The location of the underworld is far removed from the world of the living, at the edge of the river Oceanus.The dead live where the rays of the god Helios do not penetrate; instead, the House of Hades is forever shrouded in darkness (Homer, 11.18, 21). For the dead to arrive, in contrast, their bodies must be destroyed by the “mighty power of blazing fire” so that their spirits may be released and fly to Hades’ underworld (Homer, 11.273-74).In order to interact with the dead, Odysseus must pour libations and perform a ritual sacrifice.
We can see contrasts in the living and the dead directly in the text as well, as Homer writes, “Life-giving earth has buried them” and details how Achilles, a great hero of the , would rather “live working as a wage-labourer for hire by some other man, one who had no land and not much in the way of livelihood, than lord it over all the wasted dead” (Homer, 11.380, 624-28).
Most of the people that Odysseus encounters and describes have some sort of relationship with the divine, so it may seem that Homer was showing that this afterlife was reserved only for beings of a special status.
They may regain these mental powers and their memories, but are unable to speak the truth or remember their past lives until they drink the sacrificed sheep’s blood (Homer, 11.180-83, 187-88). This is further evidenced by Odysseus’ interaction with Agamemnon.
He notes that Agamemnon “no longer had any inner power or strength, not like the force his supple limbs possessed before” (Homer, 11.495-97).
In the , Homer describes more of the conditions of afterlife than the scenery or processes of the underworld.
His depiction of Odysseus’s journey to the underworld is “a spiritual adventure and a moment when life and death are brought into contact” (Said, 175).
Ajax refuses to speak to Odysseus because of their previous squabbles in life. holding a golden sceptre, and passing judgments on the dead, who stood and sat around the king, seeking justice, throughout the spacious gates of Hades’ home” (Homer, 11.733-37).
In this way, Minos continues to be in a position of power and judgment, as he was a king in life.
Homer’s Book XI is significant because it gives us the earliest written depiction of the Greek underworld.
While not strictly intended to give direction as to how to get to the underworld, it implicitly does so by showing how others have ended up there and by mentioning how the spirit is released.