Translated by Robert Fitzgerald
Sea Perils and Defeat
“As Kirkê spoke, Dawn mounted her golden throne,
and on the first rays Kirkê left me, taking
her way like a great goddess up the island.
I made straight for the ship, roused up the men
to get aboard and cast off at the stern.
They scrambled to their places by the rowlocks
and all in line dipped oars in the grey sea.
But soon an off-shore breeze blew to our liking—
a canvas-bellying breeze, a lusty shipmate
sent by the singing nymph with sunbright hair.
So we made fast the braces, and we rested,
letting the wind and steersman work the ship.
The crew being now silent before me, I
addressed them, sore at heart:
more than one man, or two, should know those things
Kirkê foresaw for us and shared with me,
so let me tell her forecast: then we die
with our eyes open, if we are going to die,
or know what death we baffle if we can. Seirênês
weaving a haunting song over the sea
we are to shun, she said, and their green shore
all sweet with clover; yet she urged that I
alone should listen to their song. Therefore
you are to tie me up, tight as a splint,
erect along the mast, lashed to the mast,
and if I shout and beg to be untied,
take more turns of the rope to muffle me.’
I rather dwelt on this part of the forecast,
while our good ship made time, bound outward down
the wind for the strange island of Seirênês.
Then all at once the wind fell, and a calm
came over all the sea, as though some power
lulled the swell.
The crew were on their feet
briskly, to furl the sail, and stow it; then,
each in place, they poised the smooth oar blades
and sent the white foam scudding by. I carved
a massive cake of beeswax into bits
and rolled them in my hands until they softened—
no long task, for a burning heat came down
from Hêlios, lord of high noon. Going forward
I carried wax along the line, and laid it
thick on their ears. They tied me up, then, plumb
amidships, back to the mast, lashed to the mast,
and took themselves again to rowing. Soon,
as we came smartly within hailing distance,
the two Seirênês, noting our fast ship
off their point, made ready, and they sang:
This way, oh turn your bows,
As all the world allows—
Moor and be merry,
Sweet coupled airs we sing.
No lonely seafarer
Holds clear of entering
Our green mirror.
Then before the Seirênês continued their song
a stranger beast emerged, untold to me.
A ball no taller than the cart of a wheel
with colors white, red, yellow, blue,
spoke to the Seirênês:
‘Take five, ladies,
I’ll pick up the song from here!’
This ball had a mouth of sharpest teeth,
from which it took a wrinkled box it squeezed
to create a discordant sound, the noise
traveling over the waves, and the ball sang:
Hi there, Odie, how ya doing?
Nice day for a sail!
Sun is bright, sea is wet, too bad
at the end you’ll fail!
All tied up on your boat you are,
Safe but chafing rope,
But eh, you’re ancient Greek, I guess,
Probably like it, ya dope.
My name’s Top, remember it well,
Or maybe don’t, Iocare.
I’m here to tell you a little story about
How in the end you’ll fare.
The Odyssey! The Odyssey! It’s the tale
Of your journey, so long.
Even though half of the story is about
Your home so it’s kinda wrong.
You’ve got a ways to go quite yet to get through
This whole game!
You haven’t even yet reached the city where
You meet with your old flame.
There’s this dude, he wants to take your wife
And then get married!
He’ll go across this whole dang world to do it,
As she’s carried.
He’ll send a dragon to attack as he heads
For the sky,
And finally he’ll go to the moon and—
Wait, no, you’re the wrong guy!
Mariodysseyus! Saving the day!
Beating up turtles, into the fray!
Keep making games till you’re old and gray.
The ball made to continue singing but the Seirênês
shoved it away, pushing it down into the sea.
It disappeared below the waves, but by now
we were a fair distance from those rocks.
All the while though we rowed on,
and the Seirênês dropped under the sea rim
and were gone.
My faithful company
rested on their oars now, peeling off
the wax that I had laid thick on their ears;
then set me free.
But scarecly had that island
faded in blue air than I saw smoke
and white water, with sound of waves in tumult—
a sound the men heard, and it terrified them.
Oars flew from their hands; the blades went knocking
wild alongside till the ship lost way,
with no oarblades to drive her through the water.
Well, I walked up and down from bow to stern,
trying to put heart into them, standing over
every oarsman, saying gently,
have we never been in danger before this?
More fearsome, is it now, than when the Kyklops
penned us in his cave? What power he had!
Did I not keep my nerve, and use my wits
to find a way out for us?
Now I say
by hook or crook this peril too shall be
something that we remember.
Heads up, lads!
We must obey the orders as I give them.
Get the oarshafts In your hands, and lay back
hard on your benches; hit these breaking seas.
Zeus help us pull away before we founder.
You at the tiller, listen, and take in
all that I say—the rudders are your duty;
keep her out of the combers and the smoke;
steer for that headland; watch the drift, or we
fetch up in the smother, and you drown us.’
That as all, and it brought them round to action.
But as I sent them onward Skylla, I
told them nothing, as they could do nothing.
They would have dropped their oars again, in panic,
to roll for cover under the decking. Kirkê’s
bidding against arms had slipped my mind,
so I tied on my cuirass and took up
two heavy spears, then made my way along
to the foredeck—thinking to see her first from there,
the monster of the grey rock, harboring
torment for my friends. I strained my eyes
upon that cliffside veiled in cloud, but nowhere
could I catch sight of her.
And all this time,
in travail, sobbing, gaining on the current,
we rowed into the strait—Skylla to port
and on our starboard beam Kharybdis, dire
gorge of the salt sea tide. By heaven! When she
vomited, all the sea was like a cauldron
seething over intense fire, when the mixture
suddenly heaves and rises.
The shot spume
soared to the landside heights, and fell like rain.
A high-pitched sound joined the roar—
a scream, a shriek, a rally, and I saw above
the ball had returned, being spewed up
into the sky by the massive Kharybdis.
But when she swallowed the sea water down
we saw the funnel of the maelstrom, heard
the rock bellowing all around, and dark
sand raged on the bottom far below.
My men all blanched against the gloom, our eyes
were fixed upon that yawning mouth in fear
of being devoured.
Then Skylla made her strike,
whisking five of my best men from the ship.
I happened to glance aft at ship and oarsmen
and caught sight of their arms and legs, dangling
high overhead. Voices came down to me
in anguish, calling my name for the last time.
A man surfcasting on a point of rock
for bass or mackerel, whipping his long rod
to drop the sinker and the bait far out,
will hook a fish and rip it from the surface
to dangle wriggling through the air:
were borne aloft in spams toward the cliff.
She ate them as they shrieked there, in her den,
in the dire grapple, reaching still for me—
and deathly pity ran me through
at that sight—far the worst I ever suffered,
questing the passes of the strange sea.
It seemed I would be the sixth taken
by that lunging monster, but then
a louder shriek and Skylla reared back—
the ball, returned, latched on with its own teeth,
gripped Skylla, halting her advance as she
swung wildly to remove the ball.
We rowed on.
The Rocks were now behind; Kharybdis, too,
and Skylla dropped astern. The ball released
and flew through the air with a crash on our ship.
Then the ball spoke, its words strange even
if they were those of prophecy:
‘Sup, Greek dudes!
Top’s here! I’m joining your vessel for fun
and laughs on the high seas! Neat, I had a sentence
broken by a line break! Wow, another one! If this
were spoken by a poet in ancient Greece, not only
would these lines make no sense, they would
be quite confused at themselves, for these lines
are not in the original story, and they would not
know where they are coming from, although
perhaps they would believe them coming
from a god. Perhaps they are.
I am not commandeering your vessel,
but I am commandeering your story.
Let us now being The Topyssey! First order
of business, we must find the land of the Pizza Eaters!’
But a grave foreboding I felt from that ball,
and I ordered my men to push it into the sea,
back to where I believe it originally came.”
“That was probably a good idea on his part!”
Up in the realm of the gods, fluffy outward,
The Cloud spoke to the ruler of the gods, Zeus.
“No, seriously, if Top had stayed with them
then they would have actually eaten Hêlios’ sheep
like, immediately. Although I suppose in the end
it would have been the same fate, am I right?”
And Zeus who drives the stormcloud inquired:
“Who are you, who comes to the realm of the gods
and speaks as though you are familiar with us?”
And The Cloud’s reply came:
“Oh, uh, I’m, that’s—
I’m your cousin! Yeah! From the far west! That
makes sense, right? Your cousin! Don’t you see
the resemblance? Zappity-zap? I’ll go now.”