Why does Odysseus choose to sail toward Scylla rather than Charybdis?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scylla and Charydbis are two of the many perils that Odysseus faces in his journey home in The Odyssey by Homer. 

In Book X, Odysseus and his sailors landed on Aeaea, the land of the sorceress Circe. Although Circe turned Odysseus' men into pigs, Hermes gave Odysseus the herb moly which enabled him to resist the transformation. After Odysseus slept with Circe and persuaded her to free his men from her spell, Odysseus and his sailors stayed for a year on her island.

In Book XII, Odysseus and his sailors leave the island. Standing on the shore, as the mariners are about to leave, Circe gave Odysseus advice about the perils lying in wait for him. 

She described the whirlpool Charydbis as sure destruction for ships, and suggested that he steer close to Scylla, who would only grab six sailors from the ship; although Scylla would eat those six sailors, the ship and the rest of the crew would survive. Odysseus followed Circe's advice, preferring to sacrifice six men to sacrificing his own life and that of his entire crew. 

cybil eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Odysseus is acting wisely in making this choice. If he were to sail toward Charybdis, he could lose his entire ship and the lives of all the men if the whirlpool happened to suck the ship down. He did not know when the whirlpool would act, when it would spew forth or suck downward. There was no defense against Charydbis. Scylla, on the other hand, would take at most six men, one for each of her six heads.

Odysseus takes Circe's advice and sails toward Scylla, but he doesn't inform his men of the impending danger. Even though he attempts to defend his ship by brandishing his sword, Odysseus is unable to prevent Scylla from snatching six men from the ship. The loss of six men, however, is a sacrifice he had to make to avoid losing the entire ship.

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The Odyssey

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