Summary: Book 12. After a long, perilous journey to the island of Aeaea, Odysseus returns and buries Elpenor there. She describes the challenges he will encounter on his return trip and how to overcome them. As Odysseus takes off, Circe’s advice is passed down to his crew. They approach the island of the beautiful Sirens, where Odysseus, as Circe instructed him, wraps his men’s ears with beeswax and binds him to the mast of the ship in order to hear their song alone. He is left alone with their music flowing from the island, which promises to tell his fate in time.
The song of the Sirens has such a power that Odysseus pleads to be set free from his chains, but his loyal men only bind him tighter. Once they’ve passed by the Sirens’ island, Odysseus and his crew must navigate the straits between Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla is a six-headed monster who, when ships pass, greedily swallows one sailor for each head. Charybdis is an enormous whirlpool that may engulf the entire ship.
Odysseus follows the counsel of Circe and steers his ship hard against the cliffs of Scylla’s lair. The heads of Scylla swoop down as Odysseus and his men look across at Charybdis on the other side of the channel. After that, Odysseus comes to Thrinacia, the island of the Sun. He wishes to keep away from it entirely, but outspoken Eurylochus persuades him to allow his fatigued crew a chance to relax onshore. For a month, they are driven ashore by a storm, and the crew is happy to survive off its provisions aboard ship.
However, when these supplies run out, Eurylochus urges the other crewmen to defy Odysseus and kill the cattle of the Sun. One afternoon, as Odysseus sleeps, they do so; when the Sun discovers what happened, he petitions Zeus to punish both Odysseus and his men. Shortly after departing from Thrinacia, Zeus causes another storm that sinks the ship and kills all on board.
Only Odysseus survives, and he barely does. The storm carries him all the way back to Charybdis, where he narrowly escapes for the second time. He eventually makes it to Ogygia on the shattered timbers of his boat. When Odysseus reaches Ogygia, Calypso’s island, he breaks away from his narrative and informs the Phaeacians that there is no need for him to recount his story to them again.
Summary: Book 13. Odysseus finishes his trip and looks forward to leaving Scheria. The next day, Alcinous loads his presents on board the boat that will take Odysseus to Ithaca. As soon as it is dark, Odysseus takes leave of Scheria. He sleeps through the duration of the night, while the Phaeacian crew commands the ship. When he awakes, he is carried gently ashore and then returned to his journey.
Poseidon is enraged when Odysseus lands on Ithaca and begins to wreak havoc. He denounces the Phaeacians before Zeus, who allows him to punish them. The prophecy spoken of at the conclusion of Book 8 comes true as the shipSuddenly turns to stone and sinks to the bottom of the sea just as it is entering harbor at Scheria. Onlookers on shore immediately recognize the fulfillment of the prediction and decide to stop assisting wayward travelers.
Athena has shrouded the land in mist to conceal its true form while she plans his next move, and Odysseus wakes up to find a country that he does not recognize. At first, he blames the Phaeacians for cheating him out of Ithaca and leaving him in some unknown place. Athena appears as a shepherd and tells him that he is, in fact, in Ithaca. Odysseus hides his identity from her until she reveals hers with typical cunning.
Athena is ecstatic that Odysseus has played another trick on the suitors. She instructs him to hide out in the hut of his swineherd Eumaeus and announce, “It’s time for Odysseus to use his wits against the suitors.” She informs him that Telemachus has departed in search of information about him and gives him a worn-down appearance so he will not be recognized.
Summary: Book 14. Odysseus visits Eumaeus outside his home. Despite not recognizing the aged traveler as his master, Eumaeus invites him in. Odysseus receives a hearty meal of pork and listens to Eumaeus heap praise on the memory of his former master, whom he worries has met an untimely end, and scorn on the suitors’ bad behavior.
Eumaeus, on the other hand, is quick to react. He informs Odysseus that he will see him again very soon, but his master will not listen—he has met too many vagrants seeking a handout from Penelope in return for made-up news about Odysseus. Eumaeus, nevertheless, takes a fancy to his visitor. He allows him to stay the night and even gives him a coat to keep out the cold.
Odysseus, on the other hand, claims that he is from Crete when Eumaeus asks him about his origins. He claims that he fought with Odysseus at Troy and returned home safely, but a trip to Egypt later went wrong and he ended up in poverty. It was during this journey, he explains, that he heard news of Odysseus’ survival.
Analysis: Books 12–13. Book 12, like much of The Odyssey, generates anticipation through the struggle between objectives and barriers. Some of these roadblocks are simply annoying: Odysseus would rather avoid Scylla and Charybdis entirely, but he is not able to do so—they block his path, forcing him to go around them. Many of these challenges, on the other hand, are lures. Thrinacia’s island does not pose a direct danger to Odysseus or his men, unlike Scylla and Charybdis.
Even Odysseus’s experiences with the Sirens are a study in temptation, with Odysseus keeping temptation in check through foresight. As the crew prepares to land on Thrinacia, the cautious Odysseus urges them not to do so even after they promise him they won’t. Even Odysseus’ own experience with the Sirens is a lesson in persuasion, where he keeps his eyes open by remaining vigilant.
The image of Odysseus bound to the mast, weeping and pleading for release, is representative of many of his and his crew’s journeys on the sea. Immediate, physical cravings divert him from his homecoming journey, but a deeper yearning and a more cerebral understanding of the significance of his mission keep him committed to it.
The bay between Scylla and Charybdis may represent the Straits of Messina, which run between Sicily and mainland Italy. These straits, like many others in Homeric literature, are said to be dangerous to navigate. Homeric geography is a difficult subject. The same goal is sometimes found in different hemispheres on different maps attempting to map Odysseus’s travels separately.
Even on the mainland of Greece, things get convoluted. Homer frequently misinterprets distances and even creates geographical features owing to his error in distance measurement. It’s feasible that Homer was ignorant or uninterested in the location of the straits that inspired his Scylla and Charybdis tale—or that they were simply the products of his and previous generations’ imaginations.
Book 13 picks up where Book 4 left off, with the setting shifting back to Ithaca and the suitors once again taking center stage. As soon as Odysseus forgets about the Phaeacians, Athena gets him thinking about eradicating his house’s mob, refocusing the poem from adventure tales from past to current focus. Athena’s allusion to Telemachus’ travels also helps to tie this book in with previous volumes of the poem.
Athena’s account of this excursion once again demonstrates how important kleos, or glory, is to Homer’s universe. It appears strange that Athena would send Telemachus on such a hazardous trip if she already knew about Odysseus’s situation and return. While Telemachus’ trip is crucial in the progress already underway in Books 1 and 2, Athena claims that his goal was to “gain fame by sailing there” (13.482).
Athena is more concerned with how performing great deeds in distant lands will improve his reputation than with his personal development. Athena demonstrates a steadfast devotion to Odysseus and the qualities he embodies throughout The Odyssey; Telemachus gets a taste of that same renown for which Odysseus and other Greek heroes risked their lives at Troy by putting himself in danger to find his father.
In the end, this episode constitutes an exception to xenia, the Homeric code of hospitality. According to Robert Fagles’s translation of The Odyssey, the obligation of assisting and entertaining travelers and wayfarers is the closest The Odyssey comes to putting forward a rigid moral principle. Zeus, king of the gods, is seen as the enforcer of this hospitality custom.
Despite this, he allows Poseidon’s punishment of the Phaeacians, who anger Poseidon by assisting Odysseus in returning home. It appears that this code is only in force as long as the ego of a god is not bruised. Zeus’ submission to Poseidon’s thirst for vengeance seems to confirm Fagles’ statement that the most powerful gods never allow human interests—such as those of people they like—to cause them to fight among one another.
The gods choose to use collaboration, subterfuge, and diplomatic discussion to resolve their disputes rather than have them descend into open battle. Preserving good ties with his brother is more essential for Zeus than returning favors to one of his most supplicant people.
He clung to the branch of a fig tree that grew over the whirlpool and waited until Charybdis began to spray water. The mast of the ship, which was adhered to, allowed Odysseus to swim further as it drifted with the water.
Detailed answer: Charybdis is a sea monster in Greek mythology. In Homer’s Odyssey, Charybdis was depicted as a horrendous whirlpool. He breathed and vomited water through a tiny passage three times a day.
On his return home, Odysseus encounters Scylla and Charybdis for the first time. Charybdis greedily consumed the water when they passed the narrow strait between two rocks. Everyone faces death from Charybdis, but six people may be seized by Scylla’s claws. They came to Trinakia, Helios’ island at Eurylochus’ request, where the storms kept them for a month.
At the end of their journey, Odysseus’ men slaughtered the god’s flocks while Odysseus slept. Zeus became enraged and sent a storm at sea, during which only Odysseus was saved. Odysseus met with Scylla and Charybdis again later in the story. The ship’s wreckage had already entered the whirlpool. However, after seizing branches from a fig tree and lowering himself into the water, Odysseus hung there in that position until Charybdis ejected some timber. He was able to escape by riding on them.