In my previous post I discussed Odysseus’s encounter with his mother in Hades, where we learn that the “spirits,” “shades,” “ghosts,” “souls” (they are called a number of things) there do not have any physical characteristics – no flesh or bones, even though they can be seen and can drink blood and are afraid of swords.   I think, at the end of the day, this is not a coherent picture.  If they can drink blood but don’t have bodies, where does the blood go?  And if they can’t be touched, how can they hold something (a container from which the blood to be drunk, e.g.), and why would they be afraid of a sword (if you can’t be hugged, why can you be cut or hacked).  And if they don’t actually have eyes, how can they see?  Or if they don’t have tongues and vocal chords, how can they talk?

The point is probably not, however, to paint a completely coherent picture – or if it is the point, Homer has failed terribly.  Still, the point is to say some things about what the dead are like.  Basically, they have no memories (unless they drink the blood that a living person brings down with them; does that happen, what, once every ten thousand years?), no pasts, no futures, no physical pleasures.

This point is reinforced in a second intriguing encounter that Odysseus has, this one with the greatest of all the mighty warriors, Achilles, around whose exploits Homer’s earlier, work, the Iliad, ultimately revolve.

Odysseus had not known …

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