Family Contributions in the Odyssey

We’re wrapping up the first of four weeks’ worth of reading of Homer’s Odyssey in our Omnibus class, and we’re finding application in rather unlikely places.

One takeaway relates to the family. Without question, the Odyssey would not be nearly as interesting – and enjoyable – as it is were it not for Odysseus’ son (Telemachos) and his faithful wife (Penelope). While all of the characters have their own flaws and admirable traits, one cannot miss the value of family to the establishment and preservation of a civilization.

Telemachus has a dysfunctional upbringing, being raised (essentially) by a single mom in a house occupied by over one hundred suitors who vie for her hand in marriage. That’s enough to confuse and frustrate any kid. While his spineless tendencies are frustrating early on in the story, it’s rather impressive that he has turned out as well as he has, under the circumstances.

The reader sympathizes with the hero, Odysseus, who just wants to get home. The going is made tough(er) by a disgruntled Poseidon, but Odysseus does not lose heart or stop trying to get back to his beloved Ithaca.

But I am compelled by Odysseus’ effort to preserve his family. Penelope patiently waits (twenty years?!) for her husband’s return, fending off suitors in the interim and raising young Telemachus. Telemachus longs for his father’s return from the Trojan War and often becomes sad when thinking of his unfortunate father.

But easily lost in all of this is the value of the family. The family is the cornerstone of civilization. As the family goes, so goes the culture. It was the case in a 3,000 year-old piece of fiction and it is the case in our lives today. How quickly we forget that children’s conception of right and wrong are forged in the home. Children’s first notion of what their heavenly Father is like comes from their earthly fathers (or father figures). Children learn how to be courageous (or not), how to die to self (or not), how to prefer others ahead of themselves (or not), and how to work hard (or not) first from their parents. They can learn these things from a variety of sources, but it is first evident in the home.

And if the enemy can reach us on the family level, he can score a major victory in the battle. That is why the family is under strategic attack by the enemy today. Ours is a society that sanctions the marriage of husband and husband. We will kill our own children in utero if doing so is convenient or expedient. The powerful and influential institution of the family is under full-scale assault while we make like frogs in the heating kettle.

Though it’s certainly not the point of the story, this lesson in the white spaces made for some healthy discussion among our students. It is incumbent on all of us to help to preserve and cultivate biblical relationships first in our own homes if we would look to impact the dying world around us.
When we can do that, little things like fighting off mythical monsters on the way home from work should be a cakewalk.