Haunted by Homer's Sirens | National Humanities Center

Humanities Moments

Haunted by Homer’s Sirens

July 17, 2020

Guthrie, Kevin (Center Trustee; Founder/President, ITHAKA)

Physical Trauma; Ancient Greek Literature; Epic Poetry;

About seven months ago, our son was in a tragic ski accident, and was in a coma for close to a month. And during that really painful time, we didn’t know what was going to happen. Was he ever going to wake up? Was he not going to wake up?

I, myself, couldn’t sleep and I was haunted all the time by thoughts of what might happen to him in the future, and how did this happen, and thinking about the past. And I remember thinking in one of those late-night moments about “The Odyssey” and about the description of the sirens on the banks. Of Odysseus asking to be tied to the mast, and having beeswax in his sailors’ ears, and realizing I had these kind of spirits that were haunting me.

In that context, I remember thinking very directly, “I know what those sirens are. I know what that’s about.” I didn’t know before then what—at least for me—that poem was saying. And at that moment, I realized the sirens were really from the future and from the past, and that in dealing with this situation with our son—the only way to deal with this—was by staying very much in the present.


Classics / Physical Trauma / Ancient Greek Literature / Epic Poetry /

Read More Humanities Moments