In the Land of the Dead, how does Odysseus react to each of the three ghosts (Elpenor, Anticlea, and Tiresias)? Also, how are some of his actions or characteristics different here than earlier in...

In the Land of the Dead, how does Odysseus react to each of the three ghosts (Elpenor, Anticlea, and Tiresias)?

Also, how are some of his actions or characteristics different here than earlier in the story?

Expert Answers
hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Odysseus meets the ghosts of these three people in book eleven of Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. Elpenor is the first of the ghosts Odysseus meets in his journey to the land of the dead. When Odysseus sees him, he weeps and has compassion for him. When Odysseus last saw him, he had fallen off the roof of Circe's dwelling in a drunken state and broken his neck. Odysseus says that they hadn't mourned the loss of him or buried him because they had other business to attend to. But when he sees him in the underworld, Odysseus does grieve this loss and promises to give him the burial that he asks for when he returns from the underworld. 

The first to come was the spirit of my comrade Elpenor. Not yet had he been buried beneath the broad-wayed earth, for we had left his corpse behind us in the hall of Circe, unwept and unburied, since another task was then urging us on. When I saw him I wept, and my heart had compassion on him; and I spoke and addressed him with winged words: "Elpenor, how didst thou come beneath the murky darkness? Thou coming on foot hast out-stripped me in my black ship." 

Next, Odysseus meets the spirit of his mother, Anticleia. Odysseus must be shocked to see her since when he left Ithaca she was alive. He weeps when he sees her, and says his heart was filled with compassion for her. He exercises restraint, however, and doesn't speak to her until he has offered the blood sacrifice to Teiresias and received instructions on how to get home. After this, he interacts with his mother. 

 So saying the spirit of the prince, Teiresias, went back into the house of Hades, when he had declared his prophecies; but I remained there steadfastly until my mother came up and drank the dark blood. At once then she knew me, and with wailing she spoke to me winged words: "My child, how didst thou come beneath the murky darkness, being still alive? Hard is it for those that live to behold these realms, for between are great rivers and dread streams; Oceanus first, which one may in no wise cross on foot, but only if one have a well-built ship. Art thou but now come hither from Troy after long wanderings with thy ship and thy companions? and hast thou not yet reached Ithaca, nor seen thy wife in thy halls?"

 So she spoke, and I made answer and said: "My mother, necessity brought me down to the house of Hades, to seek soothsaying of the spirit of Theban Teiresias. For not yet have I come near to the shore of Achaea, nor have I as yet set foot on my own land, but have ever been wandering, laden with woe, from the day when first I went with goodly Agamemnon to Ilios, famed for its horses, to fight with the Trojans. But come, tell me this, and declare it truly. What fate of grievous death overcame thee?"

After this, he tries to hug his mother three times but finds she is of no more substance than a shadow. 

Teiresias is the only one that Odysseus is not surprised to see. He has come into the underworld to seek his counsel, and he honors him with a blood sacrifice. His reaction to Teiresias is respectful and businesslike. There is no emotion in the interaction, in contrast to his interactions with Elpenor and Anticleia. 

Then there came up the spirit of the Theban Teiresias, bearing his golden staff in his hand, and he knew me and spoke to me: "Son of Laertes, sprung from Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, what now, hapless man? Why hast thou left the light of the sun and come hither to behold the dead and a region where is no joy? Nay, give place from the pit and draw back thy sharp sword, that I may drink of the blood and tell thee sooth."

So he spoke, and I gave place and thrust my silver-studded sword into its sheath, and when he had drunk the dark blood, then the blameless seer spoke to me.



thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Elpenor was a member of Odysseus crew who fell from the roof of Circe’s house. He was drunk and decided to sleep on the roof where it was cool. However, when he heard the commotion in the house by his comrades, he jumped up and tumbled off the roof to his death. Odysseus felt sorry for Elpenor when they met in the land of the dead (house of hades). The meeting moved Odysseus to tears. Elpenor made a request for his burial rites which had not been performed. Odysseus promised to honor the request.

I was very sorry for him, and cried when I saw him

Odysseus then met the ghost of Anticlea, his dead mother. This encounter was deeply emotional for Odysseus because he left his mother alive as he headed for Troy. Odysseus wept when he met his mother’s ghost.

I had left her alive when I set out for Troy and was moved to tears when I saw her, but even so, for all my sorrow I would not let her come near the blood till I had asked my questions of Teiresias.

Odysseus then encountered Teiresias. The encounter was not emotional, and Odysseus observed it with a sense of duty.

Odysseus was emotionally expressive during his meeting with his mother's and Elpenor's ghosts in the house of Hades. In the rest of the story, Odysseus, was not as expressive as seen during the encounter with the ghosts.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Elpenor was the crew member who had fallen off the roof of Circe's house and died.  Odysseus is surprised that he got to the land of the dead before the ship did.  Odysseus promises to go burn Elpenor's body and leave a monument to him.

Anticlea is Odysseus's mother.  He is so happy to see her, but he does not want to let her come near until he has talked to Teiresias.  Afterwards, he tries to hug her, but he cannot.

Odysseus does not really react to Teiresias's ghost.  He talks to him pretty normally.