Consider Odysseus, Homer’s Archean hero of the Odyssey. He was brave, fearless, headstrong, and courageous. Leaving his beloved Ithaca for war and peace, and abandoning what truly made him happy: his home, wife, and son. Sailing alongside Odysseus we ask ourselves if he will ever return to Ithaca. If only Odysseus had realized happiness was more than pursing this journey. We want to yell out at him, “Don’t you realize? true happiness can only be defined within yourself.”
But should we really believe that Odysseus was suffering, or can we find satisfaction in knowing he had more life than any of us?
It is only when we have started to loose some of who we used to be, can we start to gain something we didn’t already have.
Imagine Odysseus’ journey as a series of failures. He walked into every trial along his journey understanding he would fail, and the only hope, if you can call it hope, was his awareness that he might succeed the next time a challenge arose, and finally reach Ithaca.
I know I would rather take a journey with a man just described, one who firmly understands that his own wishes and inclinations are of little importance compared to the world as a whole. His failures should be regarded more highly than successes because they are the proof that he has survived, and that is the real gift, his affirmation, a scream, as the thunder cracks and waves pound against his ship, “I have more of a life that any of you! Nothing you do to me can hurt me as long as I can survive!”
Odysseus is an example of what Nietzsche describes as a happy one. The existentialist philosopher recommends that our pursuits be genuinely pursued. That is, only do something because you really want to do it. If we don’t desire to partake in whatever we are doing, from the morning till the evening, and even then, dreaming about waking up to continue, then we shouldn’t do it.
Having more life than everyone else is easy, if we perceive Odysseus through Nietzsche tinted glasses. The cool thing about this is we go through other changes as well.
Imagine what you dislike about yourself, your thoughts, experiences, background knowledge, you name it. Now imagine that each thing you dislike is able to separate itself from you like a yellowing leaf quivering and finally breaking from a limb. These are the changes you can expect as you continue pursuing the things you love. And like dead leaves, things which no longer belong to us decompose. It is only when we have started to loose some of who we used to be, can we start to gain something we didn’t already have.
Let’s return once more to Odysseus and try to understand why he would never regret his journey. Faithfully he sailed, with clear-eyed Athene as his guide, into failures and survived, and in doing so lived.
Take with you a piece of his journey and embark on your own Odyssey because you desire to do it, embrace the failures because they are proof that you have survived, and eventually you will end back in Ithaca, and what could be more happier than that?
- Read The Joyful Wisdom or more commonly known as The Gay Science at The Project Gutenberg website.
- Read The Odyssey translated by Samuel Butler at The Project Gutenberg website.
Updated 5 July 2018