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Free Study Guide-The Odyssey by Homer-Free Book Notes Summary
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BOOK 10

Summary

The next stop for Odysseus is the island of Aeolus, where he stays for a month. Upon his departure, Aeolus, who has been given power over the winds, gives Odysseus an ox-hide bag in which he has sealed all the winds except the gentle Western one, which is to carry him home. On the tenth day of sailing, Ithaca is in sight, and Odysseus falls into a grateful sleep. While he is sleeping his men, jealous of the gifts Odysseus has received and thinking the bag contains treasures, open it, and the escaping blasts drive them back to the Aeolian land. There Odysseus asks for help once again, but Aeolus rebukes him as one cursed by the gods and refuses.

Without any wind to sail by, Odysseus' men are forced to row. After a week, they reach the land of the Laestrygonians. All the ships anchor in the harbor, excepting Odysseus' own. He sends three men to find out about the people there, but they meet with disaster. A Laestrygonian named Antiphates eats one of them, and then all the Laestrygonians attack the ships. Most of the Achaeans are killed, and only Odysseus' ship manages to escape and reach the goddess Circe's isle.

After spending two days on the shore, Odysseus ventures up a hill and sees smoke rising from Circe's home. The next day, the men draw lots and Eurylochus along with twenty-two men, half of his remaining crew, are sent to Circe's halls. There they are bewitched by her and turned into swine. Only Eurylochus escapes. Odysseus, going alone to rescue his companions, is met by the god Hermes, who gives him a magic herb to prevent bewitchment and instructs him how to deal with the goddess. Circe is unable to bewitch Odysseus, and he makes her take an oath not to harm him. His companions are also saved and turned back into men. They stay with her in luxury for a year. Finally, the men express the desire to get back home, and Odysseus asks Circe to let them go on their way. She agrees, but explains that before they can get home they must first go to Hades, the land of the dead, and speak to Tiresias, the blind soothsayer. She explains the route of the journey and the manner by which they may converse with Tiresias. While the men prepare to sail, Elpenor, the youngest, meets a tragic end when he falls from Circe's roof and breaks his neck. Before the men leave, Circe ties a ram and a black ewe to their ship for the sacrifice that Odysseus will have to perform on reaching the Hall of Hades.

Notes

Odysseus continues his narrative, and the reader learns of his bad luck. The Aeolians send him on his way home after having looked after him, but Odysseus' companions are the cause of his misfortune this time. Their folly is highlighted once again when they open the bag and release the ruinous winds that take them back to the Aeolian land. Odysseus and his companions often get into trouble because of their impatience, and they exhibit absolutely unheroic qualities on occasion.


The episode with the Laestrygonians is a fatal blow to Odysseus, showing that Poseidon is indeed punishing him thoroughly. Polyphemus' prayer that Odysseus should reach home alone seems to be getting fulfilled. Only one ship is saved, and the remaining men reach Circe's isle. Circe first appears as a malevolent witch, but once Odysseus subdues her she helps him and his men, showing no signs of her sinister past. She then takes up another part, which may belong to her original character: foretelling the future. Seers are quite common in heroic tales, and in The Odyssey, Homer presents two traditional characters that prophesy. The first is Circe; but she insists that Odysseus should consult the other, the ghost of the seer Tiresias. This is a very ancient theme and bears some resemblance to the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the hero crosses the waters of death to consult Uta-Napishtim. Odysseus' men are dismayed at the prospect of going into the underworld, but Circe is convinced that they must and starts preparing for their departure. The difference between gods and men is made clear here. Where the former act decisively, the latter are often scared and reluctant to take action.

Towards the end of the Book, there is the small episode of Elpenor's death. He dies by falling from the roof and, thus, meets an unheroic and untimely end. Later in the poem, the importance of a heroic death will be emphasized. An Iliadic hero would rather die in battle than by any other means.

Odysseus himself comes off well in this Book as his concern for his men is clearly depicted. He kills a huge stag on Circe's island for his men. Later, when Eurylochus comes back alone from Circe's dwelling, Odysseus insists on going alone to rescue his men. After befriending the goddess, Odysseus refuses to eat until he sees his companions safe and sound. The scene of their reunion is a compassionate one, and the goddess herself is moved. The only actions of Odysseus that might be considered questionable are his willingness to take to Circe's bed and the length of his stay on the island. Even after a year, it is his men that remind him of his native land, Ithaca. Odysseus has a typical Homeric hero's appetite for wealth, wine, and women.

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