I’ve just finished reading Richard Lattimore’s beautiful English translation of Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey.” There are some striking similarities between the content of this epic piece and the story at the root of Christianity, the gospels.
For example, upon Odysseus’ return to his homeland of Ithaka he judges between his servants who have tended his property well and those who have forgotten about their master (Parable of the Talents?). Or, in another case, some men are castigated for not showing hospitality to the poor while others are extolled for this very virtue (the poor man Lazarus?). It may be truly said that the gospels were rooted in this Greek world, and that some of their virtues and ideas were incorporated into the Christian heritage.
Yet one idea stands apart from all that the Greeks said and thought. In both the Illiad and the Odyssey, there is no hope for the dead; the lamentation in Hades is their final destination, not of rest but of anguish. For Christians, this is not so. We have a hope that exists through the cross and beyond the grave. This is where our faith stands in stark contrast to the world Christianity inherited: nothing will separate us from God’s radical and uncompromising love.