Nietzsche on Odysseus’ struggle for happiness.

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?

Further Reading

  • 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


  1. Hi! Thanks for the like and follow. I enjoyed reading this post! Looking forward to more… EVEN THOUGH… *hehe* I fundamentally disagree. lol.

    I absolutely LOVE The Odyssey. It is one of my favorites. I go back and read it every other year… (it’s about that time again actually, your post prodded me along a little sooner…)

    I absolutely loathe Nietzsche. I appreciate his contributions in general, but ultimately, always disagree on the details.

    Same with his view of Odysseus (or Ulysses)…

    1. the story is not JUST about Odysseus… his wife and son factor in… and illustrate faith, hope, loyalty… and the human character flaws – greed, etc – expressed in the minor characters (the suitors, his men, etc)
    2. Odysseus was plagued by the poor choices others made, as well as the anger of Poseidon for killing the cyclops Polyphemus to Save himself and his men… If it weren’t for Athena’s intervention with the gods in the first place… he would have been left on the island, a slave to whatsername… (see been a while… starting to forget those long greek names… lol)

    Therefore, I don’t see any of his actions as particularly ‘willful’ or even cognizant… the only will or thought involved was forward motion and the end-goal to get home.

    Now… the Iliad? That’s a different story.


  2. Thanks for the comment! I always appreciate understanding the views of others.

    I agree that the story is not just about Odysseus, it’s everything you also mentioned. But if we focus only on Odysseus we might wonder if he ever regretted his journey, or how he would be able to justify his choices.

    Remember that the audience reading the book knows a lot more than Odysseus. If we are concerned with how Odysseus, alone, deals with the journey and all the hardships, Nietzsche’s suggestions could offer one answer.

    If we take all characters and moments as a whole into consideration, I think Nietzsche would say we have to think about the author now. And he says Homer “invented his gods for himself.” That is a viewpoint I don’t want to argue.


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