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Scylla and Kharybdis
After having left the island of Aiolia,
after the terrifying Laistrygonians, and after receiving the wicked curse of the Kyklopes,
after having returned from the dark depths of the Underworld,
and after braving the sirens and hearing their fatally beautiful songs,
Odysseus and his men thought they had reached the end of their perils.
But the experienced adventurer was worried; he knew the worst was yet to come.
As a man who is in a crowd with his only son
constantly watches his child lest he should disappear,
so did Odysseus gaze out upon the wave-hewn grey sea,
his eyes looking for a disturbance of any sort.
His comrades gazed upon his frigid countenance with uncertainty, saying:
“Why does our captain look so hard and solemn?
This is not the man who raided the city of Troy;
the one who so bravely led us through all these harsh predicaments;
what then, is disturbing you so? Pray tell us.”
But Odysseus withheld his grim thoughts;
He refused coldly to tell his men what was grieving him so.
In his mind he silently sang curses to the sovereign of the sea, Poseidon;
for it was he who had brought upon him such misfortune
as retribution for the harm he had done to his child, Polyphemos.
As the purple edge of dusk settled across the dark azure sky,
a great sleep overcame them all; they fell upon the hard wooden decks
like cats curled up while resting, breathing slowly and lightly,
wrapped up in the rough rope hammocks and rugged canvas.
They slept until the orange sun peeked above the waves.
Odysseus was the first to rise, anxiously observing the horizon,
and with a sudden wave of fear he saw in front of them on the skyline
a chilling sight which he had much been dreading to see,
a sight which had been foretold to him on the island with Kirke.
A narrow channel loomed before them, sending a foreboding shiver through his being.
To the starboard side lay a colossal vortex, Kharybdis by name,
a malicious monster of the depths, whose hunger
devoured the surrounding waters and everything they contained;
truly a ship would be shattered to splinters should it fall within its grasp.
And to port, merely an arrows length away, a sight truly horrendous to the eye,
the giant cliff inhabited by the fearsome six-headed monster Skylla.
These terrifying beasts had been created out of jealousy and rage.
Poseidon had once loved a beautiful sea nymph, and they had a child;
She was Skylla, an enchanting maiden whose charm and looks
almost matched those of Aphrodite herself.
Amphitrite, the wife of Poseidon, became extremely jealous.
The resentful water sprite placed a nasty poison in the spring where Skylla bathed.
As she settled into the tainted waters, she began to transform
and became this beastly creature, out of the jealousy of another.
Kharibdys, too, had once been a child of Poseidon,
Born of Gaia, she had been a great treasure to her father;
it was she who would ride the hungry tides after her father stirred giant storms.
She would drown villages, submerge fertile fields, engulf forests,
No pity on beasts or humans alike, claiming them all for her father’s kingdom.
But this enraged Zeus, and he changed her into this hideous monster.
Odysseus climbed up on the mast, to the crow’s nest and said;
“Take heed, my companions; and listen closely to what I say,
your precious lives may depend on it.”
His men looked upon him with admiration and fear;
they, too, saw the whirlpool and the monster in the colossal rock,
and they knew he was speaking with the utmost sincerity.
Should one of them fail to listen to his master in the impending havoc,
they could surely hinder their own safety, as well as their companions’.
As a leaf floats serenely down a calm stream, and then,
upon reaching a cascading waterfall in the rocks, it spins about,
so did the ship start to slip to and fro uncontrollably.
The men grew fearful, but Odysseus kept his head.
He ordered them all to start paddling as fast as they could,
And told his steersman, ‘Keep as far away from Kharybdis as you can;
I would gladly wager all the wealth of Troy that we’ll be safer with Skylla.’
Their life, and the ship’s, depended on moving away as fast as possible.
He himself picked up an oar and helped in the operation,
as at the same time making sure they were far away from the dreadful whirlpool.
For, he reasoned, much better to lose only a few men to the hunger of Skylla
than to lose a whole ship to the maelstrom.
But he did not tell his men that death was certain to some;
Instead he encouraged them, promising them all their safety,
Reminding them of their homeland, how close they were to home!
They would be there soon, he assured them;
The giver of unfulfilled promises felt remorse, too, for the men who would not live.
The ship grazed the edge of the rocks near Skylla, but still his men pressed on,
exerting themselves to the extreme, sweating, heaving for breath.
The ship passed by the foot of the immense rock; the men continued to row.
they were almost past it now, and the men began to feel relieved.
Everyone would make it, Odysseus thought to himself; perhaps the monster is asleep.
Just as he was about to say a quiet prayer of thanks,
A shriek, like that of a man stricken with grief for the loss of a loved one, rose up from the back of the ship,
as long, sickly yellow tendrils, as thick as a large trunk, grabbed six of his men,
by the neck, the heel, the wrist, wrapping around them and snatching them high
dragging them off the ship, the screams echoing off the walls of the rock;
they were borne aloft, seeing their ship for the last time as a bird sees it.
Odysseus gazed upon the spectacle with the utmost grief and sorrow;
the others looked too, with much fear and anguish in their hearts
as each man disappeared forever into the clutches of that wretched beast.
Odysseus would later weep for his lost men, but not now;
He mustered all the strength he could and ordered his men to traverse onward,
for they had to flee before this monstrosity could strike again.
The monster’s wicked cries could be heard behind them.
They escaped, with a heavy sigh of relief, and with the aching pain of their lost comrades.