Summary and Analysis
Book 10 - The Bewitching Queen of Aeaea
Having escaped the Cyclops, Odysseus and his men arrive at the home of Aeolus, master of the winds, where they are greeted warmly and hosted for a month. Eager to move on, Odysseus receives an ox-skin pouch from Aeolus. In it are captured all the winds that might drive the ships off course. Only the West Wind is left free to blow them toward Ithaca. After ten days of sailing, the Greeks are so close to home that they can actually see men tending fires on their island. Exhausted, Odysseus falls asleep. Curious and suspicious, his men open the ox skin expecting to find treasure and inadvertently release heavy squalls that blow them right back to Aeolus' island. The wind god refuses to help them further.
With no favoring wind at all, the Greeks must row, and they come upon the land of the Laestrygonians, cannibalistic giants who suddenly attack and devour the seamen, hurling boulders at the ships and spearing the men like so many fish. Only Odysseus' vessel escapes. It sails to the island of Aeaea, home of the beautiful but dangerous goddess Circe, whom Odysseus can overcome only through the intervention of Hermes, messenger of the gods and son of Zeus.
Judgment is once more a crucial problem as the Greeks very nearly get home to Ithaca only to see their goal vanish in a storm. Aeolus is impressed with Odysseus and treats him with classic hospitality. He harnesses all potentially destructive winds, binding them tightly in an ox skin and stowing the ox skin onboard Odysseus' ship. However, as he did following the initial victory over the Cicones, Odysseus loses control of his men. While he sleeps, curiosity and mistrust overcome them. They suspect that the ox skin contains great treasure, which they feel should be shared. Tragically, they release all the adverse winds and are blown back to Aeolus. The god of the winds refuses to help Odysseus further because he infers that the gods must despise anyone so unlucky. Odysseus understandably despairs as storms blow him away from Ithaca, but he manages to resist the temptation to commit suicide (10.55-61).
Things only get worse as the flotilla, with no favoring wind from Aeolus, rows to the land of the Laestrygonians. Odysseus cautiously sends scouts to check out the inhabitants who initially seem hospitable. Suddenly the hosts devour the scouts and attack Odysseus' ships. They hurl huge boulders, reminiscent of the attack by Cyclops, and spear the seamen like fish. Only Odysseus' cool leadership permits his single ship to row to safety.
Caution and judgment, some of it from the gods, eventually save most of the remaining crew at Circe's island of Aeaea. Odysseus again sends out a scouting party. To their delight, they are greeted by what appears to be a beautiful, hospitable goddess with magical charm and a spellbinding voice. Circe calls them into her halls and gives them a potion that, like the lotus, erases from their memories any thoughts of home. Then she strikes them with her wand and turns them into swine, driving them into her pigsties. Only Eurylochus is suspicious enough to stand back and escape. His report to Odysseus stirs the always admirable courage of the leader, who immediately sets out alone to attempt rescue.
Courage alone, however, won't save the day. Hermes, disguised as a young man, intervenes and tells Odysseus how to overcome Circe: He must take a magic herb, moly, which will serve as antidote to Circe's potions. When the goddess wields her wand, Odysseus is to pull his sword and attack, not cower, as if he will run her through. Circe will then surrender and offer her considerable sexual favors to Odysseus. He must accept but only after securing promises from the goddess that she will release his men and hereafter treat them all well.
The events unfold as Hermes predicts, and life is good for Odysseus and his men for the next year as they feast and drink. Odysseus, as Hermes predicts, shares the bed of a goddess.
The crew eventually wants to move on and convinces Odysseus to resume the journey home. Circe keeps her promise to help them but advises that they first must visit the Land of the Dead (Hades in some translations) to consult with the spirit of the blind prophet Tiresias. The goddess offers instructions and supplies for the journey. With some misgivings, the Greeks set sail for the ends of the earth.
squalls brief, sudden, and violent windstorms.
Perse a sea nymph, wife of the Sungod (Helios) and mother of Circe.
Pramnian a type of wine often used in potions or medicines.
moly an herb of magic powers.
nymph a female nature spirit or goddess.
Persephone queen of the underworld.
sodden thoroughly saturated, drunk.