For the modern Greeks, the lotus fruit is the Japanese persimmon, which looks a lot like a large, smooth, hairless peach. I have seen it growing in gardens in the state of Lakonia in the Peloponnese, Greece. Personally, I’m not a fan of this specific lotus fruit, it’s dry and leaves your mouth feeling like it really needs water. It tastes somewhat like vanilla.
Having tasted this fruit it is hard to believe that it was this that so enthralled Odysseus and his team of adventurers. Needless to say, it’s reasonable to suppose that the ancient Greek hero remained close to his homeland, but it is unlikely, given the amount of years it took him for home after the Trojan war.
It is much more probable that he travelled to Asia and struck the sacred lotus. The sacred lotus, so Homer wrote in Book 9 of the Odyssey, caused Odysseus and his followers to forget the purpose of their journey, which is why some commentators have suggested that the lotus eaters partook of the opium poppy.
However, if you have a look at the seed pods you will see they resemble those of the opium poppy. Each pod holds about 24 seeds. In Cambodia, these are valued as a very tasty snack!
The lotus plant is also valued for its medicinal properties, as it contains nuciferine and aporphine, which can be morphine-like substances. This indicates that the sleep of Lethe might well be induced if the plant is consumed. No wonder Odysseus too so long for home.
Herodotus, the Father of History, thought that the lotus eaters were inhabitants of the Libyan coastal area. However, Herodotus is not always a trusted source. From the ancient world eating the fruit of the lotus was thought to cause forgetfulness.
Perhaps the lotus eaters never really existed. However, they have certainly captured the imaginations of generations. The English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem The Lotos – Eaters about them and the idea of these also seized Edith Wharton’s imagination. Fans of Rick Riordan novels will doubtless recall the theme of the Lotus Eaters in his’Camp Half-Blood Chronicles.’
If you’re curious enough to try the Greek lotus, head to the Peloponnese in autumn. I’ve seen the fruit on trees in winter (no one seems to harvest it). However, you’ll need to ask permission to try out the lotus fruit. As it is cultivated in the gardens of homes.