1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lotus-Eaters

LOTUS-EATERS (Gr. Λωτοφάγοι), a Libyan tribe known to the Greeks as early as the time of Homer. Herodotus (iv. 177) describes their country as in the Libyan district bordering on the Syrtes, and says that a caravan route led from it to Egypt. Victor Bérard identifies it with the modern Jerba. When Odysseus reached the country of the Lotophagi, many of his sailors after eating the lotus lost all wish to return home. Both Greeks and Romans used the expression “to eat the lotus” to denote forgetfulness (cf. Tennyson’s poem “The Lotus-Eaters”).

There has been considerable discussion as to the identification of the Homeric lotus. Some have held that it is a prickly shrub, Zizyphus Lotus, which bears a sweet-tasting fruit, and still grows in the old home of the Lotophagi. It is eaten by the natives, who also make a kind of wine from the juice. P. Champault (Phéniciens et Grecs en Italie d’après l’Odyssée, p. 400, note 2), however, maintains that the lotus was a date; Victor Bérard (Les Phéniciens et l’Odyssée, 1902–1903, ii. 102) is doubtful, but contends that it was certainly a tree-fruit. If either of these be correct, then the lotus of Od. iv. 603–604 is quite a different plant, a kind of clover. Now Strabo (xvii. 829a) calls the lotus πόαν τινὰ καὶ ῥίζαν. Putting these two references together with Sulpicius Severus, Dialogi i. 4. 4, R. M. Henry suggests that the Homeric lotus was really the πόα of Strabo, i.e. a kind of clover (Classical Review, December 1906, p. 435).