HOW ODYSSEUS ESCAPED FROM THE SIRENS, AND HOW HIS SHIP WAS WRECKED
 In an island in the blue sea through which the
ship of Odysseus would cut its homeward way,
lived some beautiful mermaids called Sirens.
Even more beautiful than the Sirens' faces
were their lovely voices.
In the flowery meadows of their island
they sat singing their sweet songs, and the
sailors whose ships were passing could not
forbear to go on shore, and there were they
slain by the wicked mermaids. All around
them in the meadows where the Sirens sat
were the bones of the men they had slain.
But these the foolish sailors did not see. They
only saw the bright-coloured flowers, and the
mermaids' lovely faces and long, golden hair.
And the songs, whose melody mingled with
 the sound of the little white-fringed waves that
swished up on the yellow sand, stole their
Against these mermaids Circe had warned
Odysseus, and he repeated her warnings to
A gentle breeze sped the ship of Odysseus
quickly on its way, but as they neared the
island the sirens by their spells sent a dead
calm and the waves were lulled to sleep.
Not a breath of air filled the white sails,
so the men drew them in and stowed them
in the hold, and rowed with their long oars
until the green water grew white.
Meantime Odysseus, as Circe had bidden
him, took a great piece of wax, cut it in pieces
with his sharp sword, and quickly moulded it
with his strong hands.
Soon the wax grew warm and soft, and with
it he then filled the ears of each one of his
men. He himself used no wax, but made his
company bind him hand and foot upright to
If, when I hear the voices of the mermaidens,
I struggle and sign to thee to set me free,
 then bind me with yet more bonds, said
'Drive thy ship swiftly past the island,' Circe
had said. So the men bent to their oars and
smote the grey sea-water.
Past the island drove the dark-prowed ship,
but the sirens seeing it began their sweet song.
'Come hither, come hither, brave Odysseus,'
they sang. 'Here stay thy black ship and
listen to our song. No one hath ever passed
this way in his ship till he hath heard from our
lips the music that is sweet as honeycomb,
and hath had joy of it, and gone on his way
the wiser. All things are known to us. We
will sing to thee of thy great fights and
victories in Troyland. We shall sing of all
the things that shall be hereafter. Come
hither, come hither, Odysseus!'
So sweet and so full of magic were their
voices, that when Odysseus had heard their
song, and seen them smilingly beckoning to
him from amongst the flowers, he tried to
make his men unbind him.
Frowning and nodding, he signed to them
to set him free, but Eurylochus and another
 rose from their places and bound him yet more
tightly to the mast. The men themselves,
deafened by the wax, heard none of the song
and wished not to stop, but stoutly rowed on-ward.
When the island was left behind, and
Odysseus no longer heard the silvery voices,
but only the moan of the waves far away and
the rush of the water off the oars, the men
took the wax from their ears and unbound
Soon they heard a sound far different from
the song of the Sirens.
'Thou shalt pass the Wandering Rocks,'
Circe had said. 'There great and furious
waves dash themselves up on the rugged
cliffs. Even the wild birds cannot fly past
them, but are beaten down by the force of
the spray. The whirlpool beside them tosses
up and churns about continually the planks
of the ships and the bodies of the men it
When Odysseus heard the thunder of the
sea and saw mighty waves rushing and roaring
against the rocks, and the smoke of the spray
 dashing up into the sky, he knew that they
had reached the Wandering Rocks.
So terrible were the sights and sounds that
the men let the oars slip from their hands, and
stared and listened in horror.
But Odysseus paced along the ship and
spoke cheering words to them.
'This is no greater woe,' he said, 'than
what we bore when we were penned into his
cave by the cannibal giant. From that cave
we escaped, and some day I think we shall
be able also to talk of this adventure. Only
do now as I say. Ye oarsmen, drive thine oars
deep and strongly into the angry surf and
row with all thy might. And thou at the helm,
keep the ship well away from the great waves
and the spray, and hug the rocks. So may we
escape even from this peril.'
But the Wandering Rocks were not the only
danger there for the ship. Beyond them
were yet two huge rocks between which the
One of these, a dark and dreadful peak,
ran straight up to the sky. Over it hung
a black cloud even in the fairest summer
 weather. No mortal could climb it, not even
if he had twenty hands and feet, for it was
smooth and slippery as glass. In this cliff
was a dark cave in which lived a horrible
monster called Scylla. All day and all night
she yelped like a savage dog. She had
twelve feet and six heads, each head with three
rows of sharp teeth. Up to her waist she
was hidden in the darkness of the cave. Her
six heads, with their long necks, constantly
swooped and craned and darted out like great
fierce birds, and seized all the dolphins and
sea-dogs, and big fishes that came within
reach. When ships passed near her cave
Scylla had a feast, for with each head she
would seize a sailor and crunch him up with
her horrid teeth.
Opposite this cliff was another rock, on
which grew a great fig-tree in full leaf.
Beneath it dwelt another monster, Charybdis.
Three times a day did Charybdis suck down
the salt sea-water, and three times a day did
she force it out again from her black cave
under the sea. If a ship passed while she
sucked, it was drawn down into the dreadful
 gulf where the monster lived, and only its
fragments were tossed up in the boiling
Odysseus spoke to his men of the Wandering
Rocks, but he dared not tell them of Scylla
and Charybdis lest, in their terror, they should
cease to row, and hide themselves in the hold.
When Circe warned him of the dangers he
would meet, he asked her how he could best
escape from Scylla and Charybdis.
'Scylla is no mortal,' Circe had said. 'She
cannot be fought with, and against her there is
no defence. Tarry not to put on thine armour
and to fight. Drive past her with all thy force.'
But when the noise of the furious sea, and
the hideous yelping of Scylla were in his ears,
Odysseus forgot what Circe had said. He
hated Scylla so much that he longed to slay
her. Hastily he put on his shining armour
and caught up two long lances, and stood at
the prow, ready to fight with the monster of
His eyes grew weary with peering into the
darkness of the cave from whence he expected
her hideous heads to dart, but he saw nothing,
 and turned away at last to gaze at the black
whirlpool of Charybdis.
White-faced with the terror of it the men
rowed steadily, while Charybdis gulped down
the water and threw it up again in swirling
surf and spray that dashed to the tops of the
cliffs. Past the Wandering Rocks they rowed
their ship in safety. Almost past the black
cliff of Scylla they had pulled, almost past
the fierce whirlpool, when six monster heads
swooped out from the blackness of the cave.
In a moment six of the men were seized and
borne aloft, struggling in the greedy jaws of
Scylla, and crying pitifully to Odysseus for
But no help could Odysseus give. The
monster had her meal, and evermore Odysseus
remembered the sight of the death of his six
brave men as the pitifullest thing he had
At last, when the rocks were left behind, the
ship came to a fair island where grazed the
sacred cattle of the god of the Sun.
'Hurt not the cattle on that fair island,'
Circe had said, 'for if thou hurtest them ruin
 shall come on thy ship and thy men, and even
though thou shouldest thyself escape, thou
shalt return home in evil plight, with the loss
of all thy company.'
The lowing of the cattle, as the ship neared
the fair island, made Odysseus think of the
evils that might come, and he begged his men
to row on past the isle.
Then Eurylochus spoke: 'Surely thou art
made of iron and thy limbs are never weary,
Odysseus,' he said. 'Thy men are worn out,
yet instead of letting them land and allowing
them to prepare a good supper, thou drivest
them on. Thou bidst us row blindly through
the black night, and go wandering on the
misty deep. In the night blow the winds that
wreck ships. How shall we weary men escape
if a sudden fierce blast should blow? Let us
rather rest here and sup. In the fair morning
light we will start again and row homeward
across the sea.'
The tired men gladly agreed with Eurylochus.
Then said Odysseus—
'Promise, then, that none of ye will slay any
 of the sacred oxen of the Sun, but that ye will
be content to eat of the food we have with us.'
Straightway they promised, and the ship
was anchored in a little harbour near where
was a well of sweet water, and soon they had
supper ready on the shore.
As darkness fell, they talked much of the
dear friends that Scylla had devoured, and,
weeping for their loss, they fell asleep.
A great storm raged through the night, but
dawn broke rosy and clear. When it was
morning they dragged the ship ashore and hid
it in a hollow cave.
All that day a strong south wind blew, and
every day for a month it never ceased.
And they dared not go afloat again because
of the fierceness of the gales.
At first the men had plenty of food and were
well content. But presently the food began to
fail, and they had to try to catch fish, and to
wander in the island and try to kill birds to eat,
for hunger gnawed them.
One day when they were all very hungry
Odysseus left his men by the sea, and went
away to the middle of the island by himself
 that he might think what to do, and how they
might best return home.
But he was so hungry and so tired that he
fell asleep while he was thinking, and while he
slept Eurylochus made mischief, as was his
'Shall we die of hunger?' he said to the
others, 'and yet have good food so near us?
Let us slay some of the best of these straight-horned
cattle, and when we are home at Ithaca
let us build a splendid altar to the god of the
Sun and give him many rich gifts. But if he
should be angry at us for slaying the cattle,
and should wreck our ship, far better that we
should so die than that we should slowly starve
to death on this desert island.'
The men quickly did as Eurylochus advised.
The finest of the cattle that were feeding near
were slain, and soon savoury pieces of their
flesh were roasting on spits at the fire which
had been kindled.
While they feasted Odysseus awoke and
hurried down to the shore. As he drew near,
the smell of the roasting flesh met him, and
he groaned aloud with horror.
 One by one he rebuked his men, but it was
too late. The cattle were dead and gone, and
the evil could not be mended.
Already the men rued what they had done,
for strange and fearful things befell. The
skins of the dead beasts were creeping, the
flesh bellowed upon the spits as it was being
cooked, and a sound as of the lowing of many
cattle filled the air.
Yet they hardened their hearts, and for six
days their feast went on.
On the seventh day the wind at last ceased
to blow heavy gales, and Odysseus and his
men launched their ship and hoisted its white
sails, and soon had left the island far behind.
When they were out of sight of all land, and
saw only sky and sea, a dark cloud appeared
over the ship, and the water darkened beneath
Then, on a sudden, with a shrill scream,
a great tempest burst upon them. The mast
snapped before its furious rush and fell with
a crash on the pilot, crushing in his head,
so that he dropped, like a diver, into the sea.
At that minute a mighty thunderbolt smote
 the ship, filling it with flame and sulphur, and
making it reel over to one side. The men
fell from it into the sea, and for one moment
Odysseus saw them, like sea-gulls, borne aloft
on the great waves round the ship. Then
they sank, and he never saw them more.
Still Odysseus paced his ship, till the storm
and the sea had smashed her into pieces.
Then he lashed the keel and the mast together,
and, sitting on it, was driven onward by the
All night he was carried swiftly on, and
when the sun rose he found that the winds
and the waves had carried him close to Scylla
The black whirlpool of Charybdis gaped to
swallow him, but as the piece of wreckage
to which he had clung went down into the
gulf Odysseus made a mighty leap and seized
hold of the fig-tree that grew on the cliff.
He held on to it like a bat until Charybdis had
cast up again the piece of broken mast.
The moment it appeared Odysseus let
himself drop into the sea just beyond it, and,
clambering on to it, he rowed hard with his
 hands. Scylla was not on the outlook, or it
would have gone ill with him, but he safely
escaped from her and from Charybdis.
For nine days and nights he was tossed
by the waves. On the night of the ninth day
the mast drifted to the shores of an island,
and Odysseus, little life left in him, crawled
on to the dry land.