Study Guide

The Odyssey Book 12

By Homer

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Book 12

  • As promised, the Ithakans return to Aiaia (because that worked out so well the first time), recover Elpenor's body, and go through the proper funeral rites.
  • Circe reappears and feeds the men. She makes them promise to stay for the full day of feasting while she gives further directions to Odysseus.
  • "Further directions" seems to be a euphemism for "more sex." Still, after the "further directions," she gives some actual directions on how to avoid the temptation of the Sirens who will try to lure him to death with their beautiful voices.
  • Circe tells Odysseus that no man has ever heard the song of the Sirens and lived to tell the tale. But he can! He should have his men plug up their ears and tie him to the mast so he can listen without jumping overboard.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • Then she tells him about two different courses he can take to go home. The first one contains Rovers, moving rocks that are impossible for any ship to get through.
  • The second route holds two dangers: Skylla, a sea monster with six heads that eats men, and Charybdis, a whirlpool that sucks in and vomits out the sea three times a day.
  • Surprisingly, this is the better option. Circe advises Odysseus to hug the cliff of Skylla and sacrifice six men rather than risk losing his whole ship to Charybdis. Also, he should race through as quickly as possible instead of trying to fight her (the monsters are female, of course).
  • Odysseus hems and haws, since he'd rather not lose any men—but Circle essentially tells him to suck it up.
  • Wonder what she would tell the six men who are about to be sacrificed?
  • One more thing: don't' kill Helios' cattle at Thrinakia, unless he wants to lose his entire crew.
  • The next day they set sail with the help of Circe's magical wind.
  • The Ithakans approach the Sirens and, following Circe's instructions, Odysseus plugs his men's ears with melted beeswax and then instructs them to tie him up.
  • For the complete lyrics, please see your text, but the Sirens basically promise Odysseus immortal knowledge. Come 'ere!"
  • Only sexier.
  • Just as they successfully pass the Sirens, the men approach Skylla and Charybdis and promptly lose their oars in fear.
  • That is actually not a euphemism.
  • Odysseus tries to inspire courage in them while he arms up against Skylla. Clearly, he's forgetting Circe's instructions.
  • As foretold, Skylla takes six of Odysseus' best men. (Come on, Skylla, couldn't you have taken the cowards and weaklings?)
  • He suddenly remembers that he's supposed to move quickly rather than fight the she-monster, so his ship makes it out. Barely.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • They then see Thrinakia, land of Helios' cattle. Odysseus wants to sail past since he's been warned against it about twelve times.
  • But his men, led by Eurylochos, vote to stay there for a night to recover from losing six of their friends to a giant, hungry monster.
  • Well, okay, Odysseus says—but hands off Helios' cattle.
  • The next morning, they're getting ready to head off when … a storm begins.
  • And continues. For a full month.
  • When their food runs out, the cows begin looking pret-ty tasty.
  • Odysseus goes off to pray to the gods one day and finally Eurylochos snaps. He persuades the men to kill the biggest cow they can find. It's cool, though; he'll atone for it by building a big temple to Helios once they get back to Ithaka.
  • Yum! Steak for everyone!
  • Odysseus comes back, sees the cooking meat, and an angsty, we're-going-to-die sort of way.
  • Helios is super ticked and asks Zeus for revenge. Sure thing; the King of the Gods promises to destroy Odysseus' ship with his thunderbolt.
  • When the storm ends, the Ithakans set sail and are promptly struck by Zeus' thunderbolt.
  • Everyone dies except Odysseus.

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • The sea floats him back towards Skylla and Charybdis, and he manages to survive only by jumping on the huge tree-island thingy positioned above Charybdis. He clings to its trunk while Charybdis ingests his ship.
  • When she spits it back up again, Odysseus let go and lands on its flotsam. The gods help him evade Skylla as he rows past her using his hands as oars.
  • He drifts on the open sea for nine days before washing ashore the island of Ogygia, where Kalypso rescues him.
  • But then she keeps him prisoner for seven years, which kind of negates her whole rescuer argument.
  • At this point, Odysseus ends his narrative for real this time.

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