Homer's Odyssey and Dr. Seuss’ You're Only Old Once
"What animal walks on all fours in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs at night?" The famous riddle of the sphinx that has been pondered for many years; it is a universal issue that affects all people of every nationality, ethnicity, religion, or geographic area. We, ourselves, are the answer to this puzzle and yet we fight this explanation with every tool possible. We avoid it, refuse to admit it, read about it, joke about it, and deep down we often dread growing old.
We know that this is an issue in every time period and is addressed by many writers. Growing old does not change, but each age has its own way of dealing with the old. This paper specifically looks at Homer's Odyssey and all the portrayals of old age in this epic poem. I will also look at You're Only Old Once, by Dr. Seuss as a modern example, even though humorous, of old age.
Homer's Odyssey is a text that informs us about many components of the ancient world. We can look to this epic poem as a resource on relationships, attitudes, and actions of ancient Greece and the surrounding area. It represents all the values, customs, and feelings that this culture honored. The specific way we will look at this ancient writing is through the study of gerontology; the following questions might be asked. What was the attitude towards aging and the elderly? How was aging represented in this work? Finally, how is aging viewed by different genders, classes, and age groups?
Old age is seen through out the poem, and is represented in many different ways. The first time old age is addressed is when Athena comes into the house of Odysseus to see the environment the suitors have created. There is a passing mention of Laertes, Odysseus's elderly father. Laertes has moved from the house and now is farming in the country. He has moved out of grief for his lost son. He is portrayed many other times through out the poem in the same way. He is an elderly man insane with sorrow. He has left his family to be a hermit, or at least to live below his status.
Another portrayal of old age is Nestor. Telemakhos goes in search of information about Odysseus; his first stop is the kingdom of Nestor. Nestor fought with Odysseus at Troy, but does not have the information that is needed. The interesting point in this section is the Telemakhos's attitude towards Nestor. Nestor is elderly, but he is also a war hero and upper class. Telemakhos is timid when addressing this great man. Telemakhos states "and for a young man to interrogate an old man seems disrespectful." (lines 28-29). This man is treated with respect because of his long reign (three generations: line 264) and combat history.
Homer also mentions the roles of the gods in aging. Nestor and Telemakhos claim that the gods can not stop this process. Aging happens to mortals in spite of the gods. That is one of the main differences between gods and mortals; the...