Homer’s Odyssey, Book X: Selections

Circe_by_Wright_Barker_(1889)

Circe, by Wright Barker (1889)

After escaping from Polyphemus, Odysseus arrives at the island of Aeolus (the king of the winds) and is given by him a leather bag containing all the winds apart from the one that will take his ships back to Ithaca. He sails off, but within sight of Ithaca he falls asleep, his men open the bag to see what is inside and the winds escape, blowing them back to Aeolus, who angrily dismisses them. They depart and, with no winds to help them, have to row for six days. Then they arrive at the land of the Laestrygonians.

81-132
On the seventh day we reached the lofty citadel of Lamos,
Laestrygonian Telepylus, where a shepherd does a shepherd
Hail when he drives his flock in, and the one driving his out replies.
There the sleepless man earns a double wage,
One tending cattle, the other pasturing silvery-white sheep;
For the courses of night and day are close.
We came then there, to the splendid harbour, around which a rock
Precipitous, continues straight through on both sides,
Jutting promontories facing each other,
They jutted out to the mouth, and there is a narrow entrance,
Where within the others all moored their ships, swaying to and fro.
And from within the empty harbour they were tied
Near to each other; for the waves did not ever rise in there,
Neither small nor large, but rather there was clear calm around.
And I alone moored my black ship without,
At its furthest reach, having tied the ship-cables from the rock.
I went up to a rugged look-out point and stood;
There the works were revealed neither of cattle nor men,
We saw only smoke, rising away from the ground.
So then I sent out companions, going forth, to learn
What men there were in the land who ate bread,
Having chosen two men, and making a third follow with as herald.
And when they disembarked, they found a smooth road, upon which wagons
Going townward from lofty mountains brought back wood.
They met up with a maiden fetching water outside of town,
The stalwart daughter of the Laestrygonian Antiphates.
She, indeed, had come down to the beautiful-flowing fountain,
Artacia; from there they would carry water for the town;
Standing beside this, they were calling out and asking:
Who the king was of these people and over whom he ruled.
And she straightaway pointed right to her high-vaulted house.
And when they went into the glorious hall, the woman
They discovered as great as the peak of a mountain, and they were horror-struck.
Forthwith she summoned Antiphates from the agora,
Her husband, who for them contrived woeful destruction.
At once, grabbing of one of the companions, he prepared a meal.
But the two slipped away in flight and reached the ships.
And he raised a hue through the town, and those who heard,
Stalwart Laestrygonians coming and going, from one place and another,
Countless, and not like men, but rather Giants.
And they, with boulders from the cliffs as large as a man can carry,
Struck us. Soon a terrible din arose throughout the ships
While men perished and ships alongside were crushed;
Spearing the men like fish, they carried away a joyless banquet.
While they killed those in the deepest harbour,
I pulled my sharp sword from my thigh,
With it I cut the ship-cables of the dark-prowed ship;
Straightaway I gave orders to my companions, urging them,
To fall upon the oars, so that we might flee from catastrophe;
And they all churned the sea, fearing destruction.
Gladly my ship fled the overhanging rocks
To the sea, but the others were destroyed all together, on the spot.

Odysseus and his men reach the island of Aeaea, home of the dread goddess Circe (sister of malignant Aeetes). After seeing smoke, he splits his crew into two groups (one commanded by him, the other by his close relative Eurylochus), one of which is to go off and reconnoitre. Eurylochus and his group are selected by lot as the ones to go.

208-240
He set out to go, and with him two and twenty companions,
Lamenting, they left us behind also weeping.

They discovered in a wooded copse the home of Circe, built
With polished stone, in a conspicuous spot.
And all around it were wolves and mountain-dwelling lions,
And she enchanted them, when she gave them a wicked drug.
They did not rush the men, but rather, for them at least,
They sat up, wagging around their long tails.
Like dogs around their master when he comes from a feast,
They fawn; for he always brings their heart’s delight;
Thus around them the wolves and large-clawed lions
Fawned; and, let me tell you, they were afraid when they saw the dread monsters.
They stood at the front-door of the lovely-haired goddess,
They heard Circe within, singing with her beautiful voice,
Plying her mighty, divine loom, like that of goddesses
Delicate and elegant and shining works were made.
To them, Polites began a speech, leader of men,
Who was most cared for by me, and most cherished of my companions:
“My friends, someone plying a mighty loom within
Sings a beautiful song, and it echoes all around the entire ground,
Either god or woman; but let us quickly give utterance.”

Thus he spoke, and they gave utterance, calling her.
And she came out straightaway and opening the shining doors,
She invited them in; and they all followed with, in ignorance,
But Eurylochus remained behind; for he knew it to be a trick.
Leading them in she had them sit on chairs and couches.
For them, bread and cheese and fresh honey
She mixed with Pramnian wine; but she stirred with the food
A baneful drug, so that they would altogether forget their ancestral soil.
And when she gave it and they drank it down, immediately thereafter,
Striking them with her wand, she enclosed them all in a pig-sty.
And they had the head and voice and hair of wild swine,
And the bodies too, but their minds were as steadfast as ever before.

Eurylochus returns to Odysseus with news that his comrades disappeared in the house in the woods. Odysseus immediately wants to go there and asks Eurylochus to guide him. He refuses, terrified that Odysseus will not return or rescue any of the lost men, and urges flight instead. Odysseus tells Eurylochus to stay there by the ship eating and drinking, while he goes off, as he has to.

274-347
After I spoke thus, away from the ship I went, and the sea.
But going through the supernatural copse of wood, when I was about
To reach the great house of pharmacopious Circe,
There Hermias with his golden wand met with me,
Going to toward the house, in the form of a youthful man,
With his first downy beard, for whom the prime of manhood is most graceful;
Into my hand he put his, and spoke a word, and called me out by name:

“Where now this time, you unfortunate man, are you going alone through the hilltop,
Though you are ignorant of the place? Your companions, here, in Circe’s
Are enclosed like wild swine, they occupy a thick-barred hole.
Or do you come hither to free them? I say that you
Will not yourself return home, but you, at least, will remain here, with the others.
But come, I shall deliver you from misfortunes and be your saviour.
Here. Take this excellent drug and to the halls of Circe
Go. It wards evil off from the head for a day.
And I will tell you all of Circe’s deadly arts.
She will make a brew, and she will put drugs in the food;
But she will not be able to enchant you in this way, for this will not permit it,
The drug which I will give you, and I will tell you each and every thing.
When Circe drives you forth with her long, tall wand,
At that point, drawing your sharp sword from your thigh,
Rush at Circe as if you eagerly desire to kill her.
And she, when she cowers before you, will urge you to be bedded.
Thenceforth you are hereafter no longer to reject the bed of the goddess,
So that she may free your companions and take care of you;
But order her to swear the oath of the blessed ones,
So that she will not plan any other wicked calamity for you,
And she will not make you weak and unmanned when you are stripped bare.”

Once he said this, the Argus-slayer furnished the drug,
Plucking it from the ground, and he showed me its nature.
At the root it was dark, but the blossom was like milk;
The gods call it moly, and it is difficult to dig up
For mortal men, at least, but the gods can do anything.
Hermias then went away to high Olympus,
Up from the wooded island, and I to the house of Circe
Did go, my heart beating fast as I went.
I stood at the doors of the lovely-haired goddess;
Standing there I called out, and the goddess heard my cry.
And she came out straightaway and opening the shining doors,
She invited me in, and I followed, though my heart grieved.
Leading me in, she sat me upon a silver-studded chair,
Beautiful and cunningly wrought; there was a stool beneath my feet.
She prepared for me her brew in a golden goblet, so that I might drink,
And in it she put the drug, plotting evil in her heart.
She gave and I drank up but she did not enchant me,
Though she struck me with her wand, and spoke a word, and called me out by name:

“Go now to the pig-sty, and lay with your other companions.”
Thus she spoke, but I, drawing my sharp blade from my thigh,
Rushed at Circe, as though I eagerly desired to kill her.
She shrieked loudly, running below it and taking my knees,
Wailing, she addressed me with winged words:
“Who are you, from where of men? Where are your city and parents?
Wonder holds me, since you were not in any way enchanted, though you drank this drug.
No other man, in no way, has resisted these drugs,
Whoever drank, as soon as it passed across the enclosure of his teeth;
But the spirit you have in your breast is unenchantable.
You must be resourceful Odysseus, whom ever to me
The Argus-slayer with his golden wand said would come,
Sailing out from Troy with his swift, dark ship.
But come, put your sword in its sheath now, and we two shall henceforth
Climb into our bed, so that entwined together
In the bed and in affection, we may put our trust in one another.”

Thus she spoke, and replying to her I said:
“Circe, how can you command me to be kindly to you,
Who made my companions into swine in your halls,
You command me here with a guileful mind
To go to your room and climb into your bed,
So that when I am stripped bare you might make me weak and unmanned .
And I would not wish to climb into your bed,
At least not unless you venture, goddess, to swear the great oath,
Not to plan another wicked calamity for myself.”

Thus I spoke, and immediately she swore that she would not, just as I commanded.
And then indeed she swore and she completed her oath,
And only then did I climb into the bed of Circe, very lovely.

Next Circe bathes Odysseus and puts a fine meal before him, but he refuses to eat. She asks him why.

382-399
Thus she spoke, and replying, I said to her:
“Circe, what man indeed, who would be righteous,
Would sooner submit to partake of food and drink,
Before he freed his companions and he saw them with his own eyes?
But if indeed you eagerly bid me to eat and drink,
The free them, so that I may see my faithful companions with my own eyes.”
Thus I spoke, and Circe stepped out through the hall,
Taking her wand in her hand, and she opened the doors of the pig-sty,
And she drove them, looking like fat hogs in season.
When they stood facing her, through them she
Went, smearing another drug on each man.
And the hair fell from their frames, which the accursed drug
From before brought forth, the one revered Circe provided for them;
And they became men again, younger than they were before
And much more beautiful, and mightier to behold.
Those men recognized me, and each clasped me in his hands.
A yearning grief penetrated everyone, all around the house
Woeful cries resounded, and even the goddess herself took pity.

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