Our twenty first century Odyssey

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HALF WOMEN, HALF BIRD, HALF RIGHT….The assessment of J.D.Waterhouse’s classical Ulysses and the Sirens portraying his forced containment against fulfilling his desire. Photo: Supplied

Greek mythology was a fabled look at the origins of the world. Its stories were fanciful, invoking mythical creatures and heroic leaders, an allegorical explanation of how things around them evolved.

One of those fables, the Odyssey, a long fable as told by Homer, concerned Odysseus or Ulysses as the Romans called him, the king of Ithaca. On his journeys, Ulysses was to sail past an island inhabited by Sirens, beautiful yet mythical bird like women who sang beautiful songs and played glorious music aiming to entice passing sailors to seek them out only to crash and perish on the rocky shores of their island.

Ulysses wanted to hear their song so he made his men sailing his ships fill their ears with beeswax and without it, had himself lashed to the mast of his ship.

No matter how much he wanted the men to alter the course of the ship, his men were instructed to sail in a straight line and ignore his commands until he signalled with a frown that he could no longer hear them.

Our response to COVID is like the journey of Ulysses. Our Sirens are our inferred freedoms, to be able to move about freely, to get back to going to bars and pubs and restaurants, to mix with the people we love, to get back to doing business the way it was before the virus.

These Sirens are singing, calling us to join them. Some of our politicians and leaders are like Ulysses, tied to a mast, unpopular, wanting to go towards the islands but constrained, in this case tied to the medical science behind the virus and the very real dangers it poses to the people they lead. Others are like the sailors sailing without the benefit of the beeswax in their ears, seduced by the Sirens, clamouring for their freedoms, fighting against those with it firmly lodged in their ears, arguing on setting a course that would see them sail onto the rocks and their possible demise.

This disease is deadly. Already it has infected over 26,000 Australians and killed over 760 people in our community. In Australia that translates to a one in thirty chance of dying if we contract it. In the US and other parts of the world that prospect is one in twenty.

As Ulysses passed their island and did not perish, the Sirens flew into the sea after him, it was they who drowned and perished.

The only safe path for us at this point in time as we are in these dangerous waters is to stand firm and sail past the rocky islands that is COVID and while it will be agonisingly painful, we will not die or allow anyone to be sacrificed on the journey.