Chapter 5The Middle Passage

The Island of the Lotus-Eaters

Early in Odysseus's attempt to return home from Troy, he and his crew land on an island unknown to them. Unaware of any danger, Odysseus sends three of his men ashore to see if it is inhabited. When they do not return, he goes after them and finds them among a strange race of human beings: the Lotus-Eaters. These people do not threaten or harm Odysseus and his men. Instead, they simply offer them the sweet Lotus flower to eat. Anyone who does eat immediately forgets all about his journey home, content to spend his whole life grazing on the flower.

Odysseus drives his men who have already eaten back to their ships; they wail and cry, but he forces them aboard. He then orders the rest of his crew to start rowing, warning them of the danger of eating the Lotus. They escape. Little do they know that they sail next to the island of the Cyclops.

Though brief, the story of the island of the Lotus-Eaters is beguiling. The flower does represent a threat to Odysseus and his companions. It is not the typical threat they face, of physical violence or winds or waves. In a certain sense, it is a more profound danger. The flower strikes at the root of their desire to strive and to struggle. It eliminates their wish to return home. It causes them to forget what really matters. It turns them from men into a sort of docile, grazing animal or even into a kind of plant, content to live out their lives rooted to that spot.

At the same time, ...

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