I first read Homer’s Odyssey in my Classics of Literature class when I was in college. That class really paid off for my Literature of Lost series – I was able to check off both Gilgamesh and this story. I am thankful for this, because as I mentioned in my Gilgamesh review, I would much rather read modern classics like Watership Down and Catch-22 than works of literature written before the birth of Christ.
The Odyssey is one of those ancient stories that everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t realize it. By my count, approximately 27 percent of all love stories are loosely based on the story.
Lost fans should be familiar with the Odyssey, because it is essentially the story of Desmond Hume and Penelope Widmore. The main female character in the story even shares her name with Penelope.
Like I did with The Chronicles of Narnia review, I am going to deviate a little from my standard format in this review. Because the Odyssey is a general influence rather than a specific influence, it makes more sense to describe both Odysseus’ and Desmond’s journeys at the same time.
The Odyssey begins in a sort-of flash forward that takes place several years after the end of the Trojan War. The war hero Odysseus still has not returned home to Ithaca. Odysseus’ wife Penelope remains faithful to him, despite the fact that there are 108(!) suitors trying to convince her to marry one of them.
After we learn this, Homer moves in to the actual story of Odysseus. Odysseus spent the seven years after the war trapped on an island by the sea nymph Calypso.
In Lost, we find out that Desmond spent a little over three years on the Island before Oceanic 815 broke apart in mid-air. He is “trapped” on the Island by Kelvin Inman, who brought him into the Swan station to help him press the button every 108 minutes. Although it isn’t like Desmond could have just hopped to his boat and left, Kelvin convinced him that he would become infected if he left the Swan, so Desmond spent 3+ years trapped in the underground hatch. Throughout this time, it is unclear how faithful Penelope remained to him. In the season four tearjerker The Constant, we do learn that she never stopped loving him, even though she was engaged to another man at one point.
Odysseus’ son Telemachus pleads with the gods to let his dad come home. They grant his wish, and the goddess Athena convinces Calypso to let him leave. She does so, and Odysseus leaves on a raft. The sea god Poseidon does not like this (we later learn they have a bit of a feud going on) and causes the raft to shipwreck on another island.
The shipwreck is reminiscent of Desmond’s original shipwreck on the Island. If you really want to stretch it, you can even compare Charles Widmore to Poseidon. Poseidon is upset because Odysseus blinded Poseidon’s son; Widmore is upset because Desmond and his daughter Penny are in love. Poseidon is a constant thorn in Odysseus’ side, just as Widmore is a thorn in Desmond’s side. In fact, the reason Desmond crash landed on the Island is because he was trying to win Widmore’s around the world sailing race.
After the Hatch computer was shot early in season two, Desmond made a break for it in his sailboat, just as Odysseus left his island on a raft. Like Odysseus, Desmond crash lands again. At least Odysseus made it to a different island; Desmond landed back on the same island, screaming to no one in particular that the world was a snow globe.
Once Odysseus crashes on the second island, we learn the rest of the story and how he tried unsuccessfully to return home. In short, he stumbled upon Poseidon’s cyclops son and blinded him. This angered Poseidon and it was basically one thing after another for poor Odysseus.
The same storytelling device pops up repeatedly in Lost. Through Desmond’s flashbacks, we learn his back story with Penny. It turns out that his own odyssey started well before the time he crashed on the Island. From the time he met Charles Widmore for the first time, it was one thing after another for Desmond. The most obvious example of this is the years he spent in military prison. We never found out why he ended up there, but it would not be surprising at all to find out that Charles had something to do with that.
In the end, Odysseus returns to Ithaca, where he decides to test Penelope to see if she is still loyal to him. She passes, and the two are reunited in love. Tears flow.
In Lost, Desmond escapes from the Island with the Oceanic Six. He is reunited with Penny and the two are married. Later, they have a son that they name Charlie after their dead friend. Tears flow.
For more reviews, return to my Literature of Lost series.