Tag Archives: Lestrygonians

“Odyssey” by Homer: Book X – The Grace of the Witch

CirceAndSwine

In this book, Odysseus continues his tale of his journey. He actually covers three parts of his odyssey in this book. First, he describes his dealings with Aeolus, ruler of the winds. Aeolus gives him a bag of wind to aid in his voyage, but some of his greedy men think it has gold and open it, resulting in the boat being blown back to Aeolia. Next, Odysseus and his crew arrive at the land of the Laestrygonians, who are cannibalistic giants and devour a few of his men. Finally, they arrive at the island of Circe, who is depicted as a goddess but also a sorceress.

What I found the most fascinating about this book are the allusions to magic and ritual. Circe is obviously very skilled in the mystical arts and the imagery of her weaving “by that craft known to the goddesses of heaven” (Fitzgerald Translation: p. 171), her use of herbs and potions, and her wielding of a wand, all conjure some fantastic visions of the mystical woman.

The god Hermes offers to assist Odysseus in overcoming Circe’s spells. He provides Odysseus with instructions on how to use an amulet in conjunction with sex magic to protect himself from the sorceress.

But I can tell you what to do
to come unchanged from Kirke’s power (Note: alternate spelling in translation)
and disenthrall your fighting crew:
take with you to her bower
as amulet, this plant I know—
it will defeat her horrid show,
so pure and potent is the flower;
no mortal herb was ever so.

Your cup with numbing drops of night
and evil, stilled of all remorse,
she will infuse to charm your sight;
but this great herb with holy force
will keep your minds and senses clear:
when she turns cruel, coming near
with her long stick to whip you out of doors,
then let your cutting blade appear,

Let instant death upon it shine,
and she will cower and yield her bed—
a pleasure you must not decline,
so may her lust and fear bestead
you and your friends, and break her spell;
but make her swear by heaven and hell
no witches’ tricks, or else, your harness shed,
you’ll be unmanned by her as well.

(ibid: p. 174)

The plant that Hermes refers to appears to be mandrake, which according to myth will drive a human insane if pulled from the ground.

He bent down glittering for the magic plant
and pulled it up, black root and milky flower—
a molu in the language of the gods—
fatigue and pain for mortals to uproot;
but gods do this, and everything, with ease.

(ibid: p. 174)

Mandrake

Mandrake

Near the end of the book, Circe tells Odysseus that he must open a portal to the underworld, summon the spirit of the blind prophet Teiresias, and inquire about what he needs to do in order to return home. Circe provides instructions to Odysseus, and these instructions read like a dark magic ritual.

Here, toward the Sorrowing Water, run the streams
of Wailing, out of Styx, and quenchless burning—
torrents that join in thunder at the Rock.
Here then, great soldier, setting foot obey me:
dig a well shaft a forearm square; pour out
libations around it to the unnumbered dead:
sweet milk and honey, then sweet wine, and last
clear water, scattering handfuls of white barley.
Pray now, with all your heart, to the faint dead;
swear you will sacrifice your finest heifer,
at home in Ithaka, and burn for them
her tenderest parts in sacrifice; and vow
to the lord Teiresias, apart from all,
a black lamb, handsomest of all your flock—
thus to appease the nations of the dead.
Then slash a black ewe’s throat, and a black ram,
facing the gloom of Erebos; but turn
your head away toward Ocean. You shall see, now
souls of the buried dead in shadowy hosts,
and now you must call out to your companions
to flay those sheep the bronze knife has cut down,
for offerings, burnt flesh to those below,
to sovereign Death and pale Persephone.
Meanwhile draw sword from hip, crouch down, ward off
the surging phantoms from the bloody pit
until you know the presence of Teiresias.
He will come soon, great captain; be it he
who gives you course and distance for your sailing
homeward across the cold fish-breeding sea.

(ibid: p. 181)

I cannot help but wonder whether Homer was schooled in the magical arts. Regardless, this is a very interesting segment of the epic. I am eager to read about Odysseus’ encounter with the spirits. Check back soon for my thoughts on Book XI.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 8

Lestrygonians

This episode corresponds to the section in Homer’s Odyssey regarding the Lestrygonians, who were cannibalistic giants that destroyed most of Odysseus’ ships by hurling boulders at them. Images of gluttony and consumption appear throughout this episode.

Early in the episode, Bloom is thinking about the death of Stephen Dedalus’ mother which leads him to consider the strains of having a large family. He sees children as the devourers of their parents, almost a reversal of the Kronos myth where the father devours his children.

Fifteen children he had. Birth every year almost. That’s in their theology or the priest won’t give the poor woman the confession, the absolution. Increase and multiply. Did you ever hear such an idea? Eat you out of house and home.

(p. 151)

As Bloom walks and the hour approaches noon, he gets hungry. Joyce uses cannibalism as a metaphor to describe Bloom’s feelings. He feels drained and weak, as though his energy was consumed by those people with whom he interacted earlier in the day. I can relate. Sometimes I have to interact with people who seem to feed off my very being.

This is the very hour of the day. Vitality. Dull, gloomy: hate this hour. Feel as if I had been eaten and spewed.

(p. 164)

Bloom goes to Burton’s restaurant to eat and is repulsed by the men there savagely consuming meat, which I find ironic considering the relish with which Bloom ate the kidney earlier in the book. I suspect he experienced one of those moments of horror when you see yourself in others and feel disgust at the realization that you are no different from them.

His heart astir he pushed in the door of Burton’s restaurant. Stink gripped his trembling breath: pungent meatjuice, slop of greens. See the animals feed.

(p. 169)

Unable to dine in Burton’s he turns and exits. At that moment he has an epiphany as he realizes that killing is a part of eating and that in our society, just as in the animal world, there are two kinds of creatures: the hunters and the hunted.

He came out into clearer air and turned back towards Grafton street. Eat or be eaten. Kill! Kill!

(p. 170)

Bloom winds up at a vegetarian restaurant to eat and while he is there his mind wanders as he starts to think about images of goddesses represented in art. The curved images of the divine feminine merge with images of digestion, thereby turning the digestive cycle into a symbol for the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth as embodied in the archetype of the triple goddess.

His downcast eyes followed the silent veining of the oaken slab. Beauty: it curves, curves are beauty. Shapely goddesses, Venus, Juno: curves the world admires. Can see them library museum standing in the round hall, naked goddesses. Aids to digestion. They don’t care what man looks. All to see. Never speaking, I mean to say to fellows like Flynn. Suppose she did Pygmalion and Galatea what would she say first? Mortal! Put you in your proper place. Quaffing nectar at mess with gods, golden dishes, all ambrosial. Not like a tanner lunch we have, boiled mutton, carrots and turnips, bottle of Allsop. Nectar, imagine it drinking electricity: gods’ food. Lovely forms of woman sculped Junonian. Immortal lovely. And we stuffing food in one hole and out behind: food, chyle, blood, dung, earth, food: have to feed it like stoking an engine. They have no. Never looked. I’ll look today. Keeper won’t see. Bend down let something fall see if she.

(p. 176)

There are lots of other great sections in this episode, and I personally feel like I could write a whole series of posts on all that is here (occult symbolism, bawdy humor, freemasonry, social mores, prejudice, and so forth). The writing is extremely rich. But alas, I will move on to the next episode, which ends on page 218 with the phrase: “From our bless’d altars.” But I want to end this post with the concluding paragraphs from this episode because they worked so well for me. As Bloom spots Blazes Boylan, he panics and ducks into the National Museum to avoid him. The pace of the language perfectly captures his frenzied feeling, building in intensity as Bloom seeks escape and safety.

I am looking for that. Yes, that. Try all pockets. Handker. Freeman. Where did I? Ah, yes. Trousers. Purse. Potato. Where did I?

Hurry. Walk quietly. Moment more. My heart.

His hand looking for the where did I put found in his hip pocket soap lotion have to call tepid paper stuck. Ah, soap there! Yes. Gate.

Safe!

(p. 183)


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

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