How important is Book 11 to the overall meaning of The Odyssey?
The overall significance of Book 11 to the epic is that it shows how
things change over time (Anticleia's death, the suitors at his home),
which can be missed if someone is not around. It also shows us that
the Ancient Greeks believe in destiny and intervention from the gods.
The sacrifices and prayers from Odysseus and the attention he pays to
Teiresias about returning to Ithaca show this. If he did not pay
attention to Teiresias he may have done something to displease the
gods (such as killing the 'Sun-gods' cattle and sheep). This could
have lead to intervention from the gods to prevent Odysseus and his
men from returning to their home. Book 11 also shows that they
believed greatly in the afterlife, but unlike modern religions they
believed that everyone went to Hades (Hell), with the exception of
those souls who were left to wander the earth for all eternity. The
afterlife was always thought to be a lot darker and bleaker than
people now seem to think.
It is Circe who tells Odysseus of the trip which he and his men must
take. He then has to tell all of his men. All of them are very
distraught when they first find out that they must travel to the ends
of the earth. They know it is going to be a journey of many perils.
This is why Homer describes the men as 'heart-broken' telling us 'They
sat down where they were and wept and tore their hair. But their
lamentations achieved nothing.' (Book 10, lines 566-568.) This shows
that they are greatly disheartened by the news, having thought that
their next voyage would take them back to their homeland. They know
that there is nothing that they can do to avoid this risk filled
journey, which makes it an even more arduous a task for them.
It is probable that the men were aware that their end was fast
approaching. Any journey to Hades made by a living mortal is going to
be dangerous. It would only usually be made by the souls of the dead,
who would not need to sail, as Odysseus and his men did. This would
have most likely made the men think that they would not complete their
trip to Hades or would not return from it. At this point of the voyage
I don't think that anyone, with the probable exception of Odysseus,
expects to see Ithaca or their family again. It is more likely that
knowing they are heading for Hades, they think they are unlikely to
When they reached 'the furthest parts of the deep-flowing River of
Ocean' Odysseus was very ritualistic in his sacrifices. He was very
deliberate and precise in the order in which he poured the liquids for
the dead, following precisely the instructions given by Circe. First
with a mixture of honey and milk, then with sweet wine, and last of
all with water. Overall this I sprinkled some white barley, and then
began my prayers to the insubstantial presence's of the dead, (Book
11, lines 26-29.) Once the sacrifices had been made, and the...