For a tribe of people who are only mentioned once (well, twice...) in the ancient mythological writers, and once in ancient Hellenic history books, the lōtophagoi sure have made a lasting impression on humanity. They have been featured in poetry, in music, and they have inspired books and movies, not in the least Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief. Today, I want to recount the ancient tales.

The lōtophagoi (λωτοφάγοι) are a tribe of people encountered by Odysseus and his crew as they are trying to find their way home after the long Trojan war. In the Odysseia, Odysseus has had quite the adventure already when a strong northern wind has them land on the shores of an island, inhabited by friendly, inviting people. The crew parts with the ship and some partake in the delicacies offered to them by the tribe. The food their receive lulls their mind into forgetfulness, and their bodies into sleep, and when Odysseus sees what is happening to his crew, he drags them away, ties them down to the ship and sets sail. From the Odysseia:

"For nine days I was driven by fierce winds over the teeming sea: but on the tenth we set foot on the shores of the Lotus-eaters, who eat its flowery food. On land we drew water, and my friends ate by the ships. Once we had tasted food and drink, I sent some of the men inland to discover what kind of human beings lived there: selecting two and sending a third as herald. They left at once and came upon the Lotus-eaters, who had no thought of killing my comrades, but gave them lotus to eat. Those who ate the honey-sweet lotus fruit no longer wished to bring back word to us, or sail for home. They wanted to stay with the Lotus-eaters, eating the lotus, forgetting all thoughts of return. I dragged those men back to the shore myself by force, while they wept, and bound them tight in the hollow ships, pushing them under the benches. Then I ordered my men to embark quickly on the fast craft, fearing that others would eat the lotus and forget their homes. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars."

Herodotos was sure the lotus-eaters were an actual tribe. In book four of his Histories, he writes:

"In a peninsula which stands out into the sea from the land of these Gindanes dwell the Lotophagoi, who live by eating the fruit of the /lotos/ only. Now the fruit of the lotos is in size like that of the mastich-tree, and in flavour it resembles that of the date-palm. Of this fruit the Lotophagoi even make for themselves wine." [177]

So, what is this lotus? Scholars have pointed to a number of plants which might represent the lotus of the ancient Hellenes, including clovers, fellbloom, water lilies and fenugreek. None of these would have the desired psychoactive effect, however, and personally, I am of the opinion that the lōtophagoi enjoyed the ripe seed pods of the poppy plant, which resemble the pod of an actual lotus. I have no evidence of this, however.

Where the island of the lotus-eaters is located is another mystery entirely. Scholars take the location to be somewhere of the North African shore; quite possibly the island of Djerba, but as we have seen, Herodotos states the lōtophagoi lived in a peninsula, which discredits that theory. All that is certain is that we do not know where the lōtophagoi lived, if they lived at all, although I see no reason why the tribe would not have existed; getting addicted to a hallucinogen is something easily accomplished.