Week 7: Odysseus and Aeneas in the Underworld

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Odyssey, Book 10: Circe's Instructions

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 500 words.

The story you are about to read is a "story-within-story". Ulysses (Odysseus) was shipwrecked on the island of Phaeacia, which is ruled by King Alcinous. Ulysses was warmly received by the Phaeacians, but he did not tell them his name. Then, as part of the entertainment at the banquet that evening, a bard (singer) performs a song about the fall of Troy, which makes Ulysses start to cry. At that moment, King Alcinous asks the stranger who he is and Ulysses confesses: "I am Ulysses son of Laertes." He then tells the story of his wanderings since he left the city of Troy... and we will join the story at the point where Ulysses and his men find themselves on the island of the mysterious Circe. So: remember that this Ulysses telling the story himself in the first-person, narrating his adventures to the people attending the banquet of King Alcinous.

"We stayed with Circe for a whole twelvemonth feasting upon an untold quantity both of meat and wine. But when the year had passed in the waning of moons and the long days had come round, my men called me apart and said, 'Sir, it is time you began to think about going home, if so be you are to be spared to see your house and native country at all.'

"Thus did they speak and I assented. Thereon through the livelong day to the going down of the sun we feasted our fill on meat and wine, but when the sun went down and it came on dark the men laid themselves down to sleep in the covered cloisters. I, however, after I had got into bed with Circe, besought her by her knees, and the goddess listened to what I had got to say.

"'Circe,' said I, 'please to keep the promise you made me about furthering me on my homeward voyage. I want to get back and so do my men, they are always pestering me with their complaints as soon as ever your back is turned.'

"And the goddess answered, 'Ulysses, noble son of Laertes, you shall none of you stay here any longer if you do not want to, but there is another journey which you have got to take before you can sail homewards. You must go to the house of Hades and of dread Proserpine to consult the ghost of the blind Theban prophet Teiresias whose reason is still unshaken. To him alone has Proserpine left his understanding even in death, but the other ghosts flit about aimlessly.'

"I was dismayed when I heard this. I sat up in bed and wept, and would gladly have lived no longer to see the light of the sun, but presently when I was tired of weeping and tossing myself about, I said, 'And who shall guide me upon this voyage - for the house of Hades is a port that no ship can reach.'

"'You will want no guide,' she answered; 'raise you mast, set your white sails, sit quite still, and the North Wind will blow you there of itself. When your ship has traversed the waters of Oceanus, you will reach the fertile shore of Proserpine's country with its groves of tall poplars and willows that shed their fruit untimely; here beach your ship upon the shore of Oceanus, and go straight on to the dark abode of Hades. You will find it near the place where the rivers Pyriphlegethon and Cocytus (which is a branch of the river Styx) flow into Acheron, and you will see a rock near it, just where the two roaring rivers run into one another.


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why do the men want to leave Circe's island?
  • according to Circe, why must Ulysses go to the land of the dead?
  • how will Ulysses find his way to the land of the dead?

Sources:
Homer's Odyssey, translated by Samuel Butler (1898). Website: The Odyssey.
Vergil's Aeneid, translated by A.S. Kline (2002). Website: Vergil: The Major Works.


Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM