Potent Quotables #2: Simplicity and the Odyssey

Penelope and her Suitors

This semester, I’m taking a Greek class that focuses on Homer’s Odyssey. We’re reading the work in translation to provide the narrative structure for what comes later (our own translating of the text) and I came across a brief gem in book two of Alexander Pope’s translation. Telemachus, the son of long-lost Odysseus, laments what certain nobleman – who just happen to be courting his “widowed” mother Penelope – have done to his household:

Yet through my court the noise of revel rings,

And waste the wise frugality of kings.

Scarce all my herds their luxury suffice;

Scarce all my wine their midnight hours supplies.

As someone who is constantly learning to value simplicity in life, I was struck by these brief lines. And I was also reminded of why I study ancient texts like the Odyssey. Wisdom is wisdom, no matter where it comes from, and the ancients have much wisdom to share with us. But I was also struck by the counter-intuitive way that Pope phrases that second line (by contrast, Fitzgerald renders it “They squander everything”). We live in a world where waste has become frugal, and true frugality is looked down upon as austerity. If this is the logic of the world, I don’t want to live by that logic. I desire a place where simplicity is valued and life is about more than possessions. And, wonder of wonders, it was Homer who reminded me of just that.

I’m still in the process of learning simplicity, and believe me, it’s going to be a process. What are your thoughts? Is simplicity a value you embrace? What do you do to live simply?

  1. Thanks for sharing. Holding fast to the value of simplicity only becomes more challenging as you come into more means, however meager those may be. I love the layout of your blog btw.

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