Open Wounds

O is for Odysseus

O Brother, Where Art Thou? PosterUlysses PosterOdysseus for me is the quintessential hero. And as a writer for me, every hero’s journey in some way mirrors his.

Odysseus is blackmailed into fighting in the Trojan war and the siege of Troy. If he doesn’t go his son will be killed. He even faked madness to try to get out of it. He’s not interested in war, has a lovely wife, and idyllic home. He just wants to be left alone. On top of which an oracle tells him if he goes he’ll be gone a long long long time. So to save his son he goes. And the Gods are not happy after they sack Troy so they are all punished, Odysseus especially. He’ll travel for 10 years, lose all his crew, face Sirens, Cyclops, Calypso, Phoenicians (those perilous Phoenicians!), storms from Poseidon and he returns home to have to kill off all the suitors for his wife Penelope – who stayed true to him even though the full court press was on for her hand in marriage.

Odysseus is the man. If you’ve never seen Kirk Douglas play him in Ulysses you haven’t lived. Or if you haven’t seen Oh Brother Where Art Thou from the Cohen Brothers – a 1920’s version that sings (sometimes literally) – you need to rent it right now. And then there’s James Joyce’s’ Ulysses which takes the hero’s journey to its most mundane – what most call a literary masterpiece about a day in the life of two men in Dublin in 1904.

The protagonist in the book I’m working on now defeats a bully by blinding him with mud and gets the nickname, Nobody – mirroring the deeds of Odysseus in defeating the cyclops Polyphemus.

The Odyssey has been an inspiration for my writing since I saw Kirk Douglas play the hero when I was a kid. What hero’s journey inspired you?

By the way, Ulysses is the name in Greek and Odysseus is the name in Latin.

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4 responses

  1. I love that you say most, when referring to the Joyce novel. I’ve read it, more than once, and I still can’t follow it.

    Otherwise, imagine writing a novel, whose main character was so amazing, everything that came after was based on it, even the very word, odyssey. That’s the definition of epic.

    April 17, 2012 at 7:55 am

    • I totally agree. I find JOyce’s book inaccessible and the height of naval gazing. But that’s me. I think most people talk about Ulysses as a literary masterpiece because they feel they have to (just like my carefully couched statement – “most”).

      April 17, 2012 at 8:13 am

      • I hear Dubliners is much easier, but I’ve never gotten around to giving it a try.

        April 17, 2012 at 8:16 am

  2. I love every single thing about this post. And concur.

    April 17, 2012 at 10:25 pm

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