June 17, 2108 - The Missouri Scholars Academy, Columbia, Missouri

The Greeks were keen on omens of all sorts.  Birds, numbers, meteorological phenomena... just about anything and everything could be a portent of divinity and destiny.

So the fact that my lone June performance of The Odyssey fell on Father's Day seemed like a nice thematically-appropriate omen: The Odyssey is after all a story about a father (and son).

Though the relationship between Odysseus and Telemachus gets (appropriately) primary billing in most considerations of The Odyssey I've recently been thinking more about the male relationships across two generations as portrayed in the story.  

With Odysseus absent, Telemachus is left (literally) without a male role model/guide, of paramount important in Greek society especially for a royal family.  This void could have been filled by Odysseus' father (Telemachus' grandfather) Laertes but we learn early on (and see later in the story) that Laertes has been so crippled by grief over his son's absence (and presumed death) that he has withdrawn from society and is of no help to Telemachus in navigating the ways of the palace and the responsibilities of a future king.

Contrast this with what we know about Odysseus' maternal grandfather, Autolycus (the fantastically named "Lone Wolf"): Autolycus was responsible for naming Odysseus and also for the boar hunt on Parnassus that led to Odysseus' famous wound and scar, which reads like a rite of passage into manhood.  

This makes me wonder if maybe we're supposed to infer that Laertes, although a hero in his own right, was not the strongest father to Odysseus, abdicating certain typical functions of fatherhood to Autolycus.

It is in considering aspects of the Odyssey such as this that I find its deepest and most effective genius.  There is not an overt word directed at these relationships, just portrayals of behaviors: we are left to draw our own conclusions.

I was thinking about this when I woke up in Columbia, Missouri, to a sweltering early summer Sunday heat: 80 degrees by 8:00 headed to a triple digit heat index.

The show was my fifth straight year at The Missouri Scholars Academy, a summer camp for gifted high school kids at the University of Missouri.  I wrote about my 2017 performance here and my 2018 performance shaped up in largely the same way.  After an ill-advised run in the hills and heat, I had some time to wander around downtown Columbia before I headed to campus proper for my evening show. 

The room was of the big lecture hall variety in which I've grown to really enjoy performing: old, live-sounding, great dimensions (I'm always interested in how the width and depth of a room create a balance of intimacy and scale).  

I saw my friend Jim for our yearly catch-up and he gave me yet another generous introduction.

I needed no microphone as the nearly 200 students were hushed and my voice carried easily to the back wall and came back to me in an appropriate echo.

A standing ovation and then on to a typically excellent discussion.  

Towards the end, as the student questions dwindled, Jim raised his hand and pointed out something that the Greeks would have certainly considered an omen of the most significant sort:

Not only was I performing a story about fathers and sons on Father's Day but it was the 17th (of June).

Song number 17 in my Odyssey?

Oh Father
(Telemachus recognizes his father)

Oh Father, now's our time
Oh Father, I've seen the sign
And we're off
A midnight prayer floating on the breeze
A high-noon eagle far above the trees
And we are on...
Our way

I was then indeed on my way into the dusk for the 6 hour drive back to Chicago, thinking about fathers, grandfathers, omens, and a story with a bottomless well of insight and humanity.

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