Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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In Book 9 of The Odyssey, what is an example of a sensory detail that can be smelled?

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Book IX begins with Odysseus telling the kind people around King Alcinous's table that it is very agreeable to tell stories when an attentive company is gathered quietly to listen.  Odysseus, in the manner of a good guest, makes reference to his host's generosity.  The sights, sounds, and smells of a feasting hall are evident in his description, "while the table is loaded with bread and meats, and the cup-bearer draws wine and fills his cup for every man." (Book IX). 

Odysseus goes on to tell of his and the Argives' sack of Ismarus, the city of the Cicons.  This is a less pleasant olfactory image, in which Odysseus tells of his killing and plunder:

There I sacked the town and put the people to the sword. We took their wives and also much booty, which we divided equitably amongst us, so that none might have reason to complain. I then said that we had better make off at once, but my men very foolishly would not obey me, so they stayed there drinking much wine and killing great numbers of sheep and oxen on the sea shore.

The rank smell of a burning city and the smell of the slaughtered livestock is an incongruous description to bring to a dinner party.  But Odysseus is telling the story of how he came to Scheria.

After the surprise attack by the remaining Cicons, they Greeks are driven ahead by fierce winds to the land of the Lotus Eaters, "who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower."  Here one imagines an altogether different odor from the previous one; an intoxicating floral aroma fillng the air of this island.  Some of the men eat this plant and fall under its spell of lassitude, and they have to be forcibly removed by Odysseus and his men from this floral-scented place.  From thence Odysseus and his men go to the land of the Cyclops.

Odysseus speaks of the fertility of this island, though the natives there do not till or grow food, but rather gather it.  It sounds like a lovely place (with lovely smells) "There are meadows that in some places come right down to the sea shore, well watered and full of luscious grass; grapes would do there excellently;"  Odysseus and his men cull from the herds of wild goats there, and eat their fill, while keeping an eye (and nose!) out for the Cyclops. 

Heaven sent us excellent sport; I had twelve ships with me, and each ship got nine goats, while my own ship had ten; thus through the livelong day to the going down of the sun we ate and drank our fill, and we had an abundance of wine left, for each one of us had taken many jars full when we sacked the city of the Cicons, and this had not yet run out. While we were feasting we kept turning our eyes towards the land of the Cyclopes, which was close by, and saw the smoke...

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of their stubble fires. 

Odysseus and a small crew leave the outlying island, and go to the rough cave-home of the giant Cyclops Polyphemus.  Now Odysseus takes with him the wine from Ismarus with which he will intoxicate Polyphemus.  This good wine is notable for its smell. "and yet the fragrance from the mixing-bowl was so exquisite that it was impossible to refrain from drinking. "  Now the story gets particularly bloody, when Odysseus and his men are imprisoned by the Cyclops, and some of the men are eaten.  These smells are best not lingered on, though Odysseus is graphic in his description for the banquet guests.  The smell of the drunken Cyclops having his eye burnt out by the flaming log ends this scent-laden chapter.

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