HOMER: The Odyssey [Book X]

In Book X of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew land on the island of Aeolus. Odysseus gains the favor of the ruler of the winds, who gives Odysseus a favorable wind to return home to Ithaca and also entraps adverse winds in a bag that he gives to Odysseus. While in sight of Ithacus, the crew becomes envious of Odysseus. They decide to untie the bag of winds, thinking that the bag conceals gold. When the bag opens, the winds rush out and blow the ships back to the island of Aeolus, where Aeolus refuses to help them again.

Odysseus and his crew set sail from the island and next arrive in the land of the Laestrygonians. The Laestrygonians are giant cannibals, who destroy 11 of Odysseus’ ships and most of his men. Odysseus and the survivors are able to escape on the last remaining ship and land on the island of Circe, who transforms many of Odysseus’ men into swine.

Odysseus, by Mercury’s aid, is able to resist Circe’s spells and compel her to transform his crew back into men. Odysseus and the crew spend one year on the island, enjoying the generous hospitality of Circe, until Odysseus, at the instigation of his crew, resolves to leave. Circe agrees to aid them on their journey, but warns Odysseus that he must first visit the underworld and consult with the blind prophet, Tiresias.

The vices of greed and envy are important themes in the first part of Book X. Odysseus’ crew envies Odysseus because he has won great rewards at Troy. They believe that they are also entitled to gold and honors. They have sailed as far as he has, they have fought as he has, they have lost friends as he has. Envy and greed prompt the crew to open the bag of winds given by Aeolus to Odysseus. The crew believes that the bag contains treasure, and they wish to steal it for themselves. They learn too late that the bag contains adverse winds that blow them away from their home and back to the island of Aeolus. Thus, Homer condemns greed and envy.

Besides these two vices, Homer also condemns the vice of lust. The witch Circe represents the consummate femme fatale. She turns Odysseus’ men into swine, which symbolizes the capability of some women, by virtue of their charms and beauty, to figuratively turn men into animals. The god Mercury warns Odysseus that “when she has got you naked she will unman you and make you fit for nothing.” This statement explicitly means that Circe will cut off Odysseus’ manhood. Metaphorically, it means that a man who has succumbed to lust is fit for nothing.

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