Athena’s Advice To Telemachus

The Odyssey by Homer is often thought of as the heroic story of King Odysseus as he attempts to return to his homeland after the Trojan Wars. Although this journey is at the forefront of the story, there is another character going through his own hardship and transformation and this individual is the son of Odysseus, Telemachus.

When we first encounter the boy we witness that his life is infested by strange men who are trying to win his mother’s hand in marriage. As the queen makes her suitors wait, the men plague the house, eating all the food, spending the coin, drinking wine, taking for themselves what King Odysseus had left behind for his wife and infant son.

At a time like this, one would expect the King’s son to take action and bring order back into his home. However, this is not the case. Telemachus sits idle, waiting and hoping for his fathers return.

“Dear stranger, would you be shocked by what I say?

Look at them over there. Not a care in the world,

just lyres and tunes! It’s easy for them, all right,

they feed on another’s goods and go scot-free—

a man whose white bones lie strewn in the rain somewhere,

rotting away on land on rolling down the ocean’s salty swells.

But that man—if they caught sight of him home in Ithaca,

by god, they’d all pray to be faster on their feet

than richer in bars of gold and heavy robes

Telemachus is reliant on his father, as all young boys often are and additionally, Telemachus is plagued by self-pity and this poor attitude and mindset makes him inactive.

He’s left me tears and greif. Nor do I rack my heart

and greive for him alone. No longer. Now the gods

have invented other miseries to plauge me.

Often times in archetypical stories, a hero requires the aid of an outsider to push him or her into activity. One has to look no further than Tolkein’s Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf sets Bilbo and Frodo in motion. This common motif is even present in this ancient story where Telemachus finds himself conversing with an individual who is actually the Goddess Athena. Athena comes to Telemachus’ aid and provides him with sound advice for, after all, Athena is the Goddess of wisdom.

I have some good advice, if only you will accept it.

Fit out a ship with twenty oars, the best in sight,

sail in quest of news of your long-lost father.

Someone may tell you something

or you may catch a rumor straight from Zeus,

rumor that carries news to men like nothing else.

Essentially, Telemachus must act and he must move. It is simple and yet much-needed advice. Once you begin to help yourself, perhaps then others may help you.

Athena goes on to say:

You must not cling to your boyhood any longer—

it’s time you were a man.

So, Telemachus is to become a man by taking on responsibility. He is to become a man by taking ownership of his life. He is to become a man through action.

“Telemachus, you’ll lack neither courage nor sense from this day on,

not if your father’s spirit courses through your veins

now there was a man. I’d say, in words and action both!

Telemachus must cultivate his character. Although his father is a great man, this does not mean he will be great. No one is born a hero, one must mold themselves into such a being. This is why Telemachus’ journey and transformation are so important. He goes from a timid boy, who is shy and who lacks the courage to deal with individuals who are causing his mother pain. No one wishes to be like this individual. However, although Telemachus starts from this bottom position, through action and responsibility, he is able to create for himself a man who encompasses what a hero is supposed to be. This creation is aided by others but ultimately, it is Telemachus who must act.

So, it is this simple advice that Athena imparts on Telemachus. In order to grow, one must take on a burden, take on responsibility and through such actions, one is able to become the individual who is capable of handling hardship and furthermore, an individual who is able to overcome hardship.

Reflections: Need To Hold Oneself To A Higher Standard

Recently I have thought a lot about where I aim. What I mean by this is in order for me to become the individual I wish to be, I need to have some kind of target which I aim at otherwise I would be lost. Without a target, I would lack a sense of direction. So, having established a need of a target, the natural question arises is simply, what kind of target is this? What is my aim? Who do I wish to be?

The simple answer is, I wish to be great. To be all that I can be. My aim is high and not low for a low aim seems to be a waste of life’s opportunities and experience. A small aim seems petty, it seems concerned with petty pleasures and desires and with it, the accomplishment of small aims seems to lack a true feeling of fulfillment for I know that this accomplishment is cheapened by my lack of effort that is required.

This is an easy notion to understand because there is a clear difference in accomplishment when you finish something that you found difficult in comparison to finishing something that was easy.

Attempting to do something great is accompanied by a sense of fear or stress because there is a chance of failure. When you aim low that chance of failure lessens and with it, the fear and stress also go down. But when the aim is high, then not only is there the notion of failure but also of effort. Reason being, a high target cannot be reached through minimal effort. It requires the sacrifice of comfortable things and a comfortable attitude and this in itself is a deterrent to a higher aim.

However, if the aim is high and one is able to reach it and accomplish something that is truly difficult for that individual, the reward is equally as high. What I mean by reward is not necessarily material or external but rather it is the internal reward that I aim for. The knowledge that I can accomplish a difficult task. That may seem like a simple understanding but what comes with this accomplishment is a molding of one’s character that becomes more disciplined and seeks to work rather than shying away from such a thing. The reason being, higher aims require one to develop and change their character to meet that aim.

These aims then become a higher standard by which you live your life by. The standard which is kept simple and straightforward and easy to understand. This standard is one that involves sacrificing the pleasures of the present in order for the development of a good future. In order to stay firm on this path of sacrificing petty pleasures, one has to be disciplined and equally important, one has to control the thoughts that enter and leave their mind. For negative and pessimistic thoughts lower ones aim. Hence, the standard now involves discipline of action and thought and additionally, an optimistic view that one’s effort will result in a better future and a sense of trust that the sacrifices in the present are worth making. Another standard that is required is a constant attempt to seek the uncomfortable. The reason for this that by staying comfortable, you only change minimally, if you change at all. The comfortable approach is one that is aimed at the low. When you become uncomfortable and attempt something new and difficult, you challenge your mind, which will be coming up with a million different reasons as why you should abandon this cause and stay comfortable, and when you can overcome this, you are able to tame or at the very least, resist the mind, then you come to a realization that this things that you were avoiding, that made you uncomfortable, were not all that bad, this realization opens up the world to you and with it more experiences that result in a fulfiller experience of this finite life.

So, the way I see it is that if you keep your standards low, you will adapt to meet them. If you keep your standards high, you will adapt to meet them as well with effort. However, it is the internal growth that differentiates one adaptation from the other. The internal growth is what is accomplished when that target is high and the aim is constantly readjusted towards this higher target.

The Screwtape Letters and Corruption of Man

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis involves two characters. A low-level demon named Wormwood and a higher positioned demon named Screwtape. Wormwood has just been given his first assignment to corrupt a man and of course, it being his first time, he seeks the aid of someone who has been doing the job for many years. This is where Wormwood’s uncle, Screwtape comes in. The book is a series of letters that go back and forth in which the uncle advises his nephew on what is the best course of action when it comes to bringing a man closer to hell or at least take him further away from heaven.

The book starts off with a piece of advice that has stuck with me for a long time. Wormwood mentions to his uncle that he is having trouble trying to logically convince his human to understand that materialism is the best choice of action. Here, like any good family member, Screwtape introduces a different perspective that would allow Wormwood to achieve success.

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patent’s reason; and once it is awake, who can forsee the result? Even if a particular train of though can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that out have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream.

Screwtape further adds an example for his nephew to learn from. He explains how for twenty years he had worked his human into a state that suited him but one day, he found the enemy (the good Angles) had almost undone the twenty years of work by formulating a train of thought that took the man away from Screwtapes desired position.

So, how did he overcome this obstacle?

I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line, for when I said, “In fact much too important to tackle at the end of the morning,” the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,” he was already halfway to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won.

After that, it was just a matter of distracting the man with the ordinariness of life. The newsboy shouting, the bus honking, filtering in the thoughts of how being alone brings about peculiar ideas and opinions and it’s best to just let them pass. Hence, the hero was able to save the man and pull him away from the grips of the Angles. At least for now.

This short little passage teaches three things:

  1. Be cautious of immediate sense experiences or the ordinariness of life.
    • These urges may be stronger when you have to confront something uncomfortable for the mere fact that it is uncomfortable, there comes a desire to distract yourself from it. So, the next time you have to tackle an uncomfortable situation and you feel a sudden desire to eat first, ignore it.
  2. The bad can be undone
    • 20 years of work was almost undone by just one train of thought. This puts forth the notion that change can come forth immediately as long as there is a commitment to change.
  3. Procrastination is the work of the devil
    • Clearly, this needs no explanation.

Jordan Peterson on Telling the Truth and Building Character

There are two types of ambitions. One is external. This would be the gain of power, the gain of status, financial rewards and this willingness to do whatever it takes to get what you want. The other is internal. This type being where one is building discipline in their life. Building work ethic. Building consistency. Telling the truth. Being reliable. Of course, it is not as black and white as this. External ambition may require the development of things like discipline and consistency. However, it is the mindset behind it that matters.

Why do you do the things you do? What is the reason behind your actions? The why is what matters. If the why is external rather than internal then, there is little personal growth towards a positive direction.

One of the rules, in Jordan Peterson‘s book 12 Rules For Life, is Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie. In this chapter, Jordan Peterson explains how as a young psychology student, he worked at Douglas Hospital where he observed and interacted with individuals with mental disabilities, patients suffering from issues like being bipolar, having schizophrenia and other psychotic episodes. Here, Jordan Peterson found the value of telling the truth, and how through truth one gets to know themselves.

I soon divided myself into two parts: one that spoke, and one, more detached, that paid attention and judged. I soon came to realize that almost everything I said was untrue. I had motives for saying these things I wanted to win arguments and gain status and impress people and get what I wanted. I was using language to bend and twist the world into delivering what I thought was necessary. But I was a fake. Realizing this, I started to practice only saying things that the internal voice would not object to. I started to practice telling the truth – or, at least, not lying. I soon learned that such a skill came in very handy when I didn’t know what to do. What should you do, when you don’t know what to do? Tell the truth. So, that’s what I did my first day at the Douglas Hospital.

To accept the truth means to sacrifice – and if you have rejected the truth for a long time, then you’ve run up a dangerously large sacrifical debt.

This to me is the proper ambition. Ambition to develop one’s character. The focus should be aimed internally, consciously and objectively ripping apart the things that you don’t want to be and constructing the ideal you.

Set your ambition, even if you are uncertain about what they should be. The better ambitions have to do with the development of character and ability, rather than status and power. Staus, you can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity. Knowing this, tie a rope to a boulder. Pick up the great stone, heave it in front of you and pull yourself towards it. Watch and observe while you move forward. Articulate you experience as clearly and carefully to yourself and others as you possibly can. In this manner, you will learn to proceed more effectively and efficiently towards your goal. And, while you are doing this, do not lie. Especially to yourself.

Do not lie to yourself. If you can’t trust yourself, then, who can you trust? If you can’t tell yourself the truth, then, who can you tell the truth to? To be objective about your actions comes through a type of struggle. To understand the why behind what you do. It can be uncomfortable, unveiling the lies behind certain things, the comfortable lies that mask the ugly truth. However, that ugly truth is beautiful for you.

Like everything, a balance can be achieved. The internal and external ambition can live in harmony together. There is nothing wrong with wanting financial freedom. Materialistic ambitions are neither good nor bad. They are simply ambitions. It is our intent that places feelings of good or bad upon them. If our intent comes from a higher place, then the balance can be made.

Perhaps it is better to conceptualize it this way: Everyone needs a concrete, specific goal – an ambition and a purpose – to limit chaos and make intelligible sense of his or her life. But all such concrete goals can and should be subordinated to what might be considered a meta-goal, which is a way of approaching and formulating goals themselves. The meta-goal could be “live in truth.” This means, “act diligently towards some well-articulated, defined and temporary end. Make your criteria for failure and success timely and clear, at least for yourself (and even better if others can understand what you are doing and evaluate it with you). While doing so, however, allow the world and your spirit to unfold as they will, while you act out and articulate the truth.” This is both pragmatic ambition and the most courageous of faiths.

This is a pursuit of ambition without compromising your character. First, one needs to build their character, to know their limits and lines that they will not cross or be pushed back from. Then, one can join external ambition along with that character and achieve what one wishes to achieve in life. The external always being kept in check by the internal through the process of objective reflection.