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
“And this is the place,” said Odysseus, glancing warily about him, “that so frightened Eurylochus. Well, small blame to him, for the strangeness of it might daunt a braver man. Here is a house for kings to envy — all built of polished marble, and the doors overlaid with fine gold — in the midst of a desert island. And not a living creature anywhere to be seen — except those sleek, fawning beasts that follow one at heel like dogs, as Eurylochus said. Wolves and panthers — ay, that is what you are now, but the gods alone know what you have been… Ah, now I hear Circe singing. But this time she has left the doors ajar so I’ll take a peep at her.” And he stole forward on tiptoe.
The room he peered into seemed almost dark to his eyes, after the brilliant sunshine outside. But he could presently see it was a stately hall, with marble walls and pillars that gleamed white in the dusk. At the far end, a fire of cedar wood glowed, scenting the air; and near the hearth, with the firelight playing upon it, stood a tall silver loom. And thereon Circe was weaving a great, shimmering web, finer than any mortal handiwork. To and fro she paced as she cast the shuttle, keeping time to her low, sweet song. Her back was turned towards Odysseus, and for a while he stood watching the rhythmic grace of her motions like one entranced. It seemed to him that he could listen to that song and watch that slender, swaying figure forever… But he roused himself and drew back a little and called out: “Ho, within there!” as strangers do at a housedoor. In an instant, the doors were flung wide, and the witch stood regarding him with a smile.
“You shall not scare me as you did Eurylochus,” thought Odysseus; and he returned her gaze steadily. But his heart beat faster the while, for in all his wanderings he had seen nothing so rich and strange.
The daughter of the Sun wore a scarlet robe, girded and clasped with great rubies; her hair, in gloss and tint like burnished copper, was heaped in a silver net studded with yellow pearls. She was pale — save for her lips, which were red as pomegranate flowers — but with a warm, translucent pallor; the eyes she now fixed upon Odysseus were green as emerald, lovely, and malign. Beautiful she was not, but in the grace of her every movement, and in her golden voice, lay a lure more potent than beauty.
And now all came to pass that Hermes foretold, for Circe bade Odysseus welcome and led him in, and made him sit in a silver-studded chair with a footstool under his feet.
“Rest there, stranger,” said she, “and I will spice some wine for you — for I see you are weary.”
And Odysseus, covertly watching, saw her pour wine into a golden cup and drop something therein from a small amber box. Then she brought him the cup, and he drank, trusting in Hermes. Instantly Circe snatched up a black wand from a table near and, lightly striking him, cried in a new and terrible voice: “Off, swine, to your sty, and herd with your fellows!”
Brave though Odysseus was —and no braver man ever lived— he shuddered at that instant. Erect, rigid, the witch towered over him, her baleful eyes blazing… a hellish energy seemed to radiate from her… If the amulet should fail! But it did not fail; the dreaded change came not; and the next moment he sprang with drawn sword at Circe, murder in his eye.
“Ah, ah, ah!” she screamed, throwing herself at his feet. “Who and what are you, that can withstand my spell?” And then, clasping his knees: “I am your supplicant — kill me not!” she said. “Ah, stranger, never mortal but you has drunk of yonder cup and kept the form of man. Tell me your name, your country — but methinks I can guess it! Are not you that Odysseus who Hermes of the golden wand has often told me would visit my isle, sailing homeward from Troyland?”
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“I am the man, Circe,” replied Odysseus sternly; “but had I known your fashion of entertaining strangers, your isle should never have seen me.”
“Nay, forgive me, great chieftain,” said she cajolingly, “for how could I know this was you? Come, sheathe your sword, and let me make you amends.”
Then he did sheathe his sword; and Circe rose up and, taking him by the hand, she made him sit beside her on an ivory couch spread with rich coverlets. And forthwith she began wooing him to stay with her and be her lover, saying that all the wealth and pleasures of her palace should be his if he would consent.
But coldly he answered: “Circe, let me hear no more of such talk. How is it possible I should love you, who have transformed my poor crew into swine by your black art — ay, and would serve me the same, for all your pretense of fondness, if I were to trust you? But that I will not… unless you swear by the great oath of the gods never to harm me.”
Circe looked at him in silence for a moment, then smiling: “You are even wiser,” she said, “than Hermes told me. But since you will have an oath from me and know the one that alone can bind me, I will swear it.”
And rising up she spoke these words in a loud, solemn tone: “By the water of Styx, dreadful, divine, I swear I will never work evil to Odysseus, son of Laertes, by thought, word, or deed.”
After that, he was content to let her do what she would with him, knowing that he could only deliver his comrades by winning her favor.