How can the journeys of Odysseus be compared to specific real life events?

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I think if you begin to see the monsters that Odysseus encounters as symbolic of more common problems, it becomes easier to relate his struggles to real-life events.  For example, when he and his crew stop at the Land of the Lotus-Eaters, several of his men sample the lotus flowers, which have the effect of a drug, and completely lose their desire and drive to return home.  We might compare this to drug use today, how people might try a drug, not really thinking through the possible repercussions, and then suddenly find themselves a slave to that substance.  It can change their personality and make them forget their values, priorities, and goals.  That is what happens to Odysseus's men.

Alternatively, you might consider the sirens.  They are the embodiment of temptation and try to entice people away from their paths and purposes.  We often use the phrase "siren song" to describe just such a temptation in real life: I meant to study for my test...

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