The Odyssey, 10 Years in 10 Days: ‘the King Let Loose a Howling’

They call it, the Laestrygonian Welcome.

Day 5: the Laestrygonian land. Who: Cannibals, again; as Homer bleats, “not like men, like Giants!” What: Odysseus’ windblown fleet, fresh from the rejection by King Aeolus, is looking for a place to chill out. Laestrygone seems like just the place: “a milk-white calm spreads all around the place.”

Uhm. Didn’t Odysseus just escape from a giant cannibal? That schtick must have played well in ancient Greece because Homer barely switches it up here. In a scene of otherwise bucolic beauty, “where shepherd calls to shepherd,” we are presented not with a one-eyed giant man but a two-eyed giant woman, “huge as a mountain crag who filled them all with horror.” Presently, the crag’s husband, King Antiphates, arrives, presumably not too happy about how his wife has just been described. First, he grabs one of Odysseus’ men and “tore him up for dinner.” Second, “the king let loose a howling,” calling the Laestrygonians to supper.

Whereas Odysseus, for the most part, outsmarts the Cyclopses, his visit to Laestrygone is an unmitigated disaster, even bigger than the bloody reverse dealt to him by the Cicones. The giants seem to wreak havoc effortlessly, smashing Odysseus’ fleet with giant rocks and spearing his men like fish. It’s a “ghastly shattering din” of “men in their death-cries, hulls smashed to splinters.”

Odysseus does nothing to stop it, but to be fair to him he seems to have no time for heroism. His boldest act is to cut the lines mooring his ship to shore. In fact, only Odysseus’ ship gets away; as he slurs in his speech to the Phaeacian court: “Our squadron sank.”

Talking point: Sometimes an author just gets tired of having to keep track of a lot characters. Death toll: If you figure more than 50 men per ship, at least 550.

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