Saturday, April 28, 2007

Rethinking Pain-Killers

Man is an animal which, alone among the animals, refuses to be satisfied by the fulfillment of animal desires. Alexander Graham Bell

Bacchus hath drowned more men than Neptune. Thomas Fuller

Dwell not upon thy weariness, thy strength shall be according to the
measure of thy desire.
Arab proverb

Like Odysseus and his men, adolescents are suffering from painful experiences and memories that seem to cause an unrelenting soul-ache. Do they use this pain to drive them on to real answers and true healing? Sadly, no. Most young people (and adults, as well) attempt to numb the pain they are experiencing. We will next examine how Odysseus’s soldiers endeavored to anesthetize themselves against the suffering they had experienced.

The Lotus-Eaters

Odysseus and his men sailed across the seas in a vain attempt to reach the only home they had ever known. Cursed by the god Poseidon and weary from war and adventure, a fierce storm blew their ship to an island off the coast of Africa. This island had the reputation of being the “land where Morpheus plays.” Morpheus was the Greek god of dreams, the son of Hypnos, the god of sleep, and the nephew of Hades, the god of death and the underworld.

Upon setting foot ashore this strange country, Odysseus and his men crawled upon the sandy beach and fell into a deep sleep. When they awoke, they met a group of people known as the Lotophagi, or “lotus-eaters.” The Lotophagi lived in a drug-induced haze that was the result of eating the narcotic lotus fruit. The inhabitants of this land had little care for the worries and concerns of mortal men and were apathetic toward life. The islanders brought armfuls of the lotus fruit for the crew of Odysseus’s ship. Hungry and hurting from their terrible experiences in war and at sea, the sailors followed the example of the islanders and ate the narcotic fruit.

According to Bernard Evslin’s version of Homer’s Odyssey entitled The Adventures of Ulysses (1969), Morpheus examined the minds of the Greeks as they slept and found anguished memories of warfare and greed. The dream god soothed their sleep with visions of their wives and families and home. As they awoke, they longed to return to the tranquility of their dreams, so they again partook of the lotus fruit and fell into a deeper sleep still.

Sensing that the gods had destined Odysseus for other ends, Morpheus declined to fill the hero’s sleep with intoxicating visions, instead allowing him to dream as he might. Unlike his men, the Greek king experienced frightful nightmares and relived painful memories in a restless and fitful sleep. Rising, he realized that his men had eaten of the lotus fruit and had fallen into a drowsy bliss. Eager to assuage his agony, Odysseus gathered a handful of the enticing fruit and breathed in the inebriating aroma. He knew at once that if he too ate the sweet fruit, his crew would be doomed to spend their days in lethargy and illusion, rather than finally reaching home and family. In an incredible act of the will, Odysseus arose and dragged his entranced men one by one, kicking and screaming, back to the ship and back to reality to continue on their long voyage back to Ithaca.

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