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

The First Journey Ends, Book XII

Odysseus and his men make it past Scylla and Charybdis and head toward the island of the sun.  Odysseus thinks back to the warnings he has been given about the island: And I was struck once more by the words of the blind Theban prophet, Tiresias, and Aeaean Circe too:  time and again they told me to shun the island of the Sun, the joy of man. So I warned my shipmates gravely, sick at heart, ‘Listen to me, my comrades, brothers in hardship, let me tell you the dire prophecies of Tiresias and Aeaean Circe too:  time and again they told me to shun the island of the Sun, the joy of man. Here they warned, the worst disaster awaits us. Row straight past these shores-race our black ship on! (XII 289-298)   While the island of the sun holds the potential for disaster for Odysseus and his men, it is not the only place where they have encountered troubles.  At every stop along the way where Odysseus and his crew encounter the dwelling of gods, they have met with disaster.  Men are not made to live in the same locale as the gods; when men interact with the gods, they more often than not meet with disaster. Odysseus cautions his men to steer clear of the island, but Eurylochus urges the men to stop on the island.  The warnings of Odysseus go for naught, and the men accept Eurylochus’ counsel:  “So Eurylochus urged, and shipmates cheered./Then I knew some power was brewing trouble for us” (XII 319-320).  Finally, Eurylochus won the day, and the voyagers settled on the island of the sun.  Odysseus, ever watchful, urged the men to eat only the provisions that were aboard the ship, and had the men listened to this advice, all may have returned home safely. As Odysseus feared, some power was intent on doing mischief to the voyagers.  The voyagers were stranded on the island for one whole month, and were safe as long as their food held out.  Finally, with their food exhausted, Odysseus headed inland to pray to the gods for assistance:  “. . . but soon as I’d prayed to all the gods who rule Olympus,/down on my eyes they poured a sweet, sound sleep. . . /as Eurylochus opened up his fatal plan to friends” (XII 363-365).  Predictably, the plan of Eurylochus involved disregarding the advice of Odysseus and killing the cattle of the sun.  Just as the scent of roasting meet began to fill the air, Odysseus was roused from his sleep and prayed to Zeus.  His prayers were mixed with admonitions; as he asked the thunder-god why he was permitted to fall asleep.  At the same time Helios sped to Olympus with the news that Odysseus’ crew killed his beloved cattle; furthermore, he threatened to remove the sun from the sky if he was not avenged for the death of his cattle.  Zeus promised to strike the ship of the voyagers with a lightning bolt, thereby appeasing the anger of the sun god. Reaching his men, Odysseus upbraided them for killing the cattle of the sun god, but they continued their feasting for six additional days.  Finally, they left the island of the sun god and headed out to open sea.  There, Zeus pounded the craft with squalls and, true to his word, sent lightning bolts out of the sky to destroy the small ship.  Only Odysseus remained alive. Helios, the sun god