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CHAPTER VI. ULYSSES ON HIS RAFT

Again the gods sate in council on high Olympus, and Athene spake among them, saying:

“Now let no king be minded to do righteously, for see how there is no man that remembereth Ulysses, who was as a father to his people. And he lieth far off, fast bound in Calypso's isle, and hath no ship to take him to his own country. Also the suitors are set upon slaying his son, who is gone to Pylos and to Lacedaemon, that he may get tidings of his father.”

To her Zeus made answer: “What is this that thou sayest? Didst not thou thyself plan this in order that the vengeance of Ulysses might be wrought upon the suitors? As for Telemachus, guide him by thy skill, as well thou mayest, so that he may come to his own land unharmed, and the suitors may have their labour in vain.”

Also he said to Hermes: “Hermes, go to the nymph Calypso, and tell her my sure purpose that Ulysses shall now come back to his home.”

So Hermes put on his golden sandals, and took his wand in his hand, and came to the island of Ogygia [Footnote: O-gyg'-i-a.], and to the cave where Calypso dwelt. A fair place it was. In the cave was burning a fire of sweet-smelling wood, and Calypso sat at her loom, and sang with a lovely voice. And round about the cave was a grove of alders and poplars and cypresses, wherein many birds, falcons and owls and sea crows, were wont to roost; and all about the mouth of the cave was a vine with purple clusters of grapes; and there were four fountains which streamed four ways through meadows of parsley and violet. Very fair was the place, so that even a god might marvel at it, and Hermes stood and marvelled. Then went he into the cave, and Calypso knew him when she saw him face to face, for the gods know each other, even though their dwellings be far apart. But Ulysses was not there, for he sat, as was his wont, on the seashore, weeping and groaning, because he might not see wife and home and country.

Then Calypso said to Hermes: “Wherefore hast thou come hither, Hermes of the golden wand? Welcome thou art, but it is long since thou hast visited me. Tell me all thy thought, that I may fulfil it if I may, but first follow me, that I may set food before thee.”

So she spread a table with ambrosia, and set it by him, and mixed the ruddy nectar [Footnote: nectar, the drink of the gods.]for him, and the messenger ate and drank. So, when he had comforted his soul with food, he spake, saying:—

“Thou questionest of my coming, and I will tell thee the truth. It is by no wish of mine own that I come, for who would of his free will pass over a sea so wide, wherein is no city of men that do sacrifice to the gods? Zeus bade me come, and none may go against the commands of Zeus. He saith that thou hast with thee a man more wretched than all his companions who fought against Troy for nine years and in the tenth year departed homeward. All the rest of his company were lost, but him the waves carried thither. Now, therefore, send him home with what speed thou mayest; for it is not fated that he should die away from his friends. He shall see again the high roof of his home and his native country.”

It vexed Calypso much to hear this, for she would fain have kept Ulysses with her always, and she said:—

“Ye gods are always jealous when a goddess loves a mortal man. And as for Ulysses, did not I save him when Zeus had smitten his ship with a thunderbolt, and all his comrades had perished? And now let him go—if it pleases Zeus. Only I cannot send him, for I have neither ship nor rowers. Yet will I willingly teach him how he may safely return.”

And Hermes said, “Do this thing speedily, lest Zeus be wroth with thee.”

So he departed. And Calypso went seeking Ulysses, and found him on the shore of the sea, looking out over the waters, and weeping, for he was weary of his life, so much did he desire to see Ithaca again. She stood by him and said:—

“Weary not for thy native country, nor waste thyself with tears. If thou wilt go, I will speed thee on thy way. Take, therefore, thine axe and cut thee beams, and join them together, and make a deck upon them, and I will give thee bread and water and wine, and clothe thee also, so that thou mayest return safe to thy native country, for the gods will have it so.”

“Nay,” said Ulysses, “what is this that thou sayest? Shall I pass in a raft over the dreadful sea, over which even ships go not without harm? I will not go against thy will; but thou must swear the great oath of the gods that thou plannest no evil against me.”

Then Calypso smiled and said: “These are strange words. I swear that I plan no harm against thee, but only such good as I would ask myself, did I need it; for indeed my heart is not of iron, but rather full of compassion.”

Then they two went to the cave and sat down to meat, and she set before him food such as mortal men eat, but she herself ate ambrosia and drank nectar. And afterwards she said:—

“Why art thou so eager for thy home? Surely if thou knewest all the trouble that awaits thee, thou wouldst not go, but wouldst rather dwell with me. And though thou desirest all the day long to see thy wife, surely I am not less fair than she.”

“Be not angry,” Ulysses made reply. “The wise Penelope cannot, indeed, be compared to thee, for she is a mortal woman and thou art a goddess. Yet is my home dear to me, and I would fain see it again. Yea, and if some god should wreck me on the deep, yet would I endure it with patient heart. Already have I suffered much, and toiled much in perils of war and perils of the sea. And as to what is yet to come, let it be added to what hath been.”

The next day Calypso gave him an axe with a handle of olive wood, and an adze, and took him to the end of the island, where there were great trees, long ago sapless and dry, alder and poplar and pine. Of these he felled twenty, and lopped them and worked them by the line. Then the goddess brought him an auger, and he made holes in the logs and joined them with pegs. And he made decks and side planking also; also a mast and a yard, and a rudder wherewith to turn the raft. And he fenced it about with a bulwark of willow twigs against the waves. The sails Calypso wove, and Ulysses fitted them with braces and halyards and sheets. Last of all he pushed the raft down to the sea with levers.

On the fourth day all was finished, and on the fifth day he departed. And Calypso gave him goodly garments, and a skin of wine, and a skin of water, and rich food in a bag of leather. She sent also a fair wind blowing behind, and Ulysses set his sails and proceeded joyfully on his way; nor did he sleep, but watched the stars, the Pleiades [Footnote: Plei'-a-des.] and Bootes [Footnote: Bo-o'-tes.], and the Bear, which turneth ever in one place, watching Orion.[Footnote: O-ri'-on.] For Calypso had said to him, “Keep the Bear ever on thy left as thou passest over the sea.”

Seventeen days he sailed; and on the eighteenth day appeared the shadowy hills of the island of the Phaeacians. [Footnote: Phae-a'-ci-ans.] But now Poseidon, coming back from feasting with the Ethiopians, spied him as he sailed, and it angered him to the heart. He shook his head, and spake to himself, saying: “Verily, the gods must have changed their purpose concerning Ulysses while I was absent among the Ethiopians; and now he is nigh to the island of the Phaeacians, and if he reach it, he will escape from his woes. Yet even now I will send him far enough on a way of trouble.”

Thereupon he gathered the clouds, and troubled the waters of the deep, holding his trident in his hand. And he raised a storm of all the winds that blow, and covered the land and the sea with clouds.

Sore troubled was Ulysses, and said to himself: “It was truth that Calypso spake when she said that I should suffer many troubles returning to my home. Would that I had died that day when many a spear was cast by the men of Troy over the dead Achilles. Then would the Greeks have buried me; but now shall I perish miserably.”

And as he spake a great wave struck the raft and tossed him far away, so that he dropped the rudder from his hand. Nor for a long time could he rise, so deep was he sunk, and so heavy was the goodly clothing which Calypso had given him. Yet at the last he rose, and spat the salt water out of his mouth, and sprang at the raft, and caught it, and sat thereon, and was borne hither and thither by the waves. But Ino [Footnote: I'-no.] saw him and pitied him—a woman she had been, and was now a goddess of the sea,—and rose from the deep like to a sea-gull upon the wing, and sat upon the raft, and spake, saying:—

“Luckless mortal, why doth Poseidon hate thee so? He shall not slay thee, though he fain would do it. Put off these garments, and swim to the land of Phaeacia, putting this veil under thy breast. And when thou art come to the land, loose it from thee, and cast it into the sea.”

Then the goddess gave him the veil, and dived again into the deep as a sea-gull diveth, and the waves closed over her. Then Ulysses pondered the matter, saying to himself: “Woe is me! can it be that another of the gods is contriving a snare for me, bidding me leave my raft? Verily, I will not yet obey her counsel, for the land, when I saw it, seemed a long way off. I am resolved what to do; so long as the raft will hold together, so long will I abide on it; but when the waves shall break it asunder, then will I swim, for nothing better may be done.”

But while he thought thus within himself, Poseidon sent another great wave against the raft. As a stormy wind scattereth a heap of husks, so did the wave scatter the timbers of the raft. But Ulysses sat astride on a beam, as a man sitteth astride of a horse; and he stripped off from him the goodly garments which Calypso had given him, and put the veil under his breast, and so leapt into the sea, stretching out his hands to swim.

And Poseidon, when he saw him, shook his head, and said: “Even so go wandering over the deep, till thou come to the land. Thou wilt not say that thou hast not had trouble enough.”

But Athene, binding up the other winds, roused the swift north wind, that so Ulysses might escape from death.

So for two days and two nights he swam. But on the third day there was a calm, and he saw the land from the top of a great wave, for the waves were yet high, close at hand. But when he came near he heard the waves breaking along the shore, for there was no harbour there, but only cliffs and rugged rocks.

Then at last the knees of Ulysses were loosened with fear, and his heart was melted within him, and in heaviness of spirit he spake to himself: “Woe is me! for now, when beyond all hope Zeus hath given me the sight of land, there is no place where I may win to shore from out of the sea. For the crags are sharp, and the waves roar about them, and the smooth rock riseth sheer from the sea, and the water is deep, so that I may gain no foothold. If I should seek to land, then a great wave may dash me on the rocks. And if I swim along the shore, to find some harbour, I fear lest the winds may catch me again and bear me out into the deep; or it may be that some god may send a monster of the sea against me; and verily there are many such in the sea-pastures, and I know that Poseidon is very wroth against me.”

While he pondered these things in his heart a great wave bare him to the rocks. Then would his skin have been stripped from him and all his bones broken, had not Athene put a thought into his heart. For he rushed in towards the shore, and clutched the rock with both his hands, and clung thereto till the wave had passed. But as it ebbed back, it caught him, and carried him again into the deep. Even as a cuttle-fish is dragged from out its hole in the rock, so was he dragged by the water, and the skin was stripped from his hand against the rocks. Then would Ulysses have perished, if Athene had not put a plan in his heart. He swam outside the breakers, along the shore, looking for a place where the waves might be broken, or there should be a harbour. At last he came to where a river ran into the sea. Free was the place of rocks, and sheltered from the wind, and Ulysses felt the stream of the river as he ran. Then he prayed to the river-god:—

“Hear me, O King, whosoever thou art. I am come to thee, fleeing from the wrath of Poseidon. Save me, O King.”

Thereupon the river stayed his stream, and made the water smooth before Ulysses, so that at last he won his way to the land. His knees were bent under him, and his hands dropped at his side, and the salt water ran out from his mouth and nostrils. Breathless was he, and speechless; but when he came to himself, he loosed the veil from under his breast, and cast it into the salt stream of the river and the stream bare it to the sea, and Ino came up and caught it in her hands.

Then he lay down on the rushes by the bank of the river and kissed the earth, thinking within himself: “What now shall I do? for if I sleep here by the river, I fear that the dew and the frost may slay me; for indeed in the morning-time the wind from the river blows cold. And if I go up to the wood, to lay me down to sleep in the thicket, I fear that some evil beast may devour me.”

But it seemed better to go to the wood. So he went. Now this was close to the river, and he found two bushes, one of wild olive, and the other of fruitful olive. So thickly grown together were they that the winds blew not through them, nor did the sun pierce them, nor yet the rain. Ulysses crept thereunder, and found a great pile of leaves, shelter enough for two or three, even in winter time, when the rain is heavy. Then did Ulysses rejoice, laying himself in the midst, and covering himself with leaves. And Athene sent down upon his eyelids deep sleep, that might ease him of his toil.