“The Odyssey is a homecoming. It’s what the Greeks called a nostos, which means a return home, and that word is very close to the Greek word for mind, nous. Both come from an Indo-European root, nos, which means a return from darkness to light. And that’s what Odysseus does, in both senses.
He is hidden, for seven years, on the island of Calypso, who is really enchanted with him. She doesn’t want to let him go. It’s a marvelous scene when she finally tells him, ‘Alright you can go, but do you really want to? You can stay here with me and be immortal and ageless all your days.’ What would you say to Calypso at that point?
Odysseus, always thinking — this is one of his epithets, polymetis, many, many thoughts — he’s always ready for any occasion, and this might be a difficult situation for him. If you’ve ever left someone who didn’t want you to leave… well, you know what I’m talking about. So he says this to her:
‘Goddess and mistress, don’t be angry with me.
I know very well that Penelope,
For all her virtues, would pale beside you.
She’s only human, and you are a goddess,
Eternally young. Still, I want to go back.
My heart aches for the day I return to my home.
If fate hits me hard as I sail the deep purple,
I’ll weather it like the sea-bitten veteran I am.
God knows I’ve suffered and had my share of sorrows
In war and at sea. I can take more if I have to.’
They make love that night for the last time, then he’s off on a raft on his struggle to return home.
He faces many adversities. He meets them all with a mind that is flexible, ready for any twist of fate. He can get out of seemingly any situation, no matter how difficult. It is by virtue of his truly incredible mind that he finally arrives back at Ithaca.”
Stanley Lombardo, introducing a reading from his translation of Homer’s Odyssey, for my money the best version of my favorite story. Watch S.L.’s superb reading below:
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