Odysseus, multiform and suffering
Since ancient times, Greek myths have exerted their fascination on those who hear them told, see them performed in the theater, or read them in books. They have structured the Western cultural space alongside the Judeo-Christian tradition and Roman civilization. What the ancient Greeks expressed through those narratives influences our family relationships, our engagement with the sacred and with people in general. Think of the myth of Oedipus, narrated countless times, from Sophocles to Freud, or that of Antigone, which crystallizes the conflict between the eternal laws of the gods and the human laws of the city. Every age has rewritten and reinterpreted such myths. In search of their own identity, people of the Western world have returned time and again to these narratives to discover who they are, to mine new meanings, question their messages, or criticize their legacy, which sometimes seems unbearable and induces us to reject them. Whatever our attitude toward such stories, we cannot help but keep them within the horizon of our focus.
One of the most fascinating characters of Greek mythology is undoubtedly Odysseus. He is not a god or a demigod, capable of feats or intrigues and always destined to triumph. He is not a Zeus always intent on devising an expedient to escape the gaze of his possessive wife, Hera. Neither is he a Hercules or an Achilles, moved to great feats by their divine origin, because of which they almost inevitably achieve success, and glory is written in their destiny. Odysseus is the opposite: human, almost too human.
We know him first and foremost as the hero of the Odyssey, but he also plays a significant role in the Iliad. He has unique characteristics among the other heroes described in the two Homeric poems. He is equal to others in strength and courage. Moreover, after Achilles, he is the fastest of the Achaeans. However, his distinctive quality does not consist in this. Above all, he is the man who continually devises projects, who knows how to use words no less than the sword or the bow, who always grasps the motives that drive allies and enemies, and knows how to use them to his own advantage. To define him, the Homeric poems use the epithet polytropos, which means “of many devices.”