The Return of the Hero


The brave and wise man, who intends to overcome his foes, must first of all strive to subdue the internal enemies of his own heart and mind, and the members of his own body.  Yoga-Vasishtha, the Sixth Discourse, trans. Hari Prasad Shastri

Further evidence, I think, that The Odyssey is a work of spiritual allegory comes from the circumstance of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca.  He has been told by Teiresias that upon his return “thou shalt find woes in thy house—proud men that devour thy livelihood, wooing thy godlike wife, and offering wooers’ gifts.”  (11:116-118)  He is also told that he must take vengeance upon them.  So we might expect that, in true heroic style, he will put together an army, perhaps drawing on his comrades now sitting comfortably in their own palaces after their own nostos, and vanquish them.  But what happens is quite different.

Even though he knows what he will find, his parting words on the island of Scheria imply that all will be well:

Lord Alcinous, renowned above all men, pour libations now, and send ye me on my way in peace; and yourselves too—Farewell! For now all that my heart desired has been brought to pass: a convoy, and gifts of friendship. May the gods of heaven bless them to me, and on my return may I find in my home my peerless wife with those I love unscathed; and may you again, remaining here, make glad your wedded wives and children; and may the gods grant you prosperity of every sort, and may no evil come upon your people.”  (13:37-47)

When he does actually land on Ithaca, he is asleep, the Scherians have left, and he does not even know where he is.  He has to be reminded by Athena, and doesn’t even bring up the idea of returning as a conquering hero; instead he makes his way to the hut of Eumaeus, the pig-keeper, having been transformed by Athena into an old, wrinkled beggar.  The true king is now dependent on the xenia of the lowest of his servants.  It is in this form that he reunites with Telemachus, and it is without the usual trappings of kingship that he must reclaim it.  He has been humbled, and even though he will visit violence upon the “wooers,” it is without the hubris of The Iliad.

So insofar as the suitors represent out own fears and desires, products of the egosphere  that seek supremacy over our true Self, they too must die.

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