The Myth of Odysseus and Aeolus

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Aeolus

The homesick Odysseus makes a powerful friend who gives him a great gift, but when nearly home he is undone by the greed of his men.

The Greek hero Odysseus, King of Ithaca, served with distinction in the Trojan War (the idea for the Trojan Horse was his). After the war, he had many adventures on his way home: these adventures are told in the classic epic poem The Odyssey. Not long after he managed to escape from the fierce Cyclops Polyphemus, Odysseus met the demigod Aeolus, who tried to help him get home.

Aeolus, King of Aeolia

Aeolus was King of the small Island of Aeolia in the seas near Greece. He was the son of Hippotes, who had been the keeper of the winds. Aeolus lived in a grand palace with his wife and twelve children: six sons and six daughters, who were all married to one another. They were a happy bunch who spent their days feasting and enjoying their luxurious lives.

The Legend of Odysseus and Aeolus

Odysseus and his men visited the friendly king for a month: Aeolus and his family made them tell stories of the war. When it was time to go, Odysseus asked Aeolus if he could somehow help him get home to Ithaca. Aeolus made a great sack out of an ox-hide and sewed it up so tightly with silver thread that nothing could get in or out. He was master of the winds, and he put every wind into the sack except the west wind. With only the west wind blowing, Odysseus could sail directly home. Once he got home, he could release the other winds and everything would return to normal. Aeolus advised him, however, not to open the sack at all until then.

Almost Home

With the west wind at their backs, Osysseus’ ship made directly for Ithaca. They sailed for nine days and nine nights, and came so close to Ithaca that they could see fires burning on the shore. But then Odysseus, who had been at the tiller for all of the nine days and nights, collapsed from fatigue and went down below the deck to rest.

As he slept, his men began to talk and they said that the sack that Aeolus had given Odysseus must be a kingly gift of silver and gold. Overcome by greed, the men opened the sack and the winds came howling out.

Back to Aeolia

The newly-released winds howled and blew, and drove Odysseus’s ship all the way back to Aeolia. After they landed, Odysseus returned to the palace of Aeolus to beg him to bottle the winds up once more. Aeolus was surprised to see Odysseus there, and when he heard what had happened, he refused to help again on the grounds that some powerful Gods must have hated Odysseus (which was true: Poseidon despised Odysseus and actively thwarted his attempts to reach Ithaca). No matter how much Odysseus begged, Aeolus would not relent.

The Way Home

Odysseus and his men departed sadly. Shortly thereafter, they narrowly escaped the cannibal Laestrygonians at the city of Telepylus before arriving at the Island of the sorceress Circe. He would have many more adventures before returning to Ithaca, but because of the greed of his men, he would not get home for several years.

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