Odyssey The Path of Change
Odyssey of Homer and the Path of Change
The Odyssey of Homer is a masterpiece of literature. Of all the books that have been written that involve a journey, The Odyssey is the most enlightening. Generally, "journey" books try to teach a lesson to humanity. This lesson can range from explanations about the self to commentaries on society. While The Odyssey contains many similar lessons throughout its text, there is one lesson the epic teaches that separates it from all the rest; it is the lesson of the necessity for change.
Throughout Homer's Odyssey, the character of Odysseus is faced with many challenges and choices. Odysseus consistently demonstrates his wisdom by choosing the path of change. This consistency and wisdom is best displayed in his relationship with Circe and in his relationship with Kalypso. In both relationships he was offered immortality if he were to remain with them, but both times Odysseus chose to remain mortal. Instead, he chose to continue on with his journey, and to face what life would present.
After numerous challenges and hardships, such as Polyphemus the Cyclops and the Laistrygones, Odysseus finds himself and his companions on Circe's island. After drawing lots, a group of men from Odysseus' party is chosen to explore the island. The party comes to the house of Circe; a house of polished stone surrounded by various animals, such as lions and wolves. The animals made no attack on the men, and actually acted more like domesticated dogs than vicious animals. As they stood marveling at this, they heard a woman singing inside the house and decided to call to her.
Circe invited them inside, and all but Eurylochos went inside the house. Circe made them drink potions that caused them to forget their homes, and subsequently she struck them with her wand turning them into pigs. Upon seeing this, Eurylochos ran back to Odysseus' camp to deliver the news.
Odysseus decides that in order to get his men back, it would be best if he went to Circe's house alone. On his way to the house, Hermes, the messenger god, tells him how to escape the traps of Circe. With this information from Hermes, Odysseus is able to get the upper hand with Circe, and persuade her to free his companions. However, there was a price that Odysseus had to pay; he had to have sex with the goddess. Forced to feast on unlimited meat, sweet wine, and to make love to a beautiful immortal, Odysseus remained there with his men for one year.
After this one-year period, Odysseus knew in his heart that it was time to leave. He says, "O Circe, accomplish now the promise you gave, that you would see me on my way home. This period within me is urgent now…" (Book X, 483) Odysseus gives up a never-ending supply of food and drink, and sex for eternity with a goddess.
Odysseus leaves Circe's house and faces many more challenges including traveling into Hades to find a way home and facing monsters, and other various trials that eventually leave him alone in the ocean holding onto a keel for dear life. Odysseus floated for 10 nights until he came to the island of Ogygia, the home of Kalypso, a dreaded goddess.
While on Kalypso's island, Odysseus again finds himself on the receiving end of a goddess' hospitality. Again, Odysseus is given unlimited food and drink and is forced to sleep with a beautiful immortal. Kalypso falls in love with Odysseus as is revealed when she says to Hermes, "… I gave him love and cherished him, and I had hopes also that I could make him immortal and all his days to be endless." (Book V, 135) These words demonstrate the depth of Kalypso's feelings for her guest, and her desire to give Odysseus the benefits that only gods are privy to. However, Odysseus does not feel the same way, and even seems bored as he says, "… This sweet lifetime was draining out of him, as he wept for a way home, since the nymph was no longer pleasing to him. By nights he would lie beside her, of necessity…" (Book V, 152) These lines demonstrate that even though his physical needs are met Odysseus is not content on Kalypso's island. He desires more out of life, and a god-life cannot provide a warrior's satisfaction.
Odysseus does leave the island, and eventually he makes it home. He aging wife has been faithful, and he is now free to grow old and die while working to produce sustenance for himself the rest of his remaining days.
By the end of the epic, Odysseus has guaranteed his own death. Twice he was offered the choice to become immortal, and live the rest of his days with a beautiful goddess. Both times Odysseus refuses, and continued on with his journey home. His choice is puzzling however, for in life with the goddesses Odysseus was given a chance to have what most crave: perfection.
Why Odysseus chose this path is simple, and is the underlying principle to human existence: humans need change. Humans cannot have victory without defeat; they cannot have love without hate, peace without war and immortality without death. For a human to become immortal, he must become stagnant. Thus causing the individual to lose his ability to change and adapt.
The perfect example of a human becoming stagnant when made immortal is that of Utnapishtim from The Epic of Gilgamesh. Utnapishtim, the "Noah" character from the story, became stagnant. He didn't care when he ate, he didn't care when he slept, he didn't care when he did anything for that matter because he had all the time in the universe to do what he wanted.
Life is about struggle and overcoming obstacles. All the great men in history are great because they overcame something. It is these very struggles that define an individual's self. Without struggling and change there can be no growth. Odysseus struggles to this whole journey, and in the end he is a better and stronger man for it. If Odysseus had stayed with one of the goddesses no one would have cared enough to tell his story, for there would be nothing remarkable about it. Instead, Odysseus chose change over stagnation and is immortalized through his wisdom and strength.
It is the lesson of change that sets Homer's The Odyssey from other "journey" literature, and it is the lesson of change that is the hardest to except for human beings. There are not many people in this world that would have the same wisdom and strength to choose the same path as Odysseus.