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Book 11

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 11 of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.

The Odyssey | Book 11 | Summary

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Summary

Odysseus followed Circe's instructions and reached the Land of the Dead. There he encountered Elpenor, who demanded a proper burial, which Odysseus promised to carry out. Odysseus then saw his mother, whom he did not know had died. Finally, Tiresias appeared and told Odysseus that he could make it home alive but would face much peril and heartache along the way due to his conflict with Poseidon. He also warned Odysseus that, if his men were to kill the cattle of Helios, they would perish. Lastly, he advised Odysseus to make a sacrifice to Poseidon after arriving home if he wanted to live the rest of his life in peace.

Odysseus ends his storytelling and asks Alcinous and Arete again for help getting home. They agree—on the condition that he remain a while to elaborate on his experience in the Land of the Dead. Odysseus recounts his meeting with such heroes as Ajax, Hercules, and Achilles. He explains that Agamemnon told him that Clytemnestra's betrayal marked all women as untrustworthy and urged him to be cautious when he finally returns home.

Analysis

Finding the Land of the Dead represents another trial and test that Odysseus must face, and it is as much a mental trial as it is a physical one. Odysseus is forced to confront his memories of the people he has lost, as well as his own sense of mortality. This journey to the Land of the Dead became a standard feature of epics and of the journey of the hero.

Tiresias notes that Odysseus has incurred the ongoing wrath of Poseidon and that their struggle is far from over. But Tiresias does encourage Odysseus by saying that, if he exercises good judgment, he will be able to outsmart Poseidon and make it home to Ithaca safely. However, Tiresias notes that Odysseus will arrive home as "a broken man," having lost all of his men. He also hints that Odysseus's home is in chaos and turmoil. Tiresias's advice to Odysseus sets up another trial Odysseus and his men must face: what will they do if they encounter the cattle of Helios?

Agamemnon's tale reintroduces the contrast between Clytemnestra and Penelope. His embittered criticism of all women based on his wife's infidelity underscores how loyal and faithful Penelope has been—especially considering that she had to remain faithful much longer than Clytemnestra had to. Agamemnon's warning to be secretive and cautious when he finally reaches his home foreshadows what Odysseus does.

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