Study Guide

Canto I Death

By Ezra Pound

Death

Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, (4-5)

So why is Odysseus' crew all weeping? Probably because they started out with a lot more shipmates than they now have. According to our research, this section of Homer's Odyssey comes right after Odysseus and his gang have left the island of Circe, where a bunch of their friends got turned into pigs. In any case, there's a good bet that the death of their friends is behind all this weepiness.

I dug the ell-square Pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead, (21-22)

Anyone know what a libation is? You got it, it's a drink (usually alcoholic). In this scene, we see Odysseus and his men getting' all gangsta and pouring booze out for their dead homies. Meanwhile, Odysseus digs a small pit, which Ezra Pound calls a "Pitkin" for some reason (as far as experts know, he made the word up).

Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and of the old who had borne much; (29-30)

Okay, we've made our sacrifices, said our prayers, and heeeere come the dead people! Odysseus is actually looking for the soul of one specific dead guy named Tiresias, but unfortunately, it's hard to be choosy when you open a portal into the world of the dead. The fact that the souls living in the world of the dead have "borne much" also suggests that the underworld isn't the nicest of places to spend eternity.

Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead, (39-40)

Odysseus really doesn't want to deal with the souls of a bunch of dead people, especially considering how he might be responsible for a lot of their deaths. Let's not forget that Odysseus was the dude who came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse, which eventually caused the deaths of pretty much everyone living in the city of Troy. Nice work, Odysseus.

But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,/ Limbs that we left in the house of Circe, (42-44)

Mortality is a funny thing, insofar as pretty much all of us have the ability to die at any moment. Odysseus' friend Elpenor definitely found this out the hard way. Dude was just minding his own business and getting drunk on wine, then he decides to climb up on a rooftop and fall to his death. And it's not like that sort of thing doesn't happen anymore. Apart from traffic accidents, falling from a height is actually one of the most common forms of dying from alcohol. Think about it.

"But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied," (54)

Poor Elpenor. Now that he's dead, he needs to rely on Odysseus to come back to Circe's island and give him a proper burial, even though Odysseus wants nothing to do with that. The last time he was on Circe's island, he nearly lost his entire crew. But it's not easy to say no to a guy who's stuck in the underworld for all eternity.

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