In my Odyssey Preceptorial this fall I see that Zoom brings advantages (hearing participants well, seeing our faces regardless of where we sit!) and some disadvantages (mute buttons, while necessary, reduce spontaneity and shared laughter, no informal time together before/after seminar discussion). It helps me to keep in mind that during my last three decades of seminar participation (regardless of whether participants were teachers, undergrad/grad students, or academics) any particular seminar may be too slow or too fast, a bit flat or too explosive, too singular in focus or too often skimming along the obvious. Freely requesting our colleagues to explain their thoughts may slow the pace so that we may enjoy contemplating the questions a more deeply. Instant answers are often not the richest.
It seems that as long as we are grounded in the text, polite, and present there is always the potential for great good to come about. Although that potential is occasionally left unfulfilled. Seminar may be messy, unpredictable, exhilarating, exasperating, enlightening and occasionally transformative. It may be what we humans are: dull, thrilling, entranced, bored.
Still, in this Preceptorial we (re)experience a tremendous gift that transcends technology, speed, and distance. We sometimes bring the joy of our days, or the anxieties of Covidtide, with us each Thursday. However, we may always bring the overwhelming joy which is the beauty, adventure, and deeply powerful humanity of Homer’s Odyssey.
Even when life conspires to wound any particular shared conversation, I endeavor to remember that the Odyssey is a gift beyond measure. Occasionally, when we are doubting the progression of any particular discussion, we are refreshed by rereading some favorite parts of the poem aloud. Perhaps we should do this more often? The poem is variably enchanting, fantastical, sad, joyful, violent, and full of loving tears. Often it is easy to ignore the shimmering surface while we submariners plow through the subtle complexities of the subtext of the poem. Simply, it is lovely and loveliness is always worth savoring.
I love the Odyssey, every rereading of it is a joy for me, every conversation the chance to glory in its riches. I hope, in the fullness of time, to converse with Odysseus, Penelope, Telemachus, Calypso, Helen, Argos, and Athena. I hope that Homer, Robert Fitzgerald (poet/translator), and Eva Brann will be there also. I will go to my knees in gratitude for this gift that never dies.
In the unavoidable storms, when I am between Scylla and Charybdis, I try to remember I am not alone. I pray that friends will see that their journey is not complete without me in it, and that they will enfold me in their arms, bringing gentle comfort and delivering me by a fast dark ship to my island home. I pray for an Athena to guide me, and that Odysseus never dies in my heart.