Joel Christensen is a Professor of Classics at Brandeis University and author of the book The Many Minded Man. He also posts regularly on the popular Classics-oriented website Sententiae Antiquae.
At the end of 2020 I hosted a series of 5 long form conversations on the theme of calling and meaning, using Homer's Odyssey as an anchor, so when I came across Joel's book The Many Minded Man, I had to reach out to him.
The book explores Homer's Odyssey through a modern psychological lens, focusing on how it reflects the workings of the human mind and provides a model for coping with the challenges of chance and fate.
In this episode we discuss:
- The concept of agency and how The Odyssey helps us to understand what we can control
- How to use the power of storytelling to make sense of your life and the world around you
- What modern psychology can learn from Homer's Odyssey and Iliad
This was a wonderful conversation centred on some of the greatest stories ever told, which will show you how storytelling can shape a sense of agency and provide solutions to help you avoid destructive patterns.
- Introducing Joel Christensen [00:37]
- Why does Joel consider his home life to be more important than school in his early years and how did his perspective change when he started university? [02:41]
- Joel recalls his history with the Iliad and the Odyssey, how the classics helped him reflect on life, and the key lessons ingrained in the epics [05:54]
- How do culture and community strengthen the timelessness of the Iliad and the Odyssey? [13:34]
- What were the questions that inspired Joel to write about the Odyssey from a modern psychological standpoint? [16:55]
- How does the intersection of modern psychology and the Homeric epics help inform the nature vs nurture debate [19:26]
- How does our sense of freewill affect the way we exercise our agency? [22:18]
- Is fate pre-determined or is it constructed through our own actions? What does Odysseus’ perseverance prove about agency and its role in his fate? [24:22]
- How does Homer’s storytelling make use of Odysseus’ personal narrative both as a disempowering tool and as a tale of redemption? [26:59]
- What mistake do readers make when identifying only with the hero of the epic? [34:15]
- Does the Odyssey fully represent the limits of human agency? And how does this epic explore the dangers of power? [35:30]
- Closing remarks [39:16]
Follow Joel online