Modern Odyssey: Comparing Kanye West with Odysseus

philipcheng

Illustration: Eddy Vazquez

Why is Homer’s “The  Odyssey” relevant to us? In our era, all the Greek heroes are dead, no one believes in Greek gods, and the only remnants of Greek life lay in frat houses.

But, like the other freshmen, I was assigned to read “The Odyssey.” The reading was long, so I listened to music while I read.  At some point, I listened to “Touch the Sky” by Kanye West, and I discovered a striking parallel between Kanye and Odysseus.

As I was listening to Kanye’s rap, one verse stood out and seemed to resonate with the spirit of the Odysseus’s hardship:

Back when Gucci was the shit to rock,

Back when Slick Rick got the shit to pop,

I’d do anything to say “I got it”.

Damn, them new loafers hurt my pocket.

Before anybody wanted K-West beats,

Me and my girl split the buffet at KFC.

Dog, I was having nervous breakdowns,

Like “Damn, these **** that much better than me?”

Baby, I’m going on an airplane,

And I don’t know if I’ll be back again.

Sure enough, I sent the plane tickets,

But when she came to kick it, things became different.

Any girl I cheated on, sheets I skeeted on.

I couldn’t keep it home, I thought I needed a Nia Long.

I’m trying to write my wrongs,

But it’s funny these same wrongs helped me write this song.

 

Like Odysseus, Kanye journeyed far from home, uncertain if he would return. On his journey, he intended to achieve greatness, but his spirit wavered in his uncertainty of his success. Like Odysseus, Kanye  gave in to his temptations like material goods and women even though he was never truly satisfied by them.

This spectrum of human experience extends down to college life. Each person comes seeking the means to his or her own ends: academic excellence to post-graduate opportunities to future job opportunities to self-discovery to self-reinvention. However, the pursuit of our goals does not always make us happy. There are lots of times when work and frustration are involved, so at times it is easier to stop and play.

Humans are evolved from hunter-gatherers from the African plains, a way of life older than Homer’s Odyssey. One modern group, the !Kung Bushmen in Botswana carry on this way of life. Their lives ease by as they subsist off the bountiful land. They only work 12 hours a week to ensure their needs are met. The rest of their time is spent singing, dance, and socializing. That sounds a lot like how college life could be. Four courses, three classes a week per course, 50 minutes per class; that’s a little less than 12 hours of work each week.

With so much free time, why don’t we live like the !Kung?

Our own civilization has artificially created a way of life that values achievement more than personal happiness. A common goal in our society is to seek fame and riches like Odysseus and Kanye.

The material gains from achieving such life goals are hollow in themselves. What brings a sense of fulfillment is the realization that our efforts have come to fruition and that our dream is finally clear.

Working towards your life goal does not always make you happy. There are ups and downs on the road to success. Instead, reaching it fulfills you in a way that fleeting moments of happiness cannot. We all probably hope that one day we will find what we seek. When we listen to songs like “Touch the Sky” or read “The Odyssey,” the story about struggle and triumph is entertaining, but at a deeper level it is inspiring.