The Adventures of Ulysses


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The Adventures of Ulysses
Bernard Evslin
Ships and Men

After Troy was burned, Ulysses sailed for
home with three ships holding fifty men each.
Three thousand years ago ships were very different: through the years they have changed much more than the men who sail them.
These beaked warships used by the pirate kingdoms of the Middle Sea were like no vessels you have ever seen. Imagine a very long, narrow rowboat with twenty oars on each side. The timbers of the bow curve sharply to a prow, and this prow grows longer and sharper, becomes in fact a long polished shaft tipped by a knife-edged, brass spearhead. This was called the ram, the chief weapon of ancient warships.
In battle, the opposing ships spun about each other, swooping forward, twirling on their beams, darting backward, their narrow hulls allowing them to backwater very swiftly. The object was to ram the enemy before he rammed you. And to ram first was the only defense, for the brass beak of the ramming ship sheared easily through the timbers of its victim, knocking a huge hole the hull and sinking it before its men could jump overboard.
These warships were also equipped with sail and mast—used only for

always at the mercy of the weather, and were often blown off course. Another thing that made them unfit for long voyages was the lack of cargo space. Only a few days’ supply of food and water could be carried, leaving space for no other cargo. That is why these fighting ships tried to hug the coast and avoid the open sea.
Ulysses’ problem was made worse by victory. When Troy was sacked, he and his men captured a huge booty—gold and jewels, silks, furs—and, after ten years of war the men refuse to leave any loot behind. This meant that each of his ships could carry food and water for a very few days.
This greed for treasure caused many of his troubles at first. But then troubles came so thick and fast that no one could tell what caused them: hardships were simply called bad luck, or the anger of the gods.
But bad luck makes good stories.xx

voyaging, never in battle—a square sail, and a short mast, held fast by oxhide stays. The sail was raised only for a fair wind, or could be tilted slightly for a quartering wind, but was useless against headwinds.
This meant that these ships were almost
The Ciconians
The voyage began peacefully. A fair
north wind blew, filling the sails of the little ship and pushing it steadily homeward. The wind freshened at night, and the three ships glided along joyfully under a fat moon. On the morning of the second day Ulysses saw a blue haze of smoke and a glint of white stone. He put in toward shore and saw a beautiful little town. The men stared in amazement at this city without walls, rich green parks and grazing cattle, its people strolling about in white tunics. Ten years of war had made Ulysses’ men as savage as thieves. Everyone not a shipmate was an enemy. To meet was to fight; property belonged to the winner.
Ulysses stood in the bow, shading his eyes with his hand, gazing at the city. A tough, crafty old warrior named Eurylochus stood beside him.
“We attack, do we not?” he asked. “The city lies there defenseless. We can take it without losing a man.”
“Yes, it looks tempting,” said Ulysses, but the wind blows fair, and good fortune befriends us. Perhaps it will spoil our luck to stop.”
“But this fat little city has been thrown

The Adventures of Ulysses 2
They landed on the beach. The townsfolk fled before them into the hills. Ulysses did not allow his men to pursue them, for there was no room on the ship for slaves. From house to house the armed men went, helping themselves to whatever they wanted. Afterward they piled the booty in great heaps upon the beach.
Then Ulysses had them round up a herd of the plump, swaying, crook-horned cattle, and offer ten bulls in sacrifice to the gods. Later they built huge bonfires on the beach, roasted the cattle, and had a great feast.
But while the looting and feasting was going on the men of the city had withdrawn into the hills and called together their kinsmen of the villages, the Ciconians, and began preparing for battle. They were skillful fighters, these men of the hills. They drove brass war chariots that had long blades attached to the wheels, and these blades whirled swiftly as the wheels turned, scything down the foe.
They gathered by the thousands, an overwhelming force, and stormed down out of the hills onto the beach. Ulysses’ men were full of food and wine, unready to fight, but he had posted sentries, who raised a shout when they saw the Ciconians coming down from the hills in the moonlight. Ulysses raged among his

into our laps by the gods, too,” said Eurylochus, “and they grow angry when men refuse their gifts. It would be bad luck not to attack.”
Ulysses heard the fierce murmur of his men behind him, and felt their greed burning in his veins. He hailed the other ships and gave orders, and the three black-hulled vessels swerved toward shore and nosed into the harbor, swooping down upon the white city like wolves upon a sheepfold. timber, high enough to shoot his arrows over the heads of his men. He was the most skillful archer since Heracles. He aimed only at the chariot horses, and aimed not to kill, but to cripple, so that the horses fell in their traces, and their furious flailing and kicking broke the enemy’s advance. Thus the Hellenes were able to reach their ships and roll them into the water, leap into the rower’s benches, and row away. But eighteen men were left dead on the beach— six from each ship—and there was scarcely a man unwounded.
Eurylochus threw himself on his knees before Ulysses and said, “I advised you badly, O Chief. We have angered the gods. Perhaps, if you kill me, they will be appeased.
“Eighteen dead are enough for one night,” said Ulysses. “Our luck has changed, but what has changed can change again. Rise, and go about your duties.”
The ships had been handled roughly in the swift retreat from the Ciconian beach. Their hulls had been battered by

The Adventures of Ulysses 3 men, slapping them with the flat of his sword, driving the fumes of wine out of their heads. His great racketing battle cry roused those he could not whip with his sword.
The men closed ranks and met the Ciconians at spearpoint. The Hellenes retreated slowly, leaving their treasure where it was heaped upon the beach and, keeping their line unbroken, made for their ships. Ulysses chose two of his strongest men and bade them lift a thick timber upon their shoulders. He sat astride this water nymphs—were drawn by the flash of the jewels. They dived after the bright baubles and swam alongside the ships, calling to the men, singing, tweaking the oars out of their hands, for they were sleek mischievous creatures who loved jewels and strangers. Some of them came riding dolphins, and in the splashing silver veils of spray the men thought they saw beautiful girls with fish tails. This is probably how the first report of mermaids arose.
Poseidon, God of the Sea, was wakened from the sleep by the sound of this laughter. When he saw what was happening, his green beard bristled with rage, and he said to himself, “Can it be? Are these the warriors whom I helped in their siege of Troy? Is this their gratitude, trying to steal my naiads from me? I’ll teach them manners.”
He whistled across the horizon to his son, Aeolus, keeper of the winds, who twirled his staff and sent a northeast gale skipping across the sea. It pounced upon

axes and flung spears, and they had sprung small leaks. The wind had faded to a whisper, and the men were forced to row with water sloshing around their ankles. Ulysses saw that his ships were foundering, and that he would have to empty the holds. Food could not be spared, nor water; the only thing that could go was the treasure taken from Troy. The men groaned and tore at their beards as they saw the gold and jewels and bales of fur and silk being dropped overboard. But Ulysses cast over his own share of the treasure first—and his was the largest share—so the men had to bite back their rage and keep on rowing.
As the necklaces, bracelets, rings, and brooches sank slowly, winding their jewels like drowned fires, a strange thing happened. A shoal of naiads—beautiful

The Adventures of Ulysses 4 the little fleet and scattered the ships like twigs. Ulysses clung to the helm, trying to hold to the kicking tiller, trying to shout over the wind. There was nothing to do but ship the mast and let the wind take them.
And the wind, in one huge gust of fury drove them around Cythera, the southernmost of their home islands, into the open waters of the southwest quarter of the Middle Sea, toward the hump of Africa called Libya.xx

The Lotus Eaters
Now, at this time, the shore of Libya was
known as “the land where Morpheus plays.”
Who was Morpheus? He was a young god, son of Hyphos, God of Sleep, and nephew of Hades. It was his task to fly around the world, from nightfall to dawn scattering sleep. His father, Hypnos, mixed the colors of sleep for him, making them dark and thick and sad.
“For,” he said, “it is a little death you lay upon man each night, my son, to prepare for the kingdom of death.”

like sleep, with one petal of fire-red for dreams. We will call it lotus.”
Morpheus took the flower and planted it in Libya, where it is always summer. The flower grew in clusters and smelled deliciously of honey. The people ate nothing else. They slept all the time, except when they were gathering flowers. Morpheus watched over them, reading their dreams.
It was toward Lotusland that Ulysses and his men were blown by the gale. The wind fell while they were still offshore. The sky cleared, the sea calmed, a hot sun beat down. To Ulysses, dizzy with fatigue, weak with hunger, the sky and the water and the air

But his aunt, Persphone, sewed him a secret pocket, full of bright things, and said: “It is not death you scatter, but repose. Hang the walls of sleep with bright pictures, so that man may not know death before he dies.”
These bright pictures were called dreams. And Morpeus became fascinated by the way a little corner of man’s mind remained awake in sleep, and played with the colors he had hung, mixing them, pulling them apart, making new pictures. It seemed to him that these fantastic colored shadows the sleepers painted were the most beautiful, most puzzling things he had ever seen. And he wanted to know more about how they came to be.
He went to Persephone, and said, “I need a flower that makes sleep. It must be purple and black. But there should be one petal streaked with fire-red, the petal to make dreams.”
Persephone smiled and moved her long, white hand in the air. Between her fingers a flower blossomed. She gave it to him.
“Here it is, Morpheus. Black and purple
And he mixed them some cool green and silver dreams of home. The nightmares faded. Wounded Trojans stopped screaming. Troy stopped burning; they saw their wives smile, heard their children laugh, saw the green wheat growing in their own fields. They dreamed of home, awoke and were hungry, ate the honeyed lotus flowers and fell into a deeper sleep.

The Adventures of Ulysses 5 between seemed to flow together in one hot blueness.
He shook his head, trying to shake away the hot blue haze, and growled to his men to unship the oars, and row toward land. The exhausted men bent to the oars, and the ships crawled over the fire-blue water. With their last strength they pulled the ships up on the beach, past the high-tide mark, and then lay down and went to sleep.
As they slept, the Lotus-eaters came out of the forest. Their arms here heaped with flowers, which they piled about the sleeping men in great blue and purple bouquets, so that they might have flowers to eat when they awoke, for these people were very gentle and hospitable.
The men awoke and smelled the warm honey smell of the flowers, and ate them in great handfuls—like honeycomb—and fell asleep again. Morpheus hovered over the sleeping men and read their dreams.
“These men have done terrible things,” the god whispered to himself. “Their dreams are full of gold and blood and fire. Such sleep will not rest them. and felt an overpowering hunger. He too took some of the flowers and raised them to his mouth. As their fragrance grew stronger, he felt his eyelids drooping, and his arms grew heavy, and he thought, “It is these flowers that are making us sleep. Their scent alone brings sleep. I must not eat them.”
But he could not put them down; his hand would not obey him. Exerting all the

Then Morpheus came to Ulysses who was stretched on the sand, a little apart from the rest. He studied his face—the wide grooved brow, the sunken eyes, the red hair, the jutting chin. And he said to himself, “This man is a hero. Terrible are his needs, sudden his deeds, and his dreams must be his own. I cannot help him.”
So Morpheus mixed no colors for Ulysses’ sleep, but let him dream his own dreams, and read them as they came. He hovered above the sleeping king and could not leave.
“What monsters he makes,” he said to himself. “Look at that giant with the single eye in the middle of his forehead. And that terrible spider-woman with all those legs….Ah, the things he dreams, this angry sleeper. What bloody mouths, what masts falling, sails ripping, what rocks and reefs, what shipwrecks…how many deaths?”
Ulysses awoke, choking, out of a terrible nightmare. It seemed to him that in his sleep he had seen the whole voyage laid out before him, had seen his ships sinking, his men drowning. Monsters had crowded about him, clutching, writhing. He sat up and looked about. His men lay asleep among heaped flowers. As he watched, one opened his eyes, raised himself on an elbow, took a handful of flowers, stuffed them into his mouth, and immediately fell asleep again.
Ulysses smelled the honey sweetness The men began to awake from their dreams of home, and found themselves

The Adventures of Ulysses 6 weak force of his will, he grasped his right hand with his left—as if it belonged to someone else—and one by one forced open his fingers and let the flowers fall.
Then he dragged himself to his feet and walked slowly into the sea. He went under and arose snorting. His head had cleared. But when he went up on the beach, the sweet fragrance rose like an ether and made him dizzy again.
“I must work swiftly,” he said. One by one he carried the sleeping men to the ships, and propped them on their benches. His strength was going. The honey smell was invading him, making him droop with sleep. He took his knife and cutting sharp splinters of wood to prop open his eyelids, staggered back among the men. He worked furiously now, lifting them on his shoulders, and carrying them two at a time, throwing them into the ships. Finally, the beach was cleared. The men rolled sleeping on the benches. Then, all by himself, using his last strength, he pushed the ships into the water. When the ships were afloat in the shallow water, he lashed one to another with rawhide line, his own ship in front. Then he raised his sail and took the helm. The wind was blowing from the southwest. It filled his sail. The line grew taut; the line of ships moved away from Lotusland.

upon the empty sea again. But the long sleep had rested them, and they took up their tasks with new strength.
Ulysses kept the helm, grim and unsmiling. For he knew that what he had seen painted on the walls of his sleep was meant to come true and that he was sailing straight into a nightmare.xx

The Adventures of Ulysses 7

The Cyclops’s Cave

After he had rescued his crew from
Lotusland, Ulysses found that he was running from one trouble into another. They were still at sea, and there was no food for the fleet. The men were hungry and getting dangerous. Ulysses heard them grumbling: “He should have left us there in Lotusland. At least when you’re asleep you don’t know you’re hungry. Why did he have to come and wake us up?” He knew that unless he found food for them very soon he would be facing a mutiny.
That part of the Aegean Sea was dotted with islands. On every one of them was a different kind of enemy. The last thing Ulysses wanted to do was to go ashore, but there was no other way of getting food. He mad a landfall on a small mountainous island. He was very careful: he had the ships of the fleet moor offshore and selected twelve of his bravest men as a landing party.
They beached their skiff and struck inland. It was a wild, hilly place, full of

hill. He was too far off to see what they were, but he thought they must be goats since the hill was so steep. And if they were goats they had to be caught. So the men headed downhill, meaning to cross the valley and climb the slope.
Ulysses had no way of knowing it, but this was the very worst island in the entire sea on which the small party could have landed. For here lived the Cyclopes, huge, savage creatures, tall as trees, each with one eye in the middle of his forehead. Once, long ago, they had lived in the bowels of Olympus, forging thunderbolts for Zeus. But he had punished them for some fault, exiling them to this island where they had forgotten their smithcraft and did nothing but fight with each other for the herds of wild goats, trying to find enough food to fill their huge bellies. Best of all, they liked storms; storms meant shipwrecks. Shipwrecks meant sailors struggling in the sea, who could be plucked out and eaten raw; and the thing they loved best in the

boulders, with very few trees. It seemed deserted. Then Ulysses glimpsed something moving across the valley, on the slope of a

The Adventures of Ulysses 8 world was human flesh. The largest and the fiercest and the hungriest of all the Cyclopes on the island was one named Polyphemus. He kept

constant vigil on his mountain, fair weather or foul. If he spotted a ship, and there was no storm to help, he would dive into the sea and swim underwater, coming up underneath the ship and overturning it. Then he would swim off with his pockets full of sailors.
On this day he could not believe his luck when he saw a boat actually landing on the beach, and thirteen meaty-looking sailors disembark, and begin to march toward his cave. But here they were, climbing out of the valley now, up the slope of the hill, right toward the cave. He realized the must be hunting his goats.
The door of the cave was an enormous slab of stone. He shoved this aside so that the cave stood invitingly open, casting a faint glow of firelight upon the dusk. Over the fire, on a great spit, eight goats were turning and roasting. The delicious savors of the cooking drifted from the cave. Polyphemus lay down behind a huge boulder and waited.
The men were halfway up the slope of the hill when they smelled the meat roasting. They broke into a run. Ulysses tried to restrain them, but they paid no heed—they were too hungry. They raced to the mouth of the cave and dashed in. Ulysses drew his sword and hurried after them. When he saw the huge fireplace and the eight goats spitted like sparrows

He saw that the door had been closed. The far end of the cavern was too dark to see anything, but then—amazed, aghast— he saw what looked like a huge red lantern far above, coming closer. Then he saw the great shadow of a nose under it, and the gleam of teeth. He realized that the lantern was a great, flaming eye. Then he saw the whole giant, tall as a tree, with huge fingers reaching out of the shadows, fingers bigger than baling hooks. They closed around two sailors and hauled them screaming into the air.
As Ulysses and his horrified men watched, the great hand bore the struggling little men to the giant’s mouth. He ate them, still wriggling, the way a cat eats a grasshopper; he ate them clothes and all, growling over their raw bones.
The men had fallen to their knees and were whimpering like terrified children, but Ulysses stood there, sword in hand, his agile brain working more swiftly than it ever had.
“Greetings,” he called. “May I know to whom we are indebted for such hospitality?”
The giant belched and spat buttons. “I am Polyphemus,” he growled. “This is my home, my mountain, and everything that comes here is mine. I do hope you can all come to dinner. There are just enough of you to make a meal. Ho, ho…” And he laughed a great, choking,

his heart sank because he knew that they had come into reach of something much larger than themselves. However, the men were giving no thought to anything but food: they flung themselves on the spit, and tore into the goat meat, smearing their hands and faces with sizzling fat, too hungry to feel pain as they crammed the hot meat into their mouths.
There was a loud rumbling sound: the cave darkened. Ulysses whirled around.
“Wine? What is wine?” “It is a drink. Made from pressed grapes. You’ve never drunk it?” “We drink nothing but ox blood and buttermilk here.” “Ah, you do not know what you have missed, gentle Polyphemus. Meat-eaters, in particular, love wine. Here, try it for yourself.” Ulysses unslung from his belt a full flask of unwatered wine. He gave it to the giant, who put it to his lips and gulped. He coughed violently, and stuck the sailor in a little niche high up in the cave wall, then leaned his great slab of a face toward Ulysses and said: “What did you say this drink was?” “Wine. A gift of the gods to man, to make women look better and food taste better. And now it is my gift to you.” “It’s good, very good.” He put the bottle to his lips and swallowed again. “You are very polite. What’s your name?” “My name? Why I am—nobody.” “Nobody….Well, Nobody, I like you.

The Adventures of Ulysses 9 phlegmy laugh, swiftly lunged, and caught another sailor, whom he lifted into the air and held before his face.
“Wait!” cried Ulysses. “What for?” “You won’t enjoy him that way. He is from Attica, where olives grow. He was raised on olives and has a very delicate, oily flavor. But to appreciate it, you must taste some wine of the country.”
The great body crashed full-length on the cave floor, making the very walls of the mountain shake. Polyphemus lay on his back, snoring like a powersaw. The sailors were still on the floor, almost dead from fear.
“Up!” cried Ulysses. “Stand up like men! Do what must be done! Or you will be devoured like chickens.”
He got them to their feet and drew them about him as he explained his plan.
“Listen now, and listen well, for we have no time. I made him drunk, but we cannot tell how long it will last.”
Ulysses thrust his sword into the fire; they saw it glow white-hot.
“There are ten of us,” he said. “Two of us have been eaten, and one of our friends is still unconscious up there on his shelf of rock. You four get on one side of his head, and the rest on the other side. When I give the word, lay hold of the ear on your side, each of you. And hang on, no matter how he thrashes, for I am going to put out his eye. And if I am to be sure of my stroke you must hold his head still. One stroke is all I will be allowed.”

You’re a good fellow. And do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to save you till last. Yes, I’ll eat all your friends first, and give you extra time, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Ulysses looked up into the great eye and saw that it was redder than ever. It was all a swimming redness. He had given the monster, who had never drunk spirits before undiluted wine. Surely it must make him sleepy. But was a gallon enough for that great gullet? Enough to put him to sleep—or would he want to eat again first?
“Eat ‘em all up, Nobody—save you till later. Sleep a little first. Shall I? Won’t you try to run away, will you? No—you can’t, can’t open the door—too heavy, ha, ha….You take a nap too, Nobody. I’ll wake you for breakfast. Breakfast….”
hole now from which the brown blood jelled. He moaned and gibbered and bellowed in frightful pain; his groping had found the sailor in the wall, and he tore him to pieces between his fingers. Ulysses could not even hear the man scream because the giant was bellowing so.
Now Ulysses saw that the Cyclops’s wild stampeding was giving place to a plan. For now he was stamping on the floor in a regular pattern, trying to find and crush them beneath his feet. He stopped moaning and listened. The sudden silence dazed the men with fear. They held their breath and tried to muffle the sound of their beating hearts; all the giant heard was the breathing of the

The Adventures of Ulysses 10 Then Ulysses rolled a boulder next to the giant’s head and climbed on it, so that he was looking down into they eye. It was lidless and misted with sleep—big as a furnace door and glowing softly like a banked fire. Ulysses looked at his men. They had done what he said, broken into two parties, one group at each ear. He lifted his white-hot sword. “Now!” he cried. Driving down with both hands, and all the strength of his back and shoulders, and all his rage and all his fear, Ulysses stabbed the glowing spike into the giant’s eye. His sword jerked out of his hand as the head flailed upward, men pelted to the ground as they lost their hold. A huge, screeching, curdling bellow split the air. “This way!” shouted Ulysses. He motioned to his men, and they crawled on their bellies toward the far end of the cave where the heard of goats was tethered. They slipped into the heard and lay among the goats as the giant stomped about the cave, slapping the walls with great blows of his hands, picking up boulders and cracking them together in agony, splitting them to splinters, clutching his eye, a scorched
where the goats had been tethered, and stamped, searched, and roared through the whole cave again, bellowing with fury when he did not find them. The herd grazed on the slope of the hill beneath the cave. There was a full moon; it was almost as bright as day.
“Stay where you are,” Ulysses

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The Adventures of Ulysses