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The Odyssey of Homer

translated from the Greek by T. E. Lawrence



"So we came to the Aeolian island. In that sea-cradled fastness, within a bulwark of invincible bronze from which the cliff falls sheer, lived Aeolus son of Hippotas, a friend of the eternal Gods, with his twelve children, six daughters and six stalwart sons. Aeolus had so ordered it that the daughters served his sons for wives. They all eat at the one board with their father and revered mother and before them a myriad dainty dishes are heaped up. Day-long the steaming house echoes festively even to its court: but by night they sleep, each man and his bashful wife between soft rugs on ornate bed-steads.

"To this splendid palace and home we came, to find entertainment for a month on end while Aeolus plied me with questions upon Troy and the Argive ships and the varied accidents of their journey home: all which things I recounted as they had happened. Afterwards I broached my own hope of returning and made appeal for his favour thereto. He showed no disposition to refuse me, nor failed to furnish his parting-gift, the hide of a nine-year-old bull, flayed expressly, in which he confined for my sake the complete range of every bursting wind that blew - Zeus having made him keeper of the winds to still them or excite them as he pleased. This leathern sack he fastened with a shiny silver cord into my hull so tightly that not even the very littlest puff of wind might leak out. Besides, he gave a firm and fair West wind to blow my ships and ourselves along, though not to the easy issue he had meant. Our own heedless folly betrayed us to disaster.

"Nine whole days, nine nights and days, we happily sailed. On the tenth we raised our land's green slopes and came so near that we could see the figures tending its fires. Then at last I surrendered myself gladly to overwhelming sleep, for my strength was utterly gone with having myself managed the sheets throughout this voyage: not letting any man of my ship's company spell me, so keen was I to crack on to our native land. Whilst I slept my crew began to mutter of the gold and silver gifts I was bringing home from generous Aeolus. Said each to his mate, regardfully,' Strange how the world loves this man and runs to do him honour as soon as he arrives in any part or place. Think of the stored treasure he carries with him from the sack of Troy, while we, his partners in every last tribulation and danger of the way, return with empty hands. To crown it here is Aeolus loading more and more upon him in token of regard. Let us have a quick peep to see what wealth of gold and silver is hidden in this ox-hide' - thus their jealous words. The counsel of envy mastered my crew. They untied the skin and out rushed the winds in a heap, to smite them all at once. Away the storms swept us into the wide sea, away from the fatherland, while the crew burst into loud crying, I awoke to this scene and for a moment pondered in my heart whether to slip overboard and drown were not easier than prolonged life among the living with so great a burden of ill-luck to bear in silence. However I settled to endure and to survive; but for the present lay down in the ship and covered my head. All about me my men made lament continually while the fierce squalls carried the ships right back, even to the island of Aeolus. There we landed and watered; the crews prepared a quick meal where we beached.

"When hunger and thirst were satisfied I took one seaman and one attendant and climbed again to the famous house of Aeolus, reaching it as he sat at meat with his wife and the children. We pushed in as far as the pillars of the hall-entry and there sat down. They wondered to see me again and asked, ' How now, Odysseus? Is this return some new freak of ill-fortune ? Surely we despatched you heartily enough, equipped to attain your country or anywhere you wished ?' I confessed sorrowfully: 'My evil companions let me down - they and an untimely sleep which overcame me. Yet repair it, friends, of your ability.' I had tried to make this plea persuasive, using my humblest tone. They stared at me in silence: only the father found words, and he hurled out: 'Get off the island instantly, you vilest thing alive! Am I to make a habit of maintaining and fitting out one whom the Gods hate? Your being returned proves that you have incurred the abhorrence of those Deathless Ones. Out! out!' His words drove me from the house in grief. Our sailing was gloomy; and now we had no helping wind, wherefore we must labour continually at the oars, by which futile pain my men's fortitude was sapped.

"Six days and six nights was this voyage. On the seventh day we made the fortress of Lamos, which is nicknamed Tall-tower by its people, the Laestrygons. In their region the extremes of day and night so nearly meet that the shepherd coming back with his full ewes exchanges greetings with the shepherd going out to pasture. A sleepless man could there earn double wage, by doing neat-herd one half his time and shepherding small cattle for the remaining hours. Its harbour is good, for an unbroken wall of rock shelters it from side to side; while parallel headlands jut forth to mask the entrance which is rather narrow. Upon our arrival my other shipmasters steered straight into the cove and there moored their ships, each tightly to the next, together: not that it mattered, for inside the haven there was never any swell, small or big, but a white calm constantly prevailed. I however kept my own ship outside, yet near; making fast our lines to a rock at the extreme end of the point. I climbed its craggy slope to look out from the crest, but could see no trace of man's work or beasts': only there was smoke rising from behind a fold of land.

"I told my fellows they must discover what the bread-eaters of this part were like and chose two of them to go, with a third for messenger. They went ashore and along a beaten wagon road, used for lading wood from the uplands to the town. A little short of the settlement proper they chanced upon a girl drawing water. The well-grown daughter of Antiphates the Laestrygonian had come down to this fountain of Artacia because it was the fashion of the town to water from its clear-running stream. They saluted her, asking after the king of the island and his subjects: she quickly pointed the way to the tall roofs of her father's hall: but when they came to that great house they found his wife inside, a mountainous woman whose ill-aspect struck them with horror. She summoned Antiphates, her powerful husband, from the assembly. His notion was to murder my men in cold blood. He seized hold of the first and proceeded to eat him for his dinner out of hand. The other two sprang away in headlong flight and regained the ships, while the master of the house was sounding an alarm through the city. This brought the stout Laestrygons in their thousands pell-mell together - not human-looking creatures, these, but giants. They gathered missile stones each a man's weight and cast them down on us off the cliffs. There went up from the fleet the ghastly sounds of splintering hulls and dying men, while the natives were busy spearing my people like fish and collecting them to make their loathsome meal.

"As they were so engaged in killing all within the close harbour I drew the sharp hanger from my side and cut the hawsers of my dark-prowed ship, shouting orders the while to her honest crew how they must be urgent upon their oars if we were to escape a terrible fate. Like one man they spumed up the water in dread of death, and my ship darted out from the over-shadowing cliffs into the welcome main. All the other vessels which had gone inside went down together : so it was in very disheartened mood that we rowed on, having lost every one of our dear comrades (yet with the consolation that we were still alive), till we came to the island of Æaea, where lived a formidable Goddess - though she spoke our speech - Circe of the luxuriant tresses, own sister of the warlock Æetes. Both were children of Helios, the Sun that lights mankind, and their mother was Perse, daughter of Oceanus.

"We floated into its land-locked harbour silently by divine guidance, right up on the beach: and disembarked to lie where we had landed for two days and two nights, our hearts devoured by fatigue and pain. But when Dawn with shining hair had made the third day bright then I took my thrusting spear and sharp sword and walked briskly from the ship to the nearest commanding height, hoping to catch sight of human-kind or to hear human voices. My look-out rock showed me smoke rising from the ample landscape, out of an oak-thicket in the forest where lay Circe's house. My heart and mind debated if I should go at once to explore this place where I had seen the flame-shot smoke, or not. It seemed wisest to go first to the shore and ship, issue rations, and after choose some of my men for a search-party. I was going down and already near the ship when surely some God took compassion on my forlorn state by sending a great stag with branching horns across my very path. The sun's heat had driven the beast from the grove where he had been feeding, down to the stream to drink. He was coming up from the water when I hit him in the spine, half-way along the back. My copper weapon went clean through, and with no more than a sob he fell in the dust and died. I put one foot on the carcase and drew my point from the wound. Then I laid the shaft on the ground near-by while I broke off and twined twigs and withies into a rope some six feet long, well-laid throughout. With this I bound together the four feet of my noble kill, passed my head through, and went staggering under the load and staying myself on the shaft of my spear, down to the ship. The burden was far too great for me to heave it to my shoulder and balance it there with the disengaged hand as usual, the beast being hugely grown.

"I dropped it on the shore before my vessel and summoned each individual man with honeyed words. 'Friends, by no excess of grief can we get down to the House of Hades one day before our time. Therefore so long as there is meat and drink in the ship let us remember our stomachs and preserve ourselves from wasting away with hunger.' They quickly accepted my counsel. All heads came out from the cloaks; upon the edge of the sea they stood to admire the stag, my wonderful great trophy. After they had looked their fill they cleansed their hands and prepared a glorious feast over which we sat till sundown eating the abundant venison and drinking wine. When the sun set and darkness came we slept by the sea: but with the Dawn I called a council of all hands to say:-

"'Hear my words, fellows; we are in desperate case. My friends, now we cannot find out which is East and which is West, or distinguish the dawn lands from the shadowed: nor where the Sun, our light, sinks beneath the earth and rises from it. Wherefore if anyone have counsel let him quickly give tongue. I confess I have no plan and think that none exists. Understand that lately I climbed the hill to look out, and saw that this is an island which the limitless sea encircles like a wreath. The island itself is flat and my eyes perceived how in its heart smoke rose from the midst of a dense wood.' By my news their soft natures were distressed, for they recalled the outrage of Laestrygonian Antiphates and the overweening cannibal cruelty of the Cyclops. They lamented shrilly, pouring out big tears: yet there was no use in this lamentation. So I numbered off my mail-clad followers and divided them into two sections, each with its leader. One would be mine and godlike Eurylochus took the other. The two of us tossed at once in a copper head-piece to see which should go. His counter jumped out, so tall Eurylochus marched off his two and twenty men, all of them weeping aloud. The twenty and two who stayed with me cried in sympathy.

"The party threaded the woodland glades till they found the hewn walls of Circe's house on a site which overlooked the country-side. Wolves from the hills and lions, victims of her witch's potions, roamed about it. These made no onslaught against my men but wagged their long tails and pawed them fondly, as dogs fawn at the feet of masters who bring them from feasts some toothsome pickings in the hand: with such delight did these lions and strong-clawed wolves leap round my men, who were timid amongst the strange formidable pets. From outside the house-gates they heard Circe, the Goddess with the comely braided hair, singing tunefully within by the great loom as she went to and fro, weaving with her shuttle such close imperishable fabric as is the wont of goddesses, some lively lustrous thing. Polites, a file-leader very near and dear to me, then said to the others: 'Shipmates, this voice at the loom, singing so heartily that the floor resounds again, is a female voice - either of a woman or a goddess. Let us give her a hail back.' They agreed and shouted loudly. She came at once, opening her doors to bid them in. In their simplicity all went in to her: all except Eurylochus who suspected some trick and stayed behind. She showed them to thrones and seats and confected for them a mess of cheese with barley-meal and clear honey, mulched in Pramnian wine. With this she mixed drugs so sadly powerful as to steal from them all memory of their native land. After they had drunk from the cup she struck them with her wand; and straightway hustled them to her sties, for they grew the heads and shapes and bristles of swine, with swine-voices too. Only their reason remained steadfastly as before; so they grieved, squealingly, at finding themselves penned in sties. Presently Circe cast before them such provender of acorns, chestnuts and cornel-fruit, as rooting swine commonly devour.

"Eurylochus slowly turned back to the ship to report his fellows' unsavoury end. Again and again he tried to tell us while we grouped round him, but his heart was too broken with grief: his eyes brimmed with tears: all his spirit went out in great longing to lament. At last he was able to meet our shower of questions and relate the disaster. 'We went through the woods as you ordered, Odysseus, Sir: and in the glades we found a noble house of dressed stone, standing high. From a loom inside rose a singing voice, of goddess or woman. We shouted. She opened the door and invited us to enter. All crowded in, unthinking, except myself who imagined guile: and from that moment they vanished completely. Not one came back though I sat there long enough.' At his news I belted my long silver-mounted sword with its heavy blade of copper over my shoulder: and then my bow: telling him to lead on, the way he had taken. He caught my hands and knelt to embrace my knees, imploring me with tears and flying words: 'Zeus-born, do not force me back again. Let me stay here: or rather let us (such as are yet alive) flee at once and even now escape the evil day. Surely if you go you will not return - much less bring back the rest.' I replied loudly: 'Stay here if it pleases you, Eurylochus, in the ship, eating and drinking: but I am going. I must.'

"I left ship and shore and plunged into the solemn wood, till near the great house of drug-wise Circe; when there came from it to meet me Hermes of the gold rod, seeming to be a quite young man, of that age when youth looks its loveliest with the down just mantling his cheeks. He called my name and took my hand, saying: 'O unhappy one, do you again hazard the wild-wood alone? Your followers, no other than hogs to all appearance, are penned in the deep sties of Circe's house. Do you come to set them free? I tell you, yourself shall not get away but will join the others and be pent with them. But listen: I can save you and deliver you from this evil by a potent drug in whose virtue you can enter Circe's house and yet be immune. Hear the manner of Circe's deadly arts. She will prepare you refreshment, and hide a poison in it: but against you her spells will not avail, forbidden by this saving charm I give you. Let me explain your course of action. When Circe strikes you with her long thin wand draw the sharp sword that is on your hip and make for her as if you had a mind to run her through. She will cower, and implore you to be her bed-mate instead: and your best suit is not to spurn this divine paramour but to make the lying with her a lever to free your followers and win kindly treatment for yourself. Be sure though that she swears the Gods' great oath not to attempt more evil against you, lest she take advantage of your nakedness to unman you shamefully.'

"Upon such explanation the Slayer of Argus plucked from the ground the herb he promised me. The Gods call it Moly, and he showed me its nature, to be black at the root with a flower like milk. It would be difficult for men and mortals to dig up Moly; but the Gods can do anything. Thereupon Hermes quitted the wooded island for high Olympus; and I went on, unquiet in mind, to the house of Circe. I halted at her gate and called. The Goddess heard, opened and bade me in. Reluctantly I entered. She set for me a silver-embossed throne, with foot-rest, of fair and cunning workmanship. She prepared me a drink in a golden cup, dropped into it a draught for my destruction and gave it to me. I took and drank it, scatheless; but she rose and struck me with her wand, crying: 'Get you to your stye, wallow there with your friends!' Instead I drew sword sharply and leapt up, feigning to make an end of her. She gave a shrill scream, ran in under my stroke and clasped my knees in a flood of tears, while she wailed piercingly, 'What kind of a man are you; from what city or family? It is a miracle how you have drunk my potion and not been bewitched. Never before, never, has any man resisted this drug, once it passed his lips and crossed the barrier of his jaws. How firmly seated must be your indomitable mind! Surely you are Odysseus the resourceful, who will come here (as Argusbane of the gold rod often tells me) on his way from Troy in his ship. I pray you sheath that sword and let us two go lie together, that we may mingle our bodies and learn to trust one another by proofs of love and intercourse.'

"But to her appeal, I made answer: 'How dare you request my favour when you have changed my retainers in your house to hogs, and when you invite me to your bed only in subtile contrivance to have me by you naked, to be mutilated and robbed of my manhood. Wherefore I shall not enter that bed of yours except you deign, Goddess, to swear a great oath that you harbour no further mischief against me.' So I declared, and she instantly swore the oath I needed. As soon as she had taken it I went up to the splendid bed of Circe.

"Meanwhile the four maidens who keep her house were at their duties in the hall. They are children of the running springs and the coppices and the sacred rivers that run down to the salty sea. The first was draping the seats in noble purple palls, over a thin under-housing. The second was putting silver tables ready to these seats and laying them with baskets of gold. The third was mixing honey-hearted wine in a silver cistern and setting out golden goblets. The fourth had brought water and kindled fire under a huge copper till the water warmed. At last it seethed with heat in the polished cauldron. Then she put me in a tub and washed me with water from the great tripod, diluted to a pleasant warmth; sluicing my head and shoulders till the life-destroying weariness had melted from my limbs. When she had washed and anointed me with pure olive oil she wrapped me in a tunic and cloak and set me again on the silver-bossed intricate throne, with the footstool under my feet. The damsel of the ewer caught the water from her golden vessel in its silver basin as I rinsed my hands. She drew a shining table to my side: while a matronly woman offered me wheaten bread and a choice of her good things, cheerfully. She pressed me to eat, but eating was no pleasure to my heart whose thoughts were otherwise engaged. So I sat there, brooding unhappily.

"Circe saw me sitting still without helping myself to food because of the distress that lay upon me. She came near and asked, urgently, 'Why, O why, Odysseus, do you sit there like a dumb man, gnawing your heart away but not touching my food and drink? Do you still suspect me of guile? Fear not: indeed the oath I have sworn to you is binding.' I answered, 'Circe, how could any decent man bear to eat or drink till he had freed his company and restored them to his sight? If truly you wish me to feast then deliver them and let these men I love come before my eyes.' At the word Circe went out from the house wand in hand, opened the doors of the piggery and let out what seemed a drove of nine-year-old fat hogs. When they were all before her she went down amongst them and smeared each with a particular unguent. Then from their parts dropped away the coarse hairs which had sprouted in the might of the poison given them by the Goddess. They turned to men again as they had been before, but younger now, fresher, and much taller to the eye. They knew me, too: each and every one came up to put himself between my hands. A sorrow that was love's yearning so thrilled through them all, that the great house echoed with their sobbing. Even the Goddess was touched.

"Later she came to me and said, 'Son of Laertes, go now to your ship by the beach and drag her out on dry land, first: then store her fittings and cargo in my caves. Do it quickly and return with all your comrades.' My high judgment marched with hers: so I went to the sea-side where my men were in sore grief and shedding great tears. Upon my arrival they ran to me, as the stalled calves of the country to the cows when the herd, glutted with hay, comes back to the muck-yard from grazing. At the sight of their mothers the calves skip so wildly that their pens can no longer hold them: they break loose, lowing all the while and gambolling. Just so my fellows cried and crowded round me when they saw me plain. To their hearts my coming was for one moment almost as though they had reached homely Ithaca, the city and place of their birth and upbringing. Their sorrow burst out in touching phrase: 'Over your return, Heaven-born, we rejoice as if we saw again Ithaca our fatherland. Yet now tell us of those others, our friends, how they died.'

"I sought to give them comfort in replying: 'Nay: instead we will first draw our ship up the beach and store her gear and tackle in the caves. Then shall you follow me, one and all, to see those others feasting and pledging each other in the sacred house of Circe. They are in luxury.' This was my word and presently all gave me credence but Eurylochus, who stood out and would have stayed the rest. He chided them sharply: 'Poor fools, what next? Do you so love suffering that you would go again to Circe and all be turned into pigs or wolves or lions, forced to keep watch over her great house? It was so that Cyclops got his chance when some of us went into his private cave with insensate Odysseus: by that man's rashness they were cast away.' His words so angered me that I had it in mind to whip the long sword from my huge thigh and smite him, to send his head rolling in the dust, though he was my near kinsman, the husband of my sister: but the others parted us and soothed me, promising, 'Zeus-born, we await your guidance to Circe's sacred dwelling. As for this man, if you think fit, we can leave him here as ship-keeper by the ship.' They spoke and set off from the sea. Yet was Eurylochus not left behind by the hulk. He came along too, trembling from my savage abuse of him.

"Meanwhile Circe had commanded baths for the others of my company in her house, with olive oil and fleecy tunics and outer garments for each one. So we found them attired at all points and feasting in the hall. When each saw the others and recognized them face by face, the tears ran afresh and they cried so shrilly that the rooms re-echoed through and through. The Goddess approached me with: 'Son of Laertes, do not permit longer indulgence in such grief. Of course I know how sorely you were afflicted in the fish-haunted seas, and the outrages wreaked upon you by violent men along the coasts. But let that be. Eat my cheer and drink my wine till your courage returns to your breasts, as in rugged Ithaca long ago when you first quitted your ancestral homes. See how haggard and heart-sick you are with ever brooding on the evil of your wanderings! So long and terrible have been your pains that your hearts have become strangers to feasting and gladness.' Our pride accepted her advice and we tarried day by day till an entire year had lapsed, sitting to table and delighting in her untold wealth of flesh and mellow wine. Slowly the year fulfilled itself, as the seasons turned about and the months died, bringing down the long days once more. Then my men took me aside, saying:-

"'Master, it is time you called to memory your native land, if fate will ever let you come alive to your well-built house and ancient estate.' So they said, and my nobility assented to them. For that last day we sat and feasted on the abundant meat and wine till the sun went down. But when night had fallen and the men had stretched out in the darkling halls, I climbed to the lovely bed of Circe and prayed her by her knees, in supplication. The Goddess heeded me and the winged words I used: 'O Circe, now grant me fulfilment of the promise you so largely made, to aid me towards my home. My heart pants with the thought, and my men's hearts too. When you are absent they come round me and shatter my contentment with their longing to be gone.' Thus I made prayer. The beautiful Goddess of Goddesses answered me: 'Zeus-kin, son of Laertes, ingenious Odysseus: against your will you must not be kept in my house. Yet learn that your next journey will be to a strange destination, even so far as the House of Hades and dread Persephone, to seek counsel of the spirit of Teiresias of Thebes, that sightless prophet whose integrity of judgment has survived death. For him Persephone has ruled that he alone, though dead, should know: all others of the dead are shadows that drift ineffectually.'

"She ceased: and again my loving heart gave way. I wept as I sat there on her bed, nor did my soul any longer desire to feel or see the shining of the sun: till I had wept and wallowed myself impotent. Then I ventured again, asking: 'But who, O Circe, can guide us by this way? No human being ever reached Hades in one of our black ships.' Whereupon the Goddess of Goddesses replied, 'Let not the need of a pilot for the ship concern you at all. Set mast, hoist sail, and then sit quietly. The northern airs will bring you thither. When you have cut across the river of Ocean you will find Persephone's shore and her grove of tall poplars and seed-blighted willows. Beach your ship there by the deep eddying Ocean stream and make your own way down to the dank house of Hades. There Pyriphlegethon (with Cocytus a tributary of the water of Styx) runs into Acheron; by a rock the two roaring rivers meet. When there, hero, step very near the face of the stream and dig a pit - like this - about a cubit each way, and pour a drink-offering around it to all the dead, of milk-in-honey first and then sweet wine and lastly water. Over it all sprinkle white pearl-barley. Then cry earnestly upon the wan muster of the piteous dead, promising that when in Ithaca again you will devote to them in your house a clean heifer, your best, on a pyre made rich with votive offerings: while for Teiresias particularly you will further sacrifice an all-black ram, the worthiest among your flocks. When thus with prayers you have entreated the grave's worshipful populations, slay for them a ram and a black sheep, pointing them towards Erebus while you yourself turn to face the stream of the river. Then many wraiths will repair to you of the dead who have died. At once straitly enjoin your fellows to flay the two sheep which lie there, butchered by your pitiless sword, and burn them: while they pray all the time to the Gods and to great Hades and to dreadful Persephone. Draw the sharp sword from your hip and sit with it ready, sternly preventing any one of the shambling dead from coming near the blood till you have had your word with Teiresias. Nor will the prophet be long in coming to you, O leader of the people; and he will explain to you your road and its stages and how, in returning, you may get across the teeming deep.'

"She ceased, and then came gold-throned Dawn. The nymph put on a flowing silvery gown of light and lissom stuff, clasped her middle with a splendid golden girdle and hid her hair in a veil. She clad me in my under-garment and cloak and I went through the house, finding each of my men and rousing them with soft-spoken words: 'No longer lie and dream in quiet sleep. Let us go. See, Lady Circe has told me the way.' Their courage rose to my summons. Yet was I not to get every last one of them safely off. There was Elpenor the youngest (no great fighter, and loose-minded) in whom over-much drink had put a longing for cool air. So he had left his fellows and lain down on the roof of Circe's house. Hearing the bustle when the others rose and the trampling of their feet he leaped up all of a sudden with his wits too astray to think of coming down again by the long ladder. Instead he tumbled from the roof and broke his neck-bone, just where it joins the spine. His soul flew to Hades.

"As we went out together I said to my men, 'You think that we are now heading for our loved country. But Circe has detailed us a quite different course, which will take us down to the House of Hades and to dread Persephone in search of the spirit of Teiresias the Theban.' The news broke their hearts. They sat down where they were and tore the ringlets of hair by the roots from their heads, lamenting. Not that it was any good, the moan they made.

"So sorrowfully we proceeded towards the sea, shedding floods of tears. Yet meanwhile had Circe lightly outstripped us, gone down to the ship and tethered by it a ram and a black ewe. What mortal eye can see a God going up and down if He wills not to be seen?"

Book 11 >>

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