Page 151. " Yet the most pitiable thing of all was the cry I heard from Cassandra "

The rape of Cassandra, red-figure cup, ca.440-30 BC
Public DomainThe rape of Cassandra, red-figure cup, ca.440-30 BC - Credit: Bibi Saint-Pol/Wikimedia Commons
 Cassandra was a daughter of King Priam of Troy, brought home by Agamemnon as his slave. The god Apollo gifted her with unfailing prophetic ability, but also punished her with the curse that her warnings would always go unheeded.

Page 151. " All-seeing Zeus has indeed proved himself a relentless foe to the House of Atreus from the beginning "
Orestes slaying Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, by Bernardino Mei
Public DomainOrestes slaying Aegisthus and Clytemnestra - Credit: Bernardino Mei

The House of Atreus was an extremely unlucky Greek family that experienced suffering on an extraordinary scale.

A great deal of the tragedy affecting this family seems self-inflicted. Their crimes are linked to a terrible curse passed down from generation to generation, touching many of the most famous characters of Greek mythology.

Tantalus, who was punished in Tartarus for his crime against the gods, Menelaus, Agamemnon, Aegisthus and Orestes are all members of this unfortunate family.

Page 152. " I would rather work the soil as a serf on hire to some landless impoverished peasant than be King of all these lifeless dead "

Ajax carrying the dead body of Achilles, black-figure neck-amphora, ca.520-10 BC
Public DomainAjax carrying the dead body of Achilles, black-figure neck-amphora, ca.520-10 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
This seems like a shockingly strange sentiment to come from one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology, the man who chose ever-lasting glory over life. This statement really serves to show how different the theme of The Odyssey is to Homer’s earlier epic, The Iliad. If the latter is about war, death and glory, the former is most definitely about life. Achilles has achieved fame that Odysseus could only dream of, yet it is Achilles who envies Odysseus simply for being alive; it is Odysseus who will truly get to enjoy the admiration his reputation has earned. This sentence also illustrates just how depressing the Underworld is for its denizens, that not even Achilles’ hard-won glory can cheer him.

Page 153. " your dear son Neoptolemus "

Neoptolemus killing Eurypylus, black-figure amphora, ca.510 BC
Public DomainNeoptolemus killing Eurypylus, black-figure amphora, ca.510 BC - Credit: Bibi Saint-Pol/Wikimedia Commons
Achilles’ son Neoptolemus also fought at Troy. He was considered by some to be brutal and cruel in his revenge on the defeated Trojans.

Page 155. " I also saw the awful agonies that Tantalus has to bear "

 Tantalus was a mythical man, beloved by the gods and often invited to dine with them. He decided to test their omniscience by feeding up his own son at a banquet. The gods were outraged, and punished him in Tartarus. He suffered eternal hunger and thirst, but could never quite reach the food and drink surrounding him. Tantalus was the first of the line of the House of Atreus, mentioned above.

Page 155. " Then I witnessed the torture of Sisyphus "

Sisyphus, black-figure amphora, ca.530 BC
Public DomainSisyphus, black-figure amphora, ca.530 BC - Credit: Bibi Saint-Pol/Wikimedia Commons
 Sisyphus’ punishment involved struggling to push a boulder up a steep hill; just as he almost reached the top, it would roll back down to the bottom and he would have to start again.

Page 156. " he sent me down here to bring back the Hound of Hell "

Heracles captures Cerberus, black-figure hydria, ca.525 BC
Public DomainHeracles captures Cerberus, black-figure hydria, ca.525 BC - Credit: Bibi Saint-Pol/Wikimedia Commons
Descending to the Underworld and kidnapping the fearsome hound, Cerberus, was one of the twelve labours of Heracles, the tasks set by Eurystheus, king of Tiryns and Mycenae, whom Heracles had been ordered to serve as punishment for murdering his own wife and children.

Page 156. " Theseus and Peirithous, those legendary children of the gods. "

 Theseus and Peirithous were two Greek heroes and friends, who descended to the Underworld in a plot to abduct Persephone to be Peirithous’ bride. An angry Hades tricked and captured them. Heracles managed to free Theseus, but Peirithous remained forever trapped in the Underworld.

Page 158. " Your next encounter will be with the Sirens "

Odysseus and the Sirens,red-figure stamnos, ca.480-70 BC
Public DomainOdysseus and the Sirens,red-figure stamnos, ca.480-70 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
The Sirens were mythical creatures, hideous to the eyes but possessing such sweetly seductive voices that they could lure any ship to its doom on their rocks.

Page 158. " one only has made the passage, and that was the celebrated Argo "

The Argo was the ship of Jason and the Argonauts. The event referred to here is an episode in the story of Jason and the Argonauts where they must sail through two dangerous, clashing rocks. Watch this video to see a clip from the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts (bear in mind that this version differs in some ways from ancient Greek mythology).


Page 163. " when she swallowed the salt water down, the whole interior of her vortex was exposed "

Watch this video of the Saltstraumen Maelstrom in Norway for an idea of how Charybdis might appear to suck and belch water.


Page 171. " When the brightest of all stars came up, the star which often ushers in the tender light of early Dawn "

The star referred to here is Eosphorus or Phosphorus (‘Dawn-bearer’), the morning star and son of Eos. His brother, Hesperus, was the evening star. The early Greeks who first named them did not realise that the morning star and evening star are not two separate bodies, or actually even stars, but are in fact both the planet Venus, shining brightly at dawn and dusk.

Page 173. " When all eyes in the city are fixed on the ship’s approach turn her into a rock looking like a ship off-shore. "

The existence of a ship-shaped rock at Corfu seems to lend evidence to the theory that this is the location of Phaeacia.