Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker’s weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and a guide to using its waters to reflect on and improve your life.
Photo by Rina Pitucci.
This week’s selection comes from Seneca. In his Moral Letters (88.7), he describes the real lessons to be learned from Homer’s The Odyssey:
What It Means
Scholars and students – from ancient times to this day – toil away trying to figure out and remember all the names, dates and locations from Homer’s epic, but all those details are beside the point. Take a closer look at this line:
Show me rather, by the example of Ulysses, how I am to love my country, my wife, my father, and how, even after suffering shipwreck, I am to sail toward these ends, honourable as they are.
To Seneca, the real lessons of this story are the moral lessons. I know, surprising right? The Odyssey isn’t about cyclops monsters, Trojan horses or braving stormy seas; it’s about love, honour, temptation, hubris and perseverance.
What to Take From It
Back in school, teachers may have quizzed you on details from a book, lecture, tour or film to see if you actually paid attention to the material. It’s a system that sometimes works, but it ingrains the wrong approach to education in our minds. Instead of focusing on the real lessons of a story – the why – we instead learned to note the who, what, when and where. We learned to “study for test”. It’s time to stop that if you haven’t already.
Most of us are out of school now, and there are no longer tests for us to study for. It’s time you learn to study just for you. When you read books, watch movies and see plays, look for ways to apply the lessons the characters learn to your own life. Unless you plan on being a quiz show winner, there’s no need to remember all those little details that don’t make you a better person.