Sacred Texts  Classics  Homer  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Authoress of the Odyssey, by Samuel Butler, [1922], at

Book XI


"When we were at the water side we got the lamb and the ewe on board and put out to sea, running all that day before a fair wind which Circe had sent us, and at nightfall entering the deep waters of the river Oceanus. Here is the land of the Cimmerians, who dwell in darkness which the sun's rays never pierce; we therefore made our ship fast to the shore and came out of her, going along the beach till we reached the place of which Circe had told us.

"Perimedes and Eurylochus then held the victims, while I 23 followed the instructions of Circe and slaughtered them, letting their blood flow into a trench which I had dug for it. On this, the ghosts came up in crowds from Erebus, brides, young bachelors, old men, maids who had been crossed in love, and warriors with their armour still smirched with blood. They cried with a strange screaming sound that made me turn pale with fear, but I would let none of them taste of the blood till Tiresias should have come and answered my questions.

"The first ghost I saw was that of Elpenor whose body was 51 still lying unburied at Circe's house. Then I said, 'How now, Elpenor? you have got here sooner by land than I have done by water.' The poor fellow told me how he had forgotten about the stairs, and begged me to give him all due rites when I returned to Circe's island—which I promised faithfully that I would do.

"Then I saw the ghost of my mother Anticlea, but in all 81 sadness I would not let her taste of the blood till Tiresias should have come and answered my questions.

"Presently Tiresias came with his golden sceptre in his 90 hand, bade me let him taste of the blood, and asked me why I had come.

p. 50

97 "I told him I would learn how I was to get home to Ithaca, and he said I should have much difficulty: 'Still,' he continued, 'you will reach your home if you can restrain your men when you come to the Thrinacian island, where you will find the cattle of the Sun. If you leave these unharmed, after much trouble you will yet reach Ithaca; but if you harm them, you will lose your men, and though you may get home after all, it 115 will be late, [on another man's ship, * and you will find your house full of riotous men who are wasting your substance and wooing your wife.

118 "'When you have got back you will indeed kill these men either by treachery or in fair fight, and you must then take an oar, which you must carry till you have reached a people who know nothing about the sea and do not mix salt with their bread. These people have never heard of ships, nor of oars that are the wings with which ships fly; I will tell you how you may know them; you will meet a man by the way who will ask you whether it is a winnowing shovel that you have got upon your shoulder; when you hear this you must fix your oar in the ground, and offer sacrifice to Neptune, a ram, a bull, and a boar; then go home again, and offer hecatombs to the gods that dwell in heaven.  As for your own end, death shall come to you very gently from the sea, and shall take you when you are 137 full of years and peace of mind, and your people shall bless you.]

150 "Having thus said he went back within the house of Hades. Then I let my mother's ghost draw near and taste of the blood, whereon she knew me, and asked me what it was that had brought me though still alive into the abode of death. So I told her, and asked her how she had come by her end. 'Tell me, also,' I continued, 'about my father, and the son whom I left behind me. Is my property still safe in their hands, or does another hold it who thinks that I shall not return? Of 177 what mind, again, is my wife? Does she still live with her son and keep watch over his estate, or is she already married to the best man among the Achæans?'

p. 51

"'Your wife,' answered my mother, 'is still at home, but 180 she spends her life in tears both night and day. Telemachus holds your estate, and sees much company, for he is a magistrate and all men invite him. Your father lives a poor hard life in the country and never goes near the town. As for me, I died of nothing but sheer grief on your account. And now, return to the upper world as fast as you can, that you may tell all that you have seen to your wife.'

"Then Proserpine sent up the ghosts of the wives and 225 daughters of great kings and heroes of old time, and I made each of them tell me about herself. There were Tyro, Antiope, Alcmena, Epicaste the mother of Œdipus, Chloris, Leda, Iphimedea, Phædra, Procris, Ariadne, and hateful Eriphyle; with all these did I discourse, nor can I tell you with how many more noble women, for it is now late, and time to go to rest."

Here Ulysses ceased, and from one end of the covered 333 cloisters to the other his listeners sat entranced with the charm of his story.

Then Arēte said, "What think you of this man now, 336 Phæacians, both as regards his personal appearance and his abilities? True he is my guest, but his presence is an honour to you all. Be not niggardly, therefore, in the presents that you will make him, for heaven has endowed you all with great abundance." Alcinous also spoke urging Ulysses to tell still more of his adventures, and to say whether he met any of the heroes who had fought together with him at Troy. Thus pressed Ulysses resumed his story.

"When Proserpine," said he, "had dismissed the female 385 ghosts, the ghost of Agamemnon drew near, surrounded by those of the men who had fallen with him in the house of Ægisthus. He was weeping bitterly, and I asked him how he met his end; whereon he detailed to me the treachery of Clytemnestra, which he said threw disgrace upon all women, even on the good ones. ` Be sure,' he continued, 'that you 433 never be too open with your wife; tell her a part only, and keep the rest to yourself. Not that you need have any fear about Penelope for she is an admirable woman. You will

p. 52

449 meet your son, too, who by this time must be a grown roan. Nevertheless, do not let people know when you are coming home, but steal a march upon them. And now give me what news you can about my son Orestes.' To which I answered that I could tell him nothing.

465 "While we were thus holding sad talk with one another, the ghost of Achilles came up and asked me for news of his father Peleus, and of his son. I said I could tell him nothing about Peleus, but his son Neoptolemus was with me in the wooden horse, and though all the others were trembling in every limb and wiping the tears from their cheeks, Neoptolemus did not even turn pale, nor shed a single tear. Whereon Achilles strode away over a meadow full of asphodel, exulting in the prowess of his son.

541 "Other ghosts then came up and spoke with me but that of Ajax alone held aloof, for he was still brooding over the armour of Achilles which had been awarded to me and not to him. I spoke to him but he would not answer; nevertheless I should have gone on talking to him till he did, had I not been anxious to see yet other ghosts.

568 "I saw Minos with his golden sceptre passing sentence on the dead; Orion also, driving before him over a meadow full of asphodel the ghosts of the wild beasts whom he had slain upon the mountains. I saw Tityus with the vulture ever digging its beak into his liver, Tantalus also, in a lake whose waters reached his neck but fled him when he would drink, and Sisyphus rolling his mighty stone uphill till the sweat ran off him and the steam rose from him.

601 "Then I saw mighty Hercules. The ghosts were screaming round him like scared birds, flying all whithers. He looked black as night with his bare bow in his hand and his arrow on the string, glaring round as though ever on the point of taking aim. About his breast there was a wondrous golden belt marvellously enriched with bears, wild boars, and lions with gleaming eyes; there were also war, battle, and death.

630 "And I should have seen yet others of the great dead had not the ghosts come about me in so many thousands that I feared Proserpine might send up the Gorgon's head. I therefore

p. 53

bade my men make all speed back to their ship; so they hastened on board and we rowed out on to the waters of Oceanus, where before long we fell in with a fair wind.


50:* See Chapter xv. for reasons why I have bracketed lines 115-137.

50:† Ulysses was to appease Neptune's anger by going as a missionary to preach his name among a people that did not know him.

Next: Book XII. The Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, The Cattle of the Sun