My Odyssey Journal
The Odyssey Part Two: Books Nine-Ten
Informal Reflections and Questions
by Tracy Marks (Torrey Philemon of Ancient Sites)
The Lotos Eaters The Cyclops and Naming
Aeolus and the Windsack Circe, Men and Swine
Circe: Power and Possessiveness
Circe and the Underworld
from Tennyson's "Lotos-eaters"
How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream!...
To hear each other's whispered speech;
Eating the Lotos, day by day,
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
And tender curving lines of creamy spray:
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
To muse and brood and live again in memory,
With those old faces of our infancy....
I wonder about the symbolism of Odysseus' encounter with the Lotos-Eaters. After so many years of battle, after so much grief and trauma, are Odysseus and his men spent, and needing to escape into a dreamlike world in which they may begin their healing? The deeper the pain one has experienced, the more often one is drawn to experiences of ecstasy in order to counter it. On a a deeper level, the Lotos-Eaters experience appears to be a precursor of the adventures that follow - with the Cyclops (conquering the primal male/father), Circe, Calypso, and the Sirens (the negative mother) as expressions of Odysseus' unconscious, accessed in the dream state.
The Cyclops and Naming
Some reflections here....
1) Again and again, naming is important in the Odyssey - sharing or withholding one's name has significant consequences, and often involves giving power to another. Here Odysseus' calling himself "Nobody" appears to signify that indeed has to become "nobody" - to be broken down, defeated and reborn throughout the course of his adventures.
2) In The Hero and the Goddess, Jean Houston points out the Greek word for Nobody, Outis, is similar to the Greek word for Odysseus. But even more significant is the word play in regard to Metis. When the Cyclops neighbors respond to Polyphemus' cries, they ask "Is someone (Greek word: me tis) trying to kill you?" The word metis in Greek means wit and skill, qualities often associated with Odysseus. And Metis is also the name of Titan goddess mother of Athena, Odysseus' beloved goddess.
3) I wonder about Odysseus' lapse of good sense in taunting the Cyclops, against the advice of his shipmates, and revealing his name. His own pride in wanting the Cyclops to know who has maimed him led to the Cyclops cursing him, and the wrath of Poseidon. Would Poseidon have known who put out the Cyclops' eye, and responded with such wrath if Odysseus had not revealed his name?
Are we seeing here the pride of Odysseus, which leads to negative consequences, just as Achilles' prideful wrath did in the Iliad?
4) Viewing the Odyssey as a journey into the personal unconscious of Odysseus, and the collective unconscious of humankind, we experience Odysseus now confronting a monstrous primal male figure. ....after years of pursuing the masculine ideals of his culture ....and in prelude to his encounters with the primal feminine. In encountering both the primal male and female, he often enters a cave, symbolic of the unconscious.
5) What is the meaning of the one-eye of the Cyclops? Some scholars refer to the fact that the Cyclops were originally known to be blacksmiths, and that blacksmiths in ancient times often wore patches over one eye in order to avoid being blinded by a spark. But is there another significance? Some indication perhaps of diminished consciousness, as related to diminished sight and vision? (Note that the one eye is in the center of the forehead, the pineal area, associated with the development of higher consciousness, and that the piercing of that eye, in many spiritual traditions, is associated with the evolution of consciousness. Thus the term "piercing insight").
Aeolus and the Wind-Sack
Personally, I have difficulty envisioning the sack of wind. If it is secured tightly in the ship, it obviously is not directly providing the wind that speeds the ship, as is pictures in many images of Odysseus and the windbag. So assuming that it is closed and bound securely, I wonder what Odysseus told his men in regard to the sack that they took to be treasure. Did he maintain secrecy about it? Or did he inform them that this was a gift from Aeolus that must not be touched, and that Aeolus was providing the winds they needed to reach him. If the former, then his secrecy undid him. If the latter, then clearly he has lost the trust of his men - and has failed to be a caring and firm leader capable of winning and maintaining the support of his followers.
Joseph Campbell describes the Aeolus episode as one of inflation and deflation. Jean Houston, in The Hero and the Goddess, points out the crew represent Odysseus' inner personalities - some which are inflated, and still need to be put in their place. Houston also points out that Odysseus' taking a nap just before the journey's end was a premature letting down of his guard ....a false trust that all was well, and he could afford to surrender consciousness just before the goal was to be reached.
In putting out the eye of the Cyclops, Odysseus may also have symbolically blinded himself . His pride, unwise trust, and expectation of immediate homecoming led him to relinquish command just when he most needed to claim it.
Circe, Men and Swine
What does turning men into swine mean in the context of the Odyssey? During the Trojan war, Odysseus and his men had the ideal of honor with which to glorify their expression of the primal male qualities of physical strength and violence. Now they are without this "higher ideal" and only have a more regressive aim - to return home. Perhaps in this context they are likely to be more at the mercy of their lower natures.
But what about Odysseus? He takes the "holy moly", the antidote that Hermes gives him, so that he does not succumb to her spells. This moly is an herb that supposedly makes him immune to the seduction of his lower nature, and indeed, at first, he has the wits to save himself and his companions. He wisely (in folklore, one does not dine with a witch) does not eat with her until Circe promises to free his men.
But yet he does succumb; he remains with Circe for a full year, against the advice of his comrades. At first, Eurylochus says to him, "Why are you tempting fate? Why stumble blindly down to Circe's halls?" But not until a year later, when his men exclaim, "Captain, this is madness! High time you thought on your home at last," does he awaken from her "spell".
The Fagles translation is unclear in regard to Hermes' advice to Odysseus:
"Once you lie there, naked -
Never unman you, strip away your courage."
What exactly does this mean? And are we to assume that Odysseus bedded Circe
from the beginning, before he was bathed and care for, and before he chose to dine with her? He is able to exercise some control over eating, but perhaps not over
the allure of sexuality, and the "pleasures of the flesh."
Is it Circe who casts a spell over him, or a part of himself that is possessed by his own desire for sexual union with an alluring and powerful woman? Is she, like Calypso, an expression of his inner feminine, the anima, which he needs to integrate? How does she differ from Calypso? Why does he choose to stay with her for an entire year?
Odysseus' lower self may be succumbing to desire and physical pleasure, but his higher self is also being awakened by Circe. As Jean Houston wrote in The Hero and the Goddess, Circe is the "initiator as Temptress - she who lures men to experience the mystique of regression in the service of transformation."
Circe: Power and Possessiveness
Who is Circe? According to Greek mythology, she once loved the handsome Glaucus, who chose his beloved Scylla over Circe. In a jealous rage, Circe then transformed Scylla into a monster. She also once married a king, and poisoned him in order to rule his kingdom by herself. Once her deed was found out, she was banished to the island of Aiaia. We know therefore, that previous to her encounter with Odysseus and his men, that she had a lust for power, was inclined to possessive jealousy, and expressed her anger by transforming human beings into creatures.
Yet how Circe benefits from turning Odysseus' men into swine, and by seducing him to stay with her for a year is unclear. He was not known to be an attractive man; he was short, stocky, with a wild unruly red hair. Yet he was a hero, beloved by Athena, and respected for his shrewd intelligence (which he certainly exercises only minimally during his stay with Circe). What does she gain from her year with Odysseus - human companionship, and a partner in bed? The illusion of love? Or simply another chance to exercise her power over men?
She does however appear to change once she knows Odysseus as Odysseus.
She is quick to comply with his request to turn the men she had transformed into pigs back into men, and to then treat him and his comrades with generous hospitality, as well as later prepare him later for his trip into Hades. But I wonder ...what is her story of their year together? What are her motives and her gains? To what extent is she motivated by her own needs and desires, and to what extent by her role as an initiator of "death and rebirth"?
Circe and the Underworld
Circe, she who turns men into swine, and entices them to relish in their sensual natures, is not only a goddess of transformations; she is also a goddess of the underworld. In her link to the primal self, she is also a link to the deeper mysteries of the afterlife, and symbolically, the transformations that occurs when one dies to one's former self, and descends into the depths of being. But ironically, she is not only associated with the darker side of being, but is also related to Helios, god of the sun. Circe is Helios' daughter. This leads me to wonder if only those who have a powerful connection to the forces of light can safely journey into the darkness without being totally consumed.
Odysseus does not seem to want to depart Circe's isle. It is only at the urging of his companions that he chooses to request his leave. When Circe tells him that he must first journey to the land of the dead, he is at first bereft: "I'd no desire to go on living and see the rising light of day." This is indeed an ironic statement. Odysseus is
saying basically that he'd rather die than journey to the land of the dead, which at this point, since he hasn't yet received Circe's guidance, appears to be death, since he does not yet have hope of returning.
Here, we see Odysseus expressing the human fear of death ....and also, symbolically the fear of dying further to his old self, without any knowledge of or trust in a future rebirth. Yet once Circe assures him that he has the capacity to pilot the ship to Hades, and provides the guidance he needs to succeed in his journey, his explorer/adventurer self is again reawakened and motivates him onward...
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copyright 1998 by Tracy Marks (alias)
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