Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘the Odyssey

Ulysses Revisited (June 22, 2009)


            Ulysses in the Odyssey was away of his City-State Ithaca for 20 years. The first ten years were spent battling Troy.  The next ten years were disposed of in other kinds of adventures and he was buffeted by storms and sea dangers. Ulysses was very lucky being loved by Calypso for over seven years in a paradise–like island. The love of Ulysses and Calypso were mutual; in fact, Ulysses knew Calypso far better than he knew Penelope; he loved Calypso much more than Penelope.  Ulysses real life was not in Ithaca; he matured and experienced life outside of Ithaca.  That Ulysses’ nostalgia for Ithaca to be so great is not within the realm of reason or of feelings. Homer wanted Ulysses to return for some other purposes.  The stronger nostalgia is the poorer the memory.  Nostalgia is self-sufficient in emotions and absorbed in its sufferings; it does not need any refreshing of reminiscences.

            We find Ulysses sleeping under an ancient familiar olive tree in Ithaca.  How many familiar trees remain after 20 years of absence in our modern times? The harbor is unchanged. A single bulldozer can move a small hill and open a breach into a new horizon, or block another one.  Ulysses realizes that he is in Ithaca. 

            After killing the suitors to Penelope then Ulysses felt bored. His supposedly ancient compatriots are strangers to him; they are telling Ulysses stories of events that happened in Ithaca and people that died or whatever.  Ulysses is not interested in these unilateral conversations; he is waiting for someone to ask him about his adventures and life during the last 20 years. No one was interested in Ulysses’ life in the last 20 years; no one asked him “Tell us your adventure”.  Fortunately, Ulysses was shipwrecked in Pheacie on his way to Ithaca.  The king of Pheacie was interested in the stranger Ulysses and his adventures; Ulysses felt voluble and told his story in four long songs.

            Ulysses realized that his essence and the treasure of his life lay out of Ithaca. At this advanced age the present of Ulysses is fidgeted because the future is no longer a project or a vision to contemplate and plan for.  The only alternative for Ulysses to fill the present is to recount his very alive past 20 years.  No one in Ithaca is interested in the last 20 years of Ulysses.

            People figure out that they will live to be eighty as of the latest estimates in developed nations; implicitly, they admit that they will die and that they must be living in a developed State.  People always are absolutely certain that they will outlive their best friends by at least a decade; it is a matter of ego.  Youth doesn’t think about future; it is far away and redundant.  When we reach 30 then our present has value with urgency. We live our present according to how we view our future; we spend our present commensurate to our plans and projects expected in a future that will not change but for our specific projects and ideas.  Whatever change is forecasted for the world community is redundant. People over 60 have a chance to re-invent their lives or spend their present recalling their past; it is time to either write the autobiography or leave peacefully. Homer is taking the task of recording “Ulysses Memoirs”.  Ulysses is pretty old for his time and killing the suitors of Penelope must have exhausted the last shred of energy he saved.  The Odyssey is rightfully not interested of what happened before Ulysses went to war against Troy; that period is totally irrelevant to the story: Ulysses had forgotten that part of his early life anyway.

            Immigrants of my acquaintances come to visit after long absence.  As I try to ask about their life abroad there is always someone to interrupt me and divert the subject to local events, especially stupid local politics; stupid because I am no politician. The immigrants do not get back to my question simply because they were no Ulysses in the countries they lived in; over there it is daily toil, a wretched life for stupid survival.  Not many made it rich and their absence had no value or significance.  Returning immigrants were no Ulysses; they did not live with a Calypso on an enchanted Island and served by slaves for every whim they had.  They were the slaves and they did slave.  Nowadays, societies in developed States are not that interested in strangers: strangers are just statistics and grouped haphazardly for the sake of classification and central data processing. Immigrants don’t have much to tell; they fled for greener pastures that turned dry; dollars were not found on the streets. Whatever rich life they had is irrelevant if not supported by actual material riches. In any case, immigrants were too busy to enjoy their present and memorize the good days; whatever they recall are the worst days which are not pleasing for story telling.

            Immigrants who are in their sixties should not think returning “home”; they should banish “nostalgia” from their vocabulary; they should dissociate from people frequently mentioning “nostalgia”.  Home is where they are now; they do not need further exacerbations of realizing that they are strangers in their “homeland”.  Except if they decided to write their autobiography; then this would be the best location to remembering their real life abroad.

            Ulysses would have not found his old familiar olive tree; the unchanged harbor would have been studded with performing monster cranes.  Penelope would have been too old to ward off suitors if any.  Penelope would not have been waiting if she was pretty and intelligent enough in the first place.  Homer is a magician for transforming wretched reality into poetry, for describing nostalgia in its proper meaning, for showing us the period of real life and our inconsiderate valuing of the present.


Note:  The theme of this article was presented in the French novel “The Ignorance” of Milan Kundera.




June 2023

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