Chapters 16–18 Summary

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Last Updated on January 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1504

Chapter 16

Circe and Odysseus become lovers, and their romance is immortalized in song. Odysseus reveals to her that he is from Ithaca. He tells of his arduous journey from Troy: the storms he had to weather, the men he had lost, the cyclops he fought, and the vengeance he roused in Poseidon. He then speaks of how Athena, who guided him in all his wars, abandoned him after he failed to offer her prayers after spilling blood in her temple, a great sacrilege.  

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Circe takes in this long history of bloodshed and survival and assures Odysseus that he will find nothing but comfort on her island. She transforms his entire crew back and welcomes them as well. They spend their days dining, drinking, and exchanging stories about the truths and horrors of battle. Circe cannot help but rejoice when Odysseus requests to stay longer, for he must fix his ship. This gives Circe time to tend to all his aches, rubbing salves to ease his pains. Gradually, his vitality returns.

Circe soon becomes acquainted with his men as well. They are more excitable, short-sighted, and prone to folly than Odysseus, but Odysseus commandeers them with authority. He indulges them in their games, but he is “prone to moods and tempers” and does not think twice about lashing out at them when he is upset. Circe smooths his anger and listens to him recount the stories of his travels and the Trojan War. His thoughts, however, always return to Ithaca, and he tells Circe about his upbringing, his lands, and his son, Telemachus.

Odysseus stays until after the winter. He shows a growing curiosity toward Circe and asks her about her life, but she does not answer—and Odysseus seems to enjoy the mystery. Rather than share her stories with him, Circe learns to cook his favorite meals, and Odysseus performs routine tasks around the island, hunting for food and mending structures. In this way, he and Circe form a domestic life together, even speaking of the crew as if they were their children. The nymphs and Odysseus’s men grow fond of each other as well. Yet Circe knows Odysseus will always yearn for Ithaca. When she asks him about Penelope, his wife, he says, “She is constant. Constant in all things. Even wise men go astray sometimes, but never her. She is a fixed star, a true-made bow.” Circe realizes that, for Odysseus, their life together on Aiaia is a kind of “rehearsal” for his return to Penelope, whom he will always love. Odysseus then tells her stories about Telemachus’s infancy, and Circe imagines how much Telemachus, now a teenager, must miss his father. 

Chapter 17

Spring approaches. A year has passed since Odysseus came to stay, and now it is nearly time for him to leave. Circe yearns for him to stay but, rather than beg him, lets “the island plead for [her] instead, speaking with its eloquent beauty” as she “unroll[s] all Aiaia’s wonders like a rug before him.” Odysseus’s men, restless and sensing their leader is losing his resolve, remind Odysseus of his real home: Ithaca, Penelope, Telemachus.

One morning, Apollo appears to Circe with a prophecy for Odysseus. The prophecy overtakes Circe in the form of a vision, and she learns that Odysseus will reach Ithaca, but he must first speak with the dead prophet Teiresias.

That night, Odysseus tells Circe he must leave, and she tells him about the prophecy and offers him advice. She instructs him to find the entrance of the underworld, where he must “dig a pit . . . fill it with the blood of a black ewe and ram, and pour libations all around.” This will draw out the souls of the dead. Odysseus seems to imagine encountering the souls of people he knew, or worse, people he would only then find had died. Circe tells him to “hold them off from the blood until Teiresias comes”; the prophet will drink the blood and then...

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