Humanities Moments

Humanities Moments

We’ve all had “humanities moments” — when our lives were made richer, more poignant, and meaningful because of the insights the humanities provide.

Haunted by Homer’s Sirens

Contributed by Kevin Guthrie, founder/president, ITHAKA

Description

About seven months ago, our son was in a tragic ski accident, and was in a coma for close to a month. And during that really painful time, we didn’t know what was going to happen. Was he ever going to wake up? Was he not going to wake up?

I, myself, couldn’t sleep and I was haunted all the time by thoughts of what might happen to him in the future, and how did this happen, and thinking about the past. And I remember thinking in one of those late-night moments about “The Odyssey” and about the description of the sirens on the banks. Of Odysseus asking to be tied to the mast, and having beeswax in his sailors’ ears, and realizing I had these kind of spirits that were haunting me.

In that context, I remember thinking very directly, “I know what those sirens are. I know what that’s about.” I didn’t know before then what—at least for me—that poem was saying. And at that moment, I realized the sirens were really from the future and from the past, and that in dealing with this situation with our son—the only way to deal with this—was by staying very much in the present.

Ulysses and the Sirens, illustration from an antique Greek vase

Why is this a Humanities Moment?

This particular poem helped me to think about a challenge that I was facing in a different way, and helped me try to bring some sense to it. It was a catalyst to help me focus on the present and the “now,” and the worries that come with all of the things that you can’t control, in the future and the past, need to be chased out.

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About this Moment

Title

Haunted by Homer’s Sirens

Subject

This particular poem helped me to think about a challenge that I was facing in a different way, and helped me try to bring some sense to it. It was a catalyst to help me focus on the present and the “now,” and the worries that come with all of the things that you can’t control, in the future and the past, need to be chased out.

Description

About seven months ago, our son was in a tragic ski accident, and was in a coma for close to a month. And during that really painful time, we didn’t know what was going to happen. Was he ever going to wake up? Was he not going to wake up?

I, myself, couldn’t sleep and I was haunted all the time by thoughts of what might happen to him in the future, and how did this happen, and thinking about the past. And I remember thinking in one of those late-night moments about “The Odyssey” and about the description of the sirens on the banks. Of Odysseus asking to be tied to the mast, and having beeswax in his sailors’ ears, and realizing I had these kind of spirits that were haunting me.

In that context, I remember thinking very directly, “I know what those sirens are. I know what that’s about.” I didn’t know before then what—at least for me—that poem was saying. And at that moment, I realized the sirens were really from the future and from the past, and that in dealing with this situation with our son—the only way to deal with this—was by staying very much in the present.

Creator

Homer

Source

The Odyssey

Contributor

Kevin Guthrie, founder/president, ITHAKA

Identifier

kevin-guthrie-homers-sirens

Location

Collection

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