BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
After escaping from the Cyclopes, and enduring
many other perils by land and sea in the course
of his weary voyage to Ithaca, Ulysses arrived at a green
island, the name of which was unknown to him, and was
glad to moor his tempest-beaten bark in a quiet cove.
But he had encountered so many dangers from giants,
and one-eyed Cyclopes, and monsters of the sea and land,
that he could not help dreading some mischief, even in
this pleasant and seemingly solitary spot. For two days,
therefore, the poor weather-worn voyagers kept quiet,
and either stayed on board of their vessel, or merely
crept along under the cliffs that bordered the shore; and
to keep themselves alive, they dug shell-fish out of the
sand, and sought for any little rill of fresh water that
might be running towards the sea.
Before the two days were spent, they grew very weary
of this kind of life; for the followers of King Ulysses
were terrible gormandizers, and pretty sure to grumble
if they missed their regular meals, and their irregular
ones besides. Their stock of provisions was quite exhausted,
and even the shell-fish began to get scarce, so
that they had now to choose between starving to death
or venturing into the interior of the island, where perhaps
some huge three-headed dragon, or other horrible
monster, had his den.
But King Ulysses was a bold man as well as a prudent
one; and on the third morning he determined to
discover what sort of a place the island was, and whether
it were possible to obtain a supply of food for the hungry
mouths of his companions. So, taking a spear in his
hand, he clambered to the summit of a cliff and gazed
round about him. At a distance, towards the center of
the island, he beheld the stately towers of what seemed
to be a palace, built of snow-white marble, and rising
in the midst of a grove of lofty trees. The thick branches
of these trees stretched across the front of the edifice,
and more than half concealed it, although, from the portion
which he saw, Ulysses judged it to be spacious and
exceedingly beautiful, and probably the residence of some
great nobleman or prince. A blue smoke went curling up
from the chimney, and was almost the pleasantest part
of the spectacle to Ulysses. For, from the abundance
of this smoke, it was reasonable to conclude that there
was a good fire in the kitchen, and that, at dinner-time,
a plentiful banquet would be served up to the inhabitants
of the palace, and to whatever guests might happen to
With so agreeable a prospect before him, Ulysses fancied
that he could not do better than to go straight to the
palace gate, and tell the master of it that there was a
crew of poor shipwrecked mariners, not far off, who had
eaten nothing for a day or two save a few clams and
oysters, and would therefore be thankful for a little
food. And the prince or nobleman must be a very stingy
curmudgeon, to be sure, if, at least, when his own dinner
was over, he would not bid them welcome to the broken
victuals from the table.
Pleasing himself with this idea, King Ulysses had made
a few steps in the direction of the palace, when there
was a great twittering and chirping from the branch of
a neighboring tree. A moment afterwards a bird came
flying towards him, and hovered in the air, so as almost
to brush his face with its wings. It was a very pretty
little bird, with purple wings and body, and yellow legs,
and a circle of golden feathers round its neck, and on
its head a golden tuft, which looked like a king's crown
in miniature. Ulysses tried to catch the bird. But it
fluttered nimbly out of his reach, still chirping in a piteous
tone, as if it could have told a lamentable story,
had it only been gifted with human language. And when
he attempted to drive it away, the bird flew no farther
than the bough of the next tree, and again came fluttering
about his head, with its doleful chirp, as soon as he
showed a purpose of going forward.
"Have you anything to tell me, little bird?" asked
"Peep!" said the bird, "peep, peep, pe—weep!"
And nothing else would it say, but only, "Peep, peep,
pe—weep!" in a melancholy cadence, and over and over
and over again. As often as Ulysses moved forward,
however, the bird showed the greatest alarm, and did its
best to drive him back with the anxious flutter of its
purple wings. Its unaccountable behavior made him
conclude, at last, that the bird knew of some danger
that awaited him, and which must needs be very terrible,
beyond all question, since it moved even a little fowl
to feel compassion for a human being. So he resolved,
for the present, to return to the vessel, and tell his companions
what he had seen.
This appeared to satisfy the bird. As soon as Ulysses
turned back, it ran up the trunk of a tree, and began
to pick insects out of the bark with its long, sharp bill;
for it was a kind of woodpecker, you must know, and
had to get its living in the same manner as other birds
of that species. But every little while, as it pecked at
the bark of the tree, the purple bird bethought itself of
some secret sorrow, and repeated its plaintive note of
"Peep, peep, pe—weep!"
On his way to the shore, Ulysses had the good luck to
kill a large stag. Taking it on his shoulders he lugged it
along with him, and flung it down before his hungry
But the next morning their appetites were as sharp
as ever. They looked at Ulysses, as if they expected him
to clamber up the cliff again and come back with another
fat deer upon his shoulders. Instead of setting out, however,
he summoned the whole crew together, and told
them it was in vain to hope that he could kill a stag
every day for their dinner, and therefore it was advisable
to think of some other mode of satisfying their
"Now," said he, "when I was on the cliff yesterday,
I discovered that this island is inhabited. At a considerable
distance from the shore stood a marble palace,
which appeared to be very spacious, and had a great deal
of smoke curling out of one of its chimneys."
"Aha!" muttered some of his companions, smacking
their lips. "That smoke must have come from the
kitchen fire. There was a good dinner on the spit; and
no doubt there will be as good a one to-day."
"But," continued the wise Ulysses, "you must remember,
my good friends, our misadventure in the cavern
of one-eyed Polyphemus, the Cyclops! To tell you
the truth, if we go to yonder palace, there can be no
question that we shall make our appearance at the dinner-table;
but whether seated as guests, or served up as food,
is a point to be seriously considered."
"Either way," murmured some of the hungriest of the
crew, "it will be better than starvation; particularly if
one could be sure of being well fattened beforehand, and
daintily cooked afterwards."
"That is a matter of taste," said King Ulysses, "and,
for my own part, neither the most careful fattening nor
the daintiest of cookery would reconcile me to being
dished at last. My proposal is, therefore, that we divide
ourselves into two equal parties, and ascertain, by drawing
lots, which of the two shall go to the palace and beg
for food and assistance. If these can be obtained, all
is well. If not, and if the inhabitants prove as inhospitable
as Polyphemus, or the Læstrygons, then there
will but half of us perish, and the remainder may set
sail and escape."
As nobody objected to this scheme, Ulysses proceeded
to count the whole band, and found that there were forty-six
men including himself. He then numbered off
twenty-two of them, and put Eurylochus (who was one
of his chief officers, and second only to himself in
sagacity) at their head. Ulysses took command of the
remaining twenty-two men in person. Then, taking off
his helmet, he put two shells into it, on one of which was
written, "Go," and on the other, "Stay." Another person
now held the helmet, while Ulysses and Eurylochus
drew out each a shell; and the word "Go" was found
written on that which Eurylochus had drawn. In this
manner it was decided that Ulysses and his twenty-two
men were to remain at the seaside until the other party
should have found out what sort of treatment they might
expect at the mysterious palace. As there was no help
for it, Eurylochus immediately set forth at the head of
his twenty-two followers, who went off in a very melancholy
state of mind, leaving their friends in hardly better
spirits than themselves.
No sooner had they clambered up the cliff than they
discerned the tall marble towers of the palace, ascending,
as white as snow, out of the lovely green shadow of the
trees which surrounded it. A gush of smoke came from
a chimney in the rear of the edifice. The vapor rose
high in the air, and, meeting with a breeze, was wafted
seaward, and made to pass over the heads of the
hungry mariners. When people's appetites are keen,
they have a very quick scent for anything savory in
"That smoke comes from the kitchen!" cried one of
them, turning up his nose as high as he could, and snuffing
eagerly. "And, as sure as I'm a half-starved vagabond,
I smell roast meat in it."
"Pig, roast pig!" said another. "Ah, the dainty little
porker! My mouth waters for him."
"Let us make haste," cried the others, "or we shall
be too late for the good cheer!"
But scarcely had they made half a dozen steps from
the edge of the cliff, when a bird came fluttering to meet
them. It was the same pretty little bird, with the purple
wings and body, the yellow legs, the golden collar round
its neck, and the crown-like tuft upon its head, whose
behavior had so much surprised Ulysses. It hovered
about Eurylochus, and almost brushed his face with its
"Peep, peep, pe—weep!" chirped the bird.
So plaintively intelligent was the sound, that it seemed
as if the little creature were going to break its heart with
some mighty secret that it had to tell, and only this one
poor note to tell it with.
"My pretty bird," said Eurylochus—for he was a wary
person, and let no token of harm escape his notice—"my
pretty bird, who sent you hither? And what is the
message which you bring?"
"Peep, peep, pe—weep!" replied the bird, very sorrowfully.
Then it flew towards the edge of the cliff, and looked
round at them, as if exceedingly anxious that they should
return whence they came. Eurylochus and a few others
were inclined to turn back. They could not help suspecting
that the purple bird must be aware of something
mischievous that would befall them at the palace, and
the knowledge of which affected its airy spirit with a
human sympathy and sorrow. But the rest of the voyagers,
snuffing up the smoke from the palace kitchen,
ridiculed the idea of returning to the vessel. One of
them (more brutal than his fellows, and the most notorious
gormandizer in the whole crew) said such a cruel
and wicked thing, that I wonder the mere thought did
not turn him into a wild beast, in shape, as he already
was in his nature.
"This troublesome and impertinent little fowl," said
he, "would make a delicate titbit to begin dinner with.
Just one plump morsel, melting away between the teeth.
If he comes within my reach, I'll catch him, and give
him to the palace cook to be roasted on a skewer."
The words were hardly out of his mouth, before the
purple bird flew away, crying, "Peep, peep, pe—weep!"
more dolorously than ever.
"That bird," remarked Eurylochus, "knows more than
we do about what awaits us at the palace."
"Come on, then," cried his comrades, "and we'll soon
know as much as he does."
The party, accordingly, went onward through the green
and pleasant wood. Every little while they caught new
glimpses of the marble palace, which looked more and
more beautiful the nearer they approached it.
At one place they came to a crystal spring, and paused
to drink at it for want of liquor which they liked better.
Looking into its bosom, they beheld their own faces dimly
reflected, but so extravagantly distorted by the gush and
motion of the water, that each one of them appeared to
be laughing at himself and all his companions. So ridiculous
were these images of themselves, indeed, that they
did really laugh aloud, and could hardly be grave again
as soon as they wished. And after they had drank, they
grew still merrier than before.
"It has a twang of the wine-cask in it," said one,
smacking his lips.
"Make haste!" cried his fellows; "we'll find the wine-cask
itself at the palace; and that will be better than a
hundred crystal fountains."
Then they quickened their pace, and capered for joy
at the thought of the savory banquet at which they
hoped to be guests. But Eurylochus told them that he
felt as if he were walking in a dream.
"If I am really awake," continued he, "then, in my
opinion, we are on the point of meeting with some
stranger adventure than any that befell us in the cave
of Polyphemus, or among the gigantic man-eating Læstrygons,
or in the windy palace of King Æolus, which
stands on a brazen-walled island. This kind of dreamy
feeling always comes over me before any wonderful occurrence.
If you take my advice, you will turn back."
"No, no," answered his comrades, snuffing the air, in
which the scent from the palace kitchen was now very
perceptible. "We would not turn back, though we were
certain that the king of the Læstrygons, as big as a mountain,
would sit at the head of the table, and huge
Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclops, at its foot."
At length they came within full sight of the palace,
which proved to be very large and lofty, with a great
number of airy pinnacles upon its roof. Though it was
now midday, and the sun shone brightly over the marble
front, yet its snowy whiteness, and its fantastic style of
architecture, made it look unreal, like the frostwork on
a window pane, or like the shapes of castles which one
sees among the clouds by moonlight. But, just then,
a puff of wind brought down the smoke of the kitchen
chimney among them, and caused each man to smell the
odor of the dish that he liked best and, after scenting it,
they thought everything else moonshine, and nothing real
save this palace, and save the banquet that was evidently
ready to be served up in it.
So they hastened their steps towards the portal, but
had not got halfway across the wide lawn, when a pack
of lions, tigers, and wolves came bounding to meet them.
The terrified mariners started back, expecting no better
fate than to be torn to pieces and devoured. To their
surprise and joy, however, these wild beasts merely
capered around them, wagging their tails, offering their
heads to be stroked and patted, and behaving just like so
many well-bred house-dogs, when they wish to express
their delight at meeting their master or their master's
friends. The biggest lion licked the feet of Eurylochus;
and every other lion, and every wolf and tiger, singled
out one of his two-and-twenty followers, whom the
beast fondled as if he loved him better than a beef-bone.
But, for all that, Eurylochus imagined that he saw
something fierce and savage in their eyes; nor would he
have been surprised, at any moment, to feel the big lion's
terrible claws, or to see each of the tigers make a deadly
spring, or each wolf leap at the throat of the man whom
he had fondled. Their mildness seemed unreal, and a
mere freak; but their savage nature was as true as their
teeth and claws.
Nevertheless, the men went safely across the lawn
with the wild beasts frisking about them, and doing no
manner of harm; although, as they mounted the steps
of the palace, you might possibly have heard a low growl,
particularly from the wolves, as if they thought it a pity,
after all, to let the strangers pass without so much as
tasting what they were made of.
Eurylochus and his followers now passed under a
lofty portal, and looked through the open doorway into
the interior of the palace. The first thing that they saw
was a spacious hall, and a fountain in the middle of it,
gushing up towards the ceiling out of a marble basin, and
falling back into it with a continual plash. The water
of this fountain, as it spouted upward, was constantly
taking new shapes, not very distinctly, but plainly enough
for a nimble fancy to recognize what they were. Now it
was the shape of a man in a long robe, the fleecy whiteness
of which was made out of the fountain's spray;
now it was a lion, or a tiger, or a wolf, or an ass, or,
as often as anything else, a hog, wallowing in the marble
basin as if it were his sty. But, before the strangers
had time to look closely at this wonderful sight, their
attention was drawn off by a very sweet and agreeable
sound. A woman's voice was singing melodiously in
another room of the palace, and with her voice was mingled
the noise of a loom, at which she was probably
seated, weaving a rich texture of cloth, and intertwining
the high and low sweetness of her voice into a rich tissue
By and by the song came to an end; and then, all at
once, there were several feminine voices, talking airily
and cheerfully, with now and then a merry burst of
laughter, such as you may always hear when three or
four young women sit at work together.
"What a sweet song that was!" exclaimed one of the
"Too sweet, indeed," answered Eurylochus, shaking
his head. "Yet it was not so sweet as the song of the
Sirens, those bird-like damsels who wanted to tempt us
on the rocks so that our vessel might be wrecked, and
our bones left whitening along the shore."
"But just listen to the pleasant voices of those maidens,
and that buzz of the loom as the shuttle passes to and
fro," said another comrade. "What a domestic, household,
homelike sound it is! Ah, before that weary
siege of Troy, I used to hear the buzzing loom
and the women's voices under my own roof. Shall I
never hear them again? nor taste those nice little
savory dishes which my dearest wife knew how to
"Tush! we shall fare better here," said another. "But
how innocently those women are babbling together, without
guessing that we overhear them! And mark that
richest voice of all, so pleasant and familiar, but which
yet seems to have the authority of a mistress among
them. Let us show ourselves at once. What harm can
the lady of the palace and her maidens do to mariners
and warriors like us?"
"Remember," said Eurylochus, "that it was a young
maiden who beguiled three of our friends into the palace
of the king of the Læstrygons, who ate up one of them
in the twinkling of an eye."
No warning or persuasion, however, had any effect
on his companions. They went up to a pair of folding
doors at the farther end of the hall, and throwing them
wide open, passed into the next room. Eurylochus,
meanwhile, had stepped behind a pillar. In the short
moment, while the folding doors opened and closed again,
he caught a glimpse of a very beautiful woman rising
from the loom, and coming to meet the poor weather-beaten
wanderers, with a hospitable smile, and her hand
stretched out in welcome. There were four other young
women, who joined their hands and danced merrily forward,
making gestures of obeisance to the strangers.
They were only less beautiful than the lady who seemed
to be their mistress. Yet Eurylochus fancied that one
of them had sea-green hair, and that the close-fitting
bodice of a second looked like the bark of a tree, and
that both the others had something odd in their aspect,
although he could not quite determine what it was, in
the little while that he had to examine them.
The folding doors swung quickly back, and left him
standing behind the pillar, in the solitude of the outer
hall. There Eurylochus waited until he was quite weary,
and listened eagerly to every sound, but without hearing
anything that could help him to guess what had become
of his friends. Footsteps, it is true, seemed to be
passing and repassing in other parts of the palace. Then
there was a clatter of silver dishes, or golden ones, which
made him imagine a rich feast in a splendid banqueting
hall. But by and by he heard a tremendous grunting and
squealing, and then a sudden scampering, like that of
small, hard hoofs over a marble floor, while the voices
of the mistress and her four handmaidens were screaming
all together, in tones of anger and derision. Eurylochus
could not conceive what had happened, unless a
drove of swine had broken into the palace, attracted by
the smell of the feast. Chancing to cast his eyes at the
fountain, he saw that it did not shift its shape as formerly,
nor looked either like a long-robed man, or a
lion, a tiger, a wolf, or an ass. It looked like nothing
but a hog, which lay wallowing in the marble basin, and
filled it from brim to brim.
But we must leave the prudent Eurylochus waiting in
the outer hall, and follow his friends into the inner
secrecy of the palace. As soon as the beautiful woman
saw them, she arose from the loom, as I have told you,
and came forward smiling, and stretching out her hand.
She took the hand of the foremost among them, and
bade him and the whole party welcome.
"You have been long expected, my good friends," said
she. "I and my maidens are well acquainted with you,
although you do not appear to recognize us. Look at
this piece of tapestry, and judge if your faces must not
have been familiar to us."
So the voyagers examined the web of cloth which
the beautiful woman had been weaving in her loom; and,
to their vast astonishment, they saw their own figures
perfectly represented in different colored threads. It
was a life-like picture of their recent adventures, showing
them in the cave of Polyphemus, and how they had
put out his one great moony eye; while in another part
of the tapestry they were untying the leathern bags,
puffed out with contrary winds; and farther on they beheld
themselves scampering away from the gigantic king
of the Læstrygons, who had caught one of them by the
leg. Lastly, there they were, sitting on the desolate
shore of this very island, hungry and downcast, and
looking ruefully at the bare bones of the stag which they
devoured yesterday. This was as far as the work had yet
proceeded; but when the beautiful woman should again
sit down at her loom, she would probably make a picture
of what had since happened to the strangers, and
of what was now going to happen.
"You see," she said, "that I know all about your
troubles; and you cannot doubt that I desire to make
you happy for as long a time as you may remain with
me. For this purpose, my honored guests, I have ordered
a banquet to be prepared. Fish, fowl, and flesh, roasted
and in luscious stews, and seasoned, I trust, to all your
tastes, are ready to be served up. If your appetites tell
you it is dinner-time, then come with me to the festal
At this kind invitation the hungry mariners were quite
overjoyed; and one of them, taking upon himself to be
spokesman, assured their hospitable hostess that any
hour of the day was dinner-time with them, whenever
they could get flesh to put in the pot, and fire to boil
it with. So the beautiful woman led the way; and the
four maidens (one of them had sea-green hair, another
a bodice of oak bark, a third sprinkled a shower of water
drops from her fingers' ends, and the fourth had
some other oddity, which I have forgotten), all these
followed behind, and hurried the guests along until they
entered a magnificent saloon. It was built in a perfect
oval, and lighted from a crystal dome above. Around the
walls were ranged two-and-twenty thrones, overhung by
canopies of crimson and gold, and provided with the
softest of cushions, which were tasseled and fringed
with gold cord. Each of the strangers was invited to
sit down; and there they were, two-and-twenty storm-beaten
mariners, in worn and tattered garb, sitting on
two-and-twenty cushioned and canopied thrones, so rich
and gorgeous that the proudest monarch had nothing
more splendid in his stateliest hall.
Then you might have seen the guests nodding, winking
with one eye, and leaning from one throne to
another, to communicate their satisfaction in hoarse
"Our good hostess has made kings of us all," said
one. "Ha! do you smell the feast? I'll engage it will
be fit to set before two-and-twenty kings."
But the beautiful woman now clapped her hands; and
immediately there entered a train of two-and-twenty
serving-men, bringing dishes of the richest food, all hot
from the kitchen fire, and sending up such a steam that
it hung like a cloud below the crystal dome of the saloon.
An equal number of attendants brought great flagons of
wine of various kinds, some of which sparkled as it
was poured out, and went bubbling down the throat;
while of other sorts, the purple liquor was so clear that
you could see the wrought figures at the bottom of the
goblet. While the servants supplied the two-and-twenty
guests with food and drink, the hostess and her four
maidens went from one throne to another, exhorting them
to eat their fill, and to quaff wine abundantly, and thus
to recompense themselves at this one banquet for the
many days when they had gone without a dinner. But,
whenever the mariners were not looking at them (which
was pretty often, as they looked chiefly into the basins
and platters), the beautiful woman and her damsels
turned aside and laughed. Even the servants, as they
knelt down to present the dishes, might be seen to grin
and sneer while the guests were helping themselves to
the offered dainties.
And once in a while the strangers seemed to taste
something that they did not like.
"Here is an odd kind of a spice in this dish," said
one. "I can't say it quite suits my palate. Down it
"Send a good draught of wine down your throat,"
said his comrade on the next throne; "that is the stuff
to make this sort of cookery relish well. Though I must
needs say, the wine has a queer taste, too. But the more
I drink of it the better I like the flavor."
Whatever little fault they might find with the dishes,
they sat at dinner a prodigiously long while. They forgot
all about their homes, and their wives and children, and
all about Ulysses, and everything else, except this banquet,
at which they wanted to keep feasting forever. But
at length they began to give over, from mere incapacity
to hold any more.
"That last bit of fat is too much for me," said one.
"And I have not room for another morsel," said his
next neighbor, heaving a sigh. "What a pity! My appetite
is as sharp as ever."
In short, they all left off eating, and leaned back on
their thrones, with such a stupid and helpless aspect as
made them ridiculous to behold. When their hostess saw
this, she laughed aloud; so did her four damsels; so
did the two-and-twenty serving-men that bore the dishes,
and their two-and-twenty fellows that poured out the
wine. And the louder they all laughed, the more stupid
and helpless did the two-and-twenty gormandizers look.
Then the beautiful woman took her stand in the middle
of the saloon, and stretching out a slender rod (it had
been all the while in her hand, although they never noticed
it till this moment), she turned it from one guest
to another, until each had felt it pointed at himself.
Beautiful as her face was, and though there was a smile
on it, it looked just as wicked and mischievous as the
ugliest serpent that ever was seen; and fat-witted as the
voyagers had made themselves, they began to suspect
that they had fallen into the power of an evil-minded
"Wretches," cried she, "you have abused a lady's
hospitality; and in this princely saloon your behavior has
been suited to a hog-pen. You are already swine in
everything but the human form, which you disgrace, and
which I myself should be ashamed to keep a moment
longer, were you to share it with me. But it will require
only the slightest exercise of magic to make the exterior
conform to the hoggish disposition. Assume your
proper shapes, gormandizers, and begone to the sty!"
Uttering these last words, she waved her wand; and
stamping her foot imperiously, each of the guests was
struck aghast at beholding, instead of his comrades in
human shape, one-and-twenty hogs sitting on the same
number of golden thrones. Each man (as he still supposed
himself to be) essayed to give a cry of surprise,
but found that he could merely grunt, and that, in a word,
he was just such another beast as his companions. It
looked so intolerably absurd to see hogs on cushioned
thrones, that they made haste to wallow down upon all
fours, like other swine. They tried to groan and beg
for mercy, but forthwith emitted the most awful grunting
and squealing that ever came out of swinish throats.
They would have wrung their hands in despair, but, attempting
to do so, grew all the more desperate for seeing
themselves squatted on their hams, and pawing the air
with their fore-trotters. Dear me! what pendulous ears
they had! what little red eyes, half buried in fat! and
what long snouts, instead of Grecian noses!
"Begone to your sty!" cried the enchantress, giving
them some smart strokes with her wand; and then she
turned to the serving-men—"Drive out these swine, and
throw down some acorns for them to eat."
Meantime Eurylochus had waited, and waited, and
waited in the entrance hall of the palace, without being
able to comprehend what had befallen his friends. At
last, when the swinish uproar sounded through the palace,
and when he saw the image of a hog in the marble basin,
he thought it best to hasten back to the vessel and inform
the wise Ulysses of these marvelous occurrences. So
he ran as fast as he could down the steps, and never
stopped to draw breath till he reached the shore.
"Why do you come alone?" asked King Ulysses, as
soon as he saw him. "Where are your two-and-twenty
At these questions Eurylochus burst into tears.
"Alas!" cried he, "I greatly fear we shall never see
one of their faces again."
Then he told Ulysses all that had happened, as far as
he knew it; and added that he suspected the beautiful
woman to be a vile enchantress, and the marble palace,
magnificent as it looked, to be only a dismal cavern in
reality. As for his companions, he could not imagine
what had become of them, unless they had been given
to the swine to be devoured alive. At this intelligence
all the voyagers were greatly affrighted. But Ulysses
lost no time in girding on his sword, and hanging his
bow and quiver over his shoulders, and taking a spear
in his right hand. When his followers saw their wise
leader making these preparations, they inquired whither
he was going, and earnestly besought him not to leave
"You are our king," cried they; "and what is more,
you are the wisest man in the whole world, and nothing
but your wisdom and courage can get us out of this
danger. If you desert us, and go to the enchanted palace,
you will suffer the same fate as our poor companions,
and not a soul of us will ever see our dear Ithaca again."
"As I am your king," answered Ulysses, "and wiser
than any of you, it is therefore the more my duty to see
what has befallen our comrades, and whether anything
can yet be done to rescue them. Wait for me here until
to-morrow. If I do not then return, you must hoist sail
and endeavor to find your way to our native land. For
my part, I am answerable for the fate of these poor
mariners, who have stood by my side in battle, and been
so often drenched to the skin, along with me, by the same
tempestuous surges. I will either bring them back with
me or perish."
Had his followers dared, they would have detained him
by force. But King Ulysses frowned sternly on them,
and shook his spear, and bade them stop him at their
peril. Seeing him so determined they let him go, and sat
down on the sand, as disconsolate a set of people as
could be, waiting and praying for his return.
It happened to Ulysses, just as before, that, when he
had gone a few steps from the edge of the cliff, the purple
bird came fluttering towards him, crying, "Peep,
peep, pe—weep!" and using all the art it could to persuade
him to go no farther.
"What mean you, little bird?" cried Ulysses. "You
are arrayed like a king in purple and gold, and wear
a golden crown upon your head. Is it because I too am
a king, that you desire so earnestly to speak with me?
If you can talk in human language, say what you would
have me do."
"Peep!" answered the purple bird, very dolorously.
"Peep, peep, pe—we—ep!"
Certainly there lay some heavy anguish at the little
bird's heart; and it was a sorrowful predicament that
he could not at least have the consolation of telling what
it was. But Ulysses had no time to waste in trying to
get at the mystery. He therefore quickened his pace,
and had gone a good way along the pleasant wood-path,
when there met him a young man of very brisk and
intelligent aspect, and clad in a rather singular garb.
He wore a short cloak, and a sort of cap that seemed to
be furnished with a pair of wings; and from the lightness
of his step, you would have supposed that there
might likewise be wings on his feet. To enable him to
walk still better (for he was always on one journey or
another), he carried a winged staff, around which two
serpents were wriggling and twisting. In short, I have
said enough to make you guess that it was Quicksilver;
and Ulysses (who knew him of old, and had learned a
great deal of his wisdom from him) recognized him in
"Whither are you going in such a hurry, wise
Ulysses?" asked Quicksilver. "Do you not know that
this island is enchanted? The wicked enchantress (whose
name is Circe, the sister of King Æetes) dwells in the
marble palace which you see yonder among the trees.
By her magic arts she changes every human being into
the brute beast or fowl whom he happens most to
"That little bird, which met me at the edge of the
cliff," exclaimed Ulysses; "was he a human being
"Yes," answered Quicksilver. "He was once a king,
named Picus, and a pretty good sort of a king too, only
rather too proud of his purple robe, and his crown, and
the golden chain about his neck; so he was forced to
take the shape of a gaudy-feathered bird. The lions, and
wolves, and tigers, who will come running to meet you,
in front of the palace, were formerly fierce and cruel
men, resembling in their dispositions the wild beasts
whose forms they now rightfully wear."
"And my poor companions," said Ulysses, "have they
undergone a similar change through the arts of this
"You well know what gormandizers they were," replied
Quicksilver; and, rogue that he was, he could not
help laughing at the joke. "So you will not be surprised
to hear that they have all taken the shapes of
swine! If Circe had never done anything worse, I really
should not think her so very much to blame."
"But can I do nothing to help them?" inquired
"It will require all your wisdom," said Quicksilver,
"and a little of my own into the bargain, to keep your
royal and sagacious self from being transformed into a
fox. But do as I bid you, and the matter may end better
than it has begun."
While he was speaking, Quicksilver seemed to be in
search of something; he went stooping along the ground,
and soon laid his hand on a little plant with a snow-white
flower, which he plucked and smelt. Ulysses had
been looking at that very spot only just before; and it
appeared to him that the plant had burst into full flower
the instant when Quicksilver touched it with his fingers.
"Take this flower, King Ulysses," said he. "Guard
it as you do your eyesight; for I can assure you it is
exceedingly rare and precious, and you might seek the
whole earth over without ever finding another like it.
Keep it in your hand, and smell of it frequently after
you enter the palace, and while you are talking with the
enchantress. Especially when she offers you food or a
draught of wine out of her goblet, be careful to fill your
nostrils with the flower's fragrance. Follow these directions,
and you may defy her magic arts to change you into
When Ulysses reached the lawn in front of the palace,
the lions and other savage animals came bounding
to meet him, and would have fawned upon him and licked
his feet. But the wise king struck at them with his long
spear, and sternly bade them begone out of his path; for
he knew that they had once been bloodthirsty men, and
would now tear him limb from limb, instead of fawning
upon him, could they do the mischief that was in their
hearts. The wild beasts yelped and glared at him, and
stood at a distance while he ascended the palace steps.
On entering the hall, Ulysses saw the magic fountain
in the center of it. The up-gushing water had now again
taken the shape of a man in a long, white, fleecy robe,
who appeared to be making gestures of welcome. The
king likewise heard the noise of the shuttle in the loom,
and the sweet melody of the beautiful woman's song, and
then the pleasant voices of herself and the four maidens
talking together, with peals of merry laughter intermixed.
But Ulysses did not waste much time in listening to the
laughter or the song. He leaned his spear against one
of the pillars of the hall, and then, after loosening his
sword in the scabbard, stepped boldly forward and threw
the folding doors wide open. The moment she beheld his
stately figure standing in the doorway, the beautiful
woman rose from the loom and ran to meet him, with a
glad smile throwing its sunshine over her face and both
her hands extended.
"Welcome, brave stranger!" cried she. "We were
expecting you. Your companions have already been received
into my palace, and have enjoyed the hospitable
treatment to which the propriety of their behavior so
well entitles them. If such be your pleasure, you shall
first take some refreshment, and then join them in the
elegant apartments which they now occupy. See, I and
my maidens have been weaving their figures into this
piece of tapestry."
She pointed to the web of beautifully woven cloth in
the loom. Circe and the four nymphs must have been
very diligently at work since the arrival of the mariners;
for a great many yards of tapestry had now been
wrought, in addition to what I before described. In
this new part Ulysses saw his two-and-twenty friends
represented as sitting on cushioned and canopied thrones,
greedily devouring dainties and quaffing deep draughts of
wine. The work had not yet gone any farther. Oh, no,
indeed. The enchantress was far too cunning to let
Ulysses see the mischief which her magic arts had since
brought upon the gormandizers.
"As for yourself, valiant sir," said Circe, "judging by
the dignity of your aspect, I take you to be nothing less
than a king. Deign to follow me, and you shall be
treated as befits your rank."
So Ulysses followed her into the oval saloon where
his two-and-twenty comrades had devoured the banquet
which ended so disastrously for themselves, but all this
while he had held the snow-white flower in his hand,
and had constantly smelt of it while Circe was speaking;
and as he crossed the threshold of the saloon, he took
good care to inhale several long and deep snuffs of its
fragrance. Instead of two-and-twenty thrones, which
had before been ranged around the wall, there was now
only a single throne in the center of the apartment. But
this was surely the most magnificent seat that ever a king
or an emperor reposed himself upon, all made of chased
gold, studded with precious stones, with a cushion that
looked like a soft heap of living roses, and overhung by
a canopy of sunlight which Circe knew how to weave
into drapery. The enchantress took Ulysses by the hand,
and made him sit down upon this dazzling throne. Then,
clapping her hands, she summoned the chief butler.
"Bring hither," said she, "the goblet that is set apart
for kings to drink out of. And fill it with the same delicious
wine which my royal brother, King Æetes, praised
so highly when he last visited me with my fair daughter
Medea. That good and amiable child! Were she now
here, it would delight her to see me offering this wine
to my honored guest."
But Ulysses, while the butler was gone for the wine,
held the snow-white flower to his nose.
"Is it a wholesome wine?" he asked.
At this the four maidens tittered; whereupon the
enchantress looked round at them with an aspect of
"It is the wholesomest juice that ever was squeezed
out of the grape," said she; "for, instead of disguising
a man, as other liquor is apt to do, it brings him to his
true self and shows him as he ought to be."
The chief butler liked nothing better than to see people
turned into swine, or making any kind of beast of themselves;
so he made haste to bring the royal goblet, filled
with a liquid as bright as gold, and which kept sparkling
upward and throwing a sunny spray over the brim. But,
delightful as the wine looked, it was mingled with the
most potent enchantments that Circe knew how to concoct.
For every drop of the pure grape juice there were
two drops of the pure mischief; and the danger of the
thing was, that the mischief made it taste all the better.
The mere smell of the bubbles, which effervesced at the
brim, was enough to turn a man's beard into pig's bristles,
or make a lion's claws grow out of his fingers, or a fox's
brush behind him.
"Drink, my noble guest," said Circe, smiling as she
presented him with the goblet. "You will find in this
draught a solace for all your troubles."
King Ulysses took the goblet with his right hand, while
with his left he held the snow-white flower to his nostrils,
and drew in so long a breath that his lungs were quite
filled with its pure and simple fragrance. Then, drinking
off all the wine, he looked the enchantress calmly in
"Wretch," cried Circe, giving him a smart stroke with
her wand, "how dare you keep your human shape a
moment longer? Take the form of the brute whom you
most resemble. If a hog, go join your fellow-swine in
the sty; if a lion, a wolf, a tiger, go howl with the wild
beasts on the lawn; if a fox, go exercise your craft in
stealing poultry. Thou hast quaffed off my wine, and
canst be man no longer."
But such was the virtue of the snow-white flower, instead
of wallowing down from his throne in swinish
shape, or taking any other brutal form, Ulysses looked
even more manly and king-like than before. He gave
the magic goblet a toss, and sent it clashing over the
marble floor to the farthest end of the saloon. Then,
drawing his sword, he seized the enchantress by her
beautiful ringlets, and made a gesture as if he meant to
strike off her head at one blow.
"Wicked Circe," cried he, in a terrible voice, "this
sword shall put an end to thy enchantments. Thou shalt
die, vile wretch, and do no more mischief in the world
by tempting human beings into the vices which make
beasts of them."
The tone and countenance of Ulysses were so awful,
and his sword gleamed so brightly and seemed to have
so intolerably keen an edge, that Circe was almost killed
by the mere fright, without waiting for a blow. The
chief butler scrambled out of the saloon, picking up the
golden goblet as he went; and the enchantress and the four
maidens fell on their knees, wringing their hands, and
screaming for mercy.
"Spare me!" cried Circe. "Spare me, royal and wise
Ulysses. For now I know that thou art he of whom
Quicksilver forewarned me, the most prudent of mortals,
against whom no enchantments can prevail. Thou only
couldst have conquered Circe. Spare me, wisest of men.
I will show thee true hospitality, and even give myself
to be thy slave, and this magnificent palace to be henceforth
The four nymphs, meanwhile, were making a most
piteous ado; and especially the ocean nymph, with the
sea-green hair, wept a great deal of salt water, and the
fountain nymph, besides scattering dewdrops from her
fingers' ends, nearly melted away into tears. But Ulysses
would not be pacified until Circe had taken a solemn oath
to change back his companions, and as many others as
he should direct, from their present forms of beast or
bird into their former shapes of men.
"On these conditions," said he, "I consent to spare
your life. Otherwise you must die upon the spot."
With a drawn sword hanging over her, the enchantress
would readily have consented to do as much good as she
had hitherto done mischief, however little she might like
such employment. She therefore led Ulysses out of the
back entrance of the palace, and showed him the swine
in their sty. There were about fifty of these unclean
beasts in the whole herd; and though the greater part
were hogs by birth and education, there was wonderfully
little difference to be seen betwixt them and their new
brethren who had so recently worn the human shape.
The comrades of Ulysses, however, had not quite lost
the remembrance of having formerly stood erect. When
he approached the sty, two-and-twenty enormous swine
separated themselves from the herd and scampered towards
him with such a chorus of horrible squealing as
made him clap both hands to his ears. And yet they
did not seem to know what they wanted, nor whether
they were merely hungry, or miserable from some other
cause. It was curious, in the midst of their distress,
to observe them thrusting their noses into the mire in
quest of something to eat. The nymph with the bodice
of oaken bark (she was the hamadryad of an oak) threw
a handful of acorns among them; and the two-and-twenty
hogs scrambled and fought for the prize, as if they had
tasted not so much as a noggin of sour milk for a
"These must certainly be my comrades," said Ulysses.
"I recognize their dispositions. They are hardly worth
the trouble of changing them into the human form again.
Nevertheless, we will have it done, lest their bad example
should corrupt the other hogs. Let them take their original
shapes, therefore, Dame Circe, if your skill is equal
to the task. It will require greater magic, I trow, than
it did to make swine of them."
So Circe waved her wand again, and repeated a few
magic words, at the sound of which the two-and-twenty
hogs pricked up their pendulous ears. It was a wonder
to behold how their snouts grew shorter and shorter, and
their mouths (which they seemed to be sorry for, because
they could not gobble so expeditiously) smaller
and smaller, and how one and another began to stand
upon his hind-legs, and scratch his nose with his fore-trotters.
At first the spectators hardly knew whether
to call them hogs or men, but by and by they came to
the conclusion that they rather resembled the latter.
Finally, there stood the twenty-two comrades of Ulysses,
looking pretty much the same as when they left the
You must not imagine, however, that the swinish
quality had entirely gone out of them. When once it
fastens itself into a person's character, it is very difficult
getting rid of it. This was proved by the hamadryad,
who, being exceedingly fond of mischief, threw another
handful of acorns before the twenty-two newly restored
people; whereupon down they wallowed, in a moment, and
gobbled them up in a very shameful way. Then recollecting
themselves, they scrambled to their feet, and
looked more than commonly foolish.
"Thanks, noble Ulysses!" they cried. "From brute
beasts you have restored us to the condition of men
"Do not put yourselves to the trouble of thanking
me," said the wise king. "I fear I have done but little
To say the truth, there was a suspicious kind of a
grunt in their voices, and for a long time afterwards
they spoke gruffly, and were apt to set up a squeal.
"It must depend upon your own future behavior,"
added Ulysses, "whether you do not find your way back
to the sty."
At this moment the note of a bird sounded from the
branch of a neighboring tree.
"Peep, peep, pe—weep—ep!"
It was the purple bird who, all this while, had been
sitting over their heads, watching what was going forward,
and hoping that Ulysses would remember how he
had done his utmost to keep him and his followers out
of harm's way. Ulysses ordered Circe instantly to make
a king of this good little fowl, and leave him exactly as
she found him. Hardly were the words spoken, and
before the bird had time to utter another "Pe—weep,"
King Picus leaped down from the bough of the tree, as
majestic a sovereign as any in the world, dressed in a
long purple robe and gorgeous yellow stockings, with a
splendidly wrought collar about his neck and a golden
crown upon his head. He and King Ulysses exchanged
with one another the courtesies which belong to their
elevated rank. But from that time forth, King Picus
was no longer proud of his crown and his trappings of
royalty, nor of the fact of his being a king; he felt himself
merely the upper servant of his people, and that
it must be his lifelong labor to make them better and
As for the lions, tigers, and wolves (though Circe would
have restored them to their former shapes at his slightest
word), Ulysses thought it advisable that they should
remain as they now were, and thus give warning of their
cruel dispositions, instead of going about under the guise
of men and pretending to human sympathies, while their
hearts had the blood-thirstiness of wild beasts. So he
let them howl as much as they liked, but never troubled
his head about them. And when everything was settled
according to his pleasure, he sent to summon the remainder
of his comrades, whom he had left at the sea-shore.
These being arrived, with the prudent Eurylochus
at their head, they all made themselves comfortable in
Circe's enchanted palace until quite rested and refreshed
from the toils and hardships of their voyage.