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CHAPTER XI. AEOLUS; THE LAESTRYGONS; CIRCE

[Footnote: AE'-o-lus.][Footnote: Laes'-try-gons.][Footnote: Cir'-ce.] (THE TALE OF ULYSSES)

“The next morning we set sail, and came, after a while, to the island where dwelleth AEolus. A floating island it is, and it hath about it an unbroken wall of bronze. For a whole month did the King entertain me in friendly fashion, and I told him the whole story of the things that had been done at Troy.

“Afterwards I told him of my journey, and asked help of him. And he gave me the skin of an ox nine years old, in which he had bound all the winds that were contrary to me, for Zeus hath made him keeper of the winds, that he may rouse them or put them to rest as he will. This pouch of ox-hide he bound fast to the deck of the ship with a thong of silver, that not a wind might escape from it. But he let a gentle west wind blow, that it might carry me and my comrades to our home. For nine days it blew, and now we were near to Ithaca, our country, so that we saw the men that tended the beacon-lights, for it was now near to the dawn on the tenth day.

“But now, by an ill chance, I fell asleep, being wholly wearied out, for I had held the helm for nine days, nor trusted it to any of my comrades. And while I slept my comrades, who had cast eyes of envy on the great ox-hide, said one to another:—

“`Strange it is how men love and honour this Ulysses whithersoever he goes. And now he comes back from Troy with much spoil, but we with empty hands. Let us see what it is that AEolus hath given him, for doubtless in this ox-hide is much silver and gold.'

“So they loosed the great bag of ox-hide, and lo! all the winds rushed out, and carried us far away from our country. And I, waking with the tumult, doubted much whether I should not throw myself into the sea and so die. But I endured, thinking it better to live. Only I veiled my face and so lay still while the ships drave before the winds, till we came again to the island of AEolus. Then we landed, and fetched water, and ate our meal by the side of our ships. And when our meal was ended, I took a herald and one of my company, and went to the palace of the King, and found him feasting with his wife and children, and I sat down on the threshold. Much did they wonder to see me, saying, 'What evil power has hindered thee, that thou didst not reach thy country and home?'

“Then I answered: 'Blame not me, but the evil counsels of my comrades, and sleep, which mastered me to my hurt. But do ye help me again.'

“But he said, 'Begone! we may not help him whom the gods hate; and hated of them thou surely art.'

“So AEolus sent me away. Then again we launched our ships and set forth, toiling wearily at the oars, and sad at heart.

“Six days we rowed, nor rested at night; and on the seventh we came to Lamos [Footnote: La'-mos.], which was a city of the Laestrygons, in whose land the night is as the day, so that a man might earn double wages, if only he wanted not sleep. There was a fair haven with cliffs about it, and a narrow mouth with great rocks on either side. And within are no waves.

“Now I made fast my ship to the rocks that were without, but the others entered the haven. Then I sent two men, and a herald with them, and these came upon a smooth road by which wagons brought down wood from the mountain to the city. Here they met a maiden, the daughter of the king of the land, and asked of her who was lord of that country. Thereupon she showed them her father's lofty palace. And they, entering this, saw the maiden's mother, big as a mountain, and horrible to behold, who straightway called to her husband. Then the messengers fled to the ships; but he made a great shout, and the giant Laestrygons came flocking about him. And these broke off great stones from the cliffs, each stone as much as a man could carry, and cast them at the ships, so that they were broken. And the men they speared, as if they were fishes, and devoured them. So it happened to all the ships in the haven. I only escaped, for I cut the hawser with my sword, and bade my men ply their oars, which indeed they did right willingly.

“After a while we came to the island where Circe dwelt, who is the daughter of the Sun. Two days and nights we lay upon the shore in great trouble and sorrow. On the third I took my spear and sword and climbed a hill, for I wished to see to what manner of land we had come. And having climbed it, I saw the smoke rising from the palace of Circe, where it stood in the midst of a wood. Then I thought awhile: should I go straightway to the palace that I saw, or first return to my comrades on the shore. And it seemed the better plan to go to the ship and bid my comrades make their midday meal, and afterwards send them to search out the place. But as I went, some god took pity on me, and sent a great stag, with mighty antlers, across my path. The stag was going down to the river to drink, for the sun was now hot; and casting my spear at it I pierced it through. Then I fastened together the feet with green withes and a fathom's length of rope, and slinging the beast round my neck, so carried it to the ship, leaning on my spear; for indeed it was heavy to bear, nor was it possible for me to carry it on my shoulder with one hand. And when I was come to the ship, I cast down my burden. Now the men were sitting with their faces muffled, so sad were they. But when I bade them be of good cheer, they looked up and marvelled at the great stag. And all that day we feasted on deer's flesh and sweet wine, and at night lay down to sleep on the shore. But when morning was come, I called my comrades together, and spake: 'I know not, friends, where we are. Only I know, having seen smoke yesterday from the hill, that there is a dwelling in this island.'

“It troubled the men much to hear this, for they thought of the Cyclops and of the Laestrygons; and they wailed aloud. Then I divided them into two companies. I set Eurylochus [Footnote: Eu- ryl'-o-chus.] over the one, and I myself took command of the other, and I shook lots in a helmet to see who should go and search out the island, and the lot of Eurylochus leapt out. So he went, and comrades twenty and two with him. And in an open space in the wood they found the palace of Circe. All about were wolves and lions; yet these harmed not the men, but stood up on their hind legs, fawning upon them, as dogs fawn upon their master when he comes from his meal, because he brings the fragments with him that they love. And the men were afraid. And they stood in the porch and heard the voice of Circe as she sang with a lovely voice and plied the loom. Then said Polites [Footnote: Po-li'-tes.], who was dearest of all my comrades to me, in whom also I most trusted: 'Some one within plies a great loom, and sings with a loud voice. Some goddess is she or a woman. Let us make haste and call.'

“So they called to her, and she came out and beckoned to them that they should follow. So they went, in their folly, all except Eurylochus. And she bade them sit, and mixed for them red wine and barley-meal and cheese and honey, and mighty drugs, of which, if a man drank, he forgot all that he loved. And when they had drunk, she smote them with her wand. And lo! they had of a sudden the heads and the voices and the bristles of swine, but the heart of a man was in them still. And Circe shut them in sties, and gave them acorns to eat.

“But Eurylochus fled back to the ship, bringing tidings of what had befallen his comrades. For a time he could not speak a word, so full was his heart of grief, and his eyes of tears. But, at last, when we had asked him many questions, he told us his tale.

“Thereupon I cast about my shoulder my silver-studded sword, and took my bow also, and bade him lead me by the way by which he had gone. But he caught me by both my hands, and besought me, saying: 'Take me not thither against my will; for I am persuaded that thou thyself wilt not return again, nor bring any of thy comrades. Let us that remain flee, and escape death.' Then I said, 'Stay here by the ship, eating and drinking, if it be thy will, but I must go.'

“And when I had come to the house, there met me Hermes of the golden wand, the messenger of the gods, in the shape of a fair youth, who said to me:—

“'Art thou come to rescue thy comrades that are now swine in Circe's house? Nay, but thou shalt never go back thyself. Yet stay; I will give thee a drug which shall give thee power to resist all her charms. For when she shall have mixed thee drink, and smitten thee with her wand, then do thou rush upon her with thy sword, as if thou wouldest slay her. And when she shall pray for peace, do thou make her swear by the great oath that binds the gods that she will not harm thee.'

“Then Hermes showed me a certain herb, whose root was black, but the flower white as milk. 'Moly,' the gods call it, and very hard it is for mortal man to find; but to the gods all things are possible.

“Thereupon Hermes departed to Olympus, but I went on to the palace of the goddess, much troubled in heart. When I came thither I stood in the porch and called, and Circe came, and opened the doors, and bade me come in.

“Then she set me on a great chair, skilfully carven, with a footstool for my feet. Afterward she gave me drink in a cup of gold, but she had mixed in it a deadly charm. This I drank, but was not bewitched, for the herb saved me. Then she smote me with her wand, saying: 'Go now to the sty and lie there with thy fellows.' Thereto upon I drew my sword, and rushed upon her, as though I would have slain her. Then she caught me by the knees, and cried aloud: 'Who art thou? What is thy race? I marvel that thou couldest drink of this drink that I have charmed, and yet take no hurt. I thought that there was no mortal man that could so do. Thou must have a soul against which there is no enchantment. Verily, thou must be that Ulysses who was to come to this island as he returned from Troy, for so Hermes told me. But come, let us be friends.' Then I said to her: 'Nay, goddess, but how can we two be friends, when thou hast turned my companions into swine. I fear thee that thou hast some deceit in thy heart, and thou wilt take me unawares, and do me a great mischief. But swear a mighty oath, even the oath by which the gods are bound, that thou wilt not harm me.'

“Then Circe sware the mighty oath, even the oath by which the gods are bound.

“After this her handmaids, who were fair women born of the springs and streams and woods, prepared a feast. One set coverlets of purple on the chairs, and another brought up tables of silver to the chair, and set on the tables baskets of gold. A third mixed sweet wine in a bowl of silver, and set thereby cups of gold; and the fourth filled a great kettle with water, and put fire under it. And when it boiled, she prepared a bath, and the bath took away the weariness from my limbs. And when I had bathed, a handmaid bare water in a pitcher of gold, and poured it over a basin of gold, that I might wash my hands. Then the housekeeper brought me wheaten bread, and set many dainties on the table; and Circe bade me eat; but I sat silent and sorrowful, having other thoughts in my mind.

“And when the goddess perceived that I was silent and ate not, she said: 'Why dost thou sit, Ulysses, as though thou wert dumb? Fearest thou any craft of mine? Nay, but that may not be, for have I not sworn the great oath that binds the gods?'

“Then I made answer, 'Nay, but who could think of meat and drink when such things had befallen his companions?'

“Then Circe led the way, holding her wand in her hand, and opened the doors of the sties, and drove out the swine that had been men. Then she rubbed on each another mighty drug, and the bristles fell from their bodies and they became men, only younger and fairer than before. And when they saw me, they clung to me and wept for joy, and Circe herself was moved with pity.

“Then said she to me: 'Go, Ulysses, to thy ship, and put away all the goods and tackling in the caves that are on the shore, but come again hither thyself, and bring thy comrades with thee.'

“Then I went. Right glad were they who had stayed to see me, glad as are the calves who have been penned in the fold-yard when their mothers come back in the evening.

“So we went to the dwelling of Circe, who feasted us royally, so that we remained with her for a whole year, well content.

“But when the year was out my companions said to me, 'It is well to remember thy country, if it is indeed the will of the gods that thou shouldest return thither.'

“Then I besought Circe that she would send me on my way homewards, as indeed she had promised to do. And she answered, saying:—

“'I would not have you abide in my house unwillingly. Yet must thou first go on another journey, even to the dwellings of the dead, there to speak with the seer [Footnote: seer, prophet] Teiresias [Footnote: Tei-re'-si-as].'

“But I was sore troubled to hear such things, and wept aloud, saying, 'Who shall guide us in this journey?—for never yet did ship make such a voyage as this.'

“Then Circe made answer: 'Son of Laertes, trouble not thyself because thou hast no guide, only set up the mast in thy ship, and spread out the sails, and sit thee down with thy companions, and the north wind shall carry thee to the place whereto thou art bound. When thou shalt have sailed across the stream of ocean, thou shalt come to a waste shore, where are many tall poplar trees and willows. Beach there thy ship on the shore of ocean, and go thyself to the dwelling of Hades.[Footnote: Ha'-des] There is a certain rock, and near to it meet two streams, the river of fire, and the river of wailing. Dig there a trench; it shall be a cubit [Footnote: cubit, a foot and a half] long and a, cubit broad; pour out therein a drink-offering to the dead; and sprinkle white barley thereon. And as thou doest these things, entreat the dead, and promise that when thou shalt come again to Ithaca, thou wilt offer a barren heifer, even the best thou hast, and that thou wilt sacrifice to Teiresias alone a black ram, the goodliest in the flock. And after thou hast made thy prayers to the dead, offer up a black ram and a black ewe. Then will come many spirits of the dead, but suffer them not to drink of the blood till thou shalt have spoken to Teiresias. Speedily will the seer come to thee, and will tell thee how thou mayest return to thy home.' The next morning I roused my companions, saying, 'Sleep no more; we will go on our way, for Circe hath shown to me the whole matter.'

“So I spake, and they consented to my words. Yet did not I take all my company safe from the dwelling of the goddess. There was a certain Elpenor [Footnote: El-pe'-nor.], who was the youngest of them all, and was neither valiant nor of an understanding mind. He was sleeping apart from his fellows, on the housetop, for he had craved for the coolness of the air. He, hearing our voices, and the sound of the men's feet, as they moved hither and thither, leapt up of a sudden, and thought not to come down by the ladder by which he had gone up, but fell down from the roof, so that his neck was broken, and he went down to the dwellings of the dead.

“But as my men were on their way, I spake to them, saying: 'Ye think that ye are going to your native country; not so, for Circe hath showed me another journey that we must take, even to the dwelling of Hades, that I may speak with the spirit of Teiresias the seer.'

“So I spake, and their spirit was broken within them, and they sat down where they were, and mourned, and tare their hair. But their weeping profited nothing.

“Meanwhile Circe had gone, and made fast a ram and a black ewe to the ship, passing on as we went, for none may mark the goings of the immortal gods.”