Land Of The Dead Odyssey

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In the Odyssey, books 10 and 11 are known as “Land of the Dead.” The Odyssey proceeds with Odysseus continuing his quest to return to Ithaca. Having blinded the dreaded cyclops, Polyphemus, Odysseus escaped his island and sailed on. As the Odyssey book 10 begins, Odysseus and his crew come to the island of the god of wind, Aeolus.

Odysseus has lost six men to the cyclop’s endless appetite. To escape the beast’s cave, he and his men drove a sharpened log into its eye, blinding it. In so doing, he incurred Poseidon’s wrath, who happened to be the father of Polyphemus. With the gods now against him, he sails once more for Ithaca. In book 10 of the Odyssey, Odysseus has better fortune, at least at first. He comes to the Aeolian isle, where Aeolus and his twelve sons and daughters live with his beloved wife.

The Odyssey book 10 summary would be to say that Odysseus escaped the cyclops to join a party at the home of the keeper of the winds and nearly returned home. Unfortunately for Odysseus, the story doesn’t end there.

Aeolus feasts Odysseus and his crew. His generous host provides them with a month’s worth of hospitality before sending them on their way with an even greater gift- a bag containing all of the winds except the West wind, which he sets free to drive the ship toward Ithaca.

All is going very well. Odysseus, unwilling to take any more chances, takes the wheel himself. He sales for nine days. When the shore is within sight, he sees the watchmen lighting the beacons along the shore and finally falls asleep.

An Ill Wind Blows

So close to home, the crew begins to grumble among themselves. The familiar shores of Ithaca are in sight, and they are nearly home… but what have they gained?

They have experienced horrors and battles and loss. They have grieved their companions. There is nothing behind them but death and destruction. There is nothing in their pockets. They barely have the supplies they need to survive another few days, let alone another journey. They have traveled and served their captain well, and they have come home empty-handed.

Grumbling amongst themselves, the crew decides that the generous Aeolus must certainly have given Odysseus a grand treasure. Surely, the keeper of the winds with all his treasures and his rich feasting must have given Odysseus gold and silver at least. With all the wonders they have seen, they begin to believe the bag contains gold and silver, and perhaps magical items.

Determined to see what their master has not shared with them, they open the purse given by Aeolus. Zeus’ curse is unleashed, along with the rest of the winds. The resulting storm drives them all the way back to Aeolus’ island.

Cursed by the Gods

Aeolus hears Odysseus’s pleas for help, but he is unmoved by the mortal. Having squandered his first gift, Odysseus has lost favor with him and now must journey on without the winds to help him. The crew is punished for their foolishness and greed by the need to row the heavy ships by hand. Without wind to move them along, they are dead in the water and completely reliant on manpower alone to continue:

“So I spoke and addressed them with gentle words, but they were silent. Then their father answered and said: `Begone from our island with speed, thou vilest of all that lives. In no wise may I help or send upon his way that man who is hated of the blessed gods. Begone, for thou comest hither as one hated of the immortals.’

“So saying, he sent me forth from the house, groaning heavily. Thence we sailed on, grieved at heart. And worn was the spirit of the men by the grievous rowing, because of our own folly, for no longer appeared any breeze to bear us on our way.”

They sailed on for six more days before coming to Lamus. Two of Odysseus’ ships sail into the main harbor, while Odysseus holds back, mooring outside of the entry. He sends in three of his men to scout and sees if they may be welcomed here.

The first of the three suffers a horrible fate, becoming a meal for the giant king, Antiphates. The others fare no better, running for their lives to the ships. The giants of the region, the Laestrygonians, come out and fling boulders, crushing the ships and killing all men. Odysseus flees. With only one ship left, he sails on.

Circe’s Spell

Odysseus and his remaining crew sail onward until they come to another island. The crew is unwilling to explore the island very far, understandably. They’ve visited an island where a cyclops devoured six of their companions and another where giants destroyed their remaining ships and made meals of their crew members. They’re not keen on visiting yet another unknown island where gods and monsters may lay in wait to eat more of them.

Odysseus tells them that their grief and fear are for their own safety and no benefit or honor. He divides the remainder of his crew into two groups. The lot falls to the one led by Eurylochus, and they set off, though reluctantly.

The group comes to the witch Circe’s castle, and despite their fear, her singing lulls them, and they enter when she bids them, all but Eurylochus, who stays outside to keep watch. Circe laces the feast with a potion that transforms the men into swine, erasing their memories and humanity.

Eurylochus returns to the ships to report to Odysseus. He immediately straps on his sword and sets out, but he is stopped by a young man along the way. In disguise, Hermes gives Odysseus the gift of moly, a drug that will prevent Circe’s potions from working. He advises Odysseus to rush at Circe and threaten her with his sword. When she yields, Hermes tells him, she will invite him to her bed. Odysseus must accept, after gaining her word, that she will not harm him.
Odysseus follows Hermes’ instructions, and his crew is restored. They spend a year feasting and living in luxury in Circe’s castle before the crew convinces him to sail on.

Circe gives Odysseus instruction. He is not going to be able to return directly to Ithaca. He will have to travel through the Land of the Dead. In the Odessey, there is no straight path home.

Book 11 Odyssey Summary

As the Odyssey Land of the Dead continues, Odysseus chooses to take his leave of Circe. She informs him that his journey will not be an easy one, and the most difficult parts of the journey lie ahead. Odysseus is heartbroken and shaken at the news that he will have to travel through the Land of the Dead. Odyssey Book 11 is the fulfillment of Circe’s prediction.

“…you must first complete another journey, and come to the house of Hades and dread Persephone, to seek soothsaying of the spirit of Theban Teiresias, the blind seer, whose mind abides steadfast. To him even in death, Persephone has granted reason, that he alone should have understanding; but the others flit about as shadows.’”

Weighed with grief at the news that he will have to go to Hades’ lands, Odysseus sets out one more time. The Odyssey Book 11 continues as he leaves Circe’s island and sets sail for the dreaded Land of the Dead.

A Prophet, a Meeting, and A Contrast

Despite his dread, Odysseus does not have another choice. He must go to the Land of the Dead. Following the instructions he was given, he digs a trench and pours milk, honey, and sacrificed animals’ blood. The blood and offerings attract the spirits of the dead. They come, crowding forward to the sacrifice. To his horror, Odysseus is presented with the spirits of a lost crewman, his own mother, and the prophet Tiresias.

Tiresias has news that Odysseus needs to hear. He informs him that he has been affected by Poseidon’s ire and that he will face more challenges before he arrives back in Ithaca. He warns him against harming the cattle of Helios. If he does harm them, he will lose all of his men and ships. They’ll only reach home if they use judgment and a great deal of care.

Tiresias also informs Odysseus that he will have to embark on yet another quest when he arrives in Ithaca. He’ll have to travel inland until he finds people who have never heard of Poseidon. When he reaches his destination, he will need to burn sacrifices to the god.

When Tiresias is finished speaking, Odysseus’ mother is permitted to come forward and speak to him. She explains that Laertes, his father, still lives but has lost his will to live. Finally, Achilles, his old companion, comes and laments the torments of the Land of the Dead, driving home the value of the life Odysseus still possesses. Odysseus, shaken by what he has seen and heard, welcomes the opportunity to leave. He has no desire to spend any more time than he must in the Land of the Dead.

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Ancient Literature (April 13, 2024) Land Of The Dead Odyssey. Retrieved from https://ancient-literature.com/land-of-the-dead-odyssey/.
"Land Of The Dead Odyssey." Ancient Literature - April 13, 2024, https://ancient-literature.com/land-of-the-dead-odyssey/
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Ancient Literature - Land Of The Dead Odyssey. [Internet]. [Accessed April 13, 2024]. Available from: https://ancient-literature.com/land-of-the-dead-odyssey/
"Land Of The Dead Odyssey." Ancient Literature - Accessed April 13, 2024. https://ancient-literature.com/land-of-the-dead-odyssey/
"Land Of The Dead Odyssey." Ancient Literature [Online]. Available: https://ancient-literature.com/land-of-the-dead-odyssey/. [Accessed: April 13, 2024]

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