Odysseus at the dentist: A freeform outline

I went to the dentist this morning. It wasn't a terrible visit, but it did put certain things to mind about heroism and bravery. I wanted to get these thoughts down before they were lost in the muddle that is a modern life. Hopefully, they will be refined later, and possibly even submitted, in refined form, to Literary Latte, but I wanted to invite any comments now, and get something out, so that there is record of the growth of the essay.

Odysseus never went to the Dentist
Meditations from the Chair
1. Odysseus never went to the Dentist. It is certain he faced horrors, but never the horrors which the modern man is forced to daily face, the horrors of science, the horrors of authority, the horrors of art, and the horrors of time. Odysseus never suffered quietly the million small indignities forced upon the modern, so called, man.
2. Odysseus never went to the dentist. He never felt the splatter of paste with a badly imitated grape flavor upon his gums. He never submitted himself to the teachings of the school of dentists. It is odd to me, perhaps, that we suffer dentists – that we have so long suffered dentists, and react so strongly against other teachings of so-called science. There are studies, even, some might say, scientific studies, which would indicate that dentists are unnecessary to those who live properly, but we suffer their prices, indignities, and pains – demonstratible and obvious pains – pains with which no one could argue – yet will not suffer the distant and uncertain mythos of evolution, and argue against by saying it drives the young to atheism and adultery, and yet, still, we will not consider that more teenagers may have been driven to atheism and even adultery by the dentist than ever by the teacher.
3. Odyesseus never trusted himself into the hands of a remote and uncertain science, merely to maintain what his culture called a normal life. Each of these modern indignities has its twin in other fields. From what we can tell, there never was much distant from Odysseus’ life – his religion was a close one, even a local one, and he never seems to have worshiped another land’s god through a strange expert priest or pastor. What Gods he did worship were close and local, or he was passing through their lands and seas. In each of these cases, too, he did not worship them so much as they touched him, and he was not interested so much in learning the particulars of their theology as how to play their game, or at least to survive. He did not worship Gods who had made some questionable sacrifice two thousand years ago. From what we can know too, Odysseus’ science was not far from his life, nor were his authorities, nor even the makers of his cheese. He probably made his cheese himself more than once or twice, and when his cheese was made ill, he could likely reach out and touch the one who made it. He could likely reach out and kill the one who made it, if he so desired. When his cheese was expensive, he could ask why, and when it was delicious, he could praise the cheesemaker to his face.
4. We must also remember that Odysseus was born into power, as were so many of the heroes of Western literature. They were not set apart by their skill, at least, if they were, that was a post-mortem evaluation. Let us not forget that while the vast majorities of humanities have toiled away quietly, their leaders have waged wars, upon which they had a part in deciding. Today, the modern man, as he is pictured here, toils away under the authority of powers he does not understand, and over which he has the minimal amount of control afforded by democracy, even by republic. Distance has something to do with this too – the closeness of the cheesemaker, along with Odysseus’ priority of birth, allowed him to move against the cheesemaker. The closeness of the God even allowed Odysseus to strike out against him, if he so choose.
5. You will rarely hear, I think, a lit-head admit that the heroes of literature are indeed, in Churchill’s phrase, “not only distant, but prosaic;” Though the sentiment is respected from one so eminent as that great speaker and leader of men, speaking at so momentous a time, it is so often despised reflected, in even truer form, in the mouths of the teenagers who can barely tell you what they mean, but who have no interest in reading the Odyssey. They complain that these things share no relationship to modern life, and I think they are quite right. The courage Odysseus had is quite a different sort than the modern man must have. I am not attempting to argue against any of the distances we face today – save this one. In some cases, the distances must be argued against, in some cases defended. In some cases they are incredibly good, in some cases, terribly dangerous. There can be arguments for each. But it seems to me, perhaps our most strange distance today is our distance from our heroes. Odysseus never was told by his culture that his heroes were, or should be, men who lived in strange histories and myths so distant from him. His literature was often songs of his friends. Even Hamlet, who displays some of the suffering of indignities, some of the arrogance, the academia, and the impotence of the modern man, was still born into power, and could still compare himself, however sadly, to Hercules. But now that comparison is meaningless to most who can read – it is not that either falls short, it is that the comparison is so distant, and so different. We are, no doubt, in need of heroes today, of examples every day, and we cannot afford to continue to produce and revere heroes with whom we share so little relationship, be they Odysseus, Arthur, Hamlet, or any one of the myriad of action heroes who, while closer, face adrenaline we do not in our moments most needful of heroism. The dentists’ chair does not allow for adrenaline. The absence of God does not allow for action. We are in desperate need of heroes who live modern life, and do so with modern heroism, facing the distances of science, of power, of art, and of time, with dignity, with creativity, and with good will. Come to think of it, we need Chaplin. His little tramp is often exactly the man who I speak of, and who we need to replicate again.

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