(This is an excerpt from the up and coming part three of my Trilogy. This passage reflects the state of despair and disappointment Christine begins to feel as her journey in Greece continues along paths unexpected and unfulfilled)
There were those moments of intense loneliness and isolation where she felt like a swine, hoggishly seeking attention and hospitality and love and acceptance. Grunting and greedy but disgusting in the eyes of all.
She relied so heavily on the hospitality of the people in Greece she finally realized, for her dreams to be actualized. But people soon wearied of you, and fast.
Going to the Angelos’ now seemed a burden and she felt as if she were an intruder destroying their pristine and peaceful existence.
The woodpecker given to her by Katerina hung over her bed, dangling beneath an Icon of Christ.
Peck peck peck
This image once gave her strength and focus. ‘Think of the opportunities Christine! Persevere, don’t give up damn it! You have come so far. God is opening doors for you. Knock, peck, smash away. Build, use the stepping stones that come your way. Build the foundation to a new life. Build it solidly, wisely, so that it doesn’t collapse and you are left with nothing!’
Christine continued to peck, somehow found the strength to continue this journey as she shivered in her bedroom on cold, lonely nights.
Peck peck peck
Was Christine pecking into a dead tree after all?
By late November, Christine had found herself in a bit of a crisis. Poor, lonely and love-sick.
Even though Akantha had promised her some extra hours, teaching the Cambridge Proficiency to University Students, a day could not be decided upon so it was scrapped, much to Christine’s dismay.
The isolation that plagued her life in Patras paralysed her. And she thought. With obsession. Of Helen, Constantine and the kids. Fantasized about sitting in the square with them devouring a yiros, smiled when she imagined herself chanting alongside Constantine, while the kids looked on bored. Laughed when she remembered their trip to the monastery and the delightful Daphne wearing that ghastly bright red skirt.
No one called her. Helen, Uncle Giannis, Aunt Sophia, Fedra. Even though they all knew she was in Patras. Alone. Even though they all knew her number.
Constantine had disappeared from her world. He who had promised so much; who winked and smiled, who shamelessly flirted with her that night at the Festival and told her not to despair, not to give up; who—she thought with anger—had ostracised her from a cousin she had come to admire.
Most despairingly, she was slowly forced to accept that perhaps, just perhaps, Pelagios did not want her. Did not see her as a potential wife, bride, lover, mother of his children. She still called him, met him on occasions for a coffee but his external friendly nature was shaded with a sense of aloofness and indifference. Constantly misinterpreting his actions, she smiled in utter bliss when he raised a toast to their eternal friendship, and fantasized about their wedding and passionate love-making.
She had established her routine at the school and it was the one thing she enjoyed the most, teaching her students and learning so much from them.
‘So who’s your favourite football team?’
‘Have you been to the new shopping complex on Saint Andrew?’
‘The carnival will be starting in March. It is one of the largest in the world. . .’
‘This is Greece, Miss. It’s a miracle the buses can even get started. . .’
‘Did you feel the earthquake last night? Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. There are always earthquakes in Greece. . .’
They sniggered, laughed, jested and teased Christine with her charming accent, friendly nature and occasional fits of anger.
Both the school owners, Akantha and Andrew, were relieved when she had handed over to them all her paper work, and Akantha even started to smile at Christine, even complimenting her once in a while. But she still strutted around like a stern dictator, checking on Christine and the rascals she was teaching, determined that the schools’ reputation not be destroyed by the soft, easy-going girl.
She had enjoyed a day-trip to Corinth and had spent time with two local boys who both fought over her, lied, cheated, swindled and tried to seduce her.
Yes, by the end of November Christine had gnawing doubts about her situation. When a weekend has passed in which she had not communicated with one human being in the whole of Patras, she realized that something was wrong.
Did she have a problem or did others? Should she have reached out more to the people around her; the stern old woman opposite her, the young student at her parish who saw through her as if she were invisible, the grimy fruit seller at her local market who was enraptured by her, the horny Kurdish immigrants who followed her eagerly, her fellow teachers who treated her indifferently and ignored her attempts at real conversations.
Her flesh and blood just a heartbeat away?
Should she have contacted the Angelos’ time and time again, or did she not want to be seen as a pest.
In her despondency, she had even tried to contact Uncle Angelo but to no avail. Had even attempted to phone Andronikos—her lusty bus driver—but only received a message telling her this number was closed. Tried frantically to find the number for Kostas, her friend at Delphi. But could not find it anywhere.
And she asked herself amidst all of this, her attempts to contact her Mafioso uncle, the cheating Andronikos—where did she belong? Who was she?
Christine had always felt alien. Strange. In the land of her birth. As if she was searching for something. Identity. Yes. Greeks born and nurtured in the motherland did not need to worry about this. They knew who they were. They knew where they belonged. Their souls had been pastured in the land of Greece; they grew in the holy soil of Hellas.
But for Greeks in the Diaspora—they were forever searching and it seemed home was neither here nor there.
Neither Melbourne nor Athens. . .
Only the church gave her identity—gave her a sense of belonging. Gave flesh to this concept of what it meant to be ‘Greek’. And the church in her motherland. . .
So, she created this land according to her image.
In the Image of Christine, it was created. . .
Creating images of heroes and heroines with warm hearts and kind words, of an exuberant hospitality, of benevolence towards the foreigner—towards one’s own flesh and blood. An image fertilized by films she watched as a young girl, where Greeks boldly fought against the enemy, where beautiful people fell in love in exotic settings, of a community welded together in patriotism and loyalty to the motherland, to the church and to each other.
Christine clung desperately onto the belief that she was Greek, coming back home to her motherland with. . .
Under foreign skies
Far from her own country. . .
As she imagined a non-existent house with a small flourishing garden, of ancient columns that dotted the land like magical totems, of relatives and friends knocking at her door.
Knock knock knock
But gradually the voice got louder, that mocking, spiteful voice that pained her in Athens, in the village, in Thessaloniki. That took on another dimension in Platamona, that made her shrivel and die. That left her vulnerable and weak, exposed, raw, bloodied. That became a shrill screech, then a whisper, then. . .
That voice telling her to. . .
Stop a moment and think
Your nostalgia has created
A non-existent country, with laws
Alien to earth and man
A land that did not exist. A land that could not exist. And she lamented like the poet, who proclaimed. . .
Wherever I travel Greece wounds me. . .
As she let him smooth the wrinkles from her worn-out, crumpled face
Telling her she was in fact nowhere
Like everybody else.
 George Seferis
 George Seferis
THE WEAVING OF A STORY
Story telling is hard work! It is especially challenging when it is semi-autobiographical, because the story of the character is your story, but at the same time, the character you have created becomes its own individual, something external to its creator.
Who is this Christine, I ponder? Is she truly a representative of who I am, or a different and sometimes better version? When people read this, do they look at me and go, mmmmm, she’s an interesting one?
Yet, her struggles were and are mine. And central to these struggles is the narration of her particular and unique story: being a woman in a patriarchal culture, being an ethnic woman in a racist country, being a strong woman in a church that demands submission and silence, being an educated woman in an institution that has distorted the role that women played in the history of the church/society as a whole.
This is not a feminist whinge. I am not playing the victim; my insistence on telling my story, my determination to study and research across a wide range of topics and narrate despite the mocking and the looks of incredulity, illustrate that I won’t allow myself to be a victim.
Christine struggles to belong. She doesn’t belong with her friends, for they betrayed her. She certainly doesn’t belong to the colonial nation of Australia: it suffocates her, mocks her humanity, degrades her as an ethnic woman into something hideous and vile. And eventually, she comes to believe she doesn’t belong to the Greek Church she sought solace in.
In one of the scenes in ‘Daughter of Odysseus--Ithaka Calling’ Christine is with a male friend from her local parish. Andrew, a great intellectual, a fanatical Orthodox Christian and a cantor. He is privileged and exalted in this ancient and very male-dominated institution.
Christine looks at him from the pew, as he chants a hymn to the philosopher St Catherine; this woman with intellect, studying history and theology and literature, passionate about making a difference to her community. Yet Christine is but a phantom—one of the shades from Hades itself: she remains in this land of the dead, together with all the other women, all those oppressed from the power structures of their day, rustling about in a pandemonium of whispers, to quote The Odyssey.
Yet amidst this darkness and shadows, she searches for the light. She looks back to a different past now concealed by the male cantors, by the incense and the bishop’s throne, by those voices telling her women are the destroyers, and sees a diverse world of great Christian and Pagan women teaching and exhorting and making a difference to their societies:
‘Ah, Catherine of Alexandria,’ Christine mused, ‘you were brilliant, witty, and courageous; you shamed the wisest men in Alexandria at a time when women accounted for nothing, and you were murdered because of this.’
Just accept the status quo, Christine, a voice whispered in her mind. Stop thinking too much; stop grumbling about the place of women in the church; stop being difficult. Perhaps Father Nectarios is right: women should know their place, must not have too much freedom. Must submit to men in humility . . . (Pages 93-94)
Thus, the battle within her begins. Does she choose to submit, or does she choose to narrate her own story, weave her own work of art? Engage in her own contest, as if she were Arachne who contested with the goddess Athena over the loom? Use the power of weaving in the same way Penelope did, Odysseus’ wife, as she wove then unloosed the thread secretly in her chambers, fooling the men who had gathered in her palace? ‘Once I complete this shroud, I will choose my husband.’ And the men wait for this to be completed, whilst Penelope chooses the thread and the patterns, working diligently with the loom, completing the masterpiece only to. . .unthread it and do this all again.
This is her power; this most feminine of arts.
Christine wanted to smash that voice, to smother it with the tapestry of her own Wisdom. To weave and unweave. To reweave her own story, to declare that the attempts to humiliate and belittle her had not won. That she had the right to choose the fibre and the colours and the patterns and designs. That hers would be a story that expressed her right to find fulfilment in her Church and her community. The story had a beginning, somewhere in the historical past . . .
This was the story of a Gentile woman of Palestine some two thousand years ago—a despised Canaanite woman who was the lowest of the low. . .She approaches Jesus with the request that he heal her daughter. Jesus disregards her request at first—even insults her! Yet she does not give up. She defends her rights, her God-given rights to have a share of Jesus’ life-giving ministry. . .She is an assertive female who challenges the Lord himself, and her daughter is healed.
A woman is led to a theatre as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of Rome. Her name is Thekla of Iconium, and she is the first female martyr for Christ. Thrown to the wild beasts, she is protected by a fierce lioness whilst crowds of women lament her fate. She is rescued, to preach and to eventually find solace within the embrace of the mountains. . .(Page 94)
There are far more stories to tell, but the last one takes on a sinister tone. Of the last great Greek philosopher Hypatia, murdered by fanatics of the Christian world. Voices echo through the streets below: ‘Hypatia is dead; Hypatia is murdered by the fanatics of the new religion.’ Like the scrolls her followers tried to save—she is torn apart and destroyed.
Thus, the weaving takes another ominous shape. . .
The weaving becomes haphazard, confusing, as the voices of women within Christine’s tradition are smothered. A work of symmetry and continuity becomes disjointed, twisted, and ugly—at variance with the stories of the Gospel. The fibre seems to disintegrate within her hands as she attempts to weave the yarn over the warp threads of the loom. The loom itself becomes a heavy burden to her, a boulder bearing down on her, attempting to stop her story telling (Page 95)
Is that the end of the story? Should we now toss the thread into the bin, throw the loom out? Remain silent and just accept? Should Christine? After all, nobody is listening to her; nobody cares.
Christine yells a resounding NO. The stories continue after all. The end has a beginning. The beginning has an end. The women at the tomb of Christ were to ‘Go to Galilee’ after all, to the beginning of the Gospel narrative and look at the story through new eyes. . .
But there are always new beginnings, for the Holy Spirit too weaves herself through the great loom that is the universe, infusing all with life.
New fibres—new colours—a new repetition to create Christine’s own unique pattern while still reflecting that continuity from ancient times. A new story that now flows with ease. Over and under the warp thread does the needle move in her hand, as if it were a part of her soul—as if she were the goddess of fate spinning the thread of her life and therefore of her destiny (Page 95).
“Over under, under over . . . yellows, blues, reds, blacks. The loom feels like a feather in her hands—the yarn like silk, gliding with delight despite the bleakness of the tale she weaves.”
The story has now been told, has been retold. . .and will be retold through the eyes of the reader.
This story of a daughter of Odysseus; for she is but one daughter. And he has many more.
DEPRESSION IN DAUGHTER OF ODYSSEUS
Have you or do you suffer from depression?
I have suffered from severe depression, otherwise known as Major Depressive Disorder. This is a type of depression that lasts for more than two weeks consistently, with thoughts of emptiness, worthlessness and suicide.
It simply overwhelms you. It is akin to being in a deep pit with no way out. The sense of hopelessness, hollowness and desperation shatters you, smashes you into a million fragile pieces. It blinds you to your sense of worth, of dignity and beauty.
You are nothing. You have been betrayed by those you thought loved you. You have been abused. You are ugly and worthless. You have an ugly face or body or big nose or dark skin or frizzy hair or acne or whatever. After all, isn’t that what you’ve been told? They must be right--right? Why else would they declare this with upmost assurance and smugness?
Anxiety drowns you; you want to hide from your tormentors, those who will once again make you feel as if you were rubbish. You panic and the sense of vulnerability strips you of your strength and independence.
You are like a frightened child seeking security and comfort within the loving arms of a parent. But there are no loving arms; only a haunting past, cruel words, physical pain, streams of tears and the sweet longing for death. . .
When did this all happen – this depression – this psychological disease that consumed me – that threw me into some deep black hole – into a pit of despair? It seemed to happen so suddenly – so mysteriously – so unexpectedly. Where kin fled from me as if from leprosy; where the breath I breathed repulsed all around me; where my own bones clung to my flesh.
Yet I feel a need to write it down – inscribe the words – engrave them on a rock so that they could live forever…
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Depression plays a crucial role in shaping my character Christine, in Daughter of Odysseus. For her experience is mine. Her pain and suffering are a reflection of my pain and suffering. Her attempts to understand this demon of death are my attempts to understand from whence came this disease of mind and soul.
2. A Creeping Monster
I have had a couple of readers mention that the depression experienced by Christine ‘hit home.’ That it was hard to read. . .
Overall: I very much enjoyed the book. The author's writing is almost like singing at times, with complex and beautiful language transforming the most mundane things into poetry. Reading the depression was hard for me -- there was a lot of misery in the book -- but the glimpses of hope and light mostly made up for it.
When we first meet Christine, in a bar in Melbourne, we are under the impression that Christine is living the high life. There is an international star, there are the socialites of Melbournian society dressed to perfection and partying without a care in the world.
But this is a deception. We begin to get hints that Christine is different. By the way she dresses, to the way people treat her at the bar, to her feelings of self-doubt and shockingly low self-esteem.
Then comes the revelation: that our heroine is a troubled young woman plagued by a disease metaphorically known as ‘The Black Dog’:
Perhaps her attempts at starting again, of triumphing over the depression that had tried to devour her—perhaps all of this was in vain.
‘Go home Christine,’ a voice whispered. Icy, malicious and cruel, the voice often tormented her. ‘Go home,’ it continued as Michael introduced her to his friend Bill, as she agreed to another drink and sculled it, hoping it would drown out the voice. As she agreed to dance and pretend to enjoy herself; as she smiled and laughed and did everything that she was meant to do.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
But how did this start for Christine? What was the catalyst, the ‘event’ that saw her plunge into depression?
Betrayal. Betrayal of those closest to her at a time when she was ready to start the next phase of her life; that phase known as adulthood.
What a terrible time to be betrayed. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemies. For you hope to start your new life with the people you have journeyed with so far; or at least rely on them for support and strength.
When Christine, some three years before that night in Melbourne, is getting ready for a night out on Christmas Eve, little does she know of the pain that lies ahead for her:
That image, the hairspray that saturated the room, the smell of Chanel No. 5 and her sister’s nail polish, Madonna’s smooth white arms and smooth white laced gloves, her sensuous lips, a longing for something . . . Christine was drowning in images and smells and sounds…
This night was symbolic, almost: the threshold to a new life. Although Christine felt a hint of apprehension about her future, she was full of hopeful expectations.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
This scene captures the joy Christine is feeling at that moment. But isn’t starting a new phase in life something to celebrate? After all, all cultures have initiation rites, something of a sacred or religious nature that initiates a person—often of a young age—into the community, a religious sect, or secret brotherhood—even a gang!
The purpose of initiation is to transform the person completely: spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, perhaps physically. The ‘novice’ often must go through a series of ordeals that often take on a symbolic nature: of the novice’s ‘death’ as the old person and their ‘birth’ as a new person. Christian baptism itself is a ‘death-rebirth’ initiation rite.
Christine is about to be initiated into the world of adulthood, and for her it certainly takes on a form of spiritual death when, once she leaves that bar on that Christmas Eve—all alone—she comes to the realisation that the world of high school and teenage years has come to a dramatic and final end; that the ‘friends’ she cherished are hollow beings who have no hesitation in stabbing her in the back in the blink of an eye:
She sang that Genesis song under her breath as if she were an automatic tape player, barely giving any thought to the words coming out of her mouth. The wind picked up speed and swept up everything in its path. Christine found some shelter and waited for her mother.
‘What the fuck are they staring at . . . ?’ she fumed under her breath as a passing couple glared at her with hostile surprise. As if she were a rare species they stumbled upon, a freak, and they simply had to soak up the scene before them.
The woman laughed and remarked, ‘Yeah, I agree . . .’ as they sauntered off to wherever it was they were sauntering off to.
Christine looked at her watch. It was just after 11:00. Why was she alone on Christmas Eve, soaked with rain, muttering a Genesis song, a freak show for complete strangers?
Where is she?
Christine longed for her mother despite the tirade she would get, the look that her mother would throw at her. Better her mother’s company than the anguish and confusion turning her world upside down, swirling within her. She clutched at her stomach, wanting to throw up the pain eating away at her.
Such isolation, such loneliness! She felt like a prisoner confined to a solitary cell, a hapless stranger exiled on an island, estranged from the world of man.
The isolation that had started in the bar continued here, on this icy Christmas Eve.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Depression would creep up on her unawares. Much to her dismay and horror. This is Christine’s initiation rite into adulthood.
3. The Initiation Rite
In the beginning, wasn’t there light? There used to be. Now it is extinguished, replaced with chaos, confusion, black night—where one finds oneself drifting in a sea of air.
Winter has come early; a wasted summer lies behind me. Washed out, drowning in tears.
As I write this here, here in my room—my prison, my sanctity—I imagine myself exiled on an island, weeping for something. But what? Captured by some mysterious being I know not the name of.
My mum calls me. ‘Christine, your dad and I are going out for a while’—and I am glad.
But as I hear their footsteps down the hall, as I hear the door slam and the car drive off, I am overcome with such loneliness it terrorises me. Deathly night surrounds me; its silent voice jarring in its cruelty, threatening to suck me into its dead soul.
I pray for sleep, so I can forget for a while. I pray—to whom? To what?—for sweet sleep to descend upon me and for divine guidance to lead me.
But to where?
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Christine finds herself drifting here and there and nowhere. Her 18th birthday comes along; she spends it alone, for she has become so utterly and wretchedly alienated from the world outside her bedroom door. It is as if she is experiencing a death; the old Christine has died, the new Christine has yet to merge. The current Christine is in a state of limbo, of purgatory, of cleansing and purification and struggle for survival.
Perhaps I deserve it. Perhaps I am unworthy of anything else. Perhaps I should just end it all.
And I descend back into my pit, surrounded by glacial eyes and slanderous mouths. I am confronted by visions of death and despair. In these moments, I delve into the most profound questions that have plagued humanity. I feel a need for deep self-reflection and meaning that is so unfathomable it scares me—scares me because I should not be thinking of such things. I should be partying, going out with boyfriends, making out in bars.
What will emerge from this chaos? Earth, night, order, death?
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Depression becomes Christine’s ‘initiatory death’ into, perhaps, a better and stronger person? Initiatory deaths have come to symbolise the death of the old person, only to pave the way to a new person who is at a higher mode of being.
For Christ was in the tomb for three days, after excruciating torture, humiliation and death, only to emerge as the Resurrected Lord according to Christians, having destroyed death by death. . .
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Dying and Rising god stories abound in human history. I think of the story of the ancient Greek goddess Demeter who herself experiences a metaphoric death (depression) over the disappearance of her daughter Persephone; when Persephone once more appears from her ‘home’ (Hades), Demeter rejoices and brings with her the joys of spring and new beginnings.
Christine doesn’t see it, but her depression transforms her for the better; it isolates her from the trivial world of partying and socialising and frivolity and forces her to ask deep existential questions: about herself, about her existence, about the true meaning in life, about faith and spirituality, about Wisdom and beauty, about her identity, about her roots and essentially—forces her to hear the voice of her ancestors and make her way home.
…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
WHAT’S IN A TITLE?
Ah. The book is called Daughter of Odysseus.
Wasn’t he an ancient Greek hero? This sounds like an interesting book. I love ancient Greek history. Is it really about his daughter? It must be! I wonder what she is like? A strong woman like her father Odysseus?
W. . .Wait. It starts off at a crowded bar in a city called Melbourne? In Australia? The land Down Under? But. . .
Where’s Melbourne? And what is that bizarre song playing in the background?
And who is this Christine? Is she the daughter of. . .wait? There is no Odysseus and her father, who is barely seen in the novel, comes across as weak and almost invisible. Hardly an Odysseus-like character.
I’m confused. I’m disappointed. It is not what I expected.
The title is misleading.
WHY THE TITLE?
It is said that titles are what helps determine whether your book will be read and whether it will grab a customer’s interest. And readers of my novel have commented that they wanted to read my book because they’re interested in Ancient Greece and well. . .it sounds like an interesting read because it is about a daughter of one of the greatest heroes of the Ancient World.
Is the title misleading? Well no. Although it could be seen as misleading. Misleading for those who interpret the title literally.
Why Daughter of Odysseus?
Because Christine is the Daughter of Odysseus—spiritually and symbolically speaking.
As I mentioned on my website: www.daughterofodysseus.com:
Christine is based on me—of course, with lots of embellishments—and her story parallels my journey to the motherland and my attempts to establish my roots in the land of Plato and Leonidas.
Gradually, after being exposed to the writings of Homer (again), I came to see Christine’s journey as similar to Odysseus’, in the sense that they were both searching for ‘home’ and had to fight to get to this home. Paralleling Christine with Odysseus came easily, and I relished creating a female character that could stand in line with Ancient Greek heroes in her sufferings and determinations and perseverance.
Christine’s journey is Odysseus’ journey. The similarities, the imagery and symbolism from The Odyssey are subtly interwoven into the story. Both stories are about finding ‘home’ but they are more than that.
They are both stories of hope over despair, of perseverance despite temptations and obstacles. There are adventures and the joys of love, of needing to belong and a yearning to escape the mundane. They are stories about seeking companionship and understanding; of the need to tell stories within stories.
There are monsters and witches. Odysseus’ Cyclopes becomes an uncle who is akin to the brute beast. Circe is like her aunt in the village who practices magic and casts spells, it seems, upon Christine. The villagers, in all, become a type of Laistrygonians—those cannibal-like creatures that tormented Odysseus and his men.
The people of the nation, in general, are like the suitors in Odysseus’ palace who treat the owner like a beggar in rags. For Christine is too like a beggar in many ways, pleading to eat just the crumbs from the table of these Greeks surrounded by culture and history and paradise.
The story of the Wind King who gives Odysseus and his men a bag of wind that is sealed, only to be opened by the selfish men, letting loose all the winds from hell, is also interwove into the story:
A can crashed against the side of her window, frightening her into submission. The cool breeze of that morning had transformed, for just a moment, into a violent bluster, as if all the winds were let loose and steering Christine back to more trouble and heartache.
The bag had been slashed open. The bag, that which contained all the winds of hell, the hurricanes and the rough gales, now lay limply by her feet. The west wind, with its sweet tranquillity and warm breath, disappeared.
Who had opened it? Was it that lack of wisdom, of prudence, that led her precisely to this dilemma? Her illusions, her succumbing to temptation? Her lack of discernment towards the people around her? What was steering her away from her destination?
Christine wanted to fling her arms up in despair. Clutch at the door handle and flee from the car. From the stormy billows blowing her back violently to a people she thought were her solace and protection.
To a people who looked at her with scorn; as a plague and a curse. Who would so easily declare without mercy:
Take yourself away from us, your creeping thing; you who the gods detest, who even the sweet west wind Zephyrus abandons with haste.
Leave at once, for your voyage here is cursed by the heavens themselves.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Found?)
And there is Ithaka. The destination. The goal for both characters. Odysseus’ Ithaka exists; it is an island in the Ionian Sea with beautiful beaches and a palace and ships and all the glories of island life.
Christine’s Ithaka exists, albeit symbolically. Greece, initially, is the physical place that becomes her destination, the nation that will fill the void in her empty existence.
But, as reality sets in, when she realises that the ‘grass is not always greener on the other side,’ what Ithaka is transforms. It becomes something loftier, taking on a philosophical and spiritual dimension, as Christine begins to realise at the end of her stay in Greece:
And there I can see Ithaka--there--in some intangible distance. That which symbolises home. . .life. . .that which truly belongs to me. This suppliant, this outcast. I grab it, but it slips through my fingers again and again. . .crumbling to dust. . .
And she learns, like Odysseus, that it is the journey that matters—not the destination. For Odysseus, our hero, what was important were precisely those years of wandering that tormented him, but that enabled him to transform and be transformed—to grow and reason, to develop and mature, to experiences every iota of one’s senses and intellect. Not the journey. Not Ithaka. For that is the end. That is where one becomes stunted and eventually dies.
No; one must pray for a long journey—a journey that always begins and ends but begins again; a journey where you learn with every strength of your being. A journey that intoxicates you with the mysteries of life and the depth of human and divine wisdom. . .
Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
(Ithaka by Cavafy)
ON RACISM AND HERITAGE IN DAUGHTER OF ODYSSEUS
‘At least I’m not a wog….’;
‘You Greeks killed yourselves through intermarriage…’ (snicker, snicker);
‘You look African…You have black blood…’ (snicker snicker);
‘The Greeks today are mongrels. We Germans are the real Greeks,’ (even though the Germans are descendants of Assyrians – another story);
Are you glad you’re Greek?’ (with a look of pity on their face);
‘Are you white?’ (says the young lad with malice – not that I care either way);
‘Dirty fucking wog…’ (with a spit);
‘When we white nationalists take over Europe, we will take the best of the Greek women for ourselves…’ (Greeks not being ‘white’ of course);
Imagine a man in his forties degrading you in public – literally yelling in your direction - pointing out some ‘ethnic feature’; his goal is to dehumanise you, ostracise you from the wider society and make you feel ugly, worthless and inferior. All this for revenge. Of course, this man perceives himself to be superior and of pure blood.
You must be Jewish because of your ‘features’ and therefore, must be degraded, mocked and belittled.
‘Are you Jewish…?’
‘Even wogs have big noses…’ (yup, these freaks exist. And there are Jews with small noses, but, that’s another story altogether dear reader).
Ah, what is this you ask? Just a taste of what I have had to experience as a Greek woman in Australia.
But it continues; this merry circle of hate and malice continues and grows and now flourishes insidiously.
Ethnic division and hatred, tensions and hostility, nasty stereotypes and spite are, not surprisingly, very noticeable on social media. The reason is obvious: it is through social media that people express their true feelings – when their mask of civility and fake political correctness is discarded; hiding behind a screen, people can state how they really feel. And it’s often not pretty.
Of course, there is the hostility towards Islam, there are the Black Lives Matter movements, the growth of White Nationalism, the horrific treatment of the Palestinians. There is snickering and slander and resentment and diabolical hatred.
There is the rise of populism in Europe, followed by violence and the rise of the ‘right’ due to (forced) multiculturalism. There is fear and anger and confusion.
One has to look at the hatred towards Donald Trump as reflective of ‘white supremacy’ to see how this issue causes unbelievable anger.
There are notions of ‘The Great Replacement;’ Europeans who fear they will become minorities in their ancestral lands. There are feelings of revenge and ‘karma is a bitch’ by those who have suffered from colonialism.
‘The British are becoming a minority in many parts of Britain,’ say the white nationalist with alarm.
‘They get what they deserve. It is karma,’ says an Indian with a sense of vengeance.
I am beginning to think that humanity is more divided than ever.
2. We need to belong:
We learn very early on that, in the midst of depression, Christine feels alienated from the land she was born in. Perhaps it is her depression that accentuates this feeling; perhaps it was always going to happen.
Perhaps the longing for roots and heritage and knowing the mysterious past is just too intrinsic within each of us and Christine becomes deeply attuned to this. After all, to quote the great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis:
THE CRY IS not yours. It is not you talking, but innumerable ancestors talking with your mouth. It is not you who desire, but innumerable generations of descendants longing with your heart.
You are not free. Myriad invisible hands hold your hands and direct them; when you rise in anger, a great-grandfather froths at your mouth; when you make love, an ancestral caveman growls with lust; when you sleep, tombs open in your memory till your skull brims with ghosts…
(The Saviours of God)
Kazantzakis paints a spectacular image of an individual who is not isolated, not stranded and drifting here and there and nowhere; no, this individual contains the blood and flesh and memories and desires and sins of their ancestors.
Kazantzakis’ writings here influence greatly the determination of Christine; indeed, I draw a lot of inspiration from them. His image of her ancestors crying to her to – Finish our work! Finish our work! – is thrilling – so is his concept that we are to enrich the ancestral body and bring to it new hopes and ideas and fresh sorrows.
We saw in Part One of this blog series (http://www.vasilikim.com/blog/on-racism-and-heritage-in-daughter-of-odysseus) that Christine longs for something more than what this alien land of Australia can offer her. With its alien spirits and wandering ancestors and strange spirituality:
She came to the same conclusion as before: this land meant nothing to her. She twitched with an overwhelming desire to burst into tears. She could not relate to this land; she did not look upon it and feel the divine speaking through her, feel the spirit of her ancestors crying out to her. Yet she wanted to.
The physical and spiritual pain overwhelmed her, as if she were undergoing a spiritual transformation, an initiation into a new world to which she had to prove worthy.
She longed more than anything to gaze upon crystal blue waters infused with myths and holiness—waters that healed her, which soothed her soul and her shattered nerves. She wanted to hear voices—sweet, gentle voices singing a song of her ancestors long gone. Lily-like voices resounding around her, leading her towards a beautiful land in the far horizon.
But instead of a song, there was silence.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Christine’s sense of alienation might lie in deep existential philosophising and the spirit of her ancestors crying within her, as Kazantzakis says: Your visible body is the living men, women, and children of your own race. Yet it is her experience as an ethnic woman in a land of Anglo-Saxons that, no doubt, causes this alienation and despair to intensify to harrowing degrees. That creates a sense of desperation within because she knows, she knows this is not how she should be living, how she should be treated.
Christine, with her uniqueness and exotic beauty and dreams and aspirations and intelligence and compassion, Christine in all her faults, deserves to feel human…
She felt fresh, alive, and even desirable. Desirable and employable. Perhaps she did have potential and that here was the start she needed: the new beginning, her exit from the Tomb—the Cocoon—or whatever it is that contained her.
At that instant, she had transformed. She was no longer betrayed, broken and bitter Christine.
She was a nymph of old, revelling in the Resurrection of the Dead. She was the Spring Goddess Chloris, bedecked in sparkling gold, illuminating a world shrouded in shadows and bringing with her a world of colour and light.
A butterfly brushed her arm. A swallow flittered before her. The sky winked with joy as trees blossomed.
A carpet of flowers lay before her feet. Stretching her arms above her, she dove into the cascade of velvety petals, disappearing forever.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
An image of optimistic joy. Things start to look up for the young Christine as we see her leave her new employer and walk down the central heart of her city of Adelaide.
Alas, her sense of hope and bliss soon dissipate because of black words spoken from a black heart full of mystifying hate and rage:
‘Watch where you’re fuckin’ going!’
The voice was rough, jarring, and hateful. It shattered the illusion that was her comforting joy a few seconds ago.
‘Dirty fuckin’ wog,’ the man raged, spitting at her to emphasise his disgust. ‘Dirty fuckin’ wog,’ he repeated, just in case she had not heard him. With that, he marched away, leaving behind him a trail of crushing words, syllables, and letters.
A young man with white blond hair and pasty white skin that ached for the kiss of sunlight, that ached for life and beauty. He slouched away, snarling as he turned to look at her one more time.
He left his wounded victim where he found her, as people looked at her as if she were an exhibit at a zoo, laughing, smirking and pitying.
‘Dirty fucking wog.’
The words ricocheted off the stones and the fountains and even the Malls Balls in the distance, declaring to all--
You are the Other. You are less than human.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
Only someone who has experienced such hate and dehumanisation in public (but in private as well) can truly understand how traumatic this was for Christine. For it was not just the words, as vile as they were; it was the gesture of spitting, it was the private snickering and the looks of pity. It was a public declaration to all that Christine was not one of ‘them’, let alone human.
The spitting was a form of violence in itself, perhaps worse than punching or kicking a victim:
“Spitting in someone's face is probably considered one of the worst things you can do. It's obviously a form of violence, very confrontational, perhaps the most violent you can be against someone without actually hitting them.”
The young man, however, achieves his sadistic goal:
The sea of petals disappeared; she was now drowning in murky waters, drifting towards a monstrous whirlpool. She was being dragged down to the netherworld, where there was no light, no hope.
She walked faster, head bowed and knees trembling. Pretending, pretending she could not see or hear. She longed to run back to Chic Boutique, into the arms of Spiros. There, he would hold her, and she would sink into the black satin shirt. He would whisper in her ears, tell her she was desirable, beautiful, as he lifted her top and caressed her breasts. He would make love to her and take her to another realm of existence. Away, away from this world she hated. A world where she did not belong, a world that made her feel ugly, useless, unloved.
Alarmed by her libidinous train of thought, Christine pushed Spiros out of her mind. And as she crossed the road and made her way towards her bus stop, she became filled with unspeakable fury, by a desperate and frenzied urge to thrust her fists into that young man’s face, into all their faces. She was not dirty—or a wog, for that matter.
Wog. The ethnic slur that Greeks, Italians and other Mediterranean Europeans tolerated from the first moment they entered this country.
Western Oriental Gentlemen.
Dirty, greasy, subhuman. Christine had been called far worse in the past, but this attack distressed her terribly.
Could such intolerance, such hate still exist for fellow Europeans in this country?
Christine reflected on how much she resented this country. She wouldn’t care if she left it, for it was not her country; it was the country of the British race that claimed it, colonised it and reduced the original inhabitants to strangers in their own land.
Who in their arrogance did not see that they too were now being colonised.
It was not her country, but what was? For that matter, who was she? Who was Christine? Who was she in the eyes of the stranger who derided her for bumping into him down a busy mall?
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
4. She heeds the call:
Despite incidences such as these, despite the attempts to strip her of her dignity and reduce her to a sick, twisted racial stereotype with the wrong colour hair and eyes and skin, the wrong nose and who knows what else – despite all of this – Christine retains her sense of humanity and most of all – her longing…
To understand herself within the context of her people’s history and humanity. To not give in to the hate around her and disappear, assimilate and, in turn, betray the ancestors clutching at her with cries she simply cannot ignore:
IT IS NOT enough to hear the tumult of ancestors within you. It is not enough to feel them battling at the threshold of your mind. All rush to clutch your warm brain and to climb once more into the light of day.
(The Saviours of God)
And so the journey, the search for home and hearth and heritage begins; the need to give flesh and substance to the ancestors that came before you and to continue their work. To be a beautiful leaf on the ‘great tree’ of your people and to flourish as you always intended.
So here I am. Ready to fly to Greece—true to the wandering spirit of my ancestors, who roamed the world in search of truth and wisdom—in search of new knowledge, in search of a home abandoned a long time ago…
Such restlessness—such desire within me.
I must pay heed to the restless spirit within me, as expressed in the great Odysseus, and make my way home.
(Daughter of Odysseus: Ithaka Calling)
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