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
As Odysseus had said, there were no paths in that forest, but he went straight on, keeping always uphill, for by the smoke he had seen he judged that the house he was making for stood on high ground in the center of the island. He had not gone far when, in an open glade, he saw someone advancing towards him. It was a beautiful, merry-faced lad, who carried a shining, golden wand. Golden also were his sandals and the thongs that tied them to his ankles.
“Hail, friend!” cried the stranger, and coming up to Odysseus he took him by the hand. “Tell me who I am,” he said, smiling.
“You are Hermes,” answered Odysseus, looking at him reverently, but without fear. “I know you by your wand and sandals, oh, guide of wayfarers! Be good to me now, as you ever are to travelers in need, and show me the house I am seeking.”
“Odysseus,” said the friendly god, “you little know the danger you would run into so rashly. Think you you can rescue your comrades out of that house, or from her who dwells there? I tell you no — for she is the witch Circe, the daughter of the Sun, who knows all spells and enchantments under heaven. She dwells apart from gods and men in this isle of Aeaea, and all her delight is working mischief to luckless mortals that chance brings here. By her magic she has turned those men of yours into swine; and they lie huddled in a sty — where you will soon join them, unless I help you. But for that I am come; listen well, then, and I will tell you how to deal with the witch.
“First, you must carry hidden in your breast a certain amulet I will give you. And when you come to Circe’s door she will bid you welcome and give you a cup of wine which she has drugged with magic herbs — as she did to your comrades. They no sooner drank than she struck them with her wand, bidding them quit human shape and take that of swine, and thus will she do to you. But drink of her cup without fear, for your amulet will make it harmless. Then, as soon as she lifts her wand, draw your good sword on the witch and make as if to kill her. She will beg for mercy, which you must grant, for only she can undo the spell on your comrades; but beware you trust her not, nor take anything she offers until you have bound her by the great oath of the gods to do you no harm. Beware, I say, lest she weave other spells, that will hold you in vile durance for evermore among those beasts that once were men… And now I will give you the amulet.”
So saying, Hermes turned his shining eyes on the greensward at their feet and, after a quick glance or two, pointed with his wand to a little milk-white flower, half hidden in the grass.
“There it is,” he said blithely. “I knew I should find some growing about here. Have you ever seen this flower before, Odysseus — you that are such a great traveler?”
“I may have,” returned Odysseus dryly; “but if so, I never noticed it. I have had other queer things to look at on my travels than the weeds underfoot.”
“Also,” said Hermes, smiling, “you thought an amulet given by a god would be some precious and rare jewel — not a weed, as you call it. But know, Odysseus, that this small, humble plant is more precious than ruby or emerald, and far more rare. The deadliest poisons, the most potent philters witch ever brewed, cannot hurt him that wears it. But it grows not in all soils, and few there be that find it.”
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“Grant me pardon, divine one,” said Odysseus, “for I spoke as a fool. What is the name of this sovereign plant, I pray you?”
“It is so little known among men,” answered Hermes, “that they have no name for it, but in the language of the gods it is called moly.”
“I will pluck this same blessed moly,” said Odysseus, and he stretched out his hand to the plant.
“Do not touch it, I charge you,” cried Hermes, seizing his arm. “Its virtue lies not in the flower but the root, which no mortal may pull up and live. For being torn from the earth, it gives forth a dying groan, and that sound strikes the hearer dead. But to a god’s hand it yields easily and in silence.”
With that, he stooped down and gently pulled up the plant, root and all, and gave it to Odysseus. The root was jet-black and in shape like a forked radish. Odysseus put the amulet carefully inside his tunic, then turned to thank the giver. But Hermes had vanished, suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, after the manner of the immortals. So Odysseus went on alone to the house of Circe.