Home and Homelessness in Epic, Part 4

Conclusion and Personal Comment

It never occurred to me that “home” could have so many levels of meaning. “Home” is something extremely human and when given reverence it approaches the sacred. In both the Odyssey and Beloved, “home” supports the story. If Odysseus were merely an adventurer, the story would be interesting and a good read, but it is the quest–a longing to return to this thing he calls “home” that is part of its universality. It is part of the human condition to have a home. In Beloved, 124 Bluestone Road is central to the story. The house itself could arguably be considered a character–so strong is its presence in the book, but the structure itself is not what makes it a home. The place at 124 Bluestone Road is a stage upon which the drama of creating a “home” is enacted.

These epics provide not a definition but a map. This map is multidimensional ranging from instinctual to sacred. It is amazing that something so commonplace can be so eloquently depicted. These epics invite us to pause and consider something as simple as going home. By so doing we come away with having met the divine. Outside of our own personal essence, our home is among the most intimate of our experiences and being homeless is among the most tragic.

According to Dennis Patrick Slattery, “The heroic needs right images to yearn for–be it the promise of a new city, the desire to retrieve a friend from death, the hearth one has lost, the heavenly city one hopes to gain, or the invisible presence of the numinous in nature. Paradoxically, the images toward which one journeys already exist in memory.” In both the Odyssey and Beloved, “home” is one of these “right images” yearned for.

Louise Cowan says: “Epic shows us again and again the pattern of moving from the old myth to a new, carrying everything of value with it as it goes. Yet it has to be recognized that the future toward which the epic poet looks is a future not yet realized … “. This sense of home is one of the values these epics carry forward. As with other myths that are today seen as failing, myth of “home” must be created by the individual, just as s/he must create her/his personal mythology. All of the components seen here through Telemachus, Odysseus and Baby Suggs may not be required in order to make an individual home. However, bringing these elements into consciousness may contribute to forwarding a working myth. The literal sense of a “fixed residence” is now quite flat relative to this epic expansion. Working the terms “home” and “homeless(ness)” through these epic examples has given me a mythic understanding of them. “Home” now is, by far, a richer place to be.


When writing this essay several years ago, I was, myself, in the throes of losing my “home”. I never had to live in my car or a tent city. A friend let me and my 13-year-old daughter live over her garage in winter which had no insulation, no heat, no water, no kitchen, no. . . well, you get the idea. Unpacking the term “home” in those conditions helped me through those difficult 6 months. I also felt I experienced “homeless” and “homelessness” in a visceral, not theoretical, sense. Both the writing of the essay and the lived experience opened me to a broader richer appreciation of “home”; and some compassion for the “homeless” and “homelessness”.

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