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Homer, from The Odyssey, Book XII translation by Alexander Pope (1725-1726)


[Having escaped from the dual threats of Scylla and Charybdis, Odysseus and his crew find themselves in the Land of the Sun, where they are now tempted to satisfy their hunger by killing and eating the Cattle of the Sun. However, Odysseus has been told by Circe, the enchantress, that to harm this herd means certain death.]

"Now from the rocks the rapid vessel flies,
And the hoarse din like distant thunder dies;
To Sol's bright isle our voyage we pursue,
And now the glittering mountains rise to view.
There, sacred to the radiant god of day,
Graze the fair herds, the flocks promiscuous stray:
Then suddenly was heard along the main
To low the ox, to blest the woolly train.
Straight to my anxious thoughts the sound convey'd
The words of Circe and the Theban shade;
Warn'd by their awful voice these shores to shun,
With cautious fears oppress'd I thus begun:

"'O friends! O ever exorcised in care!
Hear Heaven's commands, and reverence what ye hear!
To fly these shores the prescient Theban shade
And Circe warn! Oh be their voice obey'd
Some mighty woe relentless Heaven forebodes:
Fly these dire regions, and revere the gods!'

"While yet I spoke, a sudden sorrow ran
Through every breast, and spread from man to man,
Till wrathful thus Eurylochus began:

"'O cruel thou! some Fury sure has steel'd
That stubborn soul, by toil untaught to yield!
From sleep debarr'd, we sink from woes to woes:
And cruel' enviest thou a short repose?
Still must we restless rove, new seas explore,
The sun descending, and so near the shore?
And lo! the night begins her groomy reign,
And doubles all the terrors of the main:
Oft in the dead of night loud winds rise,
Lash the wild surge, and bluster in the skies.
Oh, should the fierce south-west his rage display,
And toss with rising storms the watery way,
Though gods descend from heaven's aerial plain
To lend us aid, the gods descend in vain.
Then while the night displays her awful shade,
Sweet time of slumber! be the night obey'
Haste ye to land! and when the morning ray
Sheds her bright beam, pursue the destined way.'
A sudden joy in every bosom rose:
So will'd some demon, minister of woes!

"To whom with grief: 'O swift to be undone!
Constrain'd I act what wisdom bids me shun.
But yonder herbs and yonder flocks forbear;
Attest the heavens, and call the gods to hear:
Content, an innocent repast display,
By Circe given, and fly the dangerous prey.'

'Thus I: and while to shore the vessel flies,
With hands uplifted they attest the skies:
Then, where a fountain's gurgling waters play,
They rush to land, and end in feasts the day:
They feed; they quaff; and now (their hunger fled)
Sigh for their friends devour'd, and mourn the dead;
Nor cease the tears' till each in slumber shares
A sweet forgetfulness of human cares.
Now far the night advanced her gloomy reign,
And setting stars roll'd down the azure plain:
When at the voice of Jove wild whirlwinds rise,
And clouds and double darkness veil the skies;
The moon, the stars, the bright ethereal host
Seem as extinct, and all their splendours lost:
The furious tempest roars with dreadful sound:
Air thunders, rolls the ocean, groans the ground.
All night it raged: when morning rose to land
We haul'd our bark, and moor'd it on the strand,
Where in a beauteous grotto's cool recess
Dance the green Nerolds of the neighbouring seas.

"There while the wild winds whistled o'er the main,
Thus careful I address'd the listening train:

"'O friends, be wise! nor dare the flocks destroy
Of these fair pastures: if ye touch, ye die.
Warn'd by the high command of Heaven, be awed:
Holy the flocks, and dreadful is the god!
That god who spreads the radiant beams of light,
And views wide earth and heaven's unmeasured height.'

"And now the moon had run her monthly round,
The south-east blustering with a dreadful sound:
Unhurt the beeves, untouch'd the woolly train,
Low through the grove, or touch the flowery plain:
Then fail'd our food: then fish we make our prey,
Or fowl that screaming haunt the watery way.
Till now from sea or flood no succour found,
Famine and meagre want besieged us round.
Pensive and pale from grove to grove I stray'd,
From the loud storms to find a sylvan shade;
There o'er my hands the living wave I pour;
And Heaven and Heaven's immortal thrones implore,
To calm the roarings of the stormy main,
And guide me peaceful to my realms again.
Then o'er my eyes the gods soft slumbers shed,
While thus Eurylochus arising said:

"'O friends, a thousand ways frail mortals lead
To the cold tomb, and dreadful all to tread;
But dreadful most, when by a slow decay
Pale hunger wastes the manly strength away.
Why cease ye then to implore the powers above,
And offer hecatombs to thundering Jove?
Why seize ye not yon beeves, and fleecy prey?
Arise unanimous; arise and slay!
And if the gods ordain a safe return,
To Phoebus shrines shall rise, and altars burn.
But should the powers that o'er mankind preside
Decree to plunge us in the whelming tide,
Better to rush at once to shades below
Than linger life away, and nourish woe.'


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