Scylla and Charybdis
Scylla and Charybdis
Instrumentation: Full Orchestra
2+pic.2+eh.2+bcl.2+cbsn. - 188.8.131.52. - t.3p.hp. - Strings
Circe tells Odysseus:
On the other side loom two enormous crags ...
And halfway up that cliffside stands a fog-bound cavern
gaping west toward Erebus, realm of death and darkness...
Scylla lurks inside it—the yelping horror,
yelping, no louder than any suckling pup,
but she’s a grisly monster, I assure you.
No one could look on her with any joy,
not even a god who meets her face-to-face ...
She has twelve legs, all writhing, dangling down
and six long swaying necks, a hideous head on each,
each head barbed with a triple row of fangs, thickset,
packed tight—armed to the hilt with black death!
Holed up in the cavern’s bowels from her waist down
she shoots out her heads, out of that terrifying pit,
angling right from her nest, wildly sweeping the reefs
for dolphins, dogfish or any bigger quarry she can drag
from the thousands Amphitrite spawns in groaning seas.
No mariners yet can boast they’ve raced their ship
past Scylla’s lair without some mortal blow—
with each of her six heads she snatches up
a man from the dark-prowed craft and whisks him off.
The other crag is lower—you will see, Odysseus—
though both lie side-by-side, an arrow-shot apart.
Atop it a great fig-tree rises, shaggy with leaves;
beneath it awesome Charybdis gulps the dark water down.
Three times a day she vomits it up, three times she gulps it down,
that terror! Don’t be there when the whirlpool swallows down—
not even the earthquake god could save you from disaster.
- Homer's The Oddesey, Book XII, translated by Robert Fagles
Three motifs dominate this piece. Charybdis is represented by the three brass chorales, specifically the chromatic rising line in the trumpets. Scylla is represented by the angular dance introduced in the violins (M21). The last motif represents the fig tree and is mostly hidden throughout the piece. This motif is stated boldly and clearly by the horns at the very end (M219), though it is spread throughout the piece. The relationship between these motifs mirrors the difficult decision Odysseus faced when picking the lesser of two evils. Though there may seem to be only two answers, or two sides to a conflict, a third option may present itself that has qualities both can value.