I am Nobody: Survival, Self-Denial, and the Odyssey


As Odysseus stood before the cyclops, in order to survive, he introduced himself as “Nobody.”  An odd name, but it would ultimately come in handy.  Later on, when Odysseus blinded the beast, the stumbling cyclops could only identify his attacker as “Nobody,” the alias Odysseus forged for himself.  Fellow beasts could offer little help to the Cyclops in finding “Nobody.”  Odysseus outsmarted the beast and was altogether unscathed.  Or was he?  As the story goes, twenty years later, upon returning home from his odyssey, Odysseus went largely unrecognizable. He passed by his family and friends like ships in the night.  No second glances.  No familiarity.  No greeting.  Nothing.  Nobody.  Though preserving himself from the Cyclops, Odysseus had almost completely lost his identity in the process by reducing himself to “nobody.”
Philosophers and social theorists have long viewed these scenes as Homer’s brilliant commentary on the dynamics that social oppression has on an individual.  Like Odysseus in the shadow of the Cyclops, when one stands before a powerful entity or controlling system, towering above the rest and legitimizes a single unifying vision and a “God’s-eye-view” of reality, one will do anything to survive.  In order for Odysseus to survive, he reduced his identity to “Nobody,” quickly abandoning his sense of Self.  But self-preservation via self-denial leads to the destruction of the very thing it is meant to preserve, namely, the Self.  Rationalizing away one’s own identity in the face of any Cyclops (be it sexism, racism, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, etc.) may preserve the longevity of a life, but will ultimately destroy the quality and authenticity of that life. Odysseus could not receive the warmth and love from his family upon his return home because he forfeited sense of Self in order to get home.  


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