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.