The Idea of Male Vulnerability Is So So So Ancient
Emotional vulnerability does not equate to softness.
In this post, I am returning to an idea explored in a previous post on mentoring from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. But this time, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about male vulnerability from Homer’s beautiful 8th century BC epopee.
Here’s a refresher of some relevant bits of the story:
Menelaus, king of Sparta, wages war against the city of Troy after they took his wife, Helen. Odysseus joins Menelaus in his fight against Troy, leaving his son Telemachus in the care of his wife, Penelope, his good friend Mentor and the swineherd, Eumaeus. (I’ll come back to this section probably in another post).
The siege against Troy lasts a decade and because Odysseus’ journey home takes so long (another decade) no one knows whether he is still alive or not. By the time his son Telemachus reaches manhood, probably in his late 20s, he decides to visit Menelaus to find out what he knows about his father. Menelaus throws a welcome party where Telemachus talks to him about his father. Sadly for Telemachus, the Spartan king doesn’t have any news and believes that Odysseus has perished. At this thought, both men start to weep and are joined by Helen in a public display of emotions.
This left me in awe.
They simply cried. In public. At a party! Homer makes it sound so casual; their tears did not attract the attention of others, raise suspicions or cause tumult at the party.
I was surprised by their free expression of feelings in public at the thought of a dear friend and father no longer being alive. There was no judgment of, derogatory associations with, or commentary on the feelings being expressed by these men. In another part of the poem “great Odysseus melted into tears”.
Bear in mind that a few decades prior, Odysseus and Menelaus were warriors spearheading trojans, literally, and at the same time, they were comfortable in showing emotions. This formed part of their masculinity and showing emotions wasn’t perceived as a weakness. Although Homer’s writings are stories, in many ways they reflect the culture and norms of those days.