THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
 THE next morning, before the sun had risen, the voyagers
launched their ship again, and sailed out of the little
harbor into the long bay of Crissa. And Pallas
Athené sent the west wind early, to help them
forward on their way; and they spread their sail, and
instead of longer hugging the shore, they ventured
boldly out into the middle of the bay. All day long the
ship held on its course, skimming swiftly through the
waves like a great white-winged bird; and those on
board beguiled the hours with song and story as on the
day before. But when the evening came, they were far
from land; and the captain said that as the water was
deep, and he knew the sea quite well, they would not
put into port, but would sail straight on all night.
And so, when the sun had gone down, and the moon had
risen, flooding earth and sea with her pure, soft
light, Odysseus wrapped his warm cloak about him, and
lay down again to rest upon his bed of skins between
the rowers' benches. But the helmsman stood at his
place, and guided the vessel over the shadowy
and through the watches of the night, the west wind
filled the sails, and the dark keel of the little bark
ploughed the waters, and Pallas Athené blessed
When, at length, the third morning came, and Helios
arose at summons of the Dawn, Odysseus awoke. To his
great surprise, he heard no longer the rippling of the
waves upon the vessel's sides, nor the flapping of the
sail in the wind, nor yet the rhythmic dipping of the
oars into the sea. He listened, and the sound of merry
laughter came to his ears, and he heard the twittering
of many birds, and the far-away bleating of little
lambs. He rubbed his eyes, and sat up, and looked about
him. The ship was no longer floating on the water, but
had been drawn high up on a sandy beach; and the crew
were sitting beneath an olive tree, at no great
distance from the shore, listening to the melodies with
which a strangely-garbed shepherd welcomed on his flute
the coming of another day.
Odysseus arose quickly and leaped out upon the beach.
Then it was that a scene of beauty and quiet grandeur
met his gaze,—a scene, the like of which had never
entered his thoughts nor visited his dreams. He saw, a
few miles to the northward, a group of high mountains
whose summits towered above the clouds; and highest
among them all were twin peaks whose snow-crowned tops
seemed but little lower than the skies themselves. And
as the light of the newly risen sun gilded the gray
crags, and painted the rocky slopes,
 and shone bright
among the wooded uplands, the whole scene appeared like
a living picture, glorious with purple and gold and
azure, and brilliant with sparkling gems.
"Is it not truly a fitting place for the home of beauty
and music, the dwelling of Apollo, and the favored
haunt of the Muses?" asked Phemius, drawing near, and
observing the boy's wondering delight.
"Indeed it is," said Odysseus, afraid to turn his eyes
away, lest the enchanting vision should vanish like a
dream. "But is that mountain really Parnassus, and is
our journey so nearly at an end?"
"Yes," answered the bard, "that peak which towers
highest toward the sky is great Parnassus, the centre
of the earth; and in the rocky cleft which you can
barely see between the twin mountains, stands sacred
Delphi and the favored temple of Apollo. Lower down,
and on the other side of the mountain, is the
white-halled dwelling of old Autolycus, your mother's
father. Although the mountain seems so near, it is yet
a long and toilsome journey thither,—a journey which
we must make on foot, and by pathways none the safest.
Come, let us join the sailors under the olive tree; and
when we have breakfasted, we will begin our journey to
The strange shepherd had killed the fattest sheep of
his flock, and had roasted the choicest parts upon a
bed of burning coals; and when Odysseus and his tutor
came to the olive tree, they found a breakfast fit
indeed for kings, set out ready before them.
 "Welcome, noble strangers," said the shepherd; "welcome
to the land most loved of the Muses. I give you of the
best of all that I have, and I am ready to serve you
and do your bidding."
Phemius thanked the shepherd for his kindness; and
while they sat upon the grass, and ate of the pleasant
food which had been provided, he asked the simple swain
many questions about Parnassus.
"I have heard that Parnassus is the hub around which
the great earth-wheel is built. Is it really true?"
"A long, long time ago," answered the man, "there were
neither any shepherds nor sheep in Hellas, and not even
the gods knew where the centre of the earth had been
put. Some said that it was at Mount Olympus, where Zeus
sits in his great house with all the deathless ones
around him. Others said that it was in Achaia; and
others still, in Arcadia, now the land of shepherds;
and some, who, it seems to me, had lost their wits,
said that it was not in Hellas at all, but in a strange
land beyond the western sea. In order that he might
know the truth, great Zeus one day took two eagles,
both of the same strength and swiftness, and said,
'These birds shall tell us what even the gods do not
know.' Then he carried one of the eagles to the far
east, where the Dawn rises out of Ocean's bed; and he
carried the other to the far west where Helios and his
sun-car sink into the waves; and he clapped his hands
together, and the thunder rolled, and the swift birds
flew at the same moment to meet each
 other; and right
above the spot where Delphi stands, they came together,
beak to beak, and both fell dead to the ground.
'Behold! there is the centre of the earth,' said Zeus.
And all the gods agreed that he was right."
"Do you know the best and shortest road to Delphi?"
"No one knows it better than I," was the answer. "When
I was a boy I fed my sheep at the foot of Parnassus;
and my father and grandfather lived there, long before
the town of Delphi was built, or there was any temple
there for Apollo. Shall I tell you how men came to
build a temple at that spot?"
"Yes, tell us," said Odysseus. "I am anxious to know
all about it."
"You must not repeat my story to the priests at
Delphi," said the shepherd, speaking now in a lower
tone. "For they have quite a different way of telling
it, and they would say that I have spoken lightly of
sacred things. There was a time when only shepherds
lived on the mountain slopes, and there were neither
priests nor warriors nor robbers in all this land. My
grandfather was one of those happy shepherds; and he
often pastured his flocks on the broad terrace where
the town of Delphi now stands, and where the two
eagles, which I have told you about, fell to the
ground. One day, a strange thing happened to him. A
goat which was nibbling the grass from the sides of a
little crevice in the rock, fell into a fit, and lay
bleating and helpless
 upon the ground. My grandfather
ran to help the beast; but as he stooped down, he too
fell into a fit, and he saw strange visions, and spoke
prophetic words. Some other shepherds who were passing
by saw his plight, and lifted him up; and as soon as he
breathed the fresh air, he was himself again.
"Often after this, the same thing happened to my
grandfather's goats; and when he had looked carefully
into the matter, he found that a warm, stifling vapor
issued at times from the crevice, and that it was the
breathing of this vapor which had caused his goats and
even himself to lose their senses. Then other men came;
and they learned that by sitting close to the crevice,
and inhaling its vapor, they gained the power to
foresee things, and the gift of prophecy came to them.
And so they set a tripod over the crevice for a seat,
and they built a temple—small at first—over the
tripod; and they sent for the wisest maidens in the
land to come and sit upon the tripod, and breathe the
strange vapor, so that they could tell what was
otherwise hidden from human knowledge. Some say that
the vapor is the breath of a python, or great serpent;
and they call the priestess who sits upon the tripod
Pythia. But I know nothing about that."
"Are you sure," asked Phemius, "that it was your
grandfather who first found that crevice in the rock?"
"I am not quite sure," said the shepherd. "But I heard
the story when I was a little child, and I know that it
was either my grandfather or my grandfather's
 grandfather. At any rate, it all happened many, many
By this time they had finished their meal; and after
they had given thanks to the powers who had thus far
kindly prospered them, they hastened to renew their
journey. Two of the oarsmen, who were landsmen as well
as seamen, were to go with them to carry their luggage
and the little presents which Laertes had sent to the
priests at Delphi. The shepherd was to be their guide;
and a second shepherd was to keep them company, so as
to help them in case of need.
The sun was high over their heads when they were ready
to begin their long and toilsome walk. The road at
first was smooth and easy, winding through meadows and
orchards and shady pastures. But very soon the way
became steep and uneven, and the olive trees gave place
to pines, and the meadows to barren rocks. The little
company toiled bravely onward, however, the two
shepherds leading the way and cheering them with
pleasant melodies on their flutes, while the two
sailors with their heavy loads followed in the rear.
It was quite late in the day when they reached the
sacred town of Delphi, nestling in the very bosom of
Parnassus. The mighty mountain wall now rose straight
up before them, seeming to reach even to the clouds.
The priests who kept the temple met them on the
outskirts of the town, and kindly welcomed them for the
sake of King Laertes, whom they knew and had seen; and
they besought the wayfarers to abide for some time
 in Delphi. Nor, indeed, would Phemius have thought of
going farther until he had prayed to bright Apollo, and
offered rich gifts at his shrine, and questioned the
Pythian priestess about the unknown future.
And so Odysseus and his tutor became the honored guests
of the Delphian folk; and they felt that surely they
were now at the very centre of the world. Their hosts
dealt so kindly with them, that a whole month passed,
and still they were in Delphi. And as they talked with
the priests in the temple, or listened to the music of
the mountain nymphs, or drank sweet draughts of wisdom
from the Castalian spring, they every day found it
harder and harder to tear themselves away from the