Re-telling An Epic Story
An Odyssey, a long wandering or voyage, usually marked by many changes of fortune. The original Odyssey, following the mythical adventures of the great hero Odysseus, was written by the ancient Greek poet, Homer, sometimes around the end of the 8th century BC. Such effect has the epic poem had on western literature that even the name itself has come to signify a long trying quest. Re-visiting Odysseus’ adventure before the start of our own seems wise, we will need plenty of inspiration, hopefully we can gain some from the tale of the legendary hero.
Odysseus’ presence in Hellenic mythology begins as part of an equally legendary tale, the battle of Troy. Odysseus was an important player in the conquest of Troy and the revenge for Helen’s betrayal, alongside the hero Achilles. After the battle, Odysseus and his men, returning home by ship, were driven off course by storms and began what would be a 10-year wandering. As with all Greek mythology, the involvement of the fickle Olympian gods has a pivotal effect on the hero’s journey. His luck wanes after blinding a cyclops, and son of Poseidon, to escape his clutches. Odysseus embodies virtues of cunning, intelligence and certainly courage but he also suffers from the vice of hubris and pride. While escaping he makes the mistake of bragging that “Odysseus cannot be defeated”. Poseidon hears this and curses him to wander the seas for the next 10 years.
In this time, he has to resist the advances of seducing witches and nymphs, loses all of his men, half of them turned into pigs by vengeful gods, the other lost at sea in shipwrecks. He travels to the edge of the world, communicates with the underworld and appeases the dead. Dodges six headed sea monsters and ship swallowing whirlpools, loses himself to the irresistible songs of enchanting sirens and earns the admirations of Zeus and Athena. Upon his return he finds his wife courted by several would be suitors, but as expected of the great hero, outwits and slays them all to take back his kingdom.
Our very own Odyssey will play out on a more human, less mythological scale, though not if looking at the comparative distance travelled, Odysseus spent all his time wandering the Greek islands on the Adriatic coast. The challenges will be plenty. From Athens the terrain point towards the sky and the seat of the gods. We will have little respite from the constant climbing until we crest the mighty Dolomites far to the north in Italy. Odysseus was gifted a bag by the king Aeolus containing 3 of the 4 winds to aid him in returning home, we are not so lucky, and at this time in the season might be doing battle with the prevailing Bora winds blowing from north to south along the Adriatic coast.
The cool winds will hopefully provide some relief from the scorching heat that’s already beginning to have it effect. However, our journey, while trying, will not all be a test of endurance and will. While Odysseus had to exercise constant restraint against traps and temptations, we can lay our mounts and armour at the end of the day and enjoy the hedonic pleasures that this part of the world is so famous for. It will not be necessary to resist the bounty of cheeses, meats, and wines, and we will certainly have no hope of eluding stunning landscapes and locals as warm as the weather.
If there are lessons to be learned from Homer’s story, it’s that we should remain humble unlike the proud hero, know our limits and pace ourselves. As I write this from Delphi, our first rest day, and as legends say, the refuge of Apollo and the seat of the Oracle, it’s important to reflect on probably the most important lesson of all. To get ahead, you must, above all, have the grace of the gods. They favoured the strong, sometimes the wise, sometimes the humble, but always the brave. There’s certainly plenty of courage amongst the group, so let’s hope that will be enough to keep our Garmins pointing north and our bikes rubber side down!