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Alfred J. Church

Of the Home of the Winds and of Circe

T HE next day Ulysses and his companions set sail. After a while they came to the floating island where the King of the Winds had his home. Ulysses told the king all his story, how he had fought against Troy, and what had happened to him afterwards. For a whole month the king made him welcome, and when he wished to go home, he did what he could to help him. He took the hide of an ox, very thick and strong, and put in it all the winds that would hinder him in getting to his home, and fastened it to the deck of his ship. Then he made a gentle wind blow from the west. For nine days it blew, till the ships were very near to the island of Ithaca—so near that they could see the lights on the cliffs. But just before dawn on the tenth day, Ulysses, who had kept awake all the time, for he would not let any one else take the rudder, fell asleep. And the crew of his ship said to each other: "See that great bag of ox hide. It must have something very precious inside it—silver and gold and jewels. Why should the chief have all these good things to himself?" So they cut the bag open, and all the winds rushed out and blew the ship away from Ithaca. Ulysses woke up at the noise, and at first thought that he would throw himself into the sea and die. Then he said to himself, "No! it is better to live," and he covered his face and lay still, without saying a word to his men. And the ships were driven back to the island of the King of the Winds.

Ulysses went to the king's palace with one of his companions, and sat down outside the door. The king came out to see him, and said, "How is this? Why did you not get to your home?" Ulysses said, "I fell asleep, and my men opened the bag. I pray you to help me again." "Nay," answered the king, "it is of no use to help the man whom the gods hate. Go away!"

So Ulysses and his men launched their ships again and rowed for six days and nights. On the seventh day they came to a certain city named Lamos, a country where the night is as light as the day. Here there was a fine harbour, with a very narrow mouth, and high rocks all round it, so that it was always calm. It seemed so pleasant a place that all the ships were taken inside by their crews, only Ulysses thought it safer to keep his ship outside. He sent two of his men to see the king of the place. These met a very tall and strong girl as they went, and asked her the way to the palace. She told them—and, indeed, she was the king's daughter. So they knocked at the door; but when it was opened, and they saw the queen, they were terribly frightened, for she was as big as a mountain, and dreadful to look at. They ran away, but the queen called to her husband the king, and the king shouted to the people of the city. They were cannibals all of them, and when they saw the ships they threw great rocks at them and broke them in pieces; and when the men tried to swim to shore, they speared them as if they had been fishes, and devoured them. So all the ships inside the harbour were destroyed; only the ship of Ulysses was left. He cut the cable with his sword, and cried to his men to row away with all their might, and so they escaped. But Ulysses had now only one ship left with its crew out of the twelve which he had at first.

After a while they came to a strange island, and drew up their ship upon the beach, and sat beside it weeping and lamenting, for now there were but some thirty or so left out of six hundred. This they did for two days. On the third day Ulysses took his spear and sword, and climbed up a hill that was near, to see what kind of a place they had come to. From the top of the hill he saw a great wood, and a smoke rising up out of the midst of it, showing that there was a house there. Then he thought to himself: "I will go back to the ship, and when we have dined, some of us will go and see who lives in the island." But as he went towards the shore, he saw a great stag coming down to a spring to drink, and it crossed the path almost in front of him. Then he threw his spear at the beast, and killed it; and he tied its feet together, and put it on his neck, and carried it leaning on his spear, for, indeed, it was a very heavy load for a man to bear. When he came to the ship, he threw down the stag on the shore, and the men looked up, and were glad to see the great beast. So they feasted on deer's flesh and wine, and Ulysses put off the searching of the island till the next day.

In the morning he told them what he had seen, but the searching of the island did not please, for they thought of what they had suffered already. Then Ulysses said: "We shall divide the crew into two companies; one shall be mine, and of the other Eurylŏchus shall be chief; and we will cast lots to see who shall search the island." So they cast lots, and the lot of Eurylŏchus came out first. So he went, and twenty men or so with him, and in the middle of the wood they found an open space, and in the space a palace, and all about it wolves and lions were wandering. The men were very much afraid of the beasts, but they did them no harm. Only they got up on their hind legs and fawned on them, as dogs fawn upon their master, hoping to get some scraps of food from him. And they heard the voice of some one who sat inside the palace and sang as she worked a loom, and a very sweet voice it was. Then said one of the men: "Let us call to this singer, and see whether she is a woman or a goddess." So they called, and a certain Circé, who was said to be a daughter of the Sun, came out, and asked them to go in. This they did, and also they drank out of a cup which she gave them. A cup of wine it seemed to be, mixed with barley-meal and honey, but she had put in it some strange drug, which makes a man forget all that he loves. And when they had drunk, lo! they were turned into pigs. They had snouts and bristles, and they grunted like pigs, but they had the hearts of men. And Circé shut them in sties, and gave them acorns and beech-mast to eat.

But Eurylŏchus had stayed outside when the others went in, and he ran back to the ship and told Ulysses what had happened. Then Ulysses armed himself, and said: "I will go and save these men." Nor would he listen when the others begged him not to go. "Thou wilt not do them any good," they said, "but wilt perish thyself." "Nay," he answered; "stay here if you will, and eat and drink; but I must go and rescue my men, for I am their chief."

So he went; and when he came near to the house, he saw a very beautiful youth, who had a golden stick in his hand. The youth said: "Ulysses, art thou come to rescue thy comrades? That thou canst not do. Thou wilt rather perish thyself. But stay; you are one that fears the gods, therefore they will help you. I will give you such a drug as shall make all Circé's drugs of no power. Drink the cup that she gives you, but first put into it this drug." So he showed Ulysses a certain herb which had a black root and a flower as white as milk. It was called Moly.

So Ulysses took the herb moly in his hand, and went and stood in the porch of Circé's palace, and called to her. And when Circé heard him she opened the door, and said, "Come in." Then he went in, and she made him sit on a great chair of carved oak, and gave him wine to drink in a gold cup. But she had mixed a deadly drug in the wine. So Ulysses took up the cup and drank, but before he drank he put the moly into it. Then Circé struck him with her wand, and said, "Go now to the sty, and lie there with thy fellows." But Ulysses drew his sword, and rushed at her, as if he would have killed her. She caught him by the knees and prayed him not to hurt her. And she said: "How is this, that my drugs do thee no harm? I did not think that there was any man on earth who could do so. Surely thou must be Ulysses, for Hermes told me that he would come to this island when he was on his way back to his home from Troy. Come now, let us be friends." But Ulysses said: "How can we be friends when thou hast turned my companions into swine? And now I am afraid that thou wilt do me some great harm if thou canst take me unawares. Swear to me then, by a great oath, that thou wilt not hurt me." So Circé sware.


Ulysses at the Table of Circe

Then her handmaids, very lovely women born in the springs and streams and woods, prepared a feast. One set purple rugs on the chairs, and another set silver tables by the chairs, and others put on the tables baskets of gold. Also they made ready a bath of hot water for Ulysses, and put some wonderful thing into the water, so that when he had bathed he did not feel tired any more. Then one of the women, who was the housekeeper, and whom they all obeyed, brought Ulysses some very fine wheaten bread, and set many dainty dishes on the tables. Then Circé said: "Eat and drink, Ulysses." But he sat and ate and drank nothing. "How is this?" she said. "Dost thou think that I will harm thee? Did I not swear a great oath that I would not?" And Ulysses said: "How can I eat and drink when my companions have been changed into brute beasts?"

Then Circé arose from her chair, and took her wand in her hand, and went to the sties where she had put the men that had been turned into swine. And she opened the doors of the sties, and rubbed a wonderful drug on each beast as he came out. And, lo! in a moment the bristles fell from their bodies, and they became men again, only they looked to be younger and more handsome than they were before. And when they saw their chief, they clung to him, weeping for joy. Even Circé herself felt a little pity.

After this they all went into the palace, and ate and drank. And when they had finished their meal, Circé said to Ulysses: "Go now to thy ship, and put away all the goods that are in it and all the tackle in the caves that are on the sea-shore, and then come back here, and bring the rest of your comrades with you."

So Ulysses went. And when his companions saw him, they were very glad, for they had thought that he was lost. They were as glad as calves which have been penned in the yard all day when their mothers come back from the fields in the evening. But when Ulysses said to them: "Come back with me to the great house in the wood," Eurylŏchus said to them, "Don't go, my friends; if you do, you will be turned into lions or bears or pigs, and will be kept shut up for the rest of your lives. This foolhardy Ulysses is always leading us into trouble. Was it not he who took us to the cave of the Cyclops?" Ulysses was very angry when he heard this, and was ready to kill the man. But the others stopped him from doing it. "We will go with you," they said, "and if this man is afraid, let him stay by the ship." So they went with Ulysses, and Eurylŏchus himself, when he saw them go, went with them.

For a whole year Ulysses and his companions stayed with Circé. She feasted them royally, and they were well content to be her guests. But at the end of the year the men said to their chief: "Should we not be thinking of going home?" And he knew that they were right. So he said to Circé: "It is time for us to go home. Pray do what you can to help us on our way." Circé said: "I would not keep a guest against his will."

So they made their ship ready, and Circé and her handmaids brought down to the shore flesh and bread and wine in plenty, and they stored them away as provision for their voyage, and then they departed. But first Circé told Ulysses what things would happen to them by the way, and what he and his companions ought to do, and what they ought to avoid, if they wished to get safely home.