Odysseus was the king of the mythical kingdom of Ithaca. He was famous among other kings for being a brave warrior and brilliant tactician; abilities that he proved during the Trojan war. However, Odysseus is best known for being the titular character of Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, which describes Odysseus’ 10-year long journey home after the Trojan war.
When Odysseus headed back to his kingdom of Ithaca after the Trojan war, he had 12 ships full of men accompanying him. However, encounters with the cyclops Polyphemus, the Laestrygonian giants and Scylla the sea monster reduced his fleet to just one ship. Weary from their travels, this ship landed on the island of Thrinacia.
Odysseus Arrived at Thrinacia
Thrinacia was home to Lampetia and Phaethusa, the daughters of Helios, the sun god. But more importantly, the island also housed seven flocks of sheep and seven hers of oxen that belonged to Helios. The prophet Tiresias had warned Odysseus’ men not to hunt Helios’ cattle as that would anger the god.
When Odysseus landed on Thrinacia, there was no risk of his men hunting the cattle. They had more than enough provisions in their storage and did not intend to stay docked for more than a few days. However, Poseidon sent a month-long storm that forced Odysseus’ ship to be stuck at the island of Thrinacia.
After a couple of weeks, the troops were arguing with Odysseus to go and hunt the cattle, but he was able to keep them away from the animals. Then in the third week, Odysseus left the ship to pray to the gods. He asked Zeus to take away the storm so that he could return to his home of Ithaca once again.
This short period away from the ship was enough for Odysseus’ men to forget all about their captain’s orders. They went up to the island and hunted as many animals as they could catch. When Odysseus returned to his ship, he saw the crew eating large hunks of meat. He knew they were doomed and silently sat by and watched without taking part in the feast.
Helios Sought Revenge
Helios got to know of this incident from his daughter and was furious at Odysseus’ men. He went to Zeus and demanded that they be punished. If Zeus did not punish them, Helios would take the sun to the underworld, bringing darkness to the world and light to hell.
A week after this incident, the storm cleared and Odysseus’ ship could leave Thrinacia. The crew sailed away with full bellies and high spirits, and for a few hours, nothing seemed to be wrong. The seas were calm and they made good progress. But then Zeus struck Odysseus’ ship with a lightning bolt, and smashed it against the rocks in a thunderstorm.
Only Odysseus survived as he alone did not eat any of Helios’ cattle. Zeus allowed the king to swim to the nearby island of Ogygia, where the nymph Calypso saved Odysseus’ life. However, he could not completely escape punishment and was held captive on the island for 7 years until finally Zeus advised Hermes to go to Ogygia and demand that Odysseus be released.