I know my way around a Homeric epic or two. Having picked up ancient mythology as a kid with both hands and having yet to let go, I love not only reading these tales over and over again, but also interpreting, analyzing, and seeing how they apply to myself and all of us in ways we don’t really stop to consider most times. Looking back over last year, my first year as a college student here at Juniata, I realized how closely my own journey to where I am now corresponds with Odysseus’s in the Odyssey.
Graduating from high school in 2020, I don’t think I’m far off in comparing the period from March of 2020 to August as a parallel to Odysseus’s challenges before his long journey home. No war was fought, and while it was no ten-year enterprise, it certainly felt like it at some times. Not only was I beginning to find my way as an adult and preparing to truly take care of myself for the first time, but I was also learning how to t adapt to a quickly shifting world and a reality that was new to everyone.
Voyage to the Phaeacians
Moving from Pittsburgh to Huntingdon isn’t what I would call a journey, per se, but for places merely two and a half hours apart, they certainly feel like different worlds. Coming from a sizable suburban area to such a small town was jarring, yes, but also incredibly comforting. Like Odysseus, I was uprooted from what I knew for years and placed somewhere new, but the place in which I found myself was a place where I felt like I was valued, appreciated, heard. Here, I was introduced to a group of people that would grow to become my greatest friends and support system.
Odysseus Recounts His Adventures
Here, we move into the meat of the Odyssey, and likewise the bulk of my freshman year. Navigating classes, living by myself, building a routine, and establishing relationships and their dynamics occupied most of my time from August 2020 to May of 2021. Not all of it was fun, just as not all of Odysseus’s adventures turned out great—there was stress, a breakup, mental health to parse through, growing pains—but I’d say all of it was necessary.
Returning to Ithaca
Much like the Fates requiring the son of Laertes to return to his kingdom, the end of the second semester of freshman year meant it was time for me to move back out to Pittsburgh. Homecoming was bittersweet for me as well as Odysseus—I couldn’t wait to see my family, friends, and cats again, but I knew how desperately I would miss the new family I had built at Juniata. I would have to go downstairs for food, rather than just reaching under my bed for a bag of chips; I couldn’t walk across the hall and wander into my friends’ rooms on a Tuesday night.
Defeating the Suitors
While my homecoming wasn’t exactly like Odysseus’, there were still the metaphorical suitors to deal with: adjusting my newfound independence to being home again, old friends moving on, missing Huntingdon and my friends, creating a new at-home schedule. Those had to be slayed (symbolically) before I could find home again. Or, at least, the home I had left to make another.
The Odyssey, as I see it, is a long story about going home. I guess that’s where mine separates from the king of Ithaca’s—I came home in the end, yes, but I also found a home here at Juniata and with the people I love. One that I’m very glad to have returned to.