Odyssey Funmaries #6: The Lotus Eaters (Book IX.I-LXX)

by BEN VORE

Those of you still reeling from yet another pastel color-coded schedule should take comfort in today’s assignment for The Lotus Eaters, an episode from The Odyssey which merits — wait for it — a whopping 25 lines. Thus, this funmary is going to have three primary objectives:

  1. Detailed exploration of margin settings and font sizes so as to stretch this puppy out to a suitable length for completion.
  2. Some recapping of what has transpired since butt-naked, brine-encrusted Odysseus got creative with an olive branch. 
  3. Some actual thoughts about the Lotus Eaters (not to be confused with The Lotus Eaters).

First, though, let’s watch a cat play a keyboard!

 

Man, that’s brilliant. I mean, it looks as though the cat is actually playing the notes! And he’s wearing a cute little shirt too!

Ahem. On with the funmary, and a lightning-quick recap of what has taken place since Nausicaa brought Odysseus home to meet the parents:

Queen Arete and King Alcinous are such hospitable and generous hosts that they welcome Odysseus into their home without even asking who he is. (Had Homer opted to take the epic poem in a grislier, made-for TV thriller direction, Arete and Alcinous would have been the oblivious murder victims who pick up a hitchhiker carrying an axe and then, after making sure he’s comfortable in the back seat with food and drink, ask if they can sharpen the blade for him.) Odysseus gives them the woe-is-me-I’ve-been-bedding-up-with-nymphs speech and stuffs his face with their food. The next day he takes part in a pentathlon and then listens to a blind guy named Demodocus perform two songs, one of which is about the Trojan War and, specifically, Odysseus and Achilles. Scholars are divided on the form of these songs; more recent Homeric enthusiasts such as Robert Christgau contend that Demodocus was a prog rock enthusiast who used a timbral palette heavy on electronic keyboards and Moog synthesizers, and who changed time signatures as if his life depended on it. Still-anonymous Odysseus finally reveals himself once Demodocus starts crooning about the Trojan Horse, which leads to his recounting of how storms drove his crew off course to the land of the Lotus Eaters.

The Lotus Eaters were, essentially, addicts. They loved the sweet, narcotic taste of the lotus plants (described as “honey-sweet fruit” — I’m thinking something along the lines of a Honey Nut Cheerios fruit smoothee). Once Odysseus’s crew starts hanging around with the Lotus Eaters, they become fellow deadbeats. They

lost all desire to send a message back, much less return,

their only wish to linger there with the Lotus-eaters,

grazing on lotus, all memory of the journey home

dissolved forever. [9.107-110]

 

Odysseus rouses them from their complacent slumber and lashes them under the rowing benches so everyone can hightail it out of there. 

There are numerous parallels to lotus in pop culture down through the ages (think, for example, of Turkish Delight in The Chronicles of Narnia or soma in Brave New World). Medical researchers today are rather certain that Swedish Fish have the same chemical properties and lethargy-inducing effects as lotus, particularly when ingested by the box. 

So is this episode simply one big “Just Say No” ad campaign disguised in epic verse? The detrimental effects of the lotus start small by offering temporary relief from the daily grind (in the case of Odysseus’s crew, constant seastorms, occasional death and, unlike the captain, not-getting-any from nymph goddesses) but escalate by making a bed so comfortable and enticing one never wants to get out of it. The root temptation here is escapism. The lesson for those of us who 1) don’t care for the taste of lotus, and/or 2) have kicked or avoided altogether any crippling addictions to narcotics*, is that our lotus could be almost anything, even the most commonplace. The currently unemployed Jerry Grit’s lotus may very well be this blog.** Mine, in the course of writing this post, was spending an hour on YouTube researching Keyboard Cat. What is your lotus? All of us find our central ambitions derailed by the prospect of temporal, ignorant bliss. If we are not strong enough (or disciplined, obedient, wise or simply lucky enough), we can only hope our own Odysseus should lash us under the rowing bench as we stroke to safety. Or, as the case may be, into the path of a foul-tempered Cyclops.

Countdown to Bloomsday…

Don’t let lotus-eating interfere with YOUR central ambition!

We read page 1 of Ulysses in 13 days!

 

* = If you are considering developing a possible addiction to drugs of any sort, may we recommend you watch Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream? Doing so would also enhance your critical understanding of the Lotus Eaters episode as a whole. Maybe make it a twinbill with Red Dawn!

** = PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYER: “So, according to your resume, you’ve been spending your recent stint of unemployment by — do I have this correct? — ‘forming an online reading collective for James Joyce’s Ulysses’? And this involves pornographic pictures of barely-clothed 80s wrestlers how, exactly?” JERRY GRIT: “Let me explain.” PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYER: “Oh, please do!”

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5 Responses

  1. Your commentary reminds me of that recent Jonah Lehrer article in the New Yorker about how self-control, not intelligence or breeding, is a much better predictor of whether someone will be successful in life. Keyboard-playing cats doom us all.

  2. That was a fascinating article. It didn’t occur to me how it pertains to Odysseus until now (even though Lehrer cites Odysseus on page four!), but he’s the ultimate “high denier.”

    But don’t you think Calypso is a far more appropriate “hot stimulus” than a mere marshmallow?

  3. […] empathetic you feel toward Leopold Bloom, you may be doing a lot of yawning this chapter. Like its Homeric parallel, The Lotus Eaters episode evokes drowsy complacence, escapism and intoxicating laziness. […]

  4. […] trust that the Wandering Rocks readership is fully aware of the Odyssean parallel Joyce is using here. In his (quite rambling) epic poem The Odyssey, Homer describes Odysseus and […]

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