This video is a clip from the 1988 fantasy film Willow. Although it does not represent Circe and Odysseus’ men, it provides a good visual idea of how the transformation from man to pig might look. This scene, of course, like so many other fantasy stories before and after, is heavily influenced by The Odyssey.
" She will shrink from you in terror and invite you to her bed. "
Circe is the typical dangerous woman of Greek mythology. She is sly and deceptive, using magic and strange drugs to exert power over men, resorting to seduction when this fails. This idea of the powerful witch-like woman was extremely disconcerting, even frightening, to the patriarchal Greeks, who preferred their women submissive and dutiful. In order to defeat her, Odysseus must sleep with her. In doing so he will reassert his manly dominance and put the natural and proper order of things back into place.
" find your way to the Halls of Hades and dread Persephone, to consult the soul of Teiresias "
Persephone was Hades’ wife and Queen of the Underworld. She spent half the year on earth with her mother, Demeter, and half in the land of the dead with her husband. Demeter’s turmoil of emotions surrounding this arrangement account for the changing seasons of the year.
Teiresias was a blind prophet from Thebes who was involved in a number of famous myths including the story of Oedipus.
" meet and pour their thundering streams into Acheron "
Acheron was one of a number of rivers in the Underworld, and known as the river of pain. It is also a real, physical river in northwest Greece. The Greeks believed that rivers from our world could flow down into the land of the dead.
" Go round this trench and pour offerings to all the dead "
For the ancient Greeks, part of showing proper respect to the dead involved visits to and offerings at the grave. These might consist of gifts and libations. One might also want to appease the powers of the underworld, or petition them on a deceased relative’s behalf. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is instructed to offer the blood of a sacrificial animal to the spirits of the dead. In normal religious sacrifice, the focus lies on burning the meat so that the smoke will rise up to the gods. When honouring the spirits and gods of the Underworld, however, the offering needs to go down, to descend to Hades’ Halls below the earth. It is therefore the blood of the animal that is important. Black or barren animals were particularly appropriate for sacrifice to the chthonic deities.
" And now the souls of the dead came swarming up from Erebus "
A grave marker in the form of a loutrophoros, a marriage vase. Modern copy of an ancient Greek funerary monument, situated in the Kerameikos graveyard in Athens - Credit: DerHexer/Wikimedia Commons
These categories would have been considered some of the most pitiable spirits of the dead. According to Greek belief, such shades had a greater chance of becoming the restless dead, miserable earth-bound spirits, or ghosts who cannot cross the Styx to the Underworld and so can never rest. Unmarried youths were often buried with marriage gifts or in their bridal clothes, a gesture meant to soothe or appease their restless spirit, letting them achieve in death what they could not in life.
" raise a mound for me on the shore of the grey sea "
Elpenor’s spirit cannot rest or cross over into the Underworld until he has received proper burial. To be left unburied and unmourned was a tragic and pitiable fate for an ancient Greek, for whom burial was a vitally important custom. Elpenor asks for a mound, a method of burial typical of Homeric heroes. Bodies were cremated on a funeral pyre after which the bones would be collected and buried.
" who refers to the object you are carrying on your shoulder as a ‘winnowing-fan’ "