by Adi Gandhi
The story of the Lotus-Eaters spans approximately twenty lines in the Odyssey (book nine, lines 84–105). We don’t hear them speak, of course—we don’t even really see them. In a weird game of narrative Telephone, the Lotus-Eaters get reduced to the barest of details: the scouts tell Odysseus what they saw, he in turn tells the Phaeacians, and Homer (who himself represents an indeterminably long tradition of oral storytelling) finally tells us.
What we do get of the Lotus-Eaters is not exactly a favorable depiction of them. They are seductive in their exoticism, beings whose sole purpose seems to be to trick Odysseus and his men into forgetting home. If you look them up online, words like “lethargy,” “apathy,” and “intoxicating” recur. In describing the Lotus-Eaters to the Phaeacians, Odysseus also sets up an us-vs-them mentality (as Professor Murray talked about with regard to the Cyclopes), where the Lotus-Eaters stand in between Odysseus’s crew and familiar waters.
Though Odysseus does mention that the Lotus-Eaters are harmless humans, they are somewhat dehumanized by the storytelling, which essentially compares them to figures like the Cyclopes, Scylla, and Charybdis. With the Lotus-Eaters being deprived of detail, we don’t get to see any aspect of them other than the dangerous magic of the fruit which defines them in Odysseus’s (and readers’) eyes.
I’m not going to attempt to describe the Lotus-Eaters more fully since that would be nearly impossible given just the Odyssey, but I am interested in what their point-of-view of this scene would look like if they were describing Odysseus and his men with as little detail as Odysseus does them. The following dialogue, between a Lotus-Eater and the monsters of the Odyssey (who stand in here for the role of the Phaeacians), is my attempt at doing that.
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LOTUS-EATER: One day, a group of men arrived at our island. They trampled on our lotus flowers and immediately started plucking them to eat, without so much as asking us.
CALYPSO: So much for xenia!
LOTUS-EATER: If they’d thought to talk to us, we would have been able to warn them against eating the lotus. But as it is, they began to fall asleep on the spot and forget home.
SCYLLA: What dunces!
LOTUS-EATER: One of them fell asleep in my usual sleeping spot, too. But since they didn’t seem too friendly, I was scared to approach them.
CHARYBDIS: They would surely have harmed you for no reason.
LOTUS-EATER: The lotuses and I were glad to see the men gone by morning.