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CHAPTER XIII. THE SIRENS; SCYLLA; THE OXEN OF THE SUN

[Footnote: Scyl'-la] (THE TALE OF ULYSSES)

“It was now evening when we came back to the island of Circe. Therefore we beached the ship, and lay down by the sea, and slept till the morning. And when it was morning we arose, and went to the palace of Circe, and fetched thence the body of our comrade Elpenor. We raised the funeral pile where the farthest headland runs out into the sea, and burned the dead man and his arms; then we raised a mound over his bones, and put a pillar on the top of the mound, and on the top of the pillar his oar.

“But Circe knew of our coming, and of what we had done, and she came and stood in our midst, her handmaids coming with her, and bearing flesh and bread and wine in plenty. Then she spake, saying: 'Overbold are ye, who have gone down twice into the house of death which most men see but once. Come now, eat and drink this day; to-morrow shall ye sail again over the sea, and I will tell you the way, and declare all that shall happen, that ye may suffer no hindrance as ye go.'

“So all that day we ate and feasted. And when the darkness came over the land, my comrades lay them down by the ship and slept. But Circe took me by the hand, and led me apart from my company, and inquired of what I had seen and done. And when I had told her all my tale, she spake, saying: 'Hearken now to what I shall tell thee. First of all thou shalt come to the Sirens, who bewitch all men with their singing. For whoever cometh nigh to them, and listeneth to their song, he seeth not wife or children any more; for the Sirens enchant him, and draw him to where they sit, with a great heap of dead men's bones about them. Speed thy ship past them, and first fill the ears of thy comrades with wax, lest any should hear the song; but if thou art minded thyself to hear the song, let them bind thee fast to the mast. So shalt thou hear the song, and take no harm. And if thou shalt entreat thy comrades to loose thee, they must bind the bonds all the faster.

“'When thou shalt have passed the island of the Sirens, then thou must choose for thyself which path thou shalt take. On the one side are the rocks that men call the Wandering Rocks. By these not even winged creatures can pass unharmed. No ship can pass them by unhurt; all round them do the waves toss timbers of broken ships and bodies of men that are drowned. One ship only hath ever passed them by, even the ship Argo, and even her would the waves have dashed upon the rocks, but that Hera [Footnote: He'-ra], for love of Jason [Footnote: Ja'-son], caused her to pass by.

“'These there are on the one side, and on the other are two rocks. The first rock reacheth with a sharp peak to the heavens, and about the peak is a dark cloud that passeth not away from it, no, not in summer time or harvest. This rock no man could climb, even though he had twenty hands and feet, for it is steep and smooth. In the midst of this cliff is a cave wherein dwelleth Scylla, the dreadful monster of the sea. Her voice is but as the voice of a new-born dog, and her twelve feet are small and ill-grown, but she hath six necks, exceeding long, and on each a head dreadful to behold, and in each head three rows of teeth, thick set and full of death. She is hidden up to her middle in the cave, but she putteth her heads out of it, fishing for dolphins, or sea-dogs, or other creatures of the sea, for indeed there are countless flocks of them. No ship can pass her by unharmed, for with each head she carrieth off a man, snatching them from the ship's deck. Hard by, even a bow-shot off, is the other rock, lower by far, and with a great fig tree growing on the top. Beneath it Charybdis [Footnote: Cha-ryb'-dis] thrice a day sucketh in the water, and thrice a day spouteth it forth. If thou chance to be there when she sucks it in, not even Poseidon's help could save thee. See, therefore, that thou guide thy ship near to Scylla rather than to the other, for it is better 'for thee to lose six men out of thy ship than all thy company together.'

“So Circe spake, and I said: 'Tell me, goddess, can I by any means escape from Charybdis on the one hand, and. on the other, avenge me on this monster, when she would take my comrades for a prey?'

“But the goddess said: 'Overbold thou art, and thinkest ever of deeds of battle. Verily, thou wouldest do battle with the gods themselves; and surely Scylla is not of mortal race, and against her there is no help. Thou wilt do better to flee. For if thou tarry to put on thy armour, then will she dart forth again, and take as many as before. Drive on thy ship, therefore, with what speed may be.

“'After this, thou wilt come to the island of the Three Capes, where are the herds and the flocks of the Sun. Seven herds of kine there are and seven flocks of sheep, and fifty in each. These neither are born, nor die, and they have two goddesses to herd them. If ye do these no hurt, then shall ye return, all of you, to Ithaca, but if ye harm them, then shall thy ship be broken, and all thy company shall perish, and thou shalt return alone and after long delay.'

“Having so spoken, the goddess departed. Then I roused my men and they launched the ship, and smote the water with their oars, and the goddess sending a favourable wind, we hoisted the sails, and rested.

“But, as we went, I spake to my companions, saying: 'Friends, it is not well that one or two only should know the things that Circe prophesied to me. Therefore I will declare them to you, that we may know beforehand the things that shall come to pass, and so either die or live.'

“And first I told them of the Sirens; and while I spake we came to the Sirens' Island. Then did the breeze cease, and there was a windless calm. So my comrades took down the sails and put out the oars, and I cleft a great round of wax with my sword, and, melting it in the sun, I filled the ears of my men; afterwards they bound me by hands and feet, as I stood upright by the mast. And when we were so near the shore that the shout of a man could be heard therefrom, the Sirens perceived the ship, and began their song. And their song was this:—

“'Hither, come hither, renowned Odysseus, great glory of the Greeks. Here stay thy bark that thou mayest listen to the voice of us twain. For none hath ever driven by this way in his black ship, till he hath heard from our lips the voice sweet as the honeycomb, and hath had joy thereof and gone on his way the wiser. For lo, we know all things, all that the Greeks and the Trojans have suffered in wide Troy-land, yea, and we know all that shall hereafter be upon the fruitful earth.'

“Then I motioned my men to loose me, for their ears were stopped; but they plied their oars, and Eurylochus put new bonds upon me. And when we had passed by the island, then they took the wax from their ears, and loosed my bonds.

“After this they saw a smoke and surf, and heard a mighty roar, and their oars dropped out of their hands for fear; but I bade them be of good heart, because by my counsel they had escaped other dangers in past time. And the rowers I bade row as hard as they might. But to the helmsman I said: 'Steer the ship outside the smoke and the surf, and steer close to the cliffs.' But of Scylla I said nothing, fearing lest they should lose heart, and cease rowing altogether. Then I armed myself, and stood in the prow waiting till Scylla should appear.

“So we sailed up the strait; and there was sore trouble in my heart, for on the one side was Scylla, and on the other Charybdis, sucking down the water in a terrible fashion. Now would she vomit it forth, boiling the while as a great kettle boils upon the fire, and the spray fell on the very tops of the cliffs on either side. And then again she gulped the water down, so that we could see to her very depths, even the white sand that was at the bottom of the sea. Towards her we looked, fearing destruction, and while we looked, Scylla caught out of my ship six of my companions, the strongest and bravest of them all. When I looked to my ships to find my crew, then I saw their feet and hands, and I heard them call me by name, speaking to me for the last time. Even as a fisher, standing on some headland, lets down his long line with a bait, that he may ensnare the fishes of the sea, and each, as he catches it, he flings writhing ashore, so did Scylla bear the men writhing up the cliff to her cave. There did she devour them; and they cried to me terribly the while. Verily, of all the things that I have seen upon the sea, this was the most piteous of all.

“After this we came to the island of the Three Capes; and from my ship I heard the lowing of the kine and the bleating of the sheep. Thereupon I called to mind the saying of Teiresias, how he charged me to shun the island of the Sun. So I spake to my comrades, saying: 'Hear now the counsels of Teiresias and Circe. They charged me to sail by the island of the Sun; for they said that there the most dreadful evil would overtake us. Do ye then row the ship past.'

“So I spake; but Eurylochus made answer in wrath: 'Surely, Ulysses, thou knowest not weariness, and art made of iron, forbidding us, weary though we be with toil and watching, to land upon this island, where we might well refresh ourselves. Rash, also, art thou in that thou commandest us to sail all night; at night deadly winds spring up, and how shall we escape, if some sudden storm from the west or the south smite our ship, and break it in pieces? Rather let us stay, and take our meal and sleep by the ship's side, and to-morrow will we sail again across the sea.'

“Thus he spake, and all consented to his speech. Then I knew that the gods were minded to work us mischief, and I made answer: 'Ye force me, being many against one. But swear ye all an oath, that if ye find here either herd or flock, ye will not slay either bullock or sheep, but will rest content with the food that Circe gave us.'

“Then they all made oath that they would so do; and when they had sworn, they moored the ship within a creek, where there was a spring of fresh water; and so we took our meal. But when we had enough of meat and drink, we remembered our comrades whom Scylla had snatched from the ship and devoured and we mourned for them till slumber fell upon us.

“The next morning I spake to my company, saying: 'Friends, we have yet food, both bread and wine. Keep, therefore, your hands from the flocks and herds, lest some mischief overtake us, for they are the flocks and herds of the Sun, a mighty god whose eye none may escape.'

“With these words I persuaded them. But for a month the south wind blew without ceasing; there was no other wind, unless it were haply the east. So long, indeed, as the bread and wine failed not the men, they harmed not the herds, fearing to die. And afterwards, when our stores were consumed, they wandered about the island, and searched for food, snaring fishes and birds with hooks, for hunger pressed them sorely. But I roamed by myself, praying to the gods that they would send us deliverance. So it chanced one day that slumber overcame me, and I slept far away from my companions.

“Meanwhile Eurylochus spake to the others, using fatal craft: 'Friends, listen to one who suffers affliction with you. Always is death a thing to be avoided; but of all deaths the most to be feared is death by hunger. Come, therefore, let us sacrifice to the gods in heaven the best of the oxen of the Sun. And we will vow to build to the Sun, when we shall reach the land of Ithaca, a great temple which we will adorn with gifts many and precious. But if he be minded to sink our ship, being wroth for his oxen's sake, verily I would rather drown than waste slowly to death upon this island.'

“To this they all gave consent. Then Eurylochus drave the fattest of the kine,—for they grazed near the ship,—and the men sacrificed it to the gods.

“And one of the nymphs that herded the kine flew to the Sun with tidings of that which had been done. Then spake the Sun among the other gods: 'Avenge me now on the guilty comrades of Ulysses; for they have slain the herds which I delight to see both when I mount the heavens and when I descend therefrom. Verily, if they pay not the due penalty for their wrong-doing, I will go down and give my light to the regions of the dead.'

“Then Zeus made answer: 'Shine, thou Sun, as aforetime, on the earth. Verily, my thunderbolt can easily reach the bark of these sinners, and break it in the middle of the sea.'

“All these things I heard afterwards from the nymph Calypso, and she had heard them from Hermes, the messenger.

“With angry words did I rebuke my comrades, but found no remedy for their wrong-doing, seeing that the kine were dead. For six days my friends feasted on the cattle of the Sun; but when the seventh day came, we launched our ship upon the sea, and set sail.

“When we were now out of sight of the island of the Three Capes, and no other land appeared, Zeus hung a dark cloud over us, and suddenly the west wind came fiercely down upon the ship, and snapped the shrouds on either side. Thereupon the mast fell backward and brake the skull of a pilot, so that he plunged, as a diver plunges, into the sea. Meantime Zeus hurled his thunderbolt into the ship, filling it with sulphur from end to end. Then my comrades fell from the ship; I saw them carried about it like sea- gulls. But I still abode on the ship, till the sides were parted from the keel; then I bound myself with a leathern thong to the mast and the keel—for these were fastened together. On these I sat, being driven by the wind. All night long was I driven; and with the morning I came again to Scylla and to Charybdis. It was the time when she sucked in the waves; but I, borne upward by a wave, took fast hold of the branches of the wild fig tree that grew upon the rock. To this I clung for a long time, but knew not how to climb higher up. So I watched till she should vomit forth again the keel and the mast, for these she had swallowed up. And when I saw them again, then I plunged down from the rock, and caught hold of them, and seated myself on them; I rowed hard with the palms of my hands; and the father of the gods suffered not Scylla to espy me, or I should surely have perished. For nine days I floated, and on the tenth the gods carried me to the island of Calypso.”