For the contemporary Greeks, the lotus fruit is the Japanese persimmon, which looks much like a large, smooth, hairless peach. I have seen it growing in gardens in the state of Lakonia in the Peloponnese, Greece. Personally, I am not fond of this specific lotus fruit, it is dry and leaves your mouth feeling as though it really needs water. It tastes a little like vanilla.
Having tasted this fruit it is difficult to believe that it was this that so enthralled Odysseus and his team of adventurers. Of course, it is reasonable to assume that the ancient Greek hero remained close to his homeland, but it’s unlikely, given the number of years it took him for home after the Trojan war.
It’s much more likely that he travelled to Asia and encountered the sacred lotus.
However, if you take 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 are 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 people of the Libyan coastal location. However, Herodotus isn’t always a trusted source. In the ancient world eating the fruit of the lotus was thought to cause forgetfulness. Whether that was before or after Homer wrote the Odyssey is open to question.
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 notion of them also seized Edith Wharton’s imagination. as can be seen in her novel, ‘The Age of Innocence’. Fans of Rick Riordan novels will doubtless recall the theme of the Lotus Eaters in his’Camp Half-Blood Chronicles.’
If you are curious enough to try the Greek lotus, visit the Peloponnese in autumn. I’ve seen the fruit on trees in the winter (no one appears to harvest it). However, you will have to ask permission to try the lotus fruit. As it’s cultivated in the gardens of private homes.