Odyssey for Boys and Girls - Alfred J. Church

How Ulysses Came to the Phaeacians

Now the time was come when Ulysses was to be set free from his prison in Calypso's island. Athené said in the council of the gods: "It seems to me that a good king is not in the least better off than a bad one. Look at Ulysses; he was as a father to his people, and see how he is shut up in Calypso's island. For seven years and more he has been there."

Then said Zeus to Hermes, who was the messenger of the gods: "Go now to Calypso in her island, and tell her that it is my will that Ulysses should go back to his own country."

So Hermes tied his golden sandals on his feet, and took his wand in his hand, and flew from Olympus to Calypso's island, and to the cave in which she dwelt. It was a very fair place. All about the mouth of the cave there was a vine with clusters of purple grapes; and round about the cave there was a wood of alder-trees, and poplars, and cypresses, in which many birds used to roost; also there were four fountains from which four streams of the clearest water that could be flowed down through meadows of parsley and violets. In the cave itself there was burning a fire of sweet-smelling woods. Calypso sat at her loom, and sang in a very lovely voice. Hermes looked about on the vine, and the grove, and the fountains, and the meadows, and thought to himself that it was a lovely place. Then he went into the cave, and when Calypso saw him she knew who he was, and why he had come. Nevertheless she pretended not to know. "You are welcome, Hermes," she said, "and all the more because you have never been here to see me before. Now you must tell me why you have come; but first, come, eat and drink."

So she set a table before him, and on the table she put ambrosia, which is the food of the gods; and she mixed a bowl of nectar for him, for this is what the gods drink. And when he had eaten and drunk enough, he said to Calypso: "You ask me why I have come; so I will tell you. Zeus bade me come, and we must all do what Zeus tells us. You have a man in your island here—yes, and have had him for seven years and more, and he is very unhappy, because he wishes to go home. He fought against Troy for nine years and more, and in the tenth year he set out to return. But many misfortunes happened to him, and he lost all his companions, and somehow he was brought to this island. Now send him back to his home as quickly as you can, for this is his fate that he should live the rest of his life among his friends."

This was just what Calypso expected to hear; but she was very angry and said: "Did I not save this man's life when Zeus broke his ship with a thunderbolt, and he was carried by the waves to this island? Yes, if Zeus so wishes, he shall go, but I cannot send him, for I have no ship and no rowers."

And Hermes said: "Send him nevertheless, lest Zeus should be angry with you." And when he had said this he spread his wings, for he had wings on his shoulders and on his feet, and flew away.

Then Calypso went down to the sea-shore—for it was there that Ulysses used to sit looking at the waves, and longing to go over them that he might see his own dear country again. There she found him weeping and lamenting, for he was weary of his life. And she stood by him and said: "Weep no more. You shall have your wish: I will do what I can to help you on your way home. Take an axe and cut down trees and make a raft, tying the beams together with ropes, and putting planks on them for a deck. And I will give you bread, and water, and wine; yes, and clothes too, that you may go to your own country, if you will have it so." Ulysses said: "What is this plan of yours? Shall I go on a raft across the great sea which the ships with oars and sail can hardly pass? Now swear by the great oath which the gods dare not break, that you mean to do me no harm." Calypso smiled, and said: "These are strange words. Why should I do you harm? But if you will so have it, then I will swear by the great oath of the gods that I have no thought of doing you harm."

The next day Calypso gave him an axe, and took him to a part of the island where there were trees fit for making the raft—alder, and poplar, and pine. Twenty of these he cut down, and he hewed them to one shape. And the goddess gave him a tool by which he bored holes in the logs, so that he could fasten them together; also he cut planks for a deck, and for the sides. He made a mast, too, and a rudder by which to steer the raft; also he made a bulwark of skin which was to keep out the waves. The sails Calypso wove, and Ulysses fitted them with ropes. Last of all, he pushed the raft down to the sea with levers. All these things were finished by the end of the fourth day, and on the fifth day he departed. But first Calypso gave him a store of food, and water, and wine, and also clothes. And being a goddess and able to do such things, she sent a fair wind blowing behind him. So he set his sails, and went gladly on his way. In the day time he steered by the sun, and in the night by the stars, for Calypso had said to him: "Keep the Great Bear always on your left." So he sailed for seventeen days, and during this time he never slept. On the eighteenth day he saw the island of the Phaeacians.

Now the god of the sea was very angry with Ulysses, because he had blinded the Cyclops, who was his son. It so happened that he had been for many days feasting with the Ethiopians, and was coming back to Olympus, where the gods dwell, on this very day. And when he saw Ulysses on his left, he said to himself: "Truly this is a new thing. Here is Ulysses close to the island of the Phaeacians; if once he gets there he will soon be at home. But I will give him some trouble yet."

Then he took his trident, which he carried in his hand—it was a great fork with three prongs—and struck the sea with it, and immediately the waves rose high all round the raft, and he made the winds blow. Ulysses was much troubled and frightened, for a man who does not feel fear in battle may feel it in a storm. He said to himself: "I would that I had been killed on that day when we fought with the Trojans for the dead body of Achilles. Then I should have been buried with honour by my own people; but now I shall perish miserably." While he was speaking thus to himself a great wave struck the raft, and made him leave hold of the rudder, and tossed him far away into the sea. Deep did he sink into the water, and hard was it for him to rise again to the top, for the fine clothes which Calypso had given him were very heavy, and dragged him down. But at last he rose, and spat the salt water out of his mouth and sprang at the raft, for he was a brave man, and never lost heart, and caught it, and clambered on to it and sat on it.

While he was being carried hither and thither by the waves, a goddess of the sea saw him and pitied him, for she had once been a woman, and very unhappy. She rose out of the sea in the shape of a gull, and perched upon the raft, and said to him: "Why does the god of the sea hate you so, unlucky man? He would willingly drown you, but it shall not be. Take off these heavy clothes that you are wearing, and put this veil under you"—and she gave him a veil—"and so swim to the island that you see yonder. And when you have got to the shore, throw the veil into the sea, and mind that you do not look behind you when you throw it." And when she had said this, she plunged into the sea.

But Ulysses thought to himself: "Is this a snare for my life, or is it a help? I will wait awhile. The land I see, but it is a long way off, and it would be hard to swim so far. As long as the raft shall hold together I will stay upon it; but if the waves break it, then I will swim; and, indeed, there will be nothing else for me to do. Maybe the veil will help me."

While he was speaking there came another great wave against the raft and broke it up altogether; but Ulysses kept hold of one of the planks of which it was made with his arms and legs, and got astride of it. Then he stripped off the clothes that Calypso had given him, and jumped into the sea with the veil under him, and spread out his hands to swim. And the god of the sea laughed when he saw him, and said: "Swim away; you will have trouble enough before you get safely home." But the goddess Athené did not forget him. She stopped the other winds from blowing, but left the north wind, for that would keep him on his way. And so he swam for two days and two nights. On the third day there was a calm, though there was still a great swell in the sea, as there always is when the wind has been high. And Ulysses saw the land from the top of a great wave, and it was close at hand. Very glad was he to see it, as glad as children to see their father when he has been ill a long time and is now well again. But when he looked again he saw that there was no place where he could land, for the cliffs rose straight out of the sea, and the waves dashed high against them. And Ulysses thought: "Now what shall I do? I see the land, indeed, but I cannot set my foot upon it. If I swim to it, then a wave may dash me on the rocks and kill me. And if I swim along the shore till I find a place where I may land, then some monster of the sea may lay hold of me."

But while he was thinking, a great wave caught him and carried him on towards the cliffs. He caught hold of a jutting rock that was there, and clung to it with all his might till the wave had spent its force, so that he was not dashed against the face of the cliff. Nevertheless, when the water flowed back, he could not keep his hold on the rock, but was carried out to the deep. After this he swam along outside the breakers looking for a place where it was calm, or for a harbour, if such there might be. At last he came to where a river ran into the sea. The place was free from rocks, and sheltered from the winds, and Ulysses felt the stream of the river, for it was fresh, in the salt water of the river. And he prayed to the god of the river, saying: "Hear me, O king, and help, for I am flying from the anger of the god of the sea." And the river god heard him, and stayed his stream, and made the water smooth before him. So, at last, he won his way to land. His knees were bent under him, and he could not lift his arms, and the salt water ran out of his mouth and his nose. He was breathless and speechless, very near, indeed, to death. But, after a while, he came to himself. Then he loosed the veil from under him, and threw it into the stream of the river, and did not look behind him when he threw it.

This done, he lay down on the rushes by the river side. And first he kissed the earth, so glad was he to feel it again under him; yet he doubted what he should do. If he slept there by the river, the dew and the heat might kill him, for it was cold in the morning; and if he went into the wood and lay down there to sleep, then some wild beast might devour him. It seemed better to go to the wood. So he went. And in the wood he found two olive trees growing together. So thickly did they grow that neither wind, nor sun, nor rain made its way through the shade. Ulysses crept underneath them, and found a great quantity of dead leaves, enough to shelter a man, or even two men. Right glad was Ulysses to see the place, and he crept under the trees and covered himself with leaves; and sleep came down upon him, and he forgot all his troubles.