The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Texts/Odyssey/Book 11
Summary of book[edit | edit source]
Odysseus and his crew arrived at sea with a wind to fill their sails that Circe had given them, and they set sail. They eventually arrived at "the limits of the deep-flowing Ocean, where the Cimmerians live" a dark and cloudy place where the "shining Sun God never looks on them". He and his men prepared libations and offerings for the dead. As the blood poured out of the sheeps, men, women, soldiers, old, and young; all types of the dead came and crowded around. Odysseus began to guard the blood until he could meet Tiresias, a prophet of Apollo. First, the spirit of Elpenor came. He begged for Odysseus to go back and burn his body when he left the land of Hades, which Odysseus agreed to do. Next, the spirit of Odysseus's mother came, but he would let no one near the blood until the Tiresias came. When he does, Odysseus allows him to drink the blood and speak to him. Tiresias prophesies the rest of Odysseus's journey; he tells of how he must go to Thrinicia, but not to disturb the animals there that belong to the Sun God, for if he does his crew will die, he will come home "late and exhausted", he will come home to people eating his supplies, and suitors pursuing his wife. If this were to happen he would kill the suitors and leave. Later he would also make sacrifices to Poseidon and offer holy hecatombs to all the gods in heaven. If this pathway is fulfilled, Odysseus will achieve old age and die gently, far from the sea, and as his people thrive, spoke the prophet. The prophet left, and so Odysseus allowed his mother to drink of the blood. She then spoke to him of all that was happening in his absence; of how his thron remains and his wife remains loyal to him. After Odysseus spoke with his mother and the prophet Tiresias, the goddess Persephone sent the wives and daughtors of great warriors such as Megara and Alcmene. Odysseus spoke to them as they told him of their stories and lives.
After speaking to many people, King Alcinous happily asks Odysseus to stay till morning and to continue telling stories. Persephone dismissed the ghosts of the women, when the ghost of Agamemnon came and spoke to Odysseus. Afterwards, the mighty Achilles came with Antilochus and Ajax. Achilles spoke of his sorrow, but Odysseus told him of how he was looked upon as a god and how even in the underworld he holds power. Achilles says that he would "prefer to be a workman, hired by a poor man on a peasant farm, than rule as king of all the dead". Despite this statement, Achilles asks of his son and if he grew to be a renowned soldier. Odysseus tells of how Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, was a great and valiant soldier, which brings great joy to Achilles. The ghosts of many more great men are also seen, such as Sisyphus and a phantom of the great Heracles, who recognized and spoke to Odysseus. He decided that it would be best that he leave before Persephone sent any monster, so he and his men boarded the ship right away and set sail.
Characters[edit | edit source]
Elpenor - character who died on the island of Circe and whose body was left behind not buried. the first person Odysseus sees in Hades. Begs Odysseus to burn his body when he leaves Hades
"Do not go on and leave me there unburied, abandoned, without tears or lamentation- or you will make the gods enraged at you". In Greek culture it would seem that it is very important to burn or 'dispose of' the remains of the deceased. Odysseus responds that he will do all of it.
Tiresias - Prophet of Apollo. Odysseus speaks to the dead in order to talk to him. he prophecies the rest of Odysseus's life and tells him how he can speak to his mother.
Agamemnon - Mighty soldier who Odysseus accompanied into Troy to make war with them. He was killed by Aegisthus and his wife, and so were his people
Telemachus - The son of Odysseus and Penelope, he tends their royal estate in Odysseus's absence
Tyro - The child of Salmoneus and Cretheus. She speaks to Odysseus as he is in the land of the dead. She had children with Poseidon.
Antiope - Woman who speaks to Odysseus in the land of the dead. She slept with Zeus and bore two sons.
Alcmene - The wife of Amphitryon she who and concieved Heracles from Zeus.
Megara - The wife of Heracles
Alcinous - King of the Phaeacians. he is eager to help Odysseus and listen to his stories
Achilles - The greatest of all Greek warriors. He was respected as a god
Neoptolemus - The son of Achilles, also a great warrior
Sisyphus - A king who, in the afterlife, was cursed to push a boulder up a hill, but whenever he gets close to the top its weight shifts and rolls back down, where he has to start over.
Heracles - Son of Zeus; Very famous god of strength and heroes
Persephone - Queen of hell; wife of Hades
Anticelia - Odysseus’s dead mom, died from grieving about Odysseus's safe return
Oedipus - killed own father to marry his mom, gods revealed his plan, ruled Cadmeans despite everyone knowing what he did
Melampus - tried to drive off cattle in order to marry Chloris, but was cursed by gods and shackled by the herdsmen. Eventually released by Iphicles
Otus & Ephialtes - led a war at age 9 to take down the gods and burn olympus, but were killed by one of Zeus’ sons Apollo
Ajax - Son of Telamon. Angry at Odysseus because he received Achilles armor
Epicaste - ignorantly married her own son, Oedipus. Later hangs herself in Hades
Chloris - ruled Minyans in Orchomenus, queen of Pylos, and mother of Chromius, Nestor, Periclymenus, and Pyro. Would only marry a man who could drive off the cattle of Iphicles
Leda - Tyndareus’ wife, bore two sons: Castor and Polydeuces who Zeus even honors in the underworld
Iphimedeia - Aloeus’ wife, slept with Poseidon and had 2 sons - Otus and Ephiates
Ariadne - tried to leave Crete with Theseus but couldn't succeed and was killed by Artemis on the isle of Día
Neoptolemus - Son of Achilles. Fearless in the battle of Troy, murdering many enemies of war including Eurypylus
Minos - son of Zeus, judge of dead with his golden scepter
Tityus - eternally punished by the gods for raping Leto, Zeus’ lover
Ancient worldview[edit | edit source]
Glory (Kleos) - The idea of glory, or kleos, typically seems to be a great achievement in the ancient world and most people want to achieve a long life that will be remembered. This belief is contested by Achilles however, he says that the idea itself of kleos may be greater than the actual glory is; it is better for the rest of the world or the idea of the person but bad for the actual person. In his life Achilles chooses glory and death over a long boring life. But he clearly speaks of his change of mind in that he would rather be a poor slave than in the underworld. Attaining glory is what all soldiers and many people sought after as the ultimate achievement, yet every single person that Odysseus meets in the underworld, including the greatest soldiers to have ever lived, contradict this critical belief.
Homer Recognizes the importance of being remembered in that a large section of book 21 is spent on listing the many people that Odysseus meets. Although some characters are well known and offer Odysseus advice, many of them are not so well known. One's legacy and remembrance is reiterated anywhere one looks at the ancient greeks.
Role of being a soldier - Being a great soldier is a great and respectable role. The mentality of a soldier is that of something greater than the individual. When one becomes a soldier for a country, they no longer seek kleos purely for themselves, but they seek to bring glory to their country. Being a soldier is a pledge to one's country, and with this brings great honor and pride. This is demonstrated in that even though Achilles speaks about his regrets in having a short life, one of the first things he asks Odysseus is if his son is a great soldier. When he hears that his son is, this brings him great joy and pride in his son.
The Underworld - The book makes a great note to emphasize how bad the underworld is. Odysseus meets many great people and soldiers who have overcome great challenges, but they speak of how terrible the underworld is, Achilles even says that he would rather be a mans slave than the king of the underworld.
Significance of Sacrifice to the Underworld - Odysseus sacrifices some sheep in order to consult with the prophet Tiresias and speak with the spirits of Hades so that he can protect his men on their voyage home. The sacrifice is important because the spirits must drink the blood of the sacrificed in order to speak to mortals.
Tiresias to Odysseus - “Step back now from the pit, hold up your sharp sword so that I may drink the blood and speak to you.” (pg. 282)
References[edit | edit source]
- Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), p.328
- Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), p.331
- Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), p.345
- Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), p.329