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The opening lines of Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey, inform us that the poet's subject will be Odysseus and the wanderings he experienced after the fall of Troy. Odysseus' goal was to return to his native land of Ithaca, an island off the northwestern coast of Greece. Odysseus also hoped to help his men return home safely as well. Unfortunately, the poet tells us that Odysseus was unable to save them "because of their own un-wisdom" (A.S. Kline translation). Homer goes on to explain that this "un-wisdom" consisted of their eating the cattle that belonged to the god Helios. Because of this act, Helios "the god denied them their return."
The full story of Odysseus' men can be found in the latter half of Odyssey 12 (lines 260-453). Odysseus had warned his men to stay away from Helios' cattle and they had even taken an oath that they would not harm them. Unfortunately, hunger eventually got the better of them and Eurylochus persuades the men to engage in an unwise act:
“...the most wretched way to die is by starvation. So, let us cut out the finest of Helios’ cattle, and sacrifice to the gods... And if we return to Ithaca, ... let us build a fine temple to Helios Hyperion... And if he is angered at the loss of his long-horned kine and chooses to wreck our ship, the other gods’ agreeing, well for myself I would rather die quickly in the waves, than waste away slowly on a desert island.”
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