September 29, 2023

#08-347: Monsters in the Odyssey

The cyclops tries to crush Odysseus's boat (Wikipedia)

Note: Any good story pits the protagonist against a challenge. But Odysseus faced a whole list of them!

Get Ready: Thinking in terms of psychology, what "monsters" could you create to symbolize some of the challenges you face (or have faced) in your life?

When "clever Odysseus," King of Ithaca, finished his duties in the Trojan War, he set out for home. But the journey, recounted in Homer's The Odyssey, took ten years, which has given us the English common noun "an odyssey."

That journey can largely be seen as encounters with one monster after another.

First, as he told his story, were the Lotos Eaters, a people who used a kind of narcotic and induced many of Odysseus's men to do the same. That almost ended the trip, as he had a hard time getting his men to return to work.

Next he and his men were captured by Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclops, and barely escaped with their lives (several men, in fact, were eaten!) Only when the clever one figured a way to ride out under the Cyclops's sheep did they escape his cave.

Giant human cannibals called the Laestrygonians came next. Similar to the Cyclopes (but with two eyes), thousands of them sank eleven of Odysseus's twelve ships by hurling giant boulders off a cliff, and eating the men. Odysseus's ship escaped because it was moored elsewhere.

Then he met the witch Circe, who ensorcelled his men and turned them into swine. He convinced her to change them back and lived as her lover for a year, even having two sons with her.

Next, the Sirens, whose alluring song caused sailors to drive their ships onto rocks, where the Sirens ate them.  Odysseus wanted to hear them, so had his men stuff their ears with beeswax and tie him to the ship's mast.

Scylla was a female monster with six heads on snaky necks. She would dart out of her cave and eat six men at a time. An arrow-shot across a narrow chasm from her was Charybdis, who sucked and spit out great volumes of water, causing whirlpools that wrecked ships so she could eat the men.

Escaping the navigation "between Scylla and Charybdis" (a proverbial saying now meaning "between two dangerous options"), he landed on the island of the nymph Calypso. No one would think of her as a monster, but she fell in love with Odysseus and held him prisoner for seven years, until he was set free by a god.

And of course, the greatest "monsters" Odysseus faced were the men back in Ithaca, who after 20 years were trying to marry his wife and steal his kingdom. But of course clever Odysseus prevailed as always!


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. alluring
  2. boulders
  3. cannibals
  4. chasm
  5. ensorcelled
  6. hurling
  7. induced
  8. moored
  9. prevailed
  10. swine
  1. throwing very hard
  2. pigs
  3. won
  4. put a spell on
  5. creatures who eat their own kind
  6. very attractive
  7. very large stones
  8. a deep cut in the earth
  9. tied up, as a ship
  10. convinced; persuaded

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for September 29, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. g; 3. e; 4. h; 5. d; 6. a; 7. j; 8. i; 9. c; 10. b