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Book 9

Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 9 of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.

The Odyssey | Book 9 | Summary

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Summary

Now that Alcinous and the Phaeacians know Odysseus's identity, they ask him to relate where he's been since the war ended. Odysseus recounts his adventures.

After the Achaeans defeated Troy, he and his men sailed to a different city, which they plundered. Odysseus warned his army that they needed to leave quickly, but he was ignored. The people of the city launched a counterattack, forcing Odysseus and his men to hastily retreat back to sea. After being blown off course by storms, they came to a land inhabited by Lotus-eaters. After eating the lotus fruit, Odysseus's army soon began to forget their memories of home.

Odysseus was finally able to get his crew back on course, but they soon found themselves in the land of the lawless Cyclopes, giants with only one eye. Odysseus and a few men were captured by one named Polyphemus, and, after the giant killed and ate six of his men, Odysseus used his cunning to escape. Odysseus tricked Polyphemus by telling him his name was "Nobody," a name that would come in handy when he made his escape. When Polyphemus fell asleep, Odysseus drove a stake into his eye to blind him. The giant's screams brought other Cyclopes to his cave, but, when they asked who was hurting him, he responded "Nobody." After the others departed, Odysseus revealed his true identity, not realizing that Polyphemus was Poseidon's son. His true name didn't surprise Polyphemus—the entire episode had been prophesied. Polyphemus called upon his father to avenge him by ensuring that Odysseus would either never make it home to Ithaca or suffer greatly en route.

Analysis

This book and the next three are largely told in flashback, as Odysseus fills in the details of his adventures over the past 10 years. His retelling reveals mistakes that he made, as well as the courageous or cunning actions he took. Odysseus is fairly direct in his recitation.

Even though Odysseus is initially hesitant in revealing his identity to Alcinous and the Phaeacians, his reputation as a war hero serves him well in this world. At this point Odysseus's wanderings seem to be patterned on the typical hero's journey: here he recounts the many trials he encountered that brought him the necessary wisdom and insight he needed to truly become a great leader. This wisdom is every bit as important as his noted bravery and cunning in keeping himself alive.

The episode with the Lotus-eaters shines a light on a recurring theme in The Odyssey: temptation. Just as Odysseus is tempted by the allure of Calypso and Nausicaa, so are his men tempted by the lure of forgetting that comes with ingesting the lotus. In the same way that Odysseus is ultimately able to break free of his temptation, so, too, is he able to convince his men to leave before their ambition and drive have dried up and been forgotten.

Odysseus's encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus reveals why Poseidon has such antagonism toward him. Though Odysseus escapes the giant through cunning, he makes the mistake of revealing his true name to Polyphemus, thereby securing the wrath of Poseidon. Even though Odysseus has heroic qualities, he has some potentially fatal flaws as well. His hubris, or excessive pride, is his tragic flaw, or hamartia, as the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) called it. This flaw connects Odysseus to many other Greek heroes. As in their cases, it causes him a great deal of suffering, though it is clear by his recounting of this story that he has gained wisdom from his mistakes. The fact that Odysseus's assault on Polyphemus was foretold brings up the theme of fate again.

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