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Book 12 Notes from The Odyssey

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The Odyssey Book 12

They kept sailing back to Circe's island and they buried Elpenor. Circe gave them food and addressed them "Hearts of oak, did you go down/ alive into the homes of death? One visit/ finishes all men but yourselves, twice mortal!" Book 12, lines 25-7. They feasted late into the night and Circe told Odysseus about the Sirens and their bewitching song that makes men drive their boats ashore and perish. She advised him to fashion earplugs for his men from beeswax, but if he wanted to listen to their son he must be lashed to the mast or else he would jump ship to get to them. After the Sirens are the drifting rocks which must be avoided by taking a route that goes past Scylla, a six-headed monster, and Charybdis, a whirlpool. She advised him to sail near the cave of Scylla and take the chance of losing six men rather than all of them. After these obstacles would be the island of the cattle of the sun. She warned him not to touch them because that would clearly mean his doom.

At dawn Circe left and Odysseus prepared his men for departure. He addressed them warning them that there was danger ahead. He told them about the Sirens but purposefully left out Scylla and Charybdis. When they neared the island of the Sirens, the men put in their ear plugs and lashed Odysseus to the mast. As the song got louder he thrashed more and more but they just tied his bonds tighter. He describes their beautiful song to the crowd. When the island was out of sight his men released him. The men hesitated in fear of whatever was to come next so Odysseus paused and encouraged them. They rowed faster and watched the Charybdis on their left vomiting up debris. While they watched this, Scylla struck from her cave and ate six men. Odysseus heard the yelling but had the men row faster. Soon they were out of danger and they were nearing the island of the cattle of the sun. Odysseus spoke this warning:

"Shipmates, grieving and weary though you are,
listen: I had forewarning from Teiresias
and Kirke, too; both told me I must shun
|this island of the Sun, the world's delight.
Nothing but fatal trouble shall we find here,
Pull away, then, and put the land astern."
Book 12, lines 350-5

Eurylochus cursed him and asked if he was human and told him that they did not want to row through the night. He told Odysseus that they could stop there and not touch the cattle or flocks and eat from their own ample stores. Everyone agreed with him so they landed on the beach and Odysseus made them all swear not to touch the animals on the island. They ate and mourned the men they lost to Scylla. They became stuck on the island because of storms for twenty days. They tried to fish for food but get very little. One day Odysseus went off alone to pray to the gods in peace and while he was gone Eurylochus encouraged the men to kill the cattle and make offerings to the gods for appeasement. They killed the cattle and begin an elaborate sacrifice. Odysseus woke from a slumber and smelled the smoke. He immediately prayed to Zeus cursing his own fortune. The Sun went to Zeus and asked for revenge. Zeus told him that he would destroy their ship once it went out to sea. When Odysseus approached his men, the hides of the cattle were still moving around. They feasted for six days and on the seventh day they left with a good breeze behind them. Soon after they were on the sea a thunderhead appeared and Zeus split the ship in half with lightning.

Odysseus climbed up on the floating mast and lashed it to the remnants of the keel. All his men were dead and the wind made him drift back to Scylla and Charybdis. He was almost sucked into the whirlpool but he jumped at the last minute and grabbed hold of a fig tree. He waited for the remnants of the ship to be vomited back up and jumped onto it. Fortunately, Scylla did not notice him and he floated to the island of Calypso. This is where he started and ended his story .

Topic Tracking: Journeys 8

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