For those who don’t know the innards of the Odyssey, I’ll familiarise you: due to offences against the gods, which largely weren’t our hero’s fault, Odysseus cannot return home to Ithaca. He compounds on his late arrival by stabbing the son of sea-god Poseidon- Polyphemus- right through his Cyclopic face, because Odysseus has no time for spoilt thugs that won’t stop eating his men. After a huge sequence of trials our hero finally returns to Ithaca- only to find his house and wife beset by vulgar suitors! He promptly slaughters them with his son Telemachus, forming a bonding experience with a father you’ll never have, because we live in a post-modern age where cleansing your household of corruption with spears isn’t part of the Coalition Agenda, instead you send them on Gardening Leave. His justice is so well executed that the previously supportive goddess Athene has to intervene and ask him to stop, because if he carries on the world will probably explode. And that’s where the Odyssey ends: the greatest of all the epics, constructing a hero so illustrious he manages to look at Gilgamesh across the void and say: ‘take a chair’.
Why does this epic concern you? Know this: boy or girl, when you are a student- especially here- you are Odysseus. I’m about to prove the relation of roles with passages from the Odyssey placed alongside your contemporary campus problems. Yes, welcome to the new Arts section.
- Odysseus escapes the drudgery of Calypso’s Isle, awakes naked in a bed of leaves – Hero student escapes home, awakes in bushes after SU
Well done. You made it to Royal Holloway, and you are now Odysseus. Where has Odysseus been? Locked away, bored and anxious. However, like you, he manages to escape! After a tumultuous storm, comparable to a rampant night at our Union, he goes to bed al fresco: “When bold Odysseus saw the leaves he rejoiced and laid himself down in the midst of them”. A fine choice, but next morning, Odysseus is woken by the calling of women! He acts like a gentleman: “so boldly did Odysseus, stark naked as he was, make to join the band of maidens: for necessity compelled him.” This was you the morning after that fabled night. It’s alright- Odysseus has your back.
- Odysseus contrives a way to defeat Polyphemus – Hero student defeats first assessed essay the night before it’s due.
The blinding of Polyphemus is my favourite part of ‘The Odyssey’, mainly because it’s a great how-to on dealing with most everyday problems. Let’s read: “we then thrust our pointed stake in his eye and spun it, till the boiling blood bubbled about its pillar of fire. Just as a smith plunges into cold water some axe or adze and it hisses angrily- just so his eye sizzled about the olive spike.
What a clever fellow! Rather than try and fight the Cyclops- and certainly perish- Odysseus used his intellect. There are no wasted words or poor referencing here- no, Odysseus has earned a first in Cyclops Management. Sure, it was the night before and a bit messy, but like you, Odysseus knew that rather than tackling the beast, it’s better to shove a flaming stake through the beast’s eye and gloat.
- Odysseus purges suitors from his house in a glorious aristeia – Mid-seminar, Hero Student has had enough of bigoted student who never read the book anyway
You’re sat in seminar, leading discussion about a book that you’ve actually read and saving your fellow students who haven’t from humiliation. It’s okay: they’re thankful for it and you don’t mind. Suddenly, a challenger opens his or her mouth – and unloads the most horrific swathe of unwarranted nonsense into your face, right into your face, and sits there looking smug while the rest of the room sits in horror, desperately looking for spears. How did Odysseus deal with the problem? Like you, of course: “he put his bow aside… passed a shield over his shoulders… dressed his great head in a close-fitting helmet, grim under the towering menace… and took up two brave pointed spears.”
I chose that quote because everything after that is pretty much an orgy of blood punctuated by suitors being rearranged in ways they do not like with spears and swords. But like Odysseus, your justice was heroic, and you saved the seminar!
I’m afraid I must stop there. Word limits are unfortunate, but I think I’ve made my point. Read ‘The Odyssey’. I won’t be pretentious and say it’s essential, but it certainly is relevant. My final word is this: the edition of The Odyssey I’ve been using was translated by T.E Lawrence: or, Lawrence of Fucking Arabia. Before purists jump all over me, I know the edition is not perfect, but the point I’m making is one of the most impressive and hopeful men this side of the last century still made time to translate the story himself- and it was time well spent.