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CHAPTER XII. THE DWELLINGS OF THE DEAD

(THE TALE OF ULYSSES)

“After this we made ready the ship for sailing, and put the black sheep on board, and so departed; and Circe sent a wind from behind that filled the sails; and all the day through our ship passed quickly over the sea.

“And when the sun had set we came to the utmost border of the ocean. Then I bade two of my comrades make ready the sheep for sacrifice; and I myself dug a pit of a cubit every way, and poured in it a drink-offering of honey and milk, and sweet wine, and water, and sprinkled barley upon the drink-offering. Afterwards I took the sheep and slew them, so that their blood ran into the trench. And the dead were gathered to the place,—maidens, and old men who had borne the sorrows of many years, and warriors that had been slain in battle, having their arms covered with blood. All these gathered about the pit with a terrible cry; and I was sore afraid. Then I bade my comrades burn the carcasses of the sheep and pray to the gods of the dead; but I myself sat down by the pit's side, and would not suffer the souls of the dead to come near unto the blood until I had inquired of Teiresias.

“First of all came the soul of my comrade Elpenor. Much did I wonder to see him, and I asked, 'How comest thou hither, Elpenor, to the land of darkness? and how have thy feet outstripped my ship?' Then said Elpenor: 'I fell from the roof of the palace of Circe, not bethinking me of the ladder, and so brake my neck. But now, I pray thee, if thou lovest wife and father and son, forget me not, when thou returnest to the island of Circe. Burn me with fire and my arms with me; and make a mound for me by the shore of the sea, that men may hear of me and of my fate in after time. And set up my oar upon my tomb, even the oar which I was wont to ply among my comrades.'

“Then I said to him, 'All this shall be done as thou desirest.'

“And we sat on either side of the trench as we talked, and I held my sword over the blood.

“After him came to me the soul of my mother, whom I had left alive when I sailed to Troy. Sorely I wept to see her, yet suffered her not to come near and drink of the blood till I had inquired of Teiresias. Then came Teiresias, holding a golden sceptre in his hand, and spake, saying: 'Why hast thou left the light of day, and come hither to this land of the dead, wherein is no delight? But come, depart from the pit, and take away thy sword, that I may come near and tell thee true.'

“So I thrust my sword into the scabbard; and Teiresias drank of the blood; and when he had drunk, he spake: 'Thou seekest to hear of thy going back to thy home. Know, therefore, that it shall be with peril and toil. For Poseidon will not easily lay aside his wrath against thee, because thou didst take from his dear son, the Cyclops, the sight of his eye. Yet for all this ye may yet come safe to your home, if only thou canst restrain thyself and thy comrades when ye come to the island of the Three Capes, and find there the oxen and the sheep of the Sun. If ye let them be and harm them not, then may ye yet return to Ithaca, though after dreadful toil. But if not, then shall ye perish. And if thou escape thyself, after long time shalt thou return, having lost all thy comrades, and the ship of strangers shall carry thee; and thou shalt find trouble in thy house, men of violence who devour thy substance while they seek thy wife in marriage.'

“To him I made answer: 'So be it, Teiresias. All these things the gods have ordered after their own will. But tell me this. Here I see the soul of my mother that is dead; and she sits near the blood, but regards me not, nor speaks to me. How can she know that I am indeed her son?'

“Then said Teiresias: 'Whomsoever of the dead thou shalt suffer to drink of the blood, he will speak to thee; but whomsoever thou sufferest not, he will depart in silence.'

“So I abode in my place; and the soul of my mother came near and drank of the blood. And when she had drunk, she knew her son, and said: 'My son, why hast thou come into the land of darkness, being yet alive? Hast thou not yet returned to thy home?'

“To her I made answer: 'I came hither to inquire of Teiresias of Thebes, and my home have I not seen. Truly trouble hath followed me from the day that I first went with King Agamemnon to the land of Troy. But tell me, how didst thou die? Did a wasting disease slay thee, or did Artemis [Footnote: Ar'-te-mis] smite thee with a sudden stroke of her arrow? And my father and my son, have they enjoyment of that which is mine, or have others taken it from them? And my wife, is she true to me, or hath she wedded some prince among the Greeks?'

“Then said my mother: 'Thy wife is true, and sits weeping for thee day and night. And thy son hath enjoyment of thy possessions, and hath his due place at the feasts of the people. But thy father cometh no longer to the city, but abideth in the country. Nor hath he any couch for his bed, but in winter-time he sleeps, even as sleep the slaves, in the ashes near unto the fire, and when the summer comes, in the corner of the vineyard upon leaves. Greatly doth he sorrow, waiting for thy return, and the burden of old age lies heavy upon him. But as for me, no wasting disease slew me, nor did Artemis smite me with her arrows; but I died of longing for thee, so sorely did I miss thy wisdom and thy love.'

“Then I was fain to lay hold upon the soul of my mother. Thrice I sprang forward, eager to embrace her, and thrice she passed from out my hands, even as passeth a shadow. And when I said, 'How is this, my mother? art thou then but a phantom that the queen of the dead hath sent me?' my mother answered me: 'Thus it is with the dead, my son. They have no more any flesh and bones; for these the fire devours; but their souls are even as dreams, flying hither and thither. But do thou return so soon as may be to the light, and tell all that thou hast seen and heard to thy wife.'

“Thereupon I departed from the place, and bade my comrades embark upon the ships and loose the ropes. And we embarked and sat upon the benches; and the great stream of Ocean bare us onward, rowing at the first, and afterwards hoisting the sails.”