12.1-35

"αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ ποταμοῖο λίπεν ῥόον Ὠκεανοῖο

νηῦς, ἀπὸ δ᾽ ἵκετο κῦμα θαλάσσης εὐρυπόροιο

νῆσόν τ᾽ Αἰαίην, ὅθι τ᾽ Ἠοῦς ἠριγενείης

οἰκία καὶ χοροί εἰσι καὶ ἀντολαὶ Ἠελίοιο,

νῆα μὲν ἔνθ᾽ ἐλθόντες ἐκέλσαμεν ἐν ψαμάθοισιν,5

ἐκ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ βῆμεν ἐπὶ ῥηγμῖνι θαλάσσης·

ἔνθα δ᾽ ἀποβρίξαντες ἐμείναμεν Ἠῶ δῖαν.

ἦμος δ᾽ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,

δὴ τότ᾽ ἐγὼν ἑτάρους προΐειν ἐς δώματα Κίρκης

οἰσέμεναι νεκρόν, Ἐλπήνορα τεθνηῶτα.10

φιτροὺς δ᾽ αἶψα ταμόντες, ὅθ᾽ ἀκροτάτη πρόεχ᾽ ἀκτή,

θάπτομεν ἀχνύμενοι θαλερὸν κατὰ δάκρυ χέοντες.

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ νεκρός τ᾽ ἐκάη καὶ τεύχεα νεκροῦ,

τύμβον χεύαντες καὶ ἐπὶ στήλην ἐρύσαντες

πήξαμεν ἀκροτάτῳ τύμβῳ ἐυῆρες ἐρετμόν.15

ἡμεῖς μὲν τὰ ἕκαστα διείπομεν· οὐδ᾽ ἄρα Κίρκην

ἐξ Ἀίδεω ἐλθόντες ἐλήθομεν, ἀλλὰ μάλ᾽ ὦκα

ἦλθ᾽ ἐντυναμένη· ἅμα δ᾽ ἀμφίπολοι φέρον αὐτῇ

σῖτον καὶ κρέα πολλὰ καὶ αἴθοπα οἶνον ἐρυθρόν.

ἡ δ᾽ ἐν μέσσῳ στᾶσα μετηύδα δῖα θεάων·20

‘σχέτλιοι, οἳ ζώοντες ὑπήλθετε δῶμ᾽ Ἀίδαο,

δισθανέες, ὅτε τ᾽ ἄλλοι ἅπαξ θνῄσκουσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι.

ἀλλ᾽ ἄγετ᾽ ἐσθίετε βρώμην καὶ πίνετε οἶνον

αὖθι πανημέριοι· ἅμα δ᾽ ἠοῖ φαινομένηφι

πλεύσεσθ᾽· αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ δείξω ὁδὸν ἠδὲ ἕκαστα25

σημανέω, ἵνα μή τι κακορραφίῃ ἀλεγεινῇ

ἢ ἁλὸς ἢ ἐπὶ γῆς ἀλγήσετε πῆμα παθόντες.’

ὣς ἔφαθ᾽, ἡμῖν δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἐπεπείθετο θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ.

ὣς τότε μὲν πρόπαν ἦμαρ ἐς ἠέλιον καταδύντα

ἥμεθα δαινύμενοι κρέα τ᾽ ἄσπετα καὶ μέθυ ἡδύ·30

ἦμος δ᾽ ἠέλιος κατέδυ καὶ ἐπὶ κνέφας ἦλθεν,

οἱ μὲν κοιμήσαντο παρὰ πρυμνήσια νηός,

ἡ δ᾽ ἐμὲ χειρὸς ἑλοῦσα φίλων ἀπονόσφιν ἑταίρων

εἷσέ τε καὶ προσέλεκτο καὶ ἐξερέεινεν ἕκαστα·

αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ τῇ πάντα κατὰ μοῖραν κατέλεξα.35

    Odysseus and his crew return to Circe’s island and bury Elpenor. Odysseus recounts his adventures to Circe.

    Bringing his hero back from Hades, the poet faces some challenges. After the extraordinary encounters with the dead, there might well be a letdown in dramatic tension and thus in the audience’s attention. We suspect that Ithaka cannot be too far in the distance at this point, and we might be getting eager to move on to the showdown with the suitors, which Homer has been dangling before us since Zeus’s reply to Athena in Book 5:

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    My child, what is this word that has escaped your teeth? 
    Is this not your plan, as you have counseled it, 
    that Odysseus will return and take revenge on those men?

    Odyssey 5.21–23

    We also know that this poet likes nothing better than to delay fulfilling expectations he has stirred in us, keeping us engaged. So perhaps the homecoming is on the horizon, but probably not right away. Meanwhile, when Odysseus reaches Calypso’s island, he is alone. And we learned in the first few verses of the poem that Helios did away with the rest of the crew because they ate his sacred cattle. We have yet to discover how that happened.

    The book begins with the soothing rhythms of familiar traditional language, as if to mark a return to the comfort of the human world as Odysseus and the crew left it when they went into the Underworld:

    ‘αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ ποταμοῖο λίπεν ῥόον Ὠκεανοῖο
    νηῦς, ἀπὸ δ᾽ ἵκετο κῦμα θαλάσσης εὐρυπόροιο
    νῆσόν τ᾽ Αἰαίην, ὅθι τ᾽ Ἠοῦς ἠριγενείης 
    οἰκία καὶ χοροί εἰσι καὶ ἀντολαὶ Ἠελίοιο, 
    νῆα μὲν ἔνθ᾽ ἐλθόντες ἐκέλσαμεν ἐν ψαμάθοισιν, 
    ἐκ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ βῆμεν ἐπὶ ῥηγμῖνι θαλάσσης: 
    ἔνθα δ᾽ ἀποβρίξαντες ἐμείναμεν Ἠῶ δῖαν. 
    ἦμος δ᾽ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς...

    But when the ship left the streams of the Ocean, 
    and came to the waves of the wide-running sea 
    and the island of Aiaia, where lie the house of early Dawn 
    and her dancing spaces and the rising of Helios, 
    we landed there and drove the ship up on the sand 
    and jumped out on the edge of the sea, 
    drifting off to sleep to await bright Dawn. 
    But when early born, rosy fingered Dawn appeared…

    Odyssey 12.1–8

    Odysseus sends his men back to the “house of Circe” to retrieve the body of Elpenor (9) and we note the closing of the circle that began with the first ill-fated visit in Book 10 (20343). Circe reappears as a boundary figure like Siduri the barkeep on the edge of the “waters of death” in the Epic of Gilgamesh, with each figure marking the entrance to and exit from the Underworld.

    The next six verses cover the funeral and burial of Elpenor, a swift conclusion to that bifurcated episode. The poet seems intent on moving on, leaving the grim darkness behind, speeding toward the next part of the story. Vergil’s version of this episode in the Aeneid, the burial of Misenus, covers fifty verses (Aen. 6.156–82; 212–35), a somber recollection of the dead man’s life, followed by a meticulous account of the rites themselves. Comparing the two passages is a lesson in how tone and structure can influence our perception of character. While he is expansive in other descriptions of burial (Il. 23.108–53; 24.788–804; Od. 24.43–97), Homer’s style here is relatively spare and workmanlike: weeping, the crew members gather wood, burn the body, then heap up the funeral mound and plant an oar on top. Vergil’s style is much more lyrical, softening the stark reality of the death that occasions it. His full description of the rites adds a solemn air to the passage, while situating the burial in the Italian landscape. We get the impression that Homer is not interested in Elpenor, except as an example of the perils of low self-control. By bringing him back to our attention, however briefly, the poet tunes our ears for the crew’s much more catastrophic failure of self-control with the cattle of the sun and, with the final image of the oar, Odysseus’s own death far in the future. Vergil’s Misenus, on the other hand, comes alive for us in the affectionate biography that precedes his burial. The event itself celebrates the Trojans’ final arrival—after may false starts—at their new homeland and ends by focusing on the landscape again. Homer’s aims are structural and thematic, the man and his burial fixed economically in our minds by the planting of the oar. Vergil’s passage is all about tone and atmosphere, inviting us to admire the beautiful new land, which forms a poignant backdrop for the final celebration of a worthy man.

    Circe arrives, laden with food and wine. Her greeting certifies the central fact of the katabasis:

    σχέτλιοι, οἳ ζώοντες ὑπήλθετε δῶμ᾽ Ἀίδαο, 
    δισθανέες, ὅτε τ᾽ ἄλλοι ἅπαξ θνῄσκουσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι.

    Hard men, you went down to the house of Hades alive, 
    Dying twice, when all others die only once.

    Odyssey 12.21–22

    As she did after her magic failed in Book 10, she urges the Greeks to feast all day. Then at dawn they will sail for home. Any fears they may have had about Circe are quickly dispelled: This is the benign witch they left when they went to the Underworld. The soothing rhythm of familiar traditional language again helps us to see them gliding gratefully into the evening:

    ὣς ἔφαθ᾽, ἡμῖν δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἐπεπείθετο θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ. 
    ὣς τότε μὲν πρόπαν ἦμαρ ἐς ἠέλιον καταδύντα 
    ἥμεθα δαινύμενοι κρέα τ᾽ ἄσπετα καὶ μέθυ ἡδύ: 
    ἦμος δ᾽ ἠέλιος κατέδυ καὶ ἐπὶ κνέφας ἦλθεν, 
    οἱ μὲν κοιμήσαντο παρὰ πρυμνήσια νηός…

    So she spoke and our hearts were persuaded. 
    Then all day until the setting of the sun 
    we sat feasting on abundant meat and sweet wine. 
    And when the sun went down and dusk came on, 
    they laid down to sleep alongside the stern cables of the ship…

    Odyssey 12.28–32

    The men put safely to bed, Circe takes Odysseus by the hand and they go off by themselves so Odysseus can report. No sex this time, apparently, just business. The poem’s portrait of the crew as immature is reinforced here as Odysseus and Circe assume the role of parents to their sleeping children. That immaturity is about to cost them all dearly.

    Further Reading

    Edwards, M.W. 1987. Homer: Poet of the Iliad, 55–60. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    ––. 2002. Sound, Sense, and Rhythm: Listening to Greek and Latin Poetry, 1–37. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Morrison, J. 2003. A Companion to Homer’s Odyssey, 111–113. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

    Tracy, S. 1990. The Story of the Odyssey, 74–77. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    1  ποταμοῖο … Ὠκεανοῖο: in Greek mythology, the river Oceanus, as distinct from the sea, was the river that encircled the earth.

    ἀπὸ … ἵκετο: “reached,” tmesis > ἀφικνέομαι.

    νῆα: dir. obj. of ἐκέλσαμεν.

    ἐκ … βῆμεν: tmesis > ἐκβαίνω.

    6  αὐτοὶ: “we ourselves,” intensive (Monro 252; Smyth 1206)

    προΐειν: 1st sing. impf. with νυ-moveable > προίημι.

    10  οἰσέμεναι: fut. infin. of purpose > φέρω (Smyth 2008)

    11  ταμόντες: nom. pl. aor. act. ptc. > τάμνω/τέμνω.

    11  ἀκροτάτη πρόεχ(ει): “juts out farthest.”

    12  δάκρυ: collective sing. (Smyth 996).

    13  ἐκάη: 3rd sing. aor. pass. > καίω.

    14  χεύαντες: nom. pl. aor. act. ptc. > χέω.

    14  ἐπὶ … ἐρύσαντες: tmesis, nom. pl. aor. act. ptc. > ἐπερύω.

    16  τὰ ἕκαστα: “all of these tasks.”

    16  Κίρκην: obj. of ἐλήθομεν in line 17.

    17  ἐλήθομεν: 1st pl. aor. > λανθάνω, “escape the notice of, elude” + acc.

    18  ἅμα … αὐτῇ: “accompanying her,” “along with her.”

    20  δῖα θεάων: “shining among goddesses.” Epithet of Circe.

    24  ἅμα δ᾽ ἠοῖ φαινομένηφι: “with dawn appearing,” “when dawn appears,” ἅμα + dat. For the suffix -φι, see Smyth 280.

    25  πλεύσεσθ(αι): infin. as imperat. > πλέω.

    26  ἵνα … ἀλγήσετε: purpose clause, 2nd pl. aor. subj.

    26  τι: “anything” (i.e., any suffering), obj. of ἀλγήσετε.

    26  κακορραφίῃ ἀλεγεινῇ: “from…,” dative of means.

    27  ἁλὸς: ἐπὶ ἁλός.

    28  ἡμῖν: dative of possession with θυμός.

    31  ἦμος: “when.”

    31  ἐπὶ κνέφας ἦλθε: “darkness came around again,” tmesis > ἐπέρχομαι.

    32  κοιμήσαντο: “lay down to sleep,” 3rd pl. aor. mid. > κοιμάω.

    33  χειρὸς: “by the hand,” partitive gen.

    33  ἑλοῦσα: fem. nom. sing. aor. ptc. > αἱρέω.

    34  εἷσέ: “sat me down” > ἵζω.

    35  κατὰ μοῖραν: “in order” (LSJ μοῖρα IV).

    ἀτάρ (or αὐτάρ): but, yet

    ῥόος –ου ὁ: a stream, flow, current

    Ὠκεανός –οῦ ὁ: Oceanus

    ἱκνέομαι ἵξομαι ἱκόμην ––– ἷγμαι –––: to come, reach

    κῦμα –ατος τό: wave

    εὐρύπορος –ον: with broad ways

    Αἰαίη: (adj.) Aeaean, sister of Aeetes (of Circe); (subst.) Aeaea, the island of Circe

    ὅθι: where

    ἠώς ἠοῦς ἡ: dawn; Dawn

    ἠριγένεια –ας ἡ: early-born, child of morn

    οἰκίον –ου τό: house; palace

    χορός –οῦ ὁ: dance, chorus; dancing place

    ἀνατολή –ῆς ἡ: a rising, rise

    κέλλω κέλσω/κελῶ ἔκελσα: to bring to shore; to land, enter harbor 5

    ψάμαθος –ου ἡ: sand, sea-sand

    ῥηγμίν –ῖνος ἡ: the sea breaking on the beach, surf

    ἀποβρίζω ἀποβρίξω ἀπέβριξα: to go off to sleep, go sound asleep

    ἠώς ἠοῦς ἡ: dawn; Dawn

    δῖος –α –ον: divine, godlike, shining

    ἦμος: when, while

    ἠριγένεια –ας ἡ: early-born, child of morn

    ῥοδοδάκτυλος –ον: rosy-fingered

    ἠώς ἠοῦς ἡ: dawn; Dawn

    ἑταῖρος –ου ὁ: comrade, companion

    προίημι προήσω προῆκα προεῖκα προεῖμαι προείθην: to send ahead; to shoot

    δῶμα –ατος τό: house (often in plural)

    Κίρκη –ης ἡ: Circe, the enchantress, daughter of Helius, sister of Aeētes, dwelling in the isle of Aeaea

    νεκρός –οῦ ὁ: corpse 10

    Ἐλπήνωρ –ορος ὁ: Elpēnor, a companion of Odysseus

    φιτρός –οῦ ὁ: a block of wood, log

    αἶψα: rapidly, speedily, suddenly

    ἄκρος –α –ον: at the furthest point, topmost

    προέχω προσχήσω/προέξω προέσχον προέσχηκα προέσχημαι προεσχέθην: to be ahead, jut forward; (mid.) to hold before oneself

    ἀκτή –ῆς ἡ: headland, foreland, promontory

    θάπτω θάψω ἔθαψα ––– τέθαμμαι ἐτάφην: bury

    ἄχομαι and ἄχνυμαι: to afflict, sadden, trouble, grieve

    θαλερός –ά –όν: blooming, fresh

    δάκρυον –ου τό: a tear

    χέω χέω ἔχεα or ἔχευα κέχυκα κέχυμαι ἐχύθην: to pour, shed

    ἀτάρ (or αὐτάρ): but, yet

    νεκρός –οῦ ὁ: corpse

    καίω καύσω ἔκαυσα –κέκαυκα κέκαυμαι ἐκαύθην: to light, kindle, burn

    τεῦχος –ους τό: arms

    νεκρός –οῦ ὁ: corpse

    τύμβος –ου ὁ: a sepulchral mound, cairn, barrow

    χέω χέω ἔχεα or ἔχευα κέχυκα κέχυμαι ἐχύθην: to pour, shed

    στήλη –ης ἡ: a block of stone (as a gravestone or monument)

    εἰρύω/ἐρύω ἐρύσω/ἐρύω εἴρυσα/ἔρυσα/ἔρυσσα εἴρυσα/ἔρυσα/ἔρυσσα –– –– εἰρύσθην: to pull, draw, drag; to guard

    πήγνυμι πήξω ἔπηξα ––– πέπηγμαι ἐπάγην: to stick, implant, fix 15

    ἄκρος –α –ον: at the furthest point, topmost

    τύμβος –ου ὁ: a sepulchral mound, cairn, barrow

    εὐήρης –ες: well-fitted

    ἐρετμόν –οῦ τό: oar

    διέπω – – – – –: to manage, attend (to)

    ἄρα: now, then, next, thus

    Κίρκη –ης ἡ: Circe, the enchantress, daughter of Helius, sister of Aeētes, dwelling in the isle of Aeaea

    Ἀΐδης –ου ὁ: Hades

    ὦκα: quickly, swiftly, fast

    ἐντύνω ἐντυνῶ ἔντυνα – – –: to equip, deck out, get ready

    ἀμφίπολος –ου ἡ: female attendant, handmaid

    σῖτος –ου ὁ: grain; bread

    κρέας κρέως and κρέατος, gen. pl. κρειῶν, τό: meat, piece of meat

    αἶθοψ –οπος: flame-colored; scintillating, sparkling (of wine)

    οἶνος –ου ὁ: wine

    ἐρυθρός –ά –όν: red

    μεταυδάω μεταυδήσω μετηύδησα μετηύδηκα μετηύδημαι μετηυδήθην: to speak among 20

    δῖος –α –ον: divine, godlike, shining

    θεά –ᾶς ἡ: goddess

    σχέτλιος –α –ον: strong, unwearying; stubborn, cruel, merciless

    ζῶ (or ζώω) ζήσω ἔζησα (or ἔζωσα) ἔζηκα: live

    ὑπέρχομαι ὑπελεύσομαι/ὕπειμι ὑπῆλθον ὑπελήλυθα ––– –––: to go under, enter

    δῶμα –ατος τό: house (often in plural)

    ᾍδης –ου ὁ: Hades

    δισθανής –ές: twice dead

    ἅπαξ: once, once only

    ἄγε: come! come on! well!

    ἐσθίω ἔδομαι ἔφαγον ἐδήδοκα ἐδέδησμαι –––: to eat

    βρώμη –ης ἡ: food

    οἶνος –ου ὁ: wine

    αὖθι: (right) there, at once

    πανημέριος –ον: all day long

    ἠώς ἠοῦς ἡ: dawn; Dawn

    ἀτάρ (or αὐτάρ): but, yet 25

    ἠδέ: and

    σημαίνω, σημανῶ (-έω), ἐσήμηνα/ἐσήμᾱνα, σεσήμαγκα, σεσήμασμαι, σεσημάνθην: to give a sign; to indicate, reveal; to give orders

    κακορραφία –ας ἡ: contrivance of ill, mischievousness

    ἀλεγεινός –ή –όν: hard

    ἅλς ἁλός ὁ: salt (m.); sea (f.)

    ἀλγέω ἀλγήσω ἤλγησα ἤλγηκα: to feel bodily pain, suffer

    πῆμα –ατος τό: suffering, misery, calamity, woe, bane; cause of suffering

    αὖτε: in turn, moreover, still, again, on the other hand

    ἐπιπείθομαι ἐπιπείσομαι ἐπεπιθόμην – ἐπιπέπεισμαι ἐπεπείσθην: to be persuaded (to)

    ἀγήνωρ –ορος: manly, courageous, heroic

    πρόπας –ασα –αν: all

    ἦμαρ –ατος τό: day

    καταδύω καταδύσω καταδέδυκα/κατέδυν καταδέδυμαι καταδεδύθην: to sink; (of the sun) to set

    ἧμαι (or κάθημαι) ––– ––– ––– ––– –––: sit 30

    δαίνυμι δαίσω ἔδαισα: (act.) to give a banquet, distribute; (mid.) to share a meal; to feast (on), eat (+ acc.)

    κρέας κρέως and κρέατος, gen. pl. κρειῶν, τό: meat, piece of meat

    ἄσπετος –ον: immense, abundant, infinite

    μέθυ –υος τό: wine, mead

    ἦμος: when, while

    καταδύω καταδύσω καταδέδυκα/κατέδυν καταδέδυμαι καταδεδύθην: to sink; (of the sun) to set

    κνέφας –ους τό: darkness, evening dusk, twilight

    κοιμάω κοιμήσω ἐκοίμησα κεκοίμηκα κεκοίμημαι ἐκοιμήθην: (act.) to put to bed, lull; (mid. and pass.) to go to bed, lay down

    πρυμνήσια –ων τά: mooring cables (of a ship)

    ἀπονόσφι: aside, far apart (adv.); away from (+ gen.)

    ἑταῖρος –ου ὁ: comrade, companion

    ἵζω εἵσομαι εἷσα/ἵζησα ἵζηκα: to take a seat, sit down; cause to take a seat

    προσλέγω προσλέξω προσέλεξα προσείρηκα προσλέλεγμαι προσελέχθην: to say in addition; (mid.) προσλέχομαι to lie beside

    ἐξερεείνω – – – – –: to inquire into

    ἀτάρ (or αὐτάρ): but, yet 35

    μοῖρα –ας ἡ: part, portion, lot, fate

    καταλέγω καταλέξω κατέλεξα κατείλοχα κατείλεγμαι κατελέχθην: to recount, tell at length and in order; (mid.) καταλέχομαι to lie down

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    Suggested Citation

    Thomas Van Nortwick and Rob Hardy, Homer: Odyssey 5–12. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2024. ISBN: 978-1-947822-17-7 https://dcc.dickinson.edu/homer-odyssey/xii-1-35