When Ulysses, who was the king of Ithaca, was coming home from the Trojan War, he lost his way. After a very long voyage, and a great many hardships, he came with his men, one day, to the floating island of King Aeolus.
Here they were hospitably received. In fact, King Aeolus kept them at his palace and entertained them for a month. When they were ready to start out again, on their way home, King AEolus gave Ulysses a great leather bag, made of an ox-skin, and tied with a silver rope. In this bag were all the winds except one. That one wind was the west wind, which King Aeolus had purposely kept outside, so that it might blow the ship home; for Ithaca was toward the east.
When the sailors saw King Aeolus hand over this great leather bag to Ulysses, they did not know what was in it, but thought it must be something very valuable, probably gold. Then noticing the shining silver rope with which it was bound, they began to wonder if they could not undo the knot.
Ulysses, seeing their curious glances, and feeling a little suspicious of them, made up his mind that he would sit up all night, every night, and steer the ship himself.
They started off, with the west wind blowing gently, and all going well. For nine days and nine nights they sailed straight east, till they could see the mountain peaks of Ithaca. All this time, Ulysses had been at the helm, for he felt more and more suspicious of the sailors.
Meanwhile, the sailors whispered among themselves that Ulysses was going home with a great bag of treasure, and that it was not fair that they should have nothing. They could see more and more of the shores of Ithaca. Even the smoke from their own firesides came in sight, and that was a sight they had not seen before for many long years.
But Ulysses could not keep awake any longer. When he saw land in sight, and knew that the voyage was almost over, he was so completely tired out that he sank down by the rudder where he stood, and fell asleep. This gave the sailors the opportunity they had been watching for. They sprang to the bag the moment that the eyes of Ulysses were closed, and untied the silver rope.
Out rushed the winds, and struck the ship from all ways at once. The ship spun around like a top, and the sea was churned into a fine spray which flew so high and so thick that it was like a blinding snowstorm. Then, being blown along by a gale from the east, Ulysses and his men finally found themselves once more at the Island of the Winds.
But as King AEolus would not help them a second time, they had to make the best of it, and take the winds as they came. It was a long, long time after that, before they saw their homes again.
The Legend and Myth of Aeolus
The Myth of Aeolus
The story of Aeolus is featured in the book entitled Favorite Greek Myths by Lilian Stoughton Hyde, published in 1904 by D. C. Heath and Company.