Lessons From Literature: The Odyssey

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Homer’s The Odyssey, Translated by Robert Fagles – my summer read

If you’ve been following along for a while, you might know that I have been reading Homer’s “The Odyssey” on-and-off since November. Despite the fact that I am only at the half-way mark, I feel that it’s relevant to share a couple lessons that I’ve picked up so far – because this nearly 3000 year old epic poem is still relevant!

For those of you who are unfamilliar with the Odyssey, it’s the classic tale of Odysseus and the struggles that he encounters as he tries to return from the Trojan War.  Odysseus was a successful warrior and king, but he lets that go to his head and ends up offending the Gods – and just about everyone else in his wake. The results? A perilous ten year quest to a home where he’s long been forgotten.

Karma is, without a doubt, a bitch.

Here are two lessons from the Odyssey:

1. Boastfulness does not make friends. Odysseus managed to get himself into quite the pickle – but not without cause or reason. It turns out that his arrogance had dire consequences. I guess even the Ancient Greeks didn’t like that guy who was full of himself!

Sure, you know you’re awesome, but let others judge for themselves. Let your actions speak for themselves: whether it’s volunteering your time to an organization, fundraising, or just being a really present with your family and friends. 

2. Gratitude and courtesy are never wasted. Throughout the first half of the Odyssey I was amazed by the politeness that Odysseus showed towards his hosts and the graciousness of those who helped him along the way. Perhaps he’d learned his lesson after years of suffering at sea? His eloquent words of thanks and gratitude go a long way to solidify new friendships and secure his needs.

Common courtesy is not-so-common these days. We can all benefit from being more gracious, whether it’s for help given or received. Play things forward and reflect on the good things that you have at hand.

So who said the old stories aren’t still relevant? 

Everyone has their own journey and encounters struggles at some point in their life. But if there’s something that we can take away from classic stories is that boastfulness will only hinder you, while common courtesy will never go out of style. 

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A year of challenges

So as it turns out, there are lots of people who swear by the 30 day challenge.

In fact, there are even websites devoted to 30 day challenges, like 30daychallenges.net, and people who challenge themselves every month like Matt Cutts. So it’s not so much of a novel idea, but I’m still planning to take it on and document the experience here in my blog.

So what will make my personal challenges different?  Well for one thing, I’m as unique as the next person and I have a variety of interests from fly-fishing to crochet. I’m passionate about the environment, I read anything from popular fiction to literary classics, I absolutely adore fashion, and I’m very interested in giving back to my community in Eastern Canada. On top of all that, I already do unusual projects just because, so I’m sure there will be plenty to read about.

I once made a dress entirely from plastic bags by crocheting them together. Modeled by the lovely @tianafeng

I want my challenges to improve my own life, but I also intend to improve the lives of others around me.  My goals will be broken into those four categories: to reach my personal goals, to better the lives of my family and friends, to improve my community, and to raise awareness about the environment.  Some months will be all about personal growth, and encouraging people to give their own goals a try. Other months will be all about raising awareness about something near and dear to my heart. And other months may even be all about contributing to a cause here in my own community. I’m thinking about volunteering with organizations in my hometown, raising funds for causes close at hand, and learning to step outside my comfort zone.

This month I am taking it easy as I continue to brainstorm for the upcoming year.

I will be reading Homer’s great epic poem “The Odyssey”, which was translated into modern English by Robert Fagles.  So far I’m 4 chapters in and sincerely enjoying the story.  Since I’m a biologist, reading classic novels is something that should be outside of my comfort zone, but I don’t think you have to be a student of literature to enjoy a good story. Perhaps reading the modern translation of an epic poem would be frowned upon by some of the more serious literary enthusiasts, but for me reading a classic is all about enjoying the story. I don’t need to understand the deep meaning behind each paragraph or stanza, I’m just looking for a great story that has been loved by generations of people. So I’ll be writing more about my adventures with reading epic poetry and my ideas for new challenges over the next month.

Check it out – this translation makes the Odyssey accessible to the average reader.