Oct 182010
 

“Tell me, Circe, who is to guide me on the way? No one has ever sailed a black ship into Hell.”

“Odysseus,” the goddess answered me, “don’t think of lingering on shore for lack of a pilot. Set up your mast, spread the white sail and sit down in the ship.

The North Wind will blow her on her way; and when she has brought you across the River of Ocean, you will come to a wild coast and to Persephone’s Grove, where the tall poplars grow and the willows that so quickly shed their seeds.

Beach your boat there by Ocean’s swirling stream and march on into Hades’ Kingdom of Decay. There the River of Flaming Fire and the River of Lamentation, which is a branch of the Waters of the Styx, unite round a pinnacle of rock to pour their thundering streams into Acheron.

This is the spot, my lord, that I bid you to seek out. Once there, dig a trench about a cubit long and a cubit in breadth. Around this trench pour offerings to all the dead, first with honey mixed with milk, then with sweet wine, and last of all with water. Over all this sprinkle white barley and then begin your prayers to the helpless ghosts of the dead. Promise them that once you are in Ithaca you will sacrifice in your place a barre heifer, the best that you have, and will heap the pyre with treasures and make Teiresias a separate offering of the finest jet black sheep to be found in your flock.

When you have finished your invocations to the glorious fellowship of the dead, sacrifice a young ram and a black ewe, holding their heads down towards Erebus while you turn your own aside, as though about to recross the River of Ocean. Then the souls of the dead and departed will come up in their multitudes and you must bid your men make haste to flay the sheep that that are lying slaughtered by your blade, and burn them up while they pray to the gods, to mighty Hades and august Persephone.

Sit still yourself, meanwhile, with your drawn sword in your hand, and do not let any of the helpless ghosts come near the blood till you have had speech with Teiresias. Presently the prophet himself will come to you, my lord king. And he will lay down for you your journey and the distances to be covered, and direct you home across the fish-delighting seas.”

Circe finished, and soon after the Dawn enthroned herself in gold.

Homer, The Odyssey