Greek Myths and Christian Mystery

By Hugo S. J. Rahner | Go to book overview

VII
ODYSSEUS AT THE MAST

A FTER his voyage to the willow-shadowed land of mystical dying, Odysseus makes ready to return at last to his home; for in his much-tried heart there now lives only the longing for his father's house, and right at the beginning of the epic Athene is made to say to Zeus: "But Odysseus longs only to see the smoke rise up from Ithaca."1

Here was a mythical image that was readily seized on by the Hellenic Christian when he thought of the voyage which is this earthly life and of the longing which consumed him for his heavenly homeland. Yet if this last was to be attained, the Christian knew that there could be no respite from his sailing, no lingering at any place on the way. He must not dally in the caressing arms of Calypso or at the Phaeacian feast, neither must he fall under Circe's magic or hearken to the Sirens. Not even the purely worldly good of his earthly home may hold him. Mindful of this -- and with discernible echoes of Plato -- Clement of Alexandria contrasts the attitude of Odysseus with that of the Christian: "Men attach themselves to this world as certain kinds of seaweed cling to the rocks by the seashore. They care little about life eternal, for like the ancient from Ithaca they do not hunger for the truth or for their heavenly homeland, but only for the smoke of their earthly homes."2

Yet the Christian could take a view of Odysseus that differed from this. He could see in the voyage of the Ithacan, in which so many perils and so many hardships were overcome, an intimation of his own voyage through life, a voyage beset with so many deadly perils and yet capable of such glorious accomplishment.

____________________
1
Odyssey, I, 57f.
2
Protrepticus, IX, 9, 86, 2 ( GCS, I, p. 64, ll. 27-31); cf. Plato, Republic, 611 D.

-328-

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