Wanderings of Odysseus | Part 01

[The story of Helen of Troy is now familiar to our readers. It tells us how Paris, son of Priam, eloped with Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, and how the Greeks made war on Troy for ten years and, at last, sacked and destroyed it with the help of a wooden horse. One of the prominent warriors on the Greek side was Odysseus. Even when he joined the expedition against Troy, it was predicted that he would not return home for twenty years. Ten of these twenty years were spent in war, and Odysseus wandered across the seas for another ten years, undergoing extraordinary experiences. The story of these wanderings begins in this issue.]

On leaving the shores of Troy, the ships of Odysseus encountered contrary winds. Instead of sailing south, they drifted north and arrived at Ismaros, where the Ciconians lived.

Odysseus made an attack on the city with his forces and destroyed it. His men killed the city’s men but spared the women, cattle and goods. These they divided so that each man got a fair share.

“The sooner we leave this place, the better,” Odysseus told his men.

But the men did not heed him, for they drank large quantities of wine they had found in the city. They killed plenty of sheep on the beach and prepared for a large feast.

In the meantime, some of the Ciconians who had escaped from the city went inland and came back with a large force consisting of warriors who could fight from chariots and on foot.

At the hour of dawn, they attacked Odysseus and his men like a swarm of locusts, and a terrible fight ensued. The Ciconians outnumbered the Greeks and gained the upper hand by noon. The Greek casualties were such that each Greek ship lost six men on average. The rest jumped back into their boats and pushed off.

The ships were out on the sea for a short time before a terrific wind began to blow from the northwest. Dark clouds came over the land and the sea, and it fell dark. The mighty wind blowing the ships along tore the ships’ sails to shreds.

Odysseus feared that they were all going to die. He ordered his men to lower the sails and row the ships to the shore, which they did. But for two entire days, they lay on the beach anxiously awaiting the stopping of the storm. During this time, they could not see the sun.

They regained confidence only when they saw the streaks of dawn on the morning of the third day. Then they set up the masts and hoisted new sails. The ships began to sail along with the wind while the men sat still, doing nothing.

Everything appeared to be going smoothly, for the ships reached Cape Malea in four days. Rounding the Cape, the vessel could reach Ithaca in a short time.

Odysseus gave orders that the ships should double Cape Malea, but at that very moment, the northwest wind caught them and drifted them outside Cythera.

The wind played havoc with the ships for nine days and nine nights; on the tenth day, they touched a shore. But the Greeks were not destined to stay here for any time.

For this was the land of the lotus-eaters. The lotus fruit was sweet as honey. It had neither seed nor stone. Those who ate these fruit were filled with a profound joy in which they forgot everything else.

Odysseus did not know all this. He and his men cooked food and ate it on the shore. Then he sent three men to find out what sort of men inhabited the country.

The natives did not harm the three Greeks. On the contrary, they treated the strangers to some of the fruit they were eating. The poor fellows ate the fruit and were immediately so immersed in a strange ecstasy that they forgot the errand on which they had come and stayed with the natives.

Odysseus was surprised that his men did not come back. He took some more of his men and searched for his missing companions. At last, he saw them and realized what had happened. He declined the fruit which the natives offered him, shrewdly suspecting the effect they had upon those who ate them.

He seized his merry companions and dragged them back to the ships while they protested, “Leave us alone! We want to stay here! We don’t want to go with you!” Odysseus bound them with ropes, pushed them into the ships, and ordered the vessel to set sail at once because the place was quite dangerous.

The ships sailed the sea for some days and, one night, unexpectedly touched shore.

The Greeks did not know what sort of country they had come to. Though there was a moon in the sky, thick clouds covered it. Also, a dense fog covered the sea, and visibility was abysmal.

Hoping to gain knowledge the following day, the Greeks lowered the sails, went ashore, lay themselves down on the beach and went to sleep.

They could see it was an island on waking up in the morning. They wandered about, enjoying the place’s remarkable beauty, which attracted them greatly.

Fruit trees of all varieties grew here abundantly. Everywhere there were grape vines heavy with bunches of fruit. The soil appeared to be very rich, though there were no traces of cultivation anywhere. But the water was SO abundant that any crop could be easily raised upon the soil without cultivation.

The Greeks did not go very far from their ships when they came upon a herd of wild goats. At once, they rushed back to their boats and seized bows, arrows, and spears, killing as many goats as possible. When they divided the goats, every twelve ships got nine. So the Greeks cooked and ate them all day.

Though they spent the entire day near their ships, they could see that human beings lived on this island because in the evening, they saw here and there smoke from the kitchen fires rising into the sky.

Odysseus awoke early the following day and said to his men: “I shall sail my ship up the coast and find out whether the country’s people are civilized or wild and whether they live in a society. I want the other ships and men to remain here until I return.”

Odysseus took his ship along the coast of the island. After a time, he saw a cave not far from the shore. The cave was on a headland. It was shaded with laurels. Outside was an enclosure with a high wall consisting of large stones and trunks of trees.

Tying up his ship opposite the cave, Odysseus selected twelve of his best men to accompany him, took a goatskin of rare wine, and made for the shelter.

This wine was so rare that no one knew about it. When Odysseus sacked Ismaros, he spared the priest of Apollo, who lived there. In return, the priest had given Odysseus large quantities of gold and silver and a dozen jars of a remarkable wine which could be mixed with twenty times its amount of water and still retain its excellent taste and fragrance.

Odysseus and his dozen companions soon reached the cave. They found no one in the cave, which was very spacious. There were many pens in it; each one contained lambs or kids of a particular age. There were baskets filled with cheeses, pots and pans containing whey, and several pails and basins used to store milk.

“Let us collect these cheeses and be off!” suggested some of the men.

“Let us drive these lambs and kids to our boats!” some others suggested.

But Odysseus did not listen to them. He wanted to meet the person who dwelt in the cave, not knowing who he would turn out to be.

So, the Greeks helped themselves to the cheeses and awaited their host.

At last, he came. Even before the Greeks saw him, they heard something crash into the cave with a terrific noise. They found it was a gigantic bundle of vast trunks of dry trees! Then the person entered the cave, bending low.

Seeing him, the Greeks scattered away and concealed themselves like mice.

For the man was as tall as a palm tree when he stood erect. He had only one eye, glowing like a hot coal in the middle of his forehead.

This giant drove a herd of extremely fat sheets into the cave. Then he quickly lifted a gigantic rock and covered the entrance with it. The stone was so heavy that twenty pairs of oxen could not have moved it. Then he milked all the ewes and goats and put the lambs and kids under them.

The giant, whose name was Polyphemos, belonged to the race of Cyclops. There were many Cyclops on this island, but they did not live in a society. Each family lived in a cave, and the caves were scattered. Each family had its joys and sorrows, and others did not share them. They did not know cultivation, but the soil was so rich that they could raise barley and other crops without cultivating the land.

Once a year, they collected the crop and brought it home. All the rest of the time, they spent herding their large flocks and tending them from dawn to dusk. Grazing on rich pastures, the hordes put on good fat. These giants knew little else than tending their flocks.

They knew nothing about navigation, sailing and boat-building, though they had been living by the sea for generations. In short, they were pretty brutal, without a trace of civilization.

Having milked his ewes and goats, Polyphemos made cheeses out of half the milk and placed them in the basket. The rest of the milk he stored in bowls. Then he made a fire, and in the light of the fire, he saw that he had guests.

Rolling his eye from side to side, he said, “Who are you?” in a voice that echoed between the cave walls like a clap of thunder.

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