Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art
Page: 160Ulysses, ever cautious, had lingered without the harbor; and when, from afar, he saw his companions’ horrible fate, he bade his men strike the waves with their “sounding oars” and escape.
The Greeks went on again until they came to Ææa, an island inhabited by the golden-haired enchantress Circe, sister of Æetes, and aunt of Medea. Here Ulysses’ crew was divided into two parties, one of which, led by Eurylochus, set out to explore the island, while the other, headed by Ulysses, remained to guard the ships. Through a dense forest, peopled with strangely gentle wild beasts, Eurylochus led his force, until they came in sight of the beautiful palace home of Circe. From afar they could hear her sweet voice raised in song, as she wove a beautiful web for her own adornment: so they pressed eagerly on, and entered the palace hall, Eurylochus alone lingering on the porch, fearing lest some fraud might suddenly be revealed.
Circe received her self-invited guests most graciously, seated them on tapestry-covered couches, and bade her numerous handmaidens speedily set before them all manner of good cheer,—an order which was immediately carried out. The men feasted greedily, for they had fasted for many days, and Circe watched them with ill-concealed disgust. Suddenly she started from her seat, waved her wand over their heads, and bade them assume the form of swine (which obscene animals their gluttony suggested), and hie them to their sties.
She touched them with a wand, and shut them up
In sties, transformed to swine in head and voice,
Bristles and shape, though still the human mind
Remained to them. Thus sorrowing they were driven
Into their cells, where Circe flung to them
Acorns of oak and ilex, and the fruit
Of cornel, such as nourish wallowing swine.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).
Eurylochus, meanwhile, vainly awaited their return, and finally resolved to go back alone to the ships and report what had happened. Sword in hand, Ulysses then set out alone to rescue his comrades; but he had not gone far before he met a youth,—Mercury in disguise,—who warned him not to approach any nearer Circe, and told him of his companions’ transformation.
As Ulysses would not be dissuaded from his purpose, Mercury gave him some moly, an herb warranted to preserve him from Circe’s magic spells, and sundry important directions, which were all duly listened to and observed.
Pressing onward, Ulysses reached the palace, entered the banquet room, drank Circe’s mixture, which was rendered ineffective by the moly’s power, and, when she waved her wand over his head and bade him join his fellows, drew his sword and rushed upon her, threatening to take her life if she did not immediately restore his friends to their human forms, and promise to do them no further harm.