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struction; Scylla was a rock, on which ships were often dashed to pieces.
Ulysses in his wanderings encountered these terrors, but by prudence and the counsels of Circe he was enabled to steer clear between them, although the Sirens. strove to lure him on the rock. The story is too long; but there are passages like pictures, and they have been illustrated by the genius of Flaxman. The first danger on the Sicilian side is described in the Odyssey:
"Beneath, Charybdis holds her boisterous reign
'Midst roaring whirlpools, and absorbs the main;
Endeavoring to shun this peril, the navigator encounters the other :
Six horrid necks she rears, and six terrific heads;
Not far off were the Sirens, who strove by their music
to draw the navigator to certain doom :—
"Their song is death, and makes destruction please.
Forewarned, the wise Ulysses took all precautions against the fatal perils. Avoiding the Sicilian whirlpool, he did not run upon the Italian rock or yield to the voice of the charmer. And yet he could not renounce the opportunity of hearing the melody. Stuff
1 Odyssey, tr. Pope, Book XII. 129–132.
2 Ibid., 107-114.
8 Ibid., 52-56.
ing the ears of his companions with wax, so that they could not be entranced by the Sirens, or comprehend any countermanding order which his weakness might induce him to utter, he had himself tied to the mast, like another Farragut, and directed that the ship should be steered straight on. It was steered straight on, although he cried out to stop. His deafened companions heard nothing of the song or the countermand,
"Till, dying off, the distant sounds decay."
The dangers of both coasts were at length passed, not without the loss of six men, "chiefs of renown," who became the prey of Scylla. But the Sirens, humbled by defeat, dashed themselves upon the rocks and disappeared forever.
Few stories have been more popular. It was natural that it should enter into poetry and suggest a proverb. St. Augustine uses it, when he says, "Ne iterum, quasi fugiens Charybdim, in Scyllam incurras."1 Milton more than once alludes to it. Thus, in the exquisite "Comus," he shows these opposite terrors subdued by another power:
And chid her barking waves into attention,
And fell Charybdis murmured soft applause." 2
In the "Paradise Lost," while portraying Sin, the terrible portress at the gates of Hell, the poet repairs to this story for illustration:
"Far less abhorred than these,
Vexed Scylla, bathing in the sea that parts
And then again, when picturing Satan escaping from pursuit, he shows him
1 In Joannis Evangelium Tract. XXXVI. § 9. 2 Comus, 257-259.
3 Book II. 659-661.
And more endangered, than when Argo passed
But, though frequently employing the story, Milton did not use the proverb, and here transforms at least one of the dangers.
Not only the story, but the proverb, was known to Shakespeare, who makes Launcelot use it in his plain talk with Jessica : "Truly, then, I fear you are damned both by father and mother: thus, when I shun Scylla, your father, I fall into Charybdis, your mother: well, you are gone both ways."2 Malone, in his note, written in the last century, says: "Alluding to the well-known line of a modern Latin poet, Philippe Gualtier, in his poem entitled 'Alexandreïs.'" To this testimony of Malone's, another editor, George Steevens, whose early bibliographical tastes excited the praise of Dibdin, adds: "Several translations of this adage were obvious to Shakespeare. Among other places, it is found in an ancient poem entitled 'A Dialogue between Custom and Veritie, concerning the use and abuse of Dauncing and Minstrelsie':
"While Silla they do seem to shun,
But this proverb had already passed into tradition and speech. That Shakespeare should seize and use it was natural. He was the universal absorbent.
It did not require a Shakespeare to appropriate it. Brantôme, who wrote rather from hearing than study, so that his style is a record of contemporary language,
1 Book II. 1016-1020.
2 Merchant of Venice, Act III. Sc. 5.
in describing a great lady who escaped from Turks to fall into the hands of domestic robbers, likens the case to falling from Scylla to Charybdis. A similar illustration drops from La Fontaine :
"La vieille, au lieu du coq, les fit tomber par là
Thomson shows that it was a common illustration, when he describes Dunkirk as
"the Scylla since
And fell Charybdis of the British seas."8
Mr. Webster, in an argument before the Supreme Court of the United States, quotes and applies the words of Virgil describing these opposite perils, and warns against Charybdis. The great orator of ancient Rome, in his second Philippic, where Mark Antony is assailed with all his splendid ability, after picturing the culprit as seizing and squandering an enormous property, exclaims: "What Charybdis was ever so voracious? Charybdis do I say?—who, if she existed at all, was a single animal." 5 Antony is worse than Charybdis, but there is no allusion to the sister peril. The proverb had no existence at that time.
The history of this verse seemed for a while forgotten. Like the Wandering Jew, it was a vagrant, unknown in origin, but having perpetual life. Erasmus, with learn
1 "Mais le malheur de la dame fut que, tumbant de Scylle en Carybde," etc.-Vies des Dames Illustres, Discours VI. art. 2: Œuvres (Paris, 182223), Tom. V. p. 201.
2 La Vieille et les Deux Servantes: Fables, Liv. V. 6.
3 Liberty, Part IV. 1075, 1076.
Argument in the Rhode Island Case, January 27, 1848: Works, Vol. VI. p. 242.
5 "Quæ Charybdis tam vorax? Charybdin dico? quæ, si fuit, fuit animal unum."— Philippica II. c. 27. See, also, In Verrem Act. II. Lib. V. c. 56; De Oratore, Lib. III. c. 41.
ing so vast, quotes it, with the variation Incidit, for Incidis, in his great work on Proverbs, and owns that he does not remember its author. Here is the confession: "Celebratur apud Latinos hic versiculus, quocunque natus auctore, nam in præsentia non occurrit": "This little verse is a commonplace among Latin writers, whoever the author, for he does not at present occur to But, though unable to recall its origin, it is clear that the idea it embodies found much favor with this representative of moderation. He dwells on it with particular sympathy, and reproduces it in various forms. This is the equivalent on which he hangs his commentary: "Evitata Charybdi, in Scyllam incidi."2 It is easy to see how inferior in form is this to the much quoted verse. It seems to be a rendering of some Greek iambics, also of uncertain origin, preserved by Apostolius,3 one of the learned Greeks scattered over Europe by the fall of Constantinople. Erasmus quotes also another proverb with the same signification: "Fumum fugiens, in ignem incidi,” which warns against running into the fire to avoid the smoke; and yet another, rendered from the Greek of Lucian: "Ignoraveram autem quod, juxta proverbium, ex fumo in ipsum ignem compellerer": “But I did n't know, that, according to the proverb, I should be driven from the smoke into the fire itself."5 Horace teaches that fools shunning vices run upon the oppo
"Dum vitant stulti vitia, in contraria currunt";
1 Adagia, Chil. I. Cent. V. Prov. 4: Opera (Lugd. Batav., 1703), Tom. II. col. 184.
2 Ibid., col. 183.
3 Cent. XVI. Prov. 49: Leutsch, Paromiographi Græci (Gottinga, 1851) Tom. II. p. 672.
4 Adagia, Chil. I. Cent. V. Prov. 5: Opera, Tom. II. col. 184.
5 Ibid. Lucian, Necyomant., 4.