Nostalgia | “Homecoming” and Pain

The prototypical homesick person was Homer’s Odysseus, cast up on Kalypso’s Ogygia and yearning for Ithaka. In the Odyssey, he is gazing out at the sea, crying for wife and home, for a person and a place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Ruth, in the Old Testament, is also a mythical exile, but as a literary figure she is most touchingly rendered by Keats in the “Ode to a Nightingale”: “through the sad heart of Ruth, when sick for home, / She stood in tears amid the alien corn.” There is no Biblical authority for this portrayal.                                                                                                                                           Keats, born after the invention of the word, makes “nostalgia” an appropriate condition for his sad gleaner. The original Ruth would not have known the meaning of the word, even in her desire for the land of her Moabite tribesmen. Exile and displacement are eternal; nostalgia is a modern phenomenon, not a Biblical one. Keats’s Ruth has a Romantic disease.

Read the full article “Proust Goes to the Country Club” | The American Scholar


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