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Book 12: The Cattle of the Sun

Summary:
The chapter begins right after Odysseuscomes back from the city
of the dead. Immediately returning to Circe’s island to bury Elpenor
(he was drunk and fell off a roof) and rest his spirit, the men are
greeted by Circe. Circe then offers a much-appreciated meal to the
men. Later that day, Circe takes Odysseus away and informs him of
his coming trials: encountering the Sirens, Scylla (a six-headed beast),
Charybdis (a massive whirl pool that swallows anything and spits it
back out), and the cattle of Helios, the sun god.

Upon encountering the Sirens, Odysseus plugs the ears of his


men and the men tie Odysseus to a pole so that he would be the only
one who listened to the song of the Sirens. Next, doing as Circe
instructed, the men sail close to the cliff in which Scylla lives rather
than sailing near Charybdis. However, Scylla eats 6 men. The men
then camp out at Helios’ island, much to Odysseus’ dismay (Circe
instructed them not to stay there). Unfortunately, the winds
changesand they cannot set sail the next day. Moreover, although
Odysseus instructed the men not to slaughter Helios’ cattle, they do so
anyways because of their hunger (they ran out of food); but while they
chose to eat the cattle, Odysseus was put to sleep by the gods.

Eventually, the winds change and they set sail. However,


because they killed Helios’ cattle,all of the sailors except for Odysseus
were killed as punishment. Odysseus survives by floating on a piece of
wood. However, the winds change again, and Odysseus is pushed
back past the Scylla and Charybdis and onto Calypso’s island, Ogygia.
Important Themes:
1. The protection of the gods, especially of Zeus, over Odysseus
exemplifies his favor among some gods.

“And the father of men and gods did not let Scylla see me” (line
482).

2. However, because Zeus did not kill Odysseus after his men killed
the cattle, he has gained the hatred of yet another god: Helios, the sun
god.

3. The Siren song is simply an argument that offers something


favorable to someone. In the Sirens’ case, love was offered. Another
version of the Siren song appears when Eurylochus, one of Odysseus’
companions, attempts to get men to slaughter the cattle with him (line
366-378). Men will always fall into this temptation unless they are held
back as Odysseus was from the Sirens.

4. Even though Odysseus is in the cultural mythology, he is not


perfect. Not even Odysseus could endure the power of the Sirens even
though he knew that they would ruin him.

“And the heart inside me throbbed to listen longer” (line 209).