After Odysseus and his men plunder the island of the Cicones, they hastily depart. As punishment for their violent crimes—killing the men, raping the women, butchering livestock for food—the enraged Zeus makes sure that they endure violent storms on the high seas. As Odysseus admits,
So doom appeared to us, dark word of Zeus for us, our evil days.
After mourning crewmen who perished in the battle against the Cicones, Odysseus and his men set sail but cannot escape the god’s wrath:
Now Zeus the lord of cloud roused in the north
a storm against the ships, and driving veils
of squall moved down like night on land and sea.
The divine power rallies natural forces to create a tempest entrapping the men on the open waters. Homer uses vivid visual and auditory imagery to detail the tumult and terror the men experience:
The bows went plunging at the gust; sails
cracked and lashed out strips in the big wind.
We saw death in that fury
Even the ship’s parts are personified, as if they conspire malevolently with nature against the men. Then Odysseus seems to accept and surrender to Zeus’s castigation. His men do not resist their punishment but
dropped the yards,
unshipped the oars, and pulled for the nearest lee:
then two long days and nights we lay offshore
worn out and sick at heart, tasting our grief
Instead of fighting back or even trying to navigate the wind-tossed waters, they relinquish all control by lowering their sails, detaching their oars, and simply drifting to a place sheltered from the wind. While waiting out the storm at sea for two days and night, they perhaps realize the “grief” they caused the Cicones by “tasting” it themselves—or maybe they are just feeling sorry for themselves, since they do not seem to show any remorse.
On the third day, the sun rises (“Dawn came with ringlets shining”) to calmer waters. Odysseus and his men raise their sails again, resume rowing, and let a breeze carry them on their journey.