August 04, 2008


Odysseus, courtesy of wikipedia.

"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove--
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will--sing for our time too."

It's been a long time since El Cabrero went on an extended ancient Greek jag, but I can't resist any longer. Lately I have been revisiting Homer's epic poem The Odyssey and have been struck again by its power.

For nearly 3000 years, the saga of "long tried, noble Odysseus" and his ordeals has been a favorite for people of all ages. It has given us several words, including odyssey itself, mentor (a character who befriended Odysseus' son Telemachus while his father was away), siren, cyclops, calypso, and probably more.

It has inspired many other literary works and films, including Virgil's Aeneid, James Joyce's Ulysses, the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Charles Frazier's powerful Civil War novel Cold Mountain, and more. Odysseus has shown up in places like Dante's Divine Comedy and the poetry of Tennyson. The Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) even wrote an epic sequel. I'm sure I'm leaving out plenty of other examples of its enduring influence.

There are lots of reasons for its popularity. For one thing, it really is a great story as Odysseus suffers ordeal after ordeal on his way home from Troy. Although most of us haven't spent 10 years besieging a sacred city and finally sacking it, we can probably all identify with the desire to go home, i.e. to reach a place of peace, security, and safety. We probably don't run across too many cyclopes or cannibalistic giants or make pilgrimages to the Underworld, but everyone has problems and challenges that have to be overcome with courage and strategy.

Finally, the real subject matter of the Odyssey is an urgent issue today in America: how is it possible for veterans who have endured incredible hardships and survived the ravages of war make or miss their homecoming? As the Odyssey shows and the experience of generations of combat veterans shows, the challenges and dangers don't stop when the war ends.

Way more to come.

WAL-MART--EVERYDAY LOW ACTIONS. A certain retail giant is warning its employees that the world will come to an end if giant corporations don't continue to completely dominate everything, especially elections and labor law. Where's the thunderbolt of Zeus when you need it?

HOW LOW WILL IT GO? Here's the Economic Policy Institutes's latest take on the state of the recession.

UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT. Some US hospitals have taken to deporting sick or injured immigrants.

LET US CULTIVATE OUR GARDEN. Words of wisdom from Gazette columnist Perry Mann.



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