The Secrets of the Odyssey (13): Journeying on Snakelike Wet Paths

While reading Hermes Guide of Souls: The Mythologem of the Masculine Source of Life by Karl Kerènyi I came across the following passage describing the nature of Odysseus’s journeying and the special patronage of Hermes over Odysseus:

“We previously called the Odyssey a journey epic, and we must now imagine the often experienced reality of ‘journeying’ as something very special, in contradistinction to ‘roaming’ or ‘travelling.’ Odysseus is not a ‘traveller.’ He is a ‘journeyer,’ not simply because of his moving from place to place, but because of his existential situation. The traveller, despite his motion, adheres to a solid base, albeit one that is not narrowly circumscribed. With each step, he takes possession of another piece of earth. This taking possession is, of course, only psychological. In that with each extension of the horizon he also expands himself, his claim of possession on the earth expands continuously as well. But he remains always bound to a solid earth beneath his feet, and he even looks for human fellowship. At every hearth that he encounters he lays claim to a kind of native citizenship for himself. … His guardian is not Hermes, but Zeus, the god of the widest horizon and the firmest ground. In contrast, the situation of the journeyer is defined by movement, fluctuation. To someone more deeply rooted, even to the traveler, he appears to be always in flight. In reality, he makes himself vanish (‘volatizes himself’) to everyone, also to himself. Everything around him becomes to him ghostly and improbable, and even his own reality appears to him as ghostlike. He is completely absorbed by movement, but never by a human community that would tie him down.

The journeyer is at home while underway, at home on the road itself, the road being understood not as a connection between two definite points on the earth’s surface, but as a particular world. It is the ancient world of the path, also of the ‘wet paths’ … of the sea, which are above all, the genuine roads of the earth. For, unlike the Roman highways which cut unmercifully straight through the countryside, they run snakelike, shaped like irrationally waved lines, conforming to the contours of the land,  winding, yet leading everywhere. Being open to everywhere is part of their nature. Nevertheless, they form a world in its own right, a middle-domain, where a person in that volatized condition has access to everything. He who moves about familiarly in this world-of-the-road has Hermes for his God, for it is here that the most salient aspect of Hermes’s world is portrayed. Hermes is constantly underway: he is enodios (‘by the road’) and hodios (‘belonging to a journey’), and one encounters him on every path. … His role as leader and guide is often cited and celebrated, and, at least since the time of the Odyssey, he is also called angelos (‘messenger’), the messenger of the Gods.” (pp. 13-15)

Evelyn de Morgan, "Mercury"

Evelyn de Morgan, “Mercury”

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31 Responses to The Secrets of the Odyssey (13): Journeying on Snakelike Wet Paths

  1. SiriusOryon says:

    Quite an accurate delineation of the two words and their distinct meanings 😉

  2. jeanraffa says:

    Being a journeyer who loves to travel, I particularly love this!!! Thank you,

  3. Aquileana says:

    Hi Monika~ Great post … I much enjoyed the reading and particularly these excerpts:
    “Odysseus is not a ‘traveller.’ He is a ‘journeyer,’ not simply because of his moving from place to place, but because of his existential situation. The traveller, despite his motion, adheres to a solid base, albeit one that is not narrowly circumscribed… His guardian is not Hermes, but Zeus, the god of the widest horizon and the firmest ground. In contrast, the situation of the journeyer is defined by movement, fluctuation. To someone more deeply rooted, even to the traveler, he appears to be always in flight:.
    I like the way you highlight Hermes’ ethereal and nomadic nature… It is interesting that in the context of Homer’s Odyssey the fact of being a journeyer is almost a punishment!… The way Odysseus’ wonderings are described there makes us think in a sort of lost, uprooting, probably homesickness situation… Penelope emphasizes this feeling as she long waits for her beloved to arrive back home… Sending you all my best wishes!. Aquileana 😀

    • Yes, Penelope is also afflicted by Odysseus’ journeying – forever suspended between certainty and uncertainty, hope and despair, life and death. She is an extraordinary character.
      My very best wishes to you. Thank you for commenting and liking my posts.
      Monika

  4. litebeing says:

    Wonder if the journeyer is linked to a journeyman? Interesting differentiation between the two paths.
    I love the open road and sometimes feel more like me in the car on a road trip than at home, but it depends on who is accompanying me and what are the circumstances around the trip?
    2 songs come to mind that evoke journeyer , Take it to the limit by the Eagles, and Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane.

    Happy Trails Monika!

  5. Hi Monika. As always, your posts are right on time. I recently watched a film version of Kerouac’s “On The Road,” so the metaphor of the road has been prominent in my mind. Additionally, my cousin in England has expressed an interest in reading The Odyssey together and discussing via video chat. I remember you mentioning a verse translation that you thought captured the lyric quality of the original text. Could you share that with me?

    Thanks again for your inspiring posts. Always makes me happy to read your words of wisdom.

    Jeff

    • It is great to be always in sync with you, but I also try to be in sync with the stars, and somehow during all Mercury retrogrades I always think about Odysseus. The translation you asked about was by Fitzgerald.
      Thank you for commenting.
      Monika

  6. The Hooded Claw says:

    (…)Be it so, be quick
    Don’t run, just walk and walk and walk
    Don’t loose yourself to decorate
    Somewhere on your wall
    Cause somewhere in your mind
    You know you are doing fine (…)

    Messenger – Blonde Redhead

    (I though it would be an appropriate soundtrack for this post)

  7. Pingback: The Secrets of the Odyssey (13): Journeying on Snakelike Wet Paths | lampmagician

  8. An interesting distinction, but I would venture to say that Odysseus is really neither; that he is a “quester.” He is not traveling for its own sake–he has a destination, although the strength of his resolve to return always being tried, and he is always being tempted to forget about it. But all his efforts are aimed at the goal of returning to Ithaca and Telemachus and Penelope.
    That said, I do appreciate and share your view of the “Odyssey” as a spiritual document, and I’ll be back to study your posts more thoroughly. I humbly suggest my own essay “The Ideal of the Odyssey” on my blog. Best of luck!

    • Yes, I can see how he could be called a quester. I would say he is both – a journeyer redeemed in the end by reaching the goal of his quest. Perhaps those two orientations do not have to be contradictory. Like you, I also explored the notion of nostos, especially here: https://symbolreader.net/2014/07/14/the-secrets-of-the-odyssey-10-return-to-ithaca-through-the-cave-of-the-nymphs/
      I am just reading your Ideal of the Odyssey and I appreciate so many of your reflections, especially about the palpable feminine presence in the epic, all your Platonic references, such as Penelope’s memory of unity, and how she provides stability “that keeps the soul ready for the return of conscience.” I also appreciate your take on the suitors as “the mul­ti­tude of thoughts and desires that con­sti­tute the ego.” However, their multitude reminds me also, paradoxically, of the shadow and the invasion of the shadow – perhaps they also symbolize all the qualities that Penelope has been repressing (just a Jungian thought..).
      Thank you for visiting my blog and drawing my attention to your writing.
      Monika

      • dabeardsley says:

        Monika, again, thanks for exploring these allegorical themes. I’ve also read a fair amount of Gregory Nagy’s work, and would recommend a work by Douglas Frame, “The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic,” available at http://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/4317
        He goes into great detail about the word nostos in particular.
        As you may have seen from my site, I’ve recently published a longer work on the Odyssey which also looks at Porphyry and other commentators. It’s available in print or Kindle, but I’d be glad to send you a pdf if you’re interested. I can appreciate if you don’t want to give out your email, so maybe can figure out some other way to get it to you. Take care.

      • Hi,
        Oh yes, I would be really interested in reading your book. Thank you!
        Monika

      • dabeardsley says:

        Great, Monika. I’ve posted a link on my blog, idealinthewest.com You’ll see a post for Journey Back to Where You Are–just click it and you should be taken to a downloadable pdf. I’ll leave it up for a week or so. Feel free to share it with your readers if you like, and let me know what you think. Take care.

      • Thank you! I found it.

  9. Well this was fascinating and thank you.

  10. dabeardsley says:

    Monika, I assume the reply was to me and not Steve McCabe, and I’m glad you liked it. Keep up the good work.

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