2.VI SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS

                                         VI

 

When the sun went down, my men went to lie by the ship. Then Circe the Enchantress took my hand, and, making me sit down by her, told me of the voyage that was ahead of us.’

‘” You will first come to the Sirens,” she said,” who sit in their field of flowers and bewitch all men who come near them. Anyone who comes near the Sirens and hears the sound of their voices will never again see their wife or child, or have a happy home coming. All round where the Sirens sit are great heaps of bones of men. But I will tell you, Odysseus, how you can pass them.”‘

‘”When you come near put wax over the ears of your company to prevent any of them hearing the Sirens’ song. But if you want to hear, get your company to tie your hands and feet to the mast. And if you beg them to release you, then must they tie you tighter. When your companions have sailed the ship past where the Sirens sing then you can be untied.”‘

‘”Past where the Sirens sit there is a dangerous place indeed. On one side there are great rocks which the gods call the Wandering Rocks. No ship that goes that way ever escapes. And round these rocks the planks of ships and the bodies of men are tossed by waves of the sea and storms of fire. Only one ship ever passed that way, Jason’s ship, the Argo, and that ship would have been broken on the rocks if Hera the goddess had not helped it to pass, because of her love for the hero Jason.”‘

‘”On the other side of the Wandering Rocks are two cliffs which you will have to take your ship through. One cliff is smooth and sheer and goes up to the clouds of heaven. In the middle of it there is a cave, and that cave is the den of a monster named Scylla. This monster has six necks and on each neck there is a hideous head. She holds her heads over the gulf, looking for prey and yelping horribly. No ship has ever passed that way without Scylla seizing and carrying off in each mouth of her six heads the body of a man.”‘

‘”The other cliff is near. You could shoot an arrow across to it from Scylla’s den. A fig tree grows out of the cliff, and below that fig tree Charybdis has her den. She sits there sucking down the water and spouting it out. You must not go anywhere near it or else nothing can save you. Keep nearer to Scylla’s than to Charybdis’s rock. It is better to lose six of your companions than to lose your ship and all your company. Keep near to Scylla’s rock and sail right on.”‘

‘”If you get past the deadly rocks guarded by Scylla and Charybdis you will come to the Island of Thrinacia. There the Cattle of the Sun graze with immortal nymphs to guard them. If you go to that Island, do no harm to those herds. If you do harm them I foresee your ship and your men will be destroyed, even though you yourself will escape.”‘

‘After Circe told me these things she went back up the island. Then I went to the ship and woke my men. They went aboard, and, having taken their seats on the benches, struck the water with their oars. Then the sails were hoisted and a breeze came and we sailed away from the Isle of Circe, the Enchantress.’

‘I told my companions what Circe had told me about the Sirens in their field of flowers. I took a great piece of wax and broke it and kneaded it until it was soft. Then I covered the ears of my men, and they tied me to the mast of the ship. The wind dropped and the sea became calm as though a god had stilled the waters. My company took their oars and pulled away. When the ship was near the Sirens saw us and raised their song.’

‘”Come here, come here, Odysseus,” the Sirens sang, “stop your ship and listen to our song. No one has ever gone this way on his ship until he has heard from our own lips the voice sweet as a honey, and has enjoyed it, and gone on his way a wiser man. We know everything—all the troubles the Greeks had in the war of Troy, and we know everything that will happen after. Odysseus, Odysseus, come to our field of flowers, and hear the song that we shall sing to you.”‘

‘My heart desperately wanted to listen to the Sirens. I nodded my head to the company commanding them to untie me, but they bound me tighter, and bent to their oars and rowed on. When we had gone past the place of the Sirens the men took the wax from off their ears and released me from the mast.’

No sooner had we passed the island than I saw smoke rising and heard the roaring of the sea. My company threw down their oars in terror. I went amongst them to raise their spirits, and I reminded them how, by my cunning, we had escaped from the Cave of the Cyclops.

I told them nothing about the monster Scylla, in case the fear of her should break their hearts. Then we began to sail through that narrow strait. On one side was Scylla and on the other Charybdis. Fear gripped the men when they saw Charybdis gulping down the sea. But as we sailed by, the monster Scylla seized six of my company—the strongest of the men who were with me. As they were lifted up in the mouths of her six heads they called to me in their agony. ‘But I could do nothing to help them. They were carried up to be devoured in the monster’s den. Of all the sights I have seen at sea, that sight was the most pitiful.’

‘Having passed the rocks of Scylla and Charybdis we came to the Island of Thrinacia. While we were still on the ship I heard the lowing of the Cattle of the Sun. I spoke to my company and told them that we should sail past that Island and not go on it.’

‘The hearts of my men were greatly disappointed at hearing that and Eurylochus answered me, speaking sadly.’

‘”It is easy for you, Odysseus, to speak like that, for you are never weary, and you have strength beyond measure. But is your heart, too, of iron so that you will not allow your companions to set foot on shore where they may rest themselves from the sea and prepare their supper at their ease?”‘

‘ Eurylochus spoke and the rest of the company agreed with what he said. Their force was greater than mine. Then said I, “Swear to me a mighty oath, one and all of you, that if we go on this Island none of you will kill the cattle out of any herd.”‘

‘They swore the oath that I gave them. We brought our ship to a harbour, and landed near a spring of fresh water, and the men got their supper ready. Having eaten their supper they began weeping because they thought about their companions that Scylla had devoured. Then they slept.’

‘The dawn came, but we found that we could not take our ship out of the harbour, for the North Wind and the East Wind blew a hurricane. So we stayed on the Island and the days and the weeks went by. When the corn we had brought in the ship was all eaten the men went through the island fishing and hunting. However they couldn’t find enough food.’

‘One day while I slept, Eurylochus gave the men some evil advice. “Every death,” he said, “is hateful to man, but death by hunger is far the worst. Rather than die of hunger let us kill the best cattle from the herds of the Sun. Then, if the gods wreck us on the sea for that, let them do it. I would rather perish on the waves than die of hunger.”‘

‘The rest of the men approved of what he said. They slaughtered them and roasted their flesh. It was then that I awoke. As I came down to the ship the smell of the roasting flesh came to me. Then I knew that a terrible act had been committed and that a dreadful thing would happen to all of us.’

‘For six days my company feasted on the best of the cattle. On the seventh day the winds stopped blowing. Then we went to the ship and set up the mast and the sails and left the island.’

‘But, having left that island, no other land appeared, and only sky and sea were to be seen. A cloud always stayed above our ship and beneath that cloud the sea was darkened. The West Wind came in a rush, and the mast broke, and, in breaking, struck off the head of the pilot, and he fell straight down into the sea. A thunderbolt struck the ship and the men were swept from the deck. I never saw one of them again.’

‘The West Wind stopped blowing but the South Wind came and it drove the ship back on its course. It rushed towards the terrible rocks of Scylla and Charybdis. All night long I was carried on, and, at dawn I found myself near Charybdis. My ship was sucked down. But I caught the branches of the fig tree that grew out of the rock and hung to it. There I stayed until the timbers of my ship were thrown up again by Charybdis. I dropped down on them. Sitting on the boards I rowed with my hands and passed the rock of Scylla without the monster seeing me.’

‘Then for nine days I was carried along by the waves, and on the tenth day I came to Ogygia where the nymph Calypso lives. She took me to her home and treated me kindly. ‘