Who Were the Lotus Eaters?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Lotus Eaters, or Lotophagi, are a group of people described in the Greek epic The Odyssey. Odysseus and his crew encounter them in Book Nine, and while their encounter is brief, it is memorable. These people have so captivated generations of readers that they have appeared in numerous works of art from poems to paintings, and they are sometimes referenced in popular culture.

Odysseus encounters the Lotus Eaters in Homer's "Odyssey."
Odysseus encounters the Lotus Eaters in Homer's "Odyssey."

According to legend, the Lotus Eaters live on an island off the coast of North Africa. While several intrepid historians have tried to locate the site of the island, they have yet to find a location which matches the description in The Odyssey. The Lotophagi feed on a soporific plant which causes them to forget their homelands and live apathetic, uncaring lives. Their diet causes them to be sleepy and languid, as well as disinterested in the world around them.

The Lotus Eaters may have eaten water lotuses, although this could be a mistranslation.
The Lotus Eaters may have eaten water lotuses, although this could be a mistranslation.

There is some discussion as to what the Lotus Eaters actually ate. In some translations, they are described as the Lotos Eaters, which muddies the waters a bit, as the Greeks used the term “lotos” to discuss several edible plants. While they could have eaten the roots, fruit, or flowers of water lotuses, they might also have eaten dates, persimmons, jujubes, or several other plants, none of which are known to be particularly narcotic.

When Odysseus encounters the Lotus Eaters, some of his crew famously partake of the food, and they express a desire to stay on the island. Odysseus is forced to drag the members of the crew back to the ship, “weeping bitterly,” and they are chained to the benches until the ship gets away. No doubt the memories of the delicious and intoxicating fruit haunted the crew for the rest of their lives. If this epic poem is taken as a recounting of true events, perhaps Odysseus fudged the location of the island a little to ensure that no one else was ensnared by the Lotus Eaters.

The Island of the Lotus Eaters turns up again and again in songs, stories, and myths, suggesting that the idea has a powerful influence on us even today. Some form of this legend has popped up in locations as varied as Star Trek, Brave New World, and The Lotos-Eaters, a famous Tennyson poem.

The Odyssey is credited to Homer, an ancient Greek poet, who is also assigned authorship to the Iliad and the entire Epic Cycle that includes poems about the Trojan War and Theban poems about Oedipus.
The Odyssey is credited to Homer, an ancient Greek poet, who is also assigned authorship to the Iliad and the entire Epic Cycle that includes poems about the Trojan War and Theban poems about Oedipus.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon291144

I'm a Chinese. I just read the Odysseus stories recently. They are amazing! The story of lotus eaters probably intended to illustrate one negative side of human nature: indolence and indulgence in worldly pleasures. But individual readers may interpret it in the context of their own experiences. Some would fancy that the lotus world is a pure heaven from the filthy, noisy, lust-overflowing world.

anon115874

This information was very helpful for my project guys, thank you. And i wish i could visit this place. It sounds amazing.

anon93235

I think the lotus was a form of poppy plant or opium plant that made people high when eaten or turned into a drink or smoked.

anon84977

I am not surprised by some of the comments. Have you ever being on the Island of the Lotus Eaters? Well. I am from there, and the island is like magic. The people are friendly and hospitable.

It is attached to the mainland by a causeway and it thousand of years old.

The history of this island is not merely a few hundred years old, but thousands. Live a little, travel a lot and immerse yourself in history. If people would do this, we would have such a wonderful, open world.

anon82553

personally I would hate being trapped in lotus island. but no doubt there are people out there who wish they could escape it all, like anon said, you forget all the bad things but what about the good things?

anon77216

Uninterested. Not "disinterested".

anon71504

Why horrifying? Well, lets see: First of all, you forget everything you've ever known, good and bad things. It may be good to forget the bad things, but the good things? Don't you want to keep those?

anon68076

I've always wondered -- why horrifying?

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