This is a chapter of Once Upon A Time: Children’s Stories From The Classics by Blanche Winder.
After Odysseus had escaped from the cave of the terrible one-eyed giant, he and his companions went sailing onwards, hoping, yet not knowing, that they were on their way to Greece. But Poseidon was very angry, for the Cyclops whose eye had been put out by “Noman” was the son of the sea king. Odysseus, knowing that Poseidon would do all he could to raise storms about his ship, made his way to the island of Aeolus, the king of the winds, who lived in a fine brazen palace on top of the cliffs, Aeolus was so delighted with the tales of Odysseus’s bravery that he promised to help him; and, in order that no more tempests should trouble him, gave him all the strong and angry winds tied up by force in a big leather bag. Only one wind was left outside; this was Zephyr, the gentle west breeze, which had once been so kind to Psyche, and which was always ready to be nice and gracious to men.
Zephyr, left alone on the sea, filled the sails of the king’s vessel; and, with songs and laughter, the lost Greeks sailed onward over the calm, blue water. Then, one night, they saw their own friendly lighthouse, and, as dawn broke, recognized the mountains of their long-lost country. How delighted they were! Odysseus, for the first time for ten days, left the helm and went below to get an hour’s sleep. But, while he slept, his companions did a shocking and treacherous thing.
They did not know what it was that the king kept so carefully in the leather bag, but they thought it must be a lot of gold and jewels. Wanting to steal some of this treasure, they crept on tip-toe to the cabin where the bag hung on the wall and untied the silver cord which secured it. And, behold, with a shriek and a roar, out rushed all the fierce strong winds in a body!
Round and round spun the ship; then, as all the winds wanted to get home again, they set off for the brazen palace of Aeolus as fast as they could, carrying the vessel with them. Aeolus was so angry that he would do nothing more for Odysseus and refused firmly to shut the winds up in the bag again. Even as Odysseus begged Aeolus to think the better of his determination, the winds blew the ship away from the shore onto an island where lived a giant who was even fiercer and hungrier than the Cyclops. After the giant had eaten a few of them, the remainder of the crew took to the oars and managed to row the vessel away to another island, where in the evening they dropped anchor in a lonely bay, and, quite exhausted, slept soundly until the dawn.
When morning came, the sailors found that the land was covered with thickets, and was as lonely as the waters of the bay; but, far off, they spied a little curling column of smoke rising in the middle of a wood. So Odysseus divided his men into two parties. He himself took command of one party, and the bravest of his crew, called Eurylochus, he made captain of the other party. Then they cast lots which should go to see where the smoke came from, and which should stay and look after the ship, and the lot fell upon Eurylochus and his party.
Off, then, they set through the forest, and presently a gloomy stone palace showed through the glades. Out of the courtyard of this castle, wild animals peered, curiously, at the sound of footsteps. Then, instead of rushing to devour the strangers, these mountain creatures —bears and wolves and lions— came trotting up with a strange and gentle timidity, wagging their tails and licking their visitors’ hands! In great surprise, Eurylochus and his companions walked on, but presently stood still to listen. For, from the inside of the gloomy palace, they heard somebody singing even more sweetly than the sirens sang.
The glorious voice swept up to the roof and out into the courtyard. Peeping through the door, the men saw a lovely maiden with golden hair, and white hands busy with tapestry upon a loom. She looked up from her work and ceased her song as she saw the wondering faces at the entrance. Then, rising to her feet, she went to meet them with an enchanting smile and invited them to come in.
One after another, the crew shyly entered — except Eurylochus. He was suspicious of this beautiful being, and hid himself outside in the courtyard, waiting to see what would happen. The enchantress, whose name was Circe, seemed to be quite alone in the palace. She herself showed her visitors to the fine seats, piled with soft cushions, that were placed all around the hall; and, with her own hands, served them with a feast of delicate white bread, ruby-colored wine, creamy milk, and golden honey. Very hungry and thirsty the men were, and they all ate and drank gladly; but, as time went on, they began, one by one, to nod with drowsiness. Well they might, for Circe had mixed with the wine and the milk magical herbs of which she alone knew the secret. As soon as her guests were half-asleep, she drew out her sorceress’s wand and waved it around and around their nodding heads.
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Then what do you think happened? The poor unfortunate sailors, who had been enjoying themselves so thoroughly, felt their noses growing very long, their legs very short, and their bodies very round and coarse. Their hair turned to bristles on their heads, and their ears became like little flaps. Their eyes grew small, round, and cunning; and, when they tried to speak, they could only grunt or squeal! Squealing and grunting, they jumped from their beautiful thrones onto the floor; still squealing and grunting, they ran out of the door as Circe went on waving her wand. She had turned them all into pigs, and, as pigs, she drove them before her into another courtyard behind the palace and locked them up in a big, empty sty. Then, instead of wine and honey, she threw them down a meal of beech nuts and acorns and went disdainfully away.
Eurylochus, who had waited a long time for their return, at last made his way from the home of this beautiful and wicked enchantress, and went back to the bay, tears streaming from his eyes and down his cheeks at the disappearance of his companions. When Odysseus, also in great distress, inquired what had happened, his friend could only say that everybody, save himself, had vanished behind Circe’s doors; and that not a single man had come out to tell the story of their fate. Instantly the king buckled on his sword belt and seized his bow, to set out to rescue the lost crew; although Eurylochus clung round his knees, still weeping, and begging his monarch not to risk his own life, most likely in vain. Sternly and haughtily, Odysseus rebuked his follower for cowardice and set off through the enchanted wood. And enchanted indeed he found it, for, as he stalked down the sunny glades, with brave, proud step, suddenly a light that was not sunlight shone upon the green boughs, a golden wand glittered through the brown twigs, and a beautiful boy, with wings on his feet, appeared, smiling, among the green leafiness of the oaks. It was Hermes himself, sent by the immortals to the rescue.
“Odysseus!” he cried. “Brave Odysseus!” And, taking the monarch’s hand, he informed him of all that had happened. Then he told the king to go on to Circe’s palace, to eat the white bread and honey, and drink the milk and wine that the fair sorceress would set before him. Then, stooping to the ground, Hermes pulled up a little modest-looking plant, with milk-white flowers and a black root like a small, shiny, dark snake — a little plant that was very rare and grew in places known only to the Shining Ones.
“See, this is moly — the plant which makes witchcraft harmless,” said he. “Place it in your bosom, and Circe’s magic poisons will be as powerless to hurt you as Circe’s magic wand.” Then, waving Odysseus onwards, the beautiful immortal sprang into the air on his silver wings and flew back to Olympus.
Odysseus, with the pale moly flowers hidden in his bosom, stepped on. He was greeted by the sad, timid wild beasts, by the sound of the wonderful singing, and, at last, by the enchantress herself, with her golden hair and her white hands, just as his lost friends had been. He sat on a jeweled throne among soft cushions, and he ate and drank the delicious honey and milk and wine. But he remained wide awake and watchful, and, when Circe, thinking that her time had come, waved her wand over him in order to turn him into a beast, he stood before her, brave, strong, and manly, and flashed his sword in her face!
Then the silver-voiced witch lady sank on her knees before him and owned herself conquered. Also, she instantly fell in love with this fearless king. She waved her wand with a new purpose, and nymphs sprang out of all the fountains in the courtyard and from the rivers in the woods. They brought fine cushions and carpets to deck the palace, and even richer food, in silver dishes, than that which had appeared before. But Odysseus would have nothing to do with them, nor with their beautiful mistress. He merely commanded Circe to take her spell from his companions and to set them free.
So Circe, very slowly and disconsolately, went to the sty and let out the poor, bewitched pigs. Then she waved her wand over them as they ran grunting and squealing about, and, behold, they rose up on their hind feet and became men again. Rushing to Odysseus, they greeted him with broken words and cries of joy. Even Circe, her hard heart melted at last, could not help shedding tears at the scene. By order of Odysseus, she turned back all the sad bears and wolves into the princes and nobles they had been in the days of long ago. Then, bidding the king goodbye, and telling him how to avoid many more dangers that would still spring up in his homeward path, the enchantress went back into her stone palace; and, from its open doorway, watched Odysseus and his sailors pass, in a happy group, down the long glades of the forest, on their way back to the vessel that was to bear them once more to Greece.