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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer

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BOOK 10: THE GRACE OF THE WITCH

In Book 10 Aiolos gives Odysseus a bag containing the storm winds. Now he should be able to sail home safely. His company gets close enough to Ithaka to see men building fires on the shore. But Odysseus, not trusting anyone else, has steered alone for nine days. He is exhausted, and he falls asleep. His men guess the bag holds gold or riches, and they open it. Whoosh-the ships are blown back to Aiolia. Aiolos now wants nothing to do with them. This incident seems to have a fairly neat moral.

Odysseus and his men run into more cannibalism, this time at the hands of the Laistrygonians. After two days beached and in despair, Odysseus climbs a hill, sees smoke, kills a deer, and comes back to his men with food. The men are fearful and wary after their experiences with the Kyklopes and the Laistrygonians, but they decide to investigate the smoke. Two platoons are formed, one led by Odysseus and the other by his lieutenant, Eurylokhos. Lots are shaken in a soldier's dogskin cap. Eurylokhos and his men are the ones to go out on patrol. They leave weeping with fear.



Like many of the female characters, Kirke is seen singing and weaving. She seems ordinary enough, except that at her feet lie tame wolves and mountain lions. When the men eat and drink what Kirke offers-all but Eurylokhos, who fears a trap-they are turned into swine. While nowadays you would take this metaphorically, Homer's audience took it literally.

Eurylokhos comes running back, scared to death. He gives a detailed report, including a description of Kirke's marble palace located in an open glade. He won't go back, he says, and he fears for Odysseus. But Odysseus must investigate.

Once again it's clear that it helps to have a god on your side. Hermes meets Odysseus and gives him a magic herb, moly, to protect him from Kirke's magic. He says to take out his sword if Kirke turns mean. Odysseus drinks Kirke's drink but it doesn't affect him. When she shakes her stick and orders him into the sty, he draws his sword. Suddenly she turns docile and clasps his knees. She recognizes him as Odysseus (his arrival was foretold to her by Hermes) and she invites him to bed! This is all rather sudden.

Odysseus won't consent unless she swears no foul play. She promises, and so they go to bed together. Afterward she bathes him luxuriously, gives him a tunic and cloak, and brings him food. He can't eat, out of grief for his men who are now in the form of pigs, so she restores them to human form and they are tearfully reunited with Odysseus. Kirke invites the entire company to stay.

Odysseus returns with this message to the rest of the men. The epic simile here describes the men as calves, bawling and bumping together, swarming around their mothers. It's interesting to think of Odysseus as "motherly." All return with him, though Eurylokhos resists, warns the others that Odysseus cannot always be trusted, and lags in the rear.

They stay a year, then yearn for home. As they get ready to leave, poor Elpenor falls off the roof and dies of a broken neck. He went up there, drunk, to sleep in the cool air and forgot where he was when he woke up. Kirke tells Odysseus he must next visit the land of the dead and speak with the blind prophet Teiresias. She gives detailed instructions about how he is to do this and even provides the sacrificial animals, a black ram and an ewe.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Odyssey by Homer
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