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The Laestrygonians destroying Odysseus' fleet. Wall-painting from 1C BC, Vatican Museum, Rome.

"This is what Homer himself means when he says of Odysseus: 'So he told many lies in the likeness of truth;' for Homer does not say 'all' but 'many' lies; since, otherwise they would not have been 'in the likeness of truth'." (Strabo, Geography 1.2.9).

Laestrygones or Laestrygonians were called the cannibal people living in the region of Mount Aetna in Sicily. They are best known for having destroyed Odysseus' fleet.

Fleet still intact

By the time Odysseus arrived to the land of the Laestrygonians he had already lost quite a few of his men; for in the battle against the Ciconians over seventy soldiers were killed, and later half a dozen were devoured by the Cyclops Polyphemus 2. Yet the same fleet of twelve ships that more than ten years before had joined the coalition which sailed to Troy to demand the restoration of Helen, was still intact.

Almost home

As far as we know, there were no naval operations during the Trojan War, and this fleet, carrying the remains of the Cephallenian and Ithacan armies under Odysseus' command, was very close to effect a happy return, having received assistance from Aeolus 2, the ruler of the winds. But careless Odysseus fell asleep just when they could already see Ithaca in the distance; and his greedy comrades, thinking that he carried gold from Troy in the bag that Aeolus 2 had given him, loosed it while he slept, letting the winds go free. Because of this they were driven back to the Aeolian Islands where Odysseus, in the course of a second and embarrassing interview with Aeolus 2, was denied the fair wind he asked for, being immediately expelled from the island. And instead of fair wind they had wearisome rowing for six days and nights.

People, customs, landscape

It was in the seventh day that the fleet arrived to Telepylus in the land of the Laestrygonians, a cannibal people ruled by Antiphates 2. In this land nightfall and morning are so close to each other that shepherds bringing in their flocks at night are met by other shepherds driving out their flocks at dawn. Ignoring the gastronomic customs of this nation, all captains, except Odysseus, put their ships in a cove that was surrounded on all sides by a ring of cliffs, with two headlands facing each other at the mouth, leaving just a narrow channel in between. This place they deemed to be an excellent harbor, and therefore all ships in the squadron except one were tied up quite close to each other in these sheltered waters, which were never exposed to the waves. As the weather was bright and calm Odysseus did not follow the rest of the ships, but instead he made his own fast with a cable to a rock outside the bay. He then climbed the headland in order to get a view from the top, and having caught sight of a wisp of smoke rising up from the countryside, he sent three of his men in order to find out about the inhabitants.

The messengers

The two sailors and the messenger, whom Odysseus sent, found first a track that had been used by wagons to bring timber down from the mountains to the Laestrygonian settlements, and then they came to a spring called Artacie, where they happened to meet the daughter of the Laestrygonian chief Antiphates 2, who being asked for the ruler of the country pointed at once to her father's house. Having made their way to this house, they were received by the ruler's wife, a huge and terrifying woman, who immediately went to the market place to call her husband. On his arrival, Antiphates 2 snatched one of Odysseus' men purposing to prepare a meal out of him or devouring him at once, but the other two, making a hasty retreat, managed to return to the ships. One of this two was Macareus 2, an Ithacan in Odysseus' crew, who was later among those whom Circe turned into pigs. He is the same who much later met Aeneas, having stayed behind in the course of Odysseus.

The fleet trapped

In the meantime, however, Antiphates 2 mobilized his own forces, and thousands suddenly appeared at the tops of the cliffs. Thence the Laestrygonians began pelting the fleet with huge rocks, and harpooning the men, whom they carried off to make their meals. Odysseus then, seeing that hope was only in a hasty escape, cut the hawser of his ship, and having ordered the crew to dash in with the oars, came out to the open sea, leaving behind the cliffs and the massacre that agitated the otherwise calm waters. This is how Odysseus' fleet was destroyed. Eleven ships perished with their crews, and only his own vessel and crew survived. It is with this one ship that Odysseus, in due course, put in to the island of Aeaea, home of Circe, having practically lost his whole army.

Related sections Odysseus 

Apd.Ep.7.12; Hom.Od.10.82ff., 23.318; Hyg.Fab.125; Ov.Met.14.233; Strab.1.2.9.