Paradise and Death, by Eric MacKnight is an intriguing interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey. One component that garners my attention is, “the unpleasant constants of the human condition-suffering, aging, and death, and our attempts to understand, escape, or overcome them”(pg.2). Not only is this a meaningful interpretation of the epic poem, but also a deeply thought-out comparison of what it means to be human, and a common ground to which we can all relate. Further, recognizing that humanity as a whole shares a common experience places the most inflated ego, alongside an innocent and harmless individual. The notion of everyone being shaped by the same constants is not only a deeply personal connection everyone can make to the poem, but is also a remarkably humbling experience by itself. Moreover, after Odysseus’ encounter with Achilles and his late mother in their shade forms, he is offered a new perspective, “The visit to Hades gives Odysseus the strength to resist all temptation ahead of him”(pg. 4). A perspective that is not tainted by his sense glory or incompressible wealth, but a perspective that is choked full of regret, and is wholly self-critical. This encounter with his late mother and fallen comrade is a turning point for Odysseus. This is a personal subject for many. Who hasn’t lost a family member or someone they were close to, after falsely assuming they would be with you forever? In Odysseus’ mind, his mother, son, father, and wife would greet him as he returned home, nothing unchanged. After this point, he realizes that he must get home, and fast, at any cost. This reminds me of something I once read, “A person has two lives, and the second begins when you realize you only have one”. Not only do we witness a rapid transformation of Odysseus’ guiding principles, but through the poem and essay, we are able to relate to exactly what Odysseus is feeling, and complete this change alongside him. This relates to the quotation, “no matter how miserable life may be, it is better than death”(pg. 5). Not only does Odysseus feel a pang a regret, and a need for change regarding what he really wants, but he also grasps at sincere gratitude. After his conversation with Achilles, he recognizes that his time is sacred and precious, as it is representative of how long he has before the remaining people he cares for meet the same fate as Achilles and his mother. For this, he feels gratitude for not only his life, which he previously considered ending to avoid suffering, but also for the time he has, and the potential to spend it with the people who made his suffering worthwhile. This is precisely the reason why Odysseus’ character has been admired for thousands of years. The fact that a fearless soldier, who endured nearly 20 years of hardship on his journey home, can also be vulnerable, and experience the same come-and-go feelings of gratitude, regret, and grief. This humanizes this almost immortal man, and allows us to view him as a “human superhero” in the sense that we can possess strength and perseverance, while still maintaining the piece of us that is essential to the human condition.
Another reason why this essay is riveting is that fact that it clearly demonstrates not only the essential ideas, analyses, and arguments; but also does so in a way that is so easy to follow, easy to comprehend and process, and most importantly, keeps the reader engaged. A personal connection to the clarity of this writing is the structure and organization. Personally, I have always struggled with making my arguments flow neatly and clearly. This can be attributed to my habit of writing with the “quantity over quality” mindset, as well as my lack of usage of transition words. Further, the vocabulary is so broad and varied, while still being precise and easy to understand. Each verb carries an emotional weight that somehow manages to fit the tone of the paragraph or passage perfectly. This phenomenon that the language used in the arguments seems to compliment the mood of not only the poem, but the essay as well. Not only does this make the essay riveting and profoundly engaging as a reader, but additionally contributes to the emotional baggage of each quotation and reference.