odysseus and circe





Annotations in the List of Works Cited:

Contributor name. The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, IV: n.gloss number. The Cantos Project. Web. Date of access.

Example: Preda, Roxana. The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, IV: n.13. The Cantos Project. Web. 5 September 2016.

In–text references

(Contributor name, OCCEP IV: n.no).

Example: (Bressan, OCCEP IV: n.3). If no name is indicated, the gloss was written by Roxana Preda. In this case, the citation will have this format: (OCCEP IV: n.13).

References to The Cantos

As The Cantos Project is numbering the lines of The Cantos, references to cantos already glossed will be by canto number and line(s), as standard with classical works. Example: III: ll.7–17.

For cantos that are not yet glossed within the project, the references will be by canto number slash page number, as standard in the research on the poem. Example: III/12. The page number refers to the American edition of The Cantos by Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1998. 

©Roxana Preda. Canto XXXIX, 22 September 2019

Updated 20 September 2020

Updated 24 November 2020

Updated 12 September 2023




Terrell, Carroll F. “Canto XXXIX.” A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley: California UP, 1993. 160-2.


Preda, Roxana. The Online Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. The Cantos Project.


Homer. Homeri opera omnia: ex recensione et cum notis Samuelis Clarkii, S.T.P. Accessit varietas lectionum ms. lips. et edd. veterum, cura Jo. Augusti Ernesti: qui et suas notas adspersit. 5 vols. Glasgow: Andrew Duncan and London: Richard Priestley 1814. Vol. 3. Hathi Trust.

Note. In this edition, chapters are marked by letters, not by Roman numerals. Book X is thus titled K, the tenth letter in the Greek alphabet.


Homer. The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard UP; London: William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919. Book X.


Ovid. Metamorphoses. Book XIV: ll.1-74. Translated by Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922. Perseus.


Dante Alighieri. Paradiso. Translated by Allen Mandelbaum. Digital Dante. Ed. Teodolinda Barolini. digitaldante.columbia.edu.


Pound, Ezra. Selected Prose, 1909-1965. Ed. William Cookson. New York: new directions, 1973.


  1. in hill path: “thkk, thgk” – In thinking about the location of Circe’s palace and what it must have looked like, Pound followed the suggestions of Victor Bérard’s book, Les Phéniciens et l'Odyssée which he read on location in October 1930 (see Calendar). As will become clear in the canto, Pound followed Bérard’s argument and explored it.

    “Le palais de Kirkè est loin de la mer, à l’interieur du pays. On y ‘monte’ de la plage” [“Circe’s palace is far from the sea, in the land’s interior. One has to ‘climb’ from the beach”] (279). This statement overlapped with a location Pound knew very well, Olga Rudge’s house in San Ambrogio. To get there, the visitor from Rapallo has to climb up a hill path (salita) from the sea-level. The “thkk, thkk” (“Circe’s loom”) was the sound of an olive press on the ground floor of Olga’s house. Like Circe, Olga’s immediate seductiveness lay in her music; she also served tea, a detail that Pound also suggests in the canto. See Discretions 115-9.

  2. I lay in the ingle of Circe – From his vantage point in “Circe’s ingle,” Elpenor, a sailor in Odysseus’ crew, is describing the “pigsty” and the trancelike life on her island. It is not clear if he means the few hours he spent as a swine, or the full year in Circe’s household. 

    The “fat leopards” nearby (the emblem animals of Dionysus) suggest wine is abundant. Compare to the drowsy “purring sound” at the opening of canto XVII, or the daze of the lotus eaters in canto XX: ll.105-88. 
    See also Elpenor’s death in canto I – he is drunk, falls from the “ingle” and breaks his neck (I: ll.50-3).

  3. tisane – a decoction of herbs; a tea-like drink made of herbs, usually barley; Circe’s magical potion.

  4. kακὰ  φάρμακ’ ἔδωκεν – He. kaka pharmak edôken (“she gave them evil drugs”) Od K: 213.

  5. λύκοι ὀρέστεροι, ἠδὲ λέοντες – He. lukoi oresteroi êde leontes (“mountain wolves and lions”) Od K: 212.

    “Within the forest glades they found the house of Circe, built of polished stone in a place of wide outlook, and round about it were mountain wolves and lions, whom Circe herself had bewitched; for she gave them evil drugs. Yet these beasts did not rush upon my men, [215] but pranced about them fawningly, wagging their long tails ” Od X: 210-3.

    Victor Bérard calls Circe “la déesse des fauves, la nymphe des bêtes féroces” [“the goddess of wild cats, the nymph of predators”] (279), which naturally brings her into consonance with Artemis/Diana, an analogy that Pound also touches on in the canto. Bérard’s statement might also explain why the cat at the start of the canto is “desolate,” having lost its world of magic and patron goddess.
    Pound would allude again to Circe’s “power over the wild beasts” in cantos 47 and 49.

  6. Born to Helios and Perseis – Circe’s parents were Helios, the Sun god and the sea nymph Perse.

  7. Pasiphae Statue on the beach of Vilanova by Oscar Estruga 1Pasiphae – Circe’s sister by Helios and Perse, Pasiphae, was married to Minos, King of Crete. She was cursed by Aphrodite to fall in love with a sacred bull sent by Poseidon to Minos for sacrifice. Driven by her passion, she asked Daedalus, the artificer, for help. He devised a cow-like construction where she could lie and have sex with the animal. She bore the Minotaur, a monster half human, half bull, that her husband Minos hid in a labyrinth next to his palace that Daedalus also built. The Minotaur was later killed by Theseus. Myths on Pasiphae

  8. Venter venustus, cunni cultrix – L. “Belly Venus-like, caretaker of the cunt” (PL)

  9. Ver novum, canorum, ver novum – L. “New spring, singing, new spring.” Pound modified the second line from Pervigilium Veneris: “ver novum ver iam canorum.” See poem.
    According to Mary de Rachewiltz, Pound’s edition of the “Pervigilium” was included in Justus Lipsi Electorum (Antwerp: 1585) which he owned. See References.

  10. Καλὸν ἀοιδιάει – H. Kalon aoidiaei (“She sings beautifully”) Od K: 227.

  11. H. θεòς, ήὲ γυνή.....φθεγγώμεθα θα̃σσον – H. ê theos êe gunê… phtheggômetha thasson (“either a goddess or a woman … let us call quickly to her”) Od K: 228.
    When the sailors sent by Odysseus to explore the island hear Circe singing at her loom, they let their guard down and call to her to open the door to let them in.

  12. honey at first and then acorns – Circe let the sailors come in – she appeared to be kind and offered them hospitality. All the sailors went in, except Eurylochus, who stayed behind, suspecting the situation was too good to be true:

    “She brought them in and made them sit on chairs and seats, and made for them a potion of cheese and barley meal and yellow honey [235] with Pramnian wine; but in the food she mixed baneful drugs, that they might utterly forget their native land. Now when she had given them the potion, and they had drunk it off, then she presently smote them with her wand, and penned them in the sties. And they had the heads, and voice, and bristles, [240] and shape of swine, but their minds remained unchanged even as before. So they were penned there weeping, and before them Circe flung mast and acorns, and the fruit of the cornel tree, to eat, such things as wallowing swine are wont to feed upon” Od/E X: 233-43.

  13. illa dolore obmutuit pariter vocem – L. “She hushed with grief and her voice likewise” Metam XIII: 538-9.

    The Latin line refers to a moment of supreme grief in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, when the Queen of Troy, Hecuba, beholds the corpse of her youngest son, whom she had thought safe in Thrace.

    In the edition that Pound used, the Latin quote from Ovid is in a footnote to the passage preceding the moment in the Odyssey when Eurylochus comes back to the ship to tell Odysseus and his mates what had happened at Circe’s house: “he couldn’t speak a word at all, much though he wanted to/ stricken at heart with great sorrow” (Od/E X: 246-7). See also Od K: 246-7 and Fender 96.

  14. Ἀλλ᾽ ἄλλην χρὴ πρώτον όδὸν τελέσαι, καὶ ἱκέσθαι 490/5… Περσεφόνεια – He. [“All’ allen chre proton odon telesai kai ikestai / Eis Aidao domous kai epaines Persephoneies / Psuche chresomenous thebaion Teiresiao / Manteos alaon tou te phrenes empedoi eisi / To kai tethneoti noon pore Persephoneia”]

    ‘but you must first complete another journey, and come to the house of Hades and dread Persephone, to seek soothsaying of the spirit of Theban Teiresias, the blind seer, whose mind abides steadfast. To him even in death Persephone has granted reason, [495] that he alone should have understanding; but the others flit about as shadows’ OD/E X: 490-5.

    Though Pound gives the indication that he is including lines 490-5, only 5 lines are quoted in the final text of the canto. The reason might be that he added the lines by hand in the typescript and there was no space left for the sixth. See draft page.

  15. Hathor – Pound’s drafts of the canto show us that Hathor is not the Egyptian goddess by the same name, but a primordial male figure at the centre of a cluster of beast fables imagined and then discarded. See Sawyer “I Am Hathor” for detail.

  16. Mava – Heb. “pleasant.” Deity invented by Pound.
  17. Che mai da me non si parte il diletto – It. “that never does delight depart from me.”
    Variation on Dante’s “che mai da me non si partì ’l diletto.” (“that my delight in that has never left me.”). Par XXIII: l.129.

  18. Fulvida di folgore – It. “flashing light of thunder.”
    “fulvido” (“light flashing, reddish-gold”) Par XXX: l.62.
    Pound used the word “fulvid” before, in canto XVII. OCCEP XVII n.31.

    e vidi lume in forma di rivera
    fulvido di fulgore, intra due rive
    dipinte di mirabil primavera.

    and I saw light that took a river’s form— 
    light flashing, reddish-gold, between two banks
    painted with wonderful spring flowerings.

  19. Came here – Pound does not specify who is talking, but the reference to Glaucus and the pigsty suggest that this is Odysseus pondering over his choice whether to accept Circe’s favours or not. When he came to her island, he was unaware of what had happened to Glaucus, who had refused them. Circe was vengeful when spurned, punishment would have affected innocent people he loved, his crew. In accepting to go to bed with her, yet forcing her to take an oath that she would not harm him, Odysseus managed to resolve a difficult dilemma. If he refused, his sailors would have languished in the pigsty, if he accepted, he was at risk of following them there.

  20. Glaucus unnoticed – In his Metamorphoses, Ovid recounted the story of Glaucus, a sea god who had fallen in love with Scylla, a beautiful maiden who spurned his advances. Sick with love, Glaucus went to Circe to ask for a potion that would make Scylla change her mind. Circe, who wanted Glaucus for herself, offered him her favours, which Glaucus indignantly refused. Not wishing to harm him, Circe took revenge on the girl, poisoning the water in which she bathed. Scylla had to watch in horror as her legs and hips turned into barking dogs. She turned into a monster and then into a rock, never leaving the place where she had loved to bathe:

    “The lover Glaucus wept. He fled the embrace
    of Circe and her hostile power of herbs
    and magic spells. But Scylla did not leave
    the place of her disaster; and, as soon
    as she had opportunity, for hate
    of Circe, she robbed Ulysses of his men.
    She would have wrecked the Trojan ships, if she
    had not been changed beforehand to a rock
    which to this day reveals a craggy rim.
    And even the rock awakes the sailors’ dread” Metam XIV: 68-74.

  21. Nec ivi in harum …. sum – Nec ivi in harum …. sum – L. “Neither did I go into the pigsty nor did I enter it.”         
    The Latin is not a quote, but Pound’s phrase, referring to the point in Od. X where Odysseus resists Circe’s spell. She tells him: “Abi nunc in harum” [“Go now to the sty”] Od K: 320. The Latin word is “haram” [“sty”], yet Pound takes the form “harum” from the Clark & Ernest edition of Homer he was using. Achilles Fang observed that the faulty “harum” was corrected in the second edition of 1824 but that Pound did not re-check (Fang I: 60; Kenner 1997, 24-5).
    Pound would take up this key moment again in canto 74, where he sees himself as a defeated, humiliated Odysseus and laments: “ac ego in harum/ so lay men in Circe’s swine-sty:/ ivi in harum ego ac vidi cadaveres animae” [me too in the sty … I went into the sty and saw corpses of souls] LXXIV/456.

  22. Discuss this in bed – when Circe tries and fails to send Odysseus to the pigsty with her magic potion and wand, she remembers Hermes, who had prophesied the hero’s arrival. She knows who Odysseus is and bids him to put his sword back in its sheath and share her bed. Od K 330-35.

  23. Εὺνῆ καὶ φιλότητι, ἔφατα Κίρκη – H. eunê kai philotêti ephata Kirkê (“in bed and in love, said Circe.”) Od K: 335-6.

  24. Ἐς θάλαμόν – H. es thalamon (“into the bedroom”) Od K: 340.
    This is a shorthand for Odysseus’ answer – he agrees to go into the bedroom only if she swears an oath that she would not harm him.

  25. Eurilochus – Eurylochus was a kinsman and trusted member of Odysseus’ crew, one of the very few who are actually named by Homer. He took the first group of sailors to Circe’s house and was the only one who, out of caution or fear, did not enter and could thus come back and tell Odysseus that his mates went in but did not return.

    On the other hand, Eurylochus is the reason why all Odysseus’ sailors died. Because of his weakness, fear and envy of Odysseus’ command, he incited the sailors to rebel on the island of the Oxen of the Sun. Odysseus knew from Tiresias that if he or his crew eat of the meat of the sacred oxen, they would all die. Eurylochus does not believe it and thinks that he can make it up to the god once he reaches Ithaca. The men, driven by hunger, eat of the meat and perish in the whirlpool of Charybdis. Only Odysseus, who had not eaten, escapes with his life, hanging on to a “raft” left from his ship. Pound touches on this story in canto XX. See the  Oxen of the Sun.

    On Circe’s island, we have a glimpse of this future disaster: Eurylochus defies Odysseus, who is furious and has a mind to kill him. If he had been able to see the future, he would have done it, and saved his crew. Od X: 429-50.

  26. Macer – Very few members of Odysseus’ crew are called by name. Here, Pound suggests a story told by Ovid, who in the Metamorphoses sought to supplement Odysseus’ sole point of view with that of other narrators. Ovid retold the episode of Odysseus and Circe from the point of view of a sailor who had deserted, a certain Macareus. In Cumae, he meets another former crew member, who had been left behind on Polyphemus’s island (Sicily) and had been saved by Aeneas’ Trojan ship. 
    Macareus, who was one of the sailors changed into swine, owes Eurylochus his life: in a twist of the story, he tells his interlocutor that Eurylochus actually entered Circe’s house, but did not drink the potion. Metam XIV: 223-314.

  27. good acorns – Pound plays the devil’s advocate here, introducing the perspective of the deserters (Macareus) and traitors (Eurylochus).

    See also canto XX: ll. 163-87, suggesting the parallelism between Circe’s pigsty and the lotus eaters:

    “Give! What were they given?
    Poison and ear wax
    and a salt grave by the bull-field.” XX: ll. 163-6.

  28. Ad Orcum autem… pervenit – L.  “To Hades no man has ever yet gone in a black ship.” Pound reorders the Latin translation of Od K: 502 in the edition he used.  Clark and Ernest translated Homer’s Εἰς Ἄϊδος δ᾽ οὔπώ τις ἀφίκετο νηὶ μελαίνῃ as “Ad Orcum autem nondum quisquam pervenit nave nigra.”
    Pound’s paraphrase follows in the next line.

  29. Sumus in fide – L. “we are under the tutelage [of Diana]. Phrase taken from the first stanza of Catullus XXXIV.

    Diānae sumus in fidē
    puellae et puerī integrī:
    Diānam puerī integrī
    puellaeque canāmus.

    We chaste girls and boys
    Are under the tutelage of Diana:
    Chaste boys and girls
    Let us sing to Diana.

  30. Puellaeque canamus – L. [boys] “and girls let us sing.” Catullus XXXIV.

  31. sub nocte – L. “under the night.” From Aeneid VI 268-9.

    Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram,
    perque domos Ditis vacuas et inania regna:

    They walked exploring the unpeopled night,
    Through Pluto’s vacuous realms, and regions void

  32. Flora – Roman goddess of spring and flowers. She protected the early blossoms and is depicted as a young woman garlanded with flowers. 

  33. ERI MEN AI TE KUDONIAI – H. “in the spring the quinces.”

    ’Tis but in Spring the quince-trees of the Maids’ holy garden grow green with the watering rills from the river, and the vine-blossoms wax ’neath the mantling sprays of the vines; but for me Love’s awake the year round, and like the Northwind from Thrace aflame with the lightning, comes with a rush from the Cyprian, with shrivelling frenzies baleful and bold, and with masterful power shakes me to the bottom of my heart. (Ibykus in Lyra Graeca II: 85). See also Pound’s pastiche of Ibykus, his early short poem, “Spring.”

    It is to be noted that the fragment of Stesichorus’ Geryoneis, which Pound used in canto 23, is to be found in the same volume. Both cantos use the extensive quotations in Greek as distinctive method.

  34. Betuene Aprile and Merche – Pound may have an echo of the 14thc. poem “Alisoun” in mind, whose first line is “Bitweene Merch and Averil” Alisoun
    Meandering among the themes of spring and love, the following lines remind the reader of the natural spring paradise of canto XX: 9-11 and 48-56.

  35. Goddess’ eyes to seaward – In his short article “Credo,” published in 1930, after he had visited Terracina, Pound declared:

    “Given the material means I would replace the statue of Venus on the cliffs of Terracina. I would erect a temple to Artemis in Park Lane. I believe that a light from Eleusis persisted throughout the middle ages and set beauty in the song of Provence and of Italy” (SP 53).
    It is a wish he articulated along future Cantos: LXXIV/455; XCI/630; CVI/774 (de Rachewiltz 1257).

    Further associations were established with canto 17:
    “The crucial signature, which associates this passage with that from canto 17, is the line, ‘with the Goddess’ eyes to seaward’. In canto 17 it is simply ‘with her eyes seaward’, but this echo, taken together with the repetition of characteristics of the mise en scène of canto 17 such as the headland, the dance, and the ‘half-dark’, establishes beyond much doubt that we are encountering the same event in canto 39 as in canto 17. It may be seem excessively zealous to insist upon the identity of the events described or evoked in these two cantos, but it must be remembered that Pound is leaving the reader to infer a great deal after the manner of traditional Chinese poetry. In such poetry the information from which one draws inferences should be unobtrusive, but precise. A verbal signature such as ‘with eyes seaward’ is one such precise repetition, and, slender reed that it is, great weight may be placed upon it” (Surette 47).

  36. Circeo – promontory surrounded by water from three sides, ca. 100 km southwest from Rome. It forms one of the natural boundaries to the former Pontine marshes.

    During his trip to Terracina in October 1930, Pound was engrossed in Victor Bérard’s book, Les Phéniciens et l’Odyssée, as he wrote to Olga on the 9th. In the chapter dedicated to Circe’s island, he found Bérard’s theory that the Homeric “Aeaea” was the ancient Semitic name of a place that was called “Circeo” by the Romans: the Circeo mountain was in fact the Homeric island of Circe:Acropolis of Circeo and Sabaudia

    “Ulysse […] tournant le dos à la Sardaigne, il coupe d’Ouest en Est notre mer Tyrrhénienne et juste en face des Bouches de Bonifacio, il rencontre au-devant des côtes italiennes l’ile de Kirkè. Depuis les thalassocraties les plus anciennes jusqu’à nos jours, cette isle a toujours conserve le même nom. Elle s’appelle aujourd’hui Circeo; les Romains disaient Circei et les Grecs Κίρχιον. Gràce au poème odyséen, nous voyons que le nom grec, νῆσος Κίρχης, n’est que l’exacte traduction d’un nom sémitique antérieur […] Ai-aiè, Ile de l’Épervière” (Bérard II: 264).

    [“Ulysses […] turning his back to Sardinia, cut our Tyrrhenian Sea from west to east and just in front of the Bonifacio Strait [between Corsica and Sardinia] he comes upon the island of Circe in front of the Italian coast. From the most ancient sea empires to our day, this island has always kept the same name. Today, its name is Circeo; the Romans called it Circei and the Greeks Kirkhion. Thanks to the Odyssean poem, we see that the Greek name, nesos kirkhes is the exact translation of an anterior Semitic name, […] Ai-aiè, the Island of the Hawk.] 592px Aeaea the island of Circe located south of Rome with the Islands of the Sirens closeby

    “Le Monte Circeo, pour les marins, a toujours été une île, bien qu’il tienne par l’une de ses façades à la plaine du continent: ‘Situé à l’extrémité Sud des marais Pontins, cette montagne a l’apparence d’une île quand on la voit à distance’, reprennent les Instructions nautiques. C’est bien une île, en effet: la mer libre la baigne sur ses faces du Sud et de l’Ouest; elle trempe dans les lagunes et les marécages, dans la mer des marais Pontins, à l’Est et au Nord: ‘Cette montagne de Kirkè est vraiment insulaire entre la mer et les marais’, dit Strabon” (Bérard II: 267).

    [“For the sailors, Mount Circeo has always been an island, although one of its sides is linked to the continental plains: ‘situated at the southern extremity of the Pontine Marshes, this mountain has the appearance of an island when you look at it from a distance’ resume the Nautical Instructions. It is, in fact, an island: the open sea washes over its faces to the south and the west; it dips into the lagoons and bogs, the sea of Pontine Marshes in the east and north: ‘This Mountain of Circe is really insular, between the sea and the marshes,’ said Strabo.”]

  37. Terracina – small port 56 km southeast of Rome on the Via Appia and about 25 km east of the Circeo promontory. On the cliffs above town there are the ruins of a temple to Zeus and Juno. Victor Bérard, by comparing the description in the Odyssey with the topography of Circeo and Terracina, argued that Circe’s house was a ruined sanctuary to the goddess Feronia on the promontory of Terracina (Punta di Leano), where the ruins of the Jupiter Anxur temple are today (Bérard 309-10).62284 terracina terracina lungomare

  38. “Fac deum” Est Factus” – L. “make god!” “It is done.”

  39. Ver novum – L. “new spring.” See also n. 9.

  40. beaten from flesh into light – the spiritual illumination in orgasm. For more detail on the sexual scene that follows, see Sawyer, Fire Kindling Rite.

  41. A traverso le foglie – It. “Through the leaves.”

  42. Sic loquitur nupta/ cantat sic nupta – L. “Thus spoke the bride. Thus sang the bride.”


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