T HERE was once a beautiful enchantress named Circe. Her palace stood in a grove on the island of Eaea. Here she lived alone and spent her time in studying magic. She learned all sorts of sorcery and tricks, and became so clever that she could turn men into whatever beasts she liked.
When strangers landed on her island, she changed them into lions and wolves and pigs. Her garden was full of enchanted animals, which wandered back and forth, remembering that they were really men. They longed to speak, but could only grunt or growl. Her pig sties were crowded. But in all her palace there was no friend or servant, or any living person to keep her company.
One day a ship dropped anchor in the bay, and a band of sailors came wading ashore for water. Their leader was the great Ulysses.
The Great Ulysses
He was on his voyage home to Ithaca, and had been through many dangers and hardships. His men were very hungry, and their clothes were ragged and travel stained.
Ulysses climbed a hill so that he might look around him and judge if the island were a safe place for them to land. He saw no people or houses of any sort, but only a thin spiral of smoke rising from a distant grove. He hoped that this was the fire of a friendly hearth, and went back to his men and sent half of them, under a leader named Eurylochus, to explore the island. Ulysses and the rest of the crew remained to watch the boat.
Eurylochus led his men through the woods toward the smoke, and at last they saw a beautiful palace, half hidden by trees. The columns gleamed like white marble, and a fountain sprayed into the air. The men were sure they would be received with kindness in so fair a palace.
But as they came still nearer, they were terrified to see wild animals roaming through the gardens. There were lions and tigers and wolves walking sleepily back and forth among the trees. Eurylochus and his comrades drew back and hid themselves where they could watch. They noticed that the animals were drowsy and quiet. Soon the men gathered courage to steal toward the palace.
The beasts did not leap at them, or roar, but made low gentle sounds, and crowded around Eurylochus. They lay on the ground at his feet, and tried to lick his hands. He thought he saw a pleading look in their eyes. Indeed, he had never before seen such eyes in any animals. They were like the eyes of men in trouble.
He patted their heads and walked on toward the entrance of the palace, where he heard music and the sound of singing.
He called aloud, and a lovely woman, veiled in many garments, came floating toward him. Her thin scarfs fluttered in the soft wind, and her voice, as she invited the strangers to enter, was low and sweet.
They crowded into the palace, delighted at her welcome, but Eurylochus looked into her eyes and saw that they were small and cruel. He felt he would rather stay outside with the animals than follow her inside the huge door.
As the doors clanged together behind his comrades, the beasts uttered such mournful sounds that Eurylochus hid himself beside one of the windows. There he could see what happened in the palace and help his friends if they fell into danger.
He saw them seated at a great banqueting table, with warm food and fruit before them and all manner of sweet things. While they ate, the air was filled with perfume and soft music. Eurylochus was very hungry himself, and the sight of the food almost made him wish that he had entered with his companions.
When the men had finished, they stretched themselves on the stone benches to rest, or sat sleepily in their chairs. Then their hostess took a little ivory wand in her hand and touched them very lightly, one by one. At once long ears began to spring from their heads, and their bodies were covered with bristles. Hoofs took the place of their hands and feet, and they fell to the floor on all fours.
Circe took an ivory wand in her hand and touched the men one by one.
Before Eurylochus knew what was happening, his comrades had vanished, and in their stead a dozen grunting pigs waddled around the banquet hall.
Then he knew that their lovely hostess was Circe, the enchantress. He understood why the lions and tigers had looked at him so sadly, and had made such mournful sounds when the doors had closed behind his friends.
As he watched, he saw Circe lead her pigs out of the palace and shut them in a dirty sty. She threw them a bagful of acorns, and laughed at them as they crowded to the fence, looking up at her pleadingly.
Eurylochus ran back to the ship and told the others what had happened. Ulysses at once started out to rescue his men, depending only upon his sword. As he hurried through the woods, the god Mercury appeared to him.
"However brave you may be," said the god, "your sword will not overcome the magic of Circe. But if you carry this sprig of green in your hand, it will keep you safe from her sorcery."
He put a branch of a plant called moly into the hand of Ulysses, and vanished. Still holding the green sprig, Ulysses entered the palace garden. The beasts crowded close around him and followed him to the door.
Circe herself came to meet him, much pleased to have another victim as handsome and strong as Ulysses.
She seated him at the banquet table, and smiled as she watched him eat, thinking what a fine large boar he would make. But when she touched him with her wand, the power of the little plant turned her magic aside.
Ulysses did not fall to the floor, nor waddle away grunting. Instead he drew his sword and rushed at her, commanding her to release his friends.
Circe was so frightened that she knelt before him and begged him to spare her. She promised to free all her prisoners, even the lions and wolves in the garden. She agreed to help Ulysses on his journey, and to provide food and water for him to carry away in his ship.
Circe knelt before Ulysses and begged him to spare her.
She ran to the pig sties and as she touched each one of the boars, it changed again into its own form.
The beasts in the garden became men, and spoke to one another once more in words instead of in growls. They thought only of returning to their own homes and friends, and began to make plans for their journey.
Circe kept her promise and helped Ulysses on his voyage. She provided him with all manner of good things, and warned him of dangers which he might meet on the sea.
Seeing that the clothes of Ulysses and his friends were travel-stained and worn, she gave them beautiful robes from her own chests. She made a new sail for their boat, and was so busy that for the time she forgot her evil arts of magic.
At last everything was ready for Ulysses' departure. The ship with its white sail lay floating near the shore. The men put on their fresh robes. Then they carried on board jugs of water and wine, sacks of meal, smoked meat, and all the things that they might need on the voyage.
The men seized the oars in their hands. The sail filled with wind, and Ulysses sped away from the island of Circe, favored by her help, toward Ithaca, his home.