An English In Kentucky


















Thursday March 28th 2019Tim Candler9


    Odysseus was the boy hero in The Odyssey. He was a king who left his wife in charge of his home territory while he went off to do his bit to rescue Helen from the Trojans. When the war was over it took Odysseus a good ten years to make his way home, and when he got home his wife was delighted to see him again, "her face melted.... her lovely cheeks dissolved with tears. She wept for her own husband, who was right next to her." But Odysseus wasn't that happy to discover that even though things seemed to be ticking along nicely, the harvests were good, streets tidy and so on, home had changed. His reaction to this discovery was classic boy king veteran of foreign wars type behavior. His solution to his own emotions was to put things right by returning everything to the way he'd remembered it. He killed all his wife's suitors and their supporters and as a result he felt back in charge of everything. "Gosh" I hear the call. Well, the man had been away for a good long while, and you'd think that maybe there were good reasons why things might have changed at home and the point of discussion has to do with what Odysseus might have learned during his travels amongst other societies all of whom managed things very differently, some put more faith in a girl god, others based their entire existence around sheep, there were Lotus eaters, cannibals, he and his men ate someone's sacred livestock even though they were asked not to, and the list is long. But for Odysseus, home had to be as it had been, as it was and would always be. So the question; "Was Odysseus a hero or just an unpleasant self centered little man with a big sword and a fragile ego?" might strike a cord. Worth noting that for reasons that defeat me, the Romans called Odysseus, Ulysses.



     It was the Dubliner James Joyce who wrote the book Ulysses. It's an exploration of the many trials of Odysseus on his journey home. Joyce, however, explored Odysseus' entire adventure by describing the events and thoughts of one day in the life of his main character Leopold Bloom. The day was June 16th, 1904. Today there are two pretenders to the Office of President here in the United States who have made mention of their fondness for The Odyssey and Joyce. One named his boy child Ulysses, I guess he did so because Odysseus might have been taking it just a little too far for a Texan. The other suggested that politics should be conducted more like Joyce's telling of Leopold Bloom's day in 1904. The grand theory is one thing, the great historical reach is another thing, but this side of tyranny doing politics is about how everyday life can be made better or worse and in doing politics there are few substitutes for "the imperatives and primacy of lived experience." Far too easy to stand on a pedestal and claim to be speaking for the American People, you can't just be the hero and assume you know what's best for everyone because it's best for you and how you think things should be. It's a delicious area, cuts all ways, every spice you can you think of and yet. Emily Wilson is a scholar, she recently contributed a new translation of The Odyssey, her commentary, I'm told, feasts more on the reality of life for the majority in Odysseus' time on earth, the raw uncertainties, the moments of charm and wonder, fear and violence, not just as fate on a tombstone but real and present. Her question for all Pretenders could be "Interpret The Odyssey, and defend your interpretation."


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