The Odyssey, 10 Years in 10 Days: He Whom ‘the Blessed Deathless Gods Despise’


Aeolus, keeper of the winds (digital enhanceme...

King Aeolus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Day: 4 A pleasing, if strange, sojourn on the Aeolian island. Who: King Aeolus, son of Hippotas, the master of the winds, the imperator of incest. What: Odysseus and his crew take a monthlong breather here, enjoying “the savor of roasted meats” in a “splendid palace.”


King Aeolus is friendly enough, and Odysseus, I am sure, enjoys the attention — “He pressed me for news of Troy” — but things are nonetheless amiss. For one thing, the king married his sons to his daughters. But Odysseus is not one to judge, at least not when sex is involved. Before the Greeks depart, the king gives Odysseus the skin of an ox in which are contained three of the four winds. The fourth, the West Wind, is turned loose to push Odysseus home. It is the rare guest-gift in “The Odyssey” that is marvelous and practical.


However, Odysseus’ men, his hand-picked comrades, stalwarts who have fought with him for 10 years at Troy and for several weeks so far of the odyssey itself, now get suddenly jealous of his “heaps of lovely plunder” — in particular, the bulging ox skin. While Odysseus takes a nap — which is always when things go to hell — his boys start to scheme. “Hurry,” a malcontented ringleader says, “let’s see what loot is in that sack, how much gold and silver.” The ox skin is opened, the winds pour out, “and a sudden squall struck and swept us back to sea.”


Strangely, the winds sweep them back again, back to King Aeolus. Odysseus hops out of his ships and begs the king to retame the winds. But the king recognizes that someone is out to get Odysseus. He refuses to help, confirming that “the blessed deathless gods despise” Odysseus.


Talking point: As soon as Odysseus stops riding herd on his flowing-haired Achaeans, they run amok. Death toll: 0.