I've always fought against nostalgia, perhaps because I'm so much given to it. Nostalgia affords the pleasure of an old ache, cherished because it is familiar. The Greek word nostos, however, from which our term (combined with "pain," as in "neuralgia") derives, is anything but pleasurable. For the ancient Greeks, nostos denoted a fierce longing for one's native place; our nostalgia plays with time, theirs by contrast was bound to place. "Homesickness" comes close but still falls short, for "home" conjures up not necessarily some sharply delineated plot of earth but the whole constellation of relations and affections of which home is composed; besides, it has a self-indulgent timbre, which is remote from nostos.
Odysseus, or Ulysses, is the greatest, and stubbornest, exponent of nostos. But Ulysses has also become over the centuries the very epitome of wanderlust. This contradiction in character is appropriate. Homer calls him a "man of many turns" (polutropos); that is, not merely wily, cunning, and tricky, resourceful, and unpredictable but, if I may coin a word for him, polytropical. Of all the Homeric heroes, Ulysses is the easiest to identify with. Because he is fully three-dimensional, he stands outside local time and place and is as liable to pop up in Dublin as in "sandy Pylos."
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