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Book 11 Notes from The Odyssey

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The Odyssey Book 11

They sailed through the night into the sea. The came to the land of the men of winter and beached the ships. Here Eurylochus and another prepared the ram and ewe for sacrifice. Odysseus addressed a prayer to the dead and sacrificed the sheep into a pit that had been dug. He let the blood and gore of the beasts fall into the pit. The shadows of the dead began to gather around this. The first of the dead to walk into the pit was Elpenor. Elpenor told them what happened to him and asked them to come back and bury him before they went home. Odysseus' mother Antikleia came next but Odysseus had to hold her off with a sword. After here, Tiresias arrived and spoke: "Stand clear, put up your sword;/ let me but taste of blood. I shall speak true." Book 11, lines 106-7. Odysseus rested and Tiresias warned him of the trouble ahead. He told him not to kill the cattle of the sun and he foresaw that he will return home alone. After he deals with the suitors in Ithaca, he is to walk inland until he finds people who have never heard of the sea and sacrifice to Poseidon. Odysseus asked him why his mother did not look at him and Tiresias said that she must be allowed to taste the blood.

She came to him after awhile and asked him why he was in the gloom of the dead and not in Ithaca. He told her that he had not yet been home and she told him that Penelope was still there with Telemachus. She relayed that Laertes was not doing well because he was sick with longing for his son. She died recently. He tried to embrace her three times but couldn't. He lamented to his mother. She explained that she was not flesh and bones but just a soul. Many ghosts continued to surround the pit and Odysseus had to hold them off with his sword. Next a granddaughter of Aeolus told her story and then the mother of Heracles and others. The mother of Oedipus and Nestor's mother came forward. After these, the mother of Castor and Pollux and Ariadne came. Odysseus goes suddenly quiet and stops telling his story. Arete addressed the assembled men "How does he stand now in your eyes, this captain,/ the look and bulk of him, the inward poise?" Book 11, lines 391-2. Arete and Alcinous command that Odysseus rest one more day before he leaves for Ithaca. Odysseus says that he would wait a year if Alcinous wished it because it would be far better to return to Ithaca with wealth. The king tells Odysseus that he wants to hear more of the story.

Odysseus continues, saying his story gets sadder. After the women stopped coming Agamemnon appeared but had trouble speaking. Odysseus wept and asked him how he died. Agamemnon relayed the story of Aegisthus and Orestes' revenge. His wife and betrayer had not even closed his mouth and eyes after his murder. Agamemnon continued saying that his wife did a deed that reflected on the whole of her gender. Odysseus noted that Zeus had cursed the house of Atreus because thousands died for the sake of Menelaus' wife Helen. Agamemnon told him to be wary of women even though he need fear nothing from his own wife who was loyal. He asked Odysseus if he had been home and Odysseus tells him that he hasn't. Achilles and Ajax appeared next. Achilles spoke first and asked him how he came to the underworld. Odysseus told him that he need not be upset by death because he was honored so much. Achilles responded quickly:

"Let me hear no smooth talk
of death from you, Odysseus, light of councils.
Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand
for some poor country man, on iron rations,
than lord it over all the exhausted dead."
Book 11, lines 578-81

Achilles asked about his son and Odysseus told him that he came into the battle and the assembly holding his own. He was the only Greek not afraid in the horse and went home with much plunder. Ajax hung around the pit but did not talk because he was still angry that Odysseus had gotten Achilles' armor instead of him. When Odysseus asked to talk to him, Ajax walked away. Odysseus saw many of the classical heroes and villains: Tityos, the raper of Leto, whose liver was being ripped out by vultures for eternity; Tantalos who has water flow up to his chin until he can almost drink it and then disappear and grapes that do the same from above; and Sisyphus who must push a boulder up a hill but every time he gets near the top it falls back to the bottom. Then Heracles approached him and compared his labors to Odysseus'... Then he lamented his own fate and then turned away. Odysseus wanted to see more but the dead were swarming so they rushed to the ship and left.

Topic Tracking: Journeys 7

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