Once upon a time, Ulysses, ruler of the island of Ithaca, fought alongside his countrymen for 10 years to win the city of Troy. Finally, the Greeks conquered that magnificent city. The joyous soldiers prepared to sail home as they imagined the celebrations in their honor. Little did they dream of the trials that lay ahead of them.
Many Greek ships set sail from Troy, but one by one, death came to Ulysses men. First, on the island of Ismarus, the Ciconians killed six men from each ship. Those who survived escaped only to meet another enemy a ferocious storm that lashed the ships for nine long days and many men drowned.
But Ulysses swore that he would one day reach home and his beloved wife, Penelope. He had always been lucky, and he did survive the storm, just as he had survived the war.
On the next island, the people greeted the sailors, welcoming them with offers of their fruit. The starving men ate the fruit, but Ulysses quickly understood that the lotus fruit destroyed men’s memories.
After a while, his men, like the Lotus Eaters of the island, forgot everything except the present. They wanted to remain on the island, but Ulysses raised the sails and forced his men back to sea.
On the next island, they warred with the terrible one-eyed Cyclops, who killed several men and trapped Ulysses in his cave, but once again the famed warrior, using his wit and strength and luck, escaped the clutches of these monsters.
On the island of Aeolus, the god Zeus gave the warrior a bag of dangerous winds so that all the days of sailing would be calm. Alas, one day as Ulysses slept, some of his men looked inside the bag, mistakenly letting loose the winds that thrust their ship in endless circles.
Then the wind died completely so that the men were forced to row with all their strength, finally landing on an island where again the men were forced to wage battle. And on that island, every ship but Ulysses was destroyed.
Grieving their lost companions, Ulysses and his men at long last reached a peaceful Aegean island. When they landed, Ulysses climbed a hill. In the distance, he spied what seemed to be a palace surrounded by trees, and so he sent half his men to explore.
When they approached the palace, they were surrounded by lions and tigers and wolves. They turned to run, but the creatures seemed docile and did not attack. The men noticed a familiar gleam in the animal’s eyes.
Then they heard an alluring song coming from the palace, and the beautiful Circe appeared. Daughter of the sun, she glowed, radiating such beauty that the men wanted only to be near her. Circe invited them inside the palace, and there she served them a magnificent feast.
Now Ulysses men were rough sailors and starving. Circe had the magical power to turn men into whatever animal they most resembled, and when they fell upon the food, she touched them, one by one, with her wand, and turned into pigs.
One of the men did manage to escape. Eurylochus had hidden himself to see what would happen. He rushed out of the forest, his arms bloodied by branches, his face pale as a ghost. An enchantress has bewitched our men, he cried to Ulysses, and he told the tale as the others wept to hear of their compatriot’s fate.
Ulysses was determined to rescue his men, and so he marched into the forest, though the others cried out for him to stop. Before he reached the palace, a young boy stopped him. This was no ordinary child but the god Hermes in a disguise. Eat this sprig of the moly plant, the boy said, and be protected from enchantment.
Ulysses thanked him and took the magic plant.
At the palace, Circe approached him. Come, she said sweetly, I will feed you, and she took his hand and led him inside. There lay a feast such as none he had ever seen, and as he ate, he felt her wand touch his shoulder.
To Circes astonishment, Ulysses did not turn into a creature but instead, his eyes flashing fury, he drew his sword and turned on her. I am the conqueror of Troy. You will never harm me!
Circes eyes filled with tears and she fell to her knees. I only wanted companions, she wept. No one would stay with me.
Set my men free, Ulysses demanded, and so Circe led him to the stable. There she touched each pig with her wand, and one by one the pigs turned back into men. They cheered their leader.
Come, we will leave, Ulysses said, but Circe knelt before him again. Please stay. I will treat you well. And when Ulysses saw the longing in his soldier’s eyes, their desire for rest and nourishment, he agreed they would stay for a while.
Days turned to weeks, weeks to months and months to years as the men rested and enjoyed Circes bounty. But memories are powerful. Visions of home invaded Ulysses dreams, and so again he led his men to sea. He never realized how many more adventures awaited them that 10 years would pass before he would at last reach Ithaca and his beloved Penelope.