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In Books 9 through 12 of Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus relates his adventures after leaving Troy. In Odyssey 12, he tells about landing on the island of Thrinacia, an island where the god Helios kept a special herd of cattle.
Homer's audience would have known that Thrinacia would have been a dangerous place for Odysseus' men. First, the opening lines of the poem tell the audience that because Odysseus' men ate Helios' cattle, they would not be able to return home.
Second, when Odysseus prepares to leave Circe's land, she warns him to stay away from Helios' cattle when they arrive at Thrinacia. When Odysseus approaches Thrinacia, he wants to avoid landing on the island, but his men prevail upon him to land. To make matters worse, after landing the weather turns bad and Odysseus and company get stuck on Thrinacia longer than expected. Odysseus had made his crew swear an oath not to touch the cattle, but when Odysseus fell asleep, his men slaughtered and ate some of the god's sacred cattle. After this, the gods caused some strange omens to occur:
"The ox-hides crawled about, raw meat and roast bellowed on the spit, and all around sounded the noise of lowing cattle." (A.S. Kline translation)
Shortly after this, the bad weather subsided and Odysseus and company put out to sea. No sooner were they at sea, when Zeus (acting on a complaint from Helios) zapped Odysseus' ship with lightning. The ship was destroyed and Odysseus' men were drowned. Only Odysseus managed to survive by hanging onto some wreckage from the ship.
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