The Odyssey, Book XII

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The Sirens & Scylla and Charybdis

Odysseus and his men returned to Aeaea and, after burying Elpenor, feasted on food and wine prepared by Circe. She warned Odysseus of the dangers on the next part of his journey: the bewitching singing of the Sirens; he should put beeswax in his men’s ears and, if he wished to hear their singing himself, should tell his men to tie him to the ship’s mast; next two routes lay open to him: the Clashing Rocks which no sailor has survived except Jason who had Hera’s help; the alternative is to go past Scylla, a monster with six heads, which devours men as they sail past, and then past Charybdis, a whirlpool which sucks men and their ships down; if he survived these he would then reach the island of Thrinacie where the Sun God’s cattle graze; he must not touch these if he wished to reach Ithaca.

Odysseus and the Sirens mosaic, 2nd c. AD. Bardo National Museum, Tunis.

Odysseus left Circe’s island the next morning. As they approached the Sirens, Odysseus told his men of Circe’s warning about them and they did as she had instructed and they all passed unscathed. Avoiding the Clashing Rocks, Odysseus did not tell his men about Scylla and Charybdis as he was afraid they might panic. Scylla with her six heads seized and ate six of the crew but they went past Charybdis with no further loss.

Odysseus and the Sirens, eponymous vase of the Siren Painter, c. 475 BC.

Aware of the warnings from Teiresias and Circe about not touching the flocks of the Sun God, Odysseus told his men they would not be landing on the island of Thrinacie. However, his men were desperate to rest and eat supper on the shore and so Odysseus was persuaded to put ashore, having made his men promise they would not kill and eat the sacred flocks. They were unable to sail the next day nor indeed for a month because of a storm and they consequently ran out of food. While Odysseus slept his men killed and ate some of the cattle. The Sun God asked Zeus to punish Odysseus and his men. When they set sail a week later Zeus struck their ship with thunder and lighting, destroying it and all the men fell overboard and died.

Unknown Artist - Between Scylla and Charybdis. Tags: odyssey, scylla,  skylla, charybdis, monsters, argonauts,
Scylla and Charybdis. (c) MoniPula

Odysseus clung to a raft he constructed from tying two pieces of his wrecked ship together and in the storm was carried back to Scylla and Charybdis. He managed to escape Charybdis by holding onto the branches of a fig tree as his raft was sucked down. It reappeared later and Odysseus climbed onto it. He drifted for nine days until he was washed up on Ogygia, Calypso’s island. At this point Odysseus finished his account as he had already told his host about his experiences with Calypso.

Book XI Book XIII