Before arriving in the...
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.