Fighting a war and governing a state require two different skill sets. Most people who had the opportunity to do both realized that they were good at one and not the other, and chose to opt out of governing: Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, Napoleon. There are cases of some who were good at both: Dwight Eisenhower arguably, and some who were incompetent at both: George W. Bush definitely.
But of course we are talking about Odysseus. He was, by Homer’s account, an exemplary soldier, but not in the mold of Achilles. He saw the Trojan War as a job, a duty, and didn’t let his ego get caught up in it the way Achilles did. He wasn’t looking for eternal fame and glory (kleos); he just wanted to get home to Ithaca and Penelope. He wanted to govern, to reunite his kingdom and his family. He must have experienced revulsion beyond words when he learned about the presence of the suitors who were preying on his wife and his son and his kingdom. Here was the “gentle father,” who was powerless to bring peace and justice back to his state.
His motivation was not hatred of the “enemy,” but love of his own people. He resorted to the trickery of the Trojan Horse only when he saw that the brute force tactics of the other Greek leaders were going nowhere. But by that point–10 years without a furlough–he himself had turned into a mindless killer, as seen by the gratuitous attack on the Cicones as his first act after leaving Troy. He had become imbued with the need to acquire, to win, to prevail, to defeat, destroy, annihilate. It is the transformation he makes back to one who can govern with love, who can unify rather than destroy, that makes up the Odyssey.
But of course we are not talking about Odysseus. We are talking about ourselves. Which are we: destroyers or governors? (I don’t say builders, because nothing is ever really built, just manifested.) We would never think of ourselves as destroyers, but how much of our consciousness do we spend on trying to prevail, to assert our own egos? Criticizing, feeling superior, feeling self-righteous. As the cartoon says, “It is not enough for dogs to win; cats must also lose.” Once we start on the path to “winning,” we end up wanting to destroy someone, if only in our own minds. And regardless of the companies we run, the wealth we amass, the power we exercise, we are basically pathetic creatures being pushed and pulled by the negative feelings we hold (or that hold us) toward others. When, like Odysseus, we learn to govern ourselves this need to win dissipates. We experience the bliss of unity, and our only wish is that everyone else should experience it also.
When Odysseus meets Achilles in the underworld, Achilles is reduced to wishing he could slave for some tenant farmer on earth rather than be a king in Hades. He has realized the price of his egotism and pride. And he provides a turning point for Odysseus, who now fully realizes that kleos is a dream. What is needed is nostos, “the return from darkness and death to light and love.” And despite the suffering of that return to the Fatherland, he does not waver until he again finds that light and love. Then he realizes that all along he has not been separate, and it is the Father who has been governing.