Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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The men then bound him hand and foot to the mast, returned to their oars, and rowed steadily on. Soon the Sirens’ melody fell upon Ulysses’ charmed ears; but, although he commanded and implored his men to set him free and alter their course, they kept steadily on until no sound of the magic song could reach them, when they once more set their leader free.

Now, although this danger had been safely passed, Ulysses was troubled in spirit, for he knew he would soon be obliged to steer his course between two dread monsters, Charybdis and Scylla, who lay so close together, that, while striving to avoid one, it was almost impossible not to fall an easy prey to the other.

Charybdis’ den lay under a rock crowned with a single wild fig tree; and three times daily she ingulfed the surrounding waters, drawing even large galleys into her capacious jaws.

As for Scylla, she too dwelt in a cave, whence her six ugly heads protruded to devour any prey that came within reach.

“No mariner can boast
That he has passed by Scylla with a crew
Unharmed; she snatches from the deck, and bears
Away in each grim mouth, a living man.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

This selfsame Scylla, once a lovely maiden, had won the heart of the sea god Glaucus (p. 303), but coquettishly tormented him until he implored Circe to give him some love potion strong enough to compel her love.

[353] Circe, who had long nursed a secret passion for Glaucus, was angry at him, and jealous of her rival, and, instead of a love potion, prepared a loathsome drug, which she bade him pour into the water where Scylla was wont to bathe. Glaucus faithfully did as she commanded; but when Scylla plunged into the water, her body, and not her feelings, changed, and she became a loathsome monster, a terror to gods and men.

When in sight of the fig tree, Ulysses, cased in armor, stood on the prow to attack Scylla should she attempt to seize one of his crew. The sound of the rushing waters whirling around Charybdis made all on board tremble with fear, and the pilot steered nearer still to dread Scylla’s den.

Suddenly a piercing cry was heard, as the monster seized six of the men and devoured them. The rest passed on unharmed; but since then, in speaking of conflicting dangers, it has been customary to use the expression, “falling from Charybdis into Scylla.”

Cattle of the sun.

Only too glad to effect an escape at any price, the Greeks again rowed on until they sighted Trinacria, the island of the sun, where Phaetusa and Lampetia watched over the sun god’s sacred herds. The men wished to land here to rest; but Ulysses reminded them that Tiresias, the blind seer, had warned them to avoid it, lest by slaying any of the sacred animals they should incur divine wrath.

The men, however, worn out with the toil of many days’ rowing, entreated so piteously to be allowed to rest, voluntarily pledging themselves to be content with their own provisions and not to slay a single animal, that Ulysses reluctantly yielded to their entreaties, and all went ashore.