What Odysseus described as “the most sickening sight that I saw throughout all my voyages,” the encounters with Charybdis and Scylla, occurs in Book XII of Homer’s epic The Odyssey. Scylla and Charybdis are sea monsters that sit astride a narrow passage in the sea. Sailors attempting to avoid one of the monsters by sailing wide of that point invariably fall victim to the other sea monster, and are eaten alive. Such was the fate of six of Odysseus’ best men, who are grabbed and consumed by Scylla. Having escaped these treacherous waters and transiting the narrow strait – controlled by the two monsters, kin of the god of the seas, Poseidon, who wishes ill of Odysseus – the great sailor and warrior is forced to endure the destruction of his ship as Poseidon causes massive winds and waves that destroy Odysseus’ ship. The raft on which he is now confined is caught in the winds and forced back towards the reach of Scylla and Charybdis. How Odysseus survived is related in his depiction of the event as follows:
“[Scylla] was then sucking down the salt sea water, but I was carried aloft toward the fig tree, which I caught hold of and clung on to like a bat. I could not plant my feet anywhere so as to stand securely, for the roots were a long way off and the boughs that overshadowed the whole pool were too high, too vast, and too far apart for me to reach them; so I hung patiently on, waiting till the pool should discharge my mast and raft again . . . my raft [began] to work its way out of the whirlpool again. At last I let go with my hands and feet, and fell heavily into the sea, bard by my raft on to which I then got, and began to row with my hands.”
Odysseus then credits Zeus for preventing another encounter with the sea monsters.