Friday, February 24, 2017

The Odyssey: Stop #2 - The Lotus Eaters (AKA Hippy Crackhead Island)

Stop #2: The Lotus Eaters

The second stop of Odysseus is the island of the Lotus Eaters. I've seen several maps of the travels of Odysseus always to find it somewhere different. Herodotus thinks it is the coast of Libya and Polybius has determined that it is off the coast of Tunisia, but nobody really knows for certain.  One guess is that Odysseus is trying to spare us from finding it.

What is so bad about it? Having learned from his last stop, Odysseus only sends out a few people to scout out the area for food. These guys didn't want to come back. It seems that the land is full of these Lotus flowers (the actual translation here is vague and could mean any type of plant) that, when eaten, produce a state of forgetfulness and tranquility. Odysseus has to go out and literally drag these men kicking and screaming back to the boat. Now you know why my students have affectionately nicknamed it Hippy Crackhead Island (hey, I encourage mythology in them in any way I can).


Here is part IX of the Odyssey, as written in Poetry in Translation (not a bad place to get parts of this epic, by the way).

'For nine days I was driven by fierce winds over the teeming sea: but on the tenth we set foot on the shores of the Lotus-eaters, who eat its flowery food. On land we drew water, and my friends ate by the ships. Once we had tasted food and drink, I sent some of the men inland to discover what kind of human beings lived there: selecting two and sending a third as herald. They left at once and came upon the Lotus-eaters, who had no thought of killing my comrades, but gave them lotus to eat. Those who ate the honey-sweet lotus fruit no longer wished to bring back word to us, or sail for home. They wanted to stay with the Lotus-eaters, eating the lotus, forgetting all thoughts of return. I dragged those men back to the shore myself by force, while they wept, and bound them tight in the hollow ships, pushing them under the benches. Then I ordered my men to embark quickly on the fast craft, fearing that others would eat the lotus and forget their homes. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars.’

However, for this section, I do not have them read part of the Homer epic, but instead part of Tennyson's piece "The Lotus Eaters".  Part eight to be exact:

The Lotos blooms below the barren peak:
The Lotos blows by every winding creek:
All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone:
Thro' every hollow cave and alley lone
Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown.
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Roll'd to starboard, roll'd to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.
For they lie beside their nectar, and the bolts are hurl'd
Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curl'd
Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world:
Where they smile in secret, looking over wasted lands,
Blight and famine, plague and earthquake, roaring deeps and fiery sands,
Clanging fights, and flaming towns, and sinking ships, and praying hands.

But they smile, they find a music centred in a doleful song
Steaming up, a lamentation and an ancient tale of wrong,
Like a tale of little meaning tho' the words are strong;
Chanted from an ill-used race of men that cleave the soil,
Sow the seed, and reap the harvest with enduring toil,
Storing yearly little dues of wheat, and wine and oil;
Till they perish and they suffer—some, 'tis whisper'd—down in hell
Suffer endless anguish, others in Elysian valleys dwell,
Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel.
Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more. 

When I give this to my regular level ninth graders, I tell them that this is college level reading and I build up the challenge for them.  As we break it down, I really praise anything they pull from it.  One interesting thing to do is to have them circle all the "s" sounds in the poem then get them to brainstorm what effect that has on the reader.

The Lotus Eaters is a popular title for books.  I did a quick search on Amazon and counted twelve different books with that title before I lost interest in pursuing it any further.  To my knowledge, The Odyssey is the only place where this island factors into mythology, unless, of course, you count The Lightning Thief.  The book, of course.  Nobody counts the movie.

(From the Graphic Novel - a good adaptation)

In the Olympians series, it is a major stop in The Lightning Thief  as a hotel/casino.  It makes appearances again in The Titan's Curse and The Last Olympian when we realize that Hades used the place to keep his children safe from prying eyes.

Coming late to the party? You can find all the Odyssey posts here.

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