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Odyssey Book 12 Essay

  • As promised, the Ithakans return to Aiaia (because that worked out so well the first time), recover Elpenor's body, and go through the proper funeral rites.
  • Circe reappears and feeds the men. She makes them promise to stay for the full day of feasting while she gives further directions to Odysseus.
  • "Further directions" seems to be a euphemism for "more sex." Still, after the "further directions," she gives some actual directions on how to avoid the temptation of the Sirens who will try to lure him to death with their beautiful voices.
  • Circe tells Odysseus that no man has ever heard the song of the Sirens and lived to tell the tale. But he can! He should have his men plug up their ears and tie him to the mast so he can listen without jumping overboard.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • Then she tells him about two different courses he can take to go home. The first one contains Rovers, moving rocks that are impossible for any ship to get through.
  • The second route holds two dangers: Skylla, a sea monster with six heads that eats men, and Charybdis, a whirlpool that sucks in and vomits out the sea three times a day.
  • Surprisingly, this is the better option. Circe advises Odysseus to hug the cliff of Skylla and sacrifice six men rather than risk losing his whole ship to Charybdis. Also, he should race through as quickly as possible instead of trying to fight her (the monsters are female, of course).
  • Odysseus hems and haws, since he'd rather not lose any men—but Circle essentially tells him to suck it up.
  • Wonder what she would tell the six men who are about to be sacrificed?
  • One more thing: don't' kill Helios' cattle at Thrinakia, unless he wants to lose his entire crew.
  • The next day they set sail with the help of Circe's magical wind.
  • The Ithakans approach the Sirens and, following Circe's instructions, Odysseus plugs his men's ears with melted beeswax and then instructs them to tie him up.
  • For the complete lyrics, please see your text, but the Sirens basically promise Odysseus immortal knowledge. Come 'ere!"
  • Only sexier.
  • Just as they successfully pass the Sirens, the men approach Skylla and Charybdis and promptly lose their oars in fear.
  • That is actually not a euphemism.
  • Odysseus tries to inspire courage in them while he arms up against Skylla. Clearly, he's forgetting Circe's instructions.
  • As foretold, Skylla takes six of Odysseus' best men. (Come on, Skylla, couldn't you have taken the cowards and weaklings?)
  • He suddenly remembers that he's supposed to move quickly rather than fight the she-monster, so his ship makes it out. Barely.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • They then see Thrinakia, land of Helios' cattle. Odysseus wants to sail past since he's been warned against it about twelve times.
  • But his men, led by Eurylochos, vote to stay there for a night to recover from losing six of their friends to a giant, hungry monster.
  • Well, okay, Odysseus says—but hands off Helios' cattle.
  • The next morning, they're getting ready to head off when … a storm begins.
  • And continues. For a full month.
  • When their food runs out, the cows begin looking pret-ty tasty.
  • Odysseus goes off to pray to the gods one day and finally Eurylochos snaps. He persuades the men to kill the biggest cow they can find. It's cool, though; he'll atone for it by building a big temple to Helios once they get back to Ithaka.
  • Yum! Steak for everyone!
  • Odysseus comes back, sees the cooking meat, and despairs...in an angsty, we're-going-to-die sort of way.
  • Helios is super ticked and asks Zeus for revenge. Sure thing; the King of the Gods promises to destroy Odysseus' ship with his thunderbolt.
  • When the storm ends, the Ithakans set sail and are promptly struck by Zeus' thunderbolt.
  • Everyone dies except Odysseus.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • The sea floats him back towards Skylla and Charybdis, and he manages to survive only by jumping on the huge tree-island thingy positioned above Charybdis. He clings to its trunk while Charybdis ingests his ship.
  • When she spits it back up again, Odysseus let go and lands on its flotsam. The gods help him evade Skylla as he rows past her using his hands as oars.
  • He drifts on the open sea for nine days before washing ashore the island of Ogygia, where Kalypso rescues him.
  • But then she keeps him prisoner for seven years, which kind of negates her whole rescuer argument.
  • At this point, Odysseus ends his narrative for real this time.

Summary: Book 12

Odysseus returns to Aeaea, where he buries Elpenor and spends one last night with Circe. She describes the obstacles that he will face on his voyage home and tells him how to negotiate them. As he sets sail, Odysseus passes Circe’s counsel on to his men. They approach the island of the lovely Sirens, and Odysseus, as instructed by Circe, plugs his men’s ears with beeswax and has them bind him to the mast of the ship. He alone hears their song flowing forth from the island, promising to reveal the future. The Sirens’ song is so seductive that Odysseus begs to be released from his fetters, but his faithful men only bind him tighter.

Once they have passed the Sirens’ island, Odysseus and his men must navigate the straits between Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla is a six-headed monster who, when ships pass, swallows one sailor for each head. Charybdis is an enormous whirlpool that threatens to swallow the entire ship. As instructed by Circe, Odysseus holds his course tight against the cliffs of Scylla’s lair. As he and his men stare at Charybdis on the other side of the strait, the heads of Scylla swoop down and gobble up six of the sailors.

Odysseus next comes to Thrinacia, the island of the Sun. He wants to avoid it entirely, but the outspoken Eurylochus persuades him to let his beleaguered crew rest there. A storm keeps them beached for a month, and at first the crew is content to survive on its provisions in the ship. When these run out, however, Eurylochus persuades the other crew members to disobey Odysseus and slaughter the cattle of the Sun. They do so one afternoon as Odysseus sleeps; when the Sun finds out, he asks Zeus to punish Odysseus and his men. Shortly after the Achaeans set sail from Thrinacia, Zeus kicks up another storm, which destroys the ship and sends the entire crew to its death beneath the waves. As had been predicted, only Odysseus survives, and he just barely. The storm sweeps him all the way back to Charybdis, which he narrowly escapes for the second time. Afloat on the broken timbers of his ship, he eventually reaches Ogygia, Calypso’s island. Odysseus here breaks from his story, stating to the Phaeacians that he sees no reason to repeat to them his account of his experience on Ogygia.

Summary: Book 13

The account of his wanderings now finished, Odysseus looks forward to leaving Scheria. The next day, Alcinous loads his gifts on board the ship that will carry Odysseus to Ithaca. Odysseus sets sail as soon as the sun goes down. He sleeps the whole night, while the Phaeacian crew commands the ship. He remains asleep even when the ship lands the next morning. The crew gently carries him and his gifts to shore and then sails for home.

When Poseidon spots Odysseus in Ithaca, he becomes enraged at the Phaeacians for assisting his nemesis. He complains to Zeus, who allows him to punish the Phaeacians. Just as their ship is pulling into harbor at Scheria, the prophecy mentioned at the end of Book 8 is fulfilled: the ship suddenly turns to stone and sinks to the bottom of the sea. The onlookers ashore immediately recognize the consummation of the prophecy and resolve to abandon their custom of helping wayward travelers.

Back in Ithaca, Odysseus wakes to find a country that he doesn’t recognize, for Athena has shrouded it in mist to conceal its true form while she plans his next move. At first, he curses the Phaeacians, whom he thinks have duped him and left him in some unknown land. But Athena, disguised as a shepherd, meets him and tells him that he is indeed in Ithaca. With characteristic cunning, Odysseus acts to conceal his identity from her until she reveals hers. Delighted by Odysseus’s tricks, Athena announces that it is time for Odysseus to use his wits to punish the suitors. She tells him to hide out in the hut of his swineherd, Eumaeus. She informs him that Telemachus has gone in search of news of him and gives him the appearance of an old vagabond so that no one will recognize him.

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