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MYTH SALON: Tales of Home: Learning Who We Are From Homer’s Odyssey with Dr. Joel Christensen

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MYTH SALON: Tales of Home: Learning Who We Are From Homer’s Odyssey with Dr. Joel Christensen

The story of Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan War is well-known as the core of Homer’s Odyssey and as part of a recurring structure in myth and storytelling. The story of the Odyssey is more than one of adventure, it is also a re-integration into a community called a nostos (‘homecoming”). In its epic narrative, a nostos is a psychologically rich reflection on what comprises our identities. Odysseus’ journey home communicates deep knowledge about the working of human minds: how stories and storytelling let us know who we are and how what we believe about ourselves can limit what we do in the world. In this presentation, I frame the Odyssey as conveying an essential ‘folk psychology’, echoing modern theories such as learned helplessness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and narrative therapy. In particular, I will explore how the Odyssey models the return to self and community after suffering trauma and the lessons this provides us as we think about returning from our pandemic isolation. As the practice of narrative therapy demonstrates, telling our stories to each other helps us understand who we are and create our agency for future actions. I will close by reflecting on reunions with fathers for Father’s Day: the Odyssey models this important step in returning home and I did not understand this fully until my own father was gone.

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