This is a chapter of The Wanderings of Odysseus, by C. Witt & F. Younghusband.
On the next day, the Greeks sailed away from the island of goats, and after some time they came to another island which was not fastened firmly to the bottom of the sea, but floated about from place to place. This was the abode of King Aeolus, who had been entrusted by Zeus with the management of the winds and was able to let them loose or imprison them as he pleased. He lived with his wife and twelve sons and daughters in a beautiful palace, where they all feasted together every day.
Aeolus received Odysseus and his companions very kindly and kept them with him a whole month, for he was never tired of hearing the stories they had to tell about the war and the fall of Troy. At last, however, it was time for them to continue their journey, and Aeolus gave them a most valuable present as a parting gift. It was a huge leather bag in which all the winds that would be unfavorable to their journey were tied up, and it was so tightly fastened with a silver cord that not even the tiniest little breeze could escape; only the wind that Odysseus needed to help him on his way was free, and this was to blow steadily until the hero and his friends had reached their own land in safety.
For nine days and nights they sailed on, speeded by the favorable wind, until on the tenth day they could see the smoke rising from the herdsmen’s huts scattered about the island. During this whole time, Odysseus had kept awake and attended to the steering of the vessel, but now he felt himself overpowered with fatigue, and, thinking that he might dismiss all further anxiety, he lay down and went to sleep.
Some of his companions, however, began to grumble and say to the rest, “It is all very well for Odysseus, who returns home to be loved and honored, and who brings with him a goodly booty from Troy, but we arrive with empty hands. See moreover the huge bag lying yonder which Aeolus has given him, full, no doubt, of gold and silver. Let us open it and see what sort of treasure it contains.”
The others, who were equally curious, willingly agreed to unfasten the knot, but what was their astonishment when with a mighty rush the pent-up winds burst wildly forth and blew furiously all around them. The ships were soon tossing about violently, and Odysseus awoke.
When he saw the mischief his companions had done, he was tempted for a moment to throw himself into the sea and put an end to his life. But his brave heart did not long give way to despair, and he wrapped himself up in his cloak and lay quietly on the deck while the winds drove the ships about hither and thither, till at last they brought them back again to the floating island of Aeolus.
Odysseus determined to try if Aeolus would help him once more, so he made his way back to the palace. He found the king seated at a banquet with all his sons and daughters, and stood humbly on the threshold, as was the custom for those who came to sue for help. They were all much astonished at seeing him, for they had made sure that by this time he would be safe at home, and they called out, “Why hast thou come back to us? What evil fate has befallen thee? We did our utmost to speed thee on thy way.”
Sorrowfully Odysseus made answer, “My foolish companions are alone to blame, and the sleep which overcame me. But I pray you, renew your kindness to me, for indeed ye can if ye will.”
All the rest remained silent, but the father Aeolus rose and beckoned to him with his hand to depart, crying out, “Hie thee away from this island, cursed mortal. The gods must indeed hate thee, otherwise wouldst thou long ago have reached thy home.” So Odysseus had to return to his ship and trust to himself alone for help.
It was now necessary to row both by day and night, for the favorable wind had disappeared. On the seventh day they reached the country of the Laestrygonians, where the day follows so closely upon the night that hardly has night set in when the new day begins to dawn. In this country a man who could do without sleep might earn double wages. First he might work all day as a shepherd; and then, when he had brought home his sheep at night, he might go out again almost immediately as a herdsman with the cattle.
Odysseus saw an excellent haven, into which he guided his ships: it was a creek shut in on both sides by high rocks, so that the water remained quite calm even in the most violent storm. The other ships sailed some way up into the creek, but Odysseus moored his own vessel close to the entrance and, having done this, he climbed up a mountain to survey the surrounding country. No plowed fields could he see, nor any other sign of human handiwork, but in the distance there rose some smoke, and he chose out two of his companions and sent them with a herald to find out what they could about the country.
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They soon discovered a beaten path, which led them to a spring not far from the city whose smoke they had seen; and just then a maiden came out to draw water in her pitcher. The Greeks asked her the way to the king’s palace, and she was able to direct them, for she was the king’s daughter. Soon they reached the house, and at the entrance they were met by the queen, but on seeing her they were seized with horror, for she was a monstrous woman, as big as a mountain. She hastened to the door and, with a voice that shook all the neighboring houses, she called to her husband, who was at the market. He immediately returned and, as soon as he saw the strangers, he seized one of them, tore him in pieces, and devoured him. The other two ran away as fast as they could and, as soon as they arrived at the creek, shouted breathlessly to their companions, “Away, away, this country is inhabited by men eaters.”
Immediately everyone lent a hand in helping to loose the ships. But the king had meanwhile called his people together, and now they came after the Greeks in crowds — not men, but giants. Little did it avail the Greeks that they had already made loose their ships, for the Laestrygonians crushed them with enormous stones, which they threw from the shore, and, when the unfortunate Greeks fell out into the water, the giants pierced them through with their spears, and then drew them to the shore and devoured them.
When Odysseus saw the destruction of the other ships, he did not stop to unfasten his, but, drawing his sword, cut through the ropes, and ordered his companions to row with all their might till they were safe in the open sea again. Thus he saved his ship, and it was the only one that escaped. Some broken fragments of the other vessels alone floated out to sea — the whole of the crews perished.