Finding the True Self, Part 7: Navigating Around Envy

May 30, 2019 Updated: May 30, 2019

We have seen Odysseus struggle with what might be called the lethargy of the body on the island of the Lotus-Eaters, type Nines; then at type Eight, the rage or lust of the body for sheer power with the Cyclops. Then, at Seven, the mind becomes more important than the body, as the optimistic Seven type imagines and craves boundless and beautiful futures. At Six, though, that switches to mental paranoia, mistrust, and fear; and at Five there is another mind problem in that the Five type can never know enough, and can end up avariciously hoarding knowledge.

Now as Odysseus continues his journey home—back to find his own true soul—and directed by the very precise instructions given by his lover, the goddess Circe, he must move away from what is in the mind to address what is in the heart, in the deepest emotional core of himself.

The American psychologist James Hollis observed: “We all have a fantasy of arriving at a conflict-free plateau or sunlit glen without struggle, without the demand for increasing consciousness, without being pulled deeper and further than we wish to travel. Interestingly, there is such a place—it is called Death.”

Then, as getting home and finding our own true soul is not going to be easy, we have to go deeper into ourselves than we ever really wanted to. So it is that Odysseus must now visit Hades, or hell, and also encounter the Sirens.

To recap what the type Four is like: Fours see themselves as “I am different,” and their desire is to be unique or an original person; their deadly sin is envy. This is because they can’t help but look at others, compare themselves, and feel they come up short: hence the focus on authenticity and originality by way of compensating for comparative deficiencies.

Fours are often considered artistic types. At their best, Fours are sensitive, aesthetic, and profound; at their worst, they tend to be depressive, self-absorbed, and spiteful.

Odysseus in Hades

Odysseus follows Circe’s instructions till he reaches the land of Cimmerians, which is an “outer limit,” a place where the “sun never brings light” and “endless deadly night overhangs those wretched men.”

Appropriately, this is where he must encounter Hades. First, he digs a trench; this is vital. The trench represents a boundary that can protect him and his men from being overwhelmed by the dead.

Then into the trench he pours offerings to the dead, as well as making vows to honor them on his return to Ithaca. Finally, sacrificial sheep are slaughtered and the gods are prayed to, especially the god of death and his wife, the queen of hell, “dread Persephone.”

The blood attracts the dead, huge armies of them, surging upward as the blood pours down, so much so that Odysseus says, “Blanching terror gripped me.” But he has drawn his “sharp sword,” and, holding it between the blood and the ghosts, prevents their drinking it. He can control who speaks through his sword.

Meeting Those Who Envy

What is important here is to understand that with the Four type, the emotions can be overwhelming and extremely dramatic. The trench is vital—a boundary, and the setting of boundaries—if one is not to be overcome by the emotional intensity of the Four type. We mean, not only in encountering the Four but also in being a Four. Fours can easily overwhelm themselves, especially with bleak and negative thoughts. Remember, we are in a land where the sun doesn’t shine.

Interestingly, the first person that Odysseus speaks to is not the person he wants and must speak to, Tiresias, but his recently deceased crew member, Elpenor, who died on Circe’s island by carelessly getting drunk.

elpenor and Odysseus
Jar (pelike) with Odysseus and Elpenor in the Underworld. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (Public Domain)

Elpenor begins with what becomes the litany of the type Four: a complaint: He remains unburied and his obsequies have not been performed; these must be done, which Odysseus freely acknowledges.

Two things are interesting here: First is that rituals in some sense help protect us from emotional negativities. (We concentrate on something while we are doing it, and we are not focused on our own feeling states.) And second, Elpenor, like all the dead that Odysseus encounters, is stuck in the past, stuck with his complaint, and some “angry god” is responsible for his dilemma.

This is typical of Fours. They have a great preoccupation with the past as well as with who else is to blame for their situation—the gods, luck, women, wine, or whatever. We learn later that the spirits who speak with Odysseus all talk about “the grief that touches them most.”

ghost of Teresias meeting odysseus
“The Shade of Tiresias Appearing to Odysseus During the Sacrifice,” circa 1780-85, by Johann Heinrich Füssli. (Public Domain)

Indeed, Odysseus himself while in hell is described (by Tiresias, the seer) not as the man of many twists and turns, but as the “man of pain.” For that is what Fours experience in their daily journeys: The unbearable sense that they are not recognized for who they uniquely are, and the accompanying sense, too, that life is unfair.

Some injustice at a root level has occurred to them, and they are unable to move on as a result. Author Michael J. Goldberg puts it this way: Hades is the place of “if-onlys” and “might-have-beens,” and it renders its inhabitants prone to this vice: “Hades is the place of envy of the living.”

Dealing With Fours

After promising Elpenor that his funeral rites will be performed, Odysseus gets to speak with the “awesome shade” of Tiresias, the “great blind prophet whose mind remains unshaken.”

It is worth keeping in mind here, although Homer does not allude to it (presumably because everyone in Greece would have known, such was Tiresias’s fame), that Tiresias experienced his mortal life both as a man and as a woman. It would take too long to delve into this now, but consider what Circe remarked about him: that “his mind remains unshaken.” In other words, he’s balanced, and perhaps this androgynous, male-female sweep of his physical existence is what stabilizes his thinking, even though he is in hell.

The unshakable mind of Tiresias can offer wisdom and insight. This kind of insight—from the depths of our being—is real. Tiresias tells him how he can get home—find his soul again—and also provides a seemingly enigmatic tip on how to finally be done with the curse that Poseidon put on him.

First, Odysseus is told that for him and his men to be successful, they must “curb their wild desire.” Second, after he gets home, Odysseus must travel to a land where the people know “nothing of the sea” and there make his offering to Poseidon. This is highly significant, because as we know, the sea represents the turbulence of the emotions and subconscious forces. The type Fours, then, must go to a place where they are beyond their own morbid emotionality and cravings.

This advice, of course, is easier heard than followed, and indeed the crew fail to “curb their wild desires” very soon after leaving Hades, and with fatal consequences.

But there is still one more test at type Four for Odysseus to face, a kind of extension of the journey to Hades: namely, facing the Sirens. However, Circe, whom they return to in order to refresh and ceremoniously bury Elpenor, gives salutary advice; the type Five, as it were, enables the type Four.

Following her instructions, Odysseus has his crew’s ears filled with wax, while he is strapped by ropes immovably to the mast; in this way, they sail past the Sirens. But Odysseus can actually hear their song. And what a song!

mosaic of Odysseus and Sirens
Odysseus and the Sirens, a Roman mosaic. Bardo National Museum. (Public Domain)

As Goldberg puts it: The song is “I feel your pain.” A sweet, sweet song, it “gets” you, empathizes with all you have been through, and offers you their solace. How beguiling! Like some blues singer with a wonderful voice at a dark night club (perhaps Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song”), where at last you hear someone who understands you.

Who wouldn’t be seduced? The key thing is for the Four to listen—as Odysseus does—but not to act, not to be drawn toward their “land,” because to do so is to be shipwrecked and lost altogether.

Goldberg makes the profound observation that if we become consumed (on our journey home) by our own unique pain and start exploring how sad and beautiful it is (through, as he says, “endless therapies and explorations and to make others understand”), then we are doomed. We have to decisively move on and sail past the emotional wrecks our own personal history, lest we become stuck in the past, stuck in Hades, in fact.

What We Learn From a Type Four

Critically, then, as we contemplate Odysseus at type Four, we learn that first we need boundaries (the trench, the ropes) in dealing with the type Four, and that type Fours themselves need to create boundaries for themselves.

We also learn that we need to listen to the stories of the characters and incomplete parts of ourselves that cry out for attention, but at the same time to make peace with them, dismiss them, and move on.

Finally, we must never give up. This is a truth especially for the type Four, for the essential characteristic of being in hell is the hopelessness that comes from envying the living. Fours are susceptible to despair, and so the determination never to give up—to find a way round the obstacles to getting home—is vital.

Thus, it is that Odysseus sails on to confront what is sometimes said to be the most typical personality type of Americans: the type Three, where we encounter Scylla and Charybdis and the Island of the Sungod.

In this multipart series, “Finding the True Self,” we will discuss nine types of personalities, their flaws, and show how Odysseus, through his adventures, overcame them to find his way back home.

James Sale is a poet and businessman whose company, Motivational Maps Ltd., operates in 14 countries. James will be appearing in New York to do talks and poetry readings for The Society of Classical Poets on June 17, 2019, at Bryant Park and The Princeton Club. To meet James and for more information, go to