Mythical Drug: Lotus Flower


Is the lotus flower depicted on Odyssey a drug?

In Homer’s epic Odyssey IX, Odysseus accounts tells us how strong north winds blew their ship off course as they were traversing around Cape Malea, and heading to Ithaca, thus, landing on the island of the lotus-eaters. They stopped there and rested, ate, and supplied themselves with water. Odysseus then ordered two of his company and a third under them to to see what kind of people occupies this island. There they met kind people who gave them the lotus flower and fruit to eat, which were so delicious that they lost all will to continue the journey back home and decided to stay with the lotus-eaters. They stayed there until Odysseus himself brought them back by force, and they cried bitterly and were forced to fast. Odysseus ordered the rest of his men not to eat the lotus and head back to continue their journey home.


Odyssey IX Excerpt:

“I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.”

Based on the Odyssey account, the flower was described to have a narcotic effect. There are lotus plants around the Mediterranean and North African area that could have similar effects to the legendary lotus flower in Greek mythology. The lotus flower and fruit in the myth were the primary food of the islanders which were narcotic to the point of causing the people to sleep in peace and not be bound to the troubles of the world. Because the Greek word “lotos” can refer to a number of different plants, there are several candidates for the identity of the mythological plant. One such candidate is the Egyptian Blue Lotus (Nymphaea Caerulea) which has mild psycho-active qualities and can be found in North-Eastern African Areas such as Egypt. The Blue Lotus was a sacred plant in Ancient Egypt, it is used for various religious ceremonies. They used the plant for multiple reasons like food, recreation, the relaxing effects made it a good aide for sleeping, and for spiritual experiences. Its still in use today, some brew teas and alcohol with it, some people smoke it to get high, and some mix it with their food which users report it to have a taste reminiscent of chocolate. As an effective narcotic, the Egyptian Blue Lotus could well be the mythical food of the lotus-eaters.

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