What is Odysseus doing when Hermes gives him garlic?
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Odysseus is approaching Circe’s palace to free his captured men when Hermes gives him the garlic (“moly”). It will protect him against her sorcery, which turns men into pigs.
The narrative does not describe precisely how Odysseus uses the "magic herb." Allium moly, or golden garlic, has yellow flowers in spring, but the flowerheads fade to white in summer.
Here's the relevant text:
. . . I headed inland,
Clambering up through hushed, entrancing glades until,
As I was nearing the hall of Circe skilled in spells,
Approaching her palace -- Hermes god of the golden wand
Crossed my path
. . .
Look, here is the potent drug. Take it to Circe’s halls --
Its power alone will shield you from the fatal day.
. . .
The giant-killer handed over the magic herb,
Pulling it from the earth,
And Hermes showed me all its name and nature.
Its root is black and its flower white as milk
And the gods call it moly. . . .
[Book X, ll. 302-39; Fagles translation]
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