This is a chapter of Evergreen Stories by W. M. L. Hutchinson. It includes the following stories: King Midas and His Strange Adventures — Alcestis, the Noble Wife — The Real Helen — Cupid and Psyche — The Vision of Er — Circe, the Island Witch — Bellerophon, the Rider of Pegasus — How Theseus Slew the Minotaur — The Story of Pheidippides — The Story of Solon, Croesus, and Cyrus
Circe, the Island Witch has the following chapters: 1. Odysseus and His Men Arrive at Aeaea | 2. Eurylochus Returns with Frightening News | 3. Odysseus Gets Help from Hermes | 4. Odysseus Confronts Circe | 5. Circe Surrenders to Odysseus | 6. How Circe Entertained Odysseus and His Men
“Now you shall see I am a good hostess,” said Circe. She clapped her hands, and four beautiful damsels came into the hall, laden with all things needful for a banquet. One placed seats, which she spread with purple coverlets, before a table of solid silver; one covered the table with gold dishes full of savory meats. The third brought gold drinking cups and a great silver bowl, which she filled with wine; and the fourth set a bronze cauldron full of water on the fire.
Odysseus learned afterward that these handmaids were wood fays, whom Circe had made thralls by her enchantments. When the water boiled in the cauldron, they made ready the bath in a marble-paved bathing room; and Circe herself poured the warm, refreshing shower over him, rubbed him with fragrant oil, and arrayed him in fine linen. Then she led him back to the hall, seated him beside the richly spread table, and bade him eat.
But Odysseus could not touch the delicious food, for his soul loathed it as he thought of his wretched comrades, and pictured them grovelling in the sty. He sat silent, with gloomy countenance, tasting neither meat nor drink, until at last Circe said:
“What ails you, Odysseus, that you sit there like a dumb man and look so woe-begone, and will not eat or drink? Are you still expecting some sorcery? Come, put away such fears — they are but cowardly, now I have sworn that mighty oath to you.”
“Ah, Circe,” said he, with a deep sigh. “What man of any loyalty could bear to feast and make merry, so long as his friends lie in miserable bondage? Nay, first let me see my trusty comrades at liberty again.”
“Come, then,” answered the witch and glided swiftly from the hall, wand in hand.
Odysseus followed her across a wide courtyard to the door of a sty; she flung it open and drove out the herd — nine-year-old boars they seemed, gaunt and bristly. She waved her wand, and they stood stock still before her, while she sprinkled each with drops from a vial, muttering mystic words. And then, with trembling, Odysseus saw the bristles fall from their skin, and their shape change like shapes in a dream; they stood up erect… and now they were men — the men he knew! Only, it seemed to him that they were younger, taller, and more comely than before.
“Is it you, is it you, captain?” they cried, crowding around him to grasp his hand and sobbing for joy.
Nor could he restrain his tears, and they all wept together, so loudly that the courtyard rang with it. Even Circe’s heart was touched for the moment.
“Noble Odysseus,” she said, “you and yours have nothing more to fear in this house. So go now and fetch the rest of your crew, that you may all feast and rejoice together. As for your ship, you must haul it ashore, and store your goods and tackle in the sea cave close to your landing place.”
Odysseus was willing enough and made haste back to the shore, where he found Eurylochus and the rest sitting idle, overcome with misery and despair. Thankful they were to see him, but after the first moments of relief they broke out into bitter lamentations because he had come back alone.
“What news of our dead?” they wailed. “Tell us quickly.”
“All in good time,” said Odysseus cheerfully; “but first let us get the galley ashore and stow our gear in the cave I see yonder, for I am going to take you all to the Lady Circe’s palace, where you will find our friends eating and drinking, and thinking themselves lucky to have gone there. Well they may, for they have good cheer in plenty, and everything else that heart can wish.”
And the rest were overjoyed, but Eurylochus cried out:
“Don’t believe him, you fools! This Circe —if that is her name— has put some trick upon him. Mark my words, she is a witch; and if we go to her, she will turn us all into brute beasts — as she has done with our comrades… How do I know? Because I saw her and saw the creatures she keeps for watchdogs — and I tell you, their eyes were the eyes of men… What, haven’t you had warnings enough not to follow the captain on his mad adventures? Have you forgotten the Cyclops’ slaughterhouse, I say?”
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“You mutinous hound,” said Odysseus, his eyes flashing with rage. “Though you are a cousin of mine, I am in two minds whether to cut off your head.”
And he half drew his sword, but the other sailors began pleading: “Nay, never mind him, captain… Let him stop here with his fears for company, but the rest of us will follow you to Circe’s house.”
“So be it, then,” said Odysseus.
Then he and the rest of the crew hauled their galley ashore and stored goods and tackle in the cave, while Eurylochus looked on, scowling and silent. But when they set out for the house of Circe, he came slinking after them, for, greatly as he dreaded witches and witchcraft, there was nothing in the world he was so much afraid of as his captain’s anger.