Books 12-15 Summary and Analysis
Odysseus and his men returned to Aeaea from the Land of the Dead. They gave Elpenor the proper burial rites, just as Odysseus had promised Elpenor’s spirit. Before they departed the island, Circe warned Odysseus of the dangers to come—the Sirens, the Prowling Rocks, Scylla and Charybdis, and the Sun god Helios’s island—and gave him apt advice.
Approaching the island of Sirens, Odysseus plugged his shipmates’ ears with beeswax. As he had instructed, his shipmates strapped him to the mast of the ship, where he listened to the Sirens’ song while his shipmates rowed on, deaf to the Sirens’ deadly calls.
The men rowed around the Prowling Rocks in order to avoid being crushed between them, and Odysseus then chose to confront the monster Scylla rather than the whirlpool Charybdis. Shrouded by fog in an overhead cavern, Scylla whisked six men from Odysseus’ ship—one for each of her six heads—and devoured them.
Grief-stricken, Odysseus and the other survivors rowed on until they come upon Thrinacia, where the sun god Helios kept his prized cattle. Despite Odysseus’s protestations, his weary shipmates insisted on making port. Odysseus relented but forbade them from touching Helios’s cattle. The men were stranded on the island for over a month for lack of favorable winds. With their stores completely depleted, the starving men slaughtered and feasted on one of the cattle while Odysseus was sleeping. Once they set sail again, Zeus struck their ship with bolt after bolt of lightning until all the men had perished except Odysseus. He washed up on Ogygia, the island of the nymph Calypso, where he spent the next seven years.
Odysseus finishes telling his tale, and King Alcinous sends him off to Ithaca in a ship laden with splendid gifts. On the ship, Odysseus falls into a deep enchanted slumber. When they land on Ithaca, the crew carry the sleeping Odysseus, along with his gifts, to a sheltered spot on the island and sail away.
Meanwhile, Poseidon is angered that the Phaeacians dared help Odysseus. After consulting with Zeus, he decides to turn to stone the ship they’d used to bring Odysseus to Ithaca. Fearing further retribution, the Phaeacians immediately sacrifice a dozen of their prize bulls to Poseidon.
Back on Ithaca, Odysseus wakes and does not recognize where he is, as Athena shrouded his surroundings in mist while he was sleeping in order to protect him. Disguised as a young shepherd, Athena engages in conversation with Odysseus and informs him that he is on Ithaca. Odysseus rejoices to hear this but does not give away who he is, instead inventing a false identity. Athena, commending Odysseus’s cautious nature, reveals her true form. She tells him that he must form a plan to take back his estate, as it has been overrun by the hot-blooded suitors. Transforming his appearance to that of a beggar, she bids him to go to Eumaeus, the swineherd, who has remained loyal to Odysseus all these years.
Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus visits the home of Eumaeus. The swineherd gives him a warm welcome, voicing his belief that strangers and beggars must be shown kindness.
Once again, Odysseus invents a false identity, claiming that he was born in Crete to a wealthy man and his concubine. He states that he fought with the Danaans in the Trojan War and voyaged to Egypt after the victory, where he was unable to stop his men from plundering and pillaging. The Egyptian army then sought retribution, capturing and enslaving his men. After staying in Egypt for seven years and amassing a great fortune, he planned to travel to Libya with a Phoenician man who secretly plotted to sell him into slavery. Fortunately, Zeus struck their ship with lightning bolts, leaving him adrift on a piece of the mast until he washed ashore on Thesprotia. There, King Phidon welcomed him, regaling him with tales of the hero Odysseus, whom the king had allegedly sent home with splendid gifts. He was then captured by sailors who planned to...
(The entire section is 1,499 words.)