Finding the True Self, Part 8: Navigating Through Self-Deceit

June 14, 2019 Updated: June 14, 2019

Odysseus has had a most terrifying, almost overwhelming, experience in summoning the dead spirits of Hades in order to continue his journey home so as to find his own true soul, Penelope.

We have seen in this series that the integration of the soul does not admit of any shortcuts. Odysseus must suffer all of the nine shortcomings that are to be found in the human personality. From sloth and lust, at points Nine and Eight on the Enneagram cycle of nine personality types, he has moved through gluttony (where a bold shortcut was attempted and failed), fear, and avarice at points Seven, Six, and Five.

At point Four, deep in hell, which he has just quit, he has confronted a profound resentment and envy of the living as the dead endlessly rehearse the might-have-beens from their own imperfect pasts. This last step has been very emotional for Odysseus; he has even had to meet his grieving mother in hell.

But at least he has received advice from the prophet Tiresias on how to get home. Thus, he sets out again and now must face the traps that ensnare the type Three on the Enneagram: This is a double encounter with, first, the monsters Scylla and Charybdis, and then with venturing to the island of Thrinacia where the sun god’s cattle graze.

To recap what the type Three is like: Number Threes’ self-image is “I am successful,” and their basic desire is to be valuable, or an effective person. But their deadly sin is deceit, and often they fool themselves about their true motives. This is because image is vitally important to Threes, so as they sculpture their own image to appear successful, they can easily end up believing their own hype!

As a notable sidebar, some writers on the Enneagram think that whole countries can have a dominant number type. Three, and the quest for success, is often considered typically American. At their best, they are motivating, can-do, goal-orientated achievers; at their worst, they are workaholics who have become, as Michael Goldberg calls them (in his wonderful book “The 9 Ways of Working”) “soulless hustlers.”

The Hubris of Type Three

It is worth quoting at the outset James Hollis’s observation (from his book “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life”) that “Our hubristic belief that we are in control of ourselves and nature only makes us more unconscious of what is at work within us.” This idea is especially true if we consider Odysseus at type Three on the Enneagram model.

Here at Three, Odysseus very explicitly thinks he is in control and can dictate what happens. Furthermore, he is—hubristically so—preoccupied with his own image and how he appears. Again, citing James Hollis: “Those most preoccupied with appearance are typically those most resistant to the task of inner authority, for they continue to seek validation from the world out there.” Inner authority here means, not the egocentric mind but a deeper level of knowledge that comes from the soul and spirit within a human being: This is what Tiresias (the soul searches down to hell) and Circe (the goddess is inspiration of spirit from above) represent.

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

Odysseus is, at type Three, highly resistant to finding his inner authority. First, and to explain this, we need to understand that after the hardships of type Nine and Seven, and the horrors of Eight, Six, and Four, Odysseus has enjoyed a double bonus. After he circumvents Circe’s danger, at type Five, she has refreshed Odysseus and his crew, and their stay with her in comparative luxury has lasted a whole year; plus, they return to her and get refreshed again as they bury their dead comrade Elpenor. But most importantly of all, as befits the type Five, she refreshes them with wisdom; indeed, profound wisdom.

Circe tells Odysseus how to overcome Scylla and Charybdis, and also backs up the message that he had received from Tiresias: namely, avoid temptation on the sun god’s island, Thrinacia. Now this is pretty strong stuff. The great prophet Tiresias, whose mind is unclouded, tells him a truth, and this is reinforced by an immortal goddess who loves him.

But perhaps too much lounging around and making love to a goddess has weakened Odysseus’s moral and spiritual fiber, for his hubris begins almost immediately.

Always Playing the Hero

Circe makes it crystal clear that in overcoming—or rather surviving—the perils of Scylla (the six-headed man-eating monster) and Charybdis (the deadly whirlpool), Odysseus must lose six men; in other words, that in achieving a great goal there will be necessary losses and there is no way to avoid this.

Circe-jean jules badin
The sorceress Circe represents Odysseus’s encounter with a Five type personality. “Circé,” 1875, by Jean Jules Badin. Private Ownership. (Public Domain)

In fact, if he is not prepared to lose six men to Scylla, then he will lose them all, because the alternative is meeting Charybdis, a monster that will destroy everything, including their boat.

But Odysseus seems unwilling to accept this advice: “So stubborn,” says Circe. As she observes, he is “hell-bent … on battle and feats of arms,” and “won’t bow to the deathless gods themselves.” For Scylla is “no mortal, she’s an immortal devastation.” There is no fighting her, “no defense.” But it’s as if Odysseus is chafing at the bit, energized by his success in coming so far, and now wanting one glory more.

Similarly, Circe warns him not to touch or harm the golden cattle of the sun god, Helios, on the island of Thrinacia. And these warnings Odysseus explicitly tells his crew, and not once. Three times he tells them, and even gets them to swear a binding oath not to touch the cattle. But all is in vain.

Approaching Scylla and Charybdis, Odysseus deceives himself, and then rhetorically communicates the deception to his men, in thinking that this danger is no worse than the Cyclops, which palpably it is, and that—he adds vaingloriously—“My courage, my presence of mind, and tactics saved us all.”

Thus, he ignores the prophet, ignores the goddess, takes all the credit himself, and to make things worse, he “cleared his mind of Circe’s orders—cramping my style, urging me not to arm at all. I donned my heroic armor, seized long spears” and so prepares to fight that which cannot be fought. As Karen Horney once observed, believing in one’s own “persona,” or mask, makes one arrogant; and this the gods hate.

Here is the Three type: Don’t cramp my style; hero or heroine to the rescue, a knight to defeat any dragon, and—hey, don’t I look good in this “heroic armor”?

And while, yes, they are great at practical action, which is exactly what is needed here because they need to row like madmen through the narrow straits of Scylla and Charybdis without delay, without posturing in armor, and without lengthy, self-aggrandizing speeches. But this is what Odysseus has forgotten.

Odysseus passing Scylla and Charybdis
Odysseus’s ship passing between the six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis, by Allessandro Allori, circa 1575, from a fresco. (Public Domain)

Indeed, the sight of the “black” depths of Charybdis opening up on their port gets them gazing into “the whole abyss laid bare,” forgetting Scylla, which now snatches six men with her six heads—“the toughest, strongest” men Odysseus had. So pointless, all the posturing, all the spears; but at least they row like fury and finally get beyond the dangers. To delay would be to give Scylla two helpings of the crew.

The Second Danger

But now their real problem begins. Odysseus wants to sail past Thrinacia but submits to the will of his men who want a break. Again we have that situation we have encountered before: The crew—that is, the body of Odysseus—want to do something at variance with the mind of Odysseus. The mind knows what it should do, but the body directs it elsewhere.

The sun god has seven herds of golden cattle and seven flocks of immortal sheep; they are immortal and never die, at least not naturally. Seven is significant, as is being “golden”: Seven is the number of perfection, and gold—like the golden sun itself—belongs to the gods. Here, then, is a chance to restore paradise if they can but not succumb to temptation and so incur the wrath of the sun god. As Circe told them: They can all get home without further loss.

However, Odysseus leaves his men so that he can “pray to the gods”—a sort of phony piety that the gods see through, since they put Odysseus to sleep. You see, the Three is deceiving himself about his own intention; he is fooling himself into thinking he is a spiritual, devout follower of the gods when all the time he intends something quite different.

Meanwhile, his men decide to slaughter some cattle to eat and also presumptuously decide what will satisfy the sun god by way of reparation. They feast for six days, even though the meat displays fateful signs of corruption. They set off from the island, and Zeus, taking Helios’s part, destroys all the crew and ship with his thunderbolts.

Odysseus alone survives this massive onslaught of divine displeasure, making himself a makeshift raft from the wreckage. And this raft is carried all the way back to Scylla and Charybdis, just as with Aeolus, at type Seven, where Odysseus ends up where he started.

Now, however, he is in a far worse position: The raft is sucked down into the whirlpool, and Odysseus only escapes by clinging onto an overhanging fig tree. There he remains suspended until the whirlpool vomits out its contents—his fragile craft—and Odysseus can catch its outward wave and shift beyond the danger.

By the skin of his teeth, and by the will of Zeus, who prevents Scylla from seeing him, he escapes. He will drift for nine more days until he reaches Calypso’s island; there he must encounter type Two.

The type Threes, then, are dynamic, resourceful, motivational, but potentially victims of their own success, as they begin to believe their own hype, their own false self-image. In doing so, they lose touch with their own past, their own history, and what it teaches them.

Rushing forward to obtain even greater glory—pushing themselves to be the “best”—they will bend the rules to achieve their ends: Odysseus knows what the gods want, but he flouts their gravest interdictions anyway. In this way, type Threes become exposed; and because they have sought glory, their falls become all the more spectacular and public.

So perhaps the two most important lessons for type Threes, if they are to overcome their own self-deceit, are first to stop moving, stop the endless quest for new successes and be still; secondly, to listen carefully to the advice, the feedback, that comes from within and from those who truly love or care for you.

If we think of our Western culture over the last 20 years or so, and the rise of those advocating meditation and mindfulness, this makes sense in a world dominated by type Three pressures to achieve.

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 at Bryant Park and The Princeton Club. To meet James and for more information go