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 — Odysseus in the Land of Shadows — 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
Who knows not Circe,Comus
the daughter of the Sun, whose charmèd cup
whoever tasted lost his upright shape
and downward fell into a grovelling swine?
But I have seen,James Elroy Flecker
pointing her shapely shadows from the dawn
and image tumbled on a rose-swept bay,
a drowsy ship of some yet older day;
and, wonder’s breath indrawn,
thought I —who knows, who knows— but in that same
(fished up beyond Aeaea, patched up new
—stern painted brighter blue—)
that talkative, bald-headed seaman came
(twelve patient comrades sweating at the oar)
from Troy’s doom-crimson shore,
and with great lies about his Wooden Horse
set the crew laughing, and forgot his course.
“Courage, men,” said the captain of the galley. “Here is land at last, praise the gods. We are close in — now row with a will, for right ahead I spy a wooded cove where the water runs deep inshore. There we can moor the ship and feel the good earth under our feet again.”
The crew answered only with groans, but they bent doggedly to their oars, and soon the black-prowed galley lay alongside a quay of rock in the natural harbor.
The captain stepped first ashore. He was a smallish man of about fifty; lean as a greyhound, deep-chested, with remarkably broad shoulders and arms on which the muscles stood out like whipcord. Flecks of grey showed in his matted hair and beard, his tanned face was deeply lined; but he moved with the springing gait of youth, and the eyes that peered from between his wrinkled eyelids were bright and hungry as a falcon’s. Unkempt, in stained and tattered garments, he had yet the air of one accustomed to command.
His crew, some two dozen in number, were as gaunt and weather-beaten as he. They stumbled ashore like men half dead with weariness; after drinking thirstily from a stream that ran sparkling down to the cove, they dragged themselves to the nearest shade and fell at once into the deep sleep of exhaustion. And the captain, after some peeping and prying into the thick copsewood around about, lay down and slumbered, or seemed to slumber, like the rest.
The sun was rising when that haggard ship’s company made their landfall; all day he journeyed through a clear and windless heaven and went down in splendor to his ocean bed. Night followed, mild and starry — and still they slept on. It was high noon of another cloudless day before they began to wake, one after another, and gather by the ship’s side. Then arose cries of dismay — for the captain was nowhere to be seen. These rough sailors looked at each other with scared faces; some fell to whimpering like lost children; others muttered, “He has deserted us”, and cursed under their breath.
“No, no,” exclaimed a young seaman. “That he never would — fie on you to say it! He must have gone scouting, to find us food and shelter, as he has done many’s the time.”
“Ay, Elpenor, and dear enough we have paid for his scouting,” said another sailor bitterly. “Wherever we put in, ’tis the same story. Instead of filling our water kegs, lifting a few sheep or goats, and making off quietly, nothing will serve Odysseus but to go looking for the folk of the place and try what he can wheedle out of them. Folk, indeed! Ghosts, monsters, devils — they are all the folk we have met or are like to meet, in these accursed seas beyond the world’s end.”
“You forget the gentle lotus eaters,” interrupted Elpenor.
“Not I,” said the other. “Gentle enough they are and made us welcome to share their food. But why? Because they would have others fall under the same spell that has made them more like wraiths and phantoms than living men. They walk in a daydream; wife, children, homeland, are no more to them than an old song of little meaning. Odysseus did wisely, no doubt, to drag aboard by force our shipmates that tasted the lotus. And yet” —with a heavy sigh— “better have dreamed our lives away on that pleasant shore than perish miserably one by one through his foolhardiness and greed.”
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“Eurylochus,” said Elpenor, “we all know you for a born grumbler — one that will still be talking and is more for talking than doing. Ever the first at a feast and the last at a fray — there’s the proverb to fit you, comrade. But keep your long tongue off our captain, for I will not hear him slandered so grossly.”
“Slandered, say you?” exclaimed Eurylochus. “By all the gods, I speak mere truth of him, and I dare you to deny it. Ay, for I have witnesses you cannot gainsay — our poor shipmates that the one-eyed giant killed and devoured in his cave. Who took them there? Who would not come away when they begged him, but must needs wait for that savage, to see if he would give him a present? And so six of our best men died horribly, before Odysseus escaped with the rest. He came off safe, mark you! He always does — it is other men’s lives he stakes on his desperate throws, the shrewd fellow!”
“You lie,” retorted Elpenor angrily. “Odysseus ran the same risk as those six hapless ones. Nothing but divine providence kept him from suffering the same doom.”
“Do you tell me that, now?” said Eurylochus, smiling sourly. Then I warrant divine providence made him anchor his own ship outside the harbor of the Laestrygons, and send the rest of the fleet inside — where the crews were speared to a man by those cannibals?”
“Doubtless,” said Elpenor gravely, “and, but for that, you and I and our whole ship’s company would have been butchered too.”
“Ay, that is true enough… We should all have been dead men… speared in the water like porpoises…” chorused the listening crew.
And they shuddered, remembering the glimpse they had had of that horror and the hideous roar of savages, mingled with the death shrieks of their comrades, that rang in their ears as they rowed madly out to sea.
They had been toiling at the oar ever since — for there was a dead calm — through unknown seas. The only food they had left was black bread and a few onions; there was no more water, but Odysseus had unsealed for them the last jar of the noble wine he had looted from Apollo’s priest in Ciconia. And more than the wine, his invincible cheerfulness had kept heart in them until they sighted land once again, and once again could at least feel solid ground under their feet instead of the eternal heaving of the ship. For the moment, that had sufficed. A sort of horror of the great deep possessed these voyagers, so long tossed upon its bosom; it was very heaven to them to be ashore — no matter where. Only let them sleep off their deadly weariness, and the morrow might take thought for the things of itself.
But now the morrow was come, and it seemed they must face its unknown trials without the indomitable leader who had won their confidence — though not their love. Only Elpenor, young and warm-hearted, was attached to him.
And it was Elpenor who now joyously exclaimed: “What did I tell you, comrades? Look, here comes brave Odysseus with our dinner!”
Then even the surly Eurylochus could not forbear to cheer as Odysseus came up, bent almost double under the still warm carcass of a huge stag, which was slung around his neck by a rope of green withes tied to its feet. He threw down his load, drew a long breath, and said cheerily:
“See, my men, what the good fairies hereabouts have given you! Pitying us poor mariners, they sent this monstrous beast across my path as I went foraging through the woods. My spear did the rest — ’twas a good throw, though I say it that should not — right through his spine went the point, and stuck so fast, I could scarce tug it out again. Well, there was he, dead; and there was I, wondering how to bring him away. Dragging him was out of the question, for there are no paths in these woods, I may tell you. However, not to be beaten, I twisted me a rope of green withes, knotted his four feet together, and made shift to hoist him onto my back. So now for a meal of good roast meat, that will put fresh life into us. What, comrades, all’s not lost yet, you see! Let us eat and drink, and forget care till tomorrow.”
The hungry crew needed no urging to light fires of driftwood and to flay and cut up the gigantic stag. Soon, a delicious smell of broiling venison gladdened their hearts; and the meal that followed, washed down with good wine, made the most inveterate grumblers ready to swear for the nonce that Odysseus was the best captain that ever sailed the seas.