I’ve revised a story from Homer’s Odyssey: the brief episode on the island of the Lotus Eaters.
First, consider the book version:
After Odysseus drops anchor at that island, he sends forth three of his crew to investigate…
The three soon encounter the peaceful-seeming inhabitants, who give them the Lotus fruit…
Under the influence of the Lotus, they fall into a dreamy tranquility and lose all motivation. When Odysseus finds these men, he has to drag them back to the ship.
As the island diminishes to a mere speck in the distance, the stoned crewmates weep profusely, mourning the loss of their artificial paradise.
A good story for our times—especially if tweaked a bit. Consider my new version:
Odysseus, following his adventurous spirit, decides to try the fruit himself. “How could this little tidbit render me useless?” he thinks, eyeing the red fruit in his hand.
But with the first bite, he falls into the honeyed pool of a floating world. Cloud reflections seem as real as the clouds. Well, maybe they are. I say: good to shift your perspective occasionally. Good to loll in the deep moist grass on a sunny day.
But as the sunset bleeds across the waves, Odysseus’ high begins to fade. In keeping with his strong hunger for life, he craves an even higher high.
The Lotus Eaters are pleased to add another to their club and give him two more of sumptuous fruit.
But alas, this additional dose does not lift Odysseus higher than his initial peak high. So he asks for a fourth fruit, then a fifth. But still he goes no higher. Nonetheless…
…with the coming of dawn, he reaches for another Lotus fruit. Now, he no longer cares about the higher high—he just wants to maintain the soft buzz pervading his body. His mind has dulled, but he feels comfortable. Odysseus believes this state of being must be contentment.
Members of the crew, in groups of three or four, do go in search of him. But all fall to the temptation of the Lotus fruit.
And so, Odysseus lolls for another day. By ingesting Lotus at a steady, but measured rate, he keeps that fuzzy hum going in his body. At this point, he desires nothing more in life.
But no, that’s not quite true: Odysseus has not killed his higher drive, only buried it. During the second night, this drive begins to manifest as an itch—an itch in the mind: an irritation working to penetrate his thick twilight dimness.
For awhile, Odysseus manages to ignore that itch…
…but a little itch that goes un-itched eventually grows into a big itch. In frustration, Odysseus starts to stir from his Lotus-slumber.
Suddenly, an image cuts through the dense mental fog. He sees the bow of his ship slicing through sun-gold waves.
Then he sees the shoreline of Ithaca, his island home. Odysseus’ wife and son stand on the beach with arms extended, yearning to embrace him, yearning to make their circle whole again.
Odysseus now awakens to his true desire. He doesn’t want to loll and lag, stoned on Lotus. He wants to return to his home, his family.
Following this higher impulse, he tries to rise…
…but discovers he’s become mired in a lassitude of body and spirit. “Come on, damn it, get going!” he yells in his mind. He begins to fight that heavy weakness, fight his inertia—he fights the desire not to fight.
He fights the secret irony, which is:
On the other side of the warrior coin is the wish to abandon active life with its conflicts and vicissitudes. A desire to let it all go and float among the clouds. I say: maybe not a bad impulse to follow occasionally—as long as you can stop before you flip all the way over.
As Odysseus struggles to flip that coin back again, his strength rises and falls—rises a bit, then falls a bit, then rises again—rises again because with each fall, he presses the fight even harder.
All the while, a little man in his heart moans and sobs. Odysseus empathizes—he feels the little man’s pain. But he also hates that crybaby—the whiner wants to keep him down.
So, I suppose hate does have its positive application—because the force of his hate seems to give Odysseus the final push he needs. After a long back and forth battle, his higher instinct finally gains dominance over his lower. His journey from prone to upright—so slow, so arduous—ends suddenly with a snap to: Odysseus pops to his feet and gives forth a heart-rending cry of joy.
This victory is perhaps his greatest act of heroism in an epic filled with heroic acts.
Revitalized, Odysseus now hauls the others back to the ship and sails on before anyone can jump overboard. As the island of the Lotus Eaters diminishes to a speck, our hero weeps tears of humility, realizing how he nearly defeated the best of himself.
Here’s another irony: through this ordeal, he’s become even stronger—and even more determined to find his way home.
I believe my new version of the Lotus Eaters story better serves our needs today.
Today, so many are surrendering to the seductive Lotus. We may not even recognize the Lotus when it first enters our life—the fruit can assume many different addictive forms. Different, but with this feature in common: they all offer us the escape we think we want.
Yet another irony: by seeking that escape, I may fall into a trap. A trap of my own making.
We should do what we can to help the fallen. But in truth, the lifting up is up to the fallen one.
This version tells that truth. This version says: you find your true strength when you’re at your weakest. Says: lifting yourself up is an act of heroism. A victory over your worst enemy. A journey. An education. A test.
This version also tells me:
With each test that I pass, I’m that much closer to finding my way home.
© 2019, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry