The Odyssey Book 11: Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:04 The Land of the Dead
  • 1:06 Ghostly Encounters
  • 2:39 A Mother's Love
  • 3:21 Sharing Stories
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Odysseus's story continues, as he tells Alkinoos about traveling to the land of the dead. This lesson will summarize Book 11 of Homer's ''The Odyssey.''

The Land of the Dead

In Book 11 of Homer's The Odyssey, Odysseus continues to share the story of his difficult journey with Alkinoos and the Phaiakians. Odysseus and his remaining men leave Kirke and sail toward the land of the dead. Once there, they follow Kirke's instructions. First, Odysseus digs a trench. Then, he ''poured libations round it to the unnumbered dead.'' Odysseus then speaks to ''the blurred and breathless dead, vowing to slaughter [his] best heifer for them,'' and a choice black lamb for Teiresias, the blind prophet he seeks. With these promises made, he sacrifices a lamb and a ewe, letting their blood pour into the trench.

What happens next is like something out of a horror movie. As soon as Odysseus cuts the animals' necks, so many ghosts appear from all directions that Odysseus is ''sick with fear.'' He stays determined, though, and orders his men to ''make burnt offerings of flesh to the gods below'' while he fights the ghosts away from the trench until Teiresias arrives.

Ghostly Encounters

The first shade, or ghost of the underworld, to appear is Elpenor, one of Odysseus's men who died after drinking too much and falling off a roof on Kirke's island. Odysseus agrees to return to the island and give Elpenor a proper burial. Next comes Antikleia, Odysseus's mother, who died while he was away on his journeys. Although ''seeing this ghost [he] grieved'' and cried, Odysseus keeps even her from approaching the trench.

Finally, Teiresias appears, and Odysseus allows him to drink the blood in the trench. Once he drinks, Teiresias begins telling Odysseus of the journey he must take in order to reach home again. The journey would be difficult, because Odysseus made the god Poseidon angry by blinding one of his sons. Odysseus and his men would come to a land where they would find ''the grazing herds of Helios by whom all things are seen, all speech is known.'' If they do not kill any of the cattle, Odysseus and his men will survive. If they do kill one of them, Odysseus will have to sail on alone for years.

Eventually, Teiresias says, ''under strange sail shall you come home, to find your own house filled with trouble: insolent men eating your livestock as they court your lady.'' Odysseus will punish the men by killing them, but after he will have to sail to a place ''where men have lived with meat unsalted, never known the sea, nor seen seagoing ships.'' When he finds this place, he must sacrifice to Poseidon.

A Mother's Love

Though he initially keeps her away from the trench, Odysseus longs to speak with his mother again. Teiresias tells him to allow her to drink the blood, and she recognizes her son as soon as she tastes it. She wonders why he is there - is he ''still wandering, after years?'' Odysseus explains he has not made it home yet, and asks about his wife. Sadly, his mother tells him his wife misses him terribly and is not married to anyone else yet. His son is taking care of his lands, but his father is living in poverty. Antikleia herself died from ''my loneliness for you, Odysseus.'' Odysseus tries to hug her, but she goes ''sifting through [his] hands.''

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