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II. THE WANDERING OF ODYSSEUS.
Now Odysseus and his men sailed on and on till they came to Aeolia,
where dwells the king of the winds, and here they came nigh to good
Aeolus received them kindly, and at their going he secretly gave to
Odysseus a leathern bag in which all contrary winds were tied up
securely, that only the favoring west wind might speed them to Ithaca.
Nine days the ships went gladly before the wind, and on the tenth day
they had sight of Ithaca, lying like a low cloud in the west. Then, so
near his haven, the happy Odysseus gave up to his weariness and fell
asleep, for he had never left the helm. But while he slept his men saw
the leathern bag that he kept by him, and, in the belief that it was
full of treasure, they opened it. Out rushed the ill-winds!
In an instant the sea was covered with white caps; the waves rose
mountain high; the poor ships struggled against the tyranny of the gale
and gave way. Back they were driven,--back, farther and farther; and
when Odysseus woke, Ithaca was gone from sight, as if it had indeed
been only a low cloud in the west!
Straight to the island of Aeolus they were driven once more. But when
the king learned what greed and treachery had wasted his good gift, he
would give them nothing more. "Surely thou must be a man hated of the
gods, Odysseus," he said, "for misfortune bears thee company. Depart
now; I may not help thee."
So, with a heavy heart, Odysseus and his men departed. For many days
they rowed against a dead calm, until at length they came to the land
of the Laestrygonians. And, to cut a piteous tale short, these giants
destroyed all their fleet save one ship,--that of Odysseus himself,
and in this he made escape to the island of Circe. What befell there,
how the greedy seamen were turned into swine and turned back into men,
and how the sorceress came to befriend Odysseus,--all this has been
There in Aeaea the voyagers stayed a year before Circe would let them
go. But at length she bade Odysseus seek the region of Hades, and ask
of the sage Tiresias how he might ever return to Ithaca. How Odysseus
followed this counsel, none may know; but by some mysterious journey,
and with the aid of a spell, he came to the borders of Hades. There he
saw and spoke with many renowned Shades, old and young, even his own
friends who had fallen on the plain of Troy. Achilles he saw, Patroclus
and Ajax and Agamemnon, still grieving over the treachery of his wife.
He saw, too, the phantom of Heracles, who lives with honor among the
gods, and has for his wife Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Juno. But
though he would have talked with the heroes for a year and more, he
sought out Tiresias.
"The anger of Poseidon follows thee," said the sage. "Wherefore,
Odysseus, thy return is yet far off. But take heed when thou art come
to Thrinacia, where the sacred kine of the Sun have their pastures. Do
them no hurt, and thou shalt yet come home. But if they be harmed in
any wise, ruin shall come upon thy men; and even if thou escape, thou
shalt come home to find strange men devouring thy substance and wooing
With this word in his mind, Odysseus departed and came once more to
Aeaea. There he tarried but a little time, till Circe had told him all
the dangers that beset his way. Many a good counsel and crafty warning
did she give him against the Sirens that charm with their singing, and
against the monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis, and the
Clashing Rocks, and the cattle of the Sun. So the king and his men set
out from the island of Aeaea.
Now very soon they came to the Sirens who sing so sweetly that they
lure to death every man who listens. For straightway he is mad to be
with them where they sing; and alas for the man that would fly without
But when the ship drew near the Sirens' island, Odysseus did as Circe
had taught him. He bade all his shipmates stop up their ears with
moulded wax, so that they could not hear. He alone kept his hearing:
but he had himself lashed to the mast so that he could in no wise move,
and he forbade them to loose him, however he might plead, under the
spell of the Sirens.
As they sailed near, his soul gave way. He heard a wild sweetness
coaxing the air, as a minstrel coaxes the harp; and there, close by,
were the Sirens sitting in a blooming meadow that hid the bones of men.
Beautiful, winning maidens they looked; and they sang, entreating
Odysseus by name to listen and abide and rest. Their voices were
golden-sweet above the sound of wind and wave, like drops of amber
floating on the tide; and for all his wisdom, Odysseus strained at his
bonds and begged his men to let him go free. But they, deaf alike to
the song and the sorcery, rowed harder than ever. At length, song and
island faded in the distance. Odysseus came to his wits once more, and
his men loosed his bonds and set him free.
But they were close upon new dangers. No sooner had they avoided the
Clashing Rocks (by a device of Circe's) than they came to a perilous
strait. On one hand they saw the whirlpool where, beneath a hollow
fig-tree, Charybdis sucks down the sea horribly. And, while they sought
to escape her, on the other hand monstrous Scylla upreared from the
cave, snatched six of their company with her six long necks, and
devoured them even while they called upon Odysseus to save them.
So, with bitter peril, the ship passed by and came to the island of
Thrinacia; and here are goodly pastures for the flocks and herds of the
Sun. Odysseus, who feared lest his men might forget the warning of
Tiresias, was very loath to land. But the sailors were weary and worn
to the verge of mutiny, and they swore, moreover, that they would never
lay hands on the sacred kine. So they landed, thinking to depart next
day. But with the next day came a tempest that blew for a month without
ceasing, so that they were forced to beach the ship and live on the
island with their store of corn and wine. When that was gone they had
to hunt and fish, and it happened that, while Odysseus was absent in
the woods one day, his shipmates broke their oath. "For," said they,
"when we are once more in Ithaca we will make amends to Helios with
sacrifice. But let us rather drown than waste to death with hunger." So
they drove off the best of the cattle of the Sun and slew them. When
the king returned, he found them at their fateful banquet; but it was
too late to save them from the wrath of the gods.
As soon as they were fairly embarked once more, the Sun ceased to
shine. The sea rose high, the thunderbolt of Zeus struck that ship, and
all its company was scattered abroad upon the waters. Not one was left
save Odysseus. He clung to a fragment of his last ship, and so he
drifted, borne here and there, and lashed by wind and wave, until he
was washed up on the strand of the island Ogygia, the home of the nymph
Calypso. He was not to leave this haven for seven years.
Here, after ten years of war and two of wandering, he found a kindly
welcome. The enchanted island was full of wonders, and the nymph
Calypso was more than mortal fair, and would have been glad to marry
the hero; yet he pined for Ithaca. Nothing could win his heart away
from his own country and his own wife Penelope, nothing but Lethe
itself, and that no man may drink till he dies.
So for seven years Calypso strove to make him forget his longing with
ease and pleasant living and soft raiment. Day by day she sang to him
while she broidered her web with gold; and her voice was like a golden
strand that twines in and out of silence, making it beautiful. She even
promised that she would make him immortal, if he would stay and be
content; but he was heartsick for home.
At last his sorrow touched even the heart of Athena in heaven, for she
loved his wisdom and his many devices. So she besought Zeus and all the
other gods until they consented to shield Odysseus from the anger of
Poseidon. Hermes himself bound on his winged sandals and flew down to
Ogygia, where he found Calypso at her spinning. After many words, the
nymph consented to give up her captive, for she was kind of heart, and
all her graces had not availed to make him forget his home. With her
help, Odysseus built a raft and set out upon his lonely voyage,--the
only man remaining out of twelve good ships that had left Troy nigh
unto ten years before.
The sea roughened against him, but (to shorten a tale of great peril)
after many days, sore spent and tempest-tossed, he came to the land of
the Phaeacians, a land dear to the immortal gods, abounding in gifts of
harvest and vintage, in godlike men and lovely women.
Here the shipwrecked king met the princess Nausicaa by the seaside, as
she played ball with her maidens; and she, when she had heard of his
plight, gave him food and raiment, and bade him follow her home. So he
followed her to the palace of King Alcinous and Queen Arete, and abode
with them, kindly refreshed, and honored with feasting and games and
song. But it came to pass, as the minstrel sang before them of the
Trojan War and the Wooden Horse, that Odysseus wept over the story, it
was written so deep in his own heart. Then for the first time he told
them his true name and all his trials.
They would gladly have kept so great a man with them forever, but they
had no heart to keep him longer from his home; so they bade him
farewell and set him upon one of their magical ships, with many gifts
of gold and silver, and sent him on his way.
Wonderful seamen are the Phaeacians. The ocean is to them as air to the
bird,--the best path for a swift journey! Odysseus was glad enough to
trust the way to them, and no sooner had they set out than a sweet
sleep fell upon his eyelids. But the good ship sped like any bee that
knows the way home. In a marvellous short time they came even to the
shore of the kingdom of Ithaca.
While Odysseus was still sleeping, unconscious of his good fortune, the
Phaeacians lifted him from the ship with kindly joy and laid him upon
his own shore; and beside him they set the gifts of gold and silver and
fair work of the loom. So they departed; and thus it was that Odysseus
came to Ithaca after twenty years.
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