The Lotos-Eaters

Voice Card  -  Volume 15  -  John Card Number 14  -  Wed, Jul 25, 1990 01:07 AM

This is a response to Vol 15 Drury 18 ("References")...


Good question!

The Isle of the Lotus Eaters is a concept with a long and distinguished history that began with Homer's great epic poem, The Odyssey. You will recall that Odysseus takes a hell of a long time getting back from the Trojan war, and in fact spends twenty years hopping from one island to the next. The adventure with the Lotus Eaters is quite short and I can provide the text in full (from the Richmond Lattimore translation). You may want to expand your text field:

Nine days then I was swept along by the force of the hostile winds on the fishy sea, but on the tenth day we landed in the country of the Lotus-Eaters, who live on a flowering food, and there we set foot on the mainland, and fetched water, and my companions soon took their supper there by the fast ships.

But after we had tasted of food and drink, then I sent some of my companions ahead, telling them to find out what men, eaters of bread, might live in this country. I chose two men, and sent a third with them, as a herald.

My men went on and presently met the Lotus-Eaters, nor did these Lotus-Eaters have any thoughts of destroying our companions, but they only gave them lotus to taste of. But any of them who ate the honey-sweet fruit of lotus was unwilling to take any message back, or to go away, but they wanted to stay there with the lotus-eating people, feeding on lotus, and forget the way home.

I myself took these men back weeping, by force, to where the ships were, and put them aboard under the rowing benches and tied them fast, then gave the order to the rest of my eager companions to embark on the ships in haste, for fear someone else might taste of the lotus and forget the way home, and the men quickly went aboard and sat to the oarlocks, and sitting well in order dashed the oars in the gray sea.

Both "Lotus" and "Lotus-Eater" appear as entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, and here we may discover that many great English poets made allusions to "the Wicked Lotos." The concept received something of a revival in the nineteenth century when Alfred Lord Tennyson expanded on Odysseus's adventure in his famous poem "The Lotos-Eaters." This wonderful poem is too long to provide in full, but perhaps a stanza will give you a sense of its flavour:

How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream!
To dream and dream, like yonder amber light,
Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height;
To hear each other's whispered speech;
Eating the Lotos day by day,
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
And tender curving lines of creamy spray;
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
To muse and brood and live again in memory,
With those old faces of our infancy
Heaped over with a mound of grass,
Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!

More recently, the Lotus Eaters made an appearance in one of the old Star Trek episodes. Captain Kirk, after all, was based on Captain Hornblower, who it turn, surely, was based to some extent on Odysseus himself. Like Odysseus, Kirk leads his crew from planet to planet on a seemingly endless voyage.

On one such planet the landing party beams down and soon encounters an alien flower (that looks suspiciously lotus-like). When they are not looking, the flower sprays them with a mind-altering drug that REALLY mellows them out. Dr. McCoy begins sipping mint julips and talking in a Southern drawl (saying things like "Come on, Jim boy, take it easy"). Even Mr. Spock is found climbing trees and rolling in the grass with a California girl. Only Captain Kirk has a sense of duty and purpose deep enough to resist this enchantment, and eventually he succeeds in dragging the crew back on to the ship and setting sail.

It seems to me sometimes that Canyon Creek is a little like the Isle of the Lotus-Eaters, and sometimes, as I lie dreaming in my bed, I wonder if I should force myself up and sail back into the real world. I feel a growing discontent, and yet it seems so futile to toil and struggle. What is the point? Why bother? Still, some part of me yearns for open seas and is denied. Thus, "a subtle form of suffering comes even to those who dwell on the Isle of the Lotus Eaters."