Jenny Strauss Clay
Several scholars, including Detienne, Bergren, and, most recently, Pucci, have explored the interrelations between sex, drugs, and poetry in early Greek thought and in the Odyssey in particular.1 Body- and mind-altering substances, sexual seduction, and the magical charm of song are linked in Homer by the notion of thelxis, enchantment. The power to numb the mind, to cause forgetfulness of self, is, of course, profoundly ambiguous, both pleasurable and dangerous. For every healing drug, there is a lethal one; the delights of sex may be lifeaffirming, or they may entail disastrous consequences; and the Sirens' version of the Iliad offers not kleos, but death.
In his essay, "Valeurs religieuses et mythiques de la terre et du sacrifice dans 1'Odyssée," Vidal-Naquet has shown how each of the episodes in Odysseus' wanderings offers an imaginative model in which aspects of agriculture and sacrifice are combined and recombined in order to explore the super-human and the sub-human, civilization and savagery, so as finally to arrive at a definition of the properly human.2 In the Odyssey, Homer adopts a similar strategy in his exploration of thelxis,3 providing us with constructs in which its different facets are playfully combined, equated, and opposed, in order to define what the French would call le bon usage du plaisir.
The girdle of Aphrodite in the Iliad already presents the intimate link between sex and seductive speech: