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The Odyssey Book XI

Book XI – Nekuia of Homer’s Odyssey speaks of the underworld Hades – the kingdom of dead and the dead of course. Hades is portrayed as a sad place, barren and is devoid of scenery. Also known as the Underworld it is not necessarily found underground but it is lies where the light of Helios never shines. Hades is located at the edge of the world or to be found on Earth’s secret places. It can also be situated in caverns and beside deep lakes. It is bound by Oceanus – a river with terrible waters no live man can cross on foot.

Though Odysseus conversations with the dead personas including the blind prophet Tiresias are set on mountains and in pools of water, it is topologically undefined much like a dream or a limbo. The journey to Hades compared with all other obstacles Odysseus met is not so much of a challenge. In this journey, Odysseus is spiritually, physically and morally supported. He needed to get to Hades for information. Odysseus met a lot of shadows and notable of which are of his mother and the famous Achilles. Despite the weeping and wailing, Homer’s Hades is neither nightmarish nor frightening.

There is no information about the physical geography or divisions nor political structure if any of the region. There is a brief mention that King Minos acts as a judge and that the virtuous Achilles would “rather slave on Earth for another man than rule down here over all the breathless dead. ” Homer depicted the dead as mindless, brainless, and insubstantial beings meaning not of the flesh much like a phantom. They are portrayed as separate shades or shadows having names and in costumes seemingly in torment all the time (like the brave men who had been killed in battle, with their armour still smirched with blood).

As Odysseus mother described the dead, “The sinews no longer hold the flesh and bones together; these perish in the fierceness of consuming fire as soon as life has left the body, and the soul flits away as though it were a dream. ” One will also notice the lengthy descriptions describing each of their torment and form of suffering and a picture of the surrounding for example: the trees around Tantalus are “big with fruit, pear trees, pomegranates, brilliant apples, luscious figs, and olives ripe and dark” (Odyssey XI, 704-706), yet he can never partake of their gifts.

Although the tortures of the dead are described in detail the fright is less and the dead doesn’t seem very miserable. They take on their punishment purely for themselves. Suffering is never “on display” as per Odysseus. How Homer thought drinking the blood can revitalize the dead is very interesting. Homer portrays the dead like flying shades with no memory but once they taste sheep’s blood they become alive and are able to give prophecy. The good thing about Hades is that it usually serves as the turning point in a hero’s development.From a long and treacherous journey towards home – rebirth both spiritual and personal occurs.

References

Books Richmond Lattimore, transl. The Odyssey of Homer, Harper: 1965. Online Sites Thuleen, Nancy. Interaction and Reaction in Virgil and Homer. Website Article. 29 September 1992. <http://www. nthuleen. com/papers/L10virgil. html>. Butler, S. Homer: The Underworld. Website Resource <http://www. ellopos. net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/homer-odyssey-underworld. asp> Christ. The Underworld in the Aeneid and the Odyssey. Website Article. 1 April 2002 <http://www. everything2. com/index. pl? node_id=1278335>

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