24. Odysseus Silenced the Sirens

Homer’s ODYSSEY Vol. 22, pp. 165-173

THE ODYSSEY 165
‘So spake I, and that fair goddess answered me: “Man overbold,
lo, now again the deeds of war are in thy mind and the travail
thereof. Wilt thou not yield thee even to the deathless gods? As
for her, she is no mortal, but an immortal plague, dread, grievous,
and fierce, and not to be fought with; and against her there is no
defence; flight is the bravest way. For if thou tarry to do on thine
armour by the cliff, I fear lest once again she sally forth and catch
at thee with so many heads, and seize as many men as before.
So drive past with all thy force, and call on Cratais, mother of
Scylla, which bore her for a bane to mortals. And she will then let
her from darting forth thereafter.
‘”Then thou shalt come unto the isle Thrinacia; there are the
many kine of Helios and his brave flocks feeding, seven herds of
kine and as many goodly flocks of sheep, and fifty in each flock.
They have no part in birth or in corruption, and there are goddesses
to shepherd them, nymphs with fair tresses, Phaethusa and Lampetie
whom bright Neaera bare to Helios Hyperion. Now when the lady
their mother had borne and nursed them, she carried them to the
isle Thrinacia to dwell afar, that they should guard their father’s
flocks and his kine with shambling gait. If thou doest these no hurt,
being heedful of thy return, truly ye may even yet reach Ithaca,
albeit in evil case. But if thou hurtest them, I foreshow ruin for
thy ship and for thy men, and even though thou shouldest thyself
escape, late shalt thou return in evil plight with the loss of all thy
company.”
‘So spake she, and anon came the golden-throned Dawn. Then
the fair goddess took her way up the island. But I departed to my
ship and roused my men themselves to mount the vessel and loose
the hawsers. And speedily they went aboard and sat upon the
benches, and sitting orderly smote the grey sea water with their
oars. And in the wake of our dark-prowed ship she sent a favouring
wind that filled the sails, a kindly escort,—even Circe of the braided
tresses, a dread goddess of human speech. And straightway we set
in order the gear throughout the ship and sat us down, and the
wind and the helmsman guided our barque.
‘Then I spake among my company with a heavy heart: “Friends,
forasmuch as it is not well that one or two alone should know of

166 HOMER
the oracles that Circe, the fair goddess, spake unto me, therefore
will I declare them, that with foreknowledge we may die, or haply
shunning death and destiny escape. First she bade us avoid the
sound of the voice of the wondrous Sirens, and their field of flowers,
and me only she bade listen to their voices. So bind ye me in a hard
bond, that I may abide unmoved in my place, upright in the maststead,
and from the mast let rope-ends be tied, and if I beseech and
bid you to set me free, then do ye straiten me with yet more bonds.”
‘Thus I rehearsed these things one and all, and declared them to
my company. Meanwhile our good ship quickly came to the island
of the Sirens twain, for a gentle breeze sped her on her way. Then
straightway the wind ceased, and lo, there was a windless calm, and
some god lulled the waves. Then my company rose up and drew in
the ship’s sails, and stowed them in the hold of the ship, while they
sat at the oars and whitened the water with their polished pine
blades. But I with my sharp sword cleft in pieces a great circle of
wax, and with my strong hands kneaded it. And soon the wax
grew warm, for that my great might constrained it, and the beam
of the lord Helios, son of Hyperion. And I anointed therewith the
ears of all my men in their order, and in the ship they bound me
hand and foot upright in the mast-stead, and from the mast they
fastened rope-ends and themselves sat down, and smote the grey sea
water with their oars. But when the ship was within the sound of
a man’s shout from the land, we fleeing swiftly on our way, the
Sirens espied the swift ship speeding toward them, and they raised
their clear-toned song:
‘ “Hither, come hither, renowned Odysseus, great glory of the
Achaeans, here stay thy barque, that thou mayest listen to the voice
of us twain. For none hath ever driven by this way in his black
ship, till he hath heard from our lips the voice sweet as the honeycomb,
and hath had joy thereof and gone on his way the wiser.
For lo, we know all things, all the travail that in wide Troy-land
the Argives and Trojans bare by the gods’ designs, yea, and we know
all that shall hereafter be upon the fruitful earth.”
‘So spake they uttering a sweet voice, and my heart was fain to
listen, and I bade my company unbind me, nodding at them with
a frown, but they bent to their oars and rowed on. Then straight

THE ODYSSEY 167
uprose Perimedes and Eurylochus and bound me with more cords
and straitened me yet the more. Now when we had driven past
them, nor heard we any longer the sound of the Sirens or their
song, forthwith my dear company took away the wax wherewith
I had anointed their ears and loosed me from my bonds.
‘But so soon as we left that isle, thereafter presently I saw smoke
and a great wave, and heard the sea roaring. Then for very fear
the oars flew from their hands, and down the stream they all
splashed, and the ship was holden there, for my company no longer
plied with their hands the tapering oars. But I paced the ship and
cheered on my men, as I stood by each one and spake smooth words:
‘ “Friends, forasmuch as in sorrow we are not all unlearned, truly
this is no greater woe that is upon us,1 than when the Cyclops penned
us by main might in his hollow cave; yet even thence we made escape
by my manfulness, even by my counsel and my wit, and some
day I think that this adventure too we shall remember. Come now,
therefore, let us all give ear to do according to my word. Do ye
smite the deep surf of the sea with your oars, as ye sit on the benches,
if peradventure Zeus may grant us to escape from and shun this
death. And as for thee, helmsman, thus I charge thee, and ponder
it in thine heart seeing that thou wieldest the helm of the hollow
ship. Keep the ship well away from this smoke and from the wave
and hug the rocks, lest the ship, ere thou art aware, start from her
course to the other side, and so thou hurl us into ruin.”
‘So I spake, and quickly they hearkened to my words. But of
Scylla I told them nothing more, a bane none might deal with, lest
haply my company should cease from rowing for fear, and hide
them in the hold. In that same hour I suffered myself to forget the
hard behest of Circe, in that she bade me in nowise be armed; but
I did on my glorious harness and caught up two long lances in my
hands, and went on to the decking of the prow, for thence methought
that Scylla of the rock would first be seen, who was to bring woe
on my company. Yet could I not spy her anywhere, and my eyes
waxed weary for gazing all about toward the darkness of the rock.
‘Next we began to sail up the narrow strait lamenting. For on
the one hand lay Scylla, and on the other mighty Charybdis in ter-
1 Reading M, not Irct with La Roche.

168 HOMER
rible wise sucked down the salt sea water. As often as she belched
it forth, like a cauldron on a great fire she would seethe up through
all her troubled deeps, and overhead the spray fell on the tops of
either cliff. But oft as she gulped down the salt sea water, within
she was all plain to see through her troubled deeps, and the rock
around roared horribly and beneath the earth was manifest swart
with sand, and pale fear gat hold on my men. Toward her, then,
we looked fearing destruction; but Scylla meanwhile caught from
out my hollow ship six of my company, the hardiest of their hands
and the chief in might. And looking into the swift ship to find my
men, even then I marked their feet and hands as they were lifted
on high, and they cried aloud in their agony, and called me by my
name for that last time of all. Even as when a fisher on some headland
lets down with a long rod his baits for a snare to the little
fishes below, casting into the deep the horn of an ox of the homestead,
and as he catches each flings it writhing ashore, so writhing
were they borne upward to the cliff. And there she devoured them
shrieking in her gates, they stretching forth their hands to me in
the dread death-struggle. And the most pitiful thing was this that
mine eyes have seen of all my travail in searching out the paths of
the sea.
‘Now when we had escaped the Rocks and dread Charybdis and
Scylla, thereafter we soon came to the fair island of the god; where
were the goodly kine, broad of brow, and the many brave flocks of
Helios Hyperion. Then while as yet I was in my black ship upon
the deep, I heard the lowing of the cattle being stalled and the bleating
of the sheep, and on my mind there fell the saying of the blind
seer, Theban Teiresias, and of Circe of Aia, who charged me very
straitly to shun the isle of Helios, the gladdener of the world. Then
I spake out among my company in sorrow of heart:
‘ “Hear my words, my men, albeit in evil plight, that I may declare
unto you the oracles of Teiresias and of Circe of Aia, who very
straitly charged me to shun the isle of Helios, the gladdener of the
world. For there she said the most dreadful mischief would befall
us. Nay, drive ye then the black ship beyond and past that isle.”
‘So spake I, and their heart was broken within them. And Eurylochus
straightway answered me sadly, saying:

THE ODYSSEY 169
‘ “Hardy art thou, Odysseus, of might beyond measure, and thy
limbs are never weary; verily thou art fashioned all of iron, that
sufferest not thy fellows, foredone with toil and drowsiness, to set
foot on shore, where we might presently prepare us a good supper
in this sea-girt island. But even as we are thou biddest us fare blindly
through the sudden night, and from the isle go wandering on the
misty deep. And strong winds, the bane of ships, are born of the
night. How could a man escape from utter doom, if there chanced
to come a sudden blast of the South Wind, or of the boisterous
West, which mainly wreck ships, beyond the will of the gods, the
lords of all ? Howbeit for this present let us yield to the black night,
and we will make ready our supper abiding by the swift ship, and in
the morning we will climb on board, and put out into the broad
deep.”
‘So spake Eurylochus, and the rest of my company consented
thereto. Then at the last I knew that some god was indeed imagining
evil, and I uttered my voice and spake unto him winged words:
‘ “Eurylochus, verily ye put force upon me, being but one among
you all. But come, swear me now a mighty oath, one and all, to the
intent that if we light on a herd of kine or a great flock of sheep,
none in the evil folly of his heart may slay any sheep or ox; but in
quiet eat ye the meat which the deathless Circe gave.”
‘So I spake, and straightway they swore to refrain as I commanded
them. Now after they had sworn and done that oath, we stayed our
well-builded ship in the hollow harbour near to a well of sweet
water, and my company went forth from out the ship and deftly got
ready supper. But when they had put from them the desire of meat
and drink, thereafter they fell a weeping as they thought upon their
dear companions whom Scylla had snatched from out the hollow
ship and so devoured. And deep sleep came upon them amid their
weeping. And when it was the third watch of the night, and the
stars had crossed the zenith, Zeus the cloud-gatherer roused against
them an angry wind with wondrous tempest, and shrouded in
clouds land and sea alike, and from heaven sped down the night.
Now when early Dawn shone forth, the rosy-fingered, we beached
the ship, and dragged it up within a hollow cave, where were the
fair dancing grounds of the nymphs and the places of their session.

170 HOMER
Thereupon I ordered a gathering of my men and spake in their
midst, saying:
‘ “Friends, forasmuch as there is yet meat and drink in the swift
ship, let us keep our hands off those kine, lest some evil thing befall
us. For these are the kine and the brave flocks of a dread god, even
of Helios, who overseeth all and overheareth all things.”
‘So I spake, and their lordly spirit hearkened thereto. Then for
a whole month the South Wind blew without ceasing, and no other
wind arose, save only the East and the South.
‘Now so long as my company still had corn and red wine, they refrained
them from the kine, for they were fain of life. But when
the corn was now all spent from out the ship, and they went wandering
with barbed hooks in quest of game, as needs they must, fishes
and fowls, whatsoever might come to their hand, for hunger gnawed
at their belly, then at last I departed up the isle, that I might pray to
the gods, if perchance some one of them might show me a way of
returning. And now when I had avoided my company on my way
through the island, I laved my hands where was a shelter from the
wind, and prayed to all the gods that hold Olympus. But they shed
sweet sleep upon my eyelids. And Eurylochus the while set forth
an evil counsel to my company:
‘ “Hear my words, my friends, though ye be in evil case. Truly
every shape of death is hateful to wretched mortals, but to die of
hunger and so meet doom is most pitiful of all. Nay come, we will
drive off the best of the kine of Helios and will do sacrifice to the
deathless gods who keep wide heaven. And if we may yet reach
Ithaca, our own country, forthwith will we rear a rich shrine to
Helios Hyperion, and therein would we set many a choice offering.
But if he be somewhat wroth for his cattle with straight horns, and
is fain to wreck our ship, and the other gods follow his desire, rather
with one gulp at the wave would I cast my life away, than be slowly
straitened to death in a desert isle.”
‘So spake Eurylochus, and the rest of the company consented
thereto. Forthwith they drave off the best of the kine of Helios that
were nigh at hand, for the fair kine of shambling gait and broad of
brow were feeding no great way from the dark-prowed ship. Then
they stood around the cattle and prayed to the gods, plucking the

THE ODYSSEY 171
fresh leaves from an oak of lofty boughs, for they had no white
barley on board the decked ship. Now after they had prayed and
cut the throats of the kine and flayed them, they cut out slices of
the thighs and wrapped them in the fat, making a double fold, and
thereon they laid raw flesh. Yet had they no pure wine to pour over
the flaming sacrifices, but they made libation with water and roasted
the entrails over the fire. Now after the thighs were quite consumed
and they had tasted the inner parts, they cut the rest up small and
spitted it on spits. In the same hour deep sleep sped from my eyelids
and I sallied forth to the swift ship and the sea-banks. But on
my way as I drew near to the curved ship, the sweet savour of the
fat came all about me; and I groaned and spake out before the
deathless gods:
‘”Father Zeus, and all ye other blessed gods that live for ever,
verily to my undoing ye have lulled me with a ruthless sleep, and
my company abiding behind have imagined a monstrous deed.”
‘Then swiftly to Helios Hyperion came Lampetie of the long
robes, with the tidings that we had slain his kine. And straight he
spake with angry heart amid the Immortals:
‘”Father Zeus, and all ye other blessed gods that live for ever,
take vengeance I pray you on the company of Odysseus, son of
Laertes, that have insolently slain my cattle, wherein I was wont
to be glad as I went toward the starry heaven, and when I again
turned earthward from the firmament. And if they pay me not full
atonement for the cattle, I will go down to Hades and shine among
the dead.”
‘And Zeus the cloud-gatherer answered him, saying: “Helios,
do thou, I say, shine on amidst the deathless gods, and amid mortal
men upon the earth, the grain-giver. But as for me, I will soon
smite their swift ship with my white bolt, and cleave it in pieces in
the midst of the wine-dark deep.”
‘This I heard from Calypso of the fair hair; and she said that she
herself had heard it from Hermes the Messenger.
‘But when I had come down to the ship and to the sea, I went up
to my companions and rebuked them one by one; but we could find
no remedy, the cattle were dead and gone. And soon thereafter the
gods showed forth signs and wonders to my company. The skins

172 HOMER
were creeping, and the flesh bellowing upon the spits, both the
roast and raw, and there was a sound as the voice of kine.
‘Then for six days my dear company feasted on the best of the
kine of Helios, which they had driven off. But when Zeus, son of
Cronos, had added the seventh day thereto, thereafter the wind
ceased to blow with a rushing storm, and at once we climbed the ship
and launched into the broad deep, when we had set up the mast
and hoisted the white sails.
‘But now when we left that isle nor any other land appeared, but
sky and sea only, even then the son of Cronos stayed a dark cloud
above the hollow ship, and beneath it the deep darkened. And the
ship ran on her way for no long while, for of a sudden came the
shrilling West, with the rushing of a great tempest, and the blast of
wind snapped the two forestays of the mast, and the mast fell backward
and all the gear dropped into the bilge. And behold, on the
hind part of the ship the mast struck the head of the pilot and brake
all the bones of his skull together, and like a diver he dropped down
from the deck, and his brave spirit left his bones. In that same hour
Zeus thundered and cast his bolt upon the ship, and she reeled all
over being stricken by the bolt of Zeus, and was filled with sulphur,
and lo, my company fell from out the vessel. Like sea-gulls they
were borne round the black ship upon the billows, and the god
reft them of returning.
‘But I kept pacing through my ship, till the surge loosened the
sides from the keel, and the wave swept her along stript of her tackling,
and brake her mast clean off at the keel. Now the backstay
fashioned of an oxhide had been flung thereon; therewith I lashed
together both keel and mast, and sitting thereon I was borne by
the ruinous winds.
‘Then verily the West Wind ceased to blow with a rushing
storm, and swiftly withal the South Wind came, bringing sorrow to
my soul, that so I might again measure back that space of sea, the
way to deadly Charybdis. All the night was I borne, but with the
rising of the sun I came to the rock of Scylla, and to dread Charybdis.
Now she had sucked down her salt sea water, when I was swung
up on high to the tall fig-tree whereto I clung like a bat, and could
find no sure rest for my feet nor place to stand, for the roots spread

THE ODYSSEY 173
far below and the branches hung aloft out of reach, long and large,
and overshadowed Charybdis. Steadfast I clung till she should spew
forth mast and keel again; and late they came to my desire. At the
hour when a man rises up from the assembly and goes to supper,
one who judges the many quarrels of the young men that seek to
him for law, at that same hour those timbers came forth to view
from out Charybdis. And I let myself drop down hands and feet,
and plunged heavily in the midst of the waters beyond the long timbers,
and sitting on these I rowed hard with my hands. But the
father of gods and of men suffered me no more to behold Scylla,
else I should never have escaped from utter doom.
‘Thence for nine days was I borne, and on the tenth night the
gods brought me nigh to the isle of Ogygia, where dwells Calypso
of the braided tresses, an awful goddess of mortal speech, who took
me in and entreated me kindly. But why rehearse all this tale? For
even yesterday I told it to thee and to thy noble wife in thy house;
and it liketh me not twice to tell a plain-told tale.’

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