From Homer to Paul: The True Measure of Manhood
- Friday, July 20, 2007
“[True] men love the women and children under their care. They shoulder responsibility that turns authority into the work of a servant, and the work of a servant into authority.” (Robert Hart)
In Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, a Greek war hero faces crushing opposition in his long journey home from war. After decimating the armies of Troy, King Odysseus sets out for Ithaca only to find himself wrestling against more formidable foes. For 10 years the whims of gods and the winds of fate hinder his journey, while a horde of rapacious suitors besiege his household and woo his wife.
In time, with the aid of a sympathetic goddess, Odysseus reaches his homeland to oust the gatecrashers and restore order to the kingdom. But over and above the help of his Olympian patroness, Odysseus’s success hinges on something else: steadfast vision.
Driven by his love for family and his desire for justice, the waylaid hero rejects the entrapments of self-pity and self-indulgence to fulfill his duties as husband, father, and king. It is a vision that plays into the development of another man in Homer’s tale: the king’s son, Telemachus.
A Coming of Age
During his father’s absence, young Telemachus is raised by his mother and a trusted nursemaid. Uncertain of his father’s fate, the boy endures the offense of the suitors, all the while hoping that his father “might drop from the clouds” to rout the unwelcome guests. Without any male influence or masculine vision, Telemachus continues his passive posture into young adulthood.
Eventually the prince’s frustration reaches its limit. Yet all he can do is complain about his situation and look outward to his father’s return or his mother’s assertiveness for salvation. It is at that point that Athena steps in to “rouse [him] to a braver pitch, [and] inspire his heart with courage.”
After patiently listening to his blather of grievances, Athena exhorts Telemachus: “Reach down deep in your heart and soul for a way to kill these suitors... You must not cling to your boyhood anymore — it’s time you were a man.”
It is a pivotal moment for Telemachus. In the space of a few phrases, a young man’s imagination is captivated by a compelling vision of what it means to be a man. No longer is it the duty of his father or mother or community to deal with the interlopers and restore honor to the family — it is his duty.
The prince is so stirred that before the sun sets, he takes charge of the household affairs, serves notice to the suitors, and announces his plans to find his father. In rejecting passivity and accepting responsibility, Telemachus crosses over from boyhood to manhood.
At the tale’s end, Telemachus is reunited with his father and the boy-turned-man joins the mighty warrior to rid the royal hall of riffraff and set things right in the kingdom.
The Odyssey reveals the power of a masculine vision in a man’s life. Yet the vision that inspired a beleaguered king to sail the Aegean Sea, is but the penumbra of One who walked on the Sea of Galilee.
In the Garden
In the opening chapters of Genesis, God creates Adam in His image, then gives him the job of working the garden and caring for it — a custodial responsibility that included naming the varieties of fauna. Adam is also told he is “free to eat from any tree in the garden; but... not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...”
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