From Odysseus to Schliemann

Written on November 13, 2007 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui


Greek myths are known to be everlasting and adaptable, and notably “resourceful Odysseus” has been sung in all posible tones from Homer to Kavafis. And yet they will always keep some suprising new actualization round the corner: Santiago Íñiguez’s post last Friday made Odysseus the model for modern group managers. Homer’s poetic strength and unique characters are capable, almost three thousand years later, of illuminating the spirit of management strategies. If that is not a marvel, what is? Let me follow that path today.

Homeric poems state in their first line the subject of their song: The wrath of Achilles, as a symbol for the entire war of Troy, is the plot of the Iliad. In the Odyssey the Muse will sing the “man of many resources (andra polytropon) who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous city of Troy. He got to know the cities and minds of many men; and he suffered much on the sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home".

That travelling, resourceful, suffering, group-leader is a very different kind of hero in comparison to the static, individualist, one-sided heroes of the Iliad. Even his physical aspect was different, short and dark-haired instead of being tall and blond like Achilles and the other Aecheans. He is as good in fight as any of them, but he seems more akin to wandering adventurers like Sinbad than to the warriors who camped before Troy. And yet the city was taken thanks to Odysseus’ craft, when the strength of mighty heroes was useless before its walls. He was also one of the few who finally was able to come back home. There is an ancient tale which sums up his different heroism: After Achilles died, his arms were to be given to the best of the Aecheans. The tower-like Ajax and guileful Odysseus were candidates for this title, and the Greeks decided to five them to Odysseus. Ayax went mad and suicided. It is the triumph of a more modern, adaptable, many-sided hero over an older model. Ovid in Book XIII of his Metamorphoses sang Odysseus’ success better than anyone before and after.

All along the 24 books of the Odyssey, Homer portraits him with some other features which make him a case-study in any MBA. His collaboration with his son Telemachus to achieve reconquest of power in Ithaca depicts a loyal father-son relationship which is the counter-example of the Oedipus’ myth, were rivalry and distrust destroy the whole family. His insatifaction until he achieves his final goal is also salient: he could have stayed confortably in many of the stages of his journey, leading a pleasurely life with the immortal nymph Calypso or the princess Nausicaa. Yet he had one fix idea, homecoming (nostos, whence nostalgy: pain for return). He never surrendered, he learnt from suffering, he made it.

Let me end up with a brief praise of the most Odyssean of businessmen, Heinrich Schliemann. He succeeded after many adventures, among which shipwrek, travel, and ruin. He used his self-made fortune to find out the location of Troy, when most scholars were convinced that it was a mythical town which did not exist. He found it on the Dardaneles (see Joachim Latacz’s much readable book on the history of Troy). Then, of course, criticism from experts and specialists began until today, accusing him of amateurish methods: when he made his wife wear the so-called “Jewels of Helen” (in the photo) he awoke much scandal, and even greater jealousy. His answer was to discover the marvels of Mycenae and Orchomenos. Like Odysseus (whose palace in Ithaca he sought without success), he suffered many enemities and hardships. And like him, he triumphed over them, and his glory will be everlasting.


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