Book 11 Summary and Analysis
Teiresias: prophet of Thebes who retained his prescience after death
Anticleia: Odysseus’ mother
Agamemnon: commander of the Greek forces at Troy
Achilles: greatest hero of the Trojan War
Ajax Telamonius: burly hero of the Trojan War
Odysseus departed from Aeaea and sailed to the ends of the earth in search of Hades’ realm. Passing through the realm of the Cimmerians, which the sun never illuminates Odysseus and his men arrived on the outskirts of Hades’ kingdom. They disembarked and prepared a drink offering for the dead spirits in a shallow pit. Following Circe’s instructions perfectly, Odysseus attracted the spirits of the dead with the blood of sacrificed animals. While keeping the spirits away with his sword until Teiresias’ arrival, Odysseus met the spirit of Elpenor. Elpenor explained that he was only a shadowy image of his former self, and begged Odysseus to bury him when his ship returned to Aeaea. Odysseus agreed to do so.
Teiresias appeared and warned Odysseus to keep his men away from the cattle of Helius on the isle of Thrinacea. If Odysseus failed to do so, his companions would perish, and he himself would return home in a stranger’s ship after enduring much hardship. Teiresias also informed Odysseus of the future adventures he would undergo after he had returned home and established order in his household. Teiresias finally explained to Odysseus that he could converse with any spirits whom he allowed to drink of his blood offering.
After Teiresias departed into the shadows, Odysseus spoke with his mother, Anticleia. Anticleia told him of matters at home, and that she had died in her longing for him. When he had finished speaking with his mother, Odysseus began to interview the spirits of deceased queens whom Persephone, queen of the Underworld, sent to greet Odysseus. Among the queens he met was Tyro, the grandmother of Nestor, who lay secretly with Poseidon to conceive Nestor’s father, Neleus. He also met Epikaste, the mother of Oedepodes, who slew his father and married his mother. (These became Jocasta and Oedipus in Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus Rex.)
Odysseus also met Nestor’s mother, Chloris, whose daughter Pero’s hand was sought by the prophet, Melampous. Neleus had sent Melampous to steal Iphicles’ cattle as a gift to win Pero, but Iphicles captured Melampous and forced him to prophesy for a full year before he released the augur.
Odysseus met Leda, mother of Castor and Polydeuces. He also saw Iphimedeia, whose enormous children Otus and Ephialtes threatened the gods themselves until they were slain by Apollo. Among others met by Odysseus was Ariadne, the doomed lover of Theseus.
In the midst of the catalog, Odysseus suddenly brings his tale to a halt. Tired, he entreats the Phaeaceans to allow him to sleep so that he might soon depart for Ithaca. Alcinoös and Arete, highly impressed by Odysseus’ storytelling, tell him that the Phaeaceans will bestow even more treasure on their guest. Persuaded by the prospect of returning home with even further wealth, Odysseus agrees not to rush his homecoming. Alcinoös also induces Odysseus to continue his story.
Odysseus’ tale resumes. After the queens’ spirits departed, Odysseus was greeted by the spirit of Agamemnon himself. Agamemnon told Odysseus of his murder by Aegisthus and Clytemnestra; his wife had also personally slain the priestess Cassandra. Agamemnon then wished Odysseus luck on his own homecoming, envious that Penelope would be more faithful than Clytemnestra had been.
Odysseus next met Achilles and other deceased heroes from the Trojan conflict. Achilles asked for news of his family, and Odysseus informed the hero of his son Neoptolemus’ bravery in battle. Achilles, satisfied with Odysseus’ news, strode away with pride. Among the Greek heroes present in the crowd was Ajax Telamonius, who had slain himself after Thetis, Achilles’ mother, had chosen Odysseus to receive her son’s armor instead of the brawny...
(The entire section is 1,302 words.)