The island drug culture of Homer’s Odyssey, and also where we can find it today.

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The land of the lotus-eaters is known only from a few classical fragments, yet it has actually thrown a lengthy shadow end modernity. The story is most familiar from the quick passage in book IX the Homer’s Odyssey, in i m sorry after ripe days of storms Odysseus finds himself beached on one unknown island. He sends scouts to call the inhabitants, a gentle race who live top top the ‘flowery lotus fruit’. Several of Odysseus’ crew taste the fruit, after i m sorry they shed all desire to continue their voyage: ‘all they now wanted was to stay where castle were v the Lotus-eaters, to browser on the lotus, and also to forget every thoughts that return’. Odysseus resists the temptation come taste the lotus; instead, the drags his crew forcibly earlier to the ship and sets sail as conveniently as possible, ‘for fear that rather of them could eat the lotus and think no an ext of home’.


Legends that the floor of the lotus-eaters persisted in the ancient world. Herodotus, in his Histories, records a heritage locating it near the coast of Africa: perhaps near Libya, perhaps the island the Djerba off contemporary Tunisia. That speculates, too, around its factory identity: some thought it be a sweet and also heady fruit favor the date, and others a alcohol made from such a fruit. More recently it has actually been suggested that that is flower might have been that of the Egyptian blue water-lily (Nymphaea caerulea), which is now recognized to have mild psychoactive and also sedative properties. Yet the appeal of the story has constantly been much more mythical 보다 literal. Odysseus to be the archetypal male on a mission: the central theme of his story, and also the main point of his character, is his determination to stand up to all distractions and also temptations, remaining concentrated on his prime imperative. Simply as he to be obliged to prevent his ears to the tune of the sirens, he can not enable himself come taste the lotus fruit. Across the succeeding centuries his self-command, and the conviction through which the lashes his do not want crew to the oars, has exemplified the right of leadership.

But what lay behind Odysseus’ unbending resolve?. If his commitment come his mission was truly unshakeable, why no at least shot the lotus? at the many he can enjoy a few days that contentment before resuming his quest refreshed. Or go he fear that the lotus might be too good to resist? the it can reveal his mission to it is in less crucial than he told himself? the if that tried that he would certainly no longer have the ability to lead by example, or to to convince his crew to do the sacrifices the demanded of them? go his crew absence the ethical fibre of their commander – or to be his mission merely less vital to them than it was to him? by denying them choice, to be he exercising leadership or tyranny?


And what, precisely, is wrong through the happy culture of the lotus-eaters? There might be deep wisdom in your serenity; probably they have resolved the concerns that quiet spur the remainder of united state on our limitless quests. In 1832, simply as the industrial transformation was blanketing the brothers countryside with factories and also submerging old rural ways of life under a pall the smoke and steam, Alfred Tennyson composed an epos poem, The Lotos-eaters, motivated by his visit to Spain during which he experienced remote farms and villages untouched through the contemporary world: a land where it appeared to be ‘always afternoon’. In Homer’s telling we hear only that those the Odysseus’ crew that ate the lotus wept and also begged in ~ Odysseus’ stern commands, yet Tennyson offers words to their lament:

Then someone said, ‘We will return no more’;

And in its entirety they sang, ‘Our island home

Is far beyond the wave; we will certainly no longer roam.’

Life top top Odysseus’ ship, in this telling, had come to be a pursuit without end, a self-imposed torment that had sapped your strength and also destroyed their souls. They had actually marched, fought and also sailed their way across half the world; now, among the lotus-eaters, they had uncovered another method of living:

Let united state swear one oath, and keep it with an same mind

In the hollow lotos-land to live and also lie reclined

On the hills choose Gods together, careless of mankind.

Tennyson’s lotos-eaters are not frenzied Dionysiac revelers, greedily and wantonly pursuing pleasure. They space a cumulative of ‘mild-eyed, melancholy’ figures who, choose Odysseus’ wake up crew, have seen too much of suffering and also death to refuse the chance of peace and also happiness. Choose Epicurus and also the classical philosophers that his school, their appropriate is no sensual indulgence or even ecstatic transcendence however ataraxia, the state of tranquility that holds no illusions, no wishes or fears of a life past this one. Odysseus may choose to defy death, or live together if he to be immortal; yet the lotus-eaters recognize that it will come soon sufficient – and also when that does, the moment of to solve repose will organize more meaning than the year of strenuous toil.

The myth of the lotus-eaters continued to resonate throughout the nineteenth century together industrialists and also imperialists uncovered themselves, like Odysseus, confronted with subject populations who fail to master the urgency of your mission or to recognize why that was essential to replace a life of ease with one of perpetual labour. In some situations the myth was projected top top the foreign drug actions of the colonized – the opium-smoking Chinese, the coca-chewing Andean or the hashish-eating Egyptian – and their resistance come modernity defined by the newly-developed pathology that ‘addiction’. However there’s no ide in Homer the the lotus is addictive: those that eat it space not experiencing from a psychological disease or medical dependency. Seeks asserts the the drug overrides free will, however the lotos-eaters have actually made their selection deliberately. As soon as their fruit is taken indigenous them Odysseus’ crew don’t endure withdrawal symptoms, just an overwhelming sorrow the their favored life is receding beyond the waves.

The lotos is a drug, yet it means something more: the refusal to interact with the world of progress and economic productivity, and to keep a culture in readiness for war. Come the imperial gaze, resistance come this command was often seen as a delusive retreat right into fantasy. In his Colombian ethnography My Cocaine Museum (2004), Michael Taussig price quotes a report to the Spanish federal government written in 1849 by Agustin Codazzi, an Italian cartographer involved to evaluate the sources of the Pacific coast.

He found a floor of wealthy subsistence agriculture, populated by a population mostly of african descent; yet their life of ease was, for him, an financial tragedy. ‘Plantains, a tiny maize and also a few plantings of cacao and sugarcane carry out nothing an ext than satisfy everyday consumption, while fish and also wild pigs abound’, Codazzi complains; after a day in the fields, the occupants ‘go residence to reap sweetmeats, smoke, talk and also sleep’. He alerts that uneven these world are compelled to work by a police system, the wealth of the colony will suffer. He concludes:

‘A gyeongju of human being which safety its time in such indolence is no the race referred to as upon for nationwide progress. Out of ignorance, laziness and also misunderstood proud at being free, these human being are servants to their absence of need.’

‘Slaves come their lack of need’: exactly how strange this sound to the city-dwellers the the twenty-first century. Our difficulty is specifically the opposite: as soon as we are subsumed right into the an international economy, our needs come to be ever greater and also the simple life an ever-receding mirage. In this people drugs space no longer, favor the lotus, the talisman and also sacrament of an alternative way of living: they become yet another costly commodity, tools that we use to accomplish or to escape the escalating needs of productivity. We space no much longer browsing ~ above the fruit the the lotus yet passing every other little packages the pleasure between the strokes that the oar together Odysseus regulates us relentlessly onwards in the direction of his promised soil of Ithaca. The is hardly surprising the drugs occupy together a provocative role in our society, both fetishized and demonized. In a culture where us must always act rationally and think that the future, the escape from obligation that these substances market is dangerous and must in which method be policed; yet they are constantly standing by to market us a small advantage or luxury, to offer us back a little control over our moods, our energies or our minds.

When i imagine the lotus-eaters ns most often reminded the the island country of Vanuatu in the south Pacific, which ns visited numerous years ago. Below the drugs that have flooded the modern-day world are mostly absent: also alcohol and also tobacco are rare, costly imports the end of with of the bulk whose link to the money economy is marginal at best. Instead the islanders maintain kava, a tree of the pepper family members whose root have the right to be all set to produce a drug drink. Kava is in ~ the centre of countless social gatherings, specifically when different villages or extended families come together. Favor the indigenous American tranquility pipe, once it has been shared any type of feuds or grievances are collection aside.


Drinking kava is additionally a daily recreation. Together the afternoon shadows lengthen, women begin cooking and children beat in the surf, and men gather in the centre of the village to peel, grate and also mash the root because that the evening’s brew. After ~ the night meal, human being gather in huts to drink the milky fluid from coconut shells. The impact is gentle and also euphoric: tongues come to be numb, smiles spread, compliments are offered to the brew and the host. Those who room not drink tiptoe approximately the ceremony with respect, speaking in hushed voices and also dimming the paraffin lamps. A kava-drinker might feel the have to be alone, and leave the hut to sit on the beach, listening come the sound the the ocean and also perhaps hear in it the voices of your departed friends and relatives. Many drink every night of your adult lives: kava is no addictive, and they never require to increase their dose. One constantly sleeps more soundly and also wakes refreshed.

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Vanuatu, like numerous of the Melanesian nations approximately it, had a colonial background as brutal as any type of on the globe. During the nineteenth century that was ravaged by disease, war and forced labour: on some islands nearly all the males of working period were compelled onto boats and taken to work-related the street cane fields of Australia, in countless cases never to return. Presbyterian missionaries prohibition the drink of kava, along with singing, dancing and also ceremonial dress: they dubbed it ‘the devil’s root’, the very same term the the Jesuits supplied in Mexico for the peyote cactus. Kava-drinking, in your eyes, nourished the natives’ savagery and immersion in their spirit-haunted world; only by eradicating it can they realize their vision of an obedient, hard-working and also civilized population, v uniformed kids processing to church or school at the sound that the morning bell.


When an freedom movement finally emerged in Vanuatu in the 1970s, kava was one of the global symbols roughly which a fractured people could rally. That holds one iconic duty in the culture today, encouraged by the government as an alternate to the alcohol the has lugged violence, crime and social division to so numerous of its an ext developed island neighbours. Unlike many of the world’s timeless drug cultures, kava is no the preserve of a marginalised minority but at the heart of society. That is probably no coincidence the Vanuatu remains among the poorest countries on earth, yet briefly captured the world’s attention in 2006 as soon as it topped the global table the the ‘Happy world Index’. Together the sunlight sets, girlfriend might nearly catch along the darkening shoreline a faint echo of the lotus-eaters’ refrain:

‘Our island home

Is far beyond the wave; we will certainly no longer roam.’