The Odyssey‎ > ‎

Book 11

The Odyssey – Book 11 Book of the Dead (Context)


·        Odysseus travels to the Underworld and makes the offerings according to Circe's instructions. The shades of the dead (shades = ghosts) gather to drink the blood (gross) and then talk to Odysseus.

·        The first shade is Elpenor, freshly fallen from Circe's roof. Odysseus's eyes bug out when he sees one of his crew members—he weeps and listens to the man's story.

·        Elpenor begs for Odysseus to honor his death by building a burial mound (essentially a pile of rocks) for his dead body. Odysseus agrees, since it's the least he can do after totally having failed to notice that one of his crew members was missing.

·        Odysseus then glimpses his mother's shade among the rest of the dead. This is news to him, since last he heard she was still alive. Not a good way to find out.

·        Fortunately, he is soon distracted from his weeping by the arrival of Teiresias (the dead blind prophet).

·        Teiresias drinks the blood of Odysseus's sacrifice and then speaks.

·        His first words are a warning: don't eat Helios's cattle. His next are to casually announce that Odysseus will survive alone.

·        In other words, all of his companions will die. Great, that's probably something they're glad to hear.

·        The good news is, Odysseus will make it home after all, but he'll find trouble there. He'll have to make the Suitors pay for their insolence with … wait for it … blood.

·        After defeating the Suitors, Teiresias continues, Odysseus had better go inland until he reaches an area of earth which has never known the sea. There, he has to pray to Poseidon in order to ensure himself a peaceful seaborne death in his old age, surrounded by all his folk.

·        Okay, that's great, says Odysseus; but why is his mother here, and can he talk to her?

·        Sure, says Teiresias, as long as she drinks the blood of the sacrifice, too.

·        One gory mess later, Odysseus's mother Anticleia tells him of the situation back home in Ithaca: Telemachus is growing up but helpless against the Suitors; Penelope is still loyal; and, oh yeah, she herself has died from loneliness.

·        Her son tries three times to embrace her, but this doesn't work out too well, since Anticleia is dead.

·        When she leaves, there's a long line of other dead people waiting to talk to him. The shades don't get too many visitors around these parts.

·        Odysseus draws his sword to hold them back. (Except they're already dead, so we're not sure how effective that would be.) He lets them come and drink one at a time.

·        Odysseus speaks first to a long line of princesses: Tyro, Antiope, Alcmene, Megare, Epicaste, Chloris, Leda, Iphimedeia, Phaedra, Procris, Ariadne, Maera, Clymene, and Eriphyle.

·        At this point, Odysseus pauses in his narrative. The Phaeacians are all "No way!"

·        Queen Arete, clearly impressed by all these stories, decides that when they do finally send Odysseus on his way, it should be with lots of sparkly things (i.e., treasure).

·        King Alcinous then asks Odysseus if, while he was down in the underworld, he met any of his friends who died at Troy.

·        Back in the Underworld, Odysseus sees Agamemnon and hears the tragic story of his murder and his son Orestes's revenge against Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra.

·        Agamemnon is understandably bitter against women and considers all of them treacherous. Oh, except for Penelope, whom he praises for her loyalty. (Nice save.)

·        Then appear the spirits of Achilles, Patroclus, Antilochus, and Ajax the Greater, some of Odysseus's buddies from the Trojan War.

·        Odysseus praises Achilles for having earned so much honor and glory in his life; surely his death is like, the greatest death ever.

·        Nope. Actually, Achilles says, being dead sucks. He'd rather be a poor country farmer who is alive than a glorious lord in the Underworld. Wise words.

·        He then asks Odysseus about his son, Neoptolemus; Odysseus responds with what he knows of the lad's brilliance and luck in battle.

·        Then Odysseus pleads with Ajax the Greater to forget their earlier quarrel in Troy over Achilles's arms.

·        Clearly still peeved, the ghostly Ajax turns away from Odysseus. Ouch. Rejected.

·        When all the shades come crowding in to drink the blood, Odysseus freaks out and runs back to his ship.

·        Everyone leaves the Underworld a little bit wiser and less a few sacrificial animals.

Who does Odysseus meet in the underworld?

People Relevant to Odysseus

1.      Elpenor

2.      Anticleia (does not speak at this point)

3.      Teiresias

4.      Anticleia (speaks)

The Catalogue of Women

14 name women. None of whom have any connection to Odysseus.
Tyro, Antiope, Alcmene, Megare, Epicaste, Chloris, Leda, Iphimedeia, Phaedra, Procris, Ariadne, Maera, Clymene, and Eriphyle.

Odysseus’ Comrades form the Trojan War (Greek Heroes)

1.      Agamemnon

2.      Achilles

3.      (Odysseus also sees Patroclus, Antilochus and Ajax the Greater. Ajax refuses to speak to him, as he is still resentful that Odysseus was awarded Achilles’ armour instead of him)

Sight-seeing Tour of Tartarus

1.      Minos – judge of the Underworld

2.      Orion the Hunter

3.      Tityus, Tantalus, Sisyphus – eternal punishments

4.      Heracles (but only his wraith, as Heracles himself is now immortal)