Homer’s tale, The Odyssey, is about Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War. It is likely that Homer wrote it during the second half of 8th Century BC because The Odyssey was popular throughout the Mediterranean region as Greek vases with scenes from the story depict.
In Homer’s Odyssey, the hero Odysseus faces one of his greatest challenges: resisting the temptations of the Sirens. These creatures were beautiful women who sang so sweetly that sailors passing by could not resist their call.
Odysseus was warned about them by the witch Circe, and knew he had to find a way to avoid being seduced. He came up with a clever plan: he had his sailors tie him to the mast of the ship and then plug their ears with beeswax so they would not be tempted to listen to the Sirens’ song.
Odysseus was able to hear the Sirens’ singing, but because he was tied to the mast, he could not give in to their call.
Odysseus and his men had spent some time on the island of Circe, the witch who had turned his men into pigs. She fell in love with him and warned him about the Sirens:
First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song.
There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men’s ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope’s ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster.
When Circe warns him of the danger ahead, Odysseus listens carefully and takes precautions to protect his men. He orders them to seal their ears with beeswax so they won’t be lured by the siren’s song.
The good ship glides across a calm grey sea toward an island covered in golden meadows. The crew is eager to land, but Odysseus knows better. He tells them:
That is the Island of the Sirens. Circe warned me to steer clear of it, for the Sirens are beautiful but deadly.
They sit beside the ocean, combing their long golden hair and singing to passing sailors. But anyone who hears their song is bewitched by its sweetness, and they are drawn to that island like iron to a magnet. And their ship smashes upon rocks as sharp as spears. And those sailors join the many victims of the Sirens in a meadow filled with skeletons.
Odysseus, gifted a large piece of beeswax from Circe, breaks it into small chunks. He gives one to each of his men and tells them to soften it before putting it into their ears; thus, they will not hear the Sirens’ song.
The Sirens Song
Odysseus is determined to hear the sirens’ song without succumbing to its lure. Circe has told him how to do it: he orders his sailors to tie him firmly to the ship’s mast, with beeswax in their own ears so they can’t be tempted by the music.
Then they row alongside the island where the sirens live.
As soon as Odysseus hears the words and music of the song, he is enchanted. He longs to plunge into the waves and swim to the island where the Sirens are singing. He wants to embrace them.
He strains against the ropes that bind him to the mast of his ship. The ropes cut deeply into his flesh, but he does not care.
He nods and scowls at his men, who have plugged their ears with wax so they cannot hear the Siren’s song. He urges them to free him, but they only row harder with their oars.
To Odysseus, under the spell of their singing, the Sirens appear as beautiful as Helen of Troy. To his crew, whose ears have been filled with beeswax so they cannot hear, the Sirens look like monsters with vicious claws.
The ship swiftly moves forward and before long, the song of the Sirens is only a faint echo. Only then do the crew members stop rowing and take out their earplugs.
Eurylochus unbinds his grateful captain, Odysseus, who has now come to his senses.
By following the advice of the goddess Circe, Odysseus has avoided disaster. However, he will face many more trials and temptations before he reaches his home and family.
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