ULYSSES and his crew arrived at another island, and lived for two or three days upon its shores. Then Ulysses climbed a hill and saw in the center of the isle a palace almost hidden in trees.
Much trouble had made him careful. He went down to his men and said, "I see in the distance a noble house, but none of us can tell what creatures may live there. We will divide into two parties. I shall stay with one half on the shore near our vessels; the other half will go forward and find out what land this is and what welcome we may hope for."
There were forty-four of the crew, besides Ulysses and his lieutenant. The latter with twenty-two men went up into the island. They saw the palace among the trees, a stately building, with smoke rising from the kitchen chimneys. That made them glad, for they were hungry.
As they drew near the house a number of wild beasts came running toward them. There were lions, tigers, wolves, and other fierce creatures. The sailors were brave men, and they prepared to fight. But these creatures, though they roared and howled, did no harm. In fact, they seemed to be very friendly.
The companions of Ulysses went on and reached the portico of the house. The doors were open, and they heard the sound of a loom and of voices singing. Even royal ladies wove in those days, and this seemed like a safe and comfortable house. But the lieutenant thought it best to be careful. He said to the men, "Somebody must watch. Go in and see what is there. I will wait behind this pillar until you come and tell me that all is well."
The crew entered the wide doors. A smiling lady, attended by her maidens, met them and gave them welcome.
"Come freely in," she said. "I see by your looks that you are mariners who have sailed far and suffered much. This is a house of rest for such. My maids will show you to the dining-hall, where you can feast at your ease."
The poor sailors were very happy to be so well received. They were placed on couches, and food and wine were brought to them. They ate and drank heartily and were full of joy.
Then the lady said sharply, "Look at me!" They lifted up their eyes, a little heavy with feasting, and saw her looking angrily at them. In her hand she held a long and slender rod.
"You were beasts when you came," she said, "and now you shall be beasts forever. Go to the sty and join your proper companions."
She struck every one of the men a sharp blow with her rod. Each saw his companions changed, in an instant, into swine. All found themselves wallowing and grunting on the floor. The girls took sticks and drove these creatures out of the palace and into the pigpen.
There, with many more of their kind, they were fed on acorns and other swinish food.
The lieutenant ran down to the ship and told the dreadful story. Ulysses said, "This calls for my help. Stay here, all of you. I will go alone."
On the way he met the god Hermes, who told him that this was the enchanted island of Circe, a powerful witch, who delighted in trapping men and changing them into beasts. The lions, tigers, bears, and wolves had once been human, but the cup and rod of Circe had made them what they now were.
"Do not risk yourself in that palace," said Hermes. "Sail away with the men you have left and find some safer land than this."
"Run away and leave my poor companions in a pigsty?" cried Ulysses. "Never! I will set them free or share their fate."
"Very well," said Hermes. "I like to see a man stand by his friends. I will help you."
He plucked a flower and gave it to Ulysses. "That is a moly," he said, "and it is a charm against all kinds of magic. Keep it in your hand and smell it often."
Ulysses went to the palace. Circe came to meet him and said with smiles, "This is the king! I know you by your noble bearing. This must be the great Ulysses. You are welcome to my poor house. It is yours more than it is mine."
"Madam," he said, "where are my friends? They came here to-day, and I am now seeking them. I trust they have not met with any harm."
"Any harm!" she answered. "No harm could touch them in my palace. Come in and eat and drink. My maidens will lead you then to your friends, and you can all be happy together."
Ulysses followed her and ate and drank but kept the moly in his hand and smelled it often.
At last, the witch struck him with her rod. "Too long," she said, "too long you keep that human shape, of which you are not worthy. Go, join your companions in the sty, and wallow with them there."
Ulysses leaped from the couch and drew his sword.
"No!" he cried. "Wicked witch, whom gods hate and men fear, you have met your master. Give me back my friends in their natural shapes, or you shall die."
He caught her by the hair and raised her glittering blade.
"Spare me," she said, "and I will do all your bidding. You are wise and brave, fit to be my master. I will obey you."
The pigs were brought from the sty. Circe used some magic words and touched them with her rod. They stood up as sailors, just as they had been. Then the other men were called up from the shore, and all feasted together. But Ulysses always kept the moly with him, and watched that Circe should not deceive him.