The Prayer of the Ulysseans

By Prof. Antonio Mercurio

There are many types of prayer.

It is praying when we ask someone for help (our ancestors, the gods, a God);  we have examples of this type of prayer throughout the millennia found in thousands and thousands of archeological findings. Still today this is the most common form of prayer. It is a weak form.

 I adhere to a much larger definition of prayer. Asking that something be given, even when it should be our given right, is prayer. For example, by asking our internal positive mother to give us what was taken away by the negative mother we obtain a double effect: the first is the reconstruction of the internal positive mother, like a benevolent presence that takes care of us; the second is the liberation from feeling guilty about wanting to get back what was violently taken from us by arrogantly demanding it. These two effects generate a third, that is most rare and precious: the ability to actually enjoy having our rights, that we have recuperated by receiving a gift rather than simply taking it by force. I would call this a strong prayer and an example translated into words could be:

Mother, would you please give me back the freedom you took away from me?”.

 This type of request contains at least three things: a) the ability to put aside one’s hurt pride, b) the ability to forgive one’s mother and c) the ability to recognize that the mother does have a positive side. Acting in this way is a way of expressing love for ourselves even more than expressing love for the mother. And it is like travelling around the moon and discovering the other side of the moon, the side that we usually cannot see but that does exist.

Expressing gratitude to Life is a prayer.

As is expressing appreciation to someone who deserves it. This is a type of prayer that dispels envy and introduces justice in relationships between people.

For me, prayer, in its most basic form, has meant and still means being able to create a source of light and a source of continuous transformation in my life. A constant journey from lies to truth and authenticity. A way of transforming and unifying  my self and my various internal parts. A journey that carries me from ugliness to beauty.

Intelligence and willpower are helpful for many things, but in many situations we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to choose, we don’t know how to act. We are surrounded by darkness and we don’t know how to get out of it. In these cases it is important to turn to the precious help prayer can offer, as a possible source of light within ourselves and that materializes only if we learn how to pray. In this sense, prayer is an indispensable action if we want to go from living life as thieves to living life as a gift and from living life as violence to living life as a work of art.

If we observe our existential reality, we can see that it is not only the I Person who prays, but it is also the Corporeal I, the Psychological I and the SELF, each one with its own way of doing so. The Corporeal I prays when it turns to the I Person and asks it to heal its physical ailments or to simply give it food, rest and play.The Psychological I prays when it asks the I Person to decide to do something about healing its psychological problems.

The SELF prays when it knocks on the door of the I in a thousand different ways so it will decide to listen to it and carry out the transformations that are necessary, according to the laws of life.

The artist prays too, when he invokes a Muse to receive inspiration when there is none to be had, and he prays even more when he is swimming in the torment of creation. This prayer is not known as such, but it is indispensable just the same. I think it is only right to call it prayer.


To somehow define the structure of the I Person, let’s say that it is a spiritual principle that makes decisions based on love and on hatred, it decides to be free or to be a slave, it decides to be true or to be false, it decides to be a victim or to be an artist of its own life and of the life of the universe. The I Person is the living spiritual principle that chooses whether to value itself or to despise itself; it chooses to embrace certain values and which values have meaning rather than others; it chooses which dreams and projects it will follow; it chooses whether to have hope or to surrender to nihilism. The fact that the Psychological I, the Corporeal I or the SELF most certainly cannot make any of these choices by themselves offers ample proof that the I Person exists. Therefore we can also make the affirmation that the gene for prayer, that might explain why some pray and some don’t, will never be found. Prayer, too, is a free choice made by the I Person, helped along or hindered by the culture and the environment it lives in.

The type of prayer that I want to draw your attention to, is the best way to accomplish a fusion between the and the SELF, the Personal SELF and the Cosmic SELF. It is action-reflection-dialog that requires years of practice so that this fusion can come about. To avoid any danger of mystical alienation, I want to make it clear that this fusion is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to transform the I and to create a fusion between the I and the Life of the Cosmos, between the I and a You of a man and a woman. This last fusion is the most difficult to achieve for human beings. As history shows us, not only is not everyone capable of realizing it, but many are downright against it.

 We are living beings and we therefore possess life, but our will is almost always in opposition to Life. Our constant disappointment is that “life never goes the way we want it to” and this is a clear example of how there is no fusion between ourselves and Life.

The fact, then, that the I and the You are in constant conflict is another clear example of how a fusion does not exist between an I and a You, even when the two are very much in love.

 Homer tells us that Ulysses turns to prayer many times. His prayers are directed both to Zeus and Athena. When Zeus responds, either the god Hermes arrives, or a lightning bolt comes out of a clear sky. Hermes appears to tell Ulysses how he must deal with the enchantress Circe and how he can win her favor; he comes to tell Calypso that Zeus wants her to let Ulysses go and that Zeus’ decision is final.  When Ulysses decides to kill the Suitors, Zeus sends a lightning bolt so his approval is visible. When Ulysses prays to Athena, she doesn’t always show herself to him, but Homer tells us that the goddess often acts even before he formulates his prayer. She does so by coming to his aid so that he can reach Ithaca, step by step, the island of secondary beauty.


 If we look at Zeus and Athena as being inner parts of Ulysses, we can see that Zeus represents a will that cannot be bargained with as well as unexpected help that arrives suddenly, when he has lost all hope. Instead, Athena represents Ulysses’ wisdom, that works for his wellbeing, often unbeknownst to him. In the very first lines of the Odyssey, Homer affirms that this wisdom can be found within every human being

The will that cannot be bargained with, in my opinion, belongs to both the laws of life that we carry inside ourselves, and the Cosmic SELF, which contains a cosmic will that is greater than our own. This will works toward the realization of a global purpose that our intelligence is often incapable of understanding ahead of time. The unexpected help is an expression of the deep resources of human beings, resources that we often do not utilize.

Ulysseans also pray to their SELF (Zeus and Athena), because they know that without prayer they cannot become artists of their own lives and of the life of the universe.

 Prayer is an energizing action that allows the I to overcome its fears and find the courage it doesn’t yet have to make the right decisions. It is also a space that is created inside of ourselves, where the I becomes capable of undergoing the kinds of changes it must  make so it can see what it doesn’t want to see and can do what it normally doesn’t want to do. Prayer is an energy field that is built up every time the prayer expands. It allows the I to gradually reach a fusion between the I and the SELF. This fusion is an indispensable goal for those who want to transform their life into a work of art.

The SELF is the first basic “You” within the I. (When the I is not specified, we are always referring to the I Person , which is the central subject of the human individual).  The I and the SELF form a couple of opposites that contains both attraction and repulsion, just like in the male-female couple. And just like there is an inner male-female couple and an external one, there is also a SELF that is partly internal and partly external. It speaks to us from within and also from outside ourselves.

Between the I and the You in a couple, there can be passion and feelings of being in love, but when these end hostility or indifference take their place. At this point one is faced with a very basic decision: should one give up on the couple relationship, or should one instead keep aiming for the goal by transforming oneself?

The and the SELF do not fall in love with each other. Sometimes they wait for each other, and look for each other. Sometimes there is a sudden enlightenment. Sometimes there is a deep estrangement between them, caused by the hybris of the I and its theomania.

But the I without the SELF is like an artist with no talent and lacking in inspiration.It will never produce anything that becomes immortal.

Sometimes the SELF reveals itself to the I in all its light, but this happens only after the I has battled for a long time and has waited for the light to be created. It happens only after the I has gone through all the darkness that it must experience. We must not forget that stars, before they produce light, are only a dark cloud. Why should we be any different? Often our darkness is made up of ignorance and fear, of pride and expectations, of arrogance and insolence, of lies and power and control.

 Other times the darkness is a simple natural fact that is caused by the quality of the matter and the spirit we are made up of.

Therefore darkness belongs not just to dark matter, it is found within the I and its purpose is to macerate the I in its powerlessness and prepare it for its encounter with the SELF.

When this process is complete, the SELF reveals itself and the I is filled with light and joy.

 During this process prayer is an indispensable element. It accelerates the maceration of the I and of its willfulness and thus opens it so that it can fuse with the SELF.


I will now show you a form of prayer that has been very useful to me when I had to turn my life inside out like a glove:


Oh my SELF,

Lord of my life

And child of my love

And my courage,

Whatever You want

Is right that it happens

And wherever You want to go

I want to go too.


Only help me understand:

Why did You put me

In this situation?

And what is it

That You want me to do?


When You want

Then it is time

And when You want

I will arrive at the island

Of secondary beauty.


Even if it seems

Like misfortune

Whatever You want

Is my advantage.


But tell me:

What do You want me to create

Out of so much pain?


And what is wrong

Inside of me

That I must



Even though sometimes

I feel I am falling

Into the abyss

If You want me to

For me that’s fine

And this is why

I have courage.


Before I become You

And You become me.

While I die and

Am reborn

To reach my dreams

And Your dreams

In your arms

I find my repose.




Sometimes it can happen that the first time you try this prayer you will feel afraid. It’s a good sign if that happens. That means that the words touch on important points within our way of being and we are filled with a strong desire to change as well as with a refusal to do so. We are now living in a time when no one accepts that there is a power greater than ourselves. We don’t want anyone to have power over our lives, whether we are right or wrong.

Nor do we accept to leave behind our current identity so we can acquire a better one, even though this is an ineluctable law of life that we do so. We don’t want to have to experience emptiness and we are afraid of going towards the unknown. We don’t want to give up our will to consider ourselves an absolute, nor do we want to stop imposing this absolute on others and on life. Now, the truth is that we are not an absolute and the SELF transcends the I and has a power that the does not have. The SELF contains the purpose that the I must achieve during its life and this purpose was given to it by the Cosmic SELF. Sometimes one’s life purpose becomes clear during childhood; sometimes it is revealed day by day, year after year. Sometimes it moves forward in a linear fashion and others it has a dialectical movement, where it passes from one opposite to the other until it finally makes a synthesis. During this journey the I does not have the ability to look beyond its own nose: the SELF does.

This is why I say that the SELF is the Lord of my life.


We must understand that we can overcome our fear if we think that the virtue of courage is not an absence of fear but an ability to overcome it; we can overcome it if we remember that we have the power to create things that do not yet exist, but only if we begin to believe in our own creative power and to trust in it. The SELF can exist by itself but it does not exist in our lives unless we create it; this is why I say that it is the child of our courage and our love.

We can overcome fear if we have a purpose, a dream or a myth to follow. Secondary beauty can be an example of this, if we are convinced that our life becomes alienated and senseless if we do not fulfill our purpose or follow our dreams and our myths.

Starting in the nineteen sixties, I created my second life with the help of this prayer. It was very painful but it was also very exciting.

This prayer also helped me to face my own long odyssey so I could become capable of creating a couple relationship and capable of loving a woman. This, too, was a journey full of many woes.




If someone would prefer to begin by using something a bit easier, I can suggest another prayer of mine:


My Father who art

In the deepest part of my heart

Make it so that You

Don’t remain

 Unknown to me.


May Your wisdom be done

 And not mine

And make it so that I can unite

My will with Yours.


Don’t give me just

 Daily bread

 Give me also

 A fragment of your soul

 So that I like You

 Can create one for myself.


 Just as the birds in the sky

 And the lilies in the field

 I have no debts nor debtors

Because life is a gift

 And everything is a gift:

 Joy, pain and trouble.


But like the lilies and birds are here today

 And gone tomorrow

I too will one day vanish into nothing

 Unless you help me

 Make myself into an artist

 And make my life

 Into a work of art.


 And finally,

Tempt me if necessary,

But free me of perfectionism

And so it is.

May thy wisdom be done

And not mine.




These two prayers are based on the metapsychology which is at the basis of Existential Personalistic Anthropology and of Cosmo-Art. From the time of conception onward, the I is both one and it is four. The I is together the I Person and the Corporeal I and the Psychological I and the Transcendental I or SELF. This is because all four of these components belong to the same single subject. But since these four components found in the I are all opposed among themselves, often people are full of conflict. Sometimes it happens that they are all in harmony amongst themselves, due to a gift of nature. It is more often the case that at best they are in battle amongst themselves, and at worse they are split, meaning they are thousands of light years away from each other. To be able to bring them all together in harmony is the task of the artist who wants to make his or her life into a work of art.

I personally had to begin with harmonizing, first of all, the I Person and the SELF. I did this with the help of the first prayer above and with the help of the Corporeal I, which for me was the book from which I learned to read the voice of the SELF. I do know that this type of opportunity is not given to everyone, and those who do not have it must look for other opportunities, but this was the one given to me.

 Only after having achieved this first unification was I then able to descend into the abyss of the Psychological I and, after that, into the abyss of intrauterine life. First I explored them and then I transformed them, one by one, with infinite patience and constancy, and through enduring great pain. My couple relationship was an indispensable help in being able to carry out this task.

 Gradually, after this unification, I went on to create a fusion, and this task is not yet complete. I can say, however, that I am at a good place with it, and being so has allowed me to explore in some way the cosmic and the ultracosmic dimensions. In doing so I was able to formulate the theorem of Cosmo-Art and the myth of Cosmo-Art or secondary beauty.


I would never have been able to undertake this journey had I not dedicated many hours to prayer, or to the action-reflection-dialog between my I and my SELF. First of all, prayer is an action that creates the space necessary to be able to dialog with the SELF; then it is action-reflection that creates two other spaces, one where the SELF can be heard and one where we can decide whether or not to say yes to its requests. We must first imagine the changes we must make, by looking at ourselves from above and from below; by using two different points of view that are completely different from each other. Secondly, prayer is the action that decides to make the changes, or rather to go through with a transformation and to make possible what was formerly impossible to do. Third, it is reflection that becomes intuition. Intuition allows us to see what was previously impossible to see, and at this point action becomes creation. It becomes creation of oneself and creation of a new world and a new life.

This phase of “creation” is very important in clearing up how the I must interact with the SELF. We are all children of an ancient tradition that tells us that we must accept God’s will and resign ourselves to it. God decides and human beings must only obey. This is a tradition that must absolutely be changed if we want to follow the path of fusion between the I and the SELF. The SELF decides, this is true, but it demands that the transform and create something that is very different from that which it had decided upon. From the synthesis of two opposites, where fusion is a synthesis of opposites, something is created that is entirely different from the two elements that were present before.

An artist that works with marble and stone is faced with two realities that are opposites to his own. These realities must indeed be accepted but the artist must be able to completely transform the essence and the existence of marble or of stone. They must be transformed into the essence and existence of a specific work of art created by a specific artist. There is an acceptance of the marble’s reality, but it is a dialectical acceptance, that must both be present and not be present; what must appear in its place is a new reality, a living soul that the artist has transmitted to the marble. When the SELF’s will means we must face adversity or a loss, the I must accept it but it also must be transformed so that new life can spring from adversity and loss. It is the I that creates this new life, not the SELF. This is why in the first prayer it is written:

What do you want me to create

 From so much pain?”

Coming back to Homer and the Odyssey it can be helpful to now reflect on two things. The first: Athena cannot do what she wants to do by herself; she must first obtain Zeus’ permission.This helps us understand why the Personal SELF and the Cosmic SELF are always in close contact.

 The second reflection: everything that Athena does for Ulysses is to help him reach Ithaca. But Ithaca is not the final goal, nor is it the ultimate purpose of either Athena or Ulysses. The poem does not end after the story of how the Phaeacians leave Ulysses while he is sleeping on the shores of Ithaca. If this were the case, the return, the greatly proclaimed “nostos” of the poets and writers, would have been concluded here.

Homer is not thinking about the “nostos”. From here on there is yet another half of the poem that tells how Ulysses must reconquer his palace and especially Penelope’s heart. It took ten years of keeping Troy under siege and then the cunning idea of the wooden horse to be able to break down the walls that held Helen, the contended woman.

It took another ten years (the whole odyssey by sea) of keeping Penelope under siege, as well as Ulysses’ cunning in pretending he is a beggar and  his decision to take up the challenge of the bow and arrow, to penetrate Penelope’s heart of stone. It took all of this to break down her childish pride and obtain a heart of a woman capable of loving a man to emerge. It took twenty years for Ulysses to become a man capable of loving a woman. Why should we be surprised that it took Penelope just as long to become capable of loving a man?

If the SELF is the first fundamental “You” for a human being, the other fundamental “You” is the one represented by one’s partner in a couple relationship. It is not one bit easy for the I to open up to a You, to encounter a You and decide to meld with it, as happens in nature every time new life is conceived and sperm and ovum merge.

Nuclear fusion and the birth of a star are works of art of nature. So is the fusion of two gametes and the birth of biological life.

Nature alone cannot create the fusion between an I and a You, so as to create a lasting union between them.

When this occurs it is a work of art made by the man and the woman, who are united in a common goal: the fusion of the masculine and the feminine principles, to create secondary beauty.

 According to what Homer says in his poem, this is Ulysses’ true purpose, this is Athena’s true purpose.


This purpose is one that neither the gods nor human beings can achieve by themselves. It is a goal that can be reached only if the gods work together with human beings and if human beings collaborate with the gods. Human and divine forces (we’ll call the cosmic forces divine) meet through prayer so they can create secondary beauty in a Cosmo-Artistic way.

The human condition experienced by both men and women is to remain imprisoned for a long time in the maternal and the paternal dimensions. This is true until both of them manage to free themselves of the entangled ties that keep them anchored to the past, and they find a way to completely take control of their own lives and their ability to love a You. Homer thinks, and I agree with him, that to do so it is necessary to go through a long siege and a long odyssey, topped off by a final battle. The long siege is narrated in the Iliad, the long Odyssey and the final battle are narrated in the Odyssey.

If we look at both poems it would seem that both are talking about the same thing: that a siege and war are necessary to conquer a woman. But this is not the case. The second Homer is more mature than the first and he has a deeper knowledge of life and of the male and female soul. He also has a second goal in mind, to create beauty that has not yet been created, not just to conquer beauty that already exists.

There are many heroes in the first poem but none of these heroes is capable of transforming himself and becoming a man. They are capable of doing great things, but none of them is able to overcome the ties that bind him to the maternal dimension. Achilles remains a prisoner of the maternal dimension and dies. He wanted glory and he got it, but in Hades he mourns the life he lost. Agamemnon is a proud, stupid child that first is the reason the Achaeans must face so much loss and then ends up running blindly into Clytemnestra’s revenge and betrayal. Ajax dies a crazy man because they take Achilles’ weapons away from him. (Is this not similar to the desperate tears of a baby whose teddy bear has been taken away?). Ulysses takes his booty, glory and weapons but his inner child is still buried within him and it is even more difficult to conquer than Troy. He will have to meet Circe and stay a long time at sea before he can face the descent into Hades, look himself in the face and then decide to transform himself. Hector, instead, had the love of Andromache, but he did not know how to listen to her, or he didn’t want to. He too preferred glory over developing a love relationship with a woman.

What is glory except for the evasive image of the mother who empties you of your life and that you can only hold for a moment? Homer becomes aware of the nothingness that his heroes have devoted themselves to, and in his own heart he regrets this. He chooses one, Ulysses, and around him he builds a second poem so he can fill the gaps left in the first one.


Helen was a child. She was like a Barbie doll, a toy held by other children. Many Greeks and Trojans risked their lives to help her become a woman. Were they able to do so? Maybe. Nausicaa was a child who played with other children, before Ulysses came along and woke up her desire to become a woman. Penelope was also a child. But she was a killer child who was not willing to forgive Ulysses for having taken her away from her father and her homeland through the violence of an exchange. Nor would she forgive him for having left her alone for twenty years.

Ulysses risks his life twice to help awaken Nausicaa; once when he is about to drown after having lost his raft and the other time when he runs the risk of being smashed against the rocks when he tries to get near shore. Ulysses risks his life a thousand times to awaken Penelope. He risks it every time he must fight a sea monster; he risks it every time he allows himself to be seduced by a woman; he risks it in his own palace where the Suitors are camped, with Penelope’s ambiguous consent, and are plotting his own death and the death of Telemachus. During his long odyssey by sea Ulysses accumulated experience and knowledge of women who, in one way or another, were always trying to kill him. These women were all different versions of a same woman, his mother, who had tried to kill him while he was in her womb, first by rejecting him and then by loving him in a possessive and devouring manner. It was a long, difficult road for him to free his life from the maternal dimension and yet keep his life in tact. It is not easy to help a woman free herself from her ties with her mother and not suffer the consequences. One must risk one’s life a thousand times and one must also know how to save her. One must know how to forgive a thousand times and never give up, never give up hope. Men and women today don’t like to have to risk their lives and they don’t like to forgive. They prefer to run away. They escape into their own alienation from themselves, they escape into their work, they escape into victimhood and masochism. They escape into nothingness and into death. Homer had understood this three thousand years ago and with his poems he wanted to give us the gift of his deep understanding of this and of his wisdom. When he talks about Ulysses, he is speaking of himself. When he talks about Penelope, he is still speaking about himself.

 I have read many books on Ulysses and especially on the Odyssey, but I still have not found a single author that journeyed inside him or herself to understand what Homer was trying to say about himself and what he wanted to say about the destiny of men and women, of the meaning of life in this universe and of the meaning behind life’s belonging to this universe.

Is it possible that the myth of Ulysses is all contained in his hunger for knowledge and in his desire to travel, or in his wish to return home? I have the feeling that the authors I have read up until now all repeat what the others have already said. They see only one aspect of Ulysses. They don’t see all his other aspects. Why is it that no one tries to explain why Ulysses rejects the gift of immortality that Calypso promises him, when everyone knows that Greek mythology is full of personages that aspire only to become immortal? Why does Homer differentiate himself from the others on such an enormously important point? What is this mystery?


I have found my own answer to this question and I won’t repeat it here (see A.M. The Ulysseans, Sophia University of Rome, 2009).

All I will say here is that just as DNA invented its own way to become biologically immortal, through the fusion of male and female chromosomes, Ulysses, through his fusion with the unconquerable Penelope, also invented his own way of reaching immortality. He does this not by becoming a god or a semi-god but by becoming a mythological archetype that will never cease to fascinate human beings. From this myth we learn that not simply an encounter between the I and the You of a man and a woman, but a fusion of them, is a way we can give birth to our own immortality and secondary beauty. This is Homer’s gift to us; this is, in my opinion, the true essence of the myth of Ulysses, which has still much to be discovered.

Ascetics, hermits and monks dedicated most of their lives to the search for a mystical union with God or to save their souls, which was already immortal but that risk eternal damnation (remember St. Benedict’s rule: “Ora et labora” {Pray and Work}?). These people had before them role models of people who searched for the encounter and fusion with the Absolute, but they had no role models of people who look for and create a fusion with a human You. This millenary tradition represented a negative weight on my life for a long time, and it was not easy for me to free myself of it. To the same degree the search for an angelic woman, which Dante upheld as an ideal, caused me much damage. Ulysses of the Odyssey was of great help to me in changing my perspective.


To propose the fusion of an I with a You in a time like now where the number of separations and divorces continuously grows can seem like madness.

This might be true, but if extreme evils require extreme remedies, if desperate conditions require impossible ideals, why not decide to not fall into the common pit? Only by proposing what others dare not to do is a good way to get the hidden resources in human beings to jump to life and help us leap towards impossible and unknown goals. This is how hominids evolved into humans and this is how every leap forward in the evolutionary process has been achieved.

The mystery of nuclear fusion that gives birth to the stars was revealed to us as the result of years of scientific research. Before that no one knew what it was or even that it existed. My wife and I described the fusion between an I and a You in our paper presented at the Sophia University of Rome congress in Assisi in 1987, entitled “Unificazione ed armonizzazione del principio maschile e del principio femminile” {The unification and the harmonization of the masculine and feminine principles}, published in the magazine Persona n.14 – March1988, and as a special insert in the paper “Gli Ulissidi” {The Ulysseans}, May 2000.

Here I would like to add another reflection that is important, as it clearly underlines the transformation that happens in Penelope’s heart.

For three years she deceived the Suitors by telling them she was weaving the shroud for Laertes’ funeral:


And first a god inspired me to weave a shroud,…

… during the day I stayed at my loom weaving

and at night I would unravel everything, with torches for light”.

            (Od., XIX, 138-150 )


 In these verses we can find a clue about how Penelope prayed. In conflict over whether or not to remain faithful to Ulysses or to get remarried, Penelope asks for help through prayer. A god gives her the idea of the shroud. Prayer and weaving become a single action. But this action is not enough, it only serves to gain some time.

The decisive action takes place when Penelope is speaking to Ulysses who is hiding behind the disguise of a beggar. She has another idea, this too most certainly inspired by her SELF, and that is to propose a competition that is connected to a memory she has of Ulysses:


            “…whoever can more easily string the bow with his own hands

            and can send the arrow through all twelve rings,

            I will choose him, and with him leave this palace…”

         (Od., XXI, 75-78)

Weaving is an exquisitely feminine activity. Stringing a bow is a typically masculine activity and the bow is Apollo’s favorite weapon. Apollo is the god of the arts, and as we know art is always a fusion of opposites. We could think that the bow is an excellent representation of the fusion between the masculine and the feminine principles, where the curve of the arch symbolizes the feminine and the arrow that flies symbolizes the masculine. The fusion of these two forces, masculine and feminine, makes for maximum efficiency in action.

This competition with the bow will end up being decisive in giving Ulysses the best possible weapon to kill off the Suitors. He would not have had it if Penelope hadn’t made this proposal.

Weaving was a deception, proposing the competition with the bow and arrow was the winning action. This shows us that Penelope had changed and she had made an important step forward in becoming a woman and in loving a man. This is where the creation of secondary beauty resides, of a beauty that does not yet exist and that must be created so it does. Prayer is the servant of this creation.


I like to imagine a new world where human beings devote a lot of time to prayer, not to save their souls, but to give themselves a soul that is truly immortal. I have attempted to explain here that this can happen when we work towards creating a fusion between the I and the SELF and, afterwards, decide to work towards a final goal of creating a fusion between the I and the You of a man and a woman.

From nuclear fusion a star is born, and afterwards a whole galaxy of stars is born. Entire universes emerge from subnuclear fusion. Vegetable, animal and human life emerge from biological fusion. These are all living organisms that are born. From a fusion and not an enmeshment between a man and a woman, that are by nature two beings that are completely opposite, a living super-organism is born. Its life challenges death forever and it goes beyond the time-space dimension of this universe.


Ulysses forgave Penelope many things and Penelope forgave Ulysses for many things (abandonment, betrayal, desire for revenge, deadly plots and a waste of goods). They have just finished making love, after being separated for twenty years, and they have a whole night ahead during which they can tell each other their stories. Since they have forgiven each other of everything, they can tell each other everything. Everything can be understood in a totally new light, that goes well beyond good and evil. Beyond good and evil there is only secondary beauty, an energy field that is a synthesis of many opposites, including the opposites of good and evil.

Now that the I and the You have been fused into One, Ulysses can leave again for the other end of the world, as Teiresias predicted. There is no abandonment, because the I and the You are a Unit that can now look for Others with whom to create a Choral SELF. Everyone can participate in this, no one is excluded. Anyone who wants to can participate in the great project of creating secondary beauty.

After all of this, there will finally be the desired return, the “nostos”, and there will be a serene old age. One day, far into the future, physical death will come sweetly, from the sea.

(This paper was presented on October 21st, 2000, during the 21st Group Laboratory of Existential Anthropology of the Sophia University of Rome and it was published for the first time as a special insert of the paper “Giornale degli Ulissidi” {Ulyssean Journal} ).




A comment on the presence of the positive mother figure when it is internalized:

There is no such as mothers who are only bad. Every mother has also a positive part and we can find it only if we are capable of listening to our hearts.

Ulysses and the internalized positive mother

In the Odyssey, we find a trace of a prayer made to the positive mother figure when, as advised by Athena, Ulysses goes into Alcinous’ palace, walks immediately towards queen Arete, bows down and embraces her legs, begging her to help him.

… “go first to the queen”… says Athena.

 … “if she is in a good humor

then you have hopes of seeing your friends and returning

to your high-ranking home and the land of your forefathers”…

 … “Odysseus threw his arms around Arete’s knees”…


 This is what Homer says in Book VII.

He had already said something very similar in Book V.

Poseidon had stirred up a violent storm against Ulysses and only the help he receives from the nymph Ino and the goddess Athena save him from sure death. Ulysses sights the land of the Phaeacians but here he is faced with another huge problem.

… “Woe is me, Zeus has let me glimpse the land I’d lost all hope for after coming all the way  through this abyss but I see no way out of the frothy sea only sharp rocks protrude with waves all around that scream and roar and only one naked stone wall rises up out of them…

(Od.V, 53 and following verses).

Ulysses is faced with a wall of stone and it isn’t the first time that such a thing happens in his life. Ulysses had stone walls before him for ten years while he was at Troy. Then he was dealing with Troy’s city walls and Ulysses found the solution to his powerlessness by using cunning and deceit. This time he is faced with a rocky coastline that keeps him from being able to come to shore. In this case, cunning and tricks won’t be of any help to him.

Ulysses has to transform himself, he must completely turn himself upside down and look for a solution through humility and prayer. It’s not easy to leave behind his arrogance and find the way of humility. By trying again and again he will finally succeed. After having been smashed against the rocks several times, Ulysses finally sees the mouth of a river and he prays:

….  “ Hear me, Sire, whomever you may be: I believe you must be often called upon, by those escaping Poseidon’s wrath by leaving the sea. It is by venerating the immortal gods That a lost man just like me now arrives before your river, at your knees I come, after so much suffering. Have pity on me, sovreign: I am hereby your servant”. (Od. V, 445-450)

The river answers his prayer and Ulysses can finally land.

Where Ulysses has landed is at the virtue of humility, a land that was hitherto completely unknown to him. He is the one who says to the sovreign river “I am at your knees”; have pity on me, I am begging you. If Ulysses before had an arrogant heart just like the Suitors do, now he becomes capable of having a humble heart. His prayer is no longer a way of commanding or winning over the divinity, as it usually is for most. When Athena advises him to do the same thing with queen Arete, Ulysses is ready to do so. He has already learned that there is not only a negative part within the mother, a devouring part; there is also a positive part, one that is capable of being welcoming and giving. He manages to get there by following his heart. He gets there by abandoning his determination to hold on to his wounded pride and his refusal to make any changes whatsoever. He gets there after having been thrown against the rocky shoreline and having risked being smashed to pieces and then deciding to keep on swimming to see if beyond the rocks there is some small beach that he could land on. This is how Ulysses finds the mouth of the river and sends out his prayer. There is yet another wall of stone that Ulysses will come up against, and that is when he lands in Ithaca and is faced with Penelope’s hardened heart. This time he will need both humility and cunning. He will need the power of hatred and the power of an immense love, fused together, so he can break down the wall of stone and find a heart of flesh and blood. Here I would like to reflect on another important element. If going from pride to humility is like passing from one universe to another within the same life dimension we are in, by having Ulysses go from a world full of storms to a world of peace like the one the Phaeacians live in, Homer is telling us that truly our life is made up in such a way that we can go from one universe to another. This is possible if we can stop complaining and accept creatively the “thousand woes” that this life has in store for us; our ability to do so is conditioned by our ability to not act like victims when we are confronted with trouble, but like artists of our lives and of the life of the universe in which we live. Ulysses’ passage from victim to artist is described in the way Ulysses acts while at Alcinous’ court. While Demodocus sings about the Trojan war, Ulysses does nothing but cry. He cries for himself and for the thousands of painful experiences the gods have inflicted him with. Soon after the scene changes: it is no longer the storyteller who is singing, but it is Ulysses. He is no longer crying and he sings about all his misadventures and his trials and tribulations with such art and mastery that the Phaeacians don’t want him to stop, even though it has gotten very late.

Again a comment on “La preghiera degli Ulissidi” {The prayer of the Ulysseans}:

… “For me, prayer, in its most basic form, has meant and still means being able to create a source of light and a source of continuous transformation in my life. A constant journey from lies to truth and authenticity. A way of transforming and unifying  my self and my various internal parts. A journey that carries me from ugliness to beauty”…

During his journey from Troy to Ithaca, Ulysses must face continual losses. Every loss can help Ulysses transform a part of himself, if he can understand its meaning and accept it.

… “prayer is an indispensable action if we want to go from living life as thieves to living life as a gift and from living life as violence to living life as a work of art”…

For ten years, beneath and inside Troy’s city walls, Ulysses lived in violence and thievery and he continues to do so when he leaves Troy and attacks the Cicones to steal their goods. Up until this point he knows nothing about life as a work of art, which demands a continual effort to synthesize opposites and a continual transformation of oneself. He will learn this throughout the rest of his journey, step by step.

Now let’s look at the type of prayer that is most meaningful to me.

…   “.. prayer … the best way to accomplish a fusion between the I and the SELF, the Personal SELF and the Cosmic SELF”….

The best example of this dialog and the reflection that then leads to action can be seen in what happens between Athena and Ulysses, when he has just landed at Ithaca.

… “then Athena came near him

with a young man’s body and like a shepherd

delicate and gentle like kings’ sons are”…(Od. XIII, 221-223)


Athena comes to Ulysses as a human, and since he does not recognize her right away he starts telling her a bunch of lies.


… “of all the gods

I am famous for wisdom and cleverness

not even you recognized

Pallade Athena, Zeus’ daughter, whom has nevertheless always

through every danger stayed near you and saved you”… (Od. XIII, 298-301)


Ulysses complains that he hadn’t seen her come on board his ship to save him from having to suffer so much, but Athena forcefully tells him that she has always been near him during every danger and she has always saved him. This interaction describes a fundamental aspect of the SELF as defined by Homer and Cosmo-Art. The SELF is always with us to save us from every danger, but this does not mean that it keeps us from experiencing the pain we need to go through so we can transform ourselves. It is necessary to have full faith in the SELF, that often operates in our favor even though we are unaware of it. The dialog with the SELF must always be cultivated and maintained so we can create the kind of trust that is not just given to us freely, but which must be worked for day after day. When we have this trust, it becomes possible to make plans and put together strategies to help us reach our goals, with the assurance that we are fully supported by the SELF. Ulysses must save his life that is threatened by the Suitors and he must find a way to eliminate them. He must also find a way to make sure Penelope is not dangerous, unless he wants to end up like Agamemnon. Athena and Ulysses speak at length about this, and they “meditate” and “reflect” on what the best way would be for Ulysses to present himself at the palace and how he can massacre the Suitors. Athena advises Ulysses to disguise himself as a beggar and Ulysses has to decide to accept this suggestion or not. It is a terribly difficult one to accept and Homer describes all the pain and humiliation that Ulysses has to undergo by presenting himself as a beggar. What man would accept to be a beggar in his own house and to patiently take all kinds of harassment from a pretentious wife, just to win her back after a long absence? Nevertheless, Ulysses accepts to disguise himself as a beggar:

And speaking thus Athena touched him with a wand;

and she wrinkled his beautiful skin on his agile limbs,

she made his blond hair disappear from his head, she

made his skin like that of an old man,

she made his eyes, once so beautiful, bleary;

and she threw a filthy rag on him as well as a tunic

both ripped and dirty, black from the horrible smoke;

above this she put on a great skin of a swift deer:

she gave him a cane and a torn ugly sack, that he

slung over his shoulders with a rope.   

(Od.XIII, 429-438)

 It was important for Ulysses to meet Agamemnon in Hades and learn from him what had happened when he returned to Clytemnestra with all the arrogance of a king returning victoriously after a long battle, full of gold and with Cassandra as his slave. When he got off the ship a red carpet was laid out for him to walk on, but when he entered the house he was killed by his wife’s lover, Aegisthus, as is mentioned in the first verses of the Odyssey. Agamemnon’s arrogance (and he indeed had an arrogant heart) is in contrast with Ulysses’ humility, and Ulysses manages to become so by maintaining prayer-dialog with Athena. The shift from having an arrogant heart to becoming capable of having a humble heart is one of the most difficult changes a human being must undergo, if he or she wants to live with wisdom and be able to create secondary beauty. Arrogance can not be transformed by arrogance, pride cannot be won over with more pride. We are all born arrogant and prideful and we create conflict all throughout our lives. It takes a lot of strength and above all a lot of humility to change ourselves and it is very difficult to blend strength and humility. The dialog between Athena and Ulysses is followed up by action and the action is: to accept to transform himself into a beggar and to accept to be deeply humiliated by the Suitors and even by the servants. This is not an easy thing to accept: it is a very bitter task. The strength necessary to be able to accept it can be found through prayer, through the special type of prayer that is a fusion between the I and the SELF.

I will again take a quote from “La preghiera degli Ulissidi” {The prayer of the Ulysseans}:

The fusion between the I and the SELF …  “is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to transform the I and to create a fusion between the I and the Life of the Cosmos, between the I and You of a man and a woman. This last fusion is the most difficult to achieve for human beings. As history shows us, not only is not everyone capable of realizing it, but many are downright against it”…

For example, all of those who, both in the East and the West, invented vows of chastity and have affirmed that living as monks is a life as perfection, whereas instead being married is a second-class lifestyle that keeps one from reaching perfection, are opposed to it.


Before Ulysses departs for Troy he and Penelope experience a symbiosis, but now, after twenty years of being apart, Penelope is full of a deep pain as a result of having been abandoned. She also is full of a concealed hostility towards him. She is also obstinately opposed to growing up and becoming a woman capable of loving a man, but she is not very aware of this. It really is quite nice to be courted by one hundred suitors and not have to ever decide who she will choose among them. It’s nice to be able to deceive them by weaving her tapestry by day and unraveling it by night. She gets a subtle pleasure from maneuvering them with her tricks and at the same time knowing they will kill Ulysses for her, if he should ever return. Up until this point there really is not much difference between Agamemnon’s Clytemnestra and Ulysses’ Penelope. One of them is consciously plotting her husband’s murder while the other is plotting using a wily ambivalence, typical of those who do not want to get their hands dirty and be fully responsible for their actions.  Penelope’s ambivalence is mentioned for the first time in Book I of the Odyssey, when Telemachus encounters Athena:


 She neither refuses the hated nuptials, nor does she have the courage

to go through with them; in the meantime the Suitors are ruining my house

with their banquets and soon they will tear me to pieces as well».(Od. I, 249-251)


But Penelope herself tells Ulysses, who is still disguised as a beggar, that her heart breaks during the day and at night she is overcome by thousands of fears and doubts:

and so my heart as well jumps here and there with opposing emotions

whether to stay with my son and faithfully protect every thing,

my wealth, my slaves, the tall and great palace,

being respectful of the nuptial bed and the talk of the people;

or whether to just follow the most noble of the Achaeans,

the one who best courts me in my palace and offers me endless gifts .

(Od. XIX, 524-529)


Ulysses’ cunning and intelligence help him out in many ways but in many situations they are ineffective all by themselves. He needs continuous help from Athena as well as sometimes directly from Zeus himself. Their intervention is the result of Ulysses’ constant prayers to them.