Love, lies, mythology and murder on the seas of ancient Greece.
SOMETHING TO HIDE   by Mike Warren

So we don't trust Odysseus. But what ugly truth might convince him to spin his stories?

We've already argued that in light of what happened on Lamos, the way we understand Odysseus' story is justified in migrating from a view of incidental haphazardness to one of outright deceit. That is to say: what if Odysseus sped sloppily through his story, not because he was earnestly recalling a fast and messy turn of events, but because, for some reason, he would rather that his audience didn't dwell on the matter of Lamos at all?

This line of argument requires us to ask what would motivate the Odysseus-narrator to doctor his account. Looking at Book 10 [Pope], his motives for dishonesty become more plentiful and more convincing if we’re willing to read the Laestrygonians as the peaceful builder-shepherds of lines 99-136, rather than the vicious monsters of lines 137-164. Here are a few of the scenarios that we evaluated:

Odysseus, embarrassed by his bloodiest defeat, paints his enemies as giants in order to evade a critique of his generalship.

Tempting, but he’s not shy about losing other battles, even to trickery or ambush. If Lamos is worth airbrushing, why would Odysseus freely admit to having led his men into imprisonment, deception and slaughter at the hands of enemies elsewhere in the text?

Odysseus, enraged and worried by the earlier disloyalty of his men, absconds with his flagship and abandons the fleet, concocting the cannibal story to cover for their disappearance.

Less likely. Such a twist would re-cast this episode into an even greater distortion than it needs to be, and it disregards the fact that the nature of the stolen treasure places the mutineers firmly on his flagship.

Odysseus, foiled by the escalation of an innocent diplomatic blunder, exaggerates the fierceness of the Laestrygonians to illustrate their failure to forgive.

Slimly believable, but why not mention that misunderstanding? Odysseus has no need to make his account less plausible by omitting it.

The above explanations are as patchy as the narrative itself. For the most part, they open up as many inconsistencies as they resolve, which brings us to one remaining possibility:

Odysseus, ashamed of his conduct on Lamos, omits his own misdeeds from the narrative, and conceals the Laestrygonians’ justified motivation for attack by turning them into mindless monsters.

But what dishonour would sufficiently alienate the Odysseus-narrator from his audience that he might gain by redacting it so crudely? To inform our search for such a heinous transgression, it would make sense to examine the moral protocols that a weary Greek traveller might stand to violate. Specifically, we should look for a custom that was known and esteemed equally by Ithacans, by Laestrygonians, and by the Phaeacians in Odysseus’ audience. Springing immediately to mind is the pan-Hellenic concept of xenia: the reciprocal and sacred bond of duty between host and guest. Xenia is especially relevant because the Odysseus-narrator is himself a guest at Phaeacia, and he’s in need of a significant favour. He would therefore be doubly incentivised to speak with caution about any outrage he might have caused in the home of a previous host.

On Lamos, the entire Ithacan fleet are guests, and under xenia, a leader does bear responsibility for the conduct of his men in a foreign land. However, there is no textual evidence for his crew’s misbehaviour ashore. Neither, following greed-fuelled mutiny of which he has freshly accused them, is there a need for him to spare them the blame. We can safely surmise that if the Laestrygonians did have a reason to attack, and if the roots of said reason lay in an Ithacan misdeed rather than a mutual misunderstanding, then the sin committed is likely to have been Odysseus’ own.

The hero’s own narrative unintentionally offers an interesting clue as to what, if anything, he might have done to deserve his fate. Odysseus, by admission near-suicidal after a wasted chance to return home, meets the King’s daughter almost immediately upon landing. She is alone, drawing water from a stream: a beautiful palace-dweller doing servants’ work, presumably out of choice. That the Ithacans stayed on Lamos longer than Odysseus admits is hard to refute, which lends a degree of flexibility to the time-period that elapses between their meeting and her showing him to the palace. It’s also worth noting that she arranges the introduction willingly, even enthusiastically. Princesses do not habitually invite enemy soldiers into their citadels.

Regardless of how our speculation holds up, the details of what happened are still shrouded in fog, and mercifully open to what we have audaciously deemed “artistic license”. But from the puzzles of the original text, we now have the much simpler task of guessing at how a charming sea-captain and a headstrong princess, working together, might do something to profoundly upset her parents.

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RE-INTERPRETED, PART I   by Dylan Spicer

Across a series of articles, Dylan charts other efforts to re-write Homer's great epic. This week, he looks at two kinds of Ulysses.

SIGNAL TO NOISE   by Mike Warren

How does one tell a whole story using only the human voice? Mike takes a famous tall tale and finds meaning in the medium.

WHAT I LEARNED   by Mike Warren

In what he hopes is an affably informal article and not a scruffy, unqualified and overly-personalised rant, Mike shares a first-timer's perspective on recording an audio drama.

MEET THE CAST   by Mike Warren

We've just finished recording Giant Cannibals. After three exhausting days in-studio, I'm delighted to introduce you to our talented and hard-working cast. Expect plenty more to come; in the meantime, you can view their profiles by by following the links. The full list of contributors can also be found in our People section.

DIVINE WINDS   by Dylan Spicer

Dylan explores the balance of coincidence and plausibility in The Odyssey.

THE SOURCE, PART VI   by Mike Warren

A disguised Odysseus finds Ithaca to be very different from how he left it.


Mike asks what a monster really is, and what fictional monsters can tell us about ourselves.

CANNIBAL MYTHS   by Dylan Spicer

Dylan charts the significance of the cannibal taboo in storytelling, and asks how this changes the way we see the Laestrygonians.

THE SOURCE, PART V   by Mike Warren

After ten years at sea, Odysseus returns to Ithaca.

TELLING THE TRUTH   by Mike Warren

Is our hero's own account reliably narrated, or are we right to lose the plot?

THE SOURCE, PART IV   by Mike Warren

Odysseus' story comes to an end, as he explains his time with witches, monsters and the dead.

THE OLD AND THE NEW   by Mike Warren

Can one of our culture's most venerated texts tolerate being re-imagined so liberally? We think so, and here's why.

THE SOURCE, PART III   by Mike Warren

Odysseus continues to tell his story. After a brush with the Cyclops, Odysseus' homeward journey is thrown violently off course. Giant Cannibals focuses on this section, because we don't think our hero is telling the truth.

THE SOURCE, PART II   by Mike Warren

Shipwrecked on Scheria and exposed for who he really is, Odysseus begins to tell his story. This is the Cyclops bit, by the way.

THE SOURCE, PART I   by Mike Warren

The Odyssey is the second-oldest surviving text in Western literature. Here's a ham-fisted attempt to summarise it in eight easy chunks.