Macareus. Ulixes et Circe.Then Macareus told him of Aeolus,
the son of Hippotas, whose kingdom is
the Tuscan sea, whose prison holds the winds,
and how Ulysses had received the winds
tied in a bull's hide bag, an awesome gift,
how nine days with a favoring breeze they sailed
and saw afar their longed for native land.
How, as the tenth day dawned, the crew was moved
by envy and a lust for gold, which they
imagined hidden in that leathern bag
and so untied the thong which held the winds.
These, rushing out, had driven the vessel back
over the waves which they had safely passed,
back to the harbor of King Aeolus.
“From there,” he said, “we sailed until we reached
the ancient city of Lamus, Laestrygon.—
Antiphates was reigning in that land,
and I was sent with two men of our troop,
ambassadors to see him. Two of us
escaped with difficulty, but the third
stained the accursed Lestrygonian's jaws
with his devoted blood. Antiphates
pursued us, calling out his murderous horde.
They came and, hurling stones and heavy beams,
they overwhelmed and sank both ships and men.
One ship escaped, on which Ulysses sailed.
“Grieving, lamenting for companions lost,
we finally arrived at that land which
you may discern far off, and, trust my word,
far off it should be seen—I saw it near!
And oh most righteous Trojan, Venus' son,
Aeneas, whom I call no more a foe,
I warn you now: avoid the shores of Circe.
“We moored our ship beside that country too;
but, mindful of the dangers we had run
with Laestrygons and cruel Polyphemus,
refused to go ashore. Ulysses chose
some men by lot and told them to seek out
a roof which he had seen among the trees.
The lot took me, then staunch Polytes next,
Eurylochus, Elpenor fond of wine,
and eighteen more and brought us to the walls
of Circe's dwelling.
“As we drew near and stood
before the door, a thousand wolves rushed out
from woods near by, and with the wolves there ran
she bears and lionesses, dread to see.
And yet we had no cause to fear, for none
would harm us with the smallest scratch.
Why, they in friendship even wagged their tails
and fawned upon us, while we stood in doubt.
“Then handmaids took us in and led us on
through marble halls to the presence of their queen.
She, in a beautiful recess, sat on her throne,
clad richly in a shining purple robe,
and over it she wore a golden veil.
Nereids and nymphs, who never carded fleece
with motion of their fingers, nor drew out
a ductile thread, were setting potent herbs
in proper order and arranging them
in baskets—a confusing wealth of flowers
were scattered among leaves of every hue:
and she prescribed the tasks they all performed.
“She knew the natural use of every leaf
and combinations of their virtues, when
mixed properly; and, giving them her close
attention, she examined every herb
as it was weighed. When she observed us there,
and had received our greetings and returned them,
she smiled, as if we should be well received.
At once she had her maidens bring a drink
of parched barley, of honey and strong wine,
and curds of milk. And in the nectarous draught
she added secretly her baleful drugs.
“We took the cups presented to us by
her sacred right hand; and, as soon as we,
so thirsty, quaffed them with our parching mouths,
that ruthless goddess with her outstretched wand
touched lightly the topmost hair upon our heads.
(Although I am ashamed, I tell you this)
stiff bristles quickly grew out over me,
and I could speak no more. Instead of words
I uttered hoarse murmurs and towards the ground
began to bend and gaze with all my face.
I felt my mouth take on a hardened skin
with a long crooked snout, and my neck swell
with muscles. With the very member which
a moment earlier had received the cup
I now made tracks in sand of the palace court.
Then with my friends, who suffered a like change
(charms have such power!) I was prisoned in a stye.
“We saw Eurylochus alone avoid
our swinish form, for he refused the cup.
If he had drained it, I should still remain
one of a bristly herd. Nor would his news
have made Ulysses sure of our disaster
and brought a swift avenger of our fate.
“Peace bearing Hermes gave him a white flower
from a black root, called Moly by the gods.
With this protection and the god's advice
he entered Circe's hall and, as she gave
the treacherous cup and with her magic wand
essayed to touch his hair, he drove her back
and terrified her with his quick drawn sword.
She gave her promise, and, right hands exchanged,
he was received unharmed into her couch,
where he required the bodies of his friends
awarded him, as his prized marriage gift.
“We then were sprinkled with more favored juice
of harmless plants, and smitten on the head
with the magic wand reversed. And new charms were
repeated, all conversely to the charms
which had degraded us. Then, as she sings,
more and yet more we raise ourselves erect,
the bristles fall off and the fissures leave
our cloven feet, our shoulders overcome
their lost shape and our arms become attached,
as they had been before. With tears of joy
we all embrace him, also weeping tears;
and we cling fondly to our chieftain's neck;—
not one of us could say a single word
till thus we had attested gratitude.”
PICUS AND CANENS“The full space of a year detained us there,
and I, remaining that long stretch of time,
saw many things and heard as much besides:
and this among the many other things,
was told me secretly by one of the four
handmaidens of those rites. While Circe passed
her time from all apart except my chief,
she brought me to a white marble shape, a youth
who bore a woodpecker upon his head.
It stood erected in a hallowed place,
adorned with many wreaths. When I had asked
the statue's name and why he stood revered
in that most sacred temple, and what caused
that bird he carried on his head; she said:—
‘Listen, Macareus, and learn from this tale too
the power of Circe, and weigh the knowledge well!’