exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
Odysseus & Penelope
universal metaphors of true love
return to the main-page article
“Epic,” via the Latin, derives from ancient Greek, meaning “word, story, or poem.” It’s a literary form, often a narrative constructed as poetry, typically employed to help a people understand their origins.
The narrative usually features a hero overcoming great obstacles to achieve extraordinary feats. Arguably, the most famous epics of history are the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid.
My information on the famous three had been scanty. I’d known of these most of my life but, even so, was fairly ignorant. Recently, however, I reviewed all three epics by listening to 18 hours of lecture by an expert in the field, Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver.
Quite frankly, I wasn’t expecting much. What could these dusty fragments of a forgotten time offer me now, thousands of years after the fact? What good are stories of gods and goddesses, mythical battles, and cosmogonies of dead cultures?
However, I must confess, I am astonished at the force, elegance, and relevance of these ancient writings; especially, in my opinion, the Odyssey. And I now see clearly why these epics have survived to our time, and have been referenced thousands of times by writers down through the centuries.
On the main-page, I discussed the confrontation between Odysseus and Calypso. This incident took place in the first half of the Odyssey, during which Odysseus lived as a kind of peripatetic Indiana Jones. In his efforts to return home after the war with Troy, the great warrior, buffeted by disapproving gods, was required to endure all manner of fantastic exploit. He found himself battling the Cyclops monster, was shipwrecked and nearly perished at sea, encountered the mind-controlling Sirens, and even survived a journey to the shadowy underworld to speak to the dead.
It took 10 years after the war for Odysseus to make it home; had things gone his way, the trip could have been done in just many days. Finally, however, in a ship supplied to him by a kindly people, Odysseus landed on his home shores of Ithaca, a Greek city-state. He’d been gone for 20 years.
why should we think about these things
While the first half of the book, as mentioned, deals with larger-than-life ordeals, the entire second half focuses upon Odysseus’s efforts to reclaim the life he’d left behind. But the dangers to his person were not over. However, this section of the epic shifts gears, things slow down, with action less prominent; though, he’ll get to that. There’s more time for introspection now, and the reader learns about the private life of the heroic soldier of the Trojan War.
why is this important to us
As I entered the second half of the book, a certain sense of universal theme met with me. I began to perceive that what happened to Odysseus, in one form or another, will happen to all of us. On this level of interpretation, the writing speaks to us personally, and, I would say, is the real reason it’s survived to our own day.
Most of us will not be lauded as a great warrior, but virtually all of us will experience the trauma of making one’s way home after devastating loss.
picture the situation
He’d been given up for dead. The last battle of the Trojan War was 10 years ago. No one had heard from him in a decade.
And Odysseus was not just a great military man. He was the leading figure in his home city-state. He was king there. He’d been the law there. But now, though his reputation was formidable, the long absence had emboldened criminal-types in society.
Penelope didn’t know what to do. Was she a widow? She wasn’t sure. Should she continue to wait, now 20 years, for her illustrious husband? It wasn’t that simple. A group of 118 suitors, men intent upon marrying Penelope, had gathered, but with evil motivation.
They were becoming more forcible in their demands that she choose one of them. But this was not about love. She was the queen of the city-state, and the man who won her would become king. Her life was in danger.
Son Telemachus, a baby of several months when Odysseus went off to war, was now about 21. He lacked experience in terms of protecting his mother from the increasingly menacing mob. The 118, while Telemachus was away on a business trip, decided that when he returned they would kill him.
Odysseus suspected and sensed that Penelope was in trouble, but news from home was hard to come by
He knew that it was just a matter of time before vultures attempted to take that which belonged to him by right. Thoughts such as these burdened his mind as he sat on a lonely beach with Calypso.
Editor’s note: On the Word Gems homepage, there’s a featurette of a boy lamenting his loss, whispering, “a hand for each hand was the plan for the world, why don’t my fingers reach? millions of grains of sand in the world, why such a lonely beach?” – we must dedicate this image to Odysseus.
Also in that section on the homepage, I state that a time is coming when,
in one missed heartbeat, all of the current scenery and stage-props, along with unsavory characters in our lives, will be gone. Right now it all seems so permanent, but, in that missed heartbeat, we will enter a new phase of our eternal lives, with closest friends and dearest ones, those lost to us on our pilgrimage, returned to rightful owners. This, indeed, ‘was the plan for the world’…
Odysseus had lost Penelope on his pilgrimage. How could he obtain news of her situation? He discovered a way, which, in principle, is open to all of us during a time of news blackout concerning those we’ve lost.
During his journey to hades, he spoke with a discarnate who informed him of Penelope’s dire strait, confirming what Odysseus feared. Penelope was in trouble. And now he sought all the more to return to Ithaca as quickly as possible.
There are lines of communication open and available to each of us concerning lost loved ones. The Spirit World, via competent psychic-medium, can be accessed for us to learn what we need to know. Likely, there will be difficulty in finding a reputable medium, but they do exist, and if you make it a priority to accomplish this, you have every chance of succeeding.
In this world, we lose people we love in many different ways. Every situation will be different. Though the facts will vary, the trauma of loss will be the same. It’s a universal theme.
If it hasn’t happened for you yet, you might think that 20 years is a long time. The reality is, a day might come when you’d gladly settle for only 20 years; it could be much longer, depending on what lessons Spirit Guides deem it necessary for you to learn during your time here, on the “sorrowful planet.”
Regarding Odysseus and Penelope, I will leave it to your own studies to learn of what happened to the 118. Let’s just say that Odysseus was not amused at what they were trying to do and put a severe crimp in their style, if you know what I mean.
Again, each situation will be different. But the universal theme and the universal lesson is this: During our difficult but, mercifully, temporary time in this world, we will assuredly lose people we love. It might be our own fault; there’s a lot of that going around. In retrospect, I have no doubt, Odysseus would have used his influence to convince the troops not to go to Troy on some half-baked quest for empty honor. He shouldn’t have left her.
"I'm sorry I left you, Lois"
Regrets such as these are also a universal theme. Because, when we violate such precept, in one’s absence, Penelope may be forced to go on with some semblance of life, committing to things, she knows, in her heart of hearts, are not right. And who’s to blame for that?
there is no epic of the certainties
A long time ago, in my readings of the books by Pastor Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, I came across his phrase, “there is no epic of the certainties.” A jarring phrase, in his discussion of the meaning of suffering.
He meant to say, “Whether you like it or not, if you want to do the right thing, life is going to require you to live heroically. It won’t be easy to do what’s required for you. Your path will be filled with sorrow and trauma, and many times the way will be unclear. Don’t expect otherwise. Life in this world isn’t so predictable so be prepared for anything, whatever difficult lesson God requires you to learn. It won’t be cut-and-dried for you, you won’t easily slide into success, because – there is no epic of the certainties.”
a final beautiful metaphor of true love from Odysseus and Penelope
As a young man, about to marry Penelope and build a life for themselves, Odysseus selected a sturdy tree. He would build their house around it. But there’s more.
The tree would form one of the four corners of their marriage bed. And so, he built the bed around the solid tree trunk, and then built the bedroom around the bed, and then built the house around the bedroom.
Is this not a beautiful concept of enduring, unmovable, true love?
Further, when he first met with Penelope after his long journey, there was no immediate joy and running into his arms. Suddenly she became frightened, her mind filled with doubts, and would not believe that it was really Odysseus before her. She had prepared herself so well to believe that she would never see him again that, in the beginning, she could not accept what her heart had yearned for.
How could he convince her? He decided to speak of their special bed, the knowledge of which had not been shared but with one trusted servant. With this intimate knowledge, she knew that her lost love had indeed returned.
Even in this, I think, we see universal theme and metaphor. Lovers share certain experiences which only they are privy to. Certain delicious memories become identifying markers which no one else could ever duplicate or invade.
Editor's last word:
The word "Odysseus" in the Greek means "pain" or "trouble." It is the pain and trouble we cannot escape when we come to this world.
The question becomes, how will we deal with it? Will we conduct ourselves honorably and thereby craft an heroic epic for ourselves, which our future families will venerate and learn from?
No one said it would be easy, there is no "epic of the certainties," and many of us would gladly settle for 20 years.