Aeolus in The Odyssey: The Winds That Led Odysseus Astray
Aeolus in The Odyssey helped our hero by providing him with a bag of winds. Odysseus’s men’s ignorance, however, resulted in the waste of this help. Since then, Odysseus and Aeolus’s relationship had turned sour.
Keep reading our article written by Greek mythology experts and find out more details about Aeolus’s crucial role in the Odyssey.
Aeolus In Greek Mythology
Aeolus is the son of a mortal king and a nymph who had an illustrious affair. They birthed a son who was blessed with immortality like that of his mother’s but lacked the prestige of a Greek god as he was born from a mortal man. Because of this, he was locked in the island of Aeolia that contained the “Aneomoi Theullai,” or the spirits of the four winds. As such, he lived his life for god’s favors, as he was called upon to release the four winds to travelers that gained the Greek gods’ and goddesses’ ire.
The four winds were depicted in the shape of a horse, and as such, Aeolus was often referred to as the “horse-Reiner,” who commanded the four winds that wreaked havoc on their targets. In The Odyssey, he was portrayed as being true to his depiction in Greek mythology.
Who Is Aeolus in The Odyssey?
Aeolus in the Odyssey was known as the god of winds, not because he was a Greek god that resides on Mount Olympus but because Zeus, the sky god, trusted him to be the keeper of the winds. Aeolus had a level of authority unheard of among his mortal peers, as his floating island was favored by the god of gods himself.
He used his capabilities to help the Ithacan hero home but refused to help him a second time in fear of gaining the gods’ ire. Aeolus also emphasized what the Ithacan king lacked in terms of leadership and what his actions as well as his failure to control his men led to. To fully grasp the reason behind this, we must go over the events of the epic.
Odysseus’ story began right after the events of The Iliad. Odysseus gathered his men into groups as they sailed the seas. They sailed the seas and decided to rest on the island of the Ciccone’s where they raided the town, ransacking homes and taking what they could handle.
They drove off the residents of the island, drinking and feasting on their collections. They spent the night despite Odysseus’ warning and faced the consequences after. The following day the Ciccones returned with reinforcements and drove Odysseus and his men away.
Odysseus caught the gods’ attention, as their favor towards him was slowly fading. This complicates his journey, as almost all of his struggles have been caused by the Greek gods and goddesses. Odysseus and his men then journey to various islands that cause him and his men harm and finally arrive on an island that welcomes them with open arms.
Aeolus In The Odyssey: Island of Aeolus
After escaping the island of Sicily, Odysseus’s men were caught in the middle of a storm, they were then led to an island seemingly floating above the waters. They climbed atop the land, looking for safety, and meet the king of the floating isle, Aeolus.
He offered them shelter and the Greek men stayed for a few days.
They learned that the island was solely inhabited by the king, his wife, his six sons, and daughters. They eat and replenish their energy, sharing stories of their travels as Aeolus listens.
Aeolus and Odysseus bid each other goodbye, and the god of wind in The Odyssey gifts a bag filled with strong winds to Odysseus as a token of good faith but warns him not to open it. Aeolus then casts a favorable west wind to blow Odysseus’ ship towards his home in their journey.
Odysseus and his men sailed the seas for eight straight days with no rest or sleep, only resting once Odysseus had caught sight of their homeland. But as he was asleep, his men opened the bag of winds thinking that Aeolus gifted him gold; needless to say, that they caused all of the strong winds to escape.
The winds drove them off course for several days, leading them back to the island of Aeolia. They asked Aeolus to help Odysseus once again but were turned away as they were cursed by some other gods.
Upon leaving the Island, Aeolus found out that Odysseus had seduced one of his daughters and wanted to punish him. Along with Poseidon, the sea god, he sent the Ithacan men strong winds and storms that hindered their journey and lead to dangerous islands such as the island of the Laestrygonians, the man-eating giants.
Aeolus in The Odyssey: Odysseus After Aeolus’ Rejection
After being rejected by Aeolus the Ithacan men and Odysseus set sail, only to be sent strong waves and winds that lead them to the island of the Laestrygonians. There, Odysseus and his men were hunted like prey and eaten when caught. They were treated as animals to be hunted.
Eventually, they escaped, but not without losing a significant number of men, and in the end, only one ship was able to leave the island of the giants.
Next, they landed on Circe’s island, where Odysseus became the young sorceress’s lover, living in luxury for a year.
After that, they docked on the island of Helios as strong waves and winds sent by Polyphemus and Aeolus endangered their travel at sea. Odysseus was warned not to touch the golden cattle on the island of Helios, but his men did not listen and slaughtered the beloved livestock in his absence.
Once they set sail from the island of Helios, Zeus sent a thunderbolt, destroying their ship and drowning all of Odysseus’ men in the process. Odysseus was spared, only to wash ashore on the island of Ogygia, where he was imprisoned for seven years. Once he was allowed to leave, Odysseus journeyed home and finally returned to Ithaca, reclaiming his throne and following the nostos concept.
Aeolus’ Role in The Odyssey
Proved Odysseus’s Incapability to Lead
Albeit having a short appearance in the Odyssey, Aeolus portrayed the significant subordination that Odysseus’ men lacked. Aeolus was submissive to the Greek gods, giving respect to those in power who he worked for, and because of this, he was rewarded with the type of power mortal men could never have.
Odysseus lacked the type of authority that allowed him to lead his men greatly. The first instance is on the island of the Ciccones where his men refused to leave despite his warnings; this led to a fight where a few of his men lost their lives. Another is after they’ve left Aeolus’ island, the men sailed for eight straight days, with absolutely no sleep just to get home.
They were blessed with the west winds to guide them in their journey and when Odysseus could see their homeland, he was complacent enough to sleep. His men, greedy in nature, opened Aeolus’ gift and released the four winds, leading them straight back to the god of winds’ island. They had asked Aeolus for help once again but were refused as they were cursed by the gods.
Proved Odysseus’s Selfishness Was Unfit for a King
Aeolus also portrays how Odysseus’ behavior is unfitting for a king and his responsibilities as such were pushed aside in favor of his selfishness. In his journey home, Odysseus had taken on numerous lovers, demanded things he should not have, and expected things to go his way; all of this led to even greater dangers.
In Sicily he let his pride get the best of him as he boastfully informed Polyphemus the name of the man that blinded him – Odysseus himself! This allowed Polyphemus to pray to his father to exact revenge on his stead. Poseidon then sent numerous storms and strong seas their way, leading them to dangerous islands.
Another instance is on the island of Aeolus, where Odysseus seduced one of Aeolus’ daughters. Naturally, this angered the god of winds and it is surmised that this was the real reason Odysseus and his men were turned down, as well as why they ended up on the dangerous island of the Laestrygonians.
Moreover, they were forced to journey towards the nearby island. There, Odysseus experienced a great loss as he had lost the majority of his men; from 12 ships that journeyed home, only one ship remained and escaped the island.
Now that we’ve talked about Aeolus, who he is, and his significance in Odysseus’ journey home, let us go over the critical points of this article.
- Aeolus in The Odyssey is known as the god of wind because Zeus trusted him to be the keeper of the winds
- Aeolus was born from a mortal father and immortal nymph, and in so, he had the immortality of his mother without the perks of being a Greek god
- Aeolus helped Odysseus by commanding the west wind to lead his ship home
- Aeolus then cast a favorable west wind to blow Odysseus’ ship towards his home in their journey
- Odysseus’ men opened the bag of winds, thinking it was gold, that drifted them further from the destination and brought them back to Aeolia
- Aeolus refused to help the Ithacan men, thinking they were loathed by gods, and sent them on their way.
- The king of winds found out Odysseus had seduced one of his daughters and cast a wind that lead them to the island of the man-eating giants
- Aeolus, together with Poseidon, sent waves and winds to Odysseus’ way, preventing him from returning home and endangering his life numerous times
- The Laestrygonians significantly depleted Odysseus’ troops, and eventually, only one ship could escape
- Once Odysseus was freed from Calypso’s island after seven years, Aeolus had forgotten about him, and only Poseidon was there to prevent him from returning home
The events with Aeolus in the Odyssey created a snowball effect and ultimately caused all the unfortunate events that followed for Odysseus. As we have also realized through this article, the encounter with Aeolus also gives another faulty dimension to the seemingly-perfect king Odysseus. In the end, we found out that the god of winds has a more distinct mythological significance than we thought at the beginning.