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The Odyssey: Book 12 Analysis



Author: poem of Homer Type: poem Views: 4

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  "After we were clear of the river Oceanus, and had got out into

the open sea, we went on till we reached the Aeaean island where there

is dawn and sunrise as in other places. We then drew our ship on to

the sands and got out of her on to the shore, where we went to sleep

and waited till day should break.

  "Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, I

sent some men to Circe's house to fetch the body of Elpenor. We cut

firewood from a wood where the headland jutted out into the sea, and

after we had wept over him and lamented him we performed his funeral

rites. When his body and armour had been burned to ashes, we raised

a cairn, set a stone over it, and at the top of the cairn we fixed the

oar that he had been used to row with.

  "While we were doing all this, Circe, who knew that we had got

back from the house of Hades, dressed herself and came to us as fast

as she could; and her maid servants came with her bringing us bread,

meat, and wine. Then she stood in the midst of us and said, 'You

have done a bold thing in going down alive to the house of Hades,

and you will have died twice, to other people's once; now, then,

stay here for the rest of the day, feast your fill, and go on with

your voyage at daybreak tomorrow morning. In the meantime I will

tell Ulysses about your course, and will explain everything to him

so as to prevent your suffering from misadventure either by land or

sea.'

  "We agreed to do as she had said, and feasted through the livelong

day to the going down of the sun, but when the sun had set and it came

on dark, the men laid themselves down to sleep by the stern cables

of the ship. Then Circe took me by the hand and bade me be seated away

from the others, while she reclined by my side and asked me all

about our adventures.

  "'So far so good,' said she, when I had ended my story, 'and now pay

attention to what I am about to tell you- heaven itself, indeed,

will recall it to your recollection. First you will come to the Sirens

who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too

close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children

will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and

warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great

heap of dead men's bones lying all around, with the flesh still

rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your

men's ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you

can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you

stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must

lash the rope's ends to the mast itself, that you may have the

pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you,

then they must bind you faster.

  "'When your crew have taken you past these Sirens, I cannot give you

coherent directions as to which of two courses you are to take; I will

lay the two alternatives before you, and you must consider them for

yourself. On the one hand there are some overhanging rocks against

which the deep blue waves of Amphitrite beat with terrific fury; the

blessed gods call these rocks the Wanderers. Here not even a bird

may pass, no, not even the timid doves that bring ambrosia to Father

Jove, but the sheer rock always carries off one of them, and Father

Jove has to send another to make up their number; no ship that ever

yet came to these rocks has got away again, but the waves and

whirlwinds of fire are freighted with wreckage and with the bodies

of dead men. The only vessel that ever sailed and got through, was the

famous Argo on her way from the house of Aetes, and she too would have

gone against these great rocks, only that Juno piloted her past them

for the love she bore to Jason.

  "'Of these two rocks the one reaches heaven and its peak is lost

in a dark cloud. This never leaves it, so that the top is never

clear not even in summer and early autumn. No man though he had twenty

hands and twenty feet could get a foothold on it and climb it, for

it runs sheer up, as smooth as though it had been polished. In the

middle of it there is a large cavern, looking West and turned

towards Erebus; you must take your ship this way, but the cave is so

high up that not even the stoutest archer could send an arrow into it.

Inside it Scylla sits and yelps with a voice that you might take to be

that of a young hound, but in truth she is a dreadful monster and no

one- not even a god- could face her without being terror-struck. She

has twelve mis-shapen feet, and six necks of the most prodigious

length; and at the end of each neck she has a frightful head with

three rows of teeth in each, all set very close together, so that they

would crunch any one to death in a moment, and she sits deep within

her shady cell thrusting out her heads and peering all round the rock,

fishing for dolphins or dogfish or any larger monster that she can

catch, of the thousands with which Amphitrite teems. No ship ever

yet got past her without losing some men, for she shoots out all her

heads at once, and carries off a man in each mouth.

  "'You will find the other rocks lie lower, but they are so close

together that there is not more than a bowshot between them. [A

large fig tree in full leaf grows upon it], and under it lies the

sucking whirlpool of Charybdis. Three times in the day does she

vomit forth her waters, and three times she sucks them down again; see

that you be not there when she is sucking, for if you are, Neptune

himself could not save you; you must hug the Scylla side and drive

ship by as fast as you can, for you had better lose six men than

your whole crew.'

  "'Is there no way,' said I, 'of escaping Charybdis, and at the

same time keeping Scylla off when she is trying to harm my men?'

  "'You dare-devil,' replied the goddess, you are always wanting to

fight somebody or something; you will not let yourself be beaten

even by the immortals. For Scylla is not mortal; moreover she is

savage, extreme, rude, cruel and invincible. There is no help for

it; your best chance will be to get by her as fast as ever you can,

for if you dawdle about her rock while you are putting on your armour,

she may catch you with a second cast of her six heads, and snap up

another half dozen of your men; so drive your ship past her at full

speed, and roar out lustily to Crataiis who is Scylla's dam, bad

luck to her; she will then stop her from making a second raid upon

you.

  "'You will now come to the Thrinacian island, and here you will

see many herds of cattle and flocks of sheep belonging to the sun-god-

seven herds of cattle and seven flocks of sheep, with fifty head in

each flock. They do not breed, nor do they become fewer in number, and

they are tended by the goddesses Phaethusa and Lampetie, who are

children of the sun-god Hyperion by Neaera. Their mother when she

had borne them and had done suckling them sent them to the

Thrinacian island, which was a long way off, to live there and look

after their father's flocks and herds. If you leave these flocks

unharmed, and think of nothing but getting home, you may yet after

much hardship reach Ithaca; but if you harm them, then I forewarn

you of the destruction both of your ship and of your comrades; and

even though you may yourself escape, you will return late, in bad

plight, after losing all your men.'

  "Here she ended, and dawn enthroned in gold began to show in heaven,

whereon she returned inland. I then went on board and told my men to

loose the ship from her moorings; so they at once got into her, took

their places, and began to smite the grey sea with their oars.

Presently the great and cunning goddess Circe befriended us with a

fair wind that blew dead aft, and stayed steadily with us, keeping our

sails well filled, so we did whatever wanted doing to the ship's gear,

and let her go as wind and helmsman headed her.

  "Then, being much troubled in mind, I said to my men, 'My friends,

it is not right that one or two of us alone should know the prophecies

that Circe has made me, I will therefore tell you about them, so

that whether we live or die we may do so with our eyes open. First she

said we were to keep clear of the Sirens, who sit and sing most

beautifully in a field of flowers; but she said I might hear them

myself so long as no one else did. Therefore, take me and bind me to

the crosspiece half way up the mast; bind me as I stand upright,

with a bond so fast that I cannot possibly break away, and lash the

rope's ends to the mast itself. If I beg and pray you to set me

free, then bind me more tightly still.'

  "I had hardly finished telling everything to the men before we

reached the island of the two Sirens, for the wind had been very

favourable. Then all of a sudden it fell dead calm; there was not a

breath of wind nor a ripple upon the water, so the men furled the

sails and stowed them; then taking to their oars they whitened the

water with the foam they raised in rowing. Meanwhile I look a large

wheel of wax and cut it up small with my sword. Then I kneaded the wax

in my strong hands till it became soft, which it soon did between

the kneading and the rays of the sun-god son of Hyperion. Then I

stopped the ears of all my men, and they bound me hands and feet to

the mast as I stood upright on the crosspiece; but they went on rowing

themselves. When we had got within earshot of the land, and the ship

was going at a good rate, the Sirens saw that we were getting in shore

and began with their singing.

  "'Come here,' they sang, 'renowned Ulysses, honour to the Achaean

name, and listen to our two voices. No one ever sailed past us without

staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song- and he who

listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser, for we know

all the ills that the gods laid upon the Argives and Trojans before

Troy, and can tell you everything that is going to happen over the

whole world.'

  "They sang these words most musically, and as I longed to hear

them further I made by frowning to my men that they should set me

free; but they quickened their stroke, and Eurylochus and Perimedes

bound me with still stronger bonds till we had got out of hearing of

the Sirens' voices. Then my men took the wax from their ears and

unbound me.

  "Immediately after we had got past the island I saw a great wave

from which spray was rising, and I heard a loud roaring sound. The men

were so frightened that they loosed hold of their oars, for the

whole sea resounded with the rushing of the waters, but the ship

stayed where it was, for the men had left off rowing. I went round,

therefore, and exhorted them man by man not to lose heart.

  "'My friends,' said I, 'this is not the first time that we have been

in danger, and we are in nothing like so bad a case as when the

Cyclops shut us up in his cave; nevertheless, my courage and wise

counsel saved us then, and we shall live to look back on all this as

well. Now, therefore, let us all do as I say, trust in Jove and row on

with might and main. As for you, coxswain, these are your orders;

attend to them, for the ship is in your hands; turn her head away from

these steaming rapids and hug the rock, or she will give you the

slip and be over yonder before you know where you are, and you will be

the death of us.'

  "So they did as I told them; but I said nothing about the awful

monster Scylla, for I knew the men would not on rowing if I did, but

would huddle together in the hold. In one thing only did I disobey

Circe's strict instructions- I put on my armour. Then seizing two

strong spears I took my stand on the ship Is bows, for it was there

that I expected first to see the monster of the rock, who was to do my

men so much harm; but I could not make her out anywhere, though I

strained my eyes with looking the gloomy rock all over and over

  "Then we entered the Straits in great fear of mind, for on the one

hand was Scylla, and on the other dread Charybdis kept sucking up

the salt water. As she vomited it up, it was like the water in a

cauldron when it is boiling over upon a great fire, and the spray

reached the top of the rocks on either side. When she began to suck

again, we could see the water all inside whirling round and round, and

it made a deafening sound as it broke against the rocks. We could

see the bottom of the whirlpool all black with sand and mud, and the

men were at their wit's ends for fear. While we were taken up with

this, and were expecting each moment to be our last, Scylla pounced

down suddenly upon us and snatched up my six best men. I was looking

at once after both ship and men, and in a moment I saw their hands and

feet ever so high above me, struggling in the air as Scylla was

carrying them off, and I heard them call out my name in one last

despairing cry. As a fisherman, seated, spear in hand, upon some

jutting rock throws bait into the water to deceive the poor little

fishes, and spears them with the ox's horn with which his spear is

shod, throwing them gasping on to the land as he catches them one by

one- even so did Scylla land these panting creatures on her rock and

munch them up at the mouth of her den, while they screamed and

stretched out their hands to me in their mortal agony. This was the

most sickening sight that I saw throughout all my voyages.

  "When we had passed the [Wandering] rocks, with Scylla and

terrible Charybdis, we reached the noble island of the sun-god,

where were the goodly cattle and sheep belonging to the sun

Hyperion. While still at sea in my ship I could bear the cattle lowing

as they came home to the yards, and the sheep bleating. Then I

remembered what the blind Theban prophet Teiresias had told me, and

how carefully Aeaean Circe had warned me to shun the island of the

blessed sun-god. So being much troubled I said to the men, 'My men,

I know you are hard pressed, but listen while I tell you the

prophecy that Teiresias made me, and how carefully Aeaean Circe warned

me to shun the island of the blessed sun-god, for it was here, she

said, that our worst danger would lie. Head the ship, therefore,

away from the island.'

  "The men were in despair at this, and Eurylochus at once gave me

an insolent answer. 'Ulysses,' said he, 'you are cruel; you are very

strong yourself and never get worn out; you seem to be made of iron,

and now, though your men are exhausted with toil and want of sleep,

you will not let them land and cook themselves a good supper upon this

island, but bid them put out to sea and go faring fruitlessly on

through the watches of the flying night. It is by night that the winds

blow hardest and do so much damage; how can we escape should one of

those sudden squalls spring up from South West or West, which so often

wreck a vessel when our lords the gods are unpropitious? Now,

therefore, let us obey the of night and prepare our supper here hard

by the ship; to-morrow morning we will go on board again and put out

to sea.'

  "Thus spoke Eurylochus, and the men approved his words. I saw that

heaven meant us a mischief and said, 'You force me to yield, for you

are many against one, but at any rate each one of you must take his

solemn oath that if he meet with a herd of cattle or a large flock

of sheep, he will not be so mad as to kill a single head of either,

but will be satisfied with the food that Circe has given us.'

  "They all swore as I bade them, and when they had completed their

oath we made the ship fast in a harbour that was near a stream of

fresh water, and the men went ashore and cooked their suppers. As soon

as they had had enough to eat and drink, they began talking about

their poor comrades whom Scylla had snatched up and eaten; this set

them weeping and they went on crying till they fell off into a sound

sleep.

  "In the third watch of the night when the stars had shifted their

places, Jove raised a great gale of wind that flew a hurricane so that

land and sea were covered with thick clouds, and night sprang forth

out of the heavens. When the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn,

appeared, we brought the ship to land and drew her into a cave wherein

the sea-nymphs hold their courts and dances, and I called the men

together in council.

  "'My friends,' said I, 'we have meat and drink in the ship, let us

mind, therefore, and not touch the cattle, or we shall suffer for

it; for these cattle and sheep belong to the mighty sun, who sees

and gives ear to everything. And again they promised that they would

obey.

  "For a whole month the wind blew steadily from the South, and

there was no other wind, but only South and East. As long as corn

and wine held out the men did not touch the cattle when they were

hungry; when, however, they had eaten all there was in the ship,

they were forced to go further afield, with hook and line, catching

birds, and taking whatever they could lay their hands on; for they

were starving. One day, therefore, I went up inland that I might

pray heaven to show me some means of getting away. When I had gone far

enough to be clear of all my men, and had found a place that was

well sheltered from the wind, I washed my hands and prayed to all

the gods in Olympus till by and by they sent me off into a sweet

sleep.

  "Meanwhile Eurylochus had been giving evil counsel to the men,

'Listen to me,' said he, 'my poor comrades. All deaths are bad

enough but there is none so bad as famine. Why should not we drive

in the best of these cows and offer them in sacrifice to the

immortal Rods? If we ever get back to Ithaca, we can build a fine

temple to the sun-god and enrich it with every kind of ornament; if,

however, he is determined to sink our ship out of revenge for these

homed cattle, and the other gods are of the same mind, I for one would

rather drink salt water once for all and have done with it, than be

starved to death by inches in such a desert island as this is.'

  "Thus spoke Eurylochus, and the men approved his words. Now the

cattle, so fair and goodly, were feeding not far from the ship; the

men, therefore drove in the best of them, and they all stood round

them saying their prayers, and using young oak-shoots instead of

barley-meal, for there was no barley left. When they had done

praying they killed the cows and dressed their carcasses; they cut out

the thigh bones, wrapped them round in two layers of fat, and set some

pieces of raw meat on top of them. They had no wine with which to make

drink-offerings over the sacrifice while it was cooking, so they

kept pouring on a little water from time to time while the inward

meats were being grilled; then, when the thigh bones were burned and

they had tasted the inward meats, they cut the rest up small and put

the pieces upon the spits.

  "By this time my deep sleep had left me, and I turned back to the

ship and to the sea shore. As I drew near I began to smell hot roast

meat, so I groaned out a prayer to the immortal gods. 'Father Jove,' I

exclaimed, 'and all you other gods who live in everlasting bliss,

you have done me a cruel mischief by the sleep into which you have

sent me; see what fine work these men of mine have been making in my

absence.'

  "Meanwhile Lampetie went straight off to the sun and told him we had

been killing his cows, whereon he flew into a great rage, and said

to the immortals, 'Father Jove, and all you other gods who live in

everlasting bliss, I must have vengeance on the crew of Ulysses' ship:

they have had the insolence to kill my cows, which were the one

thing I loved to look upon, whether I was going up heaven or down

again. If they do not square accounts with me about my cows, I will go

down to Hades and shine there among the dead.'

  "'Sun,' said Jove, 'go on shining upon us gods and upon mankind over

the fruitful earth. I will shiver their ship into little pieces with a

bolt of white lightning as soon as they get out to sea.'

  "I was told all this by Calypso, who said she had heard it from

the mouth of Mercury.

  "As soon as I got down to my ship and to the sea shore I rebuked

each one of the men separately, but we could see no way out of it, for

the cows were dead already. And indeed the gods began at once to

show signs and wonders among us, for the hides of the cattle crawled

about, and the joints upon the spits began to low like cows, and the

meat, whether cooked or raw, kept on making a noise just as cows do.

  "For six days my men kept driving in the best cows and feasting upon

them, but when Jove the son of Saturn had added a seventh day, the

fury of the gale abated; we therefore went on board, raised our masts,

spread sail, and put out to sea. As soon as we were well away from the

island, and could see nothing but sky and sea, the son of Saturn

raised a black cloud over our ship, and the sea grew dark beneath

it. We not get on much further, for in another moment we were caught

by a terrific squall from the West that snapped the forestays of the

mast so that it fell aft, while all the ship's gear tumbled about at

the bottom of the vessel. The mast fell upon the head of the

helmsman in the ship's stern, so that the bones of his head were

crushed to pieces, and he fell overboard as though he were diving,

with no more life left in him.

  "Then Jove let fly with his thunderbolts, and the ship went round

and round, and was filled with fire and brimstone as the lightning

struck it. The men all fell into the sea; they were carried about in

the water round the ship, looking like so many sea-gulls, but the

god presently deprived them of all chance of getting home again.

  "I stuck to the ship till the sea knocked her sides from her keel

(which drifted about by itself) and struck the mast out of her in

the direction of the keel; but there was a backstay of stout

ox-thong still hanging about it, and with this I lashed the mast and

keel together, and getting astride of them was carried wherever the

winds chose to take me.

  "[The gale from the West had now spent its force, and the wind got

into the South again, which frightened me lest I should be taken

back to the terrible whirlpool of Charybdis. This indeed was what

actually happened, for I was borne along by the waves all night, and

by sunrise had reacfied the rock of Scylla, and the whirlpool. She was

then sucking down the salt sea water, but I was carried aloft toward

the fig tree, which I caught hold of and clung on to like a bat. I

could not plant my feet anywhere so as to stand securely, for the

roots were a long way off and the boughs that overshadowed the whole

pool were too high, too vast, and too far apart for me to reach

them; so I hung patiently on, waiting till the pool should discharge

my mast and raft again- and a very long while it seemed. A juryman

is not more glad to get home to supper, after having been long

detained in court by troublesome cases, than I was to see my raft

beginning to work its way out of the whirlpool again. At last I let go

with my hands and feet, and fell heavily into the sea, bard by my raft

on to which I then got, and began to row with my hands. As for Scylla,

the father of gods and men would not let her get further sight of

me- otherwise I should have certainly been lost.]

  "Hence I was carried along for nine days till on the tenth night the

gods stranded me on the Ogygian island, where dwells the great and

powerful goddess Calypso. She took me in and was kind to me, but I

need say no more about this, for I told you and your noble wife all

about it yesterday, and I hate saying the same thing over and over

again."





Translated by Samuel Butler






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