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The Wine Red Sea:  Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 - 2018 by Peter J Ponzio

The First Journey Ends, Book XII

Circe’s warnings should have sounded familiar to Odysseus and crew; they echo the words of Tiresias in Hades: There you will find them grazing, herds and fat flocks, the cattle of Helios, god of the sun who sees all, hears all things. Leave the beasts unharmed, your mind set on home, and you all may still reach Ithaca-bent with hardship, true-but harm them in any way, and I can see it now: your ship destroyed, your men destroyed as well. And even if you escape, you’ll come home late and come a broken man-all shipmates lost, alone in a stranger’s ship- and you will find a world of pain at home (XI, 122-132) Despite the warnings of Circe and Tiresias, the crew did not heed their advice. As the ship and crew drew near the island of the Sirens, Odysseus was lashed to the mast so that he could hear the singing of the Sirens: Come closer Odysseus-Achaea’s pride and glory- moor your ship on our coast so you can hear our song! Never has any sailor passed our shores in his black craft until he has heard the honeyed voices pouring from our lips, and once he hears to his heart’s content sails on, a wiser man. We know all the pains that the Greeks and Trojans once endured on the spreading plain of Troy when the gods willed it so- all that comes to pass on the fertile earth, we know it all! (XII 200-208) The allure of the sirens is as dangerous as the allure of the lotus in the land of the Lotus-Eaters;  it presents a chance to live in the past, to relive the glories of the exploits of the hero in the War.  But just as the lure of the lotus is sterile, for all its promise, so too is the lure of the Sirens.  Odysseus, while recognizing the danger, is at the same time compelled by it:  “. . .and the heart inside of me throbbed to listen longer” (XII 209). Next, the heroes encounter Scylla and Charybdis:  “Scylla to starboard, dreaded Charybdis off to port,” (XII 254), giving rise to the saying “between a rock and a hard place.”  As they attempted to pass the monster Scylla, it grabbed six of the crew in its maw, causing Odysseus to exclaim:  “Of all the pitiful things I’ve had to witness,/suffering, searching out the pathways of the sea,/this wrenched my heart the most” (XII 280-282).  Scylla