In Greek mythology, the lotus-eaters (Greek: λωτοφάγοι, translit. lōtophágoi) were a race of people living on an island dominated by the lotus tree, a plant whose botanical identity is uncertain. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were a narcotic, causing the inhabitants to sleep in peaceful apathy. After they ate the lotus they would forget their home and loved ones, and only long to stay with their fellow lotus-eaters. Those who ate the plant never cared to report, nor return.
Figuratively, 'lotus-eater' denotes "a person who spends their time indulging in pleasure and luxury rather than dealing with practical concerns".
I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.
A promontory jutting out into the sea from the country of the Gindanes is inhabited by the lotus-eaters, who live entirely on the fruit of the lotus-tree. The lotus fruit is about the size of the lentisk berry and in sweetness resembles the date. The lotus-eaters even succeed in obtaining from it a sort of wine.
Polybius identifies the land of the lotus-eaters as the island of Djerba (ancient Meninx), off the coast of Tunisia. Later this identification is supported by Strabo. Pseudo-Scylax mentions lotus-eaters in area of northern and central Dalmatia ("namely the Iaderatenai and Boulinoi").
Because the Greek word lôtos can refer to several different plants, there is some ambiguity as to which "lotus" appears in the Odyssey. Some of the proposed species, based in part on Herodotus' assertion, include:
- a fodder plant such as a species of Trifolium, Melilot or Trigonella, the Lotus corniculatus, the fellbloom, or Medicago arborea
- the sweet and succulent persimmon fruit of the date-plum Diospyros lotus
- a water-lily, either Nymphaea lotus, Nymphaea caerulea, or Nymphaea stellata. Recent studies[which?] have shown that the blue water-lily of the Nile, Nymphaea caerulea, also known as the "blue lotus" (already known under this name to the Greeks), is another candidate. It can be processed for use as a soporific and, in some formulations, has psychotropic properties. It is common in Egyptian iconography which suggests its use in a religious context.
- the nettle-tree, Celtis australis
- Ziziphus lotus, a relative of the jujube
- "The Lotos-Eaters" – poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- Odyssey IX, translated by Samuel Butler.
- A tribe of Libya which dwelt west of the Macae
- In A.D. Godley's translation "mastich-berry".
- Herodotus, Histories, iv.177 (on-line text).
- Polybius 1:39
- Strabo 1.2.17.
- "ToposText". topostext.org. §22. Retrieved 2021-09-23.
- lôtos at Liddell, Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1889.