As part of the Coursera course I’m taking on Greek & Roman Mythology, I had to read Homer’s The Odyssey and Hesiod’s Theogony. I would really recommend that people read these, just to understand a bit more about the lives of humans millennia ago, and how some things haven’t actually changed. However, I would recommend reading with a group or doing a course like Coursera so that you can really get into the story and understand the different elements.
Anyway, I’d just like to briefly talk about a few thoughts that came to me through reading The Odyssey.
An appreciation of cultural differences
Odysseus is part of a culture that has certain beliefs and practices, including xenia, which is the practice of extreme hospitality. Through his journeys, he encounters other cultures, some of which are similar to his own, while some are very different (practicing cannibalism, for instance). However, he expects everyone to act like him when he encounters them. I’m sure that these people he met also expected him to act the same way as they did. Through Odysseus’ (and Homer’s) eyes, these differences make these people lesser.
Relating to the modern, globalised world we live in now, these kinds of expectations are still prevalent though they really shouldn’t be. Ideally, people would tolerate each other’s differences, even welcome them (aside from cannibalism and anything else of the sort though). I, as an occupational therapist, can’t really expect someone from, say, a Catholic family to have the same values and behaviour as myself. In fact, I cannot expect an atheist British person (yes, this still embodies a number of different populations, but bear with me) to act like myself. It is simply not logical or moral to think – or worse, treat – someone as lesser because they don’t come from the same culture as you do.
Some things simply don’t change
One thing that I can’t really say too much on critically, but that amused me, was that even back then, mellenia ago, the ‘common’ people gossiped about the ‘nobles’. There are several instances in The Odyssey where nobles were afraid of what the “meaner” people would say about them. This lead me to thinking that, yes, this was written a long time ago, and we tend to think that we’ve changed so much over the ages, that we’ve evolved and developed. But this and other scenarios made me realise that, actually, we’re not that different from the people who lived thousands of years ago. Our technologies have developed and we’ve made incredible advances in science and knowledge, but we, as human beings, have not actually, fundamentally, changed all that much. People still talk about the royal family and celebrities today.
So there are my two little thoughts. I hope they spark some interesting introspection, and I repeat my recommendation to delve into some ancient literature!