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In Homer's Odyssey, Scylla is a six-headed, man-eating monster positioned across a narrow strait from an enormous ship-swallowing whirlpool, Charybdis. Odysseus' dilemma is how to navigate through the narrow strait without encountering one or the other. But following the enchantress Circe's advice - that it would be better to lose some of his sailors than the entire crew - Odysseus decides to steer his ship by the cliffs where Scylla has its cave. While the crew is transfixed by the spectacle of Charybdis, Scylla emerges and devours six men, one for each mouth of the monster. Thus, despite the loss of some crewmates, Odysseus is free to continue his journey home to Ithaca.
The main character of The Odyssey, Odysseus, is renowned for his cunning and intelligence. While he is not the strongest or the fastest of warriors, he is arguably among the smartest.
As he prepares to leave the witch Circe, she gives him some advice, telling him to pass near enough to the six-headed monster Scylla to lose some of his men in order to avoid Charybdis, a whirlpool that will engulf and destroy the ship along with the entire crew.
Odysseus is a practical warrior, and we see from this scene that he is willing to sacrifice some of his men to give the rest of the crew, and himself, a chance to survive. A less pragmatic man might have tried to save everybody, and in the process lose them all.
Odysseus is not above keeping his men in the dark about his intentions. As they neared Scylla, careful to avoid Charybdis’ currents, Odysseus says:
I told them nothing, as they could do nothing.
They would have dropped their oars again, in panic,
to roll for cover under the decking.
Odysseus is successful, and most of the men survive, for a while anyway. Eventually the ship goes down and only Odysseus eventually makes it back to Ithaca.
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