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05-27-2007, 01:24 AM
Book XII

Odysseus, his passage by the Sirens, and by Scylla and
Charybdis. The sacrilege committed by his men in the isle
Thrinacia. The destruction of his ships and men. How he
swam on a plank nine days together, and came to Ogygia,
where he stayed seven years with Calypso.

'Now after the ship had left the stream of the river
Oceanus, and was come to the wave of the wide sea, and the
isle Aeaean, where is the dwelling place of early Dawn and
her dancing grounds, and the land of sunrising, upon our
coming thither we beached the ship in the sand, and
ourselves too stept ashore on the sea beach. There we fell
on sound sleep and awaited the bright Dawn.

'So soon as early Dawn shone forth, the rosy-fingered, I
sent forth my fellows to the house of Circe to fetch the
body of the dead Elpenor. And speedily we cut billets of
wood and sadly we buried him, where the furthest headland
runs out into the sea, shedding big tears. But when the
dead man was burned and the arms of the dead, we piled a
barrow and dragged up thereon a pillar, and on the topmost
mound we set the shapen oar.

'Now all that task we finished, and our coming from out of
Hades was not unknown to Circe, but she arrayed herself and
speedily drew nigh, and her handmaids with her bare flesh
and bread in plenty and dark red wine. And the fair goddess
stood in the midst and spake in our ears, saying:

'"Men overbold, who have gone alive into the house of
Hades, to know death twice, while all men else die once for
all. Nay come, eat ye meat and drink wine here all day
long; and with the breaking of the day ye shall set sail,
and myself I will show you the path and declare each thing,
that ye may not suffer pain or hurt through any grievous
ill-contrivance by sea or on the land."

'So spake she, and our lordly souls consented thereto. Thus
for that time we sat the livelong day, until the going down
of the sun, feasting on abundant flesh and on sweet wine.
Now when the sun sank and darkness came on, my company laid
them to rest by the hawsers of the ship. Then she took me
by the hand and led me apart from my dear company, and made
me to sit down and laid herself at my feet, and asked all
my tale. And I told her all in order duly. Then at the last
the Lady Circe spake unto me, saying:

'"Even so, now all these things have an end; do thou then
hearken even as I tell thee, and the god himself shall
bring it back to thy mind. To the Sirens first shalt thou
come, who bewitch all men, whosoever shall come to them.
Whoso draws nigh them unwittingly and hears the sound of
the Sirens' voice, never doth he see wife or babes stand by
him on his return, nor have they joy at his coming; but the
Sirens enchant him with their clear song, sitting in the
meadow, and all about is a great heap of bones of men,
corrupt in death, and round the bones the skin is wasting.
But do thou drive thy ship past, and knead honey-sweet wax,
and anoint therewith the ears of thy company, lest any of
the rest hear the song; but if thou myself art minded to
hear, let them bind thee in the swift ship hand and foot,
upright in the mast-stead, and from the mast let rope-ends
be tied, that with delight thou mayest hear the voice of
the Sirens. And if thou shalt beseech thy company and bid
them to loose thee, then let them bind thee with yet more
bonds. But when thy friends have driven thy ship past
these, I will not tell thee fully which path shall
thenceforth be thine, but do thou thyself consider it, and
I will speak to thee of either way. On the one side there
are beetling rocks, and against them the great wave roars
of dark-eyed Amphitrite. These, ye must know, are they the
blessed gods call the Rocks Wandering. By this way even
winged things may never pass, nay, not even the cowering
doves that bear ambrosia to Father Zeus, but the sheer rock
evermore takes away one even of these, and the Father sends
in another to make up the tale. Thereby no ship of men ever
escapes that comes thither, but the planks of ships and the
bodies of men confusedly are tossed by the waves of the sea
and the storms of ruinous fire. One ship only of all that
fare by sea hath passed that way, even Argo, that is in all
men's minds, on her voyage from Aeetes. And even her the
wave would lightly have cast there upon the mighty rocks,
but Here sent her by for love of Jason.

'"On the other part are two rocks, whereof the one reaches
with sharp peak to the wide heaven, and a dark cloud
encompasses it; this never streams away, and there is no
clear air about the peak neither in summer nor in harvest
tide. No mortal man may scale it or set foot thereon, not
though he had twenty hands and feet. For the rock is
smooth, and sheer, as it were polished. And in the midst of
the cliff is a dim cave turned to Erebus, towards the place
of darkness, whereby ye shall even steer your hollow ship,
noble Odysseus. Not with an arrow from a bow might a man in
his strength reach from his hollow ship into that deep
cave. And therein dwelleth Scylla, yelping terribly. Her
voice indeed is no greater than the voice of a new-born
whelp, but a dreadful monster is she, nor would any look on
her gladly, not if it were a god that met her. Verily she
hath twelve feet all dangling down; and six necks exceeding
long, and on each a hideous head, and therein three rows of
teeth set thick and close, full of black death. Up to her
middle is she sunk far down in the hollow cave, but forth
she holds her heads from the dreadful gulf, and there she
fishes, swooping round the rock, for dolphins or sea-dogs,
or whatso greater beast she may anywhere take, whereof the
deep-voiced Amphitrite feeds countless flocks. Thereby no
sailors boast that they have fled scatheless ever with
their ship, for with each head she carries off a man, whom
she hath snatched from out the dark-prowed ship.

'"But that other cliff, Odysseus, thou shalt note, lying
lower, hard by the first: thou couldest send an arrow
across. And thereon is a great fig-tree growing, in fullest
leaf, and beneath it mighty Charybdis sucks down black
water, for thrice a day she spouts it forth, and thrice a
day she sucks it down in terrible wise. Never mayest thou
be there when she sucks the water, for none might save thee
then from thy bane, not even the Earth-Shaker! But take
heed and swiftly drawing nigh to Scylla's rock drive the
ship past, since of a truth it is far better to mourn six
of thy company in the ship, than all in the selfsame hour."

'So spake she, but I answered, and said unto her: "Come I
pray thee herein, goddess, tell me true, if there be any
means whereby I might escape from the deadly Charybdis and
avenge me on that other, when she would prey upon my

'So spake I, and that fair goddess answered me: "Man
overbold, lo, now again the deeds of war are in thy mind
and the travail thereof. Wilt thou not yield thee even to
the deathless gods? As for her, she is no mortal, but an
immortal plague, dread, grievous, and fierce, and not to be
fought with; and against her there is no defence; flight is
the bravest way. For if thou tarry to do on thine armour by
the cliff, I fear lest once again she sally forth and catch
at thee with so many heads, and seize as many men as
before. So drive past with all thy force, and call on
Cratais, mother of Scylla, which bore her for a bane to
mortals. And she will then let her from darting forth

'"Then thou shalt come unto the isle Thrinacia; there are
the many kine of Helios and his brave flocks feeding, seven
herds of kine and as many goodly flocks of sheep, and fifty
in each flock. They have no part in birth or in corruption,
and there are goddesses to shepherd them, nymphs with fair
tresses, Phaethusa and Lampetie whom bright Neaera bare to
Helios Hyperion. Now when the lady their mother had borne
and nursed them, she carried them to the isle Thrinacia to
dwell afar, that they should guard their father's flocks
and his kine with shambling gait. If thou doest these no
hurt, being heedful of thy return, truly ye may even yet
reach Ithaca, albeit in evil case. But if thou hurtest
them, I foreshow ruin for thy ship and for thy men, and
even though thou shouldest thyself escape, late shalt thou
return in evil plight with the loss of all thy company."

'So spake she, and anon came the golden-throned Dawn. Then
the fair goddess took her way up the island. But I departed
to my ship and roused my men themselves to mount the vessel
and loose the hawsers. And speedily they went aboard and
sat upon the benches, and sitting orderly smote the grey
sea water with their oars. And in the wake of our
dark-prowed ship she sent a favouring wind that filled the
sails, a kindly escort,--even Circe of the braided tresses,
a dread goddess of human speech. And straightway we set in
order the gear throughout the ship and sat us down, and the
wind and the helmsman guided our barque.

'Then I spake among my company with a heavy heart:
"Friends, forasmuch as it is not well that one or two alone
should know of the oracles that Circe, the fair goddess,
spake unto me, therefore will I declare them, that with
foreknowledge we may die, or haply shunning death and
destiny escape. First she bade us avoid the sound of the
voice of the wondrous Sirens, and their field of flowers,
and me only she bade listen to their voices. So bind ye me
in a hard bond, that I may abide unmoved in my place,
upright in the mast-stead, and from the mast let rope-ends
be tied, and if I beseech and bid you to set me free, then
do ye straiten me with yet more bonds."

'Thus I rehearsed these things one and all, and declared
them to my company. Meanwhile our good ship quickly came to
the island of the Sirens twain, for a gentle breeze sped
her on her way. Then straightway the wind ceased, and lo,
there was a windless calm, and some god lulled the waves.
Then my company rose up and drew in the ship's sails, and
stowed them in the hold of the ship, while they sat at the
oars and whitened the water with their polished pine
blades. But I with my sharp sword cleft in pieces a great
circle of wax, and with my strong hands kneaded it. And
soon the wax grew warm, for that my great might constrained
it, and the beam of the lord Helios, son of Hyperion. And I
anointed therewith the ears of all my men in their order,
and in the ship they bound me hand and foot upright in the
mast-stead, and from the mast they fastened rope-ends and
themselves sat down, and smote the grey sea water with
their oars. But when the ship was within the sound of a
man's shout from the land, we fleeing swiftly on our way,
the Sirens espied the swift ship speeding toward them, and
they raised their clear-toned song:

'"Hither, come hither, renowned Odysseus, great glory of
the Achaeans, here stay thy barque, that thou mayest listen
to the voice of us twain. For none hath ever driven by this
way in his black ship, till he hath heard from our lips the
voice sweet as the honeycomb, and hath had joy thereof and
gone on his way the wiser. For lo, we know all things, all
the travail that in wide Troy-land the Argives and Trojans
bare by the gods' designs, yea, and we know all that shall
hereafter be upon the fruitful earth."

'So spake they uttering a sweet voice, and my heart was
fain to listen, and I bade my company unbind me, nodding at
them with a frown, but they bent to their oars and rowed
on. Then straight uprose Perimedes and Eurylochus and bound
me with more cords and straitened me yet the more. Now
when we had driven past them, nor heard we any longer the
sound of the Sirens or their song, forthwith my dear
company took away the wax wherewith I had anointed their
ears and loosed me from my bonds.

'But so soon as we left that isle, thereafter presently I
saw smoke and a great wave, and heard the sea roaring. Then
for very fear the oars flew from their hands, and down the
stream they all splashed, and the ship was holden there,
for my company no longer plied with their hands the
tapering oars. But I paced the ship and cheered on my men,
as I stood by each one and spake smooth words:

'"Friends, forasmuch as in sorrow we are not all unlearned,
truly this is no greater woe that is upon us, {*} than when
the Cyclops penned us by main might in his hollow cave; yet
even thence we made escape by my manfulness, even by my
counsel and my wit, and some day I think that this
adventure too we shall remember. Come now, therefore, let
us all give ear to do according to my word. Do ye smite the
deep surf of the sea with your oars, as ye sit on the
benches, if peradventure Zeus may grant us to escape from
and shun this death. And as for thee, helmsman, thus I
charge thee, and ponder it in thine heart seeing that thou
wieldest the helm of the hollow ship. Keep the ship well
away from this smoke and from the wave and hug the rocks,
lest the ship, ere thou art aware, start from her course to
the other side, and so thou hurl us into ruin."

{* Reading [Greek], not [Greek] with La Roche.}

'So I spake, and quickly they hearkened to my words. But of
Scylla I told them nothing more, a bane none might deal
with, lest haply my company should cease from rowing for
fear, and hide them in the hold. In that same hour I
suffered myself to forget the hard behest of Circe, in that
she bade me in nowise be armed; but I did on my glorious
harness and caught up two long lances in my hands, and went
on the decking of the prow, for thence methought that
Scylla of the rock would first be seen, who was to bring
woe on my company. Yet could I not spy her anywhere, and my
eyes waxed weary for gazing all about toward the darkness
of the rock.

"Next we began to sail up the narrow strait lamenting. For
on the one hand lay Scylla, and on the other mighty
Charybdis in terrible wise sucked down the salt sea water.
As often as she belched it forth, like a cauldron on a
great fire she would seethe up through all her troubled
deeps, and overhead the spray fell on the tops of either
cliff. But oft as she gulped down the salt sea water,
within she was all plain to see through her troubled deeps,
and the rock around roared horribly and beneath the earth
was manifest swart with sand, and pale fear gat hold on my
men. Toward her, then, we looked fearing destruction; but
Scylla meanwhile caught from out my hollow ship six of my
company, the hardiest of their hands and the chief in
might. And looking into the swift ship to find my men, even
then I marked their feet and hands as they were lifted on
high, and they cried aloud in their agony, and called me by
my name for that last time of all. Even as when as fisher
on some headland lets down with a long rod his baits for a
snare to the little fishes below, casting into the deep the
horn of an ox of the homestead, and as he catches each
flings it writhing ashore, so writhing were they borne
upward to the cliff. And there she devoured them shrieking
in her gates, they stretching forth their hands to me in
the dread death-struggle. And the most pitiful thing was
this that mine eyes have seen of all my travail in
searching out the paths of the sea.

'Now when we had escaped the Rocks and dread Charybdis and
Scylla, thereafter we soon came to the fair island of the
god; where were the goodly kine, broad of brow, and the
many brave flocks of Helios Hyperion. Then while as yet I
was in my black ship upon the deep, I heard the lowing of
the cattle being stalled and the bleating of the sheep, and
on my mind there fell the saying of the blind seer, Theban
Teiresias, and of Circe of Aia, who charged me very
straitly to shun the isle of Helios, the gladdener of the
world. Then I spake out among my company in sorrow of

'"Hear my words, my men, albeit in evil plight, that I may
declare unto you the oracles of Teiresias and of Circe of
Aia, who very straitly charged me to shun the isle of
Helios, the gladdener of the world. For there she said the
most dreadful mischief would befal us. Nay, drive ye then
the black ship beyond and past that isle."

'So spake I, and their heart was broken within them. And
Eurylochus straightway answered me sadly, saying:

'"Hardy art thou, Odysseus, of might beyond measure, and
thy limbs are never weary; verily thou art fashioned all of
iron, that sufferest not thy fellows, foredone with toil
and drowsiness, to set foot on shore, where we might
presently prepare us a good supper in this sea-girt island.
But even as we are thou biddest us fare blindly through the
sudden night, and from the isle go wandering on the misty
deep. And strong winds, the bane of ships, are born of the
night. How could a man escape from utter doom, if there
chanced to come a sudden blast of the South Wind, or of the
boisterous West, which mainly wreck ships, beyond the will
of the gods, the lords of all? Howbeit for this present let
us yield to the black night, and we will make ready our
supper abiding by the swift ship, and in the morning we
will climb on board, and put out into the broad deep."

'So spake Eurylochus, and the rest of my company consented
thereto. Then at the last I knew that some god was indeed
imagining evil, and I uttered my voice and spake unto him
winged words:

'"Eurylochus, verily ye put force upon me, being but one
among you all. But come, swear me now a mighty oath, one
and all, to the intent that if we light on a herd of kine
or a great flock of sheep, none in the evil folly of his
heart may slay any sheep or ox; but in quiet eat ye the
meat which the deathless Circe gave."

'So I spake, and straightway they swore to refrain as I
commanded them. Now after they had sworn and done that
oath, we stayed our well-builded ship in the hollow harbour
near to a well of sweet water, and my company went forth
from out the ship and deftly got ready supper. But when
they had put from them the desire of meat and drink,
thereafter they fell a weeping as they thought upon their
dear companions whom Scylla had snatched from out the
hollow ship and so devoured. And deep sleep came upon them
amid their weeping. And when it was the third watch of the
night, and the stars had crossed the zenith, Zeus the
cloud-gatherer roused against them an angry wind with
wondrous tempest, and shrouded in clouds land and sea
alike, and from heaven sped down the night. Now when early
Dawn shone forth, the rosy-fingered, we beached the ship,
and dragged it up within a hollow cave, where were the fair
dancing grounds of the nymphs and the places of their
session. Thereupon I ordered a gathering of my men and
spake in their midst, saying:

'"Friends, forasmuch as there is yet meat and drink in the
swift ship, let us keep our hands off those kine, lest some
evil thing befal us. For these are the kine and the brave
flocks of a dread god, even of Helios, who overseeth all
and overheareth all things."

'So I spake, and their lordly spirit hearkened thereto.
Then for a whole month the South Wind blew without ceasing,
and no other wind arose, save only the East and the South.

'Now so long as my company still had corn and red wine,
they refrained them from the kine, for they were fain of
life. But when the corn was now all spent from out the
ship, and they went wandering with barbed hooks in quest of
game, as needs they must, fishes and fowls, whatsoever
might come to their hand, for hunger gnawed at their belly,
then at last I departed up the isle, that I might pray to
the gods, if perchance some one of them might show me a way
of returning. And now when I had avoided my company on my
way through the island, I laved my hands where was a
shelter from the wind, and prayed to all the gods that hold
Olympus. But they shed sweet sleep upon my eyelids. And
Eurylochus the while set forth an evil counsel to my

'"Hear my words, my friends, though ye be in evil case.
Truly every shape of death is hateful to wretched mortals,
but to die of hunger and so meet doom is most pitiful of
all. Nay come, we will drive off the best of the kine of
Helios and will do sacrifice to the deathless gods who keep
wide heaven. And if we may yet reach Ithaca, our own
country, forthwith will we rear a rich shrine to Helios
Hyperion, and therein would we set many a choice offering.
But if he be somewhat wroth for his cattle with straight
horns, and is fain to wreck our ship, and the other gods
follow his desire, rather with one gulp at the wave would I
cast my life away, than be slowly straitened to death in a
desert isle."

'So spake Eurylochus, and the rest of the company consented
thereto. Forthwith they drave off the best of the kine of
Helios that were nigh at hand, for the fair kine of
shambling gait and broad of brow were feeding no great way
from the dark-prowed ship. Then they stood around the
cattle and prayed to the gods, plucking the fresh leaves
from an oak of lofty boughs, for they had no white barley
on board the decked ship. Now after they had prayed and cut
the throats of the kine and flayed them, they cut out
slices of the thighs and wrapped them in the fat, making a
double fold, and thereon they laid raw flesh. Yet had they
no pure wine to pour over the flaming sacrifices, but they
made libation with water and roasted the entrails over the
fire. Now after the thighs were quite consumed and they had
tasted the inner parts, they cut the rest up small and
spitted it on spits. In the same hour deep sleep sped from
my eyelids and I sallied forth to the swift ship and the
sea-banks. But on my way as I drew near to the curved ship,
the sweet savour of the fat came all about me; and I
groaned and spake out before the deathless gods:

'"Father Zeus, and all ye other blessed gods that live for
ever, verily to my undoing ye have lulled me with a
ruthless sleep, and my company abiding behind have imagined
a monstrous deed."

'Then swiftly to Helios Hyperion came Lampetie of the long
robes, with the tidings that we had slain his kine. And
straight he spake with angry heart amid the Immortals:

'"Father Zeus, and all ye other blessed gods that live for
ever, take vengeance I pray you on the company of Odysseus,
son of Laertes, that have insolently slain my cattle,
wherein I was wont to be glad as I went toward the starry
heaven, and when I again turned earthward from the
firmament. And if they pay me not full atonement for the
cattle, I will go down to Hades and shine among the dead."

'And Zeus the cloud-gatherer answered him, saying: "Helios,
do thou, I say, shine on amidst the deathless gods, and
amid mortal men upon the earth, the grain-giver. But as for
me, I will soon smite their swift ship with my white bolt,
and cleave it in pieces in the midst of the wine-dark

'This I heard from Calypso of the fair hair; and she said
that she herself had heard it from Hermes the Messenger.

'But when I had come down to the ship and to the sea, I
went up to my companions and rebuked them one by one; but
we could find no remedy, the cattle were dead and gone. And
soon thereafter the gods showed forth signs and wonders to
my company. The skins were creeping, and the flesh
bellowing upon the spits, both the roast and raw, and there
was a sound as the voice of kine.

'Then for six days my dear company feasted on the best of
the kine of Helios which they had driven off. But when
Zeus, son of Cronos, had added the seventh day thereto,
thereafter the wind ceased to blow with a rushing storm,
and at once we climbed the ship and launched into the broad
deep, when we had set up the mast and hoisted the white

'But now when we left that isle nor any other land
appeared, but sky and sea only, even then the son of Cronos
stayed a dark cloud above the hollow ship, and beneath it
the deep darkened. And the ship ran on her way for no long
while, for of a sudden came the shrilling West, with the
rushing of a great tempest, and the blast of wind snapped
the two forestays of the mast, and the mast fell backward
and all the gear dropped into the bilge. And behold, on the
hind part of the ship the mast struck the head of the pilot
and brake all the bones of his skull together, and like a
diver he dropt down from the deck, and his brave spirit
left his bones. In that same hour Zeus thundered and cast
his bolt upon the ship, and she reeled all over being
stricken by the bolt of Zeus, and was filled with sulphur,
and lo, my company fell from out the vessel. Like sea-gulls
they were borne round the black ship upon the billows, and
the god reft them of returning.

'But I kept pacing through my ship, till the surge loosened
the sides from the keel, and the wave swept her along
stript of her tackling, and brake her mast clean off at the
keel. Now the backstay fashioned of an oxhide had been
flung thereon; therewith I lashed together both keel and
mast, and sitting thereon I was borne by the ruinous winds.

'Then verily the West Wind ceased to blow with a rushing
storm, and swiftly withal the South Wind came, bringing
sorrow to my soul, that so I might again measure back that
space of sea, the way to deadly Charybdis. All the night
was I borne, but with the rising of the sun I came to the
rock of Scylla, and to dread Charybdis. Now she had sucked
down her salt sea water, when I was swung up on high to the
tall fig-tree whereto I clung like a bat, and could find no
sure rest for my feet nor place to stand, for the roots
spread far below and the branches hung aloft out of reach,
long and large, and overshadowed Charybdis. Steadfast I
clung till she should spew forth mast and keel again; and
late they came to my desire. At the hour when a man rises
up from the assembly and goes to supper, one who judges the
many quarrels of the young men that seek to him for law, at
that same hour those timbers came forth to view from out
Charybdis. And I let myself drop down hands and feet, and
plunged heavily in the midst of the waters beyond the long
timbers, and sitting on these I rowed hard with my hands.
But the father of gods and of men suffered me no more to
behold Scylla, else I should never have escaped from utter

'Thence for nine days was I borne, and on the tenth night
the gods brought me nigh to the isle of Ogygia, where
dwells Calypso of the braided tresses, an awful goddess of
mortal speech, who took me in and entreated me kindly. But
why rehearse all this tale? For even yesterday I told it to
thee and to thy noble wife in thy house; and it liketh me
not twice to tell a plain-told tale.'