I am optimistically pessimistic, which is to say that I hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I am hypervigilant. I forget what being a realist means. I just want to dream and wake up in a year and pretend this all never existed.

    Can we be curious about non-real stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    • drgeraldstein

      The Iliad and the Odyssey are two of the greatest pieces of literature ever. They come out of an oral tradition that is thought to go back before the Greeks had an alphabet. If I had to take a small number of books to a desert island, these would likely be among them. Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is a poem about the hero of the Odyssey, the man (called Odysseus by the Greeks and Ulysses by the Romans) who devised the Trojan Horse that ended the siege of Troy.

      With respect to realism, you might think of optimism and pessimism as default biases, while realism stands somewhere in the middle, trying to look at predictions of future outcomes for what they are, that is, objectively (though none of us are fully capable of this, IMHO). I suppose curiousity about science fiction or fantasy might be considered non-real. No laws against it as far as I know! Hang in there, glb!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. drgeraldstein

    I wonder who wrote this? No need to answer.

    Like

  3. Bravo! Mr. Covan would be proud.

    Like

  4. “Find the music in your confined life.”
    ~ The best advice one can give to another. Thank you. This has become even more critical as we now truly live more confined lives under lockdown. I must confess that some days the volume of that music is far too low to hold on firm to the rudder. Other times, the music of our deranged captain drowns out my own.

    Like

  5. drgeraldstein

    We are all at sea, depending on the day, Rosaliene. Of course, our Sirens, if we have them, tend to be kinder. But, as you rightly suggest, Odysseus has been replaced!

    Liked by 1 person

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