I. Visions of Death – the Underworld
Descent of Odysseus
Odysseus descends into the underworld with animals to sacrifice to attract the dead. He holds
off the spirits from drinking to blood at first, refusing to let anyone drink it until he spoke to
Tiresias. He encounters the soul of his dead shipmate Elpenor who broke his neck on the island
of Circe. Odysseus promises Elpenor that he will return to Circe’s island and give him a proper
funeral. Tiresias tells Odysseus what destiny has in store for him, and tells him that in order to
speak to the soul of his mother, Odysseus must let her drink the blood. Odysseus also speaks
with Agamemnon, who was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her love, Aegisthus. As a
result, Agamemnon remains hostile of all women. He also encounters Achilles, Patroclus, and
Ajax. Achilles was not thrilled to be dead.
Descent of Aeneas
Plato’s myth of ER
Er dies in battle, but his body does not decay even after 10 days. On the twelfth day he comes
back to life and tells his tale. He went down the underworld and described a plain with four
tunnels, two on the right leading upward and two on the left leading down. In between sat
judges who decided which way the souls went. Those who went up were very happy and
rewarded beyond imagination. Those who went down had their sins marked on their backs and
had to pay for each of them ten times over. When they finished paying for their sins, they were
allowed to return to the plain. Those who tried to return too early were not let through; they were
flayed and carried off by guards to Tartarus.
Forced to stand in a pool up to his chin, eternally thirsty. Any time he would strain to quench his
thirst, the pool would recede and was swallowed up by the black earth below. Tall, leafy trees
full of fruit dangled above his head, ripe with “pears, pomegranates, apples, sweet figs, and
olives, growing in luxuriant profusion.” Anytime he would reach to to grab something, the wind
would blow them out of reach.
Punishment: forced to push a huge boulder up to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back to the
bottom. He would them have to strain and sweat to push the boulder up again.
Lies on the ground stretched over a vast area. Two vultures tear into his body and eat his liver,
and he is unable to fend them off. Punished for assaulting Leto.