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Life Lessons From The Odyssey

Homer’s Declassified School Survival Guide

Sometimes it’s nice to pretend that we can get some life-applicable skills out of our Core readings. Guest writer Olivia Grinberg-Phillips has collected some Homeric takeaways she thinks everyone ought to know.

Although most of us are knee-deep in midterms, in reality, the Fall and Thanksgiving breaks are just around the corner (a very exciting and spooky corner at that). It’s during those breaks that many of us will go home to our eagerly waiting families. Once there, we will relax, dine, recuperate, and inevitably have to answer that dreaded question: “So what did you learn at school?” Now, despite the fact that we attend a world-class, Ivy League institution, it’s understandable that our minds will most likely draw a painful blank– causing one family member to bitch about the cost of Columbia, while a cantankerous grandparent rants about how “back in my day, we gave a damn about our education…”

So, unless starting family quibbles is your cup of tea (or some bourgeois, seasonal Starbucks drink), I’ve put together a list of 5 life lessons from Homer’s Odyssey that not only should every college freshman be aware of, but that will also make excellent, Lit Hum-sourced answers to the question “What did you learn at Columbia?”

  • To combat against the Carman fire alarms that go off at 1:00 am and prevent you from getting your beauty sleep, plug your ears with beeswax.

Explanation: When Odysseus and his squad were passing by the Sirens and their song, the crew filled their ears to the brim with beeswax to resist the temptation of their voices. This pro tip will plug up your ears so nice and tight that you will sleep through the next fire alarm, and probably the next 15 after that! (NOTE: we do not endorse ignoring emergency systems.)

  • If you are going to be a guest in someone’s room, make sure to get not only an invite for yourself, but also approval for any extra friends you want to bring along.

I just love pictures of papyri don’t @ me

Explanation: Partway through their journey, Odysseus’ crew finds themselves on the island of the Cyclops. In this case, you can learn from their mistake of showing up unannounced and not invited in a stranger’s cave, which ultimately leads to the Cyclops having them for dinner (literally). Now for all of us, failing to abide by this social decency could (1) lead to losing that Fro Sci homework plug or (2), if you’re from Barnard, force you to make another Columbia friend so you can continue to finesse free laundry.

  • If you are going out partying and mingling with strangers, beware of spiked drinks! While this shouldn’t be the first time you are hearing this, the Odyssey kills when demonstrating the dangerous outcomes of spiked drinks.

Explanation: During their visit to Circe, Odysseus’ men accept drinks from her, despite having just met, and are consequently turned into pigs and thrown in pens with the rest of her victims. Odysseus, on the other hand, aware of Circe’s tendencies, goes into the situation prepared with drugs that combat the elixir – NOT a suggested tactic for a college freshman – and leaves no worse for the wear.

  • For those of you in long distance relationships, when reunited with your boo, try out some role play (maybe dress up as a beggar or homeless person?). It could make things interesting!

Explanation: When Odysseus finally returns home, he undergoes an elaborate ruse and dresses as a beggar in order to infiltrate his home and kill the men who had been hitting on his wife in his absence. With the help of some very convincing makeup by the god Athena, he keeps his identity hidden from his wife for some time. When they finally do reunite, it seems pretty steamy. Maybe it has something to do with the mystery of what’s beneath the rags…? Anyway, it’s clear that the roles quickly switch, and Penelope is soon the one beggin’ for more.

  • Lastly, when navigating the city by yourself, be aware of your surroundings and careful not to get kidnapped and held hostage for 7 years.

Explanation: While you can argue all you want about how much safer the city is today than it was years ago, and that if you master the New York resting bitch face when you walk then no one is going to give a damn about you, my response will always be: look at Odysseus. On his voyage home, Odysseus was shifted off course by the gods and ended up on a deserted island where the Goddess Calypso held him as her sex hostage for 7 years. Although we can speculate on how much of his captivity was consensual, it does not matter! People in New York, while creative, smart, exciting, and diverse, are weird as hell– I wouldn’t put anything past them. At any rate, be careful out there. And don’t eat the Sun God’s cattle.

Papyrus frags via Wikimedia Commons.

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