Thursday, January 5, 2012


"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
 driven time and again off course..."  

I want to put in a plug for my favorite book, "The Odyssey."  Most of you probably read it in your western civ class as a freshman, and based on the chatter that I recall, you probably don't count it as one of your favorite experiences.  But if you really love reading and you are a little older, I'd check it out again.  Because I did, and I found so much more this time around.

I remember liking the story when I first read it, but as an 18 year old kid a lot of the themes went over my head.  But I picked it up again a few months ago, and this time through was so different.  Now that I have had more challenging experiences in life and I think about things a little differently, I can see and appreciate the depth of the story.  Odysseus spends ten years fighting the Trojan War, and on his way home he inadvertently angers Poseidon.  But this is the god of the sea, the one person who holds the key to Odysseus' return.  This is where the story begins, and we follow him for the next ten years as he tries desperately to make it back to his family.

The story is astoundingly simple; a man trying to go home.  But at the same time it is about war, love, revenge, loyalty, and faith.  It is about man's relationship to God, the duty one has to family, and the importance of never giving up when facing impossible challenges.  It is every story, it is the story.  It is lengthy (290 pages of verse) but the Robert Fagles translation is amazingly lucid for a 2800 year old text.  And it does get pretty slow at parts, but at it's worst it is gorgeous, soaring poetry; and at it's best it's a gripping and suspenseful narrative.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with sports or exercise.  The answer is inspiration.  Anything that is hard in life requires something deep down inside to move you forward; call it faith, call it hope, call it desire.  It may be tricky to put a word to it, but we all know how it feels when it swells up inside.  Suddenly the banality of life melts away, and we feel something, something that seems more real and substantive then any of the ten dozen little chores that took up the day to that point.  "The Odyssey" inspires me, the way few things have.  And we need inspiration to live a full, active life, including exercise and sports.  Athletics is all about pushing oneself, the challenge, the accomplishment.  An endurance athlete especially can appreciate the story of a man who fights for 20 years for a goal like being reunited with one's family.

I haven't seen epic poems on many reading lists, but this one should be.  If you are looking for something new, something to change the way you view yourself, your life, the world and it's myriad obstacles, try the tale of the man from Ithaca.

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