What is Odyssey
The idea of Odyssey derives from the ancient Greek mythological poem, attributed to legendary poet, Homer, which recounts the history of Odysseus (in Latin, this became Ulysses), one of the principal heroes of the Trojan wars. The poem describes Odysseus’s journey as he returned from the war in Troy to his home in Ithaca, a journey that included both physical and mental travails: the loss of his companions, the encounter with the one-eyed Cyclops, and his falling in love with a nymph, along with his deep longing for the wife and son he left at home.
The Odyssey, together with the Iliad, which preceded it, and which recounts the history of the Greek war against the Trojans, is one of the first literary works of Western culture in general, and of classic Greek culture in particular. The uniqueness of the Odyssey lies in the fact that it does not just describe a journey through a series of places; it also provides a detailed recounting of the moving emotional journey undertaken by the central characters over the course of the narrative, a description which allows us to explore the motives and world-views that underlie their choices. Thus, for example, Odysseus himself becomes, as time passes, a symbol for both flexible, practical thinking, the kind of utilitarian thought that ultimately brings him back home, to the attainment of his desires, and for contemptible deceptiveness, the kind that justifies any means to achieve one’s goals.
In effect, the Odyssey, being both a spatial and an emotional journey, allows us an in-depth look at one of the most basic concepts of human existence – time. For what is a journey, if not a description of both mental and practical changes? And what is time, if not that which ties such changes together in some pattern? It may be assumed, as was assumed by many pre-modern tribes, that time is merely a pattern of circularity, in which the changes in nature (the cycle of the seasons of the year, the cycle of day and night) serve only as testimony to the fact that reality repeats itself unceasingly. Alternatively, modern age man seeks to express himself through a belief that he has the ability to bring about change in a linear way, perhaps infinitely, through progress, through improvement of his moral conduct, through the level of justice demonstrated in his society, and certainly through the technological means available to him. And, of course, there is also the possibility that time patterns combine both circularity and linearity. There were those – among them, the 19th-century German philosophers Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx – who argued determinedly that human existence (spiritual, for the former, and material-economic for the latter) must proceed in a dialectic fashion. That is, progress does not take place linearly, but rather in a gradual, yet winding manner, with conflict between opposing forces (as in Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, or the power of the working class in conflict with the bourgeois class, in Marx’s terms).
Whatever patterns the time-journey take, it is clear that they are a most important means for understanding and guiding our lives. While this is true for mankind in general, it would seem to be especially true for talented young people, whose intellectual, emotion and social journey has just begun. They face a journey rife with difficulties, challenges, insights, and – we would hope – impressive successes, and they need to be equipped with everything necessary for success in their own personal odyssey.