Odyssey: On Circe's Island

This story is part of the Odyssey unit. Story source: Homer's Odyssey, translated into English by Tony Kline. (2004).

Odysseus Gathers his Men

Then the lovely goddess drew near, and said: “Odysseus, of many resources, scion of Zeus, Laertes’ son, go now to your swift ship and the shore. Drag your ship on land: store your tackle and goods in the caves. Then return with your loyal friends.”

To this my proud heart consented, and I went down to the swift ship and the shore, and there by the speedy vessel I found my faithful comrades, lamenting and shedding tears. Like calves in a farmyard that frisk around the herd of cows that return from grazing, free from their pens and gambolling together, lowing constantly round their mothers, so those men, at the sight of me, crowded round weeping, and in their hearts they felt as though they were home again in rugged Ithaca, in the town where they were born and bred.

Still grieving, they spoke with winged words: “We are as happy, favourite of Zeus, as though we were back in Ithaca, but tell us the fate of the rest of our friends.”

I replied with calming words: “First drag the ship on land, and store our tackle and goods in the caves, then hurry, follow me, and you’ll see your friends eating and drinking in Circe’s halls, where there’s enough food and drink to last for ever.” They quickly responded to my words.

Only Eurylochus of all my friends hung back. And he spoke to them with winged words: “Wretched fools, where are you off to? Are you so in love with trouble you’ll visit Circe’s house, she who will change you all to pigs, or wolves, or lions to guard her great hall under duress? Remember how Cyclops too behaved, when our friends entered his cave with reckless Odysseus, this man through whose foolishness they died.”

Those were his words, and I felt like drawing the long sword strapped to my sturdy thigh and striking his head to the ground, though he was a kinsman of mine by marriage, but my friends each checked me with soothing words: “Scion of Zeus, let’s leave him behind, if you will, to stay and guard the ship, while you lead us to Circe’s sacred house.”

So we left the ship and shore, but Eurylochus did not stay behind by the hollow hull, he came with us, fearing my stern rebuke.

Odysseus Seeks to Leave

Meanwhile my friends had been bathed in Circe’s house, through her kind ministrations, and had been rubbed with rich oil, and dressed in tunics and fleece-lined cloaks, and we found them feasting happily in the hall. When my two companies saw each other face to face, they wept and moaned in recognition, and the whole house echoed.

Then the lovely goddess approached me, saying: “Odysseus, man of many resources, scion of Zeus, son of Laertes, calm this outpouring of grief. I know myself all you have suffered on the teeming waves, and all the wrongs that enemies have done to you on land. But, come now, eat my food and drink my wine, till you each regain the spirit you had when you left your homes on rugged Ithaca. You are spiritless, and drained by endless thought of your harsh journey, and your hearts are always joyless, for in truth you have suffered.”

Our proud hearts yielded to her words. And so we stayed there, day after day, eating food in plenty, and drinking the sweet wine. But when a whole year had gone by, as the months and seasons passed, and the longer days had returned my loyal friends took me aside and said: “Man who is kin to the gods, remember your native country, now, if it is still your fate to escape, and reach your lofty house, and your own land.”

My proud heart yielded to their words. A further long day, till sunset, we feasted on meat in plenty and drank sweet wine. When the sun sank and darkness fell, they settled down to sleep in the shadowy hall, but I went to Circe’s lovely bed, and clasped her knees, and the goddess listened as I spoke winged words: “Circe, keep the promise you gave and send me on my way, since my spirit is eager for home, and so too are my friends’, who weary me with their grief whenever you happen to be absent.”

To this the lovely goddess replied swiftly: “Odysseus, man of many resources, scion of Zeus, son of Laertes, don’t stay here a moment longer against your will, but before you head for home you must make another journey. You must seek the House of Hades and dread Persephone, and consult the ghost of the blind Theban seer, Teiresias. His mind is still unimpaired, for even in death Persephone grants him mental powers, so that he alone has wisdom, while the others flit like shadows.”

At her words my spirits fell, sitting there on the bed I wept, and I no longer wished to live, and see the sunlight. But when I was wearied with weeping and wringing my hands, I answered her, saying: “Circe, who will guide us on the way? No man yet has ever sailed to Hades in a black ship.”

(900 words)

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