Free Essays on Homer's Odyssey: Odysseus and Medea
"Let me hear no smooth talk
of death from you, Odysseus, light of councils.
Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand
for some poor country man, on iron rations,
than lord it over all the exhausted dead."
Right before restless Odysseus leaves Circe, she tells him that he must go down into Hades to visit the shade of Teiresias, the blind prophet who advises Odysseus of his homecoming (the Wanderings). He then goes on to meet the shades of the queens and lovers of dead heroes and finally the heroes themselves. In the quotation cited, Odysseus is talking with Achilles, the greatest hero of the Trojan War. Achilles, while alive, was fully cognizant of his choice between a long life spent in obscurity or a short life, filled with glory. He chose the latter.
I suppose Achilles quickly realized after he died that fame has no meaning for you after you're dead. In retrospect, he understood that death gives meaning, and fills one up with the passion for life. Every action, however mundane, is filled with the miracle of life and completes itself when one interacts with others. This is what Achilles meant when he asks Odysseus about his son and his former kingdom--never mind the dead, what are the living doing? Achilles yearns to be back among the living.
This theme of death giving meaning to life is prevalent throughout the Odyssey. Hell is death, heaven is now, in life, in the field of time and action.
Odysseus nearly died of homesickness (or boredom) when Kalypso detained him on her island, hoping to make him her immortal husband. Odysseus knew if he drank that ambrosia, life would be eternal, you'd have a beautiful house and a babe for a wife, but things would get terribly vapid after a certain point. Immortality is death, in this sense. Finally, it is Athena (thought, action) who convinces the gods (who are, I think, jealous of us mortals) to let Odysseus off the island and back into his life. It is interesting to note that even Hermes couldn't wait to get off Kalypso's island--"who would willingly come here? There is no city of men nearby. . . . .
Ultimately, Odysseus' journey to Ithaka is about embracing one's life, accepting the challenges, the dangers, pitfalls, and joys, with courage, tenacity and a keen sense of what it takes to maintain balance in one's life.