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The Odyssey

by Homer

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In the Odyssey, what does Teiresias (the prophet in the Land of the Dead) warn Odysseus against in his prophecy?

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In the Odyssey, Teiresias warns Odysseus not to harm any of Helios's cattle on the island of Thrinacia or it will spell destruction for his entire crew. If anyone harms Helios's cattle, Odysseus will be forced to return to Ithaca on someone else's ship.

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In book 11 of the Odyssey, Teiresias cautions Odysseus about the negative consequences of his past and future actions. The prophet warns Odysseus specifically about Poseidon’s revenge for the blinding of Kyklops and the dire ramifications if his men touch any animal in Helios’s herds.

Before arriving in the Land of the Dead, Odysseus and his crew already endured many challenges. In book 9, he and many of his men escape from the cave of Kyklops, the one-eyed son of Poseidon, by stabbing the giant’s eye and stealing his sheep. Unbeknownst to Odysseus, Kyklops pleaded to his father for vengeance:

O hear me, lord, blue girdler of the islands,
if I am thine indeed, and thou art father:
grant that Odysseus, raider of cities, never
see his home
(book 9, 552–5, Fitzgerald translation).

Teiresias understands that Odysseus wishes to journey home to Ithaka but warns that

anguish lies ahead;
the god who thunders on the land prepares it,
not to be shaken from your track, implacable,
in rancor for the son whose eye you blinded.
One narrow strait may take you through his blows:
(book 11, 110–112, Fitzgerald translation).

This passage foreshadows harrowing obstacles in the next book. In book 12, Odysseus and his crew must navigate their ship through a “narrow strait” flanked by the sea monster Skylla and the monstrous whirlpool Kharybdbis. Although forewarned, Odysseus ultimately loses six men to Skylla.

The prophet also offers Odysseus proactive advice: as tempting as it may be, do NOT touch the livestock at the next land of Thrinákia where

you’ll find the grazing herds of Hêlios
by whom all things are seen, all speech is known.
Avoid those kine, hold fast to your intent,
and hard seafaring brings you all to Ithaka.
But if you raid the beeves, I see destruction
for ship and crew.
(book 11, 116–121, Fitzgerald translation).

Despite admonishing his men to NOT raid the sheep, Odysseus is dismayed when his hungry men rebel and kill the flock for food. An enraged Hêlios asks Zeus to punish Odysseus and his men, who are then hit with yet another storm. As Teiresias predicts, Odysseus loses the rest of his crew and ends up stranded on Calypso’s island for seven years:

Though you survive alone,
bereft of all companions, lost for years,
(book 11, 121–122, Fitzgerald translation).

Finally, the prophet warns Odysseus of what he will find when he ultimately reaches his house in Ithaka:

under strange sail shall you come home, to find
your own house filled with trouble: insolent men
eating your livestock as they court your lady.
Aye, you shall make those men atone in blood!
(book 11, 123–126, Fitzgerald translation).

Odysseus has no idea of what Penelope has been enduring during his absence, so Teiresias provides a window on the chaotic scene. Most importantly, the prophet’s warning includes advice to Odysseus to kill the men and make amends. Homer foreshadows the bloodbath of Odysseus’s homecoming.

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In book 10, Odysseus requests to leave Circe's island, and the goddess instructs him to visit Hades and Persephone's home to consult the deceased Theban prophet Teiresias before heading back to Ithaca. Circe tells Odysseus that Teiresias will give him necessary information regarding his journey home, and Odysseus and his crew obey her commands by sailing across Oceanus to the dreaded underworld. In book 11, Odysseus and his crew journey to the boundaries of Oceanus, where they make sacrifices and pray to the families of the dead.

Several terrifying shades appear out of a hole, and Odysseus speaks to the shade of their deceased companion, Elpenor, before consulting Teiresias's shade. The shade of Teiresias informs Odysseus that Poseidon is still upset with him for blinding his son and will make his journey extremely difficult. However, Teiresias assures Odysseus that he will eventually return to Ithaca.

The shade of Teiresias proceeds to warn Odysseus to leave Helios's cattle alone and unharmed when his crew reaches the island of Thrinacia. If Odysseus and his men harm any of Helios's cattle, the crew will be destroyed, and Odysseus will return home on someone else's ship. Teiresias then tells Odysseus that numerous suitors have ravaged his home, and he will need to get revenge on them when he returns to Ithaca.

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In Book Eleven, Odysseus descends into the Underworld, where he meets with Tiresias, the legendary prophet. Tiresias warns him that, regardless of Odysseus's wishes, he has Poseidon set against him, something which he must contend with. Even so, Tireasias does tell Odysseus that "you and your crew may still reach home, / suffering all the way, if you only have the power / to curb their wild desire and curb your own." (The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics Edition, New York: 1996, paperback edition, pp. 252-3). In other words, while they can return home, should they gain mastery over themselves, there will always be hardship on the path ahead of them.

In particular, Tiresias warns Odysseus about the cattle of Helios, who graze on the island of Thrinicia. Tiresias warns that should the cattle come to harm, Odysseus's ship and crew would be destroyed, and even should Odysseus survive the destruction, he would "come home late / and come a broken man." (253). Here Tiresias predicts events as they will proceed: should the cattle be harmed, Odysseus will find his return delayed, and when once he finally does return home, it would be to find his house in disarray, with suitors preying upon it, seeking marriage with his wife.

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In The Odyssey Odysseus is warned by the blind prophet Tiresias that all of the sacred cattle of the Sun God Helios should be left alone. Tiresias says that the cattle should be avoided at whatever cost, and that if they are not, the men will all meet their doom.

He also tells Odysseus that when he returns home he will find suitors eating his food and courting his wife. He is told that he must send these men away or kill them. 

Lastly, he was told that he should find a place so far inland that the inhabitants ate unsalted meat and wouldn't know of the sea or be able to recognize an oar. Specifically he said Odysseus should walk until someone asked him about his oar and called it a "winnowing fan" rather than an oar (because they didn't know what an oar was, presumably). In that spot Odysseus is to stick the oar in the ground and make a sacrifice to Poseidon so that he can continue on his journey home safely. 

Odysseus intends to follow all of the prophet's instructions. He leaves to pray and in his absence tells his men to leave the cattle untouched. Unfortunately, food runs scarce and his men get hungry. Since they are temporarily trapped on the island, the men decide to fill their stomachs the only way they can think of: by killing and eating the sacred cattle. Helios is furious about this transgression, and he convinces Zeus to punish the men. On the trip home the ship wrecks and only Odysseus, who did not eat the sacred cattle, survives. 

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In The Odyssey, what does Odysseus learn about his future from Teiresias in the Land of the Dead?

In Book 11 of The Odyssey, The Kingdom of the Dead, Odysseus visits the underworld to consult with the prophet Tiresias. Circe instructs him to visit Tiresias so he can find out about his future, which will involve a difficult journey home. 

Tiresias tells Odysseus that while he wants "a sweet smooth journey home" (Book 11, line 111, Fagels translation), "a god will make it hard for you" (113). This god is Poseidon, who is angry because Odysseus has blinded his son, the Cyclops. Tiresias tells Odysseus that his crew may still reach home if he can "curb their wild desire and curb your own" (line 119). Tiresias says it's critical for Odysseus's crew not to disturb the cattle of Helios, the sun god, for if they do, they will be destroyed. Even if Odysseus survives, he will "come home late/and come a broken man" (129-130). His men will be destroyed, and he will find a "a world of pain at home," with men courting his wife and eating all his food (line 132). Odysseus will then need to "pay them back in blood" (line 135). After he has sought revenge on the men destroying his house, he will have to go to a place far from the sea to make a sacrifice to Poseidon. Only then will he be able to enjoy a "gentle, painless death" (line 154) and know that his land and people are in peace. 

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In The Odyssey, what does Odysseus learn about his future from Teiresias in the Land of the Dead?

In The Odyssey, Odysseus is desperate to return home and admits his need on various occasions as he tries to negotiate his return. There is nothing more important to him, no matter what comfort he enjoys elsewhere. He has had to force his men, on various occasions, to continue on. However, he lingers almost too long on the island of the Cyclops where he tries to outwit Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. Later, Odysseus will suffer Poseidon's wrath after having blinded Polyphemus in his attempt to escape. 

Having been advised by the goddess Circe, with whom Odysseus has spent the past year, that in this quest to return home he must detour to the underworld where he will receive advice from the spirit of Teiresias, Odysseus carries out her instructions despite his men's objections. He meets with other spirits first and, as Circe said he would, receives specific advice and warnings from Teiresias. Teiresias tells him how difficult the journey will be and the perils that awaits his men who will not make it home.

He predicts that Odysseus will, despite all these setbacks, arrive home, although he will be "in bad plight." Once there, he will be required to reclaim his wife and kill her suitors "by force or by fraud." He must also appease Poseidon and the heavens so that he can "ebb away very gently." Much to Odysseus's sorrow, the spirit of his mother is also present and talks with Odysseus, having died during his long absence from Ithaca, his home. 

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In The Odyssey, what does Odysseus learn about his future from Teiresias in the Land of the Dead?

In Book 12 Teiresias warns Odysseus that he will never escape "the one who shakes the earth" (Poseidon) because he blinded Polyphemus; therefore, his journey home will continue to be a difficult one. When he arrives at the island of Thrinacia, Odysseus must leave the Sun-God's sacred cattle unharmed; however, the seer predicts that his ship and all of his men will be destroyed after his men eat the cattle. If Odysseus manages to escape, he will "come home late, a broken man...and find a world of pain at home." There he must retaliate against the suitors plaguing his wife and make them "pay in blood." After peace is restored, Odysseus must take an oar and travel so far inland that someone calls it a "winnowing fan" (a farm implement). There he must plant the oar and sacrifice beasts to Poseidon. Finally, Teiresias predicts "a gentle, painless death far from the sea... in ripe old age."

Robert Fagles' translation of The Odyssey. New York: Penguin, 1996.

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In the Odyssey, what advice does Teiresias the sage give Ulysses in the Land of the Dead?

After spending an entire year with Circe, Odysseus begs to go home, but Circe informs him that he must first travel to Hades's land of the dead and speak with the deceased blind seer Teiresias. In book 11, Odysseus and his crew make the harrowing journey to Oceanus, where they proceed to make sacrifices to the dead as the horrifying shades come out of a hole and attempt to drink the blood. Odysseus is forced to draw his sword and prevents the shades from consuming the blood until he speaks with Teiresias. After Odysseus speaks with Elpenor's shade and the shade of his mother, Teiresias's shade arrives holding his golden staff.

Teiresias's shade proceeds to drink the dark blood and informs Odysseus that there is no way he can avoid Poseidon's wrath. Teiresias then tells Odysseus that his journey home will continue to be treacherous and difficult, but he will eventually arrive at Ithaca. Teiresias then tells Odysseus that once he and his crew arrive at the island of Thrinacia, they should not harm the cattle and rich flocks of Helios. The shade of the blind seer goes on to tell Odysseus that if they harm Helios's beloved cattle, his entire crew will be destroyed.

He also informs Odysseus that unscrupulous suitors inhabit his home and are attempting to woo his wife. Teiresias then instructs Odysseus to sacrifice a bull to Poseidon after he kills the suitors and says that Odysseus will go on to live a peaceful life and eventually die far from the sea.

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What does Odysseus learn about his future from blind Teiresias in the Land of the Dead?

Teiresias was a blind Theban prophet whose ghost, together with those of other dead people, existed in the house of Hades. Circe was requested to inform and allow Odysseus to make a trip to the house of Hades. He was to get some vital information from Teiresias’ ghost. The information was important for his journey back home.

When they met in the house of Hades, Teiresias informed Odysseus that his trip back home had been made difficult by the gods, especially by Poseidon, who was still angry at Odysseus for blinding his son (Cyclops). However, there was still hope for his safe arrival back to Ithaca.

The prophet told Odysseus to refrain from harming the flock belonging to the sun god when he reached the Thrinacian Island. He was also expected to take revenge on the suitors tormenting his wife and son when he arrived back home. Further, Odysseus was asked to make a special sacrifice to Poseidon and the other gods. Teiresias also prophesied that Odysseus would live long and that his death would come from the sea.

'As for yourself, death shall come to you from the sea, and your life shall ebb away very gently when you are full of years and peace of mind, and your people shall bless you. All that I have said will come true.’

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