August 05, 2008


The world of the Odyssey, courtesy of wikipedia.

Note to first time visitors: Goat Rope is all about The Odyssey these days, although you'll also find links and comments about current events. The series started with yesterday's post.

Pardon El Cabrero's atrocious Greek, but one of the words Homer uses to describe Odysseus, hero of the Odyssey is something like polytropos, which means something like "many-turned." It fits pretty well.

Our hero is a man of many turns in more than one sense of the word. He is indeed widely traveled, having left his native Ithaca in the Ionian Sea to besiege Troy in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). After fighting there for 10 bitter years, he's only halfway done.

Due to his own royal screwups and the anger of the sea god Poseidon (note: try not to tick him off--he holds grudges), his homecoming is as dangerous and lengthy as the war itself. He's basically battered about from one end of the Mediterranean to the other and even visits the land of the dead.

He's also a man of many turns in the sense of cleverness and stratagems. Even in the Iliad, he is known for his mastery of strategy (and even deviousness). He was, after all, the author of the idea of the wooden horse that brought down the city of Troy, which 10 years of hard fighting failed to do.

These are traits he also needs on his way home, although they can get him into trouble as well. Indeed, like many veterans of combat or other stressful situations, he has been in strategic/survival mode so long that it's hard for him to turn off the switch and function in any other way--even when he really should.

Even the meaning of his name is associated with pain and anger--it means something like "he who gives and receives pain," which fits for his loved ones as well as his enemies. Odysseus is a deeply damaged and flawed character. In fact, he comes off as a "stage villain" in later Greek tragedies such as Ajax and Philoctetes, which emphasizes the manipulative and smarmy aspects of his character.

As a soldier and survivor, he is damaged by what he has undergone. But as a military commander, he repeatedly failed his men--so much so that none of the more than 600 Ithacans who followed him to Troy survived.

Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist who works with veterans and author of Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America, argues that the Odyssey can be seen as

a detailed allegory of many a real veteran's homecoming. Time and again Odysseus shows himself as a man who does not trust anyone, a man whose capacity for social trust has been destroyed. This is the central problem facing the most severely injured Vietnam veterans. Odysseus stands for the veterans, but as a deeply flawed military leader himself, he also stands for the destroyers of trust. Homer's Odysseus sheds light--not always flattering light--on today's veterans and today's military leaders.

I'd only add that his story sheds light on a whole lot more. Way more on The Odyssey to come. I ain't even warmed up yet.

THE ECONOMIC HEART OF THE MATTER. According to Robert Reich, it's inequality and the fact that wages haven't kept up with the cost of living. This item about low wage workers from the Washington Post is a good example of this. Ditto these items from McClatchy.

ON A SIMILAR NOTE, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the value of food stamps hasn't kept up with inflation. Most people who get food stamps come from working families.

THIS IS KIND OF COOL NEWS for a hot planet. Researchers at MIT have apparently made a major breakthrough in solar energy research which could have far reaching--and positive--ramifications.

BOREDOM IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL said Kierkegaard, but it also is central to learning and creativity.


No comments: