Skip to main content


Oh, brave Odysseus, son of Laertes! You were so beloved by the bright-eyed Athena and - after slaying the Suitors and resettling with your faithful wife, Penelope, - you were granted by Zeus a long peaceful life in your beloved Ithaca.  Home at last!

Homer told us your dazzling story that might have taken place around 1200 B.C. Now fast forward 2500 years, and this how Dante Alighieri described meeting your Spirit burning in the Eighth Circle of Hell:

Then of the antique flame the greater horn,
  Murmuring, began to wave itself about
  Even as a flame doth which the wind fatigues.
Thereafterward, the summit to and fro
  Moving as if it were the tongue that spake,
  It (Odysseus' Spirit, TWP) uttered forth a voice,
  and said: "When I
From Circe had departed, who concealed me
  More than a year there near unto Gaeta,
  Or ever yet Aeneas named it so,
Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence
  For my old father, nor the due affection
  Which joyous should have made Penelope,
Could overcome within me the desire
  I had to be experienced of the world,
  And of the vice and virtue of mankind;
But I put forth on the high open sea
  With one sole ship, and that small company
  By which I never had deserted been.
Both of the shores I saw as far as Spain,
  Far as Morocco, and the isle of Sardes,
  And the others which that sea bathes round about.
I and my company were old and slow
  When at that narrow passage we arrived
  Where Hercules his landmarks set as signals,
That man no farther onward should adventure.
  On the right hand behind me left I Seville,
  And on the other already had left Ceuta.
'O brothers, who amid a hundred thousand
  Perils,' I said, 'have come unto the West,
  To this so inconsiderable vigil
Which is remaining of your senses still
  Be ye unwilling to deny the knowledge,
  Following the sun, of the unpeopled world.
Consider ye the seed from which ye sprang;
  Ye were not made to live like unto brutes,
  But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.'
So eager did I render my companions,
  With this brief exhortation, for the voyage,
  That then I hardly could have held them back.
And having turned our stern unto the morning,
  We of the oars made wings for our mad flight,
  Evermore gaining on the larboard side.
Already all the stars of the other pole
  The night beheld, and ours so very low
  It did not rise above the ocean floor.
Five times rekindled and as many quenched
  Had been the splendour underneath the moon,
  Since we had entered into the deep pass,
When there appeared to us a mountain, dim
  From distance, and it seemed to me so high
  As I had never any one beheld.
Joyful were we, and soon it turned to weeping;
  For out of the new land a whirlwind rose,
  And smote upon the fore part of the ship.
Three times it made her whirl with all the waters,
  At the fourth time it made the stern uplift,
  And the prow downward go, as pleased Another,
Until the sea above us closed again."

Inferno, Canto XXVI, bold letters by TWP

Why did you, Odysseus, - King of Strategy, The Clever One - abandon your land and family again in search for the ultimate self-fulfillment and joy of adventure?  Did you and your brave men have to meet such a terrible end?  Why did you offer Poseidon another chance to take revenge upon you?  Did you forget you blinded Poseidon's son, the Cyclops Polyphemus, with a wooden stake? And you boasted about it! Where was Athena? Or was Dante merely rewriting your true story that unfolded just as it was ordained by the Gods and told by Homer?  Or, perhaps, I only imagined your cruel death and punishment, Odysseus? Perhaps I did imagine it all, who knows?

Must we - like you, Odysseus, -  seek thrills, all else be damned? I too abandoned my beloved parents and country for the thrill of adventure.  Am I a better man 31 years hence?

P.S. Dante Alighieri, suffering from a mid-life crisis on his 35th birthday, decided to take a hike to the bottom of Hell, but froze in fear before he reached Hell's outer gates. It thus became obvious to God that Dante needed both courage and mentoring to fulfill his life's adventure. Virgil became Dante's wise guide only after pleading from three saints:  Beatrice, Rachel, and Lucia.  Just like Zeus could not resist his beautiful daughter, Athena, pleading for Odysseus, God could not resist the beautiful gentle Beatrice.

Oh, gorgeous women, you always have your way with Gods! And with men like Newt Gingrich, but not so with Rick Santorum, whose attitude towards women is decidedly 13th century. Rick should then know that his medieval God punishes forbidden love and plain lust much less severely than other vices:  Cleopatra, Helen, Paris, and Tristan reside in the First Circle of Hell after all, and Romeo and Juliet were not even born yet during Dante's short escapade.

The truth is that both Newt and Rick already belong in the Eight Circle of Hell, and one day the black Cherubim will say to the angels: "Do not take them, wrong me not!  They must come down with my minions because they gave the fraudulent counsel...for he who repents not cannot be absolved, nor is it possible to repent of a thing and to will it at the same time, for the contradiction does not allow it." Actually, we cannot be sure what the black Cherubim will do with Newt.  He fits like a kid glove into three or more Circles of Hell.  What is Newt's destiny: free roasting, or just boiling pitch pits guarded by the hyperactive devils with sharp forks? Where are Alichino, Draghignazzo, Grafficane, or Farfarello, when we need them?

Dante went much farther into the Realm of Shadows than Odysseus.  Odysseus merely sought the Spirit of the blind prophet Tiresias of Thebes. In this respect, Dante's quest for self-fulfillment was deeper and more dangerous. In Dante's story, Odysseus was thrown into the second deepest circle of Hell for treachery and false advice. So much for wisdom, bravery, perseverance, and respect for the Gods. Our new unforgiving God does not care about these virtues as much as He sees our vices and mercilessly punishes us. Dante witnessed all gradations of God's wrath and eternal damnation one day before Good Friday in the year 1300.


Popular posts from this blog

Green New Deal III - How to transit from fossil energy to renewables?

In Part I, I showed how most people have little understanding of the complex issues of global power transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and may jump to false and dangerous conclusions colored green by ignorance.  In Part II, I demonstrated that if humans continue to outdo rabbits in procreation, no energy transition strategy will ever succeed and the entire planet will become a miserable, Mordor-like dump with most nature extinct.

Here I will sketch the gargantuan scale of nonrenewable resources necessary to make the "Green New Deal" plausible.  Some of these resources are already depleted or miners cannot produce them fast enough to keep you happy.  Thus, you will not be pleased with what you read, but I am not alone. And by the depleted resources I mean not only the rich ores, easy oil and natural gas, but also the tropical and boreal forests, tundra, the Midwestern soil disappearing fast into the Gulf of Mexico in exchange for the "renewable" (not!) corn…

A brief story of the human future

Here at KAUST, we had three good rains in the last ten days. I just finished my 18 km bike ride and inhaled the vibrant shades of green of all leaves and the efervescent colors of flowers. The mangroves along the coast are growing vigorously, and today they were a bouquet of seledines reflected by the crystal clear water. It is peace where I live. Things could not be better.

Why then am I so worried? First this legal disclaimer: I am no Tralfamadorian.  I do not have the ability to experience reality in four dimensions; cannot access past, present, and future; and am unable to perceive any instant of time at will. Tralfamadorians are able to see the entire timeline of the universe, they know the exact time and place of the universe's annihilation caused by an unfortunate Tralfamadorian experiment, but are powerless to prevent the inevitable. Because they believe that when a living being dies, she continues to live in other times and places, their well-known response to death is, &…

All is well on our planet Earth, isn't it?

Please don't act with surprise when I say this: The global climate change is real; global warming is accelerating, especially in the northern hemisphere; and the positive feedbacks that will further exacerbate human condition are kicking in with vengeance.  I am stating the scientifically obvious, but I have not made it clear yet just how bad this climate change will be for us humans. For millennia, we have relied on the "free" environmental services that are going away.  These life-giving services are clean air to breathe, fertile soil, mild temperatures, healthy forests and savannas, healthy rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, sufficient rain, full aquifers, clean drinking water, and ample snowpacks.  When you are in China, in the Middle East, or in Central Valley in California, most or all of these services are either damaged or gone.

Let's fast forward to a recent article under this promising title: Climate report understates threat. This article was written by Dr.…