The lotus-eaters of Greek mythology lived on the sandbanks of waters near Carthage and ate the fruit of the lotus. There is still some argument about what was meant by the “lotus” they ate, but the plants had roots in the underworld and so drew water from the river Lethe.

This water had the power to remove all memories, and the lotus-eaters (or Lotophagi) who arrived there lived in an idle, paralyzed, trance-like state with no recollection of the past nor concept of the future and with no desire to return to their native lands.

Sounds somewhat like modern-day retirement.

You might know the Lotophagi from the tales of Odysseus. When he was sailing home, he landed on one of these sandbanks and sent three men out to explore. The men discovered the Lotophagi, ate of their fruit, and fell into the same twilight state of idle paralysis. Odysseus had to drag them back to their ship as they pleaded to be left behind.

There certainly were examples in ancient religions of plants and substances being used in rituals and ceremonies: Soma in the Bhaghavad Gita, Huoma in pre-Zoroastrian Persia and the Manna of the Bible which fell from heaven.  The blue lotus (AKA lily of the Nile – not the one I photographed and seen here, but the only water lily available to me) was used by ancient Egyptian high priests. In the oldest recorded story known to man, the tale of Gilgamesh, there is a reference to a psychedelic plant. (There are other websites (IAWAAI and Constellating Image, for example) that explore those psychedelic connections.)

Idleness can be quite addictive even without the drugs.


I think a lot about retirement even though still some years off for me.  A lot of my friends are also thinking and planning, and a few have actually taken the plunge into retirement with mixed emotions.

One thing most of us have in common is a fear of becoming lotus eaters. That is, a fear of just becoming mind-numbingly idle.

Now, after a bad work day, the thought of just doing nothing is very appealing. Today was a lotus eater kind of day even though I read the newspaper and am doing some writing online. I avoided all real ‘work.” How many days could I go on like this? Would I, at some point, just get bored and crave something else?

My friend Bill is getting pushed into retirement and has some real fears about idleness.  He has recounted to me his attempts to fill the day – walk to the library, find a book, read, go for coffee, walk back home, eat lunch, try to nap… This is a guy that spent about 40 years as a very busy and successful sales person.  He needs some lotus to eat to make it.

Another friend, Steve, revels in his idleness and has no fears of it. But the past few months, he has been thrown into taking care of his grandchild and it has become a full-time job. He seems okay with that too, though I think he misses his lotus days.

I keep thinking that I will have so much to do that is not work (and earns no money) that the To Not Do  list will never be done. But I wonder…

Some months back, I visited someone newly arrived at a retirement community and there was very much a lotus eaters feel to the place. No one seemed to be doing anything, but no one seemed to be looking for something to do.

Is it apathy? I think about it at times like when it’s time to eat and there is nothing I want to eat.  I’ll eat almost anything you put in front of me to fill myself, but I don’t want anything, and I don’t even want to think about it. What if that becomes my attitude to everything?

Maybe I’m due for a vacation. I did some searching online and found the island of Djerba where legend has it that it was the island of the Lotus-Eaters where Odysseus stranded on his voyage through the Mediterranean.

Their illustration (the nude woman being misted (?) at a spa) looks blissful. But I find travel and vacations very stressful. I would have to live on Djerba to find it  relaxing.

And even then, the coffeehouse on Djerba is still just down the street from the Yasmine Shopping Center. I know while I’m having that powerful Tunisian coffee, I am going t be thinking about what I need to buy. Where’s the lotus cafe?

The Lotus Eaters, or Lotophagi, are described in The Odyssey (Book Nine) when Odysseus and his crew encounter them.
According to legend, the Lotus Eaters live on an island off the coast of North Africa, though historians have not been able to decide on a real location which matches the The Odyssey.

It is no surprise to me that Homer set Ulysses’ sailing buddies onto a sandy beach to have them become seduced by un-mindfulness. There is something about the beach that does it. On vacations, my mind often can’t turn off. I’m looking for something to do, to read, to eat or drink, a place to go etc. But on beaches, I can actually turn off my brain. What is it?  The sound of the ocean? Sand, salty air, a breeze, the sun, women without much clothing?

In his 1833 poem “Song of the Lotos-Eaters,” Alfred Tennyson used this myth to explore our desire to reject the work world for a state of idleness:

There is sweet music here that softer falls
Than petals from blown roses on the grass,
Or night-dews on still waters between walls
Of shadowy granite, in a gleaming pass;
Music that gentlier on the spirit lies,
Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes;
Music that brings sweet sleep down from the blissful skies.
Here are cool mosses deep,
And thro’ the moss the ivies creep,
And in the stream the long-leaved flowers weep,
And from the craggy ledge the poppy hangs in sleep…

It sounds pretty sweet, but I think I would need someone nearby to drag me back to the ship after a time. I can’t help thinking that I have a ways to go on this odyssey.

The Island of Djerba:
Legend has it that Djerba was the island of the Lotus-Eaters where Odysseus stranded on his voyage through the Mediterranean.