The Role Of Hope In The Odyssey And Modern Day

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“Hope” is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all and sweetest in the Gale is heard and sore must be the storm that could abash the little Bird. That kept so many warm I’ve heard it in the chillest land and on the strangest Sea yet never in Extremity, It asked a crumb – of me”.

Simply put, hope is the desire or expectation for a certain thing to happen, but anyone who has ever experienced hope knows how much more complex the concept truly is. Emily Dickinson takes the intangibility of hope and attaches to it some sort of substance by using the metaphor of the bird. Nothing could possibly represent hope so accurately, I think. Hope is fluid, ever changing, sometimes fleeting and short lived – a bird that flits from one branch to the next. Hope is stubborn – a bird that perches in her nest and refuses to be scared away. Hope protects, and destroys. It is integral to the human experience, and it is inescapable. I do not think it is possible to live a life devoid of any hope, but that does not mean that we cannot have some say in how and when we choose to rely on hope.

The Odyssey is perhaps one of the greatest epics in Western history, and though every person might not encounter Charybdis and Circe in their lives, we can all relate on some level to the trials and tribulations Odysseus and his loved ones face during his ten year journey home. “Odysseus, you think of going home as honey-sweet…” said the prophet Tiresias to Odysseus after the hero recounted his journey. The things we hope for begin like this, honey sweet, and perfect, but often, our hopes must evolve. Just like a bird, hope is not stationary and unchanging, it has feathers, it can fly. Hope is ever present, like the bird, but also like the bird, it can land on different things. Though we see many instances of how hope allows Odysseus to persevere throughout the story, the fluid nature of hope is demonstrated more in the emotions of Penelope. Often we forget about the hardships Odysseus’s wife suffers because they are overshadowed by those of the hero of the epic, but she nonetheless, must navigate this complex emotion so that the absence of her husband does not destroy her.

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In book twenty-three, towards the conclusion of the great epic, Penelope’s old slave Eurycleia climbs the stairs to the queen’s room to tell her of the return of her beloved husband – a moment Penelope has hoped for for ten long years. The servant gleefully proclaims “At long last you gave got your wish come true”. Instead of immediately rejoicing in this fantastic news, Penelope replies cautiously. “You poor old thing! The gods have made you crazy… Why else would you be mocking me like this, with silly stories, in my time of grief?”. Eurycleia insists that what she tells is the truth, and she eventually convinces Penelope to rise from her sorrowful state and hug the old slave as she goes to see her husband. She is overjoyed, for all that she has hoped for may finally be true, but she continues to question Eurycleia. The queen is unwilling to allow herself to fully hope for what she wants most in the world. She remains guarded and skeptical.

“Her heart could not decide if she should keep her distance as she was questioning her own dear husband…”. The narrator explains Penelope’s inner turmoil, her struggle with hope, and her desire to keep it at bay until she is positive she will not be dissapointed. Just like Penelope, we do this every day. Hope is such a powerful entity, that if we hold on to it so unrelentingly and so strongly, it could destroy us. Almost everything we hope for must eventually evolve, and become something new, or I think, we can never be truly happy or satisfied with life.

There are numerous instances throughout the Odyssey, in which Penelope is given word that her husband will return, however she seems to all but ignore these these attempts to feed her hope and potentially ease her suffering. After nineteen years of yearning for the return of her husband, Penelope has grows almost averse to news of his return. Penelope feels that she is kept apart from Odysseus by some divine intervention of the gods, and she will not delude herself with false hopes until there is undeniable evidence that he has returned. In essence, it seems that Penelope has partially come to terms with the fact that Odysseus may already be dead and would never return to Ithaca.

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