If we wish to understand the nature of the present, we have all been told, it is often useful to look to the past, and especially to the great works of art from the past because they can often help us to understand the present. The great epics “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” and “Gilgamesh” present us with characters whose lives are in many ways radically different from our own, and yet they also describe for us the kind of personal challenge that is as familiar to us in the modern world as it was to those in the ancient world. The epics focus on characters who have lost their way and their dreams and the ways in which they attempt to regain their sense of self and their sense of the possible.
In Odysseus – who is known in English as Ulysses, following the Latin spelling – Homer created a figure who is marked both by outstanding wisdom and oratorical skills as well as personal courage and the ability to endure hardships that would defeat most humans. Odysseus was for Homer and for the Greek audiences of the epic poems an ideal combination of intellectual and physical strength, both a scholar and a warrior. It is this combination of abilities in both the physical and the intellectual that marks Odysseus as a man who deserves not only the respect of other but also their subservience. He pursues his dreams through war not because he necessarily believes that it will lead him to victory but for the main part because it is in his nature and in the nature of the society of his time. He is a man who sees all remedies to broken and blocked dreams as lying on the battlefield. He is a man who is not transformed by war because he is already the embodiment of human force for good. When the fates conspire against him he turns to a martial code and martial conduct to redeem himself.
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