Hades: Homeric Parallel

In Book 9 of The Odyssey, Odysseus recounts his adventures in the lands of the Cicones, the Lotus Eaters, and the Cyclopes. In Book 10 Odysseus and his men reach the isle of Aeolus, the "wind king"; then they meet disaster in the land of the Lestrygonians and finally arrive at Circe's island. Circe advises Odysseus to go down to Hades, the world of the dead, to consult the shade, or spirit, of the blind prophet Tiresias before continuing the voyage. In Book 11 Odysseus descends into Hades; the first shade he meets is that of Elpenor, one of his men who, drunk and asleep, had fallen to his death in Circe's hall. Elpenor requests that Odysseus return to Circe's island and give his corpse a proper burial; Odysseus so promises. Odysseus then speaks with Tiresias, who tells him that it is Poseidon, god of the sea and the earthquake, who is preventing Odysseus from reaching his home. Tiresias warns Odysseus: if his men violate the cattle of the sun god, Helios, the men will all be lost, the difficulties of Odysseus's voyage will be radically increased, and upon his arrival home he will find his house beset with suitors, "insolent men" whom he will have to make "atone in blood" (11:116, 118; Fitzgerald, p. 200). Tiresias closes his prophecy by promising Odysseus a "rich old age" and "a seaborne death soft as this hand of mist" (11:134, 137; Fitzgerald, p. 201). Odysseus then speaks with the shade of his mother and sees the shades of many famous women. He speaks with Agamemnon and learns of Agamemnon's homecoming and of his death at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover. Odysseus speaks with Achilles and approaches Ajax, who, driven mad by the gods, had died by his own hand after Odysseus was awarded the dead Achilles' armor as the new champion of the Greeks. Ajax refuses to speak. Odysseus glimpses other shades, including that of Sisyphus, condemned to push a boulder up a hill eternally. He then speaks to Hercules, who is not a shade but a "phantom," because Hercules himself rests among the immortal gods. Hercules, reminded by Odysseus's presence in the flesh, tells the story of his twelfth labor, his own descent into Hades while he was still alive, when he had to capture the "watchdog of the dead," Cerberus (11:623; Fitzgerald, p. 217). Odysseus then returns to his ship and to Circe's island.

(from Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman, "Ulysses" Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's "Ulysses" [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988], p. 104. The first numbers following quotes from The Odyssey [for example, 1:115] refer to book and line numbers in the Greek text; English translations, unless otherwise noted, are from The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald [New York: Doubleday, 1961])