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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.

Scylla and Charybdis, the Rocks

Scylla and Charybdis

By Homer (fl. 850 B.C.)

(From The Odyssey, Book XII)
Translated by W. C. Bryant

THERE is a pile

Of beetling rocks, where roars the mighty surge

Of dark-eyed Amphitrité; these are called

The Wanderers by the blessed gods. No birds

Can pass them safe, not even the timid doves,

Which bear ambrosia to our father Jove,

But ever doth the slippery rock take off

Some one, whose loss the god at once supplies,

To keep their number full. To these no bark

Guided by man has ever come, and left

The spot unwrecked; the billows of the deep

And storms of fire in air have scattered wide

Timbers of ships and bodies of drowned men.

One only of the barks that plough the deep

Has passed them safely,—Argo, known to all

By fame, when coming from Ææta home,—

And her the billows would have dashed against

The enormous rocks, if Juno, for the sake

Of Jason, had not come to guide it through.

“Two are the rocks; one lifts to the broad heaven

Its pointed summit, where a dark gray cloud

Broods, and withdraws not; never is the sky

Clear o’er that peak, not even in summer days

Or autumn; nor can man ascend its steeps,

Or venture down,—so smooth the sides, as if

Man’s art had polished them. There in the midst

Upon the western side toward Erebus

There yawns a shadowy cavern; thither thou,

Noble Ulysses, steer thy bark, yet keep

So far aloof that, standing on the deck,

A youth might send an arrow from a bow

Just to the cavern’s mouth. There Scylla dwells,

And fills the air with fearful yells; her voice

The cry of whelps just littered, but herself

A frightful prodigy,—a sight which none

Would care to look on, though he were a god.

Twelve feet are hers, all shapeless; six long necks,

A hideous head on each, and triple rows

Of teeth, close-set and many, threatening death.

And half her form is in the cavern’s womb,

And forth from that dark gulf her heads are thrust,

To look abroad upon the rocks for prey,—

Dolphin, or dogfish, or the mightier whale,

Such as the murmuring Amphitrité breeds

In multitudes. No mariner can boast

That he has passed by Scylla with a crew

Unharmed; she snatches from the deck, and bears

Away in each grim mouth, a living man.

“Another rock, Ulysses, thou wilt see,

Of lower height, so near her that a spear,

Cast by the hand, might reach it. On it grows

A huge wild fig-tree with luxuriant leaves.

Below, Charybdis, of immortal birth,

Draws the dark water down; for thrice a day

She gives it forth, and thrice with fearful whirl

She draws it in. O, be it not thy lot

To come while the dark water rushes down!

Even Neptune could not then deliver thee.

Then turn thy course with speed toward Scylla’s rock,

And pass that way; ’t were better far that six

Should perish from the ship than all be lost.”