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

Jul 042010
 

A cruel folk you are, unmatched for jealousy, you gods who cannot bear to let a goddess sleep with a man, even if it is done without concealment and she has chosen him as her lawful consort. You were the same when Rose-fingered Dawn fell in love with Orion. Easy livers yourselves, you were outraged at her conduct, and in the end chaste Artemis rose from her golden throne, attacked him in Ortygia with her gentle darts and left him dead.

And so again, when the lovely Demeter gave way to her passion and lay in the arms of her beloved Iasion in the thrice-ploughed fallow field, Zeus heard of it quickly enough and struck him dead with his blinding thunderbolt. And now it is my turn to incur that same divine displeasure for living with a mortal man – a man whom I rescued from death as he was drifting alone astride the keel of his ship, when Zeus had shattered it with his lightening bolt out on the wine dark sea, and all his men were lost, but he was driven to this island by wind and waves.

I welcomed him with open arms; I tended him; I even hoped to give him immortality and ageless youth. But now, goodbye to him, since no god can evade or thwart the will of Zeus. If Zeus insists that he should leave, let him be gone across the barren water. But he must not expect me to transport him. I have no ship, no oars, no crew to carry him so far across the seas. Yet I do promise with a good grace and unreservedly to give him such directions as will bring him safe and sound to Ithaca.

Homer, The Odyssey