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Published:November 13th, 2006 03:23 EST
The power of words: lotusland

The power of words: lotusland

By Krzys Wasilewski

The fall has come, so has fall depression. In a gloomy period like this, with days inexorably becoming shorter and darker, most of us let our imagination run riot to break free from this awfully colorless reality and start a new life in a place where the sun never sets and hot sand is pleasantly balanced with cold drinks. This concept wasn`t unknown for the ancient Greeks. Even the mighty Odysseus hardly escaped the sweet illusion of the lotusland. 

Long time ago, when Europe was a beautiful maiden and of the French there was no sign (somehow maidens and the French have never gone together), gods and mortals mingled with one another. Like in every family, this coexistence was, too, far from perfect - often the petty quarrels led to bloody duels " and, unremarkably, men were usually the losers. To placate affronted humans, gods would invite them on the Mount Olympus, quaff ambrosia with them and laugh amiably at the hardships of less lucky ones. Sometimes, when the bubbles went to hot heads, love (or lust) took control over both mortals and immortals and more or less intimate relationships were created, some of them resulting in heroes: half-humans, half-gods. Whether Odysseus was one of such prodigies remains unknown. What we do know about him is that he was a brave Athenian soldier and the sole inventor of the famous Trojan Horse " a clever device that helped to slaughter the entire population of the besieged city of Troy and end a decade-long conflict. 

As it always happens, when enemy`s corpses rot on the blood-stained fields and all that could have been burned and looted, has been burned and looted, the brave and mighty begin to long for their families and homes. This feeling did not spare the victorious Athenians, Odysseus among them. Considering that his wife, Penelope, was said to have been one of the most beautiful women in the ancient world, whose fair skin and charming smile made goddesses mad with jealousy, it appears surprising that it took the warrior so long to shed his heavy armor and sail back to his native Ithaca. He expected the homecoming to be pleasant and smooth. Gods, however, had different plans. Had Homer lived at the time, he would have doubtlessly questioned gods what had driven them to punish Odysseus so severely. Athena, the goddess of love, could have said that it was the revenge for the rape of her beloved mistress, Cassandra. The smart writer would have surely pointed out that the rapist was another Athenian, Ajax, and Odysseus was the first to punish the perpetrator. His laudable behavior did not help " most of the Athenian fleet was drowned. Still Poseidon, who ruled the seas and oceans, could have answered that he had only carried out orders from above. And orders did he carry out well since Odysseus`s trip was extended from weeks to years. Whatever the answers gods would have produced, they would have never admitted the painful truth: that at the very core of their behavior lay simple, human jealousy. 

When this constant struggle between the man and gods looks as if without an end, Odysseus and his crew come across an island. At first, everything seems to be perfect " the island offers shelter, food, water and all the comforts a man could wish for. But Odysseus remains uneasy. Scouts are sent and soon it turns out that this paradise is inhabited by the mysterious race of Lothopagi. They have all human characteristics with one exception: their sole sustenance is the lotus flower. Maybe this fact wouldn`t be so culinary a sensation (after all, the French tuck into snails and frogs and nobody has ever made a fuss about it), were it not for the fact that the plant washed out all memories and chained people the island for ever. For the exhausted sailors it is a great temptation: to forget about the problems and hardships of their endless cruise and settle down in this paradise on earth. Who could resist it? Especially that no one guaranteed them that if and when they returned to their homes; everything would be just as at the moment when they had left them. Monogamy in ancient Greece was hardly a moral standard and it wasn`t rare for a wife to cheat on her husband when he was busy with slaughtering hordes of enemies and chasing monsters overseas. Odysseus`s faithful Penelope was rather a praiseworthy exception than the rule.

Should we stay on this lotusland? " Odysseus fights with himself over and over again. His crew loves the place, some of them have already tasted the lotus and no force will get them back to the ship. On the other hand, in Ithaca, the beloved Penelope and Telemachus are patiently waiting for their husband and father. The love for domestic life - however imperfect and often gruesome " wins at last and Odysseus orders his camaraderie`s to board the ship and set off for Ithaca. Apparently, not everyone is pleased with this decision so often the argument of words has to give in to the brutal force of Odysseus fists.

It took 10 years for Odysseus to reach his homeland and almost five hundred pages for Homer to commemorate this amazing voyage in his masterpiece The Odyssey ". The visit to the lotusland was neither the most important nor the longest episode in the book but it has significantly contributed to English vocabulary. A lotusland (also: a lotus land) is a synonym for an ostensibly idyllic place that makes you forget about all the problems. The Lothopagi have disappeared along with ancient gods but lotus-eaters (also: lotus eaters) are still present in the contemporary language and describe all those irritating folks who praise luxury and welfare above everything else. Moreover, if you have ever tried yoga, you will certainly know that the lotus position (a cross-legged sitting posture) is compulsory for physical and mental stability.

Odysseus was lucky. He had a faithful wife awaiting him and quite an estate to draw profits from when retired. And what about the rest of his crew? Homer, whereas describes Odysseus`s reunion with his family with literary craftsmanship, says nothing about other sailors. Were their wives as faithful as Penelope? Twenty years is a long time, certainly long enough for even the greatest loves and fortunes to fall apart. Maybe in the fall of their lives Odysseus`s old camaraderie`s would return in their dreams to the beautiful island of the lotus-eaters where life was maybe boring but at least easier and more pleasant?