How I Found Ulysses

— It is in modest emulation of Mr. Henry M. Stanley as a discoverer of missing discoverers that a member of the Club begs to announce the finding of a traveler longer lost and even more famous than Dr. Livingstone. This is no other than Ulysses, the wave-wandering lord of Ithaca. I believe he remains precisely where one would naturally look for him, —on the coast from which he can view the isle of the sirens, and renew the ancient thrill of the hour when his ship drove its prow between Scylla and Charybdis. He is as active as of yore, but, I regret to say, at present employs his profound astuteness in a small retail business of malignity.

There is no need to describe to the Club the visitation of those days, not infrequent, when everything perversely goes wrong, and petty woes environ us like a cloud of persistent gnats. It is Noman who harms us ; and to the prime cause of annoyance is added the sense of lack of an object for accusal and malediction. In Calabria they know better. On such black-letter days of minor misfortunes, their theory is advanced in the strong nasal dialect of the country.

“There is the mule gone lame,” comare Nunzia will narrate with emphatic gestures, “ and the hen that will not set, to say nothing of my man who has the fevers. And Zia Caterina has said the verses and signed us with water and salt, but it did not come to us to yawn. So one sees that it was not an envy, but rather there is in it the monacheddu. May the Lord save us from him ! ”

This “ little monk ” is, I am persuaded, none but Ulysses, who has undergone a process of demonization common in Gothic legends, but almost unique in the more genial Italian folk-lore. The austere Christians of the north inclosed Venus and her train in the hollow hill, as allies of Satan for the reprobation of men, and the pilgrims went by singing with averted faces. In Italy, on the contrary, the dethroned gods and retired heroes enjoy a golden leisure in the affectionate memory of the people, who still swear mildly perbacco and perdiana, But the poor Ulysses appears somehow to have been degraded into a malicious, sub-humorous sprite, with his former subtle wisdom degenerated into petty cunning. He became a monk in Sicily, according to the evidence of tradition. Signor Giuseppe Pitré, the eminent folk-Iorist, heard the story of Ulysses and the Cyclops — curiously baptized into the narrative of the outwitting of the devil by a monk — from the lips of a girl, eight years of age, tending sheep on a slope of Etna. And it would be a wrong not to translate literally the idiom of the little Maria : —

“ Now I tell a story which is almost frightful ; it is the story of the little monk. It is told and retold that there were once two monks. These two monks every year went on a quest. One was bigger and one was smaller. Every year they went on a quest, for they were poor. Once they mistook the way ; a way bad, very bad ! The little one said to the big one, ‘This is not our way.’ ‘ No matter, let us go on.'

“ As they walked they saw a great cave, and there was an animal making a fire ; but they did not believe that it was an animal, 'Now let us go in here to rest.5 They went in, and there was this animal killing sheep (for he had sheep) and putting them to roast. As these men entered, the animal killed a score of sheep and put them to roast. ‘ Eat!' ‘We do not wish to eat, for we are not hungry.' ‘ Eat, I tell you!' When they had finished eating all these sheep, the devil arose (for the animal was a devil). They lay down, and he, the animal, went to get a great stone, put it before the cave, took a sharppointed iron, heated it, and thrust it into the neck of the big one of the monks, roasted him, and wished to eat him with the little monk. ‘ I will not eat any, for I am satisfied.' 'Up ! for if not, I will kill you.’ The poor little one arose for fear, sat at table, took — poor little one ! — a small bit and feigned to eat, and threw it on the ground. ‘ Mary ! I am satisfied indeed !' “ In the night, the good man took the iron, heated it, and thrust it into the eyes. The eyes burst forth. ‘ Ah! he has killed me !' The good man slipped in among the wool of the sheep, for fear. Groping, groping, the animal goes to take away the stone from the cave, and let out the sheep, one by one. The sheep where the good mail was came, and thc good man was no longer there. He went to Trapani, to the sea. There were at Trapani all the boats and the sailors. Said he, ‘Now let me come there, and I will tell it to you.' They put him in a boat ; the animal went to fish for him, and the mariners began to run with the boat. While the animal was running, he hit a stone with his chest,— for he was blind, — fell and broke his head. The sea, with the blood which came from him, was all reddened. The little monk went away, and the animal stayed there.”

Ill this story, the identification of the Cyclops with a crater of Etna is picturesquely maintained by the images of the eye blinded by fire, the maddened course down the hill, the impediment of the rock, and the crimsoning of the sea. The figure is bold indeed by which all the companions of Ulysses are consolidated in the person of the big monk. A similar legend is found in the collection of folk-lore by Signor Comparetti, and also in Signor Finamore’s work upon the traditions of the Abruzzi.

Ulysses, once recognized under the Sicilian cowl, appears evident also as the monacheddu of Calabria. In Naples, too, the munaciellu plays the same malicious part. By the way, it seems probable that the brilliant apprehension of Signora Matilde Serao was at fault in connecting, in her Leggende Napoletane, the personality of the little monk with a relatively modern tradition of a forlorn child sheltered in a convent.

No ; whenever, in the Two Sicilies, unaccountable misfortunes befall, it is surely by the work of the belittled wit and the crooked hands of the demoralized adventurer who cannot find repose, but always wanders where in ancient days his wisdom and his force were manifest. It may also be true that in this western continent, the land imagined and sought by Ulysses, his restless shade projects itself, and is cause of the small miseries which make us cry out against fate, and for which we remain uncomforted, as the Cyclops when the other monocular men bade him be patient, since Noman smote him.