Book 12 Summary and Analysis
Scylla: a horrendous monster with six heads extended on elongated necks
Charybdis: a terrible creature that takes the form of a devouring whirlpool
Helius: god of the sun
Odysseus’ men, having left the Underworld, arrived once more on Circe’s isle, Aeaea. There they immediately set about retrieving and burning Elpenor’s body, as his spirit had requested. Circe met Odysseus and crew down by their ship, and pulled Odysseus aside to advise him on his upcoming journey home.
She warned him of the Sirens, whose singing lured men to their island, where they would listen to the women’s voices until they died. She instructed him to stop his men’s ears with wax, but, if he wanted to hear their voices himself, he could do so if his men first tied him tightly to the mast pole. She warned him next of the dreaded crossing of Scylla and Charybdis. Odysseus’ ship would cross between two mighty crags that were swept by a raging current. If they steered one way, they would be sucked into Charybdis’ whirlpool. If they steered the other way, they would lose six men to the ravenous appetite of Scylla, whose six heads would reach down on long necks to snatch men from the ship. Odysseus asked if there were some way to battle Scylla, but Circe advised him to push onward rather than fight this immortal creature. Finally, Circe warned Odysseus to avoid the cattle of Helius on Thrinacea, just as Teiresias had previously warned him. If they slaughtered the sun god’s cattle, Odysseus’ companions would be destroyed.
Odysseus’ men set out finally from Aeaea, pushed on by a strong wind sent from Circe. As they approached the Sirens’ isle, Odysseus warned his men of the danger and stopped their ears with wax. He himself listened to their enchanted music while tied to the mast, and his men tied him even tighter when he begged to join the women who sang so sweetly and enticed him with the promise of infinite knowledge.
After Odysseus’ ship left the peril of the Sirens behind, it approached the perilous sea crags inhabited by Scylla and Charybdis. Odysseus strengthened his men’s resolve to travel through the dreaded pass, and warned them to avoid Charybdis. However, he failed to inform them of Scylla, for he was afraid they would lose control of the ship in their fear. Despite Circe’s warning, Odysseus donned his armor and weapons to stave off the coming doom. But when the ship passed under Scylla’s lair, the sea beast snatched six men too quickly for Odysseus to act. They screamed helplessly to him as the ship continued its course through the treacherous pass.
The ship sailed clear of the dangerous waters, but came within sight of Thrinacea. Odysseus begged his men to avoid the island, but Eurylochus demanded they be allowed to rest and eat on the shores of the island. Odysseus gave in, but demanded they swear never to touch Helius’ cattle and sheep.
However, a terrible storm began that evening, and strong winds continued to blow for a month, detaining Odysseus and his men on the island. Odysseus’ men ran out of food and resorted to hunting fish and birds. One day, Odysseus set off on a retreat to pray to the gods for aid. The gods answered by drifting him off to sleep. While he was away, Eurylochus induced the men to stave off starvation by killing the cattle. By the time Odysseus awakened, the men had already sacrificed the cattle, much to their leader’s anguish.
Helius’ daughters, who herded the god’s flocks, informed their father of the outrage done to his creatures. Helius, in turn, demanded that Zeus punish the perpetrators; if the men were not punished, Helius would turn his rays away from the world and into Hades’ realm. Zeus, fearing his threat, agreed to chastise the wrongdoers.
When the winds died down, Odysseus’ ship left Thrinacea. After they were far out to sea, Zeus summoned a storm and blasted Odysseus’ ship, killing all of his companions. Odysseus himself drifted away on a makeshift raft...
(The entire section is 1,218 words.)