Ulysses – Chapter Two

The troubled Grecian fleet sailed on to the isle of Aeolius the wind-god, where Ulysses met kind reception in the god’s court. He told the nobles of his adventure, and enjoyed hospitalities befitting a king.  Wishing to ensure them a swift homeward journey, the god filled an ox-hide with strong winds, and had it fastened to the mast of their ship. This generated favorable gales that would readily deliver them to their homeland. With the charmed bag tied to the mast, they flew like an arrow day and night, until they beheld the lights of their homeland Ithaca. But, by his ill-fortune, Ulysses had fallen asleep, and some of his men had fixed upon the leather bag he’d received from the wind god. Not knowing its contents, they suspected the skin contained precious metals, and those covetous wretches climbed the mast and opened the sack. Out rushed all the winds with mighty noise, and by the time Ulysses had awoke it was too late. Their course had reversed, and in one hour they backtracked the previous nine days journey. When they again reached the isle of the Aeolius, Ulysses felt much disgrace at having misused his royal bounty, and stood silently like a beggar at the threshold of the god’s palace. When he was finally noticed, the king sent him away, as the court had already entertained him at such great expense.

After seven more days at sea, they reached the ancient city of Lamos. All the fleet entered the harbor, except the ship of Ulysses, which he cautiously moored around the bend. A team cautiously went ashore, and met a giant damsel drawing water from a spring. She spoke not a word, as she silently returned to the palace of her father, King Aniphas, to inform him of their arrival. The King was furious and called all his giant people to attack the wayward Greeks, who were stormed from all sides. The giants slaughtered the entire party who had ventured ashore, and destroyed all the ships in the harbor, along with any men aboard.  Only Ulysses and a few crewmen managed to escape that fearsome horde with but one single ship.

Onward the lone ship drifted, until they spotted the island of Aegea, the home of Circe, the dreadful daughter of the sun.  Since their stock of water and provisions was nearly spent, it was necessary for them to make landfall. Their hearts sank upon recalling the fate of all their kindred fellows who had been devoured by beasts. But, tears never supplied any man’s wants, and so they divided into two companies, and drew lots for who would make journey ashore. It was decided that 22 men would venture forth led by Eurlochus the Brave, and the remainder would say aboard the moored vessel with Ulysses. At the mission’s departure, all eyes wore the same wet badges of weak humanity, for at every shore they met only cannibals and savages.

Circe’s mansion was surrounded by vast courtyards where lions and leopards the witch had tamed stood obediently on their hind paws. The enchantress was spinning at her loom.  When she saw the mariners she set out a meal, but mixed the food with powerful drugs of enchantment. The men were hungry and readily entered the palace to dine, and only their leader Eurlochus lingered outside the gates waiting to see what would transpire. As they ate, the witch chanted a spell, and tapped them with her charming rod. Soon the men were transformed into swine, though they retained their human minds. Then she led them into a sty where they were fed acorns and chestnuts. Eurlochus did not understand what had happened – one moment he saw his men dining, and the next moment there were pigs – and when he returned to the ship his report was incoherent. Fetching his bow and sword, Ulysses said “Eurlochus, you stay here, you eat and drink in the safety of the ship, while I venture forth to investigate, as I am compelled by necessity, from whose law there is no appeal.”

As Ulysses reached the palace threshold, he met the god Mercury holding a golden rod, who begged him not to continue as the witch would surely turn him into a pig. But the god’s words could not stop the daring foot of Ulysses, especially since the misfortunes of friends had left him careless of danger. Realizing he could not be dissuaded, the god offered him a flower of moly herb as protection against the witch’s enchantments, and promptly vanished. Entering the palace he was greeted with the same lavish meal, and sat down to eat just as his friends had done before. The witch tapped him with her rod and said “To thy sty swine!  Join thy friends!”, but when her words had no effect she jumped in surprise and shouted “Just what manner of man art thou?” She stood in silence with a look of bewilderment, until finally she said “Art thou perhaps the one named Ulysses whom the gods foretold I must one day love?” Ulysses was surprised by this strange profession, and replied “Oh Circe, how can thou love one whose friends thou hast turned to beasts?” Then the witch swore an oath by the river Styx that she would never harm him. She washed his feet, perfumed his head, bathed him in aromatics, and gave him wine to chase troubling thoughts from his mind. Then she dressed him, sat him upon a throne of silver, and set out an even more opulent feast. But Ulysses could take no nourishment for his mouth, as he sought only nourishment for his eyes: he only cared to behold his friends back in human form again. Circe the witch knew why he refused her meal, and so she let the pigs back into the palace, smeared them with an ointment, pronounced some magic words, and tapped them with her rod, which transformed them back to their original appearance. The hall was filled with sounds of pleasing mourning that moved the witch to tears.

For twelve months those twenty-six Grecians lived happily on Circe’s island, where she entertained them with all manner of magical delights.  They marveled when she moved the moon, or when she uprooted a solid oak tree, and made it dance. But one day Ulysses recalled his loyal wife Penelope and their son Telemachus, who was still nursing at the breast when he left so long ago. When Circe heard of his desire to leave she was not upset, and said “It is not in my power to detain one whom the gods have destined for further trials. But, before you depart from me, first you must visit Hades the land of the dead to consult the seer Tiresias about your fortune.” He sat alone motionless in his boat, as she cast a spell that summoned the north wind to carry him to the land of the dead.

When he reached the sacred forest of Prosepine, and the confluence of the three rivers, there he dug a pit, and prepared an offering of ram blood, black ewe blood, milk, wine and honey.  When the mixture was ready, the dead came forth to drink from the pit. First, it was Tiresias who stepped out of the crowd and uttered a mysterious prophesy: “Woe to Ulysses, woe and suffering. The anger of Neptune is upon thee, for thou hast put out the eye of his son, the cyclops Polyphemus.  Yet after suffering there is safety…. if they wait to slaughter the oxen of the sun… after landing on the triangular island… for the gods have destined Ulysses from king to beggar would he become, and to perish by his own guests…. unless he slew those who knew him not.” Ulysses barely understood any of these mysterious words. Then he saw his mother, who had been alive when he left, and broke down in tears.  She lapped up the blood just like all the others, and looking at her son asked why he had arrived in Hades yet still alive. She told him it was the pain of his absence that had brought her to the grave.  But as he threw his arms to clasp her, the poor ghost melted from his embrace. Then there were other great women, such as Alcema the mother of Hercules, and Leda the mother of Helen. Then there was the great warrior Agamemnon, who told him how his wife Clytemestra had plotted his murder after he returned home from Troy. Then there was the warrior Achilles, who warned that it was better to be a peasant among the living than to reign as the supreme king of the dead. Then there was his old enemy, the warrior Ajax, who went mad and slayed himself after his defeat by Ulysses. He called out “Ajax! Let not thy wrath burn forever. The Greeks mourn for thee just as they mourn for Achilles!”, but Ajax did not respond, and it seemed perhaps the resentments of the dead were eternal. He also saw many others, such as king Minos, the hunter Orion, Tantalus who once served his own sons as a dish for guests, and the wretched Sisyphus who forever rolls a stone up a hill. After conversing long enough with these horrors, Ulysses sat in his boat and pushed off for the happy land of the living.

Journey to the West – Chapter One

Millions of years ago, in the Eastern Sea there was an island called the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. On top of the mountain, there was a stone that was thirty-six feet five inches high and twenty-four feet around. There were no trees to give it shade, but magic fungus and orchids clung to it’s sides. Ever since creation began, that stone had been receiving the truth of Heaven, the beauty of the Earth, the essence of the Sun, and the splendor of the Moon. Over many eons the stone was  gradually infused with magical powers, until one day it broke open, and out came a small stone the size of a ball. When the wind blew on the small stone, it turned into a little stone monkey, complete with five senses and four limbs. After the monkey learned to crawl and walk, some lights shone out from its eyes. He tilted his head to shine the powerful lights up at the Pole Star, where lived the great Jade Emperor. When the Emperor saw the light he sent down two officers to find where it came from. The officers returned and explained that there was a stone monkey. The Emperor said that anything born from Heaven and Earth was natural, and so there was no cause for concern.

The monkey played with tigers and leopards, deer and other monkeys on the island. On hot mornings he and the monkeys would play under the shade of pine trees to avoid the heat. One day the monkeys found a stream, and wanted to discover it’s source, so they followed it up the mountain. Eventually they came to a great waterfall that was like a curtain splashing moisture on the mountainside. A wise old monkey made a suggestion: “If anyone is clever enough to go through the waterfall, and come back in one piece, then let’s make him our king.”. All the monkeys agreed. When he heard this, the stone monkey leapt out from the crowd and answered at the top of his voice “I’ll go, I’ll go!” Then he shut his eyes, crouched, and sprang right through the waterfall. When he opened his eyes, he found there was an iron bridge that led to a stone house, where there were some stone rooms, and things made of stone, like a stone stove, bowls, plates, beds, and some benches. A sign in the house said “HAPPY LAND OF THE MOUNTAIN OF FLOWERS AND FRUIT, CAVE HEAVEN OF THE WATER CURTAIN” The stone monkey was delighted, and jumped back out to tell his friends what he discovered.

At first the other monkeys were afraid to join him, but eventually he brought them all to see the house behind the waterfall. Then all the monkeys fell to their knees to prostrate before him, since this confirmed he was their king. Taking one of the stone chairs as his throne, he called himself Handsome Monkey King, and the others called him Great King of a Thousand Years. Then he divided up his tribe into various classes of officers and servants. For the rest of the morning they roamed the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, and in the evening they settled down in the Water Curtain Cave. There they made a pact to unite as monkeys, and never mix with the birds or other beasts that run.

For three or four hundred years they lived happily in their kingdom. But during a banquet one day, the king suddenly felt depressed and began weeping. The monkeys gathered around bowing, and asked “What is the matter your Majesty?” Their king replied “Now we are all happy and free, but someday we will become old and weak.  I am worried that eventually we shall arrive in the underworld which is controlled by the King of Hell. When it is time for us to die, then our lives will come to nothing”. All the monkeys covered their faces and wept as they thought about death and hell. As they were all sobbing, an old gibbon stepped out from the crowd, and said “there are three kinds of creatures that never go to hell. They are the Buddhas, the Immortals and the Sages. They are not born, and they do not die. They are as eternal as the Heavens and the Earth, as the mountains and the rivers.”

Where do they live?” asked the Monkey King. “They only live in the human world,” replied the gibbon, “in ancient caves on magic mountains”. The king thought about this, and then said with resolve “I shall leave you all tomorrow, and go down the mountain. I will search everywhere under heaven to discover the secret of eternal youth. That is the only way we can escape from the fate of death.” Hearing this, all the monkeys cheered with approval, and began preparing a banquet to send off their king. At the banquet, the Handsome Monkey King sat in the Seat of Honor, and all the other monkeys sat below him according to their age. Each of them took turns bringing him wine, flowers and fruit, and they continued feasting for a whole day. After the feast, the king ordered them to tear down some old pine trees to make him a raft, load it with fruit, and find him a bamboo pole to punt with.

When it was ready, The king got into his raft, and sailed off down the river towards the waves of the ocean. The wind was strong at his back, and he reached the Southern Jambu Continent in a few days.  He observed humans along the coast gathering clams, fishing, hunting geese, and mining salt. He went up to some fishermen and jumped around making wild monkey sounds and faces, and they were so afraid they dropped their baskets and ran. Then he grabbed one of the slower runners, stole his clothes, and put them on himself. Dressed as a fisherman, he travelled for eight or nine years through the many countries of Southern Jambu, learning human behavior and speech in the markets. Everywhere he went he inquired about Immortals, but found humans were too concerned with fame and fortune to be interested in their fates.

Eventually he made his way to the Western Ocean, where he built another raft from pine trees, and sailed across to the Western Continent of Cattle-Gift. Soon after making landfall, he climbed to the summit of a high mountain to enjoy the lovely scenery. Up there he heard a voice singing from down in the depths of the forest: “The people I meet are Daoists and Immortals..” The king was overjoyed to hear of Immortals, and followed the singing until he reached a strangely dressed woodcutter. He asked if the woodcutter really knew any immortals, and the man replied that he sang of an immortal named Patriarch Sabuthi, who lived about two or three miles to the south, in the Cave of the Setting Moon and the Three Stars.

Later that afternoon the wayfaring monkey arrived at the cave, but he dared not knock on the door, and instead climbed onto a pine branch to eat pine seeds. Soon the door opened a crack, and an immortal boy came out. The purity of his features was quite unlike any ordinary boy. The monkey climbed down the tree and said “Immortal child, I am a student who comes to inquire about the Way, and aspires to study under an immortal.” The boy replied “Yes, the master sent me out welcome you.” So, the monkey straightened his clothes, and followed the boy into the depths of the cave. Inside, he beheld towers of red jade and pearl palaces, and countless rooms of silence and secluded cells. After marvelling at the décor, he arrived in a hall where Patriarch Subuthi sat elevated on his dias with thirty-six immortals standing below. The monkey bowed his head to the ground, and said “Master, your disciple pays his deepest respects.”

Where have you come from?” asked the Master. “I have come from the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit” replied the monkey. “Send him away!” cried the master “He is a liar. No mortal ever travelled that far.” Then the monkey explained how he traversed the seas in a wooden raft searching for an immortal. The master found his explanation reasonable, and proceeded to question about his family name, to which the monkey replied “I never had any parents”. The master laughed, “Then did you grow on a tree?”, to which the monkey said “I did not grow on a tree, but in a stone. One day the stone split, and I was born”. “I see,” said the master, “in other words you were born of Heaven and Earth. Very interesting. Now walk around for a moment and let me have a look at you.” After his examination, the Master said he would accept the monkey king as his disciple, and give him the name Sun Wukong, which means Monkey Awakened to the Emptiness. The monkey bowed low to express his deep gratitude.

Ulysses – Chapter One

After destroying the city of Troy, Ulysses and his men were sailing back towards their homeland of Greece. Ulysses was king of the land of Ithaca, his native country which he longed for so deeply. It was only a barren spot on the Earth, with none of the riches of Asia. Yet in his eyes it was the loveliest land of all, and there his beautiful wife Penelope passionately awaited his return

Along their voyage, the sailors chanced upon the land of the Cicons, who were their ancient enemies. Those Greeks bravely attacked the city of Ismarus, and plundered it for mountains of spoil. But their success ultimately proved fatal. The men were so delighted with their victory that they fell to celebration, and forgot about their safety. At that time, the Cicons assembled friends and allies from the interior, and attacked the Greeks while they were feasting. Ulysses and his men managed a retreat to their ships and departed back to sea, but they were shaken and thinned in numbers.

Ill winds carried the Greeks on for ten days, until they arrived at the land of the lotus eaters. Ulysses sent a team ashore in search of fresh water, and that party soon met some local inhabitants, who offered them some of their country’s food. When the Grecians ate the lotus flowers it made them feel so pleasant that they immediately forgot all thoughts of home, and refused to return to the ships. Eventually, Ulysses had them bound hand and foot, and carried back aboard, and then set sail as quickly as possible from that perilous land.

The ships coasted on all night along unknown and out-of-the-way shores, and by daybreak came to the land where the cyclops dwell. The cyclops are a sort of giant shepherd that neither sow nor plow, and yet the Earth produces rich wheat, barely and grapes for them. They have neither bread nor wine, nor do they know the arts of cultivation, nor do they care for them; for they live each man to himself, without law or government, or anything like a state or kingdom; but their dwellings are in caves, on the steep heads of mountains; every man’s household is governed by his own caprice, or not even governed at all. Their wives and children are as lawless as themselves, none caring for others, but each doing as he or she thinks fit. Ships or boats they have none, nor trade or commerce, nor any wish to visit other shores.

Ulysses landed with a party of twelve to explore what sort of men lived there, and to see whether they were friendly and hospitable to strangers, or altogether wild and savage. The expedition carried with them twelve goatskin flagons of a potent and precious wine as gifts to befriend the inhabitants. The first sign of habitation they found was a giant’s cave in the hills, rudely fashioned with pillars of oak and pine. The builder of this abode clearly showed more marks of strength than skill. Around the kitchen was strewn the flesh of goats and sheep, and there were troughs of goat milk. After the men had amused themselves for some time in that giant’s lair, suddenly their ears were deafened with a noise like the falling of a house. The cyclops had been abroad on the mountainsides all day feeding his flock, and he drove them home from pasture in the evening. As the monster threw down a pile of firewood, the Grecians hid themselves in remote corners of the cave. Unfortunately it was Polyphemus, the most terrible of all the cyclops, who boasted himself to be a son of Neptune. Polyphemus had a brutal body, to which his brutal mind was answerable. He drove the animals he was going to milk into the cave, but left the rams and he-goats without. Then he sat by the entrance milking his ewes while kindling a fire. Throwing his great eye around the cave (for cyclops’ have no more than one eye, and that placed in the midst of their forehead), by the glimmering light he discerned some of Ulysses’s men.

Ho! Guests, what are you? Merchants or wandering thieves?” he bellowed in a voice that shook the Earth and took all power from them to reply. Only Ulysses summoned strength to answer that they came neither for plunder nor for commerce, but were Grecians returning from Troy; the famous city they had sacked and laid to the ground, under the command of Agamemnon the famous warrior, the renowned son of Atreus. But now, he told the monster, they humbly prostrated themselves before his feet, acknowledging him to be mightier than they. Finally, he asked the Cyclops to treat them hospitably, for Jove was the avenger of wrongs done to strangers, and he would fiercely punish any injury which they might suffer.

Fools!” bellowed the cyclop. “We cyclop care not for your Jove, nor do we care for any of your Blessed Ones. We are stronger than they, and we even dare to wage open battle with Jove himself!” Then the cyclops inquired about the location of their ship, and whether they had any more companions. But Ulysses, with wise caution, replied that they had no ship or comrades, because the sea had smashed their ship to pieces upon the coast, and they alone had escaped. The cyclop said nothing, but grabbed two of of the men, dashed their brains on the Earth, tore off their limbs, devoured them yet warm and trembling, and then lapped up the blood. For the cyclops are man-eaters, and deem human flesh a delicacy above goat’s or sheep’s. Then after his terrible supper, he drained a draught of goat’s milk down his prodigious throat, and lay down to sleep amongst his goats. The men were paralyzed with fear, but Ulysses bravely drew his sword, and was thinking about thrusting it with all his might at the bosom of the sleeping monster. But then he realized none but Polyphemus could move the massive boulder at the door to the cave, and so if he killed the cyclop then they would be forever trapped in the beast’s lair.

At daybreak the cyclop awoke, and kindling a fire, devoured another two of his unfortunate prisoners for breakfast. Then he moved the boulder in the doorway, let out his sheep, and closed it with with the ease of closing an arrow quiver. As he brought his flock into the mountains his whistling sounded like the winds of a fierce storm.

The cyclop didn’t guess the strength or the cunning of Ulysses, who was now trapped alone in the cave with the remnant of his party. Inside the cave, the Greek warrior found a long stake of wood, and while sharpening it to a point he divulged a cunning plan to his men. At evening the cyclop drove home his flock, but this time he carelessly drove all his animals into the cave, including the males. For his supper the monster consumed two more of the Grecians.  After watching him eat his friends, Ulysses addressed the brute: Cyclop, please take a skin of wine from the hand of your guest. It may help you digest the men’s flesh you have just eaten. Then you may know the excellent quality of drink our ship held before it went down. All I ask in exchange is that you finish the whole flagon. And might I mention as well, that if you continue this strange custom of eating your guests, then you should expect to have few guests in the future.” The cyclop was excited by the taste of wine, which he had never known before, and violently drank down the whole flagon. Then he asked to know the name of the man who had bestowed him with such a wonderful gift. Ulysses said nothing, but only handed him another wine skin, which the beast also gulped down aggressively, and then asked again to know the name of his benefactor. To this Ulysses cleverly replied “My name is Noman. My friends and my kindred in my own country call me Noman.’

Then”, said the Cyclop “this is the kindness I will show thee, Noman: I will eat thee last of all thy friends”. He had scarcely expressed his terrible kindness, when the strong wine overcame him, and he collapsed on the floor and sank into a dead sleep. As the monster lay unconscious, the Grecians placed the sharp end of the wooden stake in the flames until it was heated red-hot, and then four men drove that glowing spike into the eye of the drunken cannibal, and Ulysses helped to thrust it in with all his might, further and further, until scalded blood gushed out, and the eye-ball smoked and hissed, just as hot iron hisses when it is plunged into water.

Waking, the Cyclops roared with pain so loud the cavern echoed with claps like thunder, and the men fled into the darkest corners. The monster plucked the burning stake from his eye, and hurled the wood madly about the cave. Then he cried in a mighty voice to the other cyclops that dwelt in the caverns upon the hills. When hearing the terrible shouts, the other cyclops came to the door of the cave and asked what ailed Polyphemus. What was the cause of such horrid clamors in the night-time to break their sleep? Polyphemus answered that Noman had hurt him, Noman had killed him, and Noman was with him within the cave. They responded “If no man has hurt thee, and no man is with thee, then thou art alone, and the evil that afflicts thee is from the hand of Heaven, which none can resist or help.” So they left him and went their way, thinking that some disease troubled him.

Then the blind Cyclops felt his way to open the door, and with day now breaking the sheep began to issue forth towards their accustomed pastures. The eyeless monster stood at the door feeling each animal as it passed through, making sure it was not an escaping Greek. Having cleverly tricked the Cyclops with the name Noman, Ulysses now contrived a method of departure from the cave. He made knots from the osier twigs on which the monster slept upon, and tied three of the fattest rams together. Then he demonstrated to his companions to hold on beneath the sheep. As the animals passed through the door, the beast felt their backs, but never dreamed his enemies were quietly grasping beneath. Once that monster even felt the hair of Ulysses, yet knew it not, as he spoke foolishly to the animal about the misfortunes he suffered by the villainous Noman.

When Ulysses and his men were free they released their grasps, and returned to their ship, leading some of the rams with them. With teary eyes, their companions received them as friends escaped from death. Then as they plied oars and set sail, Ulysses yelled loudly, “Cyclops! Why did you treat your guests so badly? You abused your monstrous strength, and with my hand great Jove has punished your inhumanity!”