Page images

The sacred draught shall all the dead forbear,
Till awful from the shades arise the seer.
Let him, oraculous, the end, the way,

The turns of all thy future fate display,

Thy pilgrimage to come, and remnant of thy day.'
"So speaking, from the ruddy orient shone
The morn, conspicuous on her golden throne.
The goddess with a radiant tunic dress'd
My limbs, and o'er me cast a silken vest.
Long flowing robes, of purest white, array
The nymph, that added lustre to the day:
A tiar wreath'd her head with many a fold;
Her waist was circled with a zone of gold.
Forth issuing then, from place to place I flew ;
Rouse man by man, and animate my crew.
'Rise, rise, my mates! 'tis Circe gives command:
Our journey calls us; haste, and quit the land.'
All rise and follow, yet depart not all,
For Fate decreed one wretched man to fall.

"A youth there was, Elpenor was he named,

Not much for sense, nor much for courage famed :
The youngest of our band, a vulgar soul,
Born but to banquet, and to drain the bowl.
He, hot and careless, on a turret's height
With sleep repair'd the long debauch of night:
The sudden tumult stirr'd him where he lay,
And down he hasten'd, but forgot the way;
Full headlong from the roof the sleeper fell,
And snapp'd the spinal joint, and waked in hell.

"The rest crowd round me with an eager look;

I met them with a sigh, and thus bespoke:
Already, friends! ye think your toils are o'er,
Your hopes already touch your native shore:
Alas! far otherwise the nymph declares,
Far other journey first demands our cares;
To tread th' uncomfortable paths beneath,
The dreary realms of darkness and of death;
To seek Tiresias' awful shade below,

And thence our fortunes and our fates to know.'


My sad companions heard in deep despair;
Frantic they tore their manly growth of hair;
To earth they fell: the tears began to rain;
But tears in mortal miseries are vain.






Sadly they fared along the sea-beat shore;

Still heaved their hearts, and still their eyes ran o'er.
The ready victims at our bark we found,

The sable ewe and ram, together bound.

For swift as thought the goddess had been there,
And thence had glided, viewless as the air:
The paths of gods what mortal can survey?

Who eyes their motion? who shall trace their way?


[graphic][merged small]





Ulysses continues his narration. How he arrived at the land of the Cimmerians, and what ceremonies he performed to invoke the dead. The manner of his descent, and the apparition of the shades: his conversation with Elpenor, and with Tiresias, who informs him in a prophetic manner of his fortunes to come. He meets his mother Anticlea, from whom he learns the state of his family. He sees the shades of the ancient heroines, afterwards of the heroes, and converses in particular with Agamemnon and Achilles. Ajax keeps at a sullen distance, and disdains to answer him. He then beholds Tityus, Tantalus, Sisyphus, Hercules; till he is deterred from further curiosity by the apparition of horrid spectres, and the cries of the wicked in torments.

"NOW to the shores we bend, a mournful train,

Climb the tall bark, and launch into the main :

At once the mast we rear, at once unbind
The spacious sheet, and stretch it to the wind:
Then pale and pensive stand, with cares oppress'd,
And solemn horror saddens every breast.

A freshening breeze the magic power supplied,1
While the wing'd vessel flew along the tide ;
Our oars we shipp'd: all day the swelling sails
Full from the guiding pilot catch'd the gales.
"Now sunk the sun from his aërial height,

And o'er the shaded billows rush'd the night:
When lo! we reach'd old Ocean's utmost bounds,
Where rocks control his waves with ever-during mounds.
"There in a lonely land, and gloomy cells,

The dusky nation of Cimmeria dwells; 2

1 Circe.


2 Cimmeria. It seems of little use to hunt for a real geographical situation

The sun ne'er views th' uncomfortable seats,
When radiant he advances, or retreats:

Unhappy race! whom endless night invades,

Clouds the dull air, and wraps them round in shades. 20 "The ship we moor on these obscure abodes;

Disbark the sheep, an offering to the gods;

for the Cimmerians of Homer. Some ancient northern nation probably suggested their existence, and poetic fancy furnished the rest.

"The most remarkable passage in the whole Odyssey for the aspect which it presents of its mythology, is that magnificent tale of the Necyomanteia, or intercourse of Ulysses with the shades of the dead. It is very easy to call the whole or any part of this singular description spurious; and certainly the passage, as a whole, is so conceived as to admit of parts being inserted or expunged without injury to its general consistency or entireness; but those who remember the history of the collection of the Homeric poems, as previously stated in this work, will probably think it very idle to pretend to put out a few lines here and there, which may seem to bear marks of modern invention. The Necyomanteia, as a whole, appears to have just as good a right to be called Homeric as any other part of the Odyssey, and it is the conception of it, as a whole, to which I would call the attention of the student. The entire narrative is wrapped up in such a mist-it is so undefined and absolutely undefinable in place, time, and manner,—that it should almost seem as if the uncertainty of the poet's own knowledge of the state and locality of the dead were meant to be indicated by the indistinctness of his description. Ulysses sails all day from the dwelling of Circe with a north wind; at sunset he comes to the boundary of the ocean, where the Cimmerians dwell in cloud and darkness and perpetual night; here he goes ashore, and proceeds to a spot described by Circe, digs a trench, pours certain libations, and sacrifices sheep in it, calls upon the dead to appear, draws his sword, and awaits the event. Immediately the manes or shades assemble around the trench, each thirst for the sacrificial blood, from which they are repelled by the sword's point, till Tiresias has appeared and drunk his fill. It is difficult to deter mine the nature of this grand and solemn scene, and to say whether Ulysses is supposed himself to descend to the Shades, or only to evoke the spirits, as the woman of Endor is commonly understood to have evoked Samuel. Æneas, we know, actually descends and ascends; and Lucian, in a piece founded entirely on this Necyomanteia, evidently takes the hero to have visited the infernal regions in person. In many passages he seems so to understand it; Ulysses sees Minos administering justice amongst the dead; he sees Orion hunting, Tityus tormented by vultures, Tantalus standing in the lake, and Sisyphus upheaving his stone; he sees the asphodel meadow. And Achilles asks how he has dared to descend to Hades where the shades of men dwell. Yet upon a careful consideration of the beginning and conclusion of the passage, it will, I think, appear plain that no actual descent, such as that of Æneas in the Æneid, was in the contemplation of the original poet; but that the whole ground plan is that of an act of Asiatic evocation only; and Lucian, who, in his piece, combines the Homeric rites of evocation with

And, hellward bending, o'er the beach descry
The doleful passage to th' infernal sky.
The victims, vow'd to each Tartarian power,
Eurylochus and Perimedes bore.

"Here open'd hell, all hell I here implored,
And from the scabbard drew the shining sword:
And trenching the black earth on every side,
A cavern form'd, a cubit long and wide.
New wine, with honey-temper'd milk, we bring,
Then living waters from the crystal spring:
O'er these was strew'd the consecrated flour,
And on the surface shone the holy store.

"Now the wan shades we hail, th' infernal gods,
To speed our course, and waft us o'er the floods:
So shall a barren heifer from the stall
Beneath the knife upon your altars fall;
So in our palace, at our safe return,

Rich with unnumber'd gifts the pile shall burn;
So shall a ram, the largest of the breed,
Black as these regions, to Tiresias bleed.

"Thus solemn rites and holy vows we paid

To all the phantom-nations of the dead,
Then died the sheep: a purple torrent flow'd,
And all the caverns smoked with streaming blood.
When lo! appear'd along the dusky coasts,

Thin, airy shoals of visionary ghosts:



an actual descent, makes the evocator a Babylonian and disciple of Zoroaster, and lays the scene somewhere on the banks of the Euphrates."

Coleridge, p. 239, seq.

At the risk of being charged with unwarrantable prolixity I must add the following observations of Colonel Mure:

"From the narrative of this expedition every trait of comic humour is judiciously excluded. The gaiety with which the royal adventurer had so lately recounted even his most calamitous vicissitudes gives place to a solemnity often rising to the sublime, in his description of the dismal terrors of the mansions of the dead. The consideration of the poet's doctrine of a future state as embodied in this episode, belongs to the chapter on his mythology. Nowhere, perhaps, does the contrast between the Ulysses of Homer and the Ulysses of the later fable, between the high-minded fearless adventurer and the mean-spirited insidious manoeuvrer, appear in a more prominent light than in the necuomancy.' The shade of Achilles himself expresses astonishment at the composure with which a solitary mortal wanders, without divine escort, among scenes of preternatural terror, at which even a living Achilles might have shuddered."-Mure's Homer, p. 402.


« PreviousContinue »