Print Version of the webpage. Jan.2008.
Ulysses, the cunning Trickster. He fought in the first great war of the West against the East. No, unlike Achilles he did not scare the shit out of the Asian Hector, who in turn once scared the shit out of the Doric Greeks, and who moreover, if we are to believe Homer the greatest bard of mankind, was glibly deceived by Athena during his combat against Achilles. Who knows Hector may have otherwise accidentally aimed his spear the next time at Achilles heels? No, Ulysses was the cool calculated guy, he never got hot or emotional like some other epic heroes. He was actually a real peasant bourgeoisie, though born an aristocrat and did all he could to avoid the draft or more appropriately the Agamemnon's (or for that matter, the Presidents, the Priest's or the Rebel's) call to arms. What did he care if Paris (or any Dictator) eloped with Helen (with some vital resources like water, oil or the votes or the savings of the sleeping public)? He was happy with Penelope and his cute little and extremely faithful son Telemachus!
He was a master of tricks, but unfortunately for him, Menelaus, the bureaucrat responsible for overseeing the recruitment and very impatient with draft avoiders, was a much more foxy guy. As he appeared at the honey sweat groovy home of Ulysses with its wine and olive groves, Ulysses could think of only one stupid trick to avoid the draft. Penelope was unfortunately not much interested in politics nor was she cunning enough to come up with some more plausible excuse to keep her loving man and the father of new baby at her side. So Ulysses devised his own trick, which was his habit. He pretended to be mad. So out he goes and starts tilling the fields with a plough, like any of his menial peasant servants. But Menelaus was neither convinced nor so easily to be put off. So he orders his Hoplites (soldiers) to grab Telemachus, the infant child of Ulysses and lay him down in front of Ulysses plough, just to check if he was really mad, for then he would not notice it! This worked, Ulysses grabbed at once his child and stopped pretending to be mad. So it came that one of the greatest heroes of the western civilization was forced to leave his happy home and become probably the greatest legends of all time, by dint of an almost childish ruse. The fates, eh?
So from Troy (one of the oldest Asian cities) to Cyclops (probably some agriculturist or semi-pastoralists in North Africa) all had to witness the hypertrophy of the man's cerebral cortex. Here was the man of strategic- planning, overrunning all the foolish stupid brains of the world. The idea of the Trojan-horse was probably really his. And his tales of woe have one of the happiest endings in western literature.
Yet he was not all that modern. He was scared of the voices of the sirens (probably the songs of the whales) but he sure was a very rational sea man. Goethe was extremely impressed by Homer's nautical knowledge. Some think only a blind man would have had such an acute perception of the sounds, sighs and cries of the sea, the ships and the winds! Till the coming of the Anglo-Saxon sea faring man, I believe such acute perception remained unsurpassed, except for the Arabs maybe. The Arabs gave us Sindbad, the English no less than three heroes, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver and Long John Silver and from the new world, we got the monumental character of maritime tales, Captain Ahab. On hand these figures, you can literally witness the irrevocable Entzauberung der Welt, the loss of the magic in the world. Melville is a new-age Homer, acutely perceptive, with a gigantic soul, an ocean of feelings and a galaxy of experiences, but the magic is gone. However there is this still lingering ominous touch of poetical magic in the exotic and the unknown that characterizes his diction but he had the soul of a fully enlightened modern rational Christian, so the magic is now transported to the will-power of man and the mystery of the beast.2 Although Melville was a product of the mercantile system, his Ahab is no way a utilitarian, driven by expediency, the Market for blubber. His Ahab is from the classic age, in contrast to Melville himself. Melville was a son of the Earth and of the Salts of the Oceans, nevertheless he had the genius to infuse his observations of the mechanical material world with a great poetic sensitivity. Probably the last great traveler of the western hemisphere, who was still capable of empathetically feeling the spirit of the Rocks, Streams, Mountains and Oceans and the pulsating "Souls" of its inhabitants. Darwin and Humboldt although decidedly not utilitarian, however seem to have received the nature's song in a different refrain. The mountains were geological phenomena only, not expressions of some cosmic dimensions, resonating with what must certainly be with and in us too, but what we have lost and left behind somewhere on the way. For Melville, it seems that they were both and his Odyssey is that way as multidimensional as the original and in a way an epic too.
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