Before considering our own predicament in this historical light, I would like to make one matter fully explicit. To admire Odysseus for his self-awakening is not to deny that he was, in many ways and by our lights, a scoundrel. On their way home after the fall of Troy, he and his men sacked the city of Ismarus simply because it was there. Likewise, as Helen Luke reminds us, they came to the land of the Cyclopes seeking plunder, so it is hard to blame Polyphemus for responding in the same spirit. The Cyclopes themselves were a pastoral folk who kept peaceably to themselves, and the crude Polyphemus was able to speak quite tenderly to his sheep (Luke 1987, pp. 13-15; but compare Dimock 1990, pp. 110 -15).
Nothing requires us to repress our own judgments about Odysseus' behavior. But it is always problematic when such judgments are not tempered by a sense for historical and individual development. None of us would like to be judged solely by what we have been, as opposed to what we are becoming. And all human becoming is marked by certain tragic necessities, partly reflecting the progress of the race to date.
This is clear enough when we look at the developing child. "Blessed are the little children" profoundly true, for they have a wonderful openness to everything that is noble, beautiful, healing. But children have also been characterized as beastly little devils, casually inflicting horrible pain upon each other. This, too, has its truth. The point is that neither judgment makes a lot of sense when taken in the way we would assess the well-developed character of a fully self-conscious adult. The child is only on the way to becoming an adult self, and much of what we see in his early years is less the expression of the individual to come than it is the raw material both noble and diabolical from which the individual must eventually shape himself.