November 04, 2019

Student Series: Francesca Hsieh

Violent Inspiration

Mary Zimmerman’s The Odyssey begins with the divine inspiration of a muse. Wouldn’t we all like a muse sometimes? Someone to just show up and take care of all our feelings of being stuck. I would like one right now as I try and write this blog.

Inspiration is really scary. Sometimes you will be brought on the seas of glory and artistic divinity. Sometimes you will feel mortal. You will feel endlessly, completely trapped in the day-to-day. You will lose loved ones. You will get lost. There will be war. You will not be able to find your way home.

Odysseus, the classic hero, navigates this struggle constantly throughout his journey, though perhaps in a more swashbuckling way than your average person living in 2019. (Stars - they’re just like us!) He conquers gods, kills monsters, controls the elements. He also sits and cries on an island for 8 years (we’ve all been there). He is thwarted again and again. He is betrayed by his own name. Sometimes he is in control of his story, masterfully and artfully detailing his struggles. Sometimes, it is in control of him.

But he does make it home! However, the classic image of homecoming – reunion with wife and child, floor littered with the bodies of dead men – is not the end of our story. Our show ends when Odysseus, following the prophecy of Tiresias, travels on foot far enough inland that he comes to a place where the children know nothing of the sea and there plants an oar. For the first time in our long, long tale of adventuring, Odysseus truly honors the gods. He lets himself be the vessel for the story, instead of resisting.

The world of The Odyssey is a violent place. There are sea monsters, potions that turn men to pigs, bloodthirsty gods out for vengeance, and storms that can keep you away from your family for 20 years. In a world alive with spirits that have agency over your life, it’s hard to ever feel safe. Our world is a violent place. There is constant war, political strife, mass shootings, and ideological conflict. In a world alive with anger, it’s hard to ever feel safe. It’s hard to ever feel at home.

The Odyssey is not an easily definable work. It cannot really be pinned down. One question, one statement of meaning cannot encompass all that it entails. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) But maybe there’s a reason that the muse keeps coming back. What if we stopped fighting our story? What if we honored it? In times of anger and violence we lose a shared world. What if we tried to get that back? What if we all knew of the sea?

By Francesca Hsieh, Assistant Director of The Odyssey