Homer’s Favorite Fruit?

Not the cartoon character, the writer. Some scholars speculate that the persimmon was the fruit that the “lotus eaters” ate in The Odyssey. As you may recall from high school lit class, the land of the lotus eaters was one of the stops Odysseus made on his meandering trip home from Troy. On landing, his men disembarked and were immediately handed samples of a strange fruit by the layabout locals. The fruit turns out to be so delicious that the men immediately become dreamy and lethargic, forgetting all about their homes and responsibilities. Odysseus eventually drags them back kicking and screaming to the boats, where he’s forced to tie them down to their rowing benches to keep them from diving overboard after more. That, my friends, is good fruit.

Of course no one today really knows what the magic “lotus” really was, or if the strange land Homer described even existed. The Odyssey is fiction, after all. Yet what keeps people guessing is that the land of the lotus eaters also appears in the writings of Herodotus, the Western World’s first genuine historian. Herodotus claimed that the land was real — a peninsula somewhere on the North African coast. This has led many scholars to speculate that the “lotus” Homer wrote about was actually some sort of locally-occurring plant, a natural sedative or psychedelic. A mere fruit, they say, could never make a man fall into a hopeless stupor, forget who he is and what he’s supposed to be doing. Whoever these people are, they’ve obviously never had a really good persimmon pie.

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