Study Guide

The Odyssey Book 11

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Book 11

  • 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' 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' sacrifice and then speaks.
  • His first words are a warning: don't eat Helios' cattle at Thrinakia. 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' mother Antikleia tells him of the situation back home in Ithaka: Telemachos 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 Antikleia 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, Alkmene, Megara, Epikaste, Chloris, Leda, Iphimedeia, Phaidra, Prokris, Ariadne, Maira, Klymene, and Eriphyle.
  • At this point, Odysseus pauses in his narrative. The Phaiakians 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 Alkinoös then asks Odysseus if, while he was down in the underworld, he met any of his friends who died at Troy.
  • He sure did!

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  • Back in the Underworld, Odysseus sees Agamemnon and hears the tragic story of his murder and his son Orestes' revenge against Aigisthos and Klytaimestra.
  • 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 Achilleus, Patroklos, Antilochos, and Telamonian Aias, some of Odysseus' buddies from the Trojan war.
  • Odysseus praises Achilleus for having earned so much honor and glory in his life; surely his death is like, the greatest death ever.
  • Nope. Actually, Achilleus 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, Neoptolemos; Odysseus responds with what he knows of the lad's brilliance and luck in battle.
  • Then Odysseus pleads with Telamonian Aias to forget their earlier quarrel in Troy over Achilleus' arms.
  • [Mythological Context Lesson: You've already heard about little Aias in Chapter 4, so here's the deal with big or "Telamonian" Aias: back at Troy, Odysseus and big Aias competed for the arms of Achilleus, who had been killed and therefore didn't need his weapons anymore. The arms were supposed to go to the bravest man, but the Greeks couldn't bring themselves to make a decision since they figured whoever lost would leave the war in a huff. Since they couldn't afford to lose either of these great heroes, so they let the Trojan captives decide. The Trojans picked Odysseus, and the enraged Aias killed himself. Sore loser.]
  • Clearly still peeved, the ghostly Aias turns away from Odysseus. Ouch. Rejected.
  • Before he goes, Odysseus also sees Minos, Orion, Tityos, Tantalos, Sisyphos, and Herakles. These are all figures of Greek myth and, if you're interested in the specifics (obviously you are), check out your text. (And then check out Shmoop's handy-dandy mythology guides!)
  • 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.

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