“For Odysseus, for everyone, unconsciousness is death.” (p. 17) is what MacKnight stated in his work “Paradise and Death”. In this essay, MacKnight talks about the temptations of Odysseus, and how, even after 3000 years, human nature is so complex to understand yet so simple to predict that we can still apply the temptations of the bravest, wisest man of Greece into our current lives. There are six opportunities in which Odysseus can escape, in which he can forget all of his problems and perhaps live happily ever after, just like in fairy tales. We have the Loto Eaters, Kirke’s island, the Sirenes, Kalypso’s island, the three tormenting days caused by Poseidon, and Phaiakia. The Odyssey would be half of the pages it is if he had just picked to stay on the beautiful island of Kalypso, or perhaps decided to drown in his own suffering and please Poseidon with his death. Death has always been appealing to us, even to Odysseus; an unsolved mystery that once you find out of, you never come back to tell the rest about it. So, why is it that he refused over and over again to take his last breath on Earth?
Odysseus had no rush in coming back home from Kirke’s island. He was living comfortably, and felt safe after most of his men were killed because of his curiosity. But, as MacKnight says (p.4): “Odysseus has not yet been to Hades, the land of the dead, where he learns the importance of home and reality.” Odysseus, once entering the world of Hades, understands why Akhilleus would give anything to go back to the living; why his mom died because of grief. “For Odysseus, apparently, home has remained until this moment a timeless place in his imagination.” And that is true, not only for Odysseus, but for us too. How many times have we been curious of death, yet inevitably scared by it as soon as someone close to us passes away? How many of us have truly appreciated life after being so close to death? Funny enough, refusing to die is a type of death itself. Refusing to die means we are ready to live in the present, such as Odysseus when he decides to ignore the Sirenes and their song of Troy. We have all been caught in the feeling of nostalgia at one point in our lives. That bittersweet feeling; it brings us happiness; it brings us certainty; it reminds us we can control the past. But for the future? What does it behold for us? As Socrates would say, the only thing we know is that we know nothing. Yet, in living in the present, we are accepting our human nature: that we don’t know anything, yet we are still thriving for a future. In living fully, we will experience grief and sorrow, but also their opposites: happiness and fulfillment. We find something to live for, something to long for. Odysseus is able to overcome the temptations because he has something to live for: home. We are able to overcome our own temptations because we believe in something, regardless if it’s our home, our religion, our ethics, etc. Furthermore, Odysseus refuses to die because he wants to live his life consciously. For what is the purpose of life if it was not limited? He, and we, would not have any goals due tomorrow. We could postpone them, and at some point, forget about them. For us, unlucky mortal beings, life is a ticking bomb. We do not know when it will be over, but we can hear it all the time in our head, repeatedly, telling us it will eventually end.
Sadly, many humans, in modernity, are deaf to the ticking bomb that life is. They have succumbed to many of life’s temptations. “And how much they remind me of myself and other privileged North Americans: obsessed with sports from the time we can toddle across the room after a foam-rubber football […], and remaining deeply naive about the desperately serious struggles of people who are trying to feed themselves, defend their families, simply staying alive.” We are blind to our own privilege. We get bored with comfortableness. Life is not being lived. Current entertainment has killed human consciousness. We are not living in the present, we are living in automatic mode. Pain is currently avoided at all costs. And, who are we to blame them for wanting to avoid it? But, by avoiding these emotions, we also avoid the blissful ones. Perhaps, living with consciousness is a gamble. An endless 50-50 gamble until we die. But that is exactly what makes life so precious, and what it makes it worth living for. Homer knows this. Homer knows consciousness is wisdom and the greatest gift to life, and I, too, agree with him.
The way MacKnight is able to captivate me from his first opening sentence in the essay shows his impeccable way of keeping the readers hooked to the text. I deeply appreciated how he transitioned from topic to topic smoothly, it made the reading easy and enjoyable. The way questions were raised, even after they were answered, shows this is a good piece of literature that has an impact on whoever reads it. It is a valuable essay that definitely helps anyone who has, or is reading, The Odyssey.