Translation of: The Odyssey of Homer: Book XII

A poem by William Cowper


Ulysses, pursuing his narrative, relates his return from the shades to Circe's island, the precautions given him by that Goddess, his escape from the Sirens, and from Scylla and Charybdis; his arrival in Sicily, where his companions, having slain and eaten the oxen of the Sun, are afterward shipwrecked and lost; and concludes the whole with an account of his arrival, alone, on the mast of his vessel, at the island of Calypso.

And now, borne seaward from the river-stream
Of the Oceanus, we plow'd again
The spacious Deep, and reach'd th' Ææan isle,
Where, daughter of the dawn, Aurora takes
Her choral sports, and whence the sun ascends.
We, there arriving, thrust our bark aground
On the smooth beach, then landed, and on shore
Reposed, expectant of the sacred dawn.
But soon as day-spring's daughter rosy-palm'd
Look'd forth again, sending my friends before,
I bade them bring Elpenor's body down
From the abode of Circe to the beach.
Then, on the utmost headland of the coast
We timber fell'd, and, sorrowing o'er the dead,
His fun'ral rites water'd with tears profuse.
The dead consumed, and with the dead his arms,
We heap'd his tomb, and the sepulchral post
Erecting, fix'd his shapely oar aloft.
Thus, punctual, we perform'd; nor our return
From Ades knew not Circe, but attired
In haste, ere long arrived, with whom appear'd
Her female train with plenteous viands charged,
And bright wine rosy-red. Amidst us all
Standing, the beauteous Goddess thus began.
Ah miserable! who have sought the shades
Alive! while others of the human race
Die only once, appointed twice to die!
Come--take ye food; drink wine; and on the shore
All day regale, for ye shall hence again
At day-spring o'er the Deep; but I will mark
Myself your future course, nor uninform'd
Leave you in aught, lest, through some dire mistake,
By sea or land new mis'ries ye incur.
The Goddess spake, whose invitation kind
We glad accepted; thus we feasting sat
Till set of sun, and quaffing richest wine;
But when the sun went down and darkness fell,
My crew beside the hawsers slept, while me
The Goddess by the hand leading apart,
First bade me sit, then, seated opposite,
Enquired, minute, of all that I had seen,
And I, from first to last, recounted all.
Then, thus the awful Goddess in return.
Thus far thy toils are finish'd. Now attend!
Mark well my words, of which the Gods will sure
Themselves remind thee in the needful hour.
First shalt thou reach the Sirens; they the hearts
Enchant of all who on their coast arrive.
The wretch, who unforewarn'd approaching, hears
The Sirens' voice, his wife and little-ones
Ne'er fly to gratulate his glad return,
But him the Sirens sitting in the meads
Charm with mellifluous song, while all around
The bones accumulated lie of men
Now putrid, and the skins mould'ring away.
But, pass them thou, and, lest thy people hear
Those warblings, ere thou yet approach, fill all
Their ears with wax moulded between thy palms;
But as for thee--thou hear them if thou wilt.
Yet let thy people bind thee to the mast
Erect, encompassing thy feet and arms
With cordage well-secured to the mast-foot,
So shalt thou, raptur'd, hear the Sirens' song.
But if thou supplicate to be released,
Or give such order, then, with added cords
Let thy companions bind thee still the more.
When thus thy people shall have safely pass'd
The Sirens by, think not from me to learn
What course thou next shalt steer; two will occur;
Delib'rate chuse; I shall describe them both.
Here vaulted rocks impend, dash'd by the waves
Immense of Amphitrite azure-eyed;
The blessed Gods those rocks, Erratic, call.
Birds cannot pass them safe; no, not the doves
Which his ambrosia bear to Father Jove,
But even of those doves the slipp'ry rock
Proves fatal still to one, for which the God
Supplies another, lest the number fail.
No ship, what ship soever there arrives,
Escapes them, but both mariners and planks
Whelm'd under billows of the Deep, or, caught
By fiery tempests, sudden disappear.
Those rocks the billow-cleaving bark alone
The Argo, further'd by the vows of all,
Pass'd safely, sailing from Ææta's isle;
Nor she had pass'd, but surely dash'd had been
On those huge rocks, but that, propitious still
To Jason, Juno sped her safe along.
These rocks are two; one lifts his summit sharp
High as the spacious heav'ns, wrapt in dun clouds
Perpetual, which nor autumn sees dispers'd
Nor summer, for the sun shines never there;
No mortal man might climb it or descend,
Though twice ten hands and twice ten feet he own'd,
For it is levigated as by art.
Down scoop'd to Erebus, a cavern drear
Yawns in the centre of its western side;
Pass it, renown'd Ulysses! but aloof
So far, that a keen arrow smartly sent
Forth from thy bark should fail to reach the cave.
There Scylla dwells, and thence her howl is heard
Tremendous; shrill her voice is as the note
Of hound new-whelp'd, but hideous her aspect,
Such as no mortal man, nor ev'n a God
Encount'ring her, should with delight survey.
Her feet are twelve, all fore-feet; six her necks
Of hideous length, each clubb'd into a head
Terrific, and each head with fangs is arm'd
In triple row, thick planted, stored with death.
Plunged to her middle in the hollow den
She lurks, protruding from the black abyss
Her heads, with which the rav'ning monster dives
In quest of dolphins, dog-fish, or of prey
More bulky, such as in the roaring gulphs
Of Amphitrite without end abounds.
It is no seaman's boast that e'er he slipp'd
Her cavern by, unharm'd. In ev'ry mouth
She bears upcaught a mariner away.
The other rock, Ulysses, thou shalt find
Humbler, a bow-shot only from the first;
On this a wild fig grows broad-leav'd, and here
Charybdis dire ingulphs the sable flood.
Each day she thrice disgorges, and each day
Thrice swallows it. Ah! well forewarn'd, beware
What time she swallows, that thou come not nigh,
For not himself, Neptune, could snatch thee thence.
Close passing Scylla's rock, shoot swift thy bark
Beyond it, since the loss of six alone
Is better far than shipwreck made of all.
So Circe spake, to whom I thus replied.
Tell me, O Goddess, next, and tell me true!
If, chance, from fell Charybdis I escape,
May I not also save from Scylla's force
My people; should the monster threaten them?
I said, and quick the Goddess in return.
Unhappy! can exploits and toils of war
Still please thee? yield'st not to the Gods themselves?
She is no mortal, but a deathless pest,
Impracticable, savage, battle-proof.
Defence is vain; flight is thy sole resource.
For should'st thou linger putting on thy arms
Beside the rock, beware, lest darting forth
Her num'rous heads, she seize with ev'ry mouth
A Greecian, and with others, even thee.
Pass therefore swift, and passing, loud invoke
Cratais, mother of this plague of man,
Who will forbid her to assail thee more.
Thou, next, shalt reach Thrinacia; there, the beeves
And fatted flocks graze num'rous of the Sun;
Sev'n herds; as many flocks of snowy fleece;
Fifty in each; they breed not, neither die,
Nor are they kept by less than Goddesses,
Lampetia fair, and Phäethusa, both
By nymph Neæra to Hyperion borne.
Them, soon as she had train'd them to an age
Proportion'd to that charge, their mother sent
Into Thrinacia, there to dwell and keep
Inviolate their father's flocks and herds.
If, anxious for a safe return, thou spare
Those herds and flocks, though after much endured,
Ye may at last your Ithaca regain;
But should'st thou violate them, I foretell
Destruction of thy ship and of thy crew,
And though thyself escape, thou shalt return
Late, in ill plight, and all thy friends destroy'd.
She ended, and the golden morning dawn'd.
Then, all-divine, her graceful steps she turn'd
Back through the isle, and, at the beach arrived,
I summon'd all my followers to ascend
The bark again, and cast the hawsers loose.
They, at my voice, embarking, fill'd in ranks
The seats, and rowing, thresh'd the hoary flood.
And now, melodious Circe, nymph divine,
Sent after us a canvas-stretching breeze,
Pleasant companion of our course, and we
(The decks and benches clear'd) untoiling sat,
While managed gales sped swift the bark along.
Then, with dejected heart, thus I began.
Oh friends! (for it is needful that not one
Or two alone the admonition hear
Of Circe, beauteous prophetess divine)
To all I speak, that whether we escape
Or perish, all may be, at least, forewarn'd.
She bids us, first, avoid the dang'rous song
Of the sweet Sirens and their flow'ry meads.
Me only she permits those strains to hear;
But ye shall bind me with coercion strong
Of cordage well-secured to the mast-foot,
And by no struggles to be loos'd of mine.
But should I supplicate to be released
Or give such order, then, with added cords
Be it your part to bind me still the more.
Thus with distinct precaution I prepared
My people; rapid in her course, meantime,
My gallant bark approach'd the Sirens' isle,
For brisk and favourable blew the wind.
Then fell the wind suddenly, and serene
A breathless calm ensued, while all around
The billows slumber'd, lull'd by pow'r divine.
Up-sprang my people, and the folded sails
Bestowing in the hold, sat to their oars,
Which with their polish'd blades whiten'd the Deep.
I, then, with edge of steel sev'ring minute
A waxen cake, chafed it and moulded it
Between my palms; ere long the ductile mass
Grew warm, obedient to that ceaseless force,
And to Hyperion's all-pervading beams.
With that soft liniment I fill'd the ears
Of my companions, man by man, and they
My feet and arms with strong coercion bound
Of cordage to the mast-foot well secured.
Then down they sat, and, rowing, thresh'd the brine.
But when with rapid course we had arrived
Within such distance as a voice may reach,
Not unperceived by them the gliding bark
Approach'd, and, thus, harmonious they began.
Ulysses, Chief by ev'ry tongue extoll'd,
Achaia's boast, oh hither steer thy bark!
Here stay thy course, and listen to our lay!
These shores none passes in his sable ship
Till, first, the warblings of our voice he hear,
Then, happier hence and wiser he departs.
All that the Greeks endured, and all the ills
Inflicted by the Gods on Troy, we know,
Know all that passes on the boundless earth.
So they with voices sweet their music poured
Melodious on my ear, winning with ease
My heart's desire to listen, and by signs
I bade my people, instant, set me free.
But they incumbent row'd, and from their seats
Eurylochus and Perimedes sprang
With added cords to bind me still the more.
This danger past, and when the Sirens' voice,
Now left remote, had lost its pow'r to charm,
Then, my companions freeing from the wax
Their ears, deliver'd me from my restraint.
The island left afar, soon I discern'd
Huge waves, and smoke, and horrid thund'rings heard.
All sat aghast; forth flew at once the oars
From ev'ry hand, and with a clash the waves
Smote all together; check'd, the galley stood,
By billow-sweeping oars no longer urged,
And I, throughout the bark, man after man
Encouraged all, addressing thus my crew.
We meet not, now, my friends, our first distress.
This evil is not greater than we found
When the huge Cyclops in his hollow den
Imprison'd us, yet even thence we 'scaped,
My intrepidity and fertile thought
Opening the way; and we shall recollect
These dangers also, in due time, with joy.
Come, then--pursue my counsel. Ye your seats
Still occupying, smite the furrow'd flood
With well-timed strokes, that by the will of Jove
We may escape, perchance, this death, secure.
To thee the pilot thus I speak, (my words
Mark thou, for at thy touch the rudder moves)
This smoke, and these tumultuous waves avoid;
Steer wide of both; yet with an eye intent
On yonder rock, lest unaware thou hold
Too near a course, and plunge us into harm.
So I; with whose advice all, quick, complied.
But Scylla I as yet named not, (that woe
Without a cure) lest, terrified, my crew
Should all renounce their oars, and crowd below.
Just then, forgetful of the strict command
Of Circe not to arm, I cloath'd me all
In radiant armour, grasp'd two quiv'ring spears,
And to the deck ascended at the prow,
Expecting earliest notice there, what time
The rock-bred Scylla should annoy my friends.
But I discern'd her not, nor could, although
To weariness of sight the dusky rock
I vigilant explored. Thus, many a groan
Heaving, we navigated sad the streight,
For here stood Scylla, while Charybdis there
With hoarse throat deep absorb'd the briny flood.
Oft as she vomited the deluge forth,
Like water cauldron'd o'er a furious fire
The whirling Deep all murmur'd, and the spray
On both those rocky summits fell in show'rs.
But when she suck'd the salt wave down again,
Then, all the pool appear'd wheeling about
Within, the rock rebellow'd, and the sea
Drawn off into that gulph disclosed to view
The oozy bottom. Us pale horror seized.
Thus, dreading death, with fast-set eyes we watch'd
Charybdis; meantime, Scylla from the bark
Caught six away, the bravest of my friends.
With eyes, that moment, on my ship and crew
Retorted, I beheld the legs and arms
Of those whom she uplifted in the air;
On me they call'd, my name, the last, last time
Pronouncing then, in agony of heart.
As when from some bold point among the rocks
The angler, with his taper rod in hand,
Casts forth his bait to snare the smaller fry,
He swings away remote his guarded line,[56]
Then jerks his gasping prey forth from the Deep,
So Scylla them raised gasping to the rock,
And at her cavern's mouth devour'd them loud-
Shrieking, and stretching forth to me their arms
In sign of hopeless mis'ry. Ne'er beheld
These eyes in all the seas that I have roam'd,
A sight so piteous, nor in all my toils.
From Scylla and Charybdis dire escaped,
We reach'd the noble island of the Sun
Ere long, where bright Hyperion's beauteous herds
Broad-fronted grazed, and his well-batten'd flocks.
I, in the bark and on the sea, the voice
Of oxen bellowing in hovels heard,
And of loud-bleating sheep; then dropp'd the word
Into my memory of the sightless Seer,
Theban Tiresias, and the caution strict
Of Circe, my Ææan monitress,
Who with such force had caution'd me to avoid
The island of the Sun, joy of mankind.
Thus then to my companions, sad, I spake.
Hear ye, my friends! although long time distress'd,
The words prophetic of the Theban seer
And of Ææan Circe, whose advice
Was oft repeated to me to avoid
This island of the Sun, joy of mankind.
There, said the Goddess, dread your heaviest woes,
Pass the isle, therefore, scudding swift away.
I ceased; they me with consternation heard,
And harshly thus Eurylochus replied.
Ulysses, ruthless Chief! no toils impair
Thy strength, of senseless iron thou art form'd,
Who thy companions weary and o'erwatch'd
Forbidd'st to disembark on this fair isle,
Where now, at last, we might with ease regale.
Thou, rash, command'st us, leaving it afar,
To roam all night the Ocean's dreary waste;
But winds to ships injurious spring by night,
And how shall we escape a dreadful death
If, chance, a sudden gust from South arise
Or stormy West, that dash in pieces oft
The vessel, even in the Gods' despight?
Prepare we rather now, as night enjoins,
Our evening fare beside the sable bark,
In which at peep of day we may again
Launch forth secure into the boundless flood.
He ceas'd, whom all applauded. Then I knew
That sorrow by the will of adverse heav'n
Approach'd, and in wing'd accents thus replied.
I suffer force, Eurylochus! and yield
O'er-ruled by numbers. Come, then, swear ye all
A solemn oath, that should we find an herd
Or num'rous flock, none here shall either sheep
Or bullock slay, by appetite profane
Seduced, but shall the viands eat content
Which from immortal Circe we received.
I spake; they readily a solemn oath
Sware all, and when their oath was fully sworn,
Within a creek where a fresh fountain rose
They moor'd the bark, and, issuing, began
Brisk preparation of their evening cheer.
But when nor hunger now nor thirst remain'd
Unsated, recollecting, then, their friends
By Scylla seized and at her cave devour'd,
They mourn'd, nor ceased to mourn them, till they slept.
The night's third portion come, when now the stars
Had travers'd the mid-sky, cloud-gath'rer Jove
Call'd forth a vehement wind with tempest charged,
Menacing earth and sea with pitchy clouds
Tremendous, and the night fell dark from heav'n.
But when Aurora, daughter of the day,
Look'd rosy forth, we haled, drawn inland more,
Our bark into a grot, where nymphs were wont
Graceful to tread the dance, or to repose.
Convening there my friends, I thus began.
My friends! food fails us not, but bread is yet
And wine on board. Abstain we from the herds,
Lest harm ensue; for ye behold the flocks
And herds of a most potent God, the Sun!
Whose eye and watchful ear none may elude.
So saying, I sway'd the gen'rous minds of all.
A month complete the South wind ceaseless blew,
Nor other wind blew next, save East and South,
Yet they, while neither food nor rosy wine
Fail'd them, the herds harm'd not, through fear to die.
But, our provisions failing, they employed
Whole days in search of food, snaring with hooks
Birds, fishes, of what kind soe'er they might.
By famine urged. I solitary roam'd
Meantime the isle, seeking by pray'r to move
Some God to shew us a deliv'rance thence.
When, roving thus the isle, I had at length
Left all my crew remote, laving my hands
Where shelter warm I found from the rude blast,
I supplicated ev'ry Pow'r above;
But they my pray'rs answer'd with slumbers soft
Shed o'er my eyes, and with pernicious art
Eurylochus, the while, my friends harangued.
My friends! afflicted as ye are, yet hear
A fellow-suff'rer. Death, however caused,
Abhorrence moves in miserable man,
But death by famine is a fate of all
Most to be fear'd. Come--let us hither drive
And sacrifice to the Immortal Pow'rs
The best of all the oxen of the Sun,
Resolving thus--that soon as we shall reach
Our native Ithaca, we will erect
To bright Hyperion an illustrious fane,
Which with magnificent and num'rous gifts
We will enrich. But should he chuse to sink
Our vessel, for his stately beeves incensed,
And should, with him, all heav'n conspire our death,
I rather had with open mouth, at once,
Meeting the billows, perish, than by slow
And pining waste here in this desert isle.
So spake Eurylochus, whom all approved.
Then, driving all the fattest of the herd
Few paces only, (for the sacred beeves
Grazed rarely distant from the bark) they stood
Compassing them around, and, grasping each
Green foliage newly pluck'd from saplings tall,
(For barley none in all our bark remain'd)
Worshipp'd the Gods in pray'r. Pray'r made, they slew
And flay'd them, and the thighs with double fat
Investing, spread them o'er with slices crude.
No wine had they with which to consecrate
The blazing rites, but with libation poor
Of water hallow'd the interior parts.
Now, when the thighs were burnt, and each had shared
His portion of the maw, and when the rest
All-slash'd and scored hung roasting at the fire,
Sleep, in that moment, suddenly my eyes
Forsaking, to the shore I bent my way.
But ere the station of our bark I reach'd,
The sav'ry steam greeted me. At the scent
I wept aloud, and to the Gods exclaim'd.
Oh Jupiter, and all ye Pow'rs above!
With cruel sleep and fatal ye have lull'd
My cares to rest, such horrible offence
Meantime my rash companions have devised.
Then, flew long-stoled Lampetia to the Sun
At once with tidings of his slaughter'd beeves,
And he, incensed, the Immortals thus address'd.
Jove, and ye everlasting Pow'rs divine!
Avenge me instant on the crew profane
Of Laertiades; Ulysses' friends
Have dared to slay my beeves, which I with joy
Beheld, both when I climb'd the starry heav'ns,
And when to earth I sloped my "westring wheels,"
But if they yield me not amercement due
And honourable for my loss, to Hell
I will descend and give the ghosts my beams.
Then, thus the cloud-assembler God replied.
Sun! shine thou still on the Immortal Pow'rs,
And on the teeming earth, frail man's abode.
My candent bolts can in a moment reach
And split their flying bark in the mid-sea.
These things Calypso told me, taught, herself,
By herald Hermes, as she oft affirm'd.
But when, descending to the shore, I reach'd
At length my bark, with aspect stern and tone
I reprimanded them, yet no redress
Could frame, or remedy--the beeves were dead.
Soon follow'd signs portentous sent from heav'n.
The skins all crept, and on the spits the flesh
Both roast and raw bellow'd, as with the voice
Of living beeves. Thus my devoted friends
Driving the fattest oxen of the Sun,
Feasted six days entire; but when the sev'nth
By mandate of Saturnian Jove appeared,
The storm then ceased to rage, and we, again
Embarking, launch'd our galley, rear'd the mast,
And gave our unfurl'd canvas to the wind.
The island left afar, and other land
Appearing none, but sky alone and sea,
Right o'er the hollow bark Saturnian Jove
Hung a cærulean cloud, dark'ning the Deep.
Not long my vessel ran, for, blowing wild,
Now came shrill Zephyrus; a stormy gust
Snapp'd sheer the shrouds on both sides; backward fell
The mast, and with loose tackle strew'd the hold;
Striking the pilot in the stern, it crush'd
His scull together; he a diver's plunge
Made downward, and his noble spirit fled.
Meantime, Jove thund'ring, hurl'd into the ship
His bolts; she, smitten by the fires of Jove,
Quaked all her length; with sulphur fill'd she reek'd,
And o'er her sides headlong my people plunged
Like sea-mews, interdicted by that stroke
Of wrath divine to hope their country more.
But I, the vessel still paced to and fro,
Till, fever'd by the boist'rous waves, her sides
Forsook the keel now left to float alone.
Snapp'd where it join'd the keel the mast had fall'n,
But fell encircled with a leathern brace,
Which it retain'd; binding with this the mast
And keel together, on them both I sat,
Borne helpless onward by the dreadful gale.
And now the West subsided, and the South
Arose instead, with mis'ry charged for me,
That I might measure back my course again
To dire Charybdis. All night long I drove,
And when the sun arose, at Scylla's rock
Once more, and at Charybdis' gulph arrived.
It was the time when she absorb'd profound
The briny flood, but by a wave upborne
I seized the branches fast of the wild-fig.[57]
To which, bat-like, I clung; yet where to fix
My foot secure found not, or where to ascend,
For distant lay the roots, and distant shot
The largest arms erect into the air,
O'ershadowing all Charybdis; therefore hard
I clench'd the boughs, till she disgorg'd again
Both keel and mast. Not undesired by me
They came, though late; for at what hour the judge,
After decision made of num'rous strifes[58]
Between young candidates for honour, leaves
The forum for refreshment' sake at home,
Then was it that the mast and keel emerged.
Deliver'd to a voluntary fall,
Fast by those beams I dash'd into the flood,
And seated on them both, with oary palms
Impell'd them; nor the Sire of Gods and men
Permitted Scylla to discern me more,
Else had I perish'd by her fangs at last.
Nine days I floated thence, and, on the tenth
Dark night, the Gods convey'd me to the isle
Ogygia, habitation of divine
Calypso, by whose hospitable aid
And assiduity, my strength revived.
But wherefore this? ye have already learn'd
That hist'ry, thou and thy illustrious spouse;
I told it yesterday, and hate a tale
Once amply told, then, needless, traced again.

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