While reading The Odyssey, you sometimes feel like there is a deep wisdom in it. Two examples:

  • The sirens
    • The sirens draw everyone who listens to their music towards them, and doom the listeners to death as their ships are dashed on the rocks. Odysseus manages to save his crew by asking them to plug their ears with wax. He decides to listen to the sirens himself, so he asks his crew to tie him to the mast. Then he is safely able to hear the siren's songs. Odysseus gets to listen to the sirens without destroying himself in the process.
    • Meaning: There are dangerous vices that you shouldn't indulge in, otherwise they could take you off course and destroy you. However, if you have a strong community who is immune to the vice (Odysseus' shipmates), you might be able to get away with some indulgence.
  • The lotus eaters
    • The island of the lotus eaters is a stepping stone to Odysseus' eventual goal, to reach Ithaca. But his crew becomes addicted to the lotus. He is finally able to get his crew to break free of the lotus. The lotus brings complacency and easy comfort to everyone.
    • Meaning: Like Odysseus, we need to escape the temptation of the lotus to actually reach our final destination. It's too easy grow complacent with where we are and forget about Ithaca.
    • Side note: Wonderful, hilarious blog post on the perils of being a modern lotus-eater. I think it's satire.. I hope it's satire. But a fun read nevertheless.

I wonder if the wisdom we see in Homer is true wisdom. Did he have deep insights about the world, life, and human nature that remain true to this day? Did he encode this wisdom into the Odyssey, and is that why the epic has been read for thousands of years?

Or maybe we're simply projecting our own knowledge onto the canvas of ancient poetry? Perhaps Homer told a simple story about sirens and lotuses, but we insist on reading deeper meanings into his work.

The same thing could be asked about most ancient or religious texts: the Bible, the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, etc. Is there really deep wisdom in there? Or are they simply fuzzy enough that we are able to project wisdom onto these texts?