This is a chapter of The Wanderings of Odysseus, by C. Witt & F. Younghusband.
Odysseus had nearly reached the further end of the wood when there met him a beautiful youth: it was Hermes, the messenger of the gods, who had taken the form of a man. He said to Odysseus, “Little dost thou know the danger into which thou art running. This island is the home of the enchantress Circe. She has already changed thy companions into swine, and the same fate might well await thee also. Courage and stoutness of heart are of no avail against her spells. Take therefore this little root and carry it in thy bosom. So long as thou retainest it there, her magic drink will be powerless to harm thee.”
As he spoke, he stooped down and pulled from the earth a little plant, known only to the gods, with a black root and white juice. This he gave to Odysseus and then returned to the abode of the gods.
Odysseus continued his way towards the palace, and, when he knocked at the door, the enchantress came out as before and invited him into the house. When they had entered the principal room, she pointed to a beautiful chair in which she begged him to sit down and rest, and then she fetched the magic drink. Odysseus took it as if he knew nothing of her evil intentions, and, when he had finished, the enchantress touched him with her wand and cried out, “Away with thee to the sty to join thy companions.”
But what was her surprise and terror when she perceived that her magic spell had no effect, and Odysseus sprang upon her with his drawn sword! With a loud cry she threw herself down before him and embraced his knees, crying out, “Spare, oh, spare me, whoever thou mayest be, over whom my magic charm is powerless! But indeed thou canst be no other than Odysseus himself, for Hermes once told me that Odysseus would come hither on his return from Troy. Put back thy sword into its sheath, and from henceforth shalt thou receive from me nothing but love and kindness.”
But Odysseus made answer, “I cannot trust thee, for thou hast changed my companions into swine. Swear to me by the most sacred of all oaths that thou wilt no more employ any charm against me.”
The oath was taken, and then Circe called her maidens, who prepared everything for a sumptuous meal. Also for the refreshment of Odysseus they made ready a warm bath, and one of the maidens washed his head and feet and shoulders and anointed his limbs with sweetly scented salve. Then Odysseus and Circe sat down together at the table, on which food and wine had been laid out. The table itself was of pure silver, and indeed everything in the house of Circe was made of either silver or gold. But in vain did she press her guest to eat and drink: he sat in sorrowful silence, refusing to touch anything. Again she assured him that he was perfectly safe from her spells, but he answered, “What right-minded man could take any pleasure in food or in drink, knowing his friends to be still suffering under enchantment? If thou art indeed sincere in thy professions of kindness, first free them from their wretched state and let me see them again.”
Circe went at once to the sty and released the swine, and, when she had passed her wand two or three times over their backs, their bristles disappeared, and they returned to their human form. They now looked even younger and more comely than before, and Circe led them back into the palace and presented them to Odysseus, who was still sitting as she had left him. When they saw Odysseus, they knew who it was that had saved them and, throwing themselves on their knees before him, they embraced his head, his hands and his feet with tears of joy. Even Circe was touched at seeing their raptures, and she said to Odysseus, “Go now to thy ship and draw it up to the shore; then hide your goods in the nearest cavern and return, bringing all thy companions with thee.”
It was with a far lighter heart that Odysseus hastened this time to return through the wood, and soon he reached his ship. He found his men plunged in deep sorrow, for they had given up all hope of ever seeing him or their other companions again. So much the greater, therefore, was their joy when they beheld him standing before them safe and well and heard that their friends were also saved. Odysseus ordered his men to put the ship into a place of safety and then return with him to the palace of Circe, where they would find the rest already engaged in feasting and merriment.
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No command could have been more welcome to the greater number of them, but Eurylochus was still full of fear and refused to believe in the oath that had been sworn by Circe. “Ye fools,” he said to the others, “has not enough of evil befallen you already, that ye are so eager to thrust yourselves into the power of an artful witch? Are ye then desirous of being changed into wolves and bears, to dance attendance in the purlieus of her palace? Think of the Cyclops. There also it was the fool-hardy Odysseus who led us on to destruction.”
At these words Odysseus was almost beside himself with anger, and, drawing his sword from the sheath, he would have cut off the head of Eurylochus, had not the others held him back and appeased him with gentle words. “Let us leave him here,” said they, “if thou wilt; he can take care of the ship. But as for us, we will follow thee to the palace of Circe.”
They turned their backs upon the shore, therefore, and began to follow Odysseus to the palace of Circe, leaving Eurylochus behind them; but they had not gone far through the wood when one of them, turning around, observed that he was following at a distance. He feared the displeasure of Odysseus even more than the magic of Circe.
It was a joyful meeting when all the shipmates found themselves together once more, for never again had they expected to look one another in the face. The goddess invited them all to stay with her until they had completely recovered from the hardships they had undergone and felt ready to pursue their journey with renewed vigor. The invitation was most welcome, and month after month passed away in daily feasting and pleasant companionship.
But at last, after a whole year had gone by, they began to feel the cravings of homesickness, and Odysseus begged Circe to allow them to take their leave. To this she consented, but she said to him, “If thou wouldst know what it would be well for thee to avoid on thy journey home, so as to ensure thy return in happiness to the wife who is waiting for thee, thou must first descend to the Land of the Dead and consult the wise seer Tiresias, who will give thee good counsel.”
The brave heart of Odysseus had never yet trembled at any danger that threatened him from the living, but now he shuddered at the thought of having to make his way through the horrors of the Lower World, and of coming into contact with the soulless shadows of the dead. But when he found that by no other means could he hope to return in safety to his home, he immediately resolved, though with a heavy heart, to follow the advice of Circe.
The next day there was great joy among his companions when he awoke them with the news that they were to set out on the following morning. He took care, however, not to tell them into what terrible scenes he was about to lead them.
Meanwhile, Odysseus was not to leave even the island of Circe without losing one of his companions. The evening before they started, the youngest of them all, whose name was Elpenor —not a specially brave man was he, nor in any way to be regarded as one of the best— became heated from drinking too much wine and went up to the roof of the palace to sleep in the cool night air. In the morning he was awakened by the stir and bustle caused by the departure of his companions, and started up to join them; but being still somewhat confused in consequence of his drunkenness, he altogether forgot where he was and, instead of descending from the roof by the proper stair, he fell over the edge and, breaking his neck, died instantly.