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 — Heracles and the Poisoned Robe | The Story of Pheidippides — The Story of Solon, Croesus, and Cyrus
Odysseus in the Land of Shadows has the following chapters: 1. Odysseus and His Men Want to Leave Aeaea | 2. Odysseus Talks With Teiresias and His Mother in the Underworld | 3. Odysseus Talks With Achilles and Others in the Underworld | 4. The Greeks Leave Aeaea
Before Odysseus could answer, the soul of his mother vanished from his sight. Then, by the sending of Queen Persephone, there came to him the souls of women famed for their beauty in ancient times. He suffered them to come near, one by one, and drink of the blood; and each, when she had drunk, told him her name and story. Thus he saw Alcmena, who bore Heracles to Zeus; and Leda, fairest of all women saving her daughter Helen, and mother also of the great twin brethren Castor and Pollux. Next came the beauteous Iphimedia, whom Poseidon loved; she too was the mother of twin sons, Otus and Ephialtes. Those two even in childhood grew taller and more huge than any mortal man, for at nine years old their height was four-and-fifty feet, and their breadth fifteen. Then in the pride of their giant strength, they boasted that they would root up lofty Mount Pelion, and set it on the top of Mount Ossa, and so climb up to the house of Zeus in heaven. But ere that could be, or the down had grown upon their cheeks, Phoebus Apollo slew them both with his keen arrows… Many other renowned fair ones did Odysseus behold, of whom time fails me to tell. Last of all came Eriphyle, the lovely and false-hearted, who sold her husband’s life for gold.
When all these had come and gone —and by Queen Persephone’s command they vanished swiftly as they came— there drew near a stately form, robed and sceptered like a king. And Odysseus saw it was the soul of King Agamemnon. The spirit groaned aloud as it came — even such a groan had the dying king thrice uttered under the blows of his murderess… But Odysseus, who had last seen him homeward bound with the spoils of Troy, knew nothing of his death, and deeply it grieved him, for he had been Agamemnon’s most trusted friend and counselor throughout the long war.
As soon as the soul of Agamemnon had drunk of the blood, it knew Odysseus and stretched out its arms to embrace him — but in vain, for it was but a shadow without substance.
Struck with pity, Odysseus cried: “Alas, King Agamemnon, once mightiest of all the kings of the earth, is it thus with you now? Tell me, I pray you, how you died. Did Poseidon raise a tempest and wreck your ships on your passage home — or were you killed in some war or foray you made afterward?”
“I perished neither in shipwreck nor battle,” answered Agamemnon, “but by the treachery of my accursed wife. Long had she been false to me with Aegisthus my kinsman, and for love of him she foully murdered me on the very day of my homecoming. Verily, there is nothing on earth so terrible and shameless as a woman, for, ah, how Clytemnestra welcomed me — with fond looks and honeyed speeches, praising my prowess to the skies and forcing on me honors only fit for the gods! Never did wife seem more overjoyed to see her lord come home in triumph. But ’twas all feigning — all part of her plot to destroy me. And I, suspecting nothing, let her unarm me and cover me with a great scarlet robe and lead me to the warm bath prepared for my refreshment… Then, Odysseus, as I lay in the bath, my wife suddenly threw the heavy robe right over me; and before I could free head or limbs, she struck me three mortal blows with an axe. Ay, that was my death — slaughtered as men slay an ox for the sacrifice! Surely this deed of Clytemnestra’s shall be a reproach to all women for evermore, even to the good among them.”
Odysseus shuddered and said: “Truly, Zeus must have ordained that the daughters of Tyndareus should be ministers of Doom on earth, for the one you wedded has destroyed her own husband, and for her sister Helen’s sake thousands of brave men have been slain in battle.”
Then said Agamemnon: “Take warning from me, Odysseus, not to be over gentle with any woman and never to let any know your whole heart and mind. Not that you need fear harm from your wife, for Penelope, I know, is good and wise. But yet — mark well the counsel I now give you. When you go home at last, do not return openly, but in secret. Remember this, I say, for henceforth no man may wholly trust a woman.
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“But now tell me — have you heard any tidings of my son Orestes, whether he lives, and how he fares? Ah, how I longed to see my boy again — he was but an infant when I left him — but even that my cruel wife denied me. When I asked where he was, she said she had sent him away to the care of good friends, because there had been tumults and threats of rebellion in the city. Surely he is yet alive — know you aught of him, my friend?”
Odysseus answered: “Do not ask me concerning Orestes, king, for I know not whether he is alive or dead, and to speak to no purpose was never my way.”
Then with a heavy sigh the soul of Agamemnon turned and departed.
Looking after him as he went, Odysseus saw that beyond the dusky grove lay a vast meadow, covered with flowering asphodel, where troops of souls were roaming in a pale light like misty moonshine. And as one troop came swiftly toward him, he saw the familiar faces of heroes who had fought and died at Troy. Achilles was there with Patroclus at his side, and old Nestor’s brave son Antilochus, who laid down his life for his father, and Ajax, the strongest man of all the Greek host after the son of Peleus.
Achilles led the band and, wherever he walked, all the souls made way for him, bowing low as to their king. So he came first to the pit of blood and, soon as he was ‘ware of Odysseus, he said in a lamentable voice: “What marvel is this that thou hast done, son of Laertes, and how couldst thou dare to enter the abode of the dead?”
“I came, oh, Achilles, to seek counsel of Teiresias the seer, how I might return to my home, for, alas, not yet have I set foot on Ithaca nor on any Greek soil, but ever since leaving Troy I have wandered to and fro upon the seas in toils and troubles without end. So evil is the fate allotted me — how different from yours, Achilles! There never was, no, nor ever will be, a happier man than you, for in your lifetime we Greeks paid you such honors as are rendered to the gods, and now in death you are king over all the folk of this wide land.”
But Achilles answered: “Speak not to me, Odysseus, words of comfort concerning death. Far rather would I drudge for hire under some poor man’s roof that has scarce bread for his household, if only I might be alive upon the earth, than reign over all the nations of the dead… But come, give me tidings of my young son. Did he come to lead my Myrmidons at Troy and take my place among the Greek princes? And the old man, my father Peleus — does he yet hold sway among our people, or do they set him at naught because of his age and infirmities? Ah, could I come back to the light of day, such as I was when I slew my thousands before Troy walls, full soon and full dearly should they pay for it if they have robbed the old man of his dues.”
“Of Peleus I have heard nothing,” said Odysseus, “but of your son Neoptolemus I have much to tell you. I myself fetched him from Scyros at the bidding of our chiefs; and youth though he was, he proved equal to the best of us both in council and in fight. As for the warriors he slew, I could not tell you their names, so many they were, but the chiefest was the Mysian prince Eurypylus, the goodliest man that ever I saw save Memnon, son of the Morning. And when we who were chosen by lot lay ambushed in the wooden horse that Epeus devised, to take Troy by stratagem — then, I say, the rest of us trembled and wept for dread of discovery. But your son, he only neither grew pale nor shed a tear; he was all impatience to sally out from the horse. Nay, he kept his hand on his sword hilt the whole time, so intent was he on the coming slaughter of the Trojans. So when we sacked Priam’s town next day, Neoptolemus had a right noble share of the spoil, as well he deserved, and sailed home with it on board ship. And, moreover, he returned from the war not only safe but sound, for he was never once wounded in all his many and desperate combats.”
When Odysseus had thus spoken, the soul of Achilles went away with long strides across the asphodel meadow, joying that his son had won so great renown in war.
The souls of other heroes, once his comrades, spoke each in turn with Odysseus and told their woeful stories. But Ajax stood apart, in sullen silence, for still he nursed bitter wrath against the man who by his wiles and glib speech had defrauded him of the precious arms of Achilles.
Odysseus was fain to soothe him and said: “Are you still angry, great Ajax, because of those accursed golden arms? Surely Zeus sent them for a bane to the Greeks, seeing that the loss of them caused your death, our tower of strength. Believe me, all our host mourned for you even as they mourned for Achilles himself. But Ajax, blame not me for the death you died; rather blame Zeus, who thereby wreaked his wrath upon us all — and come hither now and speak to me”.
But Ajax answered him never a word, nor looked at him, but departed.
And now a daring wish came into the heart of Odysseus that he might traverse the asphodel meadow, even to the house of Hades, god of the dead, and behold Queen Persephone in her beauty. He longed also to see the famous sinners of olden time whose eternal torments the gods had made known to men for their warning: Ixion, bound upon an ever-whirling wheel; Sisyphus, vainly laboring to roll a huge stone to a hilltop; and Tantalus, tormented by hunger and thirst, breast-deep in a pool of water that vanished when he stooped to drink, beneath fruit-laden boughs that the wind forever tossed out of his reach. But at that moment, with a great crying as of seabirds, an innumerable multitude of the souls came rushing towards him over the meadow, and he turned and fled to the beach.
“Queen Persephone is angry,” he thought, “that I linger here when my errand is done. What if she send forth against me the specter of the dread Gorgon, the sight whereof will turn me to stone?”
Then with all speed he and his comrades got to sea again, and, as soon as they had rowed out a little way and hoisted sail, the wind Circe raised for them wafted them swiftly on their course. All day they sailed, and at nightfall once more landed on her isle.