The Way of the Odyssey


More evidence that the Odyssey is a spiritual allegory comes from the fact that the main characters can be seen as exemplars of traditional spiritual paths:

Odysseus: Way of Action (Karma yoga). Frequent epithets: wise, clever, city-sacker, devious. He is subjected to a series of trials and temptations and must rely on his wits to determine the proper course of action, e.g. escape from the Cyclops. He must move from multiplicity to unity, remember his nostos (return journey), and save his psukhe (soul): Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy. Many were the men whose cities he saw and whose mind he learned, aye, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the sea, [5] seeking to win his own life (psukhe, soul) and the return (nostos) of his comrades. Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished—fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion; but he took from them the day of their returning.” (1:1)

Penelope: Way of Devotion (Bhakti yoga). Frequent epithets: wise, circumspect, constant. Her task is to remain steadfast in the presence of the suitors who are devouring her substance and tempting her to believe Odysseus is not going to return. “Then she burst into tears, and spoke to the divine minstrel: “Phemius, many other things thou knowest to charm mortals, deeds of men and gods which minstrels make famous. Sing them one of these, as thou sittest here, [340] and let them drink their wine in silence. But cease from this woeful song which ever harrows the heart in my breast, for upon me above all women has come a sorrow not to be forgotten. So dear a head do I ever remember with longing, even my husband, whose fame is wide through Hellas and mid-Argos.” (1:336)

Telemachus: Way of Knowledge (Jnana yoga). Frequent epithets: wise, godlike. His task is to gain evidence of his father’s existence through interviews with his companions, Nestor and Agamemnon. He must overcome his doubt and uncertainty: “But now he has thus perished by an evil doom, nor for us is there any comfort, no, not though any one of men upon the earth should say that he will come; gone is the day of his returning.” (1:166)

“Then wise Telemachus answered her (Athena): “Therefore of a truth, stranger, will I frankly tell thee all. [215] My mother says that I am his child; but I know not, for never yet did any man of himself know his own parentage.” (1:214)

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