What is Odyssey
Dr. Golan Moshe Lahat
The source of the word Odyssey can be found in an ancient poem form Greek Mythology, attributed to the (undoubtedly) legendary poet Homer, who tells the story of Odysseus (also known as Ulysses in Latin), one of the first heroes of the Trojan War. The poem covers Odysseus’ journey home after the war has ended, from Troy to Ithaca. A journey that includes physical and psychological travails: the loss of his travel companions, an encounter with a cyclops, and falling in love with a nymph, while desperately missing the wife and son he left back home.
The Odyssey, together with its predecessor, the Iliad (which describes the story of Greece’s war against the Trojans), is one of the first story-like depictions of Western society in general, and classic Greek culture in particular. What makes the Odyssey unique is that it is not simply the description of travels, but is also the precise detailing of an exciting and captivating emotional journey, as experienced by the poem’s main characters, which enables us to examine the motivations and perspectives that drive their choices. As such, for example, Odysseus was, himself, a symbol for practical and purposeful, yet also flexible thought, which led to his successful arrival home. Namely, his ability to achieve his goal. He was also a symbol of horrid deception, as indicated by anyone who justifies all means to reach and end.
In essence, the Odyssey, as a spatial and psychological journey, enables us to deeply examine one of the the most basic human and existential concepts - time. After all, what is a journey, if not the description of mental and practical changes as one? And what is time if not the linking of these changes within some sort of framework? For example, consider the perception that used to be widely accepted among primitive tribes. They believed that time is a circular framework, within which changes to nature (the change of seasons, day-night cycles, etc.) are evidence of reality repeating itself over and over again. Or, how a man in the modern era seeks to express himself through his faith, so that he can create linear change in the form of advancement, perhaps on end, by improving his moral conduct, expressing justice towards society and utilizing available technological means. And, of course, one can also consider time as integrating circular and linear frameworks. Some, such as 19th Century philosophers Freidrich Hegel and Karl Marx ardently claimed that human reality (spirituality for the former and materialism and finances for the latter) is fated to advance in a dialectic manner. Namely, advancement that is not in a straight line, but rather gradually winds while battling contradicting forces (such as the awareness of subjugation versus freedom of a wave, or the strength of the working class versus the Bourgeoisie, to Marx).
Be that as it may, it is clear that there is a top means towards understanding and navigating through our lives. While this may be correct for people in a general manner, it seems that it is even more correct for talented youth, whose intellectual, emotional and social journeys have just begun. They face a journey rife with difficulties, challenges, insights and hopefully, impressive successes - and must be equipped with everything they need to succeed in their Odyssey.
*Dr. Golan Moshe Lahat is a lecturer at Tel Aviv University (Political Science Department), and serves as Tel Aviv University’s Academic Principal of the Idea Program.