The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for itchy feet


Click to follow

Ailment: Itchy feet

Cure: The Odyssey by Homer

August is a particularly trying month if you suffer from itchy feet. The neighbours have all absconded to some exotic holiday destination, a sea of empty desks surrounds you at work, and a bunch of bored kids are climbing the walls at home. The urge to get on a plane, a boat, a horse – anything – can take on a maddening urgency. To alleviate the itching, plunge into a chapter a day of The Odyssey. Not only will Odysseus's seemingly endless meanderings satiate your desire for perpetual movement, but you'll see the danger of being absent while your life goes on without you.

Odysseus himself had terribly itchy feet. King of Ithaca, he sets off to reclaim his small but significant sovereignty, but gets so distracted along the way that it takes him another 10 years before he feels home soil beneath his well-worn sandals again. Admittedly, this is partly the fault of the gods. Held captive by the sea nymph Calypso for seven years, he's also captured by the cyclops Polyphemus who keeps him in a cave along with the giant's ovine herd; he's blown off-course regularly by Poseidon's storms; he has to battle with the man- eating Laestrogonians; must resist the call of the Sirens; and narrowly escapes being turned into a pig by Circe.

But his wanderings often lead to yet more wandering, with Odysseus catching tantalising glimpses of home shores before being whirled into another adventure. And when he does finally make it back, he's only just in time to rescue his long-suffering wife, Penelope, from an enforced re-marriage to a suitor eager to take his throne. When you see how perilously close Odysseus comes to losing both his kingdom and his wife, you'll be content for your wanderings to be vicarious. Make Homer your foot balm, and spend the rest of the summer nurturing your own Ithaca.