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.
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/