Paradise and Death: The Temptations of Odysseus, by Mr. MacKnight, raises and explores each of the major questions we consider while reading The Odyssey. Whether they’re discussed directly or indirectly, this essay highlights the connections between each question. In The Odyssey, we travel alongside Odysseus as he encounters gods and monsters, suffers through pain, faces dangerous temptations, and grows as an individual. This analysis connects those adventures with current societal issues, as well as deep-rooted flaws in human nature.
The first question, the nature of the Greek gods, is raised in the discussion about immortality and what gives our lives meaning. As Odysseus encounters the Greek gods and goddesses (Kirkê and Kalypso) he’s tempted by paradisiacal islands and beautiful women. However, after being offered eternal life, he realizes that immortality would render his life meaningless. In Mr. MacKnight’s words,
. . . he longs for Penélopê precisely because she must die. If Penélopê (and Laertês and Telémakhos) were immortal, Odysseus would not be so dissatisfied with Kalypso, so impatient to get home; there would be plenty of time to do everything, without suffering any loss. . . It is because we mortals die that our lives are precious and our actions significant. (p. 9)
This introduces the following question, ‘Why do we suffer?’. Through broadening my literary knowledge, I have recognized a recurring trope that I noticed in this essay and in The Odyssey. Pain shades your life— it makes happiness better and sadness worse. It deepens your understanding of yourself and of the world. It keeps you connected with your emotions, and is imperative to hold onto,
[Odysseus] wants to live fully, which means living consciously. He doesn’t want to suffer, but when suffering comes he wants to feel the pain— the pain of losing his mother, of being separated from his family, or growing old and facing death—because only if he is fully conscious of life’s sorrows will he be fully conscious of its joys[.] (p. 14)
This quotation reminded me of an impactful line said in a monologue of a film, “Right now there’s sorrow. Pain. Don’t kill it, and with it the joy you’ve felt.” (Call Me By Your Name) Odysseus’ character and desires have shifted, because he has realizes that repressing the pain is not an option. He doesn’t want to live a life where he is numb to his emotions, like the Phaiákians. Pain is inevitable. We all suffer. It hurts, for some more than others, but it’s essential. This is exemplified when we compare pain to it’s emotionless alternative,
Living in their protected world, the Phaiákians never really suffer, but neither do they feel the unsurpassed joy, the inexpressible relief that comes when suffering ends. And neither do they have that intense appreciation of life that comes from recognizing its brevity, and the inevitability of loss and sorrow. (p. 14)
We suffer because it makes us human. We suffer to feel happiness. We suffer to acquire emotional depth— love, joy, grief, and passion, rather than liking, comfort, suppression and apathy. While visiting Hades, the land of the dead, Odysseus experiences death (without actually dying), which prompts his reconnection with life. He develops a new desire to travel home; a new appreciation for everyone and everything. His motivation is restored, and he wants to return to his family. Like suffering, death has allowed Odysseus to appreciate the alternative.
In this essay, I observed clear, specific assertions, well-structured paragraphs, literary evidence to support the assertions, and further exploration. I saw a combination of analysis and links to society/human nature, which I admire. The language wasn’t flowery, but the points were insightful and powerful. This taught me that embellished language is unnecessary for impactful writing—something which I will attempt to improve going forward.