Three thousand years ago, there lived a great hero named Ulysses (or Odysseus, if you prefer), king of Ithaca, champion of the Trojan War, and, it turns out, pioneer of personal finance.
Ulysses wrestled Ajax, retrieved the body of Achilles (the hero shot in his heel), and devised the clever Trojan horse, which allowed the Greek army to infiltrate Troy and end the decade-long struggle.
When the conflict was over, Ulysses spent another ten years desperately trying to sail home to Ithaca. He visited the lotus-eaters, was captured by (and escaped from) the cyclops, evaded both cannibals and the witch-god Circe. He slipped past the six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool called Charybdis. After all these troubles (and more!), Ulysses reached Ithaca and regained his throne.
Ulysses was mighty. He was tough, both mentally and physically. But he was only human.
Like anyone, he was subject to temptation. He was deceitful. He was rash. He sometimes shirked responsibility. (He and his men wasted an entire year on Circe’s island “feasting upon an untold quantity both of meat and wine”.) Most of all, Ulysses was proud. Immodest. Boastful.
Fortunately, Ulysses was also self-aware.
In an episode combining both his strength and weakness of character, Ulysses decides he wants to hear the seductive song of the Sirens. Foolish, yes, and he knows it. Because he realizes he’s doing something dumb, Ulysses orders his men to prepare for possible problems. He plugs their ears with wax.
But first he commands: “Take me and bind me to the crosspiece half way up the mast; bind me as I stand upright, with a bond so fast that I cannot possibly break away, and lash the rope’s ends to the mast itself. If I beg and pray you to set me free, then bind me more tightly still.”
“Come here,” the Sirens sing. “No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song.”
No one, that is, until Ulysses. [Read more…]