September 09, 2008


Aeolus, keeper of the winds. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The series on the Odyssey of Homer continues, along with links and comments on current events.

After several (largely self-inflicted) misadventures, it looks like Odysseus and his men are finally going to get a break. Aeolus, keeper of the winds, has given Odysseus a huge sack containing all the winds but the West Wind, which will blow him straight back to his home of Ithaca.

It should have been a slam dunk. Unfortunately, our hero, like many people who have been traumatized, doesn't trust anybody. He doesn't explain the nature of the gift to his men and he doesn't trust them to be able to steer the ships. He insists on doing it all, without taking any breaks:

Nine whole days we sailed, nine nights, nonstop.
On the tenth our own land hove into sight at last--
we were so close we could see men tending fires.
But now an enticing sleep came on me, bone-weary
from working the vessel's sheet myself, no letup,
never trusting the ropes to any other mate,
the faster to journey back to native land.

His men start to grumble to themselves about the mysterious gift from Aeolus. They are jealous, thinking that he has been given special gifts and declined to share them with his troops. They decide to take a peek:

A fatal plan, but it won my shipmates over.
They loosed the sack and all the winds burst out
and a sudden squall struck and swept us back to sea,
wailing, in tears, far from our own native land.
And I woke up with a start, my spirit churning--
should I leap over the side and drown at once
or grin and bear it, stay among the living?

Helpless and embarrassed, he heads back to Aeolus, hoping for another break. Not this time. Aeolus sends him away in disgust:

'Away from my island--fast--most cursed man alive!
It's a crime to host a man or speed him on his way
when the blessed deathless gods despise him so.
Crawling back like this--
it proves the immortals hate you! Out--get out!'

Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist who works with Vietnam veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress problems, finds this story similar to those told by some of his patients who were offered a break such as a great job by a "big man" on returning.

Unfortunately, some of them lost valuable opportunities offered by well meaning benefactors by treating an ordinary job as a "combat mission," working day and night without sleeping, not trusting co-workers to do the job right, and not giving them the information they need to help him do the job. When they failed, they had to go back like Odysseus to ask for one more chance--sometimes with the same results.

But there's a universal theme here as well. Think about how many times in life we almost got things right, almost made it to some desired state, only to have things fall apart when the end seemed to be in sight,leaving us feeling, like Odysseus, to be despised by the gods.

I hate it when that happens.

SPEAKING OF BLOWING IT, scientists are concerned that the permafrost covering parts of the northern hemisphere contains huge amounts of carbon. If this thaws as a result of climate change, they'd release even more into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change even more.

UNDOING THE DAMAGE. A recent issue of Mother Jones magazine has a series of articles on cleaning up the mess that will be left behind by the Bush administration.

MASSEYGATE MAKES THE NY TIMES (AGAIN). Here's an editorial from the Sunday New York Times about Massey Energy's relationship with the WV Supreme Court.

PLENTY OF SCHOOLS LEFT BEHIND. An example of the recent failure to invest in infrastructure and public goods is the declining investment in public school facilities.

NATURE OR NURTURE? This is an interesting article on scientific studies of gender differences.



Boise Diva said...

I'm lovin' this Homer journey - thanks!

El Cabrero said...

Glad to hear it--thank you!