In the oldest texts, they say Odysseus was “wily:” that he known for his many wiles, even that he was “possessed” of wiliness. Most of us now associate “wily” with a certain bumbling coyote, but in the old days, before any of our modern society existed, it was different: you needed your senses to be sharp and heart untrusting. Your wiles were your most crucial tool in navigating the chaotic and violent world of the Ancient Greeks. Only the wily ones survived.
We know the story: Odysseus fought alongside Agamemnon, Achilles, and the others in the battle of Troy. We know that Troy resisted the Greeks for ten long years, and many great warriors were slain; gods intervening, heroes of glory and rivers of blood that mixed with the dust on the battlefield, churned by countless chariots and heels.
The voyage home is another epic tale unto itself. A journey of years, contending with gods and monsters and escaping only by his wits and stroke of fate. After losing his entire crew to the monster Charybdis, Odysseus manages to swim to the island of Ogygia, where he is waylaid by a goddess of breathtaking beauty. Against his better judgement, Odysseus follows when beckoned and is enslaved to her desire, in a love nest of possessiveness and deception. She will never let him go.
After seven long years, Hermes provides Odysseus with an opportunity for escape, and he slips into the night on a homemade raft, only to be met by yet another vicious storm. In the aftermath of this harrowing event is where we find our hero, heartbroken and shipwrecked.
Odysseus is collapsed on the beach, lying on his back and coughing violently, struggling to draw his ragged breaths into his battered body. As he opens his eyes, the universe appears to spin of its own accord, the great expanse of sky opening up not above him, but beneath. Himself, a pathetic speck, flat against a ceiling of sand and the sky a dark-grey pit that plummets downward. He struggles to his knees, gathering his wits.
This wily warrior is but a glimmer of his former self, the once-great king of Ithaca.We know the story; we know that his wiles win out in the end, that fate intervenes, and he is, at long last, reunited with the fair and chaste Penelope. We know this ending, yes? Surely, we have all heard the tale.
But Odysseus knows nothing of this future: only his wounds, his heartache, and the seething anger deep inside him…