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Book 10

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 10 of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.

The Odyssey | Book 10 | Summary

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Summary

Odysseus and his men sailed on and landed at the home of Aeolus, where they stayed for a month. Aeolus, master of the winds, gave Odysseus a pouch that contained all of the winds that would have driven their ship off course. The remaining winds will help guide them back home to Ithaca. Ten days later the ship was so near Ithaca that they could see the island. While Odysseus slept his men discovered the pouch full of winds and accidentally unleashed them, bringing on storms that sent them off course again. With the helpful winds gone, Odysseus and his men were forced to row their ship. They reached a land inhabited by giant cannibals, the Laestrygonians. The cannibals attacked them, spearing Odysseus's men and devouring them. After Odysseus and his remaining men escaped, they sailed to the island of Aeaea, where the goddess Circe—a "nymph with lovely braids"—lives. She fed a few of Odysseus's men a potion that turned them into pigs and made them forget their memories. To escape, Odysseus called upon Hermes. Hermes advised Odysseus to find a plant that would counteract Circe's potion and render him immune. He also advised Odysseus on how to overpower Circe should she attack. Odysseus and his men stayed on Circe's island for a year but grew increasingly restless. During this time Elpenor, one of the men, died in a drunken fall from Circe's roof. Circe told Odysseus to travel to the Land of the Dead to speak to the prophet Tiresias.

Analysis

Odysseus reveals another flaw in Book 10 that compounds his hubris—poor judgment. He and his men are so close to home, and yet Odysseus neglects to guard closely the pouch of winds or even to stay awake. These mistakes cost him and his men dearly. By the same token, the men demonstrate their willingness to succumb to temptation, the downfall of mortals. When Odysseus and his men are blown back to Aeolus's island, the wind master refuses to help Odysseus further. Odysseus's poor judgment costs him again in the land of the Laestrygonians, when he sends his men to investigate, only to see them killed.

Odysseus's interactions with Hermes are similar to those he has with Athena. When Hermes acts he does so indirectly, as Athena does, giving Odysseus advice on how to disarm Circe but leaving it to Odysseus to take the steps necessary to implement that advice.

Even after following Hermes's instructions and evading Circe's spell, Odysseus chooses to stay with her for so long that his crew grows restless and has to urge him to resume their journey home. Once again Odysseus succumbs to temptation: Circe has become his lover.

The death of Elpenor introduces another element to the story: the need to give him a proper burial. Odysseus's obligation to take care of this matter is one of his responsibilities as a leader. Leaders have duties to those under them, just as their followers owe them allegiance and obedience.

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