Odysseus’ Journey from the Island of the Phaeacians to Ithaca (Book XIII)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


<< Previous : Telemachus at Menelaus in Sparta (Book IV)

On the last day Odysseus (Ulysses) spent with the Phaeacians, Alcinous sacrificed an ox in honour of Zeus. The hero thanked them for their hospitality and presents, and all feasted. When night fell, he greeted queen Arete one last time, then reached the boat and settled into the couch prepared for him. A sweet sleep “just like the peace of death” took hold of him as the power of the oars moved the boat away; the hawk, the fastest bird, could not have followed the boat.

When the queen of the stars announcing the Dawn appeared, the boat approached Ithaca. The Old Man of the Sea, Phorcys, had on Ithaca one of his harbours whose entrance was protected by the peaks of two steep cliffs facing each other. Inside the harbour, the waters were always absolutely calm, and at the end was an olive tree. The dark, holy cave of the nymphs called Naiads was nearby, filled with looms on which they weaved wonderful fabrics painted in sea purple and stone amphorae where the bees deposited their honey. The cave had two entrances: the one that opened to the north (Boreas) was where the men entered, while the one that opened at noon (Notus) was reserved for the gods.

The boat entered the harbour and the Phaeacians laid Odysseus (Ulysses) still asleep on the sand and the presents at the foot of the olive tree.

Poseidon, who had not finished satisfying his vengeance (due to the blindness of his son Polyphemus), came to take the advice of his brother Zeus. Unable then to attack Odysseus (Ulysses) whom “he always refrained from depriving him of the return that Zeus had promised him”, he offered to smash the boat of the Phaeacians, although a people of his race, so that they would leave the smuggler’s trade, and to hide their city with a mountain that would encircle it. Zeus nodded, but preferred that the boat be only turned into a rock which was to retain the shape of the boat, and be stuck at the bottom of the waters, at the outskirts of the city of the Phaeacians. It would be “for the humans a source of astonishment”. Poseidon did as he wished.

The Phaeacians wondered about this prodigy, but Alcinous told them of an ancient prophecy heralding this event. He ordered them to relinquish their function as smugglers and sacrifice twelve bulls to Poseidon so that he would abandon his plan to hide their city behind a mountain. 

Odysseus (Ulysses) awoke on his native land but did not recognize it because he had been far from it for a long time. Athena surrounded him with a cloud “so that he could learn everything from her” and that no one would recognize him: neither his wife, nor his friends, nor his people were to know of his return until he had punished the suitors.

The goddess came to him in the guise of a young shepherd, who, questioned by Odysseus (Ulysses), praised Ithaca, this well-watered goat island, rich in grain, wine, oxen and wood of all species, which many people know, either living in the regions of the Dawn and Sun, or inhabiting lands on the opposite side, in the darkness.

Then the hero invented a story to explain his presence, but Athena made herself known. She asked the hero to stop cheating with her and told him that he “should go through everything without ever revealing himself.” Odysseus (Ulysses), in turn, reproached her of taking on various appearances that prevented him from recognizing her and having abandoned him after the rampage of Troy until his arrival in Phaeacia. Still doubting, he asked her to confirm that this was indeed his homeland. Athena reprimanded him for his lack of trust. She gave news of Penelope and told him that she had never doubted his return after the loss of the last of his men. On the other hand, she admitted that she did not want to oppose Poseidon who accused Odysseus (Ulysses) of blinding his beloved son Polyphemus. She described the harbour of Phorcys, the olive tree, the den of the Naiads and Mount Neritus covered with forest. Then she dispelled the cloud.

Odysseus (Ulysses) greeted the Nymphs and offered them his prayers. At Athena’s injunction, he deposited his riches in the cave which the goddess stored before closing the entrance with a heavy stone.

While both went under the sacred olive tree, the goddess incited the hero to take revenge on the suitors, assuring him of her support and presence in the action. She explained that Penelope was just waiting for his return but had no choice but to let the suitors remain with their hope.

Then she told him that after she had transformed him into a hideous beggar, he should go to his pig keeper Eumaeus who remained faithful to him and cherished Penelope and Telemachus. Odysseus (Ulysses) would find him with his pigs near the Raven’s rock, at the spring Arethusa. There he had to wait while she takes care of the return of Telemachus who went to Menelaus to inquire about his father.

As Odysseus (Ulysses) was surprised that she let his son incur grave dangers, the goddess replied that she had led him so that he would gain great fame. She mentioned the ambush being prepared, but guaranteed that she was watching over him.

Then she touched the hero with her wand: his skin withered and became that of an old man, his skull turned bald, his gaze dull and he found himself dressed in rags and covered with the threadbare skin of a deer.

Before tackling the interpretation of this Book, one can legitimately ask why the seeker must endure so many trials just to return to the same place (why Odysseus (Ulysses) “endures” so much to return to his kingdom from where he left twenty years before): in fact, he reaches a new position of consciousness where nothing has changed, but everything is different. This explains why Odysseus (Ulysses) does not recognize the place where he was born. Put another way, everything has always been there, only the vision changed, linked to a different position of consciousness.

Mother explains in the Agenda that human consciousness is normally fixed at one point and the world is perceived from this point, but for her, there is no longer this anchor and consciousness is not localized.

This story of the transition to the Supramental can, like many myths, be considered from the point of view of both individual and human evolution.

It describes a passage that is experienced in sleep similar to the peace of death, that is, a state of trance or faintness. The more this experience is repeated, the easier it becomes, either for the same adventurer or for those who follow (the Phaeacians have become reliable smugglers, which Poseidon disliked).

But this experience is given only to tell the adventurer “that’s where you go”, knowing that after that, the path must be walked in full consciousness, step by step.

We have already seen this announcement of a future state with Phrixos bringing the ram with Golden Fleece to the kingdom of Aietes (or Aeetes).

But the means of the trance are then “hidden” and the adventurer must open a path into the unknown (the Phaeacians will then stop securing the passage).

The reason given here is the fact that the seeker, because of his “curiosity”, has annihilated in him the capacity of global perception, total vision, stemming from the subconscious (Odysseus (Ulysses) blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus, son of Poseidon). But one wonders whether he had the opportunity to do otherwise and therefore whether the possibility of multiple experiences of the passage would have been possible.

This myth can be compared to the experience described by Mother on October 6, 1959. She experienced “a second of fainting” and found herself in another world, which is also here, almost as substantial as the physical world, where objects are luminous by themselves: “the substance of these objects was almost as dense as in the physical world, but they shone with their own light”. She remained there two full days, “two days of absolute felicity”, absolutely beyond all the splendour imaginable and expressible. She was then ordered by the Supreme “this is a promise for later. Now we have to do the work.” According to Satprem, the fainting was caused by the body’s reaction unable to withstand the intensity of the current. Hence the need to universalize the consciousness of the body “so that it can withstand hurricanes” without the slightest reaction.

The fourteen years that followed, a glimpse of which is given in Mother’s Agenda, was this long battle into the unknown to find a passage in full consciousness.

Finally, Mother announced that she would attempt to make the final passage to the Supramentalized body in a state of cataleptic trance, recommending that her disciples watch carefully over her body during this ultimate phase, which they did not do (see the last Volume of Mother’s Agenda).

After Her departure, Satprem seems to have achieved the perfect transparency between Spirit and Matter that allows the Supramental transformation, the realisation of Odysseus (Ulysses).

From the perspective of human evolution, this experience could be had quite easily in a state of trance during the times of Intuition, an experience known by the Vedic Rishis and ancient Egypt initiates.

The entry into the individuation (separative) phase of the cycle, which according to Genesis, is “good for acquiring discernment”, and which caused the “fall” due to a certain “curiosity” or willingness to appropriate the “fruits” of reason, marked also the loss of the global vision available during the time of Intuition. According to Sri Aurobindo, in both cases, the fault would come from man’s use of the fruits or powers obtained from his own right and not from that of the Divine.

Following this “fall” that took place about thirteen thousand years ago, humanity had to descend into the shadows to seek a passage with full consciousness.

We can now analyze the story in more detail.

It is a transition during which only the super-conscious is active, as the outer being is immersed in a deep sleep (the Phoenician rowers are active while Odysseus (Ulysses) sleeps). It takes place out of time, the boats of the Phoenicians being faster than thought and the hawk, the fastest of birds.

This new position of consciousness allows the seeker to penetrate into other depths whose access was previously hidden (the harbour of Phorcys, third child of Pontus, plane of the appearance of the animal self).

There is a place of integral peace whose entrance is protected from mental and vital disturbance, a place of perfect equality (the cove protected by the steep cliffs that keeps out the wrath of the wind and the great swell).

It is at this perfect equality that the seeker will have to work on by clearing his way into the unknown.

The Naiads mentioned by Homer in the holy dark cave are daughters of Zeus and not of Nereus: they are therefore related to the human mental consciousness and correspond to the harmonious expressions of the physical mind, the lowest level of consciousness in the human mind.

The bees depositing their honey in the amphoras of the cave symbolize a strong psychic presence.

To access this place of perfect equality and psychic joy, there is the path of a difficult asceticism for those who are still in duality (the door that opens to the North is for the humans) and an easier and lighter access for those having reached non-duality in the Overmind (the South gate reserved for the gods).

As a result of this experiment, the action of the subconscious barring the access to the Supramental world through the means of trance comes to an end.

What remains engraved is an unwavering faith in the experience that took place and was rooted in the body. It will be, during the unrelenting difficulties to come, a safe and indispensable reference, although the adventurer may be surprised that this may have taken place given its imperfection (the boat of the Phoenicians is changed to stone and anchored at the bottom of the waters and will be in the future, for boats passing nearby, a “source of astonishment”).

The seeker realizes that he always knew that this would be so, that even if an experience of the goal to be achieved is given to him, he must then do the work (Alcinous revealed an ancient prophecy that foreshadowed this event). However, he tries one last time to change this law (the Phaeacians offer a sacrifice to Poseidon so that he renounces covering their city with a mountain).

During this phase of yoga, the seeker must rely entirely on the inner master until he has definitively given up his attachment to wisdom, holiness and other past realisations (Odysseus (Ulysses) must learn everything from Athena, until the suitors are punished). Even what works in the right direction can be an obstacle if a rapprochement is done too early (Penelope and her friends should not recognize him).

After a short episode of hide-and-seek with the inner guide – due to the lack of sincerity – for the first time the latter reveals himself to the seeker in a clear proximity, telling him that he will have to work with “stamina” with the most perfect humility and self-forgetfulness (Athena made herself known, prompting the hero to stop tricking her and told him that he “should bear everything without ever revealing himself.”  Indeed, if Odysseus (Ulysses) “the wise” is always described as a hero “with a thousand tricks”, it is both because of the progress of the seeker in the ascent of the planes of consciousness towards a purified higher intelligence, but also because of a constant playing with the Truth in the depths of the vital, insincerity that he discovers as he proceeds on the path of ascension-integration.

He then complains that he cannot clearly perceive the messages of the inner master, which take many forms. It seems to him especially that he was abandoned by the Divine between the end of the great reversal and his first living experience of the supramental plane (Odysseus (Ulysses) accused the goddess of taking various appearances that prevented him from recognizing her and having abandoned him since the plunder of Troy until his arrival in Phoenicia).

In the inner dialogue, the seeker understands that he has always been supported and that it was necessary for him to totally let go. He also understands that the path would have probably been easier if he had not yielded to the lure of the powers of vision, which resulted in the closure of the doors of higher intuition (the blinding of the Cyclops). This is why he still doubts that he has reached the end of his personal yoga, but his inner guide confirms it (Odysseus (Ulysses) wonders if this is indeed his homeland). Mount Neritus “immense, infinite” could indicate the access to the Supermind.

The seeker must now leave the powers he received during the experiment of the passage to the supramental plane, in some remote corner of his being in the care of the purified physical mind (Athena keeps the presents of the Phaeacians in the cave of the Naiads, the entrance of which she closes with a stone). The time has not come for him to use them, because “miracles” – or what appears to be such in the eyes of men – could become an insurmountable obstacle in the future yoga.

The inner guide assures him of his unwavering support in the action to come and urges him to put an end to the pretensions of the ancient realisations to lead the yoga (the goddess urged the hero to draw revenge from the suitors, assuring him of her support and presence in the action).

What works for unity must then use a “ruse” and at first not oppose the work in the insignificance of daily life in the depths of consciousness to what still clings to “the glorious realisations (the suitors)” (Athena gave Odysseus (Ulysses) the appearance of a poor old man). Indeed, let us not forget that Odysseus (Ulysses) has recovered the weapons of Achilles in Troy.

To achieve this new reversal, the seeker can rely on what in him, throughout this thorough purification to achieve transparency, has watched over his basic vital energies, on what has given his support to the yoga of transparency and is ready to collaborate in the future yoga (Eumaeus, “who feeds well” the pigs, the “divine” swineherd, had remained faithful to Odysseus (Ulysses) and cherished Penelope and Telemachus).

What works for the spirit-matter union must make the link (establish a bridge of consciousness) with this capacity of watching and also with the first steps of the future yoga that the inner master has led (Odysseus (Ulysses) must find Eumaeus at the edge of the Raven Stone and wait for the return of Telemachus who has been led by Athena so that he would acquire great fame).

(Perhaps the Raven Stone refers to the “basalt rock” at the depth of the body consciousness Sri Aurobindo is talking about.)

Next : Dialogue of Odysseus (Ulysses) with the Swineherd Eumaeus (Book XIV) >>

<< Summary and Introduction : The Returns