The myth of redemptive violence is one that is told throughout history. It is one in which violence is the creator. Whether it be creation of the cosmos, peace, or some other result, in this myth violence results in redemption. This myth has been imbedded in our society to such a degree that it is naturalized and accepted as the way things are without much reflection. For example, many Christians probably don’t contemplate the ways redemptive violence is at the heart of their religion. A classic example of the myth of redemptive violence is found in the elaborate poem The Odyssey.
Many elements of violence and how we associate with violence are explored within the multitude of pages of this tale. In book nine Odysseus has to confront Polythemus, the Cyclops who is Poseidon’s son. Odysseus and his men where trapped within Polythemus’s cave, which had wine and other luxuries in it. But the Cyclops is intent on eating every last one of them and saving Odysseus, or “Nohbdy,” as Odysseus presented himself to the Cyclops, for last. Odysseus later blinds Polythemus with a burning stick, leaving him aggrieved and in pain.
Writhing in pain, he opens the rock, letting Odysseus’s crew escape. This is just a primal form of the myth, but by injuring Polythemus Odysseys is released, illustrating the productive side of violence. In book ten Odysseus finds himself on the island of Aeolus, which is occupied by the witch Circe. She lures Odysseus’s men into her house and turns them into swine. Odysseus, who has an antidote to the witch’s drugs given to him by the god Hermes, is immune to the witch’s drugs and threatens her with the violence of his sword and she takes him to her bed where he persuaded her to change back his men.
Well my prayer didn’t come true. We had another very strange couple of days. Our ship came upon an island of Cyclops. What strange creatures they are. Once again Odysseus only had a few men go onto the island and the others stay on the ship. Once again I was chosen to go. Once we climbed on the island we went into the very first cave we saw. There was no Cyclops in there so I told Odysseus ...
This tale within The Odyssey is one of violence such those Walter Wink wrote about in “The Myth of Redemptive Violence. ” He writes, “cosmic order requires the violent suppression of the feminine and is mirrored in the social order by the subjugation of women to men and people to ruler. ” Wink goes on to explain that this pattern can be found in Greek myths and in a range of other cultural expressions through history, right up to cartoons in modern day media. Central to this version f the myth is the suppression of powerful females, and their bodies are laid out to create the cosmos in some cases. The Odyssey provides a classic example: Circe, a powerful temptress, is subdued by Odysseus’s threat of violence, therefore placing Odysseus socially above her. Throughout the book Odysseus is faced with endless hardships. He is thrown through massive and relentless life threatening ordeals. He then comes home and finds that he must compete for his wife. These travails point toward paradoxes in the human condition.
At times, we crave pain and it allows us to associate our inner evils and our violence, and that is exactly what The Odyssey does. As Wink stated in his analysis of a cartoon, “the ‘Tammuz’ element where the hero suffers – actually consumes all but the closing minutes, allowing ample time for indulging the violent side of the self. When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their inner tendencies, repress them, and re-establish a sense of goodness …” We get a good look at this process in The Odyssey, especially when Penelope asks, how do you move the bed?
Odysseus replies, you can’t because I fashioned it out of a live olive tree, proving that he was truly Odysseus. The Odyssey is filled with redemptive violence, whether it be against Troy, Scally and Charibdys, Circe, and, most notably, the slaughtering of the suitors. The violence is not all just straight forward, there are power hierarchies, complex relationships, and other factors to account for in viewing violence in this incredible story.