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The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies

Page: 28

The escape of Ulys´ses from the cavern of the Cyclops and from the enchantments of Circe has been already related. After passing safely between Scylla and Charybdis, Ulys´ses landed in the island of Thrinakia, where the cattle of Hyperion (the Sun) fed in verdant pastures. Circe had warned the voyagers that these flocks should be held inviolate, however pressing their wants might be. They were detained a long time at Thrinakia by contrary winds; and Ulys´ses bound his companions by an oath that they would not touch the sacred herds. They were, however, so pressed by famine that they ventured one day, [159] in the absence of Ulys´ses, to slay a number of the sacred cattle; vainly endeavoring to propitiate the offended god, by offering a portion in sacrifice. Ulys´ses returning to the shore, was struck with horror at their temerity, the more so on account of the fearful signs which followed. The skins crept on the ground, and the joints of meat lowed on the spits while roasting.

As the wind was now favorable, Ulys´ses hastened to fly from the fatal island. The vengeance of the god pursued them on the sea, and a terrible storm arose, in which all perished, except Ulys´ses himself, who was spared as having taken no part in the sacrilege. He formed a raft from the fragments of his ship, and was at length cast by the waves upon the island of the nymph Calypso. This goddess entertained Ulys´ses with much kindness, and even offered to share her immortality with the hero, if he would consent to forget Ithaca and dwell forever in her happy island. Jupiter, however, sent Mercury to Calypso, with the command that she should dismiss Ulys´ses, and provide him with all that was necessary for his homeward voyage.

The goddess reluctantly obeyed; a raft was constructed and furnished, and Ulys´ses departed from the island. He sped prosperously for some days, and was almost within sight of land, when a violent storm arose, in which he would have perished had he not been aided by a compassionate [160] sea nymph; Minerva, also, smoothed the billows before him, and he swam safely to land.

The Phæacians, on whose shores he had been cast, received him kindly, and fitted out a ship in which he sailed for Ithaca. Ulys´ses was asleep when the vessel touched the strand. The Phæacians carried him on shore without awaking him, and placed near him a chest filled with costly gifts, after which they sailed away. Neptune was so much displeased with the Phæacians for aiding Ulys´ses, that, as their vessel was returning to port, he transformed it into a rock, which continued ever after to obstruct the mouth of their harbor.

The arrival of the hero could not have occurred more opportunely for the deliverance of his wife, the faithful Penel´ope. When a long time had elapsed after the fall of Troy, and no tidings were received of Ulys´ses, it was generally believed that he had perished. More than a hundred nobles of Ithaca and the surrounding islands, became suitors for the hand of Penel´ope; she however still cherished the hope of her husband’s return, and refused to entertain any proposal of marriage. The suitors nevertheless persisted; they remained in the palace, which they filled with riot and feasting, and continually urged Penel´ope to choose a husband from among their number. She promised, at length, that she would do so when she had completed a certain web of embroidery on which she was engaged. They [161] agreed to wait, and Penel´ope deceived them for a long time, plying her needle diligently during the day, and undoing the greater part of her work at night. This device succeeded for three years, at the end of which time the suitors became so importunate that Penel´ope could no longer resist. She promised, therefore, that she would marry that man who should send an arrow from the bow of Ulys´ses, through twelve rings suspended in a line. The conditions were accepted: and it was on the very eve of the day appointed for the contest, that Ulys´ses landed in Ithaca. It was necessary to conceal his return; for this purpose the hero disguised himself as a beggar, and by the aid of Minerva, so changed his whole appearance that it was impossible for any one to recognize him. In this character he was kindly received by Eumæus, a swine-herd, from whom he learned all that had transpired, and the present distress of Penel´ope.


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