“Let us flee then to the beloved Fatherland”: this is the soundest counsel. But what is this flight? How are we to gain the open sea? For Odysseus is surely a parable to us when he commands the flight from the sorceries of Circe or Calypso– not content to linger for all the pleasure offered to his eyes and all the delight of sense filling his days.
The Fatherland to us is There whence we have come, and There is The Father.
Plotinus, Ennead I:6:8, trans. McKenna
I can’t recall just what it was that made me leave,
To venture into that dark world of Strife.
Some dream, some urge for glory to Odysseus alone.
Instead I got deceit and mere cleverness.
I found myself among those stealing armor from men still dying,
Confused, not yet having begun their trudge to Hell.
If that be glory, god grant me shame.
Years later, I would wash up on the shores of Scheria,
Alone, naked, spent, nameless; mere flotsam.
I was truly No One then, but at least I was not a beast.
Still the memory that had led me past the rocks, the sirens,
The concealings, the enchantments, Hell itself, led me back to Ithaca.
I had to slay those who wanted my throne; no negotiating there.
So I have brought justice again, but have lost my stories;
No murder and madness now, no struggles. A dull dinner companion,
But that my heart is swollen with love.
Now I am no more the man of pain, of twists and turns,
I am Telemachus, I am Penelope, I am Laertes, I am Athena.
I am I again, unnamed and whole.
The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer continue to be touchstones of the Western canon, with new translations appearing it seems every few years, and an ongoing cottage industry of criticism and interpretations, to which of course this essay belongs. That this is true should not be a surprise, given the remarkable nature of these works, which provide the same kind of jolt as finding an...