History of Literature


The Odyssey




Type of work: Poem
Author: Homer (c. Ninth century B.C.)
Type of plot: Heroic epic
Time of plot: Years immediately following Trojan War
Locale: Greece and Mediterranean lands
First transcribed: Sixth century В. С


The Iliad, an epic about an incident in the Trojan War, and the Odyssey, concerned with Odysseus' difficulties in getting home after the war had been won by the Greeks, are the great epic masterpieces of Western literature and a storehouse of Greek folklore and myth. The Odyssey, with its sagacious, magnificent hero, its romantic theme, and its frequent change of scene, has enjoyed greater popularity than the Iliad.


Principal Characters

Odysseus (o-di'si-gs, б-dls'us), a roving veteran of the Trojan War who, having incurred the anger of Poseidon by blinding the sea-god's son Polyphemus, a gigantic Cyclops, is fated to roam for ten years before he can return to his homeland of Ithaca. Leaving Troy, he and his followers sail first to Ismarus. In the sack of the Ciconian city Odysseus spares the life of Maro, priest of Apollo, who in turn gives the conqueror some jars of potent wine. Gales then drive the Greeks to the country of the Lotus-eaters, from which they sail to the land of the fierce Cyclops. There Ulysses and twelve of his band are captured by Polyphemus. After Odysseus frees himself and his companions by a clever ruse, leaving the Cyclops maimed and blinded the band journeys to the Isle of Aeolus. In the land of the Laestrygones man-eating giants destroy all but one of his ships and devour their crews. At Aeaea, Odysseus outwits the enchantress Circe and frees his men after she has turned them into swine. In the dark region of the Cimmerians he consults the shade of Tiresias, the Theban prophet, to learn what awaits him in Ithaca. Following the advice of Circe, Odysseus escapes the spell of the Sirens, passes safely between Scylla and Charybdis, and arrives at Thrinacia. There his remaining comrades are drowned for their impiety in eating cattle sacred to Hyperion. Cast adrift, Odysseus floats to the island of Ogygia, where for seven years he lives with the lovely nymph Calypso. Finally the gods take pity on him and order Calypso to release him. On a makeshift raft he continues his voyage. After his raft has been wrecked by Poseidon, he battles the waves until he arrives, exhausted, on the island of Dre-pane. Here Nausicaa, daughter of the king of the Phaea-cians, finds him and leads him to the royal palace. Warmly received by King Alcinoiis, Odysseus takes part in celebration games and tells the story of his adventures. Alci-nous gives Odysseus rich gifts and returns the wanderer by ship to Ithaca. There, in disguise, he meets his son Telemachus, now grown to manhood, routs and kills the suitors who throng his palace, and is reunited with his loyal wife Penelope. Odysseus is the ideal Greek hero, eloquent at the council board, courageous in battle, resourceful in danger, crafty in wisdom. He is the darling of the goddess Athena, who aids him whenever it is in her power to do so.
Penelope (рё-пё'16-рё), his devoted wife, a model of domestic fidelity, skilled in handicrafts. Still attractive in spite of twenty years of anxiety and grief during the absence of Odysseus, she is by custom forced to entertain importunate, insolent suitors whom she puts off from year to year by various stratagems. Until betrayed by her false servants, she would weave by day a burial robe for Laertes, her father-in-law, and at night she would unravel her work. The return of Odysseus is for her an occasion of great joy, but first she tests his knowledge of the construction of their wedding bed in order to avoid being duped by a plausible stranger. Although she is noteworthy for her forbearance and fidelity, there are occasions when she complains bitterly and laments her sad fate.
Telemachus (tsle'ms-kas), the son of Odysseus and Penelope, grown to handsome young manhood during his father's absence. Also favored by Athena, he accuses the suitors of being parasites, journeys to other lands in search of news of his father, and returns to fight bravely by the side of Odysseus when the one hundred and twelve suitors of Penelope are routed and put to death. His comeliness, manly bearing, and good manners show him to be his father's son when he meets wise King Nestor and King Menelaus.
Athena (э-тё'пэ), also called Pallas Athena, the goddess of Wisdom and the patroness of arts and crafts. Moved by pity and admiration, she becomes the benefactress of Odysseus and pleads with Zeus, her father, to release the hero from the seven-year embrace of the nymph Calypso. Assuming various disguises and aiding him in many ways, she watches over the homeward journey and eventual triumph of Odysseus. Her divine intervention assures peace between him and the angry families of the slain suitors.
Poseidon (po-sl'dan), the earth-shaking god of the sea. The blinding of his giant son, the Cyclops Polyphemus, arouses his anger against Odysseus, and he prevents as long as possible the return of the hero to Ithaca.
Laertes (la-ur'tez), the aged father of Odysseus. Withdrawn from the royal palace, he tends his vineyards and herds during his son's absence. Still vigorous, he helps Odysseus and Telemachus repulse a band of angry citizens in their attempt to avenge the death of the suitors.
Eumaeus (u-me'ss), the devoted swineherd in whose hut disguised Odysseus takes refuge on his return to Ithaca. Despising the suitors, he fights bravely against them alongside Odysseus, Telemachus, and Philoetius, the neatherd. Though of lowly occupation, he is of noble birth, and he is both slave and devoted friend to Odysseus.
Philoetius (fHe'ti-as), the neatherd and a trusted servant in the household of Odysseus. Forced to provide cattle for the feasts of the suitors, he resents their presence in his master's hall, and he yearns for the return of the absent hero. In the great battle in which the suitors are killed, he fights bravely by the side of Odysseus, Telemachus, and Eumaeus.
Eurycleia (u-ri-kle'a), the aged nurse of both Odysseus and Telemachus. She recognizes her master by a scar on his thigh and reveals to him his faithless servants who have consorted with the suitors during his absence. Taken as a bondservant by Odysseus' father, she is loyal to the royal household and most vindictive in her revenge.
Polyphemus (po-li-fe'nws), one of the Cyclops, giants with one eye in the center of the forehead, and the sons of Poseidon. When Odysseus and twelve of his companions seek hospitality in his cave, the monster makes prisoners of the band and eats six of them. Wily Odysseus saves himself and his remaining companions by giving Polyphemus some of Maro's strong wine to drink and then, while the Cyclops is asleep, putting out his eye with a heated, pointed shaft. The Greeks escape from the cave by hiding beneath the bodies of Polyphemus' sheep when the giant turns his flock out to pasture.
Circe (ser'se), an enchantress, the daughter of Helios and Perse. Arriving at Aeaea, Odysseus sends Eurylo-chus, his lieutenant, and twenty-two men ashore to explore the island. When they come to Circe's palace, she invites them to feast with her. But Eurylochus, almost as crafty as his master, remains outside, and through a window he sees the sorceress serve the men drugged food and then transform them into swine. Odysseus, on his way to rescue his companions, encounters the god Hermes, who gives him a flower named moly as a charm against the powers of the enchantress. Her power destroyed by the magic herb, Circe frees her captives from her magic spell and entertains Odysseus and his companions for a year. At the end of that time Odysseus wishes to leave Circe's bed and continue his journey. Though reluctant, she consents to his going, but first she advises him to consult the shade of Tiresias in order to learn what the future holds for the wanderers.
Eurylochus (u-ri'la-kss), the lieutenant of Odysseus. He reports to Odysseus that the enchantress Circe has turned half of his band into swine. It is at his suggestion that the Greeks kill some of Hyperion's sacred cattle and eat them while Odysseus is sleeping. To punish their act of impiety, Zeus causes the Greek ship to founder and all but Odysseus are drowned.
Tiresias (ts-re'si-ss), the prophet of Thebes. In the land of the Cimmerians, acting on the advice of Circe, Odysseus summons the aged seer's shade from the dead. Tiresias tells him not to harm the sacred cattle of Hyperion, otherwise Odysseus will encounter many difficulties and delays on his homeward journey: he will find trouble in the royal house when he arrives there, he will be forced to make a journey into a land so far from the sea that its people will mistake an oar for a winnowing fan, he will be forced to make a rich sacrifice to Poseidon in that distant land, and in his old age he will meet death coming to him out of the sea.
Calypso (кэ-lip'so), the divine nymph who lives on the island of Ogygia, where Odysseus is washed ashore after his ship has foundered and his companions have drowned. For seven years he lives as her bondsman and husband, until Zeus sends Hermes to her with the message that Odysseus is to be released to return to his own land. Although she wishes him to stay with her and offers him immortality and youth in return, she yields to Odysseus' own wishes and the divine command of Zeus. She teaches Odysseus how to build a raft and allows him to set sail before a favorable breeze.
Nausicaa (no-si'ki-э), the maiden daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete. Finding Odysseus on the seashore, where he is sleeping exhausted by buffeting waves after Poseidon has destroyed his raft, she befriends the hero and conducts him to her father's palace. There Odysseus tells the story of his adventures and hardships to an admiring, pitying, audience. Moved by the wanderer's plight, King Alcinous gives him rich gifts and returns him to Ithaca in a Phaeacian ship.
Alcinous (al-si'no-as), king of the Phaeacians. He entertains Odysseus after the hero has been washed ashore on the island of Drepane, and he returns his guest to Ithaca in one of the royal ships.
Arete (a-re'te), the wife of Alcinous. She is famous for her kindness, generosity, and wisdom.
Nestor (nes'ter), the wise king of Phylos. Telemachus, seeking to rid the royal palace of his mother's insolent suitors, journeys to Nestor's country in search of his father.
Peisistratus (pl-sis'trs-tss), the noble youngest son of King Nestor. A skilled charioteer, he accompanies Telemachus when the son of Odysseus travels to Sparta in an effort to get word of his father from King Menelaus and Helen, his queen.
Menelaus (me-n3'la'as), king of Sparta. Menelaus receives Telemachus hospitably and entertains him lavishly, but he has no information that will help the young man in his search for his father.
Helen (he'lan), the wife of Menelaus and the cause of the war with Troy. Older but still beautiful, she presides over her husband's palace with queenly dignity. When Telemachus takes leave of the royal pair, she gives him a rich robe for his bride to wear on his wedding day.
Antinoiis (an-fi'no-as), the leader of the suitors for the hand of Penelope. Insolent and obstreperous, he leads more gullible young men to their corruption and destruction. He mocks Telemachus, berates Penelope, and tauntingly insults Odysseus disguised as a beggar. Because of his arrogance, he is the first of the suitors to die.
Eurymachus (u-ri'ma-kas), the most treacherous of the suitors. Charming in speech but cunning in his design to destroy Telemachus and marry Penelope, he deserves his death at the hands of Odysseus.
Noemon (пб-ё'тэп), one of the most generous and least offensive of the suitors. He lends Telemachus his own ship in which to sail to Pylos.
Theoclymenus (the-a-kll'ma-nas), a young warrior who has fled from Argos after killing a kinsman. As Telemachus is about to set sail from Pylos, the fugitive asks to be taken aboard the vessel in order to escape the wrath of the dead man's brothers. Telemachus takes the stranger back to Ithaca and gives him shelter. At a feast in the palace Theoclymenus foretells the destruction of the suitors.
Peiraeus (pl-re'as), the loyal and gallant friend of Telemachus. He goes with the son of Odysseus to Pylos.
Mentor (men'tar), one of the elders of Ithaca, wise in counsel. Athena assumes his form on several occasions.
Melanthius (me-lan'thl-as), the treacherous goatherd who taunts disguised Odysseus and later tries to aid the suitors. On orders from Odysseus, he is hanged by Eumaeus and Philoetius and later dismembered.
Melantho (тё-lan'tho), Penelope's faithless maid, the mistress of Eurymachas.
Medon (me'dan), the herald. Because of his kindness to young Telemachus, his life is spared when the other suitors are killed.
Phemius (fe'ml-as), the unwilling bard of the suitors. Telemachus asks that his life be spared and Odysseus grants him mercy.
Eurynome (п-п'пб-тё), the housekeeper of the royal palace in Ithaca.
Maro (ma'ro), the priest of Apollo whose life is spared when the Greeks raid the Ciconian city of Ismarus. In gratitude he gives Odysseus the wine with which the hero makes the Cyclops drunk.
Elpenor (el-pe'nor), one of Odysseus' companions whom Circe transformed into swine and then restored to human form. He climbs upon the roof of her palace, and, dazed by wine, falls to his death. Appearing among the shades in the land of the Cimmerians, he begs Odysseus to give him proper burial.
Haliserthes (haliser'thez), an elder of Ithaca able to interpret the flight of birds. Seeing two eagles fighting in midair, he predicts that Odysseus will return and rend the unruly suitors like a bird of prey.
Irus (I'rus), the nickname of Arnaeus, a greedy vagabond whom disguised Odysseus strikes down with a single blow when the two men fight, urged on by the amused suitors, to decide who will be allowed to beg in the palace.
Hermes (hur'mez), the messenger of the gods. He gives Odysseus the herb moly to protect him against Circe's spell and brings to the nymph Calypso Zeus's command that the hero be allowed to return to his own country.
Zeus (zoos), the ruler of the Olympian deities and the father of Athena.


The Story

Of the Greek heroes who survived the Trojan War only Odysseus had not returned home, for he had been detained by the god Poseidon because of an offense that he had committed against the god of the sea.
At a conclave of the gods on Olympus, Zeus decreed that Odysseus should be allowed at last to return to his home and family in Ithaca. The goddess Athena was sent to Ithaca where, in disguise, she told Telemachus, Odysseus' son, that his father was alive. She advised the youth to rid his home of the great number of suitors suing for the hand of his mother, Penelope, and to go in search of his father. The suitors refused to leave the house of Odysseus, but they gave ready approval to the suggestion that Telemachus begin a quest for his father, since the venture would take him far from the shores of Ithaca.
The youth and his crew sailed to Pylos, where the prince questioned King Nestor concerning the whereabouts of Odysseus. Nestor, a wartime comrade of Odysseus, advised Telemachus to go to Lacedaemon, where Menelaus, who reigned there as king, could possibly give him the information he sought. At the palace of Menelaus and Helen, for whom the Trojan War had been waged, Telemachus learned that Odysseus was a prisoner of the nymph Calypso on her island of Ogygia, in the Mediterranean Sea.
Meanwhile Zeus sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to Ogygia, with orders that Calypso was to release Odysseus. When the nymph reluctantly complied, the hero constructed a boat in four days and sailed away from his island prison. But Poseidon, ever the enemy of Odysseus, sent great winds to destroy his boat and wash him ashore on the coast of the Phaeacians. There he was found by Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous of the Phaeacians, when she went down to the river mouth with her handmaidens to wash linen. The naked Odysseus awoke, saw Nausicaa and her maidens, and asked them where he was. Frightened at first by this stranger hiding behind the shrubbery, Nausicaa soon perceived that he was no vulgar person. She told him where he was, supplied him with clothing, and gave him food and drink. Then she conducted him to the palace of King Alcinous and Queen Arete. The royal pair welcomed him and, at his asking, promised to provide him with passage to his native land. At a great feast the minstrel Demodocus sang of the Trojan War and of the hardships suffered by the returning Greeks, and Alcinous saw that the stranger wept during the singing. At the games which followed the banquet and songs, Odysseus was goaded by a young Phaeacian athlete into revealing his great strength. Later, at Alcinous' insistence, Odysseus told the following story of his wandering since the war's end.
When Odysseus left Ilium he was blown to Ismarus, the Cicones' city, which he and his men sacked. Then they were blown by an ill wind to the land of the Lotus-eaters, where Odysseus had difficulty in getting his men to leave a slothful life of ease. Arriving in the land of the Cyclops, the one-eyed monsters who herded giant sheep, Odysseus and twelve of his men were caught by a Cyclops, Polyphemus, who ate the men one by one, saving Odysseus until last. But the wily hero tricked the giant into a drunken stupor, blinded him with a sharpened pole, and fled back to his ship. On an impulse, Odysseus disclosed his name to the blinded Polyphemus as he sailed away. Polyphemus called upon his father, Poseidon, to avenge him by hindering the return of Odysseus to his homeland.
Odysseus' next landfall was Aeolia, where lived Aeolus, the god of the winds. Aeolus gave Odysseus a sealed bag containing all the contrary winds, so that they could not block his homeward voyage. But the crew, thinking that the bag contained treasure, opened it, releasing all the winds, and the ship was blown back to Aeolia. When he learned what had happened, Aeolus was very angry that Odysseus' men had defied the gods by opening the bag of winds. He ordered them to leave Aeolia at once and denied them winds for their homeward journey. They rowed for six days and then came to the land of the Laestrigonians, half men. half giants, who plucked members of the crew from the ship and devoured them. Most managed to escape, however, and came to Aeaea, the land of the enchantress Circe. Circe changed the crew members into swine, but with the aid of the herb moly, which Hermes gave him, Odysseus withstood Circe's magic and forced her to change his crew back into men. Reconciled to the great leader, Circe told the hero that he could not get home without first consulting the shade of Tiresias, the blind Theban prophet. In the dark region of the Cimmerians, Odysseus sacrificed sheep. Thereupon appeared spirits from Hades, among them the shade of Tiresias, who warned Odysseus to beware of danger in the land of the sun-god.
On his way home Odysseus was forced to sail past the isle of the Sirens, whose hypnotic voices drew men to their death on treacherous rocks. By sealing the sailors' ears with wax and by having himself tied to the ship's mast, Odysseus passed the Sirens safely. Next, he sailed into a narrow sea passage guarded by the monsters, Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla's six horrible heads seized six of the crew, but the ship passed safely through the narrow channel. On the island of the sun god, Hyperion, the starving crew slaughtered some of Hyperion's sacred cows, despite a warning from their leader. The sun-god caused the ship to be wrecked in a storm, all of the crew being lost but Odysseus, who was ultimately washed ashore on Ogygia, the island of Calypso.
His story finished, Odysseus received many gifts from Alcinous and Arete. They accompanied him to a ship they had provided for his voyage to Ithaca and bade him farewell, and the ship brought him at last to his own land.
Odysseus hid in a cave the vast treasure he had received from his Phaeacian hosts. The goddess Athena appeared to him and counseled him on a plan by which he could avenge himself on the rapacious suitors. The goddess, after changing Odysseus into an old beggar, went to Lacedaemon to arrange the return of Telemachus from the court of Menelaus and Helen.
Odysseus went to the rustic cottage of his old steward Eumaeus, who welcomed the apparent stranger and offered him hospitality. The faithful servant disclosed the unpardonable behavior of Penelope's suitors and told how Odysseus' estate had been greatly reduced by their greed and love of luxury.
Meanwhile, Athena advised Telemachus to leave the ease of the Lacedaemon court and return home. On his arrival he went first to the hut of Eumaeus in order to get information from the old steward. There, Athena having transformed Odysseus back to his heroic self, son and father were reunited.
After pledging his son to secrecy, Odysseus described his plan of attack. Eumaeus and Odysseus, again disguised as a beggar, went to Odysseus' house where a meal was in progress. Reviled by the suitors, who had forgotten that hospitality to a stranger was a practice demanded by Zeus himself, Odysseus bided his time, even when arrogant Antinous threw a stool which struck Odysseus on the shoulder.
Odysseus ordered Telemachus to lock up all weapons except a few which were to be used by his own party; the women servants were also to be locked in their quarters. Penelope questioned Odysseus concerning his identity but Odysseus deceived her with a fantastic tale. When Eurycleia, ancient servant of the king, washed the beggar's feet and legs, she recognized her master by a scar on his thigh, but she did not disclose his secret.
Penelope planned an impossible feat of strength to free herself of her suitors. One day, showing the famous bow of Eurytus, and twelve battle-axes, she said that she would give her hand to the suitor who could shoot an arrow through all twelve ax handles. Telemachus, to prove his worth, attempted but failed to string the bow. One after another the suitors failed even to string the bow. Finally Odysseus asked if an old beggar might attempt the feat. The suitors laughed scornfully at his presumption. Then Odysseus strung the bow with ease and shot an arrow through the twelve ax shafts. Throwing aside his disguise, he next shot Antinous in the throat. There ensued a furious battle, in which all the suitors were killed by Odysseus and his small party. Twelve women servants who had been sympathetic with the suitors were hanged in the courtyard.
Penelope, in her room, heard what Odysseus, the erstwhile beggar, had done, and husband and wife were happily reunited after years of separation.


Critical Evaluation

The Odyssey is undoubtedly the most popular epic of Western culture. Its chief character, Odysseus (Ulysses), has inspired more literary works than any other legendary hero. From Homer to Joyce, Kazantzakis, and after, Odysseus has been a central figure in European literature, and one who has undergone many sea changes. The Odyssey has the ingredients of a perennial best-seller: pathos, sexuality, violence; a strong, resourceful hero with a firm purpose braving many dangers and hardships to accomplish it; a romantic account of exploits in strange places; a more or less realistic approach to characterization; a soundly constructed plot; and an author with a beautiful gift for description. It is, in fact, one of the greatest adventure stories of all time.
Of the poet, or poets, who wrote the poem there is only conjecture. Tradition says that Homer lived in Chios or Smyrna in Ionia, a part of Asia Minor; and it is probable that he, or they, composed this epic late in the ninth century B.C. The Odyssey was originally sung or recited, as evidenced by its style and content, and it was based on legend, folktale, and free invention, forming part of a minstrel tradition similar to that of the Middle Ages.
The style of the poem is visual, explanatory, repetitive, and stately. Like the Iliad, it has extended similies and repeated epithets, phrases, and sentences. Homer, whoever he was, wanted his audience to visualize and understand everything that happened. He grasped the principles of rhetoric, and he composed in a plain, direct fashion that possesses great eloquence and dignity.
Homer also had mastered certain crucial problems of organization. When the audience knows the broad outlines of the story one is going to tell, as Homer's did, it becomes necessary to introduce diversions from the main action, to delay the climax as long as the audience can bear. In this manner the leisurely development of the plot stirs one's anticipation and gives the climactic scene redoubled force. But the intervening action must have interest on its own and must have a bearing on the main action. The Odyssey shows remarkable ability on all of these counts.
If the subject of the Iliad was the wrath of Achilles during the Trojan War, the subject of the Odyssey is the homecoming of Odysseus ten years after the Trojan War ended. The immediate action of the poem takes place in no more than a few weeks, dramatizing the very end of Odysseus' wanderings and his restoration of order at home. Yet Homer allows Odysseus-to narrate his earlier adventures, from the sack of Troy to his confinement on Calypso's island, which extends the magnitude of the poem. Through Nestor and Menelaus, Homer places Odysseus' homecoming into the wider context of the returns of all the major heroes from Troy, most of which were disastrous. Thus, the epic has a sweeping scope condensed into a very brief span of time.
The Telemachy (those first four books dealing with the travels and education of Telemachus) sets the stage for Odysseus' return. The gods make the arrangements, and then we are shown the terrible situation in Odysseus' palace, where the suitors are devouring Odysseus' substance, bullying his sons, and growing very impatient with Penelope. They intend to kill Odysseus if he should ever return, and they arrange an ambush to kill Telemachus. Their radical abuse of hospitality is contrasted with the excellent relations between guest and host when Telemachus goes to visit Nestor and then Menelaus. In an epic whose theme is travel the auxiliary theme must be the nature of hospitality. In Odysseus' journeyings his best host is Alcinous and his worst is the savage Cyclops. Between these two extremes there are all sorts of gradations, which depend on whether the host helps or hinders Odysseus on his long way home.
At first Telemachus is a disheartened young man trying to be hospitable in a house where it is impossible. Then Athena, as Mentes, puts pluck into him with the idea that his long-lost father is alive and detained. Telemachus calls an assembly to state his grievances and then undertakes a hazardous trip to learn of his father. He plainly has the makings of a hero, and he proves himself his father's true son when he helps slay the rapacious suitors, after displaying some tact and cunning of his own.
Odysseus is the model of the worldly, well-traveled, persevering man who overcomes obstacles. He has courage, stamina, and power, but his real strength lies in his brain, which is shrewd, quick-witted, diplomatic, and resourceful. He is also very eloquent and persuasive. He needs all of these qualities to survive and make his way home. His mettle is tested at every turn, either by dangers or temptations to remain in a place. Calypso even offers him immortality, but he is steadfast in his desire to return home. Athena may intercede for him with Zeus and aid and advise him, yet the will to return and the valor in doing so are Odysseus' alone. The one thing Odysseus finds truly unbearable in his travels is stasis, being stranded for seven years, even though he has an amorous nymph for company.
A good deal of the book is taken up with Odysseus' preparations, having arrived at Ithaca, for killing the suitors. The point is that the suitors are the most formidable enemy Odysseus has encountered, since they number well over a hundred and there are only he and Telemaehus to face them. It is here that his true strategic and tactical cunning comes in handy—the previous wanderings being a long prologue to this climactic exploit. After nine chapters in which nothing much happens, the killing of the suitors, their henchmen, and maids is stunning in its exalting, deliberate violence. The house of Odysseus is at last purged of its predators, and our emotions are restored to an equilibrium. One final, weak chapter is used to tidy up the plot. But we have already seen Odysseus in his full glory.













Title Page
by John Flaxman




Translation by Ian Johnston





Illustrations by John Flaxman






The Descent of Minerva to Ithaca

Book One

Athena Visits Ithaca

[The invocation to the Muse; the gods discuss Odysseus and decide he should return; Athena goes to Ithaca to encourage Telemachus, speaks to him disguised as Mentes, offering advice about dealing with his mother and the suitors and suggesting he go on a trip to Pylos and Sparta; Penelope speaks to Phemius, the singer, asking him to change the song; Telemachus criticizes her; Penelope goes upstairs; Eurycleia carries the lit torches to escort Telemachus to his rooms]

Muse, speak to me now of that resourceful man
who wandered far and wide after ravaging
the sacred citadel of Troy. He came to see
many people's cities, where he learned their customs,
while on the sea his spirit suffered many torments,
as he fought to save his life and lead his comrades home.
But though he wanted to, he could not rescue them—
they all died from their own stupidity, the fools.
They feasted on the cattle of Hyperion,
god of the sun—that's why he snatched away their chance 10
of getting home someday. So now, daughter of Zeus,
tell us his story, starting anywhere you wish.* [10]

The other warriors, all those who had escaped
being utterly destroyed, were now back safely home,
facing no more dangers from battle or the sea.
But Odysseus, who longed to get back to his wife
and reach his home, was being held in a hollow cave
by that mighty nymph Calypso, noble goddess,
who wished to make Odysseus her husband.
But as the seasons came and went, the year arrived 20
in which, according to what gods had once ordained,
he was to get back to Ithaca, his home—
not that he would be free from troubles even there,
among his family. The gods pitied Odysseus,
all except Poseidon, who kept up his anger [20]
against godlike Odysseus and did not relent
until he reached his native land.

But at that moment,
Poseidon was among the Ethiopians,
a long way off, those same Ethiopians,
the most remote of people, who live divided 30
in two different groups, one where Hyperion goes down,
the other where he rises. Poseidon went there
to receive a sacrificial offering to him—
bulls and rams—and was sitting at a banquet,
enjoying himself. But other gods had gathered
in the great hall of Olympian Zeus. Among them all,
the father of gods and men was first to speak.
In his heart he was remembering royal Aegisthus,
whom Orestes, Agamemnon's famous son, [30]
had killed.* With him in mind, Zeus addressed the gods: 40

"It's disgraceful how these humans blame the gods.
They say their tribulations come from us,
when they themselves, through their own foolishness,
bring hardships which are not decreed by Fate.
Now there's Aegisthus, who took for himself
the wife of Agamemnon, Atreus' son,
and then murdered him, once the man came home.
None of that was set by Fate. Aegisthus knew
his acts would bring about his total ruin.
We'd sent Hermes earlier to speak to him. 50
The keen-eyed killer of Argus told him
not to slay the man or seduce his wife,
for Orestes would avenge the son of Atreus,
once he grew up and longed for his own land.* [40]
That's what Hermes said, but his fine words
did not persuade Aegisthus in his heart.
So he has paid for everything in full."

Phemius Singing to the Suitors


Athena, goddess with the gleaming eyes, answered Zeus:

"Son of Cronos and father to us all,
you who rule on high, yes indeed, Aegisthus 60
now lies dead, something he well deserved.
May any other man who does what he did
also be destroyed! But my heart is torn
for skilful Odysseus, ill-fated man,
who has had to suffer such misfortune
for so many years, a long way from friends.
He's on an island, surrounded by the sea,
the one that forms the ocean's navel stone.* [50]
In the forests of that island lives a goddess,
daughter of tough-minded Atlas, who knows 70
the ocean depths and by himself holds up
those gigantic pillars which separate
earth and heaven. That's the one whose daughter
prevents the sad, unlucky man from leaving.
With soft seductive speech she keeps tempting him,
urging him to forget his Ithaca.
But Odysseus yearns to see even the smoke
rising from his native land and longs
for death. And yet, Olympian Zeus, your heart
does not respond to him. Did not Odysseus 80 [60]
offer you delightful sacrifices
on Troy's far-reaching plain beside the ships?
Why then, Zeus, are you so angry with him?"

Cloud-gatherer Zeus then answered her and said:

"My child,
what a speech has passed the barrier of your teeth!
How could I forget godlike Odysseus,
pre-eminent among all mortal men
for his intelligence and offerings
to the immortal gods, who hold wide heaven?
But Earthshaker Poseidon is a stubborn god, 90
constantly enraged about the Cyclops,
the one whose eye Odysseus destroyed,
godlike Polyphemus, the mightiest [70]
of all the Cyclopes.* Thoosa bore him,
a nymph, a daughter of that Phorcys
who commands the restless sea. Poseidon,
down in those hollow caves, had sex with her.
That the reason Earthshaker Poseidon
makes Odysseus wander from his country.
Still, he has no plans to kill him. But come, 100
let's all of us consider his return,
so he can journey back to Ithaca.
Poseidon's anger will relent. He can't
fight the immortal gods all by himself,
not with all of us opposing him."

Goddess Athena with the gleaming eyes replied to Zeus: [80]

"Son of Cronos and father to us all,
ruling high above, if the immortal gods
now find it pleasing for the wise Odysseus
to return back home, then let's send Hermes, 110
killer of Argus, as our messenger,
over to the island of Ogygia,
so he can quickly tell that fair-haired nymph
our firm decision—that brave Odysseus
will now leave and complete his voyage home.
I'll go to Ithaca and urge his son
to be more active, put courage in his heart,
so he will call those long-haired Achaeans [90]
to assembly, and there address the suitors,
who keep on slaughtering his flocks of sheep 120
and shambling bent-horned cattle.* I'll send him
on a trip to Sparta and sandy Pylos,
to learn about his father's voyage home—
he may hear of it somewhere—and to gain
a worthy reputation among men."


Athena spoke. Then she tied those lovely sandals
on her feet, the immortal, golden sandals
which carry her as fast as stormy blasts of wind
across the ocean seas and endless tracts of land.
She took with her that weighty, powerful spear— 130
immense and sturdy, with a point of sharpened bronze— [100]
with which she conquers ranks of human warriors
when they annoy her, daughter of a mighty father.
She raced down from the peak of Mount Olympus,
sped across to Ithaca, and then just stood there,
at Odysseus' outer gate before the palace,
on the threshold, gripping the bronze spear in her fist.
She looked like Mentes, a foreigner, the chief
who ruled the Taphians. There she met the suitors,
those arrogant men, who were enjoying themselves 140
playing checkers right outside the door, sitting down
on hides of cattle they themselves had butchered.
Some heralds and attendants were keeping busy
blending wine and water in the mixing bowls. [110]
Some were wiping tables down with porous sponges
and setting them in place, while others passed around
huge amounts of meat. God-like Telemachus
observed Athena first, well before the others.
He was sitting with the suitors, his heart troubled,
picturing in his mind how his noble father 150
might get back, scatter the suitors from his home,
win honour for himself, and regain control
of his own household. As he thought about all this,
sitting there among the suitors, he saw Athena.
He immediately walked over to the outer gate,
for in his heart he considered it disgraceful
that a stranger should remain a long time at his door. [120]
He moved up near Athena, grasped her right hand,
and took her bronze-tipped spear. Then he spoke to her—
his words had wings:

"Welcome to you stranger. 160
You must enjoy our hospitality.
Then, after you have had some food to eat,
you can tell us what you need."

Saying this,
Telemachus led Pallas Athena into his home.
She followed. Once they'd come inside the high-roofed house,
he walked to a tall pillar carrying the spear
and set it in a finely-polished rack, which held
many other spears belonging to Odysseus.
He brought Athena in and sat her in a chair,
a beautifully crafted work. Under it 170
he rolled out a linen mat and then arranged [130]
a foot stool for her feet. Beside her he drew up
a lovely decorated chair for him to sit in.
They were some distance from the other people,
in case the noise the suitors made disturbed the guest
and made him hate the meal because he'd had to share
the company of overbearing men. Then, too,
Telemachus wanted to discuss his absent father.
A female servant carried in a fine gold jug
and poured water out into a silver basin, 180
so they could wash their hands. Beside them she set down
a polished table. Then the worthy housekeeper
brought in the bread and set it down before them.
Next, she laid out a wide variety of food,
drawing freely on supplies she had in store. [140]
A carver sliced up many different cuts of meat
and served them. He set out goblets made of gold,
as a herald went back and forth pouring their wine.

Then, one after another, the proud suitors came.
They sat down on reclining seats and high-backed chairs. 190
Heralds poured water out for them to wash their hands,
and women servants piled some baskets full of bread,
while young lads filled their bowls up to the brim with drink.
The suitors reached out with their hands to grab
the tasty food prepared and placed in front of them.
When each and every man had satisfied his need [150]
for food and drink, their hearts craved something more—
dancing and song—the finest joys of dinner feasts.
A herald gave a splendid lyre to Phemius,
so he was forced to sing in front of all the suitors. 200
On the strings he plucked the prelude to a lovely song.
But then Telemachus, leaning his head over
close to Athena, so no one else could listen,
murmured to her:

"Dear stranger, my guest,
if I tell you something, will I upset you?
These men here, they spend all their time like this,
with songs and music—it's so easy for them,
because they gorge themselves on what belongs [160]
to someone else, and with impunity,
a man whose white bones now may well be lying 210
on the mainland somewhere, rotting in the rain,
or in the sea, being tossed around by waves.
If they saw him return to Ithaca,
they'd all be praying they had swifter feet
rather than more wealth in gold or clothes.
But by now some evil fate has killed him,
and for us there is no consolation,
not even if some earth-bound mortal man
should say that he will come. The day has passed
when he might have reached home. But tell me, 220
and speak candidly—Who are your people?
Who are you? What city do you come from?
What about your parents? What kind of ship [170]
did you sail here in? And the sailors,
by what route did they bring you to Ithaca?
Who do they say they come from? For I know
there's no way you could reach me here on foot.
And I also need to understand one point,
so tell me the truth—this present visit,
is it your first journey here, or are you 230
a guest-friend of my father's? Many men
have come here to our home as strangers,
since he became a roaming wanderer
among all sorts of people.*

Then Athena,
goddess with the gleaming eyes, answered Telemachus:

"To you I will indeed speak openly.
I can tell you that my name is Mentes, [180]
son of the wise Anchialus, and king
of the oar-loving Taphians. I've come,
as you surmise, with comrades on a ship, 240
sailing across the wine-dark sea to men
whose style of speech is very different,
on my way to Temese for copper,
and carrying a freight of shining iron.
My ship is berthed some distance from the city,
close to the fields, in Reithron's harbour,
below Mount Neion's woods. We can both claim
that we are guest-friends, the two of us,
just as our fathers were so long ago.
If you want, go up and ask Laertes, 250
that old warrior, who, men say, no longer comes
down to the city, but who bears his troubles
in fields far out of town. But he has with him [190]
an old attendant woman, who prepares
his food and drink, once his legs grow weary
hobbling up and down his vineyard hills.
I've come now because some people claim
your father has apparently come home.
But the gods are still preventing him
from getting back. For there's no chance 260
that brave Odysseus has died somewhere.
No. He's still alive but being detained
on an island, surrounded by the sea,
with wild and dangerous men restraining him,
holding him back against his will. But now,
let me tell you about a prophecy [200]
the gods have set here in my heart,
which, I think, will happen—even though
I am no prophet and have no sure skills
in reading omens from the birds. I say 270
Odysseus will not stay away much longer
from his dear native land, not even if
he's chained in iron fetters. He'll devise
some way to get back home, for he's a man
of infinite resources. But come now,
tell me this, and speak straight and to the point.
Are you in truth Odysseus' son? You're tall,
your head and handsome eyes look just like his,
astonishingly so. We used to spend
a lot of time together, before he left 280
and sailed away to Troy, where other men, [210]
the best of all the Argives, voyaged, too,
in their hollow ships. But since those days,
Odysseus and I have not seen each other."

Penelope Surprised by the Suitors


Noble Telemachus then answered her and said:

"Stranger, I will speak quite frankly to you.
My mother says I am Odysseus' son.
I can't myself confirm that, for no man
has ever yet been sure about his parents.
I wish I'd been the son of some man blest 290
to reach old age among his own possessions,
for now—and I say this because you asked—
I'm the son of a man who is, they say,
of all mortal men, the most unfortunate." [220]

Goddess Athena with the gleaming eyes answered him:

"Then at least the gods have given you
a family which, in days to come, will have
a famous name, since Penelope
has given birth to such a noble son.
But come, speak openly and tell me this— 300
What is this feast? Who are these crowds of men?
Why do you need this? Is it a wedding?
Or a drinking party? It seems clear enough
this is no meal where each man brings his share.
It strikes me that these men are acting here
in an insulting, overbearing way,
while dining in your home. Looking at them
and their disgraceful conduct, any man
who mingled with them, if he had good sense,
would lose his temper."

Noble Telemachus 310 [230]
then said to Athena in reply:

since you've questioned me about the matter,
I'll tell you. Our house was once well on its way
to being rich and famous—at that time
Odysseus was alive among his people.
But now the gods with their malicious plans
have changed all that completely. They make sure
Odysseus stays where nobody can see him—
they've not done this to anyone before.
I would not show such grief if he were dead, 320
not if he'd died among his comrades
in the land of Troy, or if he'd perished
in his friends' arms, after finishing the war.
Then the Achaeans all would have put up
a tomb for him, and he'd have won great fame [240]
in future days—so would his son, as well.
But as things stand, some spirits of the storm
have snatched him off and left no trace. He's gone
where people cannot see or hear him,
abandoning me to tears and sorrow. 330
But it's not him alone who makes me sad
and cry out in distress. For now the gods
have brought me other grievous troubles.
All the best young men who rule the islands,
Dulichium and wooded Zacynthus,
and Same, as well as those who lord it here
in rocky Ithaca—they are all now
wooing my mother and ravaging my house.*
She won't turn down a marriage she detests
but can't bring herself to make the final choice. 340
Meanwhile, these men are feasting on my home [250]
and soon will be the death of me as well."

This made Pallas Athena angry—she said to him:

"It's bad Odysseus has wandered off
when you need him so much! He could lay
his hands upon these shameless suitors.
I wish he'd come home now and make a stand
right at the outer gate, with helmet on,
two spears and his own shield—the sort of man
he was when I first saw him in our house, 350
drinking and enjoying himself. At that time,
he was returning from the home of Ilus,
son of Mermerus, from Ephyre.
Odysseus had gone there in his fast ship, [260]
seeking a man-killing poison, something
he could smear on his bronze arrow points.
However, Ilus did not give him any,
for he revered the gods who live for ever.
But my father did, because he felt
a very strong affection for Odysseus. 360
How I wish Odysseus from way back then
would now return and mingle with the suitors.
They'd all come to a speedy end and find
their courtship painful. But all these matters
lie in the laps of gods—he may return
and take out his revenge in his own hall,
or he may not. But I'd encourage you
to think of ways to force these suitors out, [270]
to rid your halls of them. So hear me out.
Listen now to what I'm going to tell you. 370
Tomorrow you must call Achaea's warriors
to an assembly and address them all,
appealing to the gods as witnesses.
Tell the suitors to return to their own homes.
As for your mother, if her heart is set
on getting married, then let her return
to where her father lives, for he's a man
of power with great capabilities.
He'll organize the marriage and arrange
the wedding gifts, as many as befit 380
a well-loved daughter. Now, as for yourself,
if you'll listen, I have some wise advice.
Get yourself a crew of twenty rowers [280]
and the best boat you possess. Then leave here—
set off in search of news about your father,
who's been gone so long. Some living mortal
may tell you something, or you may hear
a voice from Zeus, which often brings men news.
Sail first to Pylos—speak to noble Nestor.
After you've been there, proceed to Sparta 390
and fair-haired Menelaus, the last one
of all bronze-clad Achaeans to get home.
If you hear reports your father is alive
and coming home, you could hang on a year
still wasting his resources. But if you hear
that he is dead and gone, then come back here, [290]
to your dear native land, build him a tomb,
and carry out as many funeral rites
as are appropriate. Give your mother
over to a husband. When you've done that 400
and brought these matters to a close, then think,
deep in your mind and heart, how you might kill
these suitors in your home, either openly
or by some trick. You must not keep on acting
like a child—you're now too old for that.
Have you not heard how excellent Orestes
won fame among all men when he cut down
his father's murderer, sly Aegisthus,
because he'd slain his famous father? [300]
You are fine and strong, I see, and you, too, 410
should be brave, so people born in future years
will say good things of you. I must go now,
down to my swift ship and to my comrades.
I suspect they're getting quite impatient
waiting for me. Make sure you act with care—
and think about what I've been telling you."

Prudent Telemachus then answered her:

"Stranger, you've been speaking as a friend,
thinking as a father would for his own son—
and what you've said I never will forget. 420
But come now, though you're eager to be off,
stay here a while. Once you've had a bath [310]
and your fond heart is fully satisfied,
then go back to your ship with your spirit
full of joy, carrying a costly present,
something really beautiful, which will be
my gift to you, an heirloom of the sort
dear guest-friends give to those who are their friends."

Goddess Athena with the gleaming eyes then said to him:

"Since I'm eager to depart, don't keep me here 430
a moment longer. And whatever gift
your heart suggests you give me as a friend,
present it to me when I come back here,
and pick me something truly beautiful .
It will earn you something worthy in return."

This said, Athena with the gleaming eyes departed,
flying off like some wild sea bird. In his heart she put [320]
courage and strength. She made him recall his father,
even more so than before. In his mind, Telemachus
pictured her, and his heart was full of wonder. 440
He thought she was a god. So he moved away.
And then the noble youth rejoined the suitors.
Celebrated Phemius was performing for them,
as they sat in silence, listening. He was singing
of the return of the Achaeans, that bitter trip
Athena made them take when they sailed home from Troy.

In her upper room, the daughter of Icarius,
wise Penelope, heard the man's inspired song.
She came down the towering staircase from her room, [330]
but not alone—two female servants followed her. 450
Once beautiful Penelope reached the suitors,
she stayed beside the door post in the well-built room,
with a small bright veil across her face. On either side
her two attendants stood. With tears streaming down,
Penelope addressed the famous singer:

you know all sorts of other ways to charm
an audience, actions of the gods and men
which singers celebrate. As you sit here,
sing one of those, while these men drink their wine
in silence. Don't keep up that painful song, 460 [340]
which always breaks the heart here in my chest,
for, more than anyone, I am weighed down
with ceaseless grief which I cannot forget.
I always remember with such yearning
my husband's face, a man whose fame has spread
far and wide through Greece and central Argos."

Sensible Telemachus answered her and said:

"Mother, why begrudge the faithful singer
delighting us in any way his mind
may prompt him to? One can't blame the singers. 470
It seems to me it's Zeus' fault. He hands out
to toiling men, each and every one of them,
whatever he desires. There's nothing wrong
with this man's singing of the evil fate [350]
of the Danaans, for men praise the most
the song which they have heard most recently.
Your heart and spirit should endure his song.
For Odysseus was not the only man
at Troy who lost his chance to see the day
he would come back. Many men were killed. 480
Go up to your rooms and keep busy there
with your own work, the spindle and the loom.
Tell your servants to perform their duties.
Talking is a man's concern, every man's,
but especially mine, since in this house
I'm the one in charge."

Astonished at his words, [360]
Penelope went back to her own chambers—
setting in her heart the prudent words her son had said.
With her attendant women she climbed the stairs
up to her rooms and there wept for Odysseus, 490
her dear husband, until bright-eyed Athena
cast sweet sleep upon her eyelids.

In the shadowy halls
the suitors started to create an uproar,
each man shouting out his hope to lie beside her.
Then shrewd Telemachus began his speech to them:

"You suitors of my mother, who all have
such insolent arrogance, let us for now
enjoy our banquet, but no more shouting,
for it's grand to listen to a singer [370]
as fine as this one—his voice is like a god's. 500
But in the morning let us all assemble,
sit down for a meeting, so I can speak
and tell you firmly to depart my home.
Make yourself some different meals which eat up
your own possessions, moving house to house.
But if you think it's preferable and better
for one man's livelihood to be consumed
without paying anything, I'll call upon
the immortal gods to see if Zeus
will bring about an act of retribution. 510
And if you are destroyed inside my home, [380]
you will not be avenged."

Telemachus finished.
They all bit their lips, astonished that he'd spoken out
so boldly. Then, Antinous, son of Eupeithes,

"Telemachus, the gods themselves,
it seems, are teaching you to be a braggart
and give rash speeches. I do hope that Zeus,
son of Cronos, does not make you king
of this sea island Ithaca, even though
it is your father's legacy to you." 520

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said:

"Antinous, will you be angry with me,
if I say something? I would be happy [390]
to accept that, if Zeus gave it to me.
Are you claiming that becoming king
is the very worst of trials for men?
No. To be king is not something evil.
One's family gets rich immediately,
and one receives more honours for oneself.
But there are other kings of the Achaeans, 530
many of them here in sea-girt Ithaca,
young and old, one of whom could well be king,
since lord Odysseus is dead, but I
will rule our home and slaves, battle spoils
which brave Odysseus won for me."

Then Eurymachus, son of Polybus, replied:

"Telemachus, these matters surely lie [400]
in the gods' laps—which of the Achaeans
will rule sea-girt Ithaca. But you can keep
all your possessions for yourself as king 540
in your own home. Let no man come with force
and seize your property against your will,
no, not while men still live in Ithaca.
But I would like to ask you, my good man,
about that stranger. Where does he come from?
From what country does he claim to be?
Where are his family, his paternal lands?
Does he bring news your father's coming,
or is he here pursuing his own business?
He jumped up so fast and left so quickly! 550
He did not stay to let himself get known. [410]
And yet to look at him, he didn't seem
a worthless man."

Prudent Telemachus
then answered him and said:

my father's journey back to Ithaca
is no doubt done for. I no longer trust
in messages, no matter what the source.
Nor do I care for any prophecy
my mother picks up from those soothsayers
she summons to these halls. That stranger
is a guest-friend of my father's. He says 560
that he's from Taphos. His name is Mentes,
son of wise Anchialus. He rules as king
over oar-loving Taphians."

He said this, [420]
but in his heart Telemachus had recognized
the immortal goddess. At that point, the suitors
switched to dancing and to singing lovely songs.
They amused themselves until dark evening came.
Then each man went to his own house to sleep.
Telemachus moved up to where his room was built,
high in the splendid courtyard, with a spacious view, 570
his mind much preoccupied on his way to bed..
Accompanying him, quick-minded Eurycleia
held two flaming torches. She was Ops's daughter,
son of Peisenor. Some years ago Laertes [430]
had purchased her with his own wealth—at the time,
she was in her early youth—paying twenty oxen.
In his home he honoured her the way he did
his noble wife, but not once did he have sex with her,
because he wanted to avoid annoying his wife.
She was now carrying two blazing torches for him. 580
Of all the female household slaves she was the one
who loved him most, for she had nursed him as a child.
He opened the doors of the well-constructed room,
sat on the bed, and pulled off his soft tunic,
handed it to the wise old woman, who smoothed it out,
and folded it, then hung the tunic on a peg
beside the corded bedstead. Then she left the room, [440]
pulling the door shut by its silver handle.
She pulled the bolt across, using its leather thong.
Telemachus lay there all night long, wrapped up 590
in sheep's wool, his mind thinking of the journey
which Athena had earlier proposed to him.

Notes to Book One

*The Muses, the divine patrons of the arts, were daughters of Zeus. [Back to Text]

*. . . had killed: Aegisthus had seduced Agamemnon's wife while the latter was in Troy and, when he returned from the war, the two lovers killed Agamemnon and took control of Argos. Orestes, who was away at the time, came back to Argos in disguise and avenged his father. This famous story is referred to a number of times in the Odyssey (the account in Book 3 is the most detailed).

*. . . keen-eyed killer of Argus: Hermes, Zeus's divine son, killed the monster Argus, whom Hera had told to guard the goddess Io to prevent her getting into sexual mischief with Zeus.

*. . . navel stone: the Greek word omphalos (navel stone) Homer uses here to describe Calypso's island of Ogygia. More commonly in later works the word designates "the world's navel stone" at Delphi.

*. . . all the Cyclopes: the Cyclopes, as we find out later in the poem, are aggressive cannibal monsters with only one eye.

* . . . address the suitors: the suitors are rich and noble young princes who have come to Ithaca to pay court to Odysseus's wife, Penelope, who, they believe, is a widow in need of a husband. As we soon discover, they are seriously disrupting the royal palace in Ithaca.

*. . . guest-friend: this phrase indicates a special relationship established between two people, one of whom has been a guest welcomed in the other's house, or who have exchanged visits to each other's houses. Telemachus is trying to establish if Mentes, whom Athena is impersonating, has come to Ithaca with this special bond already established between himself and Odysseus on the basis of a previous visit, or whether Mentes is, like so many other recent visitors, a stranger coming to Ithaca for the first time.

*Dulichium . . . Zycanthus . . . Same: these are islands close to Ithaca, part of Odysseus' kingdom.




Telemachus in Seach of his Father

Book Two

Telemachus Prepares for His Voyage

[ Telemachus summons all the Achaeans to an assembly; Aegyptius speaks first; Telemachus complains about the suitors and threatens them; Antinous replies, blaming Penelope, describing how she has deceived the suitors, and issuing an ultimatum to Telemachus; Telemachus says he will never send his mother away; Zeus sends two eagles as an omen; Halistherses prophesies trouble for the suitors if they don't stop; Eurymachus replies with a threat and an ultimatum; Telemachus announces his intention of making a sea voyage; Telemachus prays to Athena, who reappears as Mentor and gives instructions for the trip; the suitors mock Telemachus; Telemachus tells Eurycleia to prepare supplies for the voyage; Athena organizes a ship and a crew for Telemachus and induces the suitors to sleep; Telemachus and the crew collect the supplies, load them onboard, and sail away from Ithaca.]

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
Odysseus' dear son jumped up out of bed and dressed.
He slung a sharp sword from his shoulders, then laced
his lovely sandals over his shining feet.
Then he left his room, his face resembling a god's.
At once he asked the loud-voiced heralds to summon
all the long-haired Achaeans to assembly.
They issued the call, and the Achaeans came,
gathering quickly. When the assembly had convened,
Telemachus moved straight into the meeting, 10 [10]
gripping a bronze spear. He was not by himself—
two swift-footed hunting dogs accompanied him.
Athena cast down over him a god-like poise—
all the people were astonished at his presence,
as he entered and sat down in his father's chair,
while the senior men gave way. Among those present,
heroic Aegyptius was the first to speak,
a man stooped with age, but infinitely wise.
His son, the warrior Antiphus, had sailed to Troy,
that horse-rich city, along with lord Odysseus, 20
in their hollow ships. But in his cave the wild Cyclops
had slaughtered him and made him his final meal. [20]
Aegyptius had three other sons. One of them,
Eurynomus, was with the suitors. The other two
were always working in their father's fields. But still,
Aegyptius could not forget the son who'd died.
And now, racked with grief and mourning, he shed tears
as he addressed them:

"Men of Ithaca,
listen now to what I have to say.
We have not held a general meeting 30
or assembly since the day Odysseus
sailed off in his hollow ships. What man
has made us gather now? What's his reason?
Is he a younger or a senior man?
Has he heard some news about the army [30]
and will tell us details of its journey home,
now that he has heard the news himself?
Or is it some other public business
he will introduce and talk about?
He has my blessing! I pray that Zeus 40
fulfils whatever he has in his heart
and makes his wishes work out for the best."

Aegyptius spoke. Odysseus' dear son rejoiced
at such auspicious words. But he did not sit long,
for he was very keen to speak. So he stood up
in the middle of the meeting. In his hand,
Peisenor, a herald who provided shrewd advice,
placed the sceptre.* Telemachus began to speak,
talking to Aegyptius first of all:

"Old man, [40]
the one who called the people to this meeting 50
is not far off, as you will quickly learn.
I did. For I'm a man who suffers more
than other men. But I have no reports
of our returning army, no details
I've just heard myself to pass along to you,
nor is there other public business
I'll announce or talk about. The issue here
is my own need, for on my household
troubles have fallen in a double sense.
First, my noble father's perished, the man 60
who was once your king and my kind father.
And then there's an even greater problem,
which will quickly and completely shatter
this entire house, and my whole livelihood
will be destroyed. These suitors, the dear sons [50]
of those men here with most nobility,
are pestering my mother against her will.
They're don't want to journey to her father,
Icarius, in his home, where he himself
could set a bride price for his daughter 70
and give her to the man he feels he likes,
the one who pleases him the most. Instead,
they hang around our house, day after day,
slaughtering oxen, fat goats, and sheep.
They keep on feasting, drinking sparkling wine
without restraint, and they consume so much.
There's no man to guard our home from ruin,
as Odysseus did before. I cannot act
the way he used to and avert disaster. [60]
If I tried, I would be hopeless, a man 80
who had not learned what courage is. And yet,
if I had power, I would defend myself,
because we can't endure what's happening.
My home is being demolished in a way
that is not right. You men should be ashamed.
You should honour other men, your neighbours,
who live close by. And you should be afraid
of anger from the gods, in case their rage
at your bad acts turns them against you.
I beg you by Olympian Zeus and Themis, 90
who summons and disperses men's assemblies,
restrain yourselves, my friends—leave me alone
to suffer my own bitter grief, unless [70]
Odysseus, my noble father, for spite
has hurt well-armed Achaeans, and now,
in recompense for this, you angry gods
are harming me by urging these men on.
For me it would be better if you gods
ate up my landed property and flocks.
If you gorged yourselves, then someday soon
there might be recompense. All the time 100
you were doing that, we'd walk up and down,
throughout the city, asking for our goods
to be returned, until the day every piece
was given back. But now you load my heart
with pain beyond all hope."

Telemachus spoke. [80]
Then in his anger he threw the sceptre on the ground
and burst out crying. Everyone there pitied him,
so all the others men kept silent, unwilling
to give an angry answer to Telemachus.
Antinous was the only one to speak. He said: 110

"Telemachus you boaster, your spirit
is too unrestrained. How you carry on,
trying to shame us, since you so desire
the blame should rest on us. But in your case,
Achaean suitors aren't the guilty ones.
Your own dear mother is, who understands
how to use deceit. It's been three years now—
and soon it will be four—since she began
to frustrate hearts in our Achaean chests. [90]
She gives hope to each of us, makes promises 120
to everyone, and sends out messages.
But her intent is different. In her mind
she has thought up another stratagem:
in her room she had a large loom set up,
and started weaving something very big,
with thread that was quite thin. She said to us,

'Young men, those of you who are my suitors,
since lord Odysseus is dead, you must wait,
although you're keen for me to marry,
'til I complete this cloak—otherwise 130
my weaving would be wasted and in vain.
It is a shroud for warrior Laertes,
for the day a lethal fate will strike him. [100]
Then none of the Achaean women here
will be annoyed with me because a man
who acquired so many rich possessions
should lie without a shroud.'

"That's what she said.
And our proud hearts agreed. And so each day
she wove at her great loom, but every night
she set up torches and pulled the work apart. 140
Three years she fooled Achaeans with this trick.
They trusted her. But as the seasons passed,
the fourth year came. Then one of her women
who knew all the details spoke about them,
and we caught her undoing her lovely work.
Thus, we forced her to complete the cloak [110]
against her will. The suitors now say this,
so you, deep in your heart, will understand
and all Achaeans know—send your mother back.
Tell her she must marry whichever man 150
her father tells her and who pleases her.
But if she keeps on doing this for long,
teasing Achaea's sons because in her heart
she knows that she's been given by Athena,
more than any other woman, a skill
in making lovely things, a noble heart,
and cunning of a sort we never hear about
in any fair-haired woman of Achaea,
even those who lived so long ago—
Tyro, Alcmene, and Mycene,* 160 [120]
the one who wore the lovely headband—
none of them had shrewdness which could match
Penelope's. Yet in one thing at least
her scheme did not go well. Your livelihood
and your possessions will keep being consumed
as long as in her mind she follows plans
the gods have now put in her heart. And so,
while she is gaining a great reputation,
you're sad about so much lost sustenance.
But we are not going back to our own lands, 170
or some place else, not until she marries
an Achaean man of her own choosing."

Prudent Telemachus then said in reply:

"Antinous, there's no way I will dismiss [130]
out of this house against her will the one
who bore and nursed me. As for my father,
he's in a distant land, alive or dead.
It would be hard for me to compensate
Icarius with a suitable amount,
as I would have to do, if I sent her back. 180
If I didn't do that, then her father
would treat me badly, and some deity
would send other troubles, since my mother,
as she left this house, would call upon
the dreaded Furies. Men would blame me, too.
That's why I'll never issue such an order.
And if your heart is angry about this,
then leave my home, go have your feasts elsewhere.
Eat up your own possessions, changing homes, [140]
one by one. But if you think it's better, 190
more in your interests, that one man's goods
should be destroyed without repayment,
then use them up. But I will call upon
the immortal gods to ask if somehow Zeus
will give me retribution. Then you'll die
here in my home and never be avenged."

Telemachus spoke. Then from a mountain peak
far-seeing Zeus replied by sending out two eagles,
flying high up in the sky. For some time they soared
like gusts of wind, with their wings spread out, side by side. 200
But when they reached the middle of the crowded meeting, [150]
with quick beats of their wings they wheeled around,
swooping down on everyone, destruction in their eyes.
Then with their talons they attacked each other,
clawing head and neck, and flew off on the right,
past people's homes, across the city. They were amazed
to see these birds with their own eyes. In their hearts
they were stirred to think how everything would end.
Then old warrior Halitherses, Mastor's son,
addressed them. He surpassed all men of his own time 210
in knowledge about birds and making prophecies
of what Fate had in store. Thinking of their common good, [160]
he spoke up and said:

"Listen to me, men of Ithaca.
Hear what I say. In what I'm going to speak,
I'm talking to the suitors most of all.
A mighty ruin is rolling over them.
For Odysseus will not be away for long
from his own friends. I think even now
he's near by, planning a disastrous fate
for all the suitors. And he'll be a scourge 220
to many others here in sunny Ithaca.
Long before that we should be considering
how to stop this. Or rather, these suitors
should end it themselves. That would achieve
what's best for them and do so right away.
For I am not unskilled in prophecy— [170]
I understand things well. To Odysseus
I say that everything is turning out
just as I told him. Back when the Achaeans,
with resourceful Odysseus in their ranks, 230
were sailing off to Troy, I prophesied
he'd suffer many troubles and would lose
all his companions, before returning home
in twenty years unknown to anyone.
Now everything I said is coming true."

Eurymachus, Polybus' son, then spoke out in reply:

"Old man, you should go home and prophesy
to your own children, so that something bad
does not happen to them later. In these things
I can foretell events much better than you can. 240 [180]
There are lots of birds flying here and there
beneath the sunshine, and not all of them
are omens of disaster. Odysseus
has perished far away, and how I wish
you had died there with him. If you had,
you wouldn't utter prophecies like these
or be encouraging Telemachus
when he's enraged, in hopes you'll get a gift,
something he might give you for your house.
But I tell you this—and it will happen. 250
You know many things an old man knows,
so if your words deceive a younger man
and incite him to get angry, first of all, [190]
he'll be worse off, and, with these men here,
won't have the slightest power to act.
And on you, old man, we'll lay a penalty
that will pain your heart to pay—your sorrow
will be difficult to bear. But now here,
among you all, I will myself provide
Telemachus advice. He must command 260
his mother to return home to her father.
They will prepare a wedding and provide
as many lovely presents as befit
a well-loved daughter. Before that happens,
I don't think Achaea's sons will end
their unwelcome wooing, for there's no one
we're afraid of yet—not Telemachus, [200]
for all his wordiness—nor do we care
about a prophecy which you, old man,
may spout. It won't come to fruition, 270
and people will despise you all the more.
And his possessions will be eaten up
in this shameful way. There will never be
compensation given, so long as she
keeps putting off Achaeans in this marriage.
Because she's so desirable, we wait here,
day after day, as rivals, and don't seek
different women, any one of whom
might be suitable for us to marry."

Shrewd Telemachus then said in reply:

"Eurymachus, 280
all you other noble suitors, no longer
will I make requests of you or speak of it, [210]
for gods and all Achaeans understand.
Just give me a swift ship and twenty rowers—
so I can make a journey and return
to various places, to sandy Pylos
and then to Sparta, to see if I can find
some news about my father's voyage home—
he's been gone so long—if any mortal man
can tell me. Or I'll hear Zeus' voice perhaps, 290
which commonly provides men information.
If I hear my father is still living
and returning home, I could hold out here
for one more year, although it's hard for me.
If I learn he's dead and gone, I'll come back [220]
to my dear native land, build him a tomb,
and there perform as many funeral rites
as are appropriate. And after that,
I'll give my mother to a husband."

Telemachus said this, then sat down. Next Mentor, 300
who'd been noble Odysseus' companion,
stood up among them. When he'd sailed off in his ships,
Odysseus had made Mentor steward of his household,
charging them to follow what the old man ordered
and telling Mentor to keep all property secure.
Keeping in mind their common good, he spoke them:

"Men of Ithaca, listen now to me.
Hear what I have to say. From now on [230]
let no sceptred king ever be considerate
or kind or gentle. Let him in his heart 310
ignore what's right, act with cruelty,
and strive for evil, for no one here,
none of those whom divine Odysseus ruled,
remembers him, yet in his role as father,
he was compassionate. Not that I object
to these proud suitors and the violent acts
which they, with their malicious minds, commit,
for they are putting their own heads at risk,
when they use force to drain Odysseus' home
of its resources and claim he won't come back. 320
But at this point it's the other people
I am angry with, you who sit in silence [240]
and don't say anything to criticize
or make the suitors stop, even though
there are many of you and few of them."

Then Leocritus, son of Euenor, spoke in reply:

"Mentor, you mischief maker, your wits
have wandered off. What are you saying,
urging men to make us stop? It would be hard
to fight against those who outnumber you— 330
and about a feast. Even if Odysseus,
king of Ithaca, were to come in person,
eager in his heart to drive out of his halls
these noble suitors eating up his home,
his wife would not rejoice at his arrival,
although she yearned for him. For if he fought
against so many men, then he would meet [250]
a shameful death right here. What you've just said
is quite irrelevant. So come on now,
you people should disperse, each one 340
go off to his own land. As for Telemachus,
well, Mentor and Halitherses, comrades
of his ancestral house from years ago,
will speed him on his way. But still, I think
he'll be sitting here a long time yet,
collecting his reports in Ithaca.
He's never going to undertake that trip."

Leocritus spoke and soon dissolved the meeting.
The men dispersed, each man to his own house.
The suitors went inside godlike Odysseus' home. 350

Telemachus walked away to the ocean shore. [260]
There, once he'd washed his hands in gray salt water,
to Athena he made this prayer:

"O hear me,
you who yesterday came to my home
as a god and ordered me to set out
in a ship across the murky seas,
to learn about my father's voyage back
after being away so long. All this
Achaeans are preventing, most of all,
the suitors with their wicked arrogance." 360

As he said this prayer, Athena came up close to him,
looking and sounding just like Mentor. She spoke—
her words had wings:

"Telemachus, [270]
in future days you will not be worthless
or a stupid man, if you have in you now
something of your father's noble spirit.
He's the sort of man who, in word and deed,
saw things to their conclusion. So for you
this trip will not be useless or without result.
If you're not sprung from Penelope and him, 370
then I have no hope that you'll accomplish
what you desire to do. It's true few men
are like their fathers. Most of them are worse.
Only very few of them are better.
But in future you'll not be unworthy
or a fool, and you do not completely lack
Odysseus' wisdom, so there is some hope [280]
you will fulfill your mission. So set aside
what those foolish suitors have advised.
They lack all discretion, all sense of justice, 380
for they have no idea of death, the dark fate
closing in on them, when in a single day
they will all perish. You must not delay
that trip you wish to make. I am a friend
of your ancestral home, so much so that I
will furnish a fast ship for you and come
in person with you. But now you must go home.
Mingle with the suitors. Collect provisions,
and put everything in some containers—
wine in jars and barley meal, which strengthens men, 390 [290]
in thick leather sacks. I'll go through the town
and quickly round up a group of comrades,
all volunteers. In sea-girt Ithaca,
I'll choose from the many ships, new and old,
the best one for you, and then, when that ship
has been made ready and is fit to sail,
we'll launch it out into the wine-dark sea."

Athena, Zeus' daughter, finished speaking,
Telemachus did not stay there for long,
once he had heard the goddess speak. He set off 400
toward his home, with a heavy heart, and there
he found the arrogant suitors in the palace,
by the courtyard, skinning goats and singeing pigs. [300]
Antinous came up laughing at Telemachus.
He grabbed his hand and spoke to him, saying:

you're such a braggart—an untamed spirit.
You should never let that heart of yours
entertain any further nasty words
or actions. I think you should eat and drink,
just as you did before. Achaeans here 410
will certainly see to it you acquire
all the things you need—some hand-picked oarsmen
and a ship, so you can quickly travel
to sacred Pylos in search of some report
about your noble father."

Prudent Telemachus
then answered him and said:

"Antinous, [310]
it's quite impossible for me to eat
and stay quiet with your overbearing group
or to enjoy myself with my mind relaxed.
Is it not sufficient that in days past, 420
while I was still a child, you suitors
consumed so much of my fine property?
But now that I've grown up and teach myself
by listening to others and my spirit
gets stronger here inside me, I will try
to counteract the wicked fate you bring,
either by going to Pylos, or else here,
in this community. For I will set out,
and the voyage which I've talked about
will not be useless, even though I travel 430
as a passenger and not the master
of the ship or oarsmen. It seems to me
you think that will improve things for you." [320]

Telemachus spoke. Then he casually pulled his hand
out of Antinous' grasp. Meanwhile, the suitors,
preoccupied with feasting in the house, mocked him
and kept up their abusive insults. One of them,
an over-proud young man, would speak like this:

"It seems Telemachus really does intend
to murder us. He'll bring men to help him 440
back from sandy Pylos or from Sparta.
That's how terrible his resolution is.
Or else he wants to head off to Ephyre,
that rich land, so he can fetch from there
some lethal medicines and then throw them
in the wine bowl, to destroy us all." [330]

And after that another proud young man would say:

"Who knows whether he might die himself,
once he sets off in his hollow ship, roaming
far away from friends, just like Odysseus? 450
If so, he'll provide still more work for us.
We'll have to split up everything he owns
and hand this house over to his mother
and the man she marries."

That's how the suitors talked.
But Telemachus just walked away, going down
to the high-roofed chamber which stored his father's wealth,
an extensive place. Bronze and gold lay there in stacks,
with clothing packed in chests and stores of fragrant oil.
Huge jars of old sweet wine stood there—each one contained [340]
drink fit for gods and not yet mixed with water— 460
arranged in rows along the wall, in case Odysseus,
after so many hardships, ever reached his home.
The close-fitting double doors were firmly closed,
and a female steward stayed there day and night,
protecting everything, the shrewd Eurycleia,
daughter of Ops, Peisenor's son. Telemachus
called her into the storage room, then said:

"Old Nurse,
pour some sweet wine into jars for me,
the best wine you've got after the stock [350]
you've planned to store here for Odysseus, 470
that ill-fated man, born from Zeus, in case,
after evading death and fate, he shows up
from somewhere.* Fill twelve jars and fit them all
with covers. Pour me out some barley grain
in well-stitched leather sacks. Make sure there are
twenty measures of ground-up barley meal.
But keep this knowledge to yourself. Just get
all these things assembled. In the evening,
once my mother goes upstairs into her room
to get some sleep, I'll come to collect them. 480
I'm off to sandy Pylos and to Sparta,
to see if I can get some information
about my dear father's journey home, [360]
if there is any news I can find out."

Telemachus spoke. The dear nurse Eurycleia
let out a cry and began to weep. Then she spoke—
her words had wings:

"Oh my dear child,
how did this thought gain entry to your heart?
Where on this wide earth do you intend to roam,
with you an only son and so well loved? 490
In some distant land among strange people
Odysseus, a man born from Zeus, has died.
As soon as you have gone from here, the suitors
will start their wicked schemes to hurt you later—
how they can have you killed by trickery
and then parcel up among themselves
all your possessions. You must stay here
to guard what's yours. You don't need to suffer
what comes from wandering on the restless sea." [370]

Council of Jupiter, Minerva, and Mercury


Shrewd Telemachus then answered her and said: 500

"Be brave, dear nurse, for I have not planned this
without help from a god. But you must swear
you won't mention this to my dear mother,
until eleven or twelve days from now,
or until she misses me or learns I've gone,
so she does not mar her lovely face with tears."

Once Telemachus said this, the old woman swore
a mighty oath by all the gods she'd tell no one.
When she had sworn and the oath had been completed,
she went immediately to pour wine into jars 510
and fill the well-stitched leather sacks with barley meal. [380]
Telemachus went up into the dining hall
and there rejoined the company of suitors.
Then goddess Athena with the gleaming eyes
thought of something else. Looking like Telemachus,
she went all through the city. To every man
she came up to she gave the same instructions,
telling them to meet by the fast ship that evening.
Next, she asked Noemon, fine son of Phronius,
for a swift ship, and he was happy to oblige. 520
Then the sun went down, and all the roads grew dark.
Athena dragged the fast ship down into the sea
and stocked it with supplies, all the materials [390]
well-decked boats have stowed on board, then moved the ship
to the harbour's outer edge. There they assembled,
that group of brave companions, and the goddess
instilled fresh spirit in them all. Then Athena,
goddess with the glittering eyes, thought of one more thing.
She set off, going to divine Odysseus' home.
There she poured sweet drowsiness on all the suitors. 530
She made them wander round as they were drinking
and knocked the cups out of their hands. When sleep
fell down across their eyelids, the suitors felt an urge
not to stay sitting there for any length of time,
but to get themselves some rest down in the city.
Then bright-eyed Athena told Telemachus
to come outside, by the entrance to the spacious hall. [400]
In her voice and form she resembled Mentor:

"Telemachus, your well-armed companions
are already sitting beside their oars, 540
waiting for you to launch the expedition.
Let's be off, so we don't delay the trip
a moment longer."

With these words, Pallas Athena
quickly led the way, and Telemachus followed
in her footsteps. Once they'd come down to the sea
and reached the ship, on shore they came across
their long-haired companions. Telemachus spoke to them
with strength and power:

"Come, my friends, let's gather [410]
our supplies. They've already been assembled,
all together in the hall. My mother 550
knows nothing of all this, and neither do
any other women of the household.
I've mentioned this to only one of them."

After saying this, Telemachus led them away,
and the group then followed. They carried everything
to the well-decked ship and stowed it all in place,
as Odysseus' dear son instructed them to do.
Then, with Athena going on board ahead of him,
Telemachus embarked. She sat in the stern.
Telemachus sat right beside her, as the men 560
untied the stern ropes, then climbed aboard the ship
and went to seat themselves beside their oarlocks.
Bright-eyed Athena arranged a fair breeze for them, [420]
a strong West Wind blowing across the wine-dark sea.
Telemachus then called out to his companions
to set their hands to the ship's rigging. Once they heard,
they went to work, raising the mast cut out of fir,
setting it in its hollow socket, securing it
with forestays, and hoisting the white sail aloft
with twisted ox-hide thongs. The belly of the sail 570
filled up with wind, and the ship sailed on its way.
As it sliced straight through the swell on its way forward,
around the bow began the great song of the waves.
When they had lashed the rigging on that fast black ship, [430]
they set out bowls brimful of wine and poured libations
to the eternal ageless gods, and of them all
especially to Athena, Zeus' bright-eyed daughter.
Then all night long and well beyond the sunrise,
their ship continued sailing on its journey.

Notes to Book Two

. . . the sceptre: in a traditional assembly a sceptre was passed to the man who was to speak next.

*Tyro, Alcmene, and Mycene: Tyro was the daughter of Salmoneus who had sex with Poseidon, producing two twin sons Pelias and Neleus; Alcmene was the daughter of Electryon, wife of Amphitryon, mother of Hercules (by Zeus) and Iphicles; Mycene was a daughter of Inachus. All three were well-known female figures in traditional myths.

*. . . born from Zeus: This epithet may often be a traditional tribute to someone important, without literal significance, but in Odysseus' case it is genealogically accurate. His father was the famous thief Autolycus, the son of Chione and Hermes. The latter was a divine son of Zeus, so that, in spite of the relative mediocrity of his family's wealth and power (compared to the other Achaean leaders) Odysseus could trace his ancestry back to Zeus.




Nestor's Sacrifice

Book Three

Telemachus Visits Nestor in Pylos

[Telemachus and his crew reach Pylos and are welcomed by Nestor; Nestor describes events at Troy and on the voyage home; Nestor gives a detailed account of Aegisthus' plan to seduce Clytaemnestra and murder Agamemnon; Nestor offers a sacrifice to Poseidon, then invites Athena and Telemachus to stay the night with him; Athena declines but Telemachus goes with Nestor; Nestor and his sons offer a sacrifice to Athena; Polycaste gives Telemachus a bath; Nestor orders a chariot for Telemachus; Telemachus and Peisistratus leave Pylos, spend the night in Pherae, then continue their journey.]


When the sun had left the splendid sea and risen up
into an all-bronze heaven, giving light to gods
and mortal men and grain to farmers' fields,
the ship and crew reached Pylos, a well-built city
ruled by Nestor. There by the sea the city folk
were preparing black bulls as holy offerings
to Poseidon, dark-haired Shaker of the Earth.*
There were nine groups, each with five hundred people
and nine offerings of bulls ready to sacrifice.
As they were tasting samples of the innards 10
and cooking thigh parts for the gods, the ship and crew
were heading straight for shore. They hauled in and furled [10]
the sails on their trim ship, moored it, and disembarked.
With Athena showing him the way, Telemachus
stepped from the ship. The bright-eyed goddess spoke to him:

"Telemachus, no need to feel embarrassed,
not in the least, for this is why you've sailed
across the sea, to get information
about your father—where he is buried
and what fate has befallen him. Come now, 20
go directly to horse-taming Nestor.
Let's find out what advice his heart contains.
You yourself must beg him to report the truth.
He will not lie, for he is truly wise." [20]

Prudent Telemachus then answered her and said:

"Mentor, how shall I go up there and greet him?*
I've had no practice with such formal speech.
And then, when a young man seeks to question
an older one, that could bring him shame."

Athena, goddess with the gleaming eyes, then said: 30

"Telemachus, your heart will think of something,
and power from heaven will provide the rest.
For I don't think that you were born and raised
without being favoured by the gods."

She spoke.
Pallas Athena then quickly led them off.
Telemachus followed in the goddess' footsteps. [30]
They reached the group of Pylians gathered there,
where Nestor sat among his sons. Around them
his companions were preparing for the feast,
cooking meat and setting other pieces onto spits. 40
When they saw the strangers, they came thronging round,
clasping their hands and inviting them to sit.
Nestor's son Peisistratus approached them first,
took Athena and Telemachus both by the hand,
asked them to sit down on soft cushions and eat
beside his brother Thrasymedes and his father
on the beach. He gave them portions of the innards,
and then into a cup of gold he poured some wine. [40]
He made a toast to Pallas Athena, daughter
of aegis-bearing Zeus, then said to her:* 50

"Stranger, you must now pray to lord Poseidon,
for the feast which you have chanced upon
is in his honour. When you have offered
your libation and have prayed, as is right,
hand your comrade the cup of honey wine,
so he can pour out his libation, too,
for he looks like someone who offers prayers
to the immortals. All men need the gods.
Since he's a younger man of my own age,
I'll start by giving you this golden cup." 60 [50]

Saying this, he set the cup of sweet wine in her hand.
Athena rejoiced at such a wise and righteous man,
because he'd offered the gold cup to her first.
At once she made a solemn prayer to lord Poseidon:

"Hear me, Poseidon, you who enfold the earth—
do not hold back from bringing to fulfillment
those events we pray for. And to begin with,
give Nestor and his sons a glorious name,
and then grant all other men of Pylos
a pleasing recompense in answer to 70
these lovely offerings. And in addition,
grant that Telemachus and I get back,
once we've accomplished all those things [60]
for which we came here in our swift black ship."

That's the prayer Athena uttered then, while she herself
was taking care that everything would work out well.
She gave Telemachus the fine two-handled cup.
Odysseus' brave son then made a prayer like hers.
Once they'd finished roasting the upper cuts of meat
and pulled them off the spits, they served out portions 80
and had a sumptuous feast. When every one of them
had taken food and drink to his own heart's content,
Nestor, the Geranian horseman, began to speak:*

"It seems to me that it's a good time now
to ask our guests to tell us who they are,
now they've enjoyed our food. And so, strangers, [70]
who are you? What country did you sail from,
when you set your course across the water?
Are you on business? Or are you roaming
on the seas at random, like those pirates 90
who sail around, risking their own lives,
posing a threat to men from other lands?"

Then shrewd Telemachus spoke up in reply,
and boldly, too, because Athena herself had put
courage in his heart, so he might talk about
his absent father and acquire for himself
a noble reputation:

"Nestor, son of Neleus,
great glory of Achaeans, you asked us
where we come from, so I'll tell you. [80]
We're from Ithaca below Mount Neion. 100
My business, which I'll speak about, is private,
not a public matter. I am pursuing
wide-spread rumours of the brave Odysseus,
my father, who, they say, fought at your side
and utterly destroyed the Trojans' city.
We have heard reports about the others,
all those who went to war against the Trojans—
where each met his bitter fate—but Zeus,
son of Cronos, has made Odysseus' death
something unknown, for none of us can say 110
with any confidence where he was killed,
whether he was overwhelmed by enemies [90]
on land or killed at sea by waves stirred up
by Amphitrite.* That's why I've come
to sit now in your home, for there's a chance
you could tell me something of his death,
which you may have seen with your own eyes.
Or perhaps you've heard about his wanderings
from someone else. For his mother bore him
to go through trouble more than other men. 120
Do not pity me or, from compassion,
just offer me words of consolation,
but tell me truly how you chanced to see him.
If my father, brave Odysseus, in word or deed,
ever promised you something and kept his word,
way over there among the Trojans,
where Achaeans suffered such distress, [100]
I ask you now—remember what he did,
and give me the truth."

Responding to Telemachus,
Geranian horseman Nestor said:

"My friend, 130
you make me call to mind the suffering
and boundless courage of Achaea's sons
in all they went through over there, the things
we had to endure while on board the ships,
as we roamed across the misty waters,
in search of loot, with Achilles in the lead,
and all the fights around great Priam's city,*
where so many of our finest men were killed.
That's where warlike Ajax and Achilles lie,
and Patroclus, too, a man whose counsel 140 [110]
was like the gods'. My own dear son fell there,
Antilochus, as strong as he was noble,
outstanding for his speed and fighting skill.
And we endured countless other hardships
apart from these. Who could possibly describe
every detail of the men who perished?
If you were to spend five or six years here
questioning me about the brave Achaeans
and the troubles they went through, you'd grow tired
and sail back home well before I'd finished. 150
Nine years we spent scheming to bring them down
with every sort of trick, but Cronos' son
made all our plans so hard to carry out.
Over there no one ever tried to claim [120]
he could match Odysseus' shrewd advice.
In devising every kind of devious scheme
he was easily the best, your father,
if indeed you are his son. Looking at you,
I am astonished, for you really speak
the way he did. No one would ever think 160
a younger man could talk so much like him.
All that time back then, never once did I
and lord Odysseus, in council or assembly,
disagree. We spoke with a single heart
and gave the Argives wise and useful views
about how those events would best turn out.
But when Priam's towering city was destroyed [130]
and our ships set off, the Achaean fleet
was scattered by some god. And even so,
Zeus planned in his heart to give Achaeans 170
a sorrowful return. They had not been wise
or righteous, so many met a nasty fate,
thanks to the mortal anger of Athena,
bright-eyed goddess with a mighty father.
She incited the two sons of Atreus
to quarrel with each other. The two men
had quickly called Achaeans to assembly,
not in the usual way, but at sunset.
Achaea's sons arrived all flushed with wine.
Both kings delivered speeches. They explained 180 [140]
why they had called the meeting. Menelaus
told Achaeans to plan on going home
on the broad back of the sea. What he said
did not please Agamemnon in the least,
because he wished to keep the army there,
so they could all offer sacrifices
to appease Athena's dreadful anger.
The fool! He didn't know there was no chance
that she was going to hear what he would say.
For the minds of gods, who live forever, 190
are not altered quickly. So these two men
stood there, trading hard words with each other.
The armed Achaeans jumped up on their feet,
making an amazing noise. Two different plans [150]
were popular among them, and that night
no one slept, as both sides kept arguing,
each one with harsh opinions of the other,
for Zeus was bringing us a wretched fate.
In the morning, some of us dragged our ships
down to the sparkling sea, put goods on board— 200
our women, too, who wore their girdles low.
But half the soldiers stayed, remaining there
with Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
shepherd of his army. So half of us
embarked and rowed away. Our ships moved fast—
some god had made the yawning sea grow calm.
We came to Tenedos and sacrificed
to all the gods, still keen to get back home.*
But even then Zeus had not decided [160]
to let us all return—a stubborn god! 210
He stirred up a second nasty quarrel.
So some men turned their curving ships around
and sailed back, among them lord Odysseus,
that wise and cunning man, with his soldiers.
Once again he favoured Agamemnon,
son of Atreus. Then I fled away
with the remaining ships, which followed me.
I knew a god was planning something bad.
And Diomedes, warrior son of Tydeus,
urged his comrades on to act as we did. 220
Fair-haired Menelaus and his ships
sailed later. They caught up with us at Lesbos.
We'd been arguing about the major stretch—
should we sail to the north of rugged Chios [170]
towards the island of Psyria, keeping
Chios on our left, or take the southern route,
below Chios and past stormy Mimas.
So we asked a god to give us a sign.
He did and ordered us to carve our way
across the great sea straight to Euboea— 230
that way we would escape from trouble
as quickly as we could.* A blustery wind
began to blow, and so our ships moved fast
across the fish-filled seas. That very night
we landed at Geraestus, where we offered
many bulls' thighs to Poseidon, our thanks
for crossing the great sea. On the fourth day,
the crews of Diomedes, son of Tydeus,
tamer of horses, berthed their well-built ships [180]
in Argos, but I sailed on to Pylos.* 240
Once a god sent that wind to blow us home,
it never once let up. And so, my lad,
I made it back. But of the Achaeans—
the ones who died and those who got back home—
I didn't learn a thing. I just don't know.
But what I have found out, as I've sat here,
in my own home, you'll hear. You have that right.
I'll not conceal it from you. People say
great spear-fighting Myrmidons reached home safely,
led by the glorious son of brave Achilles, 250
as did the noble son of Poias, too,
Philoctetes. And Idomeneus
took all his comrades back to Crete, the ones [190]
who'd made it through the war. Not one of them
was lost at sea. As for Agamemnon,
although you live a long way off, you've heard
of his return—how he came home and then
how Aegisthus planned his cruel slaughter.
He later paid a terrible reckoning.
That's why it's good for any murdered man 260
to leave a worthy son. For Orestes
got his revenge against his father's killer,
sly Aegisthus, who'd killed Agamemnon,
that splendid man. And you, my friend, I see
that you're a strong, fine-looking man,
but you must act with courage, so those born
in future years will say good things of you." [200]

Shrewd Telemachus then said in reply:

son of Neleus, great glory of Achaeans,
yes, indeed, that son got his revenge. 270
Achaeans all will celebrate his fame
and sing of it to men in years to come.
If gods would only give me strength like that,
so I could pay these haughty suitors back—
they bring me such distress. In all their pride
they keep on plotting wretched things for me.
But happiness like that the gods deny me,
me and my father. But now, in spite of that,
I must keep going."

Geranian horseman Nestor [210]
then said to Telemachus:

"My friend, 280
since you mentioned this and made me think of it,
they say that many suitors in your home,
seeking to become your mother's husband,
keep devising wicked schemes against you,
over your objections. So tell me this—
are you being oppressed with your consent?
Or in response to what some god has said,
have people turned against you? Who knows
whether Odysseus will return some day
to pay them back for all their violence, 290
either alone or with a combined force
of all Achaeans? Ah, how I wish
Athena with her bright eyes were willing
to cherish you the way she cared back then
for fine Odysseus in the land of Troy, [220]
where we Achaeans had to undergo
such grievous times. For I have never seen
the gods display their love so openly
as Pallas Athena did supporting him.
If she was keen to love you in that way 300
and to take you to her heart, those suitors
would soon forget about the marriage."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered Nestor, saying:

"Old man, I don't think what you've described
will ever happen. What you have said
is too much to expect. I am surprised
you mention it. I entertain no hopes
that it could happen to me, even if
the gods themselves were willing."

Then Athena,
bright-eyed goddess, answered him:

"Telemachus, 310 [230]
what a speech just passed the barrier of your teeth!
A god could easily bring someone home
from a long way off, if he wanted to.
But I'd prefer to go through many hardships
and then see the day when I got back
and reached my home, than to complete my trip
only to be butchered by my own hearth,
the way that Agamemnon was cut down,
tricked by his own wife and by Aegisthus.
But the gods cannot protect a man from death— 320
which comes to all—even ones they love,
once the destroying fate of a harsh doom
has seized him."

Shrewd Telemachus
then said in answer to Athena:

although we're sad, let's not discuss this further. [240]
For him there'll be no more returning home.
No. For by this time the immortal gods
have planned some dismal fate for him. I'd like
to change the subject and ask Nestor something.
He's a righteous and intelligent man, 330
more so than others. He's been king, they say,
over three human generations. To me,
as I look at him, he seems immortal.
O Nestor, son of Neleus, tell me the truth.
How did wide-ruling Agamemnon,
son of Atreus, meet his death? And where
was Menelaus? As for Aegisthus,
that deceitful man, what did he devise
to kill a man much finer than himself?
Was Menelaus not in Achaean Argos, 340 [250]
but wandering around some foreign land?
Was that what made Aegisthus brave enough
to carry out the killing?"

Geranian horseman Nestor
then answered Telemachus and said:

"My boy,
I'll tell you all this and speak frankly, too.
You yourself obviously understand
what would have taken place if Menelaus,
Atreus' fair-haired son, had come home
from Troy and found Aegisthus living there,
in his own house. He would have killed the man. 350
No one would have heaped up a tomb for him—
he'd have been eaten by the dogs and birds,
as he lay on the plain outside the city. [260]
And not one of the Achaean women
would have lamented him, the one who planned
the monstrous act. We were over there in Troy,
fighting hard in battle after battle,
while he was having a good time, tucked away
in horse-breeding Argos, seeking to seduce
the wife of Agamemnon with his talk. 360
Lady Clytaemnestra at first turned down
such a repulsive crime, for she possessed
a noble heart. Besides, she had with her
a singer whom the son of Atreus
had firmly charged to watch out for his wife,
when he'd set out for Troy. But when fate
sent from the gods caught her and she succumbed,
Aegisthus took that singer far away, [270]
to a deserted island, and left him there,
a trophy for the birds to prey upon. 370
And when he wished to take her to his home,
she agreed to go. Then Aegisthus burned
many thigh cuts on the holy altars
sacred to the gods and offered up
all sorts of treasure, woven goods and gold,
for he had managed a tremendous act,
something his heart had never dreamed of.
Well, once we'd left Troy, we sailed together,
Menelaus and myself. At the time,
our relationship was very friendly. 380
But when we came to holy Sunium,
the Athenian headland, Phoebus Apollo
with his gentle shafts struck down and killed [280]
Menelaus' helmsman, Phrontis,
Onetor's son, as he gripped the steering oar
on the swift-moving ship.* He was a man
pre-eminent among the tribes of men
in piloting a ship through stormy winds.
Now, though Menelaus was still very keen
to keep going on his trip, he stayed there, 390
to bury his companion and provide
the funeral rites. But when he re-launched
his hollow ships upon the wine-dark sea
and quickly reached the steep crag of Malea,
then far-seeing Zeus carried out a scheme
to make his voyage dreadful. He sent down
blasting winds and immense waves, like mountains. [290]
Splitting Menelaus' fleet in two,
Zeus pushed some to Crete, where Cyndians live
beside banks of the river Iardanus. 400
There's a steep cliff there, a rock facing the sea
right in the misty surf, on Gortyn's borders,
where the South-West Wind smashes mighty waves
against the promontory on the left,
by Phaestus. A small rock in that spot holds back
the mighty waves. Some of his ships came there.
After making desperate efforts, the men
escaped destruction, but on that rock
the ships were smashed to pieces by the waves.
The wind then drove five other dark-nosed ships 410
over the waves and carried them to Egypt, [300]
where Menelaus and his ships then sailed
among some folk who spoke a foreign language,
gathering plentiful supplies and gold,
while at home Aegisthus planned the murder.
After he had killed the son of Atreus,
he ruled gold-rich Mycenae seven years.
Under his kingship people were oppressed.
But in the eighth year brave Orestes came
back from Athens—bad news for Aegisthus. 420
Orestes slew his father's murderer,
sly Aegisthus, because he had cut down
his famous father. Once he'd killed the man,
he held a funeral feast for all the Argives,
in remembrance of his hateful mother
and cowardly Aegisthus. That same day, [310]
Menelaus, so good at battle shouts,
arrived, bringing large amounts of treasure,
as much freight as his ships could carry.
So now, my friend, you must not wander off 430
and stay away from home too long, leaving
your possessions there, with such arrogant men
in your own house, in case they take over
all your wealth or eat it up. That would make
your voyage here quite useless. I'd urge you—
and this I strongly recommend—to go
to Menelaus. For he's just come home
from foreign places very recently,
when no one in his heart had any hope
he might be returning from those people. 440
For stormy winds had driven him off course [320]
at first, into a sea so large that birds
take a year or more to fly back from there.
That's how huge and terrifying it is.
But you and your companions should leave now
in your ship. If you'd like to go by land,
there are chariots and horses here for you.
My sons will help, as well, and be your guides
to fair-haired Menelaus, where he lives
in noble Sparta.* Make sure you ask him 450
to speak to you and to be quite candid.
He will not lie, for he is far too wise."

As Nestor finished, the sun was going down,
with darkness coming on. So Athena, [330]
the bright-eyed goddess, said to them:

"Old man,
what you've just said is true and relevant.
But now you should slice out the victims' tongues
and mix the wine, so we can make libations
to lord Poseidon and to other gods,
and then think of rest. It's that time of day. 460
For now the light has slid below the darkness,
and it's not right for us to linger here
at a banquet for the gods. We must get back."

Zeus' daughter spoke, and they heard what she had said.
Heralds poured out water for them to wash their hands,
and young boys filled up wine bowls to the brim with drink,
served everyone, pouring wine out in the cups, [340]
the first drops for libations. They threw the bulls' tongues
on the fire and, standing up, poured out their offerings.
That tribute made, they drank wine to their heart's content. 470
Then both Athena and godlike Telemachus
wished to get back to their hollow ship. But Nestor,
wanting them to stay, appealed to them and said:

"Zeus and other eternal gods forbid
that you should leave my home for your fast ship
as if you were departing from a man
who has no clothes or wealth, some pauper,
whose home has no rich store of cloaks or blankets
to give him and his guests a gentle sleep. [350]
No. My house has coverlets and lovely rugs. 480
Surely the dear son of brave Odysseus
will not lie down to sleep on a ship's deck,
not while I'm alive and still have children
left in my own halls to welcome strangers,
whoever visits me in my own home."

Athena, bright-eyed goddess, then answered Nestor:

"No doubt what you have said, old friend, is wise,
and Telemachus should follow your advice.
It would be far better if he did. But now,
when he goes back with you to get some sleep 490
in your own home, I'll go to our black ship, [360]
to rally the morale of our companions
and tell them everything. Among our group
I'm the only one who can make the claim
that I'm an older man. The rest are young,
all the same age as brave Telemachus.
They follow us because they are our friends.
I'll lie down on the black hollow ship tonight
and in the morning go to the Caucones,
where there's an old debt they still owe me, 500
not a small amount. Since Telemachus
has visited your home, give him horses,
the strongest and the fastest ones you have,
and send him off in a chariot with your son." [370]

Gleaming-eyed Athena said these words and left,
taking on the form of a sea eagle. Amazement
gripped all the Achaeans. And the old man, too,
was astonished as his eyes took in the sight.
He grabbed Telemachus' hand and said to him:

"My friend, I don't think you'll turn out to be 510
a bad or feeble man, if gods follow you
to be your guide, when you're so very young.
Of all those who live on Mount Olympus,
that is none other than Zeus' daughter,
the glorious Tritogeneia,* the god
who held your splendid father in such honour
among the Argives. But now, dear goddess,
be gracious and give me a noble fame, [380]
me, my children, and the wife I cherish.
And in return I'll sacrifice to you 520
a broad-faced heifer, still unbroken,
which no man yet has put beneath the yoke.
I'll offer her to you with gold-wrapped horns."

Nestor spoke this prayer, and Pallas Athena heard him.
Then Geranian horseman Nestor led them away,
with his sons and sons-in-law, to his lovely home.
Once they reached the splendid palace of the king,
they sat down in rows on high-backed chairs and couches.
When they'd all come in, the old man mixed for them [390]
a bowl of sweet wine ten years old, which his steward 530
opened after loosening the lid. The old man
had some of it mixed in a bowl, and then poured out
libations, as he prayed in earnest to Athena,
daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus. Others did the same.
Then they drank wine to their heart's content and left,
each to his own home, to get some sleep. Nestor,
the Geranian horseman, told Telemachus,
god-like Odysseus' dear son, to sleep right there,
on a corded bed in the echoing corridor,
with spear-fighter Peisistratus, leader of men, 540 [400]
there with him in the palace. Of all his sons
he was the only one as yet unmarried.
Nestor himself slept in an inner chamber
inside the high-roofed house, with his noble wife,
who had prepared the bed, lying down beside him.

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
Geranian horseman Nestor got up out of bed,
went outside, and sat down before his high white doors
on polished stones, which glistened, as if rubbed with oil.
Neleus in earlier times used to sit on them, 550
a man whose wise advice was equal to the gods.
But Fate had overtaken him by now. He'd gone [410]
to Hades, so now Geranian horseman Nestor,
protector of Achaeans, sat on those stones,
a sceptre in his hand. His sons came from their rooms
and gathered round him in a throng—Echephron,
Stratius, Perseus, Aretus, and godlike Thrasymedes.
Then the sixth son joined them, warrior Peisistratus.
They brought in godlike Telemachus, asking him
to sit among them. Geranian horseman Nestor 560
then began to speak to them:

"My dear children,
you must act on my desires, and quickly,
so I can propitiate Athena,
before the other gods. She came to me
in manifest form, at Poseidon's feast. [420]
So come—one of you must fetch a heifer
out there in the plain. And just to guarantee
the beast gets here as quickly as it can,
have the cattle herder drive it to me.
Then someone must set off for the black ship 570
of brave Telemachus and bring back
all his companions, leaving only two.
And tell the goldsmith Laerces to come,
so he can wrap the heifer's horns with gold.
All the rest of you stay here together.
Inform the inside household servants
to prepare a fine banquet in the house,
with chairs and logs set all around. Make sure
they bring fresh water."

Once Nestor finished speaking, [430]
the men all set to work. The heifer from the plain 580
was driven in, and brave Telemachus' comrades
arrived from their fine ship. The goldsmith came, as well,
gripping the bronze tools he needed for his trade,
an anvil, hammer, and well-crafted tongs, the things
he used to work the gold. And Athena also came,
ready to receive the sacrifice. Then Nestor,
the old chariot fighter, produced the gold. The smith
worked it into a rich design and wrapped it
around the heifer's horns, so that the goddess,
when she saw the offering, would rejoice. Stratius 590
and noble Echephron led in the heifer by the horns,
as Aretus entered from an inner room, [440]
bringing water in a basin etched with flowers
for them to wash their hands. In his other hand
he brought in a basket filled with barley grains.
Steadfast Thrasymedes stood holding a sharp axe
to cut down the heifer. And Perseus held a bowl
to catch the victim's blood. Then old man Nestor,
the chariot fighter, began the ritual washing
and sprinkled barley grains, intoning many prayers 600
to Athena. Then, as the initial offering,
from the beast's head he cut off a single hair
and threw it on the fire. When they'd made their prayers
and scattered barley grains, then Thrasymedes,
Nestor's daring son, approached the animal
and struck it. The axe sliced through sinews on its neck,
and the spirit of the beast ebbed out. The women—
Nestor's daughters, his sons' wives, his cherished wife, [450]
Eurydice, eldest daughter of Clymenus—
raised the sacred cry, as the men then lifted up 610
the animal's head above the much-travelled earth.
Peisistratus, leader of men, slit its throat,
and its black blood flowed. The spirit left its bones.
They carved the body quickly, cutting thighs bones out,
all in proper order, and then covered them
in a double fold of fat and set raw meat on top.
Next, the old man burned the pieces on split wood
and poured gleaming wine on them. Beside Nestor,
stood young men holding five-pronged forks. Once the thighs [460]
had been completely burned and they'd sampled innards, 620
they cut up the remaining meat, placed it on spits,
and held the pointed skewers on the fire.

Then lovely Polycaste, youngest daughter
of Nestor, son of Neleus, bathed Telemachus.
When the bath was finished, she rubbed him with rich oil
and gave him a tunic and fine cloak to wear.
Coming from his bath, he looked just like a god.
He went and sat by Nestor, the people's shepherd.

When they had cooked the upper cuts of meat [470]
and pulled them off the spits, they sat and ate. 630
The servers were distinguished men, who poured the wine
in goblets made of gold. Once they had all eaten
their fill of food and drink, Geranian horseman Nestor
was the first to speak. He said:

"Come now, my sons,
hitch up some fine-maned horses to a chariot,
so Telemachus can start his journey."

Nestor spoke. They heard and carried out his orders,
eagerly and quickly harnessing swift horses
onto the chariot. In it a servant woman
stored bread and wine and special delicacies, 640
assortments that those kings Zeus cherishes [480]
eat with delight. Then Telemachus climbed up
inside the splendid chariot, and Nestor's son
Peisistratus, leader of men, stepped up
beside him in the chariot, grabbed the reins,
and then cracked the whip. The pair of horses
raced willingly across the plain, leaving
the steep citadel of Pylos. All day long
they rattled the yoke and harness on their necks.

Then the sun set, and darkness covered all the roads. 650
They reached the home of Diocles in Pherae.
He was Ortilochus' son, whose father
was Alpheus, and there they spent the night. [490]
Diocles offered them the hospitality
he owed to strangers who stayed there as his guests.

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
they hitched their horses, climbed in the splendid chariot,
and set off from the echoing portico and gate.
With a touch of the whip, the horses raced along,
eager to run. The two men reached plains full of wheat, 660
in a hurry to complete their journey, so quickly
did their pair of horses pull them onward.
The sun then set, and all the roads grew dark.


Notes to Book Three

*. . . shaker of the earth: Poseidon was god of the sea and of earthquakes (hence, two common epithets applied to him: "encircler of the earth" and "shaker of the earth" or "earthshaker."

*Mentor: As in Book 2, Athena still has the voice and form of Mentor, Odysseus' trusted household steward.

*. . . aegis-bearing: The aegis is a shield borne by Zeus (or by a god to whom he lends it), symbolic of the storm cloud. It possesses terrible powers to make men afraid.

*Geranian horseman: Nestor is frequently called the "Geranian horseman," presumably because as a young lad he was raised in Gerania, away from his family in Pylos, which was destroyed by Hercules in his war against the Peloponnesian states. However, there are other interpretations of the name.

*. . . Amphitrite: Amphitrite, a sea goddess, is wife to Poseidon. The reference may be to the Atlantic Ocean.

*. . . Priam's city: Priam was king of Troy during the Trojan War.

*. . . Tenedos: an island near Troy.

*. . . as quickly as we could: The choice of routes back home offers a number of options, particularly if the fleet wishes to move from island to island (a slow but safer course). The god advises a straight rush across open water ("the great sea") to Euboea, a large island just off the mainland of Attica, a faster but potentially more dangerous course. For a very useful (and detailed) map of all the voyages back from Troy, including Nestor's, use the following link: Map of the Returns (it may take some time to download).

*. . . Argos: Diomedes was king of Argos, a town in the northern Peloponnese. It is not the same as the Argos ruled by Agamemnon and Menelaus, which is on the coastline in the south-east Peloponnese (and sometimes called Achaean Argos, a city often identified as Mycenae, although these two are also at times identified as two neighbouring places). It is not clear which Argos is referred to here. Geographically, the latter option seems preferable, since the fleet would probably reach that Argos first.

*. . . swiftly moving ship: The line about the "gentle" shafts of Apollo refers to some fatal but non-violent illness (like a fever), for which Apollo was considered responsible.

*. . . noble Sparta: Nestor offers Telemachus a choice here, but it is difficult to imagine how Telemachus could sail directly to Sparta, which is far inland in the mid-Peloponnese.

*Tritogeneia: the word means "Trito-born" (thrice born?) and is an epithet often given to Athena. Its precise significance is not known.




Mercury's Message to Calypso

Book Four

Telemachus Visits Menelaus in Sparta

[Telemachus and Peisistratus arrive at Menelaus' home in Sparta; Menelaus welcomes them, talks of Agamemnon and Odysseus; Helen questions Menelaus about the guests, drugs the wine, tells the story of Odysseus visiting Troy disguised as a beggar; Menelaus talks about the Trojan Horse; Telemachus' asks Menelaus' advice; Menelaus gives a long account of his travels in Egypt, especially his adventures with the Old Man of the Sea, the death of the lesser Ajax, and the death of Agamemnon; Menelaus invites Telemachus to stay, but Telemachus declines; the Suitors hatch a plan to kill Telemachus; Penelope hears of their plans and is anxious; Athena sends her a phantom to reassure her; some of the suitors sail off to ambush Telemachus.]

When Telemachus and Peisistratus reached
the Spartan plain and its surrounding hills,
they went straight to splendid Menelaus' palace.*
They found him inside his house, at a marriage feast
he was providing for his many relatives,
in honour of his noble son and daughter.
He was sending her away to Neoptolemus,
son of man-destroying Achilles—back in Troy
he had first promised he would offer her to him.
He'd pledged his word, and now the gods were making sure 10
the marriage would take place. He was seeing her off
with chariots and horses for her journey
to the famous city of the Myrmidons,
whom her husband ruled. For his son, Menelaus
was bringing Alector's daughter home to Sparta. [10]
That son, mighty Megapenthes, born to a slave,
was his favorite, for the gods had granted Helen
no more children after she had given birth
to the lovely girl Hermione, as beautiful
as golden Aphrodite. So they were feasting 20
in the massive palace with its high-pitched roof—
neighbours and relatives of glorious Menelaus,
all enjoying themselves. Among them was a singer,
accompanying his godlike song by playing the lyre.
As he began to sing, two tumblers ran and jumped
here and there, through the middle of the crowd.

As the two visitors, heroic Telemachus [20]
and Nestor's noble son, stood at the palace gates
with their two horses, lord Eteoneus came out,
a diligent attendant to splendid Menelaus. 30
When he noticed them, he went back inside the house,
to tell the shepherd of his people what he'd seen.
Standing close to Menelaus, he spoke to him—
his words had wings:

"Menelaus, raised by gods,
there are two strangers here, two men who look
as if they are descended from great Zeus.
So tell me if we should, on their behalf,
take their fast horses out of harness,
or send them off to find some other host
who'll welcome them as friends."

These words he uttered 40
really irritated fair-haired Menelaus, [30]
so he replied as follows:

"Before today,
Eteoneus, son of Boethous,
you haven't been a fool. But now you talk
just like a silly child. For both of us
often feasted on the hospitality
of other men before we got back here,
hoping that Zeus would give us some relief
from later suffering. So unhitch those horses
the strangers brought, and bring the men inside, 50
so they may dine."

Menelaus finished.
Then Eteoneus left, rushing from the hall
and calling out to other diligent attendants
to follow him. They took the sweating horses
from the harness and hitched them in the stables, [40]
scattering wheat for them, mixed with white barley grains,
leaned the chariot against the luminescent wall,
and led the men into the godlike building.
Telemachus and Peisistratus were amazed
by what they noticed in the regal palace— 60
for the high-roofed home of splendid Menelaus,
a man raised by Zeus, shimmered in the light,
as if illuminated by the sun or moon.
When their eyes had gazed on it with great delight,
they went in well-polished bathing tubs to wash.
After women servants had given them a bath,
rubbed them down with oil, and helped them put on
thick cloaks and tunics, they sat down on chairs [50]
right by Menelaus, son of Atreus. A serving woman
carried in a lovely pitcher made of gold 70
containing water for them to rinse their hands.
She poured it out into a silver basin,
so they could wash. Then beside them she pulled up
a polished table. A valued female servant
brought in bread and set it down before them,
and added many tasty delicacies as well,
taking freely from the food she had in store.
A carver lifted platters with all sorts of meat
and served them, then set down in front of the two men
goblets made of gold. Fair-haired Menelaus 80
welcomed both of them and said:

"Help yourselves. [60]
Enjoy our food. And once you've had your meal,
we'll ask you who you are. For in you two
your parents' breeding has not been destroyed—
since you are from a royal human stock,
from god-nurtured kings who wield a sceptre.
Worthless men could not father men like you."

Menelaus spoke. Then with his own hands he picked up
the roasted meat and set it down in front of them,
the fat back-cut of beef they'd placed in front of him, 90
a mark of honour. So the two men helped themselves,
eating the fine meal prepared and set before them.
When they'd had their heart's content of food and drink,
Telemachus leaned his head close to Nestor's son,
so no one else could hear, and spoke to him: [70]

"Son of Nestor, who brings my heart such joy,
look at how, throughout this echoing hall,
there's so much sparkling bronze and gold,
electrum, silver, ivory—to me
it's the interior of Zeus' home 100
on Mount Olympus, so much untold wealth—
I'm amazed just looking at it."

As he said this,
fair-haired Menelaus heard his words and spoke
to both of them—his words had wings:

"Dear lads,
no mortal man can really rival Zeus,
since his possessions and his palaces
endure forever. But among human beings,
someone else might challenge me or not [80]
about our wealth. I carried riches back
inside my ships, after we'd endured so much 110
while we were wandering. We made it home—
it took us more than seven years. We'd roamed
to Cyprus, Egypt, and Phoenicia.
We even reached the Ethiopians,
Sidonians, and Erembi—Lydia, too,
where lambs are born with horns and ewes give birth
three times in one full year. No master there,
nor any shepherd, ever lacks sweet milk
or cheese or meat, and through the entire year
their flocks are ready to produce their milk. 120
While I was wandering around these lands, [90]
gathering all sorts of goods, another man
slaughtered my own brother unexpectedly,
in secret, thanks to the duplicity
of his murderous wife. So you can understand
there is no joy for me in being king
of these possessions. You may have heard this
from your fathers, whoever they may be.
I suffered many troubles and allowed
a really well-established home, endowed 130
with many noble riches, to collapse.
I wish I could live with one third my wealth
here in my home, if those men could be safe,
the ones who died in the wide land of Troy,
far from horse-breeding Argos. And yet,
although I often sit here in my house [100]
feeling sorry and in mourning for them all,
sometimes groaning to relieve my spirit
and sometimes calling for a end to moaning,
for one can quickly get too much of sorrow, 140
still, for all my grieving, I do not lament
all those men as much as I do one man,
who, when I think of him, makes me despise
both sleep and food, for of all Achaeans
no one toiled as hard as did Odysseus,
who took so much upon himself. For him,
it seems, there would be no end of trouble,
and I cannot forget to grieve for him.
He's been away so long. And we don't know
if he's alive or dead. Old man Laertes, 150
I would think, is in mourning for him, [110]
and so is sensible Penelope,
and Telemachus, as well, whom he left
a new-born child at home."

Menelaus spoke.
His words stirred up a desire in Telemachus
to lament his father. So from his eyelids
he shed a tear onto the ground, as he heard
what Menelaus said about Odysseus.
With both his hands he pulled up the purple cloak
to hide his eyes. Noticing this, Menelaus 160
debated in his mind and heart: Should he allow
Telemachus to speak about his father,
or should he first question him and sound him out
on each and every detail? As he thought of this [120]
in his mind and heart, Helen came into the room,
emerging from her fragrant high-roofed chamber.
She looked like golden-arrowed goddess Artemis.
With her came Adreste, who set in place for her
a finely crafted chair. Alcippe carried in
a soft wool rug. Phylo brought a silver basket, 170
which Helen had been given by Alcandre,
wife to Polybus, who lived in Thebes in Egypt,
where the most massive hordes of rich possessions
lie in people's homes. He'd given Menelaus
a pair of tripods and two silver bathing tubs,
as well as ten gold talents. In addition, [130]
his wife presented Helen with some lovely gifts—
a golden spinning staff and silver basket,
with wheels underneath and rims of plated gold.
The servant woman Phylo brought this basket in 180
and placed it by her side, filled with fine-spun yarn.
On it lay the spinning rod full of purple wool.
Helen sat down on the chair, a stool beneath her feet.
At once she started speaking to her husband,
asking detailed questions.

"Do we know,
my divinely cherished Menelaus,
who these men who've come into our home
claim to be? Shall I speak up and pretend,
or shall I tell the truth? My heart tells me [140]
I must be frank. I can't say I've ever seen 190
someone who looks so much like someone else,
whether man or woman. When I see it,
I'm amazed—this man looks just like the son
of brave Odysseus—I mean Telemachus,
whom he left at home a new-born child,
when, because I'd acted so disgracefully,
you Achaeans all marched off to Troy,
your hearts intent on brutal war."

Fair-haired Menelaus then said in reply:

"This likeness you've just noticed, my dear wife, 200
I've observed, as well. His feet are similar,
as are his hands, the glances from his eyes, [150]
his head, and his hair on top. And just now,
as I was remembering Odysseus,
discussing all the troubles he'd endured
because of me, he let a bitter tear
fall from his eyes and raised the purple cloak
across his eyelids."

Then Peisistratus, Nestor's son,
spoke out and said:

"Menelaus, son of Atreus,
Zeus-fostered leader of your people, 210
this man here is indeed, as you have said,
Odysseus' son. But he's a prudent man—
in his heart he's too ashamed to come
on his first visit here and put on a show
with some assertive speech in front of you,
whose voice we listen to with great delight, [160]
as if it were a god's. I've been sent here
by Geranian horseman Nestor as his guide.
He wants to see you and get your advice,
in word or deed. For with his father gone, 220
a child has many troubles in his home,
and there is no one there to help him.
That's what's happened with Telemachus.
His father's vanished, and there's no one else
to protect his house from ruin."

Fair-haired Menelaus
then answered Peisistratus, saying:

"Well now,
this is strange indeed—to my home has come
the offspring of a man I cherish, someone
who, on my behalf, endured much hardship. [170]
If he'd returned, I thought I'd welcome him 230
above all other Argives, should far-seeing Zeus
on Mount Olympus let the two of us
make it home by sea in our swift ships.
I would have given him an Argive city
and built a home for him, where he could live,
bringing him from Ithaca with all his wealth,
his son, and his own people. I'd have emptied
some neighbouring city in the region,
whose people all acknowledge me as king—
then we'd live here and could be together, 240
and nothing would have separated us.
We could have often entertained each other,
getting joy from one another's company,
until Death's black cloud came to embrace us. [180]
But god himself must have been envious,
to make that unlucky man the only one
who didn't get back home."

Menelaus finished.
What he'd just said made them all feel like weeping.
Argive Helen, daughter of Zeus, began to cry,
as did Telemachus and Menelaus, too, 250
son of Atreus. Nestor's son could not keep the tears
out of his eyes. In his heart he was remembering
valiant Antilochus, killed by Dawn's courageous son.*
With him in mind, Peisistratus spoke—his words had wings:

"Son of Atreus, old warrior Nestor [190]
used to say, when we conversed together
and your name was mentioned in our home,
that, as far as sound thinking was concerned,
you were pre-eminent among all men.
So, if it seems somehow appropriate, 260
you should listen to me now. I don't enjoy
weeping at dinner time, and early Dawn
will soon be here. I don't think it shameful
to cry for any mortal man who's died
and met his fate. In fact, this ritual
is the only ceremony we give
for these unhappy men—we cut our hair
and let the tears run down our cheeks. I have
a brother who was killed, not the worst man
among the Argives. Perhaps you knew him. 270
I never met him, never even saw him, [200]
but they say Antilochus surpassed all men
in running fast and fighting well."

Fair-haired Menelaus
then answered Peisistratus, saying:

"My friend,
you have truly mentioned everything
a right-thinking man might say or do,
even someone older than yourself.
The kind of father you were born from
enables you to speak so sensibly.
To recognize someone's inheritance 280
is easy, when the son of Cronos spins
good fortune's threads at marriage and at birth,
the way he now has done for Nestor,
granting him for all his days continually
to reach a ripe old age in his own home, [210]
with sons who are, in turn, intelligent
and great spear fighters, too. But we must stop
and let that earlier weeping cease. Let's have
water poured upon our hands, then once again
turn our minds to dinner. In the morning 290
there'll be stories for Telemachus and I
to tell each other to our heart's content."

He finished speaking. Then one of his attendants,
diligent Asphalion, poured water on their hands,
and they reached for the rich food spread out before them.

Then Helen, Zeus' daughter, thought of something else.
She quickly dropped into the wine they were enjoying [220]
a drug which eased men's pains and irritations,
making them forget their troubles. A drink of this,
once mixed in with wine, would guarantee no man 300
would let a tear fall on his cheek for one whole day,
not even if his mother and his father died,
or if, in his own presence, men armed with swords
hacked down his brother or his son, as he looked on.
Zeus' daughter had effective healing potions,
like that drug, which she'd obtained from Polydamna,
wife of Thon, who came from Egypt, where the fields,
so rich in grain, produce the greatest crop of drugs,
many of which, once mixed, are beneficial,
and many poisonous. Every person there 320 [230]
is a physician whose knowledge of these things
surpasses that of every other human group,
for through their ancestry they stem from Paeeon.*
When Helen had stirred in the drug and told them
to serve out the wine, she rejoined the conversation
and spoke up once again:

"Menelaus, son of Atreus,
whom gods cherish, and you sons of noble men—
since both good and bad are given by Zeus,
sometimes to one man and, at other times,
to someone else, for he is capable 320
of all things, you should now sit in the hall
and dine. After that, enjoy your stories.
I'll tell you one I think is suitable.
I will not speak of, nor could I recite, [240]
everything about steadfast Odysseus,
all the hardships he went through. But there's that time
when you Achaeans were in such distress
and that strong man endured and did so much—
right in homeland of those Trojans, too!
With savage blows he beat up his own body, 330
threw a ragged garment on his shoulders,
so he looked like a slave, and then sneaked in,
along the broad streets of that hostile city.
He hid his own identity, pretending
he was someone else, a beggar—something
he'd never been among Achaean ships—
then went inside the Trojans' city. None of them
suspected anything. I was the only one [250]
who recognized him, in spite of his disguise.
I questioned him, but his skill in deception 340
made him evasive. Still, when I had bathed him,
rubbed him with oil, and was helping him get dressed—
once I'd sworn a mighty oath not to reveal
among the Trojans that he was Odysseus
until he'd reached the swift ships and the huts—
he told me all about Achaean plans.
Then his long sword slaughtered many Trojans,
and he returned, bringing the Achaeans,
lots of information. Other Trojan women
began to cry aloud, but I was glad. 350
My heart by then had changed—it now desired [260]
to go back. I was sorry for that blindness
Aphrodite brought, when she'd led me there,
far from my own land, abandoning my child,
my bridal room, and my own husband, too,
who lacked nothing in good looks or wisdom."

In reply to Helen, fair-haired Menelaus said:

"Yes, indeed, dear wife, everything you've said
is true. Before now, I've come to understand
the minds and plans of many warriors. 360
I've roamed through many lands. But my eyes
have never seen a man to match Odysseus.
How I loved his steadfast heart! What about [270]
the things that forceful man endured and did
in the wooden horse? Achaea's finest men—
all of us—were sitting in it, carrying
a lethal fate to Trojans. Then you came there,
perhaps instructed by some god who wished
to give great glory to the Trojans.
And, where you walked, noble Deiphobus 370
followed, too. Three times you circled round,
feeling that hollow trap. Your voice called out,
naming the best warriors among Danaans,
and you made it sound just like the voice
of each man's Argive wife. Now, I was there,
sitting with lord Odysseus in the middle, [280]
and with Tydeus' son.* We heard you call.
Two of us—Diomedes and myself—
were eager to get up and charge outside
or else to answer back from where we were, 380
inside the horse. But Odysseus stopped us—
we were really keen, but he held us in check.
Then all the other sons of the Achaeans
kept their mouths shut, except for Anticlus,
the only one still keen to cry aloud
and answer you. But Odysseus clapped his hand
firmly over Anticlus' mouth and held him,
thus rescuing all the Achaeans. He kept
his grip on Anticlus until Athena
led you away."

Then prudent Telemachus said in reply: 390 [290]

"Menelaus, son of Atreus, cherished by Zeus,
leader of your people, that incident
is more painful still—it could not save him
from a bitter death, not even if the heart
inside him had been made of iron.
But come, send us to bed, so sweet Sleep
can bring us joy once we lie down to rest."

Once Telemachus spoke, Helen told her slaves
to set up mattresses within the corridor
and spread out lovely purple blankets over them, 400
with rugs on top, and over these some woolen cloaks.
The women left the hall with torches in their hands [300]
and arranged the beds. A herald led the guests away.
And so they slept there in the palace vestibule,
prince Telemachus and Nestor's noble son.
The son of Atreus slept in an inner room,
inside the high-roofed home, with long-robed Helen,
goddess among women, lying there beside him.

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
Menelaus, skilled at war shouts, got out of bed 410
and put his clothes on, slinging a sharp sword
around his shoulders. He laced up lovely sandals
over his sleek feet. Then, looking like some god, [310]
he left his room. He sat beside Telemachus
and then addressed him, saying:

"Prince Telemachus,
what do you need that's brought you all this way
on the sea's broad back to lovely Sparta?
Is it a public or a private matter?
Tell me about it, and be frank."

Shrewd Telemachus
then said in reply:

"Menelaus, son of Atreus, 420
cherished by Zeus and leader of your people,
I've come to see if you could give me news
about my father. My home's being eaten up,
my rich estates destroyed. My house is full
of enemies who keep on butchering
flocks of sheep and shambling bent-horned cattle. [320]
They are suitors for my mother—their pride
makes them supremely arrogant. That's why
I've now come to your knee, to see if you
perhaps can tell me of his mournful death— 430
in case your own eyes witnessed it somewhere,
or else you've found out from some other man
the story of his wandering. For his mother
delivered him into a life of sorrow,
more so than other men. And do not speak
from pity, or give me words of consolation,
but tell me truly how you chanced to see him.
I'm begging you, if ever in word or deed
my father, brave Odysseus, over there,
on Trojan soil, where you Achaean men 440 [330]
endured so much, made you a promise
and then kept his word, speak to me now,
and give me the truth."

Fair-haired Menelaus,
very annoyed by what he'd heard, replied:

"It's disgraceful
how such wretched cowards want to lie
in that brave warrior's bed, as if a deer
had lulled her new-born suckling fawns to sleep
in a mighty lion's den and then gone roaming
through mountain fields and grassy valleys
in search of forage—then the lion comes 450
back to his lair and brings to both of them
a shameful death. That just how Odysseus [340]
will bring those suitors their disgraceful doom.
O Father Zeus, Athena, and Apollo,
how I wish Odysseus would come back
and meet the suitors with the strength he had
when he stood up in well-built Lesbos once
in a wrestling match with Philomeleides.
With his great power, he threw him down,
and all Achaean men rejoiced. Those suitors 460
would quickly find their bitter courtship
ends in a swift death. But these things you ask,
what you've begged me about, I'll not digress
to speak of other things, nor will I lie.
No. What the Old Man of the Sea told me—
and did so truthfully—I'll not hide from you.
I won't conceal a single word.

"In Egypt, [350]
though I was eager to get home, the gods
prevented me—I had not offered them
a full and proper sacrifice, and gods 470
always demand obedience to their orders.
Now, just in front of Egypt there's an island,
right in the crashing sea—it's called Pharos—
as far off shore as a hollow ship can sail
in one whole day, when a fine stiff breeze
blows up behind her. There's a harbour there
with excellent moorage, and from that spot
men launch well-balanced ships into the sea,
once they have taken on supplies of water.
For twenty days the gods detained me there. 480 [360]
Not once was there a favourable wind,
the sort of offshore breeze which makes men's ships
race out across the broad back of the sea.
Then my provisions would have all been spent,
together with the spirit in my crew,
if a goddess had not felt pity for me
and rescued us—the goddess Eidothea,
daughter of the Old Man of the Sea,
great Proteus. For I had moved her heart,
more so than other men. When she met me, 490
I was by myself, for I'd wandered off,
away from my companions, who'd gone out,
as they always did, to scour the island,
fishing with bent hooks, their stomachs cramped
from hunger. She came up close to me and said, [370]

'Stranger, are you a slow-witted idiot,
or are you happy just to let things go
and find delight in your own suffering?
You've been stranded so long on this island,
unable to discover any sign of help, 500
while your companions' spirits waste away.'

"That's what she said. So then I answered her:

'Whoever you may be among the gods,
I'll tell you I have not been pent up here
with my consent. Something must have happened
to make me act against immortal gods,
who occupy wide heaven. But tell me this—
for gods know all things—which immortal one
keeps my feet shackled here and blocks my way? [380]
Tell me how I find my way back home, 510
how I sail across the fish-filled seas.'

"I finished speaking. The lovely goddess
immediately gave me her answer:

'All right, stranger, I'll be truthful with you.
The Old Man of the Sea comes here from Egypt,
I mean infallible, eternal Proteus,
a god who knows the depths of every sea,
Poseidon's servant and, so people say,
my father, too, the one who sired me.
Now, if somehow you could set an ambush 520
and catch hold of him, he'd show you your way.
He'd chart the course for your return and map
how you could sail across the fish-filled seas. [390]
And, Zeus-fostered man, if you were willing,
he'd tell you all the good and evil things
which have been taking place in your own house
while you've been traveling away from home
on such a long and arduous journey.'

"When she'd told me this, I replied and said:

'Could you yourself produce a strategy 530
to ambush this divine old man, in case
he sees me first and, knowing all my plans,
escapes me. It's difficult for mortal men
to overcome a god.'

"Once I'd said this,
the lovely goddess answered right away:

'Stranger, I'll be frank—tell you the truth
in everything. When the sun has made its way [400]
up into the middle of the heavens,
that infallible Old Man of the Sea
emerges from the brine, where he's concealed 540
by dark waves stirred up by the West Wind's breath.
Once he gets here, he lies down to rest
in these hollow caves, and around him sleeps
a herd of seals—they are the offspring
of the lovely daughter of the sea and swim up
out of the gray water. Their breath gives off
the sharp salt smell of the deep sea. At daybreak,
I'll take you there and organize an ambush.
You must carefully select three comrades,
the best men in those well-decked ships of yours. 550
Now I'll describe for you all the sly tricks [410]
that old man has. First, he'll inspect the seals.
He'll count them, numbering them off by fives.
Once he's looked them over, he'll lie down
in their midst, like a shepherd with his sheep.
As soon as you see him stretched out to sleep,
then you must use all your strength and courage
to hold him there for all his desperate moves,
as he struggles to escape. For he'll attempt
to change himself into all sorts of shapes 560
of everything that crawls over the earth,
or into water or a sacred flame.
You must not flinch—keep up your grip on him—
make it even tighter. And finally,
when he begins to speak and questions you [420]
in the same shape you saw him go to sleep,
then, warrior king, you can relax your grip
and let the old man go. Ask him which god
is angry at you and how you'll get back,
charting a course across the fish-filled seas.' 570

"Saying this, she plunged into the crashing sea.
I went to where my ships were on the beach—
my dark heart thinking, as I walked, of many things.
Once I'd reached the ships along the shore,
we prepared and ate our evening meal.
When immortal night arrived, we lay down [430]
beside the breaking surf. Then, as the streaks
of rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
I walked along the shores of that wide sea,
praying in earnest to the gods. Then I took 580
three comrades, the ones I trusted most
in any enterprise. That sea goddess,
who'd plunged into the bosom of the sea,
brought up four seal skins from the ocean depths,
each one freshly skinned, then set up the plot
against her father. She scooped out in the sand
some pits to hide in, and then waited there.
Once we'd come up really close beside her,
she made us lie down in a row and threw [440]
a seal skin over each of us. That ambush 590
would have been too horrible to bear,
for the atrocious stench of sea-born seals
was dreadful. Who would let himself lie down
with creatures from the sea? But Eidothea
personally helped us out by thinking up
a useful remedy—she got ambrosia,
sweet-smelling oil of the immortal gods,
and put it under each man's nose. That killed
the foul stink coming from those animals.
With patient hearts we waited there all morning. 600
Crowds of seals emerged and then lay down
in rows along the seashore. At noon,
the old man came up out of the water, [450]
discovered the plump seals, looked at each one,
and made his count, beginning first with us,
whom he included with the animals.
His heart did not suspect there was a trick.
Then he lay down. We charged up with a shout
and grabbed him in our arms. But the old man
did not forget his skilful tricks. At first, 610
he turned himself into a hairy lion,
and then into a serpent and a leopard,
then a huge wild boar. He changed himself
to flowing water and a towering tree.
We didn't flinch but kept our grip on him.
Our hearts were resolute. When the old man, [460]
for all his devious skills, got tired out,
he spoke up, asking me some questions:

'Son of Atreus, which god helped your plan
and produced a scheme so you could lie in wait 620
and ambush me against my will? And why?
What do you need?'

"When he'd said this to me,
I answered him and said:

'You know that, old man,
so why mislead me with such questioning?
I've been stranded too long on this island
and can't discover any sign of help.
The heart is growing faint inside me.
So tell me, for you gods know everything,
which one of the immortals chains my feet
and blocks my way. And speak to me as well 630
about my journey back, how I may sail [470]
across the fish-filled seas.'

"When I'd said that,
he answered me at once:

'Before you left,
you should have offered a fine sacrifice
to Zeus and other gods, so you could sail
across the wine-dark sea and then arrive
in your own land as fast as possible.
Your fate decrees you will not see your friends
or reach your homeland or your well-built house,
until you've gone back once again to Egypt, 640
to the waters of that Zeus-fed river,
and made holy sacrifices to the gods,
the immortal ones who hold wide heaven.
The gods will then give you that journey home [480]
which you so yearn for.'

"As the old man spoke,
my fond heart broke apart inside me,
because he'd told me I must go once more
across the misty seas, on that long trip
to Egypt, a painful journey. But still,
I answered him and spoke these words:

'Old man, 650
I will carry out what you have told me.
But come now, tell me—and speak truthfully—
did Achaeans in those ships get safely back,
all those men Nestor and myself left there
when we set out from Troy? Did any die
a bitter death on board, or in the arms
of those who loved them, after they'd tied up [490]
the loose threads of the war?'

"That's what I asked,
and he gave me his answer right away:

'Son of Atreus, why question me on this? 660
You don't need to know or to read my mind.
For once you've learned the details of all this,
you'll not hold back your tears for very long.
Many of those warriors were destroyed,
and many men survived. Among Achaeans,
armed in bronze, only two leading warriors
were killed on their way home. As for the fights,
you were there yourself. There is one leader
held back by the sea somewhere, but still alive.
Ajax perished among his long-oared ships*— 670
at Gyrae Poseidon first propelled his boat [500]
against huge rocks, then saved him from the sea.
Although Athena hated him, he'd have been saved,
if he'd not grown insanely foolish—
he stated he had managed to escape
the sea's huge depths, in spite of all the gods.
Poseidon heard him make this boastful claim.
Immediately those mighty hands of his
picked up his trident and then brought it down
on that rock at Gyrae, splitting it apart. 680
One piece stayed in place—the other one
sheared off and fell into the sea, the part
where Ajax sat when his mind first became
so utterly deluded. He fell down
into the endless surging waves and died [510]
by swallowing salt water. But your brother
escaped that fate—he and his hollow ships
survived, for queen Hera rescued him.
And then, when he was just about to reach
the steep height at Malea, storm winds caught him. 690
As he groaned in distress, they carried him
across the fish-filled seas to the remotest part
of where Thyestes used to live, now the home
of Thyestes' son Aegisthus.* But then,
once the gods had changed the wind's direction, [520]
it seemed that he could make it safely back.
So he got home. And he was full of joy
to set foot on his native land once more.
He embraced the earth and kissed it—shedding
numerous warm tears—he was so delighted 700
at the sight. But a watchman spied him out,
someone Aegisthus had placed as lookout,
to promote his plot, promising the man,
as his reward, two gold talents. He'd been there,
on watch, for one whole year, just in case
Agamemnon should succeed in getting back
without being noticed and remind them all
of his ferocious power. The watchman went
straight to the palace to report the news
to the shepherd of the people. So then, 710
Aegisthus came up with a treacherous plan.
He picked out twenty men, the best there were [530]
in the whole state, and set an ambush.
Then, in another section of the house,
he had a feast made ready and went off
with chariot and horses to escort
Agamemnon, shepherd of his people,
all the while intending to destroy him.
Aegisthus then accompanied him home—
he suspected nothing of the murder— 720
and then, after the feast, he butchered him,
just as one might slay an ox in its own stall.
Of those companions of the son of Atreus
who followed him, not one was left alive.
Nor were any of Aegisthus' comrades—
they were all slaughtered in the palace.'

"The old man finished speaking. My fond heart
was shattered, and, as I sat in the sand,
I wept—my spirit had no wish to live [540]
or gaze upon the light of day. But then, 730
when I'd had my fill of rolling in the sand
and weeping, the Old Man of the Sea
spoke frankly to me, saying,

'Son of Atreus,
you must not spend so much time like this,
in constant weeping. That's no help to us.
You must strive, as quickly as you can,
to get back to your native land. It may be
you'll find Aegisthus is still living there,
or else Orestes has preceded you
and killed the man. If so, then there's a chance 740
you'll get back for Aegisthus' funeral feast.'

"The old man finished speaking. In my chest
my heart and spirit, for all my grieving,
felt strong once again. So I answered him— [550]
my words had wings:

'Now I understand
what's happened to these men. But tell me
about the third one—whether he still lives,
held back by the wide sea, or has been killed.
I wish to hear that, for all my sorrow.'

"I spoke, and he at once replied, saying, 750

'You mean Laertes' son, from Ithaca.
I saw him on an island. He was weeping
in the palace of the nymph Calypso,
who keeps him there by force. He has no way
of getting back to his own land—he lacks
companions and ships equipped with oars,
to carry him across the sea's broad back. [560]
As for you, Zeus-fostered Menelaus,
it's not ordained that you will meet your fate
and die in horse-rich Argos. No. The gods 760
will send you off to the Elysian fields,
and to the outer limits of the earth—
the place where fair-haired Rhadamanthus lives
and life for human beings is really easy*—
there's no snow or heavy storms or even rain,
and Oceanus sends a steady breeze,
as West Wind blows to keep men cool and fresh.
Helen is your wife—that's why they'll do this,
because they see you as the man who married
Zeus daughter.'

"With these words, 770 [570]
the old man plunged back in the surging sea.
I went to my ships and godlike ship mates.
As I walked, my heart was darkly troubled,
but once I'd reached my ships beside the sea
and we'd prepared a meal, immortal night
came down, and we slept there on the shore.

"As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
we dragged our boats into the sacred sea,
then fitted masts and sails on our trim ships.
The men climbed in, went to their rowing seats, 780
and, sitting well in order, raised their oars [580]
and struck the gray salt sea. So I sailed back
to Egypt's heaven-fed river once again,
and there I offered a full sacrifice.
Once I'd appeased the anger of those gods
who live forever, I made a funeral mound
for Agamemnon, to make sure his fame
would never die, and when I'd finished that,
I set off on my journey home. The gods
gave me fair winds and brought me with all speed 790
back to the native land I love.

"But come now,
you must stay with me in my palace here
ten or eleven days, and after that
I'll send you off with honour. I'll give you
lovely gifts—a finely polished chariot
and three horses, too, and, as well as these, [590]
a gorgeous cup, so you can pour libations
to eternal gods and remember me
for all your days to come."

Shrewd Telemachus
then said to Menelaus in reply:

"Son of Atreus, 800
you must not hold me up for very long.
To tell the truth, I'd like to stay right here,
sitting in your palace an entire year,
and I'd not miss my parents or my home,
for I get such astonishing delight
from what you say and from your stories.
But my companions are already restless
back in sacred Pylos, and time has passed
while you've detained me here. As for gifts,
give me whatever you wish, just let it be 810 [600]
something you treasure. But I'll not take
those horses back with me to Ithaca—
I'll leave them here to bring you pleasure.
For you are king of an extensive plain
in which huge quantities of lotus grow,
with sedge, broad-eared white barley, wheat, and rye.
But there are no wide plains in Ithaca,
no meadows. It has grazing land for goats,
something I prefer to lush horse pasture.
No island sloping down into the sea 820
has meadows fit for raising horses,
and that's especially true of Ithaca."

Then the great war-shouter Menelaus smiled,
patted Telemachus with his hand, and said: [610]

"My lad, the way you've spoken out proclaims
your noble blood. So I'll exchange those gifts.
That I can do. Of all the things stored up
here in my home, I'll give you the finest,
the most expensive one. I'll offer you
a beautifully crafted mixing bowl. 830
It's all silver, with rims of hammered gold.
Hephaestus made it.* Warrior Phaedimus,
the Sidonians' king, presented it to me
when I went there and his home sheltered me.
Now I'd like to give that mixing bowl to you."

So these men kept conversing with each other. [620]

Meanwhile, back in Telemachus' Ithaca,
the banqueters had reached the royal palace,
driving sheep there and carrying strong wine.
Their well-dressed wives were sending bread for them. 840
As these men were in the hall preparing dinner,
the suitors were outside Odysseus' palace,
enjoying themselves by throwing spears and discus
on level ground in front—with all the arrogance
they usually displayed. Their two leaders,
Antinous and handsome Eurymachus,
were sitting there—of all the suitors
they were by far the best. Then Noemon, [630]
Phronius' son, came up to Antinous
to question him. He said,

"Antinous, 850
in our hearts do we truly know or not
when Telemachus will journey back
from sandy Pylos? He went away
taking a ship of mine which I now need
to make the trip across to spacious Elis,
where I have twelve mares and sturdy mules
still sucking on the teat, not yet broken.
I want to fetch and break in one of them."

He finished. In their hearts the suitors were amazed.
They had no idea Telemachus had gone 860
to Pylos, land of Neleus, and still believed
he was somewhere with the flocks on his estates
or with the swineherd. So in answer to Noemon, [640]
Antinous, son of Eupeithes, spoke up:

"Tell me the truth—
when did he leave? What young men went with him?
Did he take citizens of Ithaca,
or were those men his slaves and servants?
That's something he could do. And tell me this—
I want the truth, so I know what happened—
did he take that black ship against your will, 870
by force, or did you volunteer to give it up,
because he begged you to?"

Noemon, son of Phronius,
then answered Antinous:

"I agreed to give it to him.
Would anyone have acted otherwise,
when a man like him, with a grief-stricken heart, [650]
makes a request? It would be difficult
to deny him what he asked. The young men—
the ones who went with him—are excellent,
except for us, the best this land affords.
As they embarked, I observed their leader, 880
Mentor, or some god who looks just like him.
I'm surprised at that—at dawn yesterday
I saw lord Mentor, though by that time
he'd already gone on board for Pylos."

Once he finished speaking, Noemon went away,
back to his father's house. But those two suitors,
Antinous and Eurymachus, had angry hearts.
They quickly got the suitors to give up their games
and had them sit down all together in a group.
Antinous, Eupeithes' son, then spoke to them. 890 [660]
He was annoyed, his black heart filled with rage,
his flashing eyes a fiery blaze:

"Here's trouble.
In his overbearing way Telemachus,
with this voyage of his, has now achieved
significant success. And we believed
he'd never see it through. Against our will,
this mere youngster has simply gone away,
launching a ship and choosing our best men,
the finest in the land. He'll soon begin
creating problems for us. I hope Zeus 900
will sap his strength before he comes of age
and reaches full maturity. Come now,
give me a swift ship and twenty comrades,
so I can watch for him and set an ambush, [670]
as he navigates his passage through the strait
dividing Ithaca from rugged Samos,
and bring this trip searching for his father
to a dismal end."

When Antinous had finished,
all of them agreed, and they instructed him
to carry out what he'd proposed. Then they got up 910
and went back inside the palace of Odysseus.

Now, Penelope was not ignorant for long
of what those suitors were scheming in their hearts.
For the herald Medon told her. He'd been listening
outside the hall, as they were making plans inside,
weaving their plot. He proceeded through the house
to tell Penelope the news. As he came out
just across the threshold, Penelope called him: [680]

"Herald, why have these noble suitors
sent you out here? Are you supposed to tell 920
the female household slaves of lord Odysseus
to stop their work and then make them a feast?
After this whole courtship, I hope they never
get together somewhere else. And today,
may they make the banquet in this house
their latest and their last, all those of you
who by gathering here consume so much,
the wealth of wise Telemachus. It seems,
when you were children all that time ago,
you didn't pay attention to your fathers, 930
as they talked about the kind of man
Odysseus was among their generation—
in Ithaca he never did or said [690]
a hurtful thing to anyone, unlike
the usual habits of our godlike kings,
who hate one man and love another one.
He never did the slightest injury
to any man. But your heart and wicked acts
are plain to see—you show no gratitude
for kindness shown to you in earlier days." 940

Then Medon, an intelligent man, said to her:

"My queen, I wish that what you've just described
were the worst of it. But now these suitors
are planning something much more dangerous
and troubling—I hope the son of Cronos
never permits them to succeed. They mean
to kill Telemachus with their sharp swords, [700]
as he comes home. He's sailed off to Pylos
and then to sacred Sparta, seeking news
about his father."

As Medon spoke, Penelope 950
felt her heart and knees give way where she was standing.
For some time she couldn't speak a word to him—
both her eyes were full of tears, and she'd lost her voice.
But finally she spoke to him and said:

why did my son leave? There was no need
for him to go on board swift-moving ships,
men's salt-water horses, to sail across
enormous seas. Did he do it to make sure
he'd never leave a name among all men?" [710]

Wise Medon then answered Penelope and said: 960

"I don't know if some god was urging him
or if his own heart prompted him to sail
for Pylos, to learn about his father—
whether he was coming home again
or had met his fate."

After saying this,
Medon went away, down through Odysseus' home.
A cloud of heart-destroying grief fell on Penelope.
She lacked the strength to sit down on a chair—
and there were many in the room. She collapsed,
crouching on the threshold of that splendid room, 970
moaning in distress. Around her, all her servants
cried out, too, all those inside the house, young and old. [720]
Still weeping with that group, Penelope spoke out:

"Friends, listen. For Zeus has given me
more sorrows than any other woman
born and raised with me. Some time ago
I lost my noble husband—a man
who had a lion's heart and qualities
which made him stand out among Danaans
in all sorts of ways, a courageous man, 980
whose famous name is well known far and wide
throughout all Greece and middle Argos.
And now, without a word, storm winds sweep
my son, whom I so love, away from home,
and I don't even hear about his journey.
You are too cruel. In your minds, not one of you
thought to rouse me from my bed, though you knew, [730]
deep in your hearts, the moment he embarked
in his black hollow ship. If I had known
he was going to undertake this journey, 990
he would have stayed here. He really would,
for all his eagerness to make the trip.
Or else I would have perished in these rooms
before he left me. But now one of you
must quickly summon old man Dolius,
my servant, whom my father gave to me
before I ever came to Ithaca,
the one who tends my orchard full of trees,
so he may go as quickly as he can,
to sit beside Laertes and tell him 1000
all these things. Perhaps Laertes then
in his mind can somehow weave a plan,
then go and weep his case before those men
intent on wiping out his family, [740]
the race of heavenly Odysseus."

The good nurse Eurycleia answered Penelope:

"Dear lady, you may kill me with a sword
or keep me in the house, but I'll not hide
a word from you. For I knew all this.
I gave him everything he asked for, 1010
bread and sweet wine, too. He made me swear
a mighty oath I would not tell you,
not until he'd been away eleven days
or you yourself should miss him and find out
he'd left—in case you harmed your lovely skin [750]
with weeping. But you should have a bath,
put clean clothing on your body, then go—
take your servants to your room upstairs
and make your prayers there to Athena,
daughter of great Zeus who bears the aegis. 1020
She may rescue him from death. Don't bother
that old man with still more troubles.
I don't think the family of Arcesius
is so completely hated by the gods,
that one of them cannot still somehow
protect this high-roofed home and its estates,
so rich and far away."*

Eurycleia spoke.
What she said eased the sorrow in Penelope,
whose eyes stopped weeping. She left to bathe herself,
put fresh clothing on her body, and went away, 1030
taking her female servants to her room upstairs. [760]
She placed some grains of barley in a basket
and then prayed to Athena:

"O untiring child
of aegis-bearing Zeus, hear my prayer.
If resourceful Odysseus in his home
ever burned a sacrifice to you—
plump cattle thighs or sheep—recall that now,
I pray. Save my dear son and guard him well
from those suitors and their murderous pride."

With these words, Penelope raised a sacred cry, 1040
and the goddess heard her prayer.

But the suitors
were still carousing in those shadowy halls.
One overbearing youth would say something like this:

"Ah ha, our queen with many suitors [770]
is really getting ready for the marriage,
knowing nothing of the preparations
for the killing of her son."

That's the sort of thing
any one of them would say, in his ignorance
of how things finally would end. Then Antinous
addressed them all and said:

"Noble lords, 1050
you must not speak out so intemperately—
no more talk like that. Someone may report it,
especially to those inside the house.
Come now, let's get up quietly and work
to carry out that plan which all our hearts
responded to with such delight."

After saying this, Antinous picked out his men,
twenty of the best. They went down to the shore
and dragged a swift black ship into deep water. [780]
They set the mast in place, carried sails on board, 1060
and fitted oars into their leather rowing loops,
all in due order, then spread the white sail out.
Their proud attendants brought up weapons for them.
They moored the ship quite near the shore, then disembarked
and ate a meal there, waiting until evening fell.

Wise Penelope lay there in her upstairs room,
taking no food—she wouldn't eat or drink—
worrying if her fine son could avoid being killed,
or if those arrogant suitors would slaughter him. [790]
Just as a lion grows tense, overcome with fear, 1070
when encircled by a crowd of crafty hunters,
that's how her mind was working then, as sweet sleep
came over her. Then she lay back and got some rest,
and all her limbs relaxed.

But then Athena,
goddess with the glittering eyes, thought of something else.
She made a phantom shape, exactly like a woman,
Iphthime, daughter of the brave Icarius
and wife to Eumelus, who lived in Pherae.
Athena sent this shape to lord Odysseus' home,
while Penelope was in distress and grieving, 1080 [800]
to tell her she should end her tears and sorrow.
The phantom passed through the thong which held the bolt
and went into Penelope's room. Standing there
above her head, it spoke to her, saying:

is your heart anxious as you lie asleep?
It shouldn't be. The gods who live at ease
will not bring you distress and suffering—
your son will still get home. For he's someone
who's never been offensive to the gods."

Wise Penelope remained in her sweet sleep 1090
beside the gate of dreams. But she replied and said:

"Sister, why have you come here?* Up to now [810]
you haven't visited—your home's so far away.
You tell me to end my cries and suffering,
all the pains which grieve my mind and heart.
But I've already lost my noble husband,
that lion-hearted man, whose qualities
made him pre-eminent among Danaans
in all sorts of ways—a courageous warrior,
whose fame is widely known throughout wide Greece 1100
and middle Argos. And now the son I love
has set off in a hollow ship—poor child—
with no idea of how men struggle on
or conduct themselves in meetings. That's why
I grieve for him much more than for my husband.
He makes me tremble—I am so afraid [820]
he'll encounter troubles with those people
in the land he's visiting or out at sea.
Many enemies are now devising schemes
to hurt him, in their eagerness to kill him 1110
before he gets back to his native land."

The dim phantom then answered Penelope:

"Be brave. And do not let your mind and heart
succumb to fear too much. He has with him
the sort of guide whom other men have prayed
to stand beside them, and she has power—
yes, Pallas Athena. While you've been grieving,
she's taken pity on you. She's the one
who sent me here to tell you this."

Wise Penelope [830]
then spoke out in reply:

"If you're indeed a god 1120
and have listened to that goddess when she speaks,
then tell me news of that ill-fated man.
I'm begging you. Is Odysseus still alive
and looking at the sunlight, or is he dead,
already down in Hades' home?"

The faint image
then answered Penelope and said:

"No, no.
I cannot talk of him in any detail
and tell you whether he's alive or dead.
It's a bad thing to chatter like the wind."

Once it said this, the phantom slipped away, 1130
through the door bolt out into a breath of wind.
The daughter of Icarius woke from her sleep,
her heart encouraged that so clear a dream [840]
had raced towards her in the dead of night.

The suitors then embarked and sailed away
on their trip across the water, minds fully bent
on slaughtering Telemachus. Out at sea,
half way between Ithaca and rugged Samos,
there's the rocky island Asteris. It's small,
but ships can moor there in a place with openings 1140
in both directions. The Achaeans waited there
and set up their ambush for Telemachus.


Notes to Book Four

*Sparta is the name of the central city in the district of Lacedaemon or Lacedaemonia. The two names are sometimes used interchangeably.

*Antilochus . . . son: Antilochus, Peisistratus' brother, was killed at Troy by Memnon, son of Dawn. He was buried with Achilles and Patroclus.

*Paeeon: Paeeon is the Olympian of god of healing who knows all the remedies available for human ills.

*Deiphobus: a son of Priam, king of Troy, was an important Trojan warrior during the war. Tydeus' son is Diomedes, a major Achaean warrior-king, whose return home Nestor has talked about earlier (in Book 3).

*Ajax: This is a reference to Oilean Ajax, king of Locris (or the "Lesser" Ajax), not to Ajax, king of Salamis, the greatest Achaean warrior after Achilles, who had died and was buried at Troy (as Nestor has pointed out in Book 3).

*Thyestes: Thyestes was the father of Aegisthus and brother of Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. Aegisthus is thus cousin to the two sons of Atreus. Atreus had killed Thyestes' children (Aegisthus' siblings) and fed them to him in an act of revenge. [

*Elysian Fields . . . Rhadamanthus: These lines suggest that Menelaus will not die, like the other warriors, but live on in a paradise of the Elysian Fields. This special treatment for Menelaus is very unusual. He receives it because he’s a son-in-law of Zeus (since Helen is Zeus' daughter). Rhadamanthus is a son of Zeus and Europa, so famous for his wise judgment that Zeus made him one of a trio of judges in the underworld.

*Hephaestus: Hephaestus, a divine son of Zeus and Hera, is the Olympian artisan god, associated with the forge and the creation of beautiful objects (like the armour of Achilles in the Iliad).

*Archesius: Archesius was an earlier king of Ithaca and father of Laertes (hence, Odysseus' grandfather).

*Sister: Iphthime, the identity of the phantom image, is Penelope's sister.




Penelope's Dream

Book Five

Odysseus Leaves Calypso's Island and Reaches Phaeacia

[The assembled gods decide to send Hermes to tell Calypso to let Odysseus go; Calypso welcomes Hermes on her island, hears Zeus’s orders and complains; Calypso tells Odysseus he can go and helps him build a raft; Odysseus sets sail from Calypso’s island and gets within sight of Phaeacia; Poseidon sends a storm which destroys the raft; Odysseus gets help from the sea goddess Leucothea (once Ino), who gives him a protective veil; Odysseus has trouble finding a place to come ashore, finds a river mouth, climbs ashore, and falls asleep in the woods near the river.]

As Dawn stirred from her bed beside lord Tithonus,
bringing light to eternal gods and mortal men,
the gods were sitting in assembly, among them
high-thundering Zeus, whose power is supreme.
Athena was reminding them of all the stories
of Odysseus's troubles—she was concerned for him
as he passed his days in nymph Calypso's home.

"Father Zeus and you other blessed gods
who live forever, let no sceptred king
be prudent, kind, or gentle from now on, 10
or think about his fate. Let him instead
always be cruel and treat men viciously, [10]
since no one now has any memory
of lord Odysseus, who ruled his people
and was a gentle father. Now he lies
suffering extreme distress on that island
where nymph Calypso lives. She keeps him there
by force, and he's unable to sail off
and get back to his native land—he lacks
a ship with oars and has no companions 20
to send him out across the sea's broad back.
And now some men are setting out to kill
the son he loves, as he sails home. The boy
has gone to gather news about his father,
off to sacred Pylos and holy Sparta." [20]

Cloud-gatherer Zeus then answered her and said:

"My child,
what a speech has slipped the barrier of your teeth!
Did you not organize this plan yourself,
so that Odysseus, once he made it home,
could take out his revenge against those men? 30
As for Telemachus, you should use your skill
to get him to his native land unharmed—
that's well within your power. The suitors
will sail back in their ship without success."

Zeus spoke and then instructed Hermes, his dear son:

"Hermes, since in every other matter
you are our herald, tell the fair-haired nymph [30]
my firm decision—the brave Odysseus
is to get back home. He'll get no guidance
from the gods or mortal men, but sail off 40
on a raft of wood well lashed together.
He'll suffer hardships, but in twenty days
he reach the fertile land of Scheria,
the territory of the Phaeacians,
people closely connected to the gods.
They will honour him with all their hearts,
as if he were divine, then send him off,
back in a ship to his dear native land.
They'll give him many gifts of bronze and gold
and clothing, too, a greater hoard of goods 50
than Odysseus could have ever won at Troy,
even if he'd got back safe and sound [40]
with his share of the loot they passed around.
That's how Fate decrees he'll see his friends
and reach his high-roofed house and native land."

Zeus finished speaking. The killer of Argus,
his messenger, obeyed.* At once he laced up
on his feet those lovely golden ageless sandals
which carry him as fast as stormy blasts of wind
across the ocean seas and boundless tracts of land. 60
He took the wand with which he puts to sleep
or wakes the eyes of any man he chooses.
With this in hand, the mighty killer of Argus
flew off—speeding high above Pieria,
then leaping from the upper sky down to the sea. [50]
Across the waves he raced, just like a cormorant,
which hunts for fish down in the perilous gulfs
of the restless sea, soaking his thick plumage
in the brine—that how Hermes rode the crowded waves.
But when he reached the distant island, he rose up, 70
out of the violet sea, and moved on shore,
until he reached the massive cave, where Calypso,
the fair-haired nymph, had her home. He found her there,
a huge fire blazing in her hearth—from far away
the smell of split cedar and burning sandal wood [60]
spread across the island. With her lovely voice
Calypso sang inside the cave, as she moved
back and forth before her loom—she was weaving
with a golden shuttle. All around her cave
trees were in bloom, alder and sweet-smelling cypress, 80
and poplar, too, with long-winged birds nesting there—
owls, hawks, and chattering sea crows, who spend their time
out on the water. A garden vine, fully ripe
and rich with grapes, trailed through the hollow cave.
From four fountains, close to each other in a row, [70]
clear water flowed in various directions,
and all around soft meadows spread out in full bloom
with violets and parsley. Even a god,
who lives forever, coming there, would be amazed
to see it, and his heart would fill with pleasure. 90
The killer of Argus, god's messenger, stood there,
marveling at the sight. But once his spirit
had contemplated all these things with wonder,
he went inside the spacious cave. And Calypso,
that lovely goddess, when she saw him face to face,
was not ignorant of who he was, for the gods
are not unknown to one another, even though
the home of some immortal might be far away. [80]
But Hermes did not find Odysseus in the cave—
that great-hearted man sat crying on the shore, 100
just as before, breaking his heart with tears and groans,
full of sorrow, as he looked out on the restless sea
and wept. Calypso invited Hermes to sit down
on a bright shining chair. Then the lovely goddess
questioned him:

"Hermes, my honoured and welcome guest,
why have you come here with your golden wand?
You haven't been a visitor before.
Tell me what's on your mind. My heart desires
to carry out what you request, if I can,
and if it's something fated to be done. 110 [90]
But bear with me now, so I can show you
the hospitality I give my guests."

After this speech, Calypso set out a table
laden with ambrosia, then mixed red nectar.
And so the messenger god, killer of Argus,
ate and drank. When his meal was over and the food
had comforted his heart, Hermes gave his answer,
speaking to Calypso with these words:

"You're a goddess,
and you're asking me, a god, why I've come.
Since you've questioned me, I'll tell you the truth. 120
Zeus told me to come here against my will.
For who would volunteer to race across [100]
that huge expanse of sea—so immense
it cannot be described? There's no city there
of mortal men who offer sacrifices
or choice gifts to the gods. But there's no way
that any other god can override
or shun the will of aegis-bearing Zeus.
He says that you have here with you a man
more unfortunate than all the other ones 130
who fought nine years round Priam's city,
which in the tenth year they destroyed and left
to get back home. But on that voyage back
they sinned against Athena, and she sent
tall waves and dangerous winds against them.
All his other noble comrades perished, [110]
but winds and waves still carried him ahead
and brought him here. Now Zeus is ordering you
to send him off as soon as possible.
For it is not ordained that he will die 140
far from his friends. Instead his fate decrees
he'll see his family and still make it home
to his high-roofed house and native land."

Hermes finished. Calypso, the lovely goddess,
trembled as she spoke to him—her words had wings:

"The gods are harsh and far too jealous—
more so than others. They are unhappy
if goddesses make mortal men their partners
and take them to bed for sex. That's how it was [120]
when rose-fingered Dawn wanted Orion— 150
you gods that live at ease were jealous of her,
until golden-throned sacred Artemis
came to Ortygia and murdered him
with her gentle arrows.* In the same way,
when fair-haired Demeter was overcome
with passion and had sex with Iasion
in a thrice-ploughed fallow field, soon enough
Zeus heard of it and annihilated him
by throwing down his dazzling lightning bolt.*
Now once again you gods are envious, 160
because a mortal man lives here with me.
I saved him when he was all by himself, [130]
riding his ship's keel—his swift ship smashed
by a blow from Zeus' flaming lightning,
while in the middle of the wine-dark sea,
where all his other brave companions died.
Wind and waves brought him here. This is a man
I cherished and looked after, and I said
I'd make him ageless and immortal
for all days to come. But since there's no way 170
another god can override the plans
of aegis-bearing Zeus or cancel them,
let him be off across the restless seas,
if Zeus has so commanded and decreed.
But I'll have no part of escorting him [140]
away from here—I have no ships with oars
nor any crew to take him on his way
across the broad back of the sea. But still,
I can make sincere suggestions to him
and keep nothing hidden, so he can reach 180
his native land and get back safe and sound."

Then the killer of Argus, Zeus' messenger,
said to Calypso:

"Yes, send him away.
Think of Zeus's rage. He may get angry
and make things hard for you in days to come."

The killer of Argus, the gods' great messenger,
said these words and left. The regal nymph Calypso,
once she'd heard Zeus's message, went off to find [150]
great-hearted Odysseus. She found him by the shore,
sitting down, with his eyes always full of tears, 190
because his sweet life was passing while he mourned
for his return. The nymph no longer gave him joy.
At night he slept beside her in the hollow cave,
as he was forced to do—not of his own free will,
though she was keen enough. But in the daylight hours
he'd sit down on the rocks along the beach, his heart
straining with tears and groans and sorrow. He'd look out,
through his tears, over the restless sea. Moving up,
close to him, the lovely goddess spoke:

"Poor man, [160]
spend no more time in sorrow on this island 200
or waste your life away. My heart agrees—
the time has come for me to send you off.
So come now, cut long timbers with an axe,
and make a raft, a large one. Build a deck
high up on it, so it can carry you
across the misty sea. I'll provision it
with as much food and water and red wine
as you will need to satisfy your wants.
I'll give you clothes and send a favouring wind
blowing from your stern, so you may reach 210
your own native land unharmed, if the gods
are willing, the ones who hold wide heaven,
whose will and force are mightier than my own." [170]

Calypso finished. Lord Odysseus trembled,
then spoke to her—his words had wings:

in all this you're planning something different.
You're not sending me back home, when you tell me
to get across that huge gulf of the sea
and in a raft—a harsh and dangerous trip.
Not even swift well-balanced ships get through 220
when they enjoy fair winds from Zeus. Besides,
without your consent I'd never board a raft,
not unless you, goddess, would undertake
to swear a mighty oath on my behalf,
you'll not come up with other devious plans
to injure me."

Odysseus finished speaking. [180]
Calypso, the lovely goddess, smiled, caressed him,
and then replied by saying:

"You're a cunning man,
with no lack of wit—to consider
giving such a speech. But let the earth 230
stand witness, and wide heaven above,
and the flowing waters of the river Styx—
the mightiest and most terrible oath
the blessed gods can make—I will not plan
any other injury against you. No.
I'll think of things and give advice, as if
I was scheming for my own advantage,
if ever I should be in such distress.
For my mind is just, and inside my chest [190]
there is no iron heart—it feels pity, 240
just like your own."

The beautiful goddess
finished speaking, then quickly led him from the place.
He followed in her footsteps. Man and goddess
reached the hollow cave. He sat down in the chair
Hermes had just risen from, and the nymph set down
all kinds of food to eat and drink, the sort of things
mortal human beings consume.* Then she took a seat
facing god-like Odysseus, and her servants
placed ambrosia and nectar right beside her.
So the two of them reached out to take the fine food 250 [200]
spread out before them. When they'd had their fill
of food and drink, beautiful divine Calypso
was the first to speak:

"Nobly born son of Laertes,
resourceful Odysseus, so you now wish
to get back to your own dear native land
without delay? In spite of everything
I wish you well. If your heart recognized
how much distress Fate has in store for you
before you reach your homeland, you'd stay here
and keep this home with me. You'd never die, 260
even though you yearned to see your wife,
the one you always long for every day. [210]
I can boast that I'm no worse than her
in how I look or bear myself—it's not right
for mortal women to complete with gods
in form and beauty."

Resourceful Odysseus
then answered her and said:

"Mighty goddess,
do not be angry with me over this.
I myself know very well Penelope,
although intelligent, is not your match 270
to look at, not in stature or in beauty.
But she's a human being and you're a god.
You'll never die or age. But still I wish,
each and every day to get back home, [220]
to see the day when I return. And so,
even if out there on the wine-dark sea
some god breaks me apart, I will go on—
the heart here in my chest is quite prepared
to bear affliction. I've already had
so many troubles, and I've worked so hard 280
through waves and warfare. Let what's yet to come
be added in with those."

Odysseus finished.
Then the sun went down, and it grew dark. The two of them
went inside the inner chamber of the hollow cave
and lay down beside each other to make love.

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
Odysseus quickly put on a cloak and tunic,
and the nymph dressed in a long white shining robe, [230]
a lovely lightly woven dress. Around her waist
she fixed a gorgeous golden belt and placed a veil 290
high on her head. Then she organized her plans
so brave Odysseus could leave. She handed him
a massive axe, well suited to his grip, and made
of two-edged bronze. It had a finely crafted shaft
of handsome olive wood. Next she provided him
a polished adze. Then she led him on a path
down to the edges of the island, where tall trees grew,
alder, poplar, and pine that reached the upper sky,
well-seasoned, dried-out wood, which could keep him afloat. [240]
Once she'd pointed out to him where the large trees grew, 300
Calypso, the lovely goddess, went back home.
Odysseus then began to cut the timber. His work
proceeded quickly. He cut down twenty trees,
used his bronze axe to trim and deftly smooth them,
then lined them up. The fair goddess Calypso
then brought him augers, so he bored each timber,
fastened them to one another, and tightened them
with pins and binding. Odysseus made the raft
as wide as the broad floor of a cargo ship
traced out by someone very skilled in carpentry. 310 [250]
Then he worked to add the deck, attaching it
onto the close-set timbers, then finished it
with extended gunwales. Next he set up a mast
with a yard arm fastened to it and then made
a steering oar to guide the raft. From stem to stern
he wove a fence of willow reeds reinforced
with wood to guard him from the waves. Calypso,
the beautiful goddess, brought him woven cloth
to make a sail—which he did very skillfully.
On it he tied bracing ropes, sheets, and halyards. 320 [260]
Then he levered the raft down to the shining sea.

By the fourth day he had completed all this work.
So on the fifth beautiful Calypso bathed him,
dressed him in sweet-smelling clothes, and sent him
from the island. The goddess stowed on board the raft
a sack full of dark wine and another large one,
full of water, and a bag of food, in which she put
many tasty things for him to eat. She sent him
a warm and gentle wind, and lord Odysseus
was happy as he set his sails to catch the breeze. 330
He sat beside the steering oar and used his skill [270]
to steer the raft. Sleep did not fall upon his eyelids
as he watched the constellations—the Pleiades,
the late-setting Bootes, and the Great Bear,
which men call the Wain, always turning in one place,
keeping watch over Orion—the only star
that never takes a bath in Ocean.* Calypso,
the lovely goddess, had told him to keep this star
on his left as he moved across the sea. He sailed
for ten days on the water, then for seven more, 340
and on the eighteenth day some shadowy hills appeared,
where the land of the Phaeacians, like a shield [280]
riding on the misty sea, lay very close to him.

But at that moment, the mighty Earthshaker,
returning from the Ethiopians, saw him
from the distant mountains of the Solymi.
Poseidon watched Odysseus sailing on the sea,
and his spirit grew enraged. He shook his head
and spoke to his own heart:

"Something's wrong!
The gods must have changed what they were planning 350
for Odysseus, while I've been far away
among the Ethiopians. For now,
he's hard by the land of the Phaeacians,
where he'll escape the great extremes of sorrow
which have come over him—so Fate ordains.
But still, even now I think I'll push him [290]
so he gets his fill of troubles."

Poseidon spoke.
Then he drove the clouds together, seized his trident,
and shook up the sea. He brought on stormy blasts
from every kind of wind, concealing land and sea 360
with clouds, so darkness fell from heaven. East Wind
clashed with South Wind, while West Wind, raging in a storm,
smashed into North Wind, born in the upper sky,
as it pushed a massive wave. Odysseus's knees gave way,
his spirit fell, and in great distress he spoke aloud,
addressing his great heart:

"I've got such a wretched fate!
How is all this going to end up for me?
I'm afraid everything the goddess said [300]
was true, when she claimed that out at sea,
before I got back to my native land, 370
I'd have my fill of troubles. And now
all that is taking place—just look how Zeus
has covered the wide sky with clouds, stirred up
the sea with stormy blasts from different winds
swooping down on me. My sheer destruction
is now beyond all doubt. O those Danaans,
three and four times blessed, who died back then
in spacious Troy, while doing a favour
for the sons of Atreus!* How I wish
I'd died as well and met my fate that day 380
when companies of Trojans hurled at me
their bronze-tipped spears, in the fighting there [310]
around the corpse of Peleus's dead son.*
Then I'd have had my funeral rites,
and Achaeans would've made me famous.
But now I'm fated to be overwhelmed
and die a pitiful death."

As he said this,
a massive wave charged at him with tremendous force,
swirled round the raft, then from high above crashed down.
Odysseus let go his grip on the steering oar 390
and fell out, a long way from the raft. The fierce gusts
of howling winds snapped the masts off in the middle.
The sail and yard arm dropped down into the sea,
some distance off. For many moments he was held
under the water—he found it difficult
to rise above the power of that mighty wave, [320]
because the clothes he'd got from beautiful Calypso
dragged him down. But finally he reached the surface,
spitting tart salt water from his mouth, as it streamed down
from off his head. But even so, though badly shaken, 400
he did not forget about the raft. Through the waves
he swam, grabbed hold, and crouched down in the middle,
trying to escape destructive Fate. The huge wave
carried him along its course this way and that.
Just as in autumn North Wind sweeps the thistle down
along the plain, and the tufts bunch up together,
that how the winds then drove his raft to and fro [330]
across the sea. Sometimes South Wind would toss it
over to North Wind to carry. At other times,
East Wind would let West Wind lead on the chase. 410

Then Ino with the lovely ankles noticed him—
Cadmus' daughter, once a mortal being with human speech,
but now, deep in the sea, she was Leucothea
and had her share of recognition from the gods.*
She felt pity for Odysseus as he suffered
in his wandering. She rose up from the water,
like a sea gull on the wing, perched on the raft,
and spoke to him, saying:

"You poor wretch,
why do you put Earthshaker Poseidon
in such a furious temper, so that he 420
keeps making all this trouble for you? [340]
No matter what he wants, he won't kill you.
It seems to me you've got a clever mind,
so do just what I say. Take off these clothes,
and leave the raft. Drift with the winds.
But paddle with your hands, and try to reach
the land of the Phaeacians, where Fate says
you will be rescued. Here, take this veil—
it's from the gods—and tie it round your chest.
Then there's no fear you'll suffer anything 430
or die. But when your hand can grab the shore,
then take it off and throw it far from land
into the wine-dark sea. Then turn away." [350]

Leucothea Preserving Ulysses


The goddess spoke and handed him the veil. Then she left,
diving like a sea bird down in the heaving sea.
A dark wave swallowed her. Then lord Odysseus,
who had endured so much, considered what to do.
In his distress he addressed his own brave heart:

"I'm in trouble. I hope none of the gods
is weaving dangers for me once again 440
with this advice of hers to leave the raft.
Well, I won't follow what she says—not yet.
For I can see with my own eyes how far off
that land is where she said I would be saved.
So what I'll do is what seems best to me— [360]
as long as these planks hold firm in place,
I'll stay here and bear whatever troubles come,
but once the waves have smashed my raft apart,
I'll swim for it. There is no better way."

As his mind and heart were thinking about this, 450
Earthshaker Poseidon set in motion
a monstrous, menacing, and terrifying wave,
arching high above his head, and drove it at him.
Just as a storm wind scatters dry straw in a heap,
blowing pieces here and there in all directions—
that's how that wave split the long planks on the raft.
But straddling a board, as if riding a horse, [370]
Odysseus stripped away the clothing he'd received
from fair Calypso. He wound the veil across his chest,
and then, with arms outstretched, fell face first in the sea, 460
trying to swim. The mighty Shaker of the Earth
saw him, shook his head, then spoke to his own heart:

"So now, after suffering so much anguish,
keep wandering on the sea until you meet
a people raised by Zeus. Still, I don't think
you'll be laughing at the troubles still in store."

With these words Poseidon lashed his fine-maned horses [380]
and left for Aegae where he has his splendid home.

Then Athena, Zeus's daughter, thought up something new.
She blocked the paths of every wind but one 470
and ordered all of them to stop and check their force,
then roused the swift North Wind and broke the waves in front,
so divinely born Odysseus might yet meet
the people of Phaeacia, who love the oar,
avoiding death and Fates. So for two days and nights
he floated on the ocean waves, his heart filled
with many thoughts of death. But when fair-haired Dawn [390]
gave rise at last to the third day, the wind died down,
the sea grew calm and still. He was lifted up
by a large swell, and as he quickly looked ahead, 480
Odysseus saw the land close by. Just as children
rejoice to see life in a father who lies sick,
in savage pain through a long wasting illness,
with a cruel god afflicting him, and then,
to their delight, the gods release him from disease,
that's how Odysseus rejoiced when he could see
the land and forests. He swam on ahead, eager
to set foot on the shore. But when he'd come in close,
as far as man's voice carries when he shouts, [400]
he heard the crashing of the sea against the rocks— 490
huge waves with a dreadful roar smashing on dry land
and foaming spray concealing everything—
there were no harbours fit for ships to ride or coves,
but jutting headlands, rocks, and cliffs—at that point
Odysseus felt his knees and spirit give way,
and in despair he spoke to his great heart:

"What's this?
Zeus has given me a glimpse of land,
just when I'd lost hope, and I've made my way
cutting across this gulf, but I can't find
a place where I can leave this cold gray sea. 500 [410]
There's an outer rim of jagged boulders
where waves come crashing with a roar on them.
The rock face rises sheer, the water there
is deep, so there's no way to gain a foothold
and escape destruction. If I try to land,
a huge wave may pick me up and smash me
on those protruding rocks, and my attempt
would be quite useless. But if I keep swimming
and hope I'll find a sloping beach somewhere
or havens from the sea, then I'm afraid 510
the stormy winds will grab me once again
and carry me, for all my heavy groaning, [420]
across the fish-filled seas, or else some god
may set some monstrous creature of the sea
against me—illustrious Amphitrite
raises many beasts like that. I know well
how great Earthshaker has been angry at me."

As he debated in his mind and heart like this,
a huge wave carried him toward the rocky shore.
His skin would have been stripped and all his bones smashed up, 520
but the goddess with the gleaming eyes, Athena,
put a thought inside his mind. As he surged ahead,
he grabbed a rock with both his hands and held on,
groaning, until that giant wave had passed him by.
So he escaped. But as the wave flowed back once more, [430]
it charged, struck, and flung him out to sea. Just as
an octopus is dragged out of its den with pebbles
clinging to its suckers, that's how his skin was scraped
from his strong hands against the rocks, as that great wave
engulfed him. And then unfortunate Odysseus 530
would have perished, something not ordained by Fate,
if bright-eyed Athena had not given him advice.
Moving from the surf where it pounded on the shore,
he swam out to sea, but kept looking at the land,
hoping to come across a sloping beach somewhere [440]
or a haven from the sea. He kept swimming on
and reached the mouth of a fair-flowing river,
which seemed to him the finest place to go onshore.
There were no rocks, and it was sheltered from the wind.
Odysseus recognized the river as it flowed 540
and prayed to him deep in his heart:

"Hear me, my lord,
whoever you may be. I've come to you,
the answer to my many prayers, fleeing
Poseidon's punishment from the deep sea.
A man who visits as a wanderer
commands respect, even with deathless gods—
just as I've now reached your stream and knees,
after suffering so much. So pity me,
my lord—I claim to be your suppliant." [450]

Odysseus spoke. At once the god held back his flow, 550
checked the waves, calmed the water up ahead of him,
and brought him safely to the river mouth. Both knees bent,
he let his strong hands fall—the sea had crushed his spirit.
All his skin was swollen, and sea water flowed in streams
up in his mouth and nose. He lay there breathless,
without a word, hardly moving—quite overcome
with terrible exhaustion. But when he revived
and spirit moved back in his heart, he untied
the veil the goddess gave him and let the river [460]
take it as it flowed out to the sea. A great wave 560
carried it downstream, and then without delay
Ino's friendly hands retrieved it. But Odysseus
turned from the river, sank down in the rushes,
and kissed life-giving earth. Then in his anxiety,
he spoke to his great heart:

"What now? What's next for me?
How will I end up? If I stay right here
all through the wretched night, with my eye on
the river bed, I fear the bitter frost
and freshly fallen dew will both combine
to overcome me when, weak as I am, 570
my spirit's breath grows faint—the river wind
blows cold in early morning. But if I climb [470]
uphill into shady woods and lie down
in some thick bushes and so rid myself
of cold and weariness, sweet sleep may come
and overpower me, and then, I fear,
I may become some wild beast's prey, its prize."

As he thought it through, the best thing seemed to be
to move up to the woods. Close by the water
he found a place with a wide view. So he crept 580
underneath two bushes growing from one stem,
one was an olive tree, the other a wild thorn.
Wet winds would not be strong enough to ever blow
through both of these, nor could the bright sun's rays shine in,
and rain would never penetrate—they grew so thick, [480]
all intertwined with one another. Under these
Odysseus crawled and immediately gathered up
with his fine hands a spacious bed—fallen leaves
were all around, enough to cover two or three
in winter time, however bad the weather. 590
When resourceful lord Odysseus noticed that,
he was happy and lay down in the middle,
heaping fallen leaves on top of him. Just as
someone on a distant farm without a neighbour
hides a torch underneath black embers, and thus saves
a spark of fire, so he won't need to kindle it [490]
from somewhere else, that's how Odysseus spread the leaves
to cover him. Athena then poured sleep onto his eyes,
covering his eyelids, so he could find relief,
a quick respite from his exhausting troubles. 600


Notes to Book Five

*killer of Argus: Hermes is commonly called "killer of Argus" (or in Greek Argeiphontes) in reference to an incident when he killed the monster Argus whom Hera had set to watch over Io, a goddess Zeus had designs upon.

*Orion: Orion was a mythical hunter, son of Poseidon. He has a rich mythological history. By some accounts he was mistakenly killed by the virgin goddess of the hunt Artemis in an archery contest with Apollo. Zeus later set him in the sky in the constellation which bears his name.

*Iasion: a member of the royal family of Troy who had a sexual affair with the goddess Demester, who bore him a son, Plutus. Zeus killed Iasion with a thunderbolt.

*mortal human beings consume: The diet of the gods is different from what human beings eat. Calypso serves Hermes ambrosia and nectar and has those herself, but Odysseus, as a human being, has to have different things to eat and drink.

*. . . in Ocean: the Great Bear or Wain (in modern times often called the Plough) turns more or less around the same spot in the night sky and at the latitudes of the eastern Mediterranean never disappears below the horizon (i.e., never seems to vanish into the sea or bathe in the Ocean). The Bootes (Herdsman) is the constellation Arcturus.

*sons of Atreus: These are, of course, Menelaus and Agamemnon, for whose sake many Achaean kings joined the expedition to Troy, because of a promise they had made to Menelaus to help him recover his wife, Helen.

*Peleus's dead son: This is a reference to Achilles and to a famous incident in the Trojan war when the Achaean leaders fought to protect the body of Achilles and his divine armour from the Trojans.

*Ino . . . Leucothea: Ino was the mortal daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia (king and queen of Thebes). After her death Zeus changed Ino into a goddess of the sea, Leucothea.




Nausicaa Throwing the Ball

Book Six

Odysseus and Nausicaa

[Athena visits Nausicaa while she is sleeping in the palace and tells her to take the washing to the river; Nausicaa asks her father, Alcinous, to provide a wagon and mules; Nausicaa and her attendants go the river, wash the clothes, and wake up Odysseus; Odysseus emerges naked and talks to Nausicaa; she agrees to help him; Odysseus bathes, dresses, and eats; they set off for the city and reach the outskirts; Odysseus prays to Athena.]

While much-enduring lord Odysseus slept there,
overcome with weariness and sleep, Athena
went to the land of the Phaeacians, to their city.
Many years ago these people used to live
in wide Hypereia, close to the Cyclopes,
proud arrogant men and much more powerful,
who kept on robbing them. So god-like Nausithous
had taken them away and led them off to settle
in Scheria, far from any men who have to work
to earn their daily bread. He'd had them build a wall 10
around the city, put up homes, raise temples
to the gods, and portion out the land for farming. [10]
But some time past his Fate had struck him and he'd gone
down to the house of Hades. Now Alcinous was king,
a man to whom the gods had granted wisdom.
Athena, bright-eyed goddess, went to this man's home,
to arrange a journey home for brave Odysseus.
She moved into a wonderfully furnished room
where a young girl slept, one like immortal goddesses
in form and loveliness. She was Nausicaa, 20
daughter of great-hearted Alcinous. Close by her,
beside each door post, her two attendants slept,
girls whose beauty had been given by the Graces.*
The shining doors were closed. Like a gust of wind, [20]
Athena slipped over to the young girl's bed,
stood there above her head, and then spoke to her.
Her appearance changed to look like Dymas' daughter—
he was a man famous for the ships he owned.
His daughter was the same age as Nausicaa,
whose heart was well disposed to her. In that form, 30
bright-eyed Athena spoke out and said:

how did your mother bear a girl so careless? [30]
Your splendid clothes are lying here uncared for.
And your wedding day is not so far away,
when you must dress up in expensive robes
and give them to your wedding escort, too.
You know it's things like these that help to make
a noble reputation among men
and please your honoured mother and father.
Come, at day break let's wash out the clothing. 40
I'll go as well to help you, so with all speed
you can prepare yourself—it won't be long
before you, too, are a married woman.
You've already got men from this country
asking for your hand in marriage, the finest
in all Phaeacia, from whom you yourself
derive your lineage. So come on now,
ask your noble father to provide you,
this morning early, a wagon and some mules,
so you can carry the bright coverlets, 50
the robes and sashes. That would be better
than going on foot, because the washing tubs
stand some distance from the town." [40]

With these words,
bright-eyed Athena went back to Olympus,
where, men say, gods' home endures forever,
undisturbed by winds and never drenched with rain
or covered by the snow—instead high overhead
the air is always bright. Blessed gods are happy there
each and every day. The bright-eyed goddess went there,
once she'd finished speaking to Nausicaa. 60

As soon as Dawn on her splendid throne arrived
and woke fair-robed Nausicaa, she was curious
about her dream. So she went through the house [50]
to tell her dear father and her mother. She found them
in the house—her mother sitting by the hearth
with her servant women, spinning purple yarn.
She came across her father as he was going out
to meet some well-known kings in an assembly—
he'd been summoned by Phaeacian noblemen.
Nausicaa went to stand close by her father 70
and then spoke to him:

"Dear father, can you prepare
a high wagon with sturdy wheels for me,
so I can carry my fine clothing out
and wash it in the river? It's lying here
all dirty. And it's appropriate for you
to wear fresh garments on your person
when you're with our leading men in council. [60]
You have five dear sons living in your home—
two are married, but three are now young men
still unattached, and they always require 80
fresh-washed clothing when they go out dancing.
All these things I have to think about."

Nausicaa said these words because she felt ashamed
to remind her father of her own happy thoughts
of getting married. But he understood all that
and answered, saying:

"I have no objection,
my child, to providing mules for you,
or any other things. Go on your way.
Slaves will get a four-wheeled wagon ready
with a high box framed on top." [70]

Once he'd said this, 90
he called out to his slaves, and they did what he ordered.
They prepared a smooth-running wagon made for mules,
led up the animals, and then yoked them to it.
Nausicaa brought her fine clothing from her room.
She placed it in the polished wagon bed. Her mother
loaded on a box full of all sorts of tasty food.
She put in delicacies, as well, and poured some wine
into a goat skin. The girl climbed on the wagon.
Her mother also gave her some smooth olive oil
in a golden flask, so she and her attendants 100
could use it when they'd bathed. Then Nausicaa [80]
took the bright reins and whip and lashed the mules ahead.
With a clatter of hooves, the mules moved quickly off,
carrying the clothing and the girl, not by herself,
for her attendants went with her as well.

When they reached the stream of the fair-flowing river,
where the washing tubs were always standing ready,
full of fresh water flowing up from underneath
and spilling over, enough to clean one's clothing,
even garments really soiled, they took the mules 110
out of their wagon harnesses, then drove them
along the banks beside the swirling river,
to let them graze on clover sweet as honey. [90]
The girls picked up the clothing from the wagon,
carried it in their arms down to the murky water,
and trampled it inside the washing trenches,
each one trying to work more quickly than the others.
Once they'd washed the clothes and cleaned off all the stains,
they laid the items out in rows along the sea shore,
right where the waves which beat upon the coast 120
had washed the pebbles clean. Once they had bathed themselves
and rubbed their bodies well with oil, they ate a meal
beside the river mouth, waiting for the clothes to dry
in the sun's warm rays. When they'd enjoyed their food,
the girl and her attendants threw their head scarves off [100]
to play catch with a ball, and white-armed Nausicaa
led them in song. Just as when archer Artemis
moves across the mountains, along the lofty ridges
of Erymanthus or Taygetus, full of joy,
as she pursues wild boars and swiftly running deer, 130
with nymphs attending on her, daughters of Zeus,
who bears the aegis, taking pleasure in the hunt,
and Leto's heart rejoices, while Artemis
holds her head and eyebrows high above them all,
so recognizing her is easy, though all of them
are beautiful—that's how that unmarried girl
stood out then from her attendants.*

But when the girl [110]
was going to harness up the mules and start to fold
the splendid clothes to make the journey homeward,
Athena, bright-eyed goddess, thought of something else, 140
so that Odysseus might wake up and then could see
the lovely girl, who would conduct him to the city
of Phaeacian men. So when the princess threw the ball
at one of those attendants with her, she missed the girl
and tossed it in the deep and swirling river.
They gave a piercing cry which woke up lord Odysseus.
So he sat up, thinking in his heart and mind:

"Here's trouble! In this country I have reached,
what are the people like? Are they violent
and wild, without a sense of justice? 150 [120]
Or are they kind to strangers? In their minds
do they fear the gods? A young woman's shout
rang out around me—nymphs who live along
steep mountain peaks and by the river springs
and grassy meadows. Could I somehow be
near men with human speech? Come on then,
I'm going to try to find out for myself."

With these words, lord Odysseus crept out from the thicket.
With his strong hands, he broke off from thick bushes
a leafy branch to hold across his body and conceal 160
his sexual organs. He emerged, moving just like
a mountain lion which relies on its own strength— [130]
though hammered by the rain and wind, it creeps ahead,
its two eyes burning, coming in among the herd
of sheep or cattle, or stalking a wild deer—
his belly tells him to move in against the flocks,
even within a well-built farm. That how Odysseus
was coming out to meet those fair-haired girls,
although he was stark naked. He was in great distress,
but, caked with brine, he was a fearful sight to them, 170
and they ran off in fear and crouched down here and there
among the jutting dunes of sand. The only one
to stand her ground was Alcinous' daughter.
For Athena had put courage in her heart [140]
and taken from her arms and legs all sense of fear.
So she stood there facing up to him. Odysseus
wondered whether he should grasp the lovely girl
around her knees and plead his case or keep his distance,
remaining where he was, and with gentle words
entreat her to inform him where the city was 180
and provide him clothing. As he thought about it,
it seem to him a better plan to stand apart
and appeal to her with words of reassurance,
in case her heart grew angry when he clasped her knee.
So he quickly used his cunning and spoke to her
with soothing language:

"O divine queen,
I come here as a suppliant to you.
Are you a goddess or a mortal being?
If you're one of the gods who hold wide heaven, [150]
then I think you most resemble Artemis, 190
daughter of great Zeus, in your loveliness,
your stature, and your shape. If you're human,
one of those mortals living on the earth,
your father and noble mother are thrice-blest,
and thrice-blest your brothers, too. In their hearts
they must glow with pleasure for you always,
when they see a child like you moving up
into the dance. But the happiest heart,
more so than all the rest, belongs to him
who with his wedding gifts will lead you home. 200
These eyes of mine have never gazed upon [160]
anyone like you—either man or woman.
As I observe you, I'm gripped with wonder.
In Delos once I saw something like this—
a youthful palm-tree shoot growing up
beside Apollo's altar. I'd gone there,
with many others in my company,
on the trip where Fate had planned for me
so many troubles. But when I saw that,
my heart looked on a long time quite astonished— 210
I'd never noticed such a lovely tree
springing from the earth. And, lady, that's how
I am amazed at you, lost in wonder,
and am very much afraid to clasp your knee.
But great distress has overtaken me.
Yesterday, my twentieth day afloat, [170]
I escaped the wine-dark sea. Before that,
waves and swift-driving storm winds carried me
from Ogygia island. And now a god
has tossed me on shore here, so that somehow 220
I'll suffer trouble in this place as well.
For I don't think my problems will end now.
Before that day, there are still many more
the gods will bring about. But, divine queen,
have pity. You're the first one I've approached,
after going through so much grief. I don't know
any other people, none of those who hold
the city and its land. Show me the town.
Give me some rag to throw around myself,
perhaps some wrapping you had for the clothes 230
when you came here. As for you, may gods grant [180]
all your heart desires—may they give you
a husband, home, and mutual harmony,
a noble gift—for there is nothing better
or a stronger bond than when man and wife
live in a home sharing each other's thoughts.
That brings such pain upon their enemies
and such delight to those who wish them well.
They know that themselves, more so than anyone."

Ulysses Following the Car of Nausicaa


White-armed Nausicaa then answered him and said: 240

"Stranger, you don't seem to be a wicked man,
or foolish. Olympian Zeus himself
gives happiness to bad and worthy men,
each one receiving just what Zeus desires.
So he has given you your share, I think.
Nonetheless you still must bear your lot. [190]
But now you've reached our land and city,
you'll not lack clothes or any other thing
we owe a hard-pressed suppliant we meet.
I'll show the town to you, and I'll tell you 250
what our country's called—the Phaeacians
own this city and this land. As for me,
I am the daughter of brave Alcinous—
Phaeacian power and strength depend on him."

Nausicaa finished speaking. Then she called out
to her fair-haired attendants:

"Stand up, you girls,
Have you run off because you've seen a man?
Surely you don't think he is an enemy? [200]
For there's no man now alive or yet to be
who'll reach this land of the Phaeacians 260
bringing war, because gods truly love us,
and we live far off in the surging sea,
the most remote of people. Other men
never interact with us. No. So this man
is some poor wanderer who's just come here.
We must look after him, for every stranger,
every beggar, comes from Zeus, and any gift,
even something small, is to be cherished.
So, my girls, give this stranger food and drink.
Then bathe him in the river, in a place 270
where there's some shelter from the wind." [210]

Nausicaa finished. They stood up and called out
to one another. Then they took Odysseus aside,
to a sheltered spot, following what Nausicaa,
daughter of great-hearted Alcinous, had ordered.
They set out clothing for him, a cloak and tunic,
and gave him the gold flask full of smooth olive oil.
Then they told him to bathe there in the flowing river,
but lord Odysseus said to the attendants:

"Would you young ladies move some distance off, 280
so I can wash salt water off my shoulders
by myself and then rub on the olive oil.
It's a long time since oil was on my skin. [220]
I won't wash myself in front of you,
for I'm ashamed to stand stark naked
in the presence of such fair-haired girls."

Once he'd said this, the two attendants moved away
and told Nausicaa. Then lord Odysseus
washed his body in the river, rinsing off the salt
covering his broad shoulders and his back, 290
and wiping the encrusted brine out of his hair.
When he'd washed himself all over and rubbed on oil,
he put on clothes the unmarried girl had given him.
Then Athena, Zeus's daughter, made him appear
taller and stronger, and on his head she curled [230]
his hair—it flowed up like a flowering hyacinth.
Just as a skilful workman sets a layer of gold
on top of silver, a craftsman who's been taught
all sorts of arts by Athena and Hephaestus,
and what he creates is truly beautiful, 300
that's how the goddess graced his head and shoulders.
Then Odysseus went to sit some distance off,
beside the shore, glowing with charm and beauty.
Nausicaa gazed at him in admiration,
then spoke to her fair-haired attendants, saying:

"Listen to me, my white-armed followers—
I have something to say. This man here
has not come among god-like Phaeacians
against the will of those immortals [240]
who possess Olympus. Previously I thought 310
he was crude and rough, but now he seems
like the gods who occupy wide heaven.
Would a man like that could be my husband,
living here and happy to remain. But come,
my girls, give the stranger food and drink."

When Nausicaa had spoken, they heard her words
and quickly did what they'd been told. They set out
food and drink before resourceful lord Odysseus.
He ate and drank voraciously—many days had passed [250]
since he'd last tasted food. Then white-armed Nausicaa 320
thought of something else. She folded up the clothes,
put them in the handsome wagon, harnessed up
the strong-hooved mules, and climbed up by herself.
She called out to Odysseus, then spoke to him:

"Get up now, stranger, and go to the city.
I'll take you to my wise father's house,
where, I tell you, you will get to meet
all the finest of Phaeacians. You seem
to me to have good sense, so act as follows—
while we are moving through the countryside 330
past men's farms, walk fast with my attendants [260]
behind the mules and wagon. I'll lead the way.
Then we'll come up to the city. A high wall
runs round it, and there are lovely harbours
on both sides—each has a narrow entrance,
with curving boats drawn up along the road,
since each man has a place for his own ship.
The assembly ground stands there as well,
around the splendid temple to Poseidon,
built with huge stones set deep within the earth. 340
Here the people tend to their black ships,
busy with the gear—fixing ropes and sails
and shaping tapered oars. The Phaeacians
have no use for bow or quiver, but for masts, [270]
boat oars, and well-trimmed ships, in which with joy
they cross the gray salt sea. Their talk is crude,
and that I would avoid, in case someone
insults me later on—among the people
there are really insolent men, and thus
one of the nastier types might well say, 350
if he bumped into us: 'Who's the man
who's following Nausicaa? A stranger—
he's tall and handsome! Where did she find him?
No doubt he'll be her husband. She's brought here
some shipwrecked vagrant, a man whose people
live far away, for no one dwells near us,
or he's some god come down from heaven, [280]
answering those prayers she's always making.
She'll have him as her husband all her days.
It's better that way, even if she went 360
and found herself someone to marry
from another place—she has no respect
for those Phaeacians, her own countrymen,
the many noble men who'd marry her.'
That's what they would say, and their remarks
would injure me. But I would do the same
to some other girl who acted just like that,
who, while her father and her mother lived,
against their wishes hung around with men
before the day she married one in public. 370
So, stranger, pay attention to what I say,
and with all speed you can get my father
to arrange an escort for your journey home. [290]
You'll come across a fine grove to Athena—
it's near the road, a clump of poplar trees.
There's a fountain, with meadows all around.
My father has a fertile vineyard there
and some land, too, within shouting distance
of the town. Sit down there, and wait a while,
until we move into the city and reach 380
my father's house. When you think we've had time
to reach my home, then go in the city
of the Phaeacians and inquire about
my father's house, great-hearted Alcinous.
It's easy to pick out—an infant child [300]
could lead you to it. For Phaeacians homes
are built in a style utterly unlike
the palace of heroic Alcinous.
Once inside the house and in the courtyard,
move through the great hall quickly till you reach 390
my mother seated at the hearth, in the firelight,
against a pillar, spinning purple yarn—
a marvelous sight. Servants sit behind her.
My father's chair is there by the same pillar,
where, like a god, he sits and sips his wine.
Move past him. Then with your arms embrace [310]
my mother's knees, if you desire to see
the joyful day of your return come soon,
even though your home is far away.
If her heart and mind are well-disposed to you, 400
then there's hope you'll see your friends and reach
your well-built house and your own native land."

Saying this, Nausicaa cracked the shining whip
and struck the mules. They quickly left the flowing river,
moving briskly forward at a rapid pace.
Using her judgment with the whip, she drove on [320]
so Odysseus and her servants could keep up on foot.
Just at sunset, they reached the celebrated grove,
sacred to Athena. Lord Odysseus sat down there
and made a quick prayer to great Zeus' daughter: 410

"Hear me, child of aegis-bearing Zeus,
unwearied goddess, listen to me now,
for you did not respond to me back then,
when I was being beaten down at sea
and the great Earthshaker destroyed my raft.
Grant that I come to the Phaeacians
as a friend, someone worthy of their pity."

So he prayed. And Pallas Athena heard him.
But she did not reveal herself to him directly—
she feared her father's brother, who was still furious, 420 [330]
and would rage against godlike Odysseus
until he reached his native land at last.*


Notes to Book Six

*Graces: the Graces are the goddesses of charm and graceful temperament. There are three of them: Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia.

*Artemis . . . Leto: Artemis is the divine daughter of Zeus and Leto and brother of Apollo. She is known as the virgin goddess of the hunt.

*father's brother: the reference is to Poseidon, a brother of Zeus, still a bitter enemy of Odysseus.




Ulysses on the Hearth Presenting Himself to Alcinous and Arete

Book Seven

Odysseus at the Court of Alcinous in Phaeacia

[Nausicaa reaches the palace; Odysseus sets out for the city and meets Athena on the way, disguised as a young girl; she leads him to the palace; Odysseus admires Alcinous’ palace and the nearby orchard; Odysseus enters the palace and makes a plea to Arete, the queen; the Phaeacians offer Odysseus a meal; after the meal Odysseus converses with Arete and Alcinous, telling them of his voyage from Ortygia and his meeting with Nausicaa; Alcinous offers to help Odysseus get home; servants prepare a bed for him, and he goes to sleep out in the portico.]

So lord Odysseus, who had endured so much, prayed there,
while two strong mules took the girl into the city.
Once she reached her father's splendid palace,
she halted at the outer gates, while her brothers,
godlike men, crowded round her. They unhitched the mules,
then brought the clothes inside. The girl went to her room.
There her old chamber maid lit a fire for her—
Eurymedusa, an old woman from Apeire.
Curved ships had carried her from there some years ago,
when she'd been chosen as a prize for Alcinous, 10 [10]
because he was the king of all Phaeacians
and people listened to him as if he were a god.
She'd raised white-armed Nausicaa in the palace.
Now she lit the fire and set food out in the room.

Then Odysseus got up and set off for the city.
Athena took good care to veil him in thick mist,
so no bold Phaeacian who ran into him
would cast verbal taunts and ask him who he was.
As he was about to enter the fine city,
bright-eyed Athena met him—she was disguised 20
as a young girl carrying a pitcher. When she stopped [20]
in front of him, noble Odysseus said to her:

"My child, could you direct me to the home
of the man called Alcinous. He's the king
of people here, and I'm a foreigner,
coming from a distant country far away.
I've suffered a great deal, and I don't know
any of the men who own this city
or the farmland."

Bright-eyed Athena
then said in reply:

"Honoured stranger, 30
in that case I'll show you the very house
you've just questioned me about. It's near by,
close to my good father's home. But go quietly, [30]
and I will lead the way. You must not look
at people or ask anyone a question.
The people here are not fond of strangers—
they don't extend a friendly welcome
to those from other lands, but put their trust
in their swift ships to carry them across
vast gulfs of the sea, something Poseidon 40
has permitted them, for their ships move fast,
as swift as birds in flight or as a thought."

That said, Pallas Athena led off rapidly—
he followed closely in the goddess' footsteps.
The Phaeacians, so celebrated for their ships,
did not see him as he moved across the city
in their midst. Athena, fair-haired fearful goddess, [40]
would not permit that. Her heart cared about him,
so she cast around him an amazing mist.
Odysseus was astonished by the harbours 50
and well-tended ships, by the meeting places,
where those heroes gathered, by the lofty walls,
topped with palisades—it was a marvelous sight.
When they reached the splendid palace of the king,
bright-eyed Athena was the first to speak:

"Honoured stranger,
here is the house you asked me to point out.
You'll find Zeus-fostered kings in there feasting. [50]
But go inside, and do not be afraid.
In a man, boldness is always better
at getting good results, even in the case 60
where he's a stranger from another land.
Inside the palace, you'll first greet the queen.
Her name is Arete, born of the same line
as Alcinous, the king. Originally,
Nausithous was born to the Earthshaker,
Poseidon, and to Periboea,
loveliest of women, youngest daughter
to great-hearted Eurymedon, once king
of the rebellious Giants. But he destroyed
his reckless people and was killed himself. 70 [60]
Poseidon then had sex with Periboea,
who bore him a son, courageous Nausithous,
who ruled Phaeacians and who had two sons,
Rhexenor and Alcinous. Rhexenor,
a married man but with no sons, was killed
by Apollo's silver bow in his own home.
He left an only daughter, Arete.
Alcinous made her his wife and honoured her
beyond all other women on this earth,
all the wives who now control their homes 80
under the direction of their husbands.
That's how much she's honoured from the heart
by her dear children, by Alcinous himself, [70]
and by the people, too, who look on her
as if she were a goddess, when they greet her
as she walks through town. She does not lack
a fine intelligence, and thus for women
to whom she's well disposed she can resolve
disputes they go through with their husbands.
So if you win her favour, there's a hope 90
you'll see your friends and make that journey back
to your own high-roofed home and native land."

Bright-eyed Athena finished. Then she went away,
across the restless sea, leaving lovely Scheria.
She came to Marathon and the wide streets of Athens [80]
and entered the well-built palace of Erectheus.

Odysseus moved towards Alcinous's splendid home.
He stood there, his heart thinking over many things
before he came up to the threshold made of bronze.
Above the high-vaulted home of brave Alcinous 100
there was a radiance, as if from sun or moon.
Bronze walls extended out beyond the threshold
in various directions to the inner rooms.
They had a blue enamel cornice. Golden doors
blocked the way into the well-constructed palace.
The bronze threshold had silver doorposts set inside
and a silver lintel. The handles were of gold. [90]
On both sides of the door stood gold and silver dogs,
immortal creatures who would never age,
created by Hephaestus's matchless artistry, 110
to guard the palace of great-hearted Alcinous.*
On either side within, seats were set against the wall,
from the doorway right through to the inner room,
with soft rugs covering them, elegantly woven
women's handiwork. On these, Phaeacian leaders
would sit to eat and drink from their abundant stores.
Gold statues of young men stood on sturdy pedestals, [100]
holding torches in their hands to give light at night
for people feasting in the hall. And Alcinous
had fifty women servants in the palace: 120
some at the millstone ground up yellow grain,
some wove fabric, or sitting down, twisted yarn,
hands fluttering like leaves on a tall poplar tree,
while olive oil dripped down.* Just as Phaeacian men
have more skill than anyone at sailing a fast ship
across the sea, so their women have great skill [110]
at working on the loom—for Athena gave them,
above all others, a knowledge of fine handiwork
and keen intelligence. Beyond the courtyard,
but near the door, stands an enormous orchard, 130
four land measures, with a hedge on either side.
Huge and richly laden trees grow there—pomegranates,
pears, and apple trees with shining fruit, sweet figs,
and fertile olive trees. And in this orchard
no fruit gets destroyed or dies in winter time
or during summer. It lasts all year long. West Wind,
as he blows in, always brings some fruits to life
and ripens others—pear growing above pear, [120]
apple upon apple, grapes in cluster after cluster,
and fig after fig. And inside that orchard, 140
Alcinous has a fertile vineyard planted, too.
In part of it, a sunny patch of level ground,
grapes are drying in the sun. In another place
men are gathering up and treading other grapes.
In front the unripe grapes are shedding blossoms,
while others change into a purple colour.
Beside the final row of vines there are trim beds
with every kind of plant growing all year round.
There are two springs inside—one sends its water
through all the garden, and on the opposite side 150 [130]
the other runs below the threshold of the yard,
where people of the town collect their water,
towards the high-roofed palace. These glorious things
were gifts from the gods to the home of Alcinous.

Lord Odysseus, who had endured so much, stood there
and gazed around. When his heart had marveled at it all,
he moved fast across the threshold into the house.
There he found Phaeacian counselors and leaders
making libations to honour keen-eyed Hermes,
killer of Argus. They poured him a final tribute 160
whenever they intended to retire to bed.
Long-suffering lord Odysseus, still enclosed in mist,
the thick covering poured around him by Athena, [140]
went through the hall until he came to Arete
and Alcinous, the king. With his arms Odysseus
embraced the knees of Arete, and at that moment
the miraculous mist dissolved away from him.
The people in the palace were all silent,
as they gazed upon the man, struck with wonder
at the sight. Odysseus then made this entreaty: 170

"Arete, daughter of godlike Rhexenor,
I've come to you and to your husband here,
to your knees, in supplication to you—
a man who's experienced so much distress—
and to those feasting here. May gods grant them
happiness in life, and may they each pass on
riches in their homes to all their children, [150]
and noble honours given by the people.
Please rouse yourself to help me return home,
to get back quickly to my native land. 180
I've been suffering trouble for a long time
so far away from friends."

Odysseus finished.
Then he sat down by the fire, right on the ashes
inside the hearth. All the people there were silent.
No one said a word. Then, finally, an old man,
lord Echeneus, a Phaeacian elder statesman,
a skilful speaker full of ancient wisdom,
with their common good in mind, spoke up and said:

"Alcinous, it's not at all appropriate
or to our credit that this stranger's sitting 190 [160]
at our hearth, in the ashes on the ground.
The people here are holding themselves back,
waiting for your word. Come, tell the stranger
to get up. Then invite the man to sit
on a silver-studded chair. Tell the heralds
to mix wine, so we may make an offering
to thunder-loving Zeus, who accompanies
all pious suppliants. And tell the steward
to provide this stranger with a dinner
from what she has in store."

When he heard these words, 200
brave and kingly Alcinous stretched out his hand,
reached for Odysseus, that wise and crafty man,
raised him from the hearth, and invited him to sit
in a shining chair, after he had asked his son,
handsome Laodamas, the son he loved the most, [170]
who sat beside him, to stand up and offer it.
An attendant carried in a fine gold pitcher,
then poured some water out into a silver basin,
so he could wash his hands. A polished table
was set up beside him, and the housekeeper, 210
a well-respected female servant, brought in food,
set it in front of him, with many tasty treats
offered freely from her store. And so Odysseus,
that long-suffering noble man, could eat and drink.
Then noble Alcinous spoke to his herald:

"Pontonous, prepare wine in the mixing bowl,
then serve it to all people in the hall,
so we may pour libations out to Zeus, [180]
who loves lightning, for he accompanies
all pious suppliants."

Once Alcinous said this, 220
Pontonous prepared the honeyed wine, and then poured
the first drops for libation into every cup.
When they'd made their offering and drunk their fill of wine,
Alcinous then addressed the gathering and said:

"You Phaeacians counsellors and leaders,
pay attention to me so I can say
what the heart here in my chest commands.
Now that you have all finished eating,
return back to your homes and get some rest.
In the morning we'll summon an assembly 230
with more elders, entertain this stranger [190]
here in our home, and also sacrifice
choice offerings to the gods. Then after that,
we'll think about how we can send him off,
so that this stranger, with us escorting him
and without further pain or effort, may reach
his native land, no matter how far distant.
Meanwhile he'll not suffer harm or trouble,
not before he sets foot on his own land.
After that he'll undergo all those things 240
Destiny and the dreaded spinning Fates
spun in the thread for him when he was born,
when his mother gave him birth.* However,
if he's a deathless one come down from heaven,
then gods are planning something different. [200]
Up to now, they've always shown themselves to us
in their true form, when we offer up to them
a splendid sacrifice. They dine with us,
sitting in the very chairs we also use.
If someone travelling all by himself 250
meets them, they don't hide their true identity,
because we are close relatives of theirs,
like Cyclopes and the wild tribes of Giants."*

Resourceful Odysseus then answered Alcinous:

"Alcinous, you should not concern yourself
about what you've just said—for I'm not like
the immortal gods who hold wide heaven,
not in my form or shape. I'm like mortal men. [210]
If, among human beings, you know of some
who bear a really heavy weight of trouble, 260
I might compare myself with them for grief.
Indeed, I could recount a longer story—
all those hardships I have had to suffer
from the gods. But let me eat my dinner,
though I'm in great distress. For there's nothing
more shameless than a wretched stomach,
which commands a man to think about its needs,
even if he's really sad or troubles
weigh down his heart, just the way my spirit
is now full of sorrow, yet my belly 270
is always telling me to eat and drink, [220]
forgetting everything I've had to bear,
and ordering me to stuff myself with food.
But when dawn appears, you should stir yourselves
so you can set me in my misery
back on my native soil, for all I've suffered.
If I can see my goods again, my slaves,
my large and high-roofed home, then let life end."

Once Odysseus finished, they all approved his words,
and, because he'd spoken well and to the point, 280
they ordered that their guest should be sent on his way.
Then, after they had poured libations and had drunk
to their heart's content, each of them returned back home
to get some rest. In the hall, lord Odysseus was left [230]
sitting by Arete and godlike Alcinous.
Servants cleared away the remnants of the feast.
White-armed Arete spoke first, for when she saw
his cloak and tunic, she recognized his lovely clothes
as ones made by her servant women and herself.
So she spoke to him—her words had wings:

"Stranger," 290
first of all, I'll ask you this: Who are you?
What people do you come from? And those clothes—
who gave them to you? Did you not tell us
you came here wandering across the sea?"

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said: [240]

"O queen, it would be hard to tell the story
of my miseries from start to finish—
heavenly gods have given me so many.
But in answer to what you have asked me
I can tell you this. There is an island 300
called Ogygia far off in the sea.
A cunning, fearful goddess lives there,
fair-haired Calypso, Atlas's daughter.
None of the gods associates with her,
nor any mortal men. But one of the gods
led me in my misfortune to her hearth.
I was alone, for Zeus had struck my ship
with his bright lightning bolt and shattered it,
right in the middle of the wine-dark sea. [250]
All my other fine companions perished there, 310
but I clung to the keel of my curved ship
and drifted for nine days. The tenth black night,
gods brought me to Ogygia, the island
where that fair-haired, fearful goddess lives—
I mean Calypso. She received me kindly,
loved, and fed me. She promised she'd make me
ageless and immortal for eternity.
But she never won the heart here in my chest.
I stayed there seven years, the entire time,
always soaking the immortal clothing 320
Calypso gave me with my constant tears. [260]
But, as the circling years kept moving past me,
the eighth year came. Then she commanded me,
with her encouragement, to sail back home—
either because she'd got some news from Zeus,
or else her mind had changed. She sent me off
on a well-lashed raft, and she provided
many things—food and sweet wine. She dressed me
in immortal clothing, and sent a wind,
a warm and gentle breeze. Seventeen days 330
I sailed across the sea. On the eighteenth
the shadowy mountains of your country
came in sight, and my fond heart was happy. [270]
But I had no luck—I still had to learn
great torments, which the Shaker of the Earth,
Poseidon, sent at me. He stirred up winds
against me, blocked my route, and shook the sea
in an amazing way. The surging waves
did not allow the raft to carry me,
for all my heavy groaning, since that storm 340
smashed my raft to pieces. But I swam on,
cutting across the gulf, until wind and wave
carried me ahead and left me on your shore.
If I'd tried to land there, the pounding surf
would've tossed me up onshore, throwing me
against huge rocks in a perilous place.
So I moved back again, kept on swimming, [280]
until I reached a river, which I thought
the best place I could land—it was free of rocks,
and there was shelter from the wind, as well. 350
I staggered out and fell down on the beach,
gasping for breath. Immortal night arrived.
So I climbed up from that heaven-fed river,
gathered leaves around me in the bushes,
and fell asleep. Some god poured over me
an endless sleep, so there among the leaves,
my fond exhausted heart slept through the night,
past daybreak and noon—not until the sun
was in decline did that sweet sleep release me.
Then I observed your daughter's servants 360 [290]
playing on the shore, and she was with them,
looking like a goddess. I entreated her,
and she revealed no lack of noble sense,
the sort you would not hope to come across
in one so young at a first encounter—
young people always act so thoughtlessly.
She gave me lots of food and gleaming wine,
bathed me in the river, and gave me clothes.
Though I'm in pain, I've told the truth in this."

Alcinous then answered him and said:

"Stranger, 370
my child was truly negligent this time.
She did not bring you with her servants [300]
here to our home, although it was to her
that you first made your plea."

Resourceful Odysseus
then said in answer to the king:

"My lord,
in this you must not criticize your daughter,
I beg you, for she is quite innocent.
She did indeed tell me to follow her
with her attendants, but I was unwilling,
afraid and shamed in case, when you saw us, 380
you would be angry, for on this earth
groups of men are quick to grow enraged."

Alcinous then said in answer to Odysseus:

the heart here in my chest is not like that.
It does not get incensed without a reason.
It's better in all things to show restraint. [310]
By Father Zeus, Athena, and Apollo,
I wish, given the kind of man you are,
with a mind that thinks so like my own,
you'd marry my child and become my son, 390
and then stay here. I'd give you a home
and wealth, as well, if you chose to remain.
But no Phaeacian will detain you here,
against your will. No. May that never be
the will of Father Zeus. I'll arrange a time,
so you can know for certain when you're leaving—
let it be tomorrow. While you lie asleep,
they'll carry you across the tranquil sea,
until you reach your native land and home,
or whatever place you wish, even though 400 [320]
it may take them far past Euboea.
Some of our people who saw that island
when they carried fair-haired Rhadamanthus
to visit Tityus, the son of Gaea,
say it is the most remote of places.*
They went there and, without any effort,
made the journey home in the same day.
So you, too, will discover for yourself
I have the finest ships and young men, too,
who toss salt water with their oar blades." 410

Alcinous finished. Long-suffering lord Odysseus
was pleased and spoke out in prayer, saying:

"Father Zeus, [330]
may Alcinous complete all he has said.
Then on this grain-giving earth his fame
will never be extinguished, and I
will reach my native land."

As they conversed like this,
white-armed Arete commanded her attendants
to set a bed outside, under the portico,
placing fine purple blankets on the top,
with coverlets spread over them, and then, 420
over those some woolly cloaks to keep him warm.
The servants left the chamber, torches in their hands.
Once they had worked fast to arrange the well-made bed, [340]
they came to call Odysseus, saying:

come now and rest. Your bed is ready.

When they said this, he welcomed thoughts of going to sleep.
So long-suffering lord Odysseus lay down there,
on the corded bed, beneath the echoing portico.
But Alcinous rested in an inner chamber
in the high-roofed house—his lady wife lay there, as well, 430
stretched out beside him, sharing their marriage bed.

Notes to Book Seven

*Hephaestus: one of the Olympian gods, the divine son of Zeus and Hera, is the craftsman-creator god of the forge.

*olive oil dripped down: olive oil was and in some places still is an important ingredient in some weaving processes, working as a mild bleaching agent and strengthening the fibres.

*dreadful spinning Fates: the three Fates, who are sisters, are called Atropos, Lachesis, and Clotho. At a person's birth they allot his or her share of pain and suffering and good. According to some accounts, Clotho sets the wool around the spindle, Lachesis spins the yarn, and Atropos cuts the thread when death comes. The Olympian gods cannot or will not alter the decisions of the Fates.

*Cyclopes . . . Giants: the Cyclopes are divinely born creatures of ambiguous origin, who supported Zeus in his struggle against his father Cronos; they are famous for having only one eye in their foreheads and for being gigantic, aggressive, and uncivilized. The Giants are divine, often monstrous, creatures created from the castration of Uranus, the first ruling god. They fought against Zeus and were imprisoned deep underground in Tartarus.

*Euboea . . . Rhadamanthus . . . Tityus . . . Gaea: Euboea is a large island off the coast of Attica, near Athens. The fact that the Phaeacians think of it as very remote suggests that they are located far off to the south or west, perhaps off the west coast of Greece. Rhadamanthus is a divine son of Zeus and Europa, so famous for his wise judgment that the gods made him part of an underworld trio (along with Aeacus and Minos) who judged the dead. Tityus, sometimes called a son of Zeus, is famous for his attempted rape of Leto, as a result of which he was killed by Leto's children, Apollo and Artemis, and is eternally punished in the underworld (as we see later in the poem). Gaea (or Gaia) is the Earth, the child of Chaos.




Ulysses Weeps at the Song of Demodocus

Book Eight

Odysseus is Entertained in Phaeacia

[ Odysseus attends the Phaeacian assembly; Alcinous outlines a proposal to assist Odysseus; young men prepare a boat for Odysseus; Demodocus sings of an old quarrel between Odysseus and Achilles, which makes Odysseus weep at the banquet; the young men put on a display of athletics and invite Odysseus to join in, but he declines; Euryalus insults Odysseus; Odysseus responds and Athena encourages him; Alcinous arranges a display of Phaeacian dancing; Demodocus sings of how Hephaestus caught Ares and Aphrodite in an adulterous affair; Alcinous proposes they all give gifts to Odysseus; Euryalus apologizes; Arete gives Odysseus a gift; Nausicaa and Odysseus exchange farewells; Demodocus sings the story of the wooden horse at Troy; Odysseus weeps; Alcinous asks him to reveal his identity.]

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
royal and mighty Alcinous rose from his bed,
and divinely born Odysseus, sacker of cities,
got up, too. Alcinous, a powerful king, led them
to the place Phaeacians organized assemblies,
ground laid out for them beside the ships. They moved there
and sat down on polished stones arranged in rows.
Pallas Athena roamed throughout the city,
looking like one of wise Alcinous' heralds
and planning brave Odysseus' journey home. 10
To every noble she approached she spoke these words: [10]

"Come now, Phaeacian counselor and leader,
come to the assembly to inform yourself
about the stranger who has just arrived
at the palace of our wise Alcinous.
He's been wandering on the sea, but in form
he looks like one of the immortals."

With such words she roused the heart and spirit in each man,
and so the seats in the assembly filled up quickly,
as people gathered there. Many of those present 20
were astonished when they saw Laertes' clever son—
Athena had poured an amazing poise on him,
across his shoulders and his head and made him look
taller and more powerful, so the Phaeacians [20]
would welcome him, and he would win from them
respect and awe—and prevail in competition,
the many rival contests where Phaeacians
would be testing lord Odysseus. When the men
had all assembled for the meeting there,
Alcinous spoke to them and said:

"Listen to me, 30
you Phaeacian counsellors and leaders.
I'll tell you what the heart in my chest says.
This stranger here, a man I do not know,
a wanderer, has traveled to my house,
from people in the east or from the west.
He's asking to be sent away back home [30]
and has requested confirmation from us.
So let us act as we have done before
and assist him with his journey. No man
arriving at my palace stays there long 40
grieving because he can't return back home.
Let's drag a black ship down into the sea
for her first voyage. Then from the citizens
choose fifty-two young men who in the past
have shown they are the best. Once they've all lashed
the oars firmly in place, they'll come ashore,
go to my house, and quickly make a meal.
I will provide enough for everyone.
That's what I'm ordering for our young men. [40]
But all you other sceptre-bearing kings 50
should come to my fine home, so in those halls
we can make the stranger welcome. No man
should deny me this. And then summon there
the godlike minstrel Demodocus, the man
who has received from god the gift of song
above all others. He can entertain us
with any song his heart prompts him to sing."

Alcinous spoke and led them off. The sceptred kings
came after him, while a herald went to find
the godlike singer. Fifty-two hand-picked young men 60
went off, as Alcinous had ordered, to the shore
beside the restless sea. Once they'd reached the boat, [50]
they dragged the black ship into deeper water,
set the mast and sails in place inside the vessel,
lashed the rowing oars onto their leather pivots,
then hoisted the white sail. Next, they moored the ship
well out to sea and then returned to the great home
of their wise king. Halls, corridors, and courtyards
were full of people gathering—a massive crowd,
young and old. On their behalf Alcinous slaughtered 70
eight white-tusked boars, two shambling oxen, and twelve sheep. [60]
These carcasses they skinned and dressed and then prepared
a splendid banquet. Meanwhile the herald was returning
with the loyal singer, a man the Muse so loved
above all others. She'd given him both bad and good,
for she'd destroyed his eyes, but had bestowed on him
the gift of pleasing song. The herald, Pontonous,
then brought up a silver-studded chair for him.
He set its back against a lofty pillar in their midst,
hung the clear-toned lyre on a peg above his head, 80
then showed him how to reach it with his hands.
The herald placed a lovely table at his side,
with food in a basket and a cup of wine to drink,
when his heart felt the urge. Then all those present [70]
reached for the splendid dinner set in front of them.
Once they'd enjoyed their heart's fill of food and drink,
the minstrel was inspired by the Muse to sing
a song about the glorious deeds of warriors,
that tale, whose fame had climbed to spacious heaven,
about Odysseus and Achilles, son of Peleus, 90
when, at a lavish feast in honour of the gods,
they'd fought each other in ferocious argument.*
Still, in his heart Agamemnon, king of men,
had been glad to see the finest of Achaeans
quarreling, for that's what he'd been told would happen,
when he'd crossed the stone threshold in sacred Pytho [80]
to consult Phoebus Apollo in his oracle
and the god had answered him with this reply—
that from this point on, disasters would begin
for Trojans and Danaans, as great Zeus willed. 100

This was the song the celebrated minstrel sang.
Odysseus's strong hands took his long purple cloak,
pulled it above his head, and hid his handsome face.
He felt ashamed to let Phaeacians look at him
with tears streaming from his eyes. So every time
the godlike minstrel stopped the song, Odysseus
would wipe away the tears, take his two-handled cup,
and pour out a libation to the gods. But then,
when Demodocus started up again, urged to sing
by Phaeacian noblemen enjoying his song, 110 [90]
Odysseus would hide his head once more and groan.
He concealed the tears he shed from all those present,
except Alcinous, the only one who noticed,
since he sat beside him and heard his heavy sighs.
So Alcinous quickly spoke to the Phaeacians,
men who love the sea:

"Listen to me,
you counsellors and leaders of Phaeacians.
Now we have refreshed our spirits. We've shared
this food, and music has accompanied
our splendid banquet. So let's go outside 120 [100]
and test ourselves in all sorts of contests,
then this stranger, once he gets back home,
can tell his friends how much we excel
all other men at wrestling and boxing,
at jumping and at running."

Once he'd said this,
Alcinous led them out, and they followed him.
The herald hung the clear-toned lyre on the peg,
took Demodocus by the hand, and led him out,
taking him along the very path the other men,
Phaeacia's best, had walked along to watch the games. 130
So they made their way to the assembly ground.
A large crowd in their thousands followed them.
Many fine young men came forward to compete— [110]
Acroneus, Ocyalus, and Elatreus,
then Nauteus, Prymneus, and Anchialus,
Eretmeus, too, along with Ponteus,
Proreus, Thoon, and Anabesineus,
with Amphialus, son of Polyneus,
son of Tecton. Euryalus came up, as well,
a match for man-destroying Ares, god of war, 140
son of Naubolus. His handsome looks and shape
made him, after Laodamas, who had no equal,
the finest of Phaeacians. Three sons of Alcinous
stepped out, as well—Halius, Laodomas,
and godlike Clytoneus. In the first contest [120]
these men competed in the foot race, on a course
laid out for them with markers. They all sprinted off,
moving quickly. A cloud of dust rose from the ground.
Clytoneus was by far the finest runner,
so he raced ahead and got back to the crowd, 150
leaving the others well behind, about as far
as the furrow laid down by a team of mules
in ploughing fallow land.* Then the competitors
tested their skill in the painful sport of wrestling,
and of all the noble princes Euryalus
proved himself the best. Next, in the leaping contest
Amphialus came out victorious, and then,
Elatreus triumphed in the discus throw,
as did Laodamas, fine son of Alcinous, [130]
in the boxing match. Once they'd enjoyed these contests, 160
Laodamas, son of Alcinous, spoke to them:

"Come, my friends, why don't we ask the stranger
whether there's some contest he knows all about
and understands. From the way his body looks
he's no weakling—not in his thighs and calves,
his thick neck and those two strong upper arms—
lots of power there, no lack of youthful strength.
He's just exhausted by his many troubles.
The sea is bad at breaking a man down,
no matter what his strength. From what I know, 170
there's nothing worse."

Then Euryalus [140]
answered him and said:

what you've just said is really sensible.
So now go on your own and challenge him.
And say it so that all of us can hear."

When Alcinous's fine son heard these words, he moved
so he was standing in the middle of the crowd,
and spoke out to Odysseus:

"Honoured stranger,
come and test yourself in competition,
if there's some sport in which you have great skill. 180
It seems to me you know how to compete,
since there's no greater glory for a man
than what he wins with his own hands and feet.
So come, make the attempt. All that sorrow—
cast it from your heart. Your journey homeward
will no longer be postponed. Your ship is launched, [150]
your comrades are all ready to set off."

Then shrewd Odysseus answered him and said:

why do you provoke me with this challenge?
My heart's preoccupied with troubles now, 190
not with competition. Up to this point,
I've suffered and struggled through so much,
and now I sit with you in this assembly
yearning to get home, pleading my case
before your king and all the people."

Euryalus then replied by taunting Odysseus
right to his face:

"No, no, stranger. I don't see you
as someone with much skill in competition—
not a real man, the sort one often meets— [160]
more like a sailor trading back and forth 200
in a ship with many oars, a captain
in charge of merchant sailors, whose concern
is for his freight—he keeps a greedy eye
on the cargo and his profit. You don't seem
to be an athlete."

With a scowl, Odysseus,
that resourceful man, then answered Euryalus:

"Stranger, what you've said is not so wise,
like a man whose foolishness is blinding him.
How true it is the gods do not present
their lovely gifts to all men equally, 210
not beauty, shape, or skill in speaking out.
One man's appearance may not be attractive,
but a god will crown his words with beauty, [170]
so men rejoice to look on him—he speaks
with confidence and yet sweet modesty,
and thus stands out among those in assembly.
And when he moves throughout the city,
they look at him as if he were a god.
And yet another man can be so beautiful,
he looks like an immortal, but his words 220
are empty of all grace. That's how you are.
Your appearance is particularly handsome—
a god could hardly make that any finer—
but your mind is empty. Your rude speech
has stirred the spirit in my chest. For I
am not unskilled in competition,
not the way you chat about. No. In fact, [180]
when I relied upon my youth and strength,
I think I ranked among the very best.
Now I'm hurt and suffering, I'm holding back, 230
because I've gone through so much misery
in dealing with men's wars and painful waves.
But still, though I have undergone so much,
I'll test myself in these contests of yours.
For what you've said is gnawing at my heart—
that speech of yours provokes me."

Odysseus finished and then, still wrapped up in his cloak,
picked up a hefty discus, bigger than the others,
much heavier than the ones used by Phaeacians
when they competed with each other. With a whirl, 240
he sent it flying from his powerful hand.
The stone made a humming sound as it flew along, [190]
and the long-oared Phaeacians, men who love their ships,
ducked down near the ground, below that flying stone.
It sailed beyond the marks of all the other men,
speeding lightly from his hand, and Athena,
in the likeness of a man, noted where it fell.
Then she called out to him and said:

a blind man could find your mark by groping.
It's far out in front, not with the others. 250
So at least in this throwing competition
you can be confident. No Phaeacian
will get this far or throw it further."

Athena spoke, and resourceful lord Odysseus
was happy, glad to see someone supporting him [200]
in the competition. So, with a more cheerful voice
he said to the Phaeacians:

"Equal that, you youngsters.
I'll quickly send another after it,
which will go as far, I think, even further.
As for other contests, let any man 260
whose heart and spirit urge him, come up here,
and test himself. You've made me so worked up.
In boxing, wrestling, or running—I don't care.
Any one at all from you Phaeacians,
all except Laodamas, for he's my host.
And what man fights against another man
who shows him hospitality? Anyone [210]
who challenges the host who welcomes him
in a foreign land is a worthless fool,
for he is canceling his own good fortune. 270
But from the others I'll not back away,
nor will I take them lightly. No. I wish
to see their skill and test them man to man.
In all the competitions men engage in,
I am no weakling. I well understand
how to use a polished bow with skill.
I was the first to shoot an arrow off
and, in a multitude of enemies,
to kill a man, even as companions
standing close by me were still taking aim. 280
In that Trojan land, when Achaeans shot,
the only one who beat me with the bow
was Philoctetes. But of all the rest [220]
I claim I'm far the best—of mortal men,
I mean, ones now on earth who feed on bread.
For I won't seek to make myself a match
for men of earlier times—for Hercules,
or Eurytus of Oechalia, warriors
who competed with the gods in archery.
That's why great Eurytus was killed so young 290
and did not reach old age in his own home.
Apollo, in his anger, slaughtered him,
because Eurytus had challenged him
in a contest with their bows. With my spear,
I throw further than any other man
can shoot an arrow. But in the foot race [230]
I'm afraid that one of the Phaeacians
may outrun me, for in those many waves
I was badly beaten down—on board ship
I did not have a large supply of food, 300
and so my legs are weak."

Odysseus finished.
All the people there were silent. No one spoke.
Then Alcinous responded to Odysseus:

"Stranger, since you have not been ungracious
in your speech to us and wish to demonstrate
the merit you possess, in your anger
that this man came up and taunted you
in these games of ours, mocking your excellence,
in a way no one would ever do,
if in his heart he fully understood 310 [240]
how to speak correctly, come, hear me now,
so you can tell this to some other hero,
when you're back in your own home and feasting
with your wife and children there beside you,
remembering our qualities, the skills
Zeus gave us when our ancestors were here,
which still endure. We have no special gift
in boxing fights or wrestling, but we run fast.
We're the finest sailors, love feasts, the lyre,
dancing, new clothes, warm baths, and going to bed. 320
So come, all those of you among Phaeacians [250]
who dance the best, perform for us, and then
our guest, when he gets back, can tell his friends
just how much we surpass all other men
in seamanship, speed on foot, dance, and song.
Let a man go and get that sweet-toned lyre
for Demodocus—it's somewhere in the hall."

Godlike Alcinous finished. The herald got up
to fetch the hollow lyre from the royal palace.
Nine officials chosen from among the people, 330
men who organized each detail of their meetings,
stood up, smoothed off a dancing space, and then marked out
a fair and spacious circle. The herald came up, [260]
carrying the clear-toned lyre for Demodocus,
who then moved to the centre. Around the singer
stood boys in the first bloom of youth, skilled dancers,
whose feet then struck the consecrated dancing ground.
In his heart, Odysseus was amazed. He marveled
at the speed with which they moved their dancing feet.

The minstrel struck the opening chords to his sweet song— 340
how Ares loved the fair-crowned Aphrodite,
how in Hephaestus' house they first had sex
in secret, and how Ares gave her many gifts,
while he disgraced the bed of lord Hephaestus.*
But sun god Helios observed them making love [270]
and came at once to tell Hephaestus. Once he'd heard
the unwelcome news, Hephaestus went into his forge,
pondering some nasty scheme deep in his heart.
He set up his massive anvil on its block,
then forged a net no one could break or loosen, 350
so they'd have to stay immobile where they were.
When, in his rage, he'd made that snare for Ares,
he went into the room which housed his marriage bed,
anchored the netting all around the bed posts,
and then hung loops of it from roof beams high above,
fine as spiders' webs, impossible to see, [280]
even for a blessed god—that's how skillfully
he made that net. Once he'd organized the snare
around the bed, he announced a trip to Lemnos,
that well-built citadel, his favourite place by far 360
of all the lands on earth. Ares of the Golden Reins,
who maintained a constant watch, saw Hephaestus,
the celebrated master artisan, leaving home,
and went running over to Hephaestus' house,
eager to have sex with fair-crowned Aphrodite.
She'd just left the presence of her father Zeus,
mighty son of Cronos, and was sitting down.
Ares charged inside the house, clutched her hand, then spoke, [290]
saying these words to her:

"Come, my love,
let's get into bed—make love together. 370
Hephaestus is not home. No doubt he's gone
to visit Lemnos and the Sintians,
those men who speak like such barbarians."*

Ares spoke. To Aphrodite having sex with him
seemed quite delightful. So they went off to bed
and lay down there together. But then the crafty net
made by Hephaestus' ingenuity fell round them,
so they couldn't move their limbs or lift their bodies.
After a while, they realized they could not get out.
Then the famous crippled god came back to them— 380 [300]
he'd turned round before he'd reached the land of Lemnos.
Helios had stayed on watch and gave him a report.
With a grieving heart, Hephaestus went up to his home,
stood at the front door, where a cruel anger gripped him.
He made a dreadful cry, calling out to all the gods:

"Father Zeus, all you other sacred gods
who live forever, come here, so you can see
something disgusting and ridiculous—
Aphrodite, Zeus's daughter, scorns me
and lusts after Ares, the destroyer, 390
because he's beautiful, with healthy limbs, [310]
while I was born deformed. I'm not to blame.
My parents are! I wish they'd never borne me!
See how these two have gone to my own bed
and are lying there, having sex together,
while I look on in pain. But I don't think
they want to stay lying down like this for long,
no matter how much they may be in love.
They'll both soon lose the urge to stay in bed.
But this binding snare will confine them here, 400
until her father gives back all those presents,
courting gifts I gave him for that shameless bitch—
a lovely daughter but a sex-crazed wife."* [320]

Hephaestus finished. Gods gathered at the bronze-floored house.
Earthshaker Poseidon came, and Hermes, too,
the god of luck. And archer lord Apollo came.
But female goddesses were all far too ashamed
and stayed at home. So the gods, givers of good things,
stood in the doorway, looking at the artful work
of ingenious Hephaestus. They began to laugh— 410
an irrepressible laughter then pealed out
among the blessed gods. Glancing at his neighbour,
one of them would say:

"Bad deeds don't pay.
The slow one overtakes the swift—just as
Hephaestus, though slow, has now caught Ares, [330]
although of all the gods who hold Olympus
he's the fastest one there is. Yes, he's lame,
but he's a crafty one. So Ares now
must pay a fine for his adultery."

That's how the gods then talked to one another. 420
But lord Apollo, son of Zeus, questioned Hermes:

"Hermes, son of Zeus, you messenger
and giver of good things, how would you like
to lie in bed by golden Aphrodite,
even though a strong net tied you down?"

The messenger god, killer of Argus, then said
in his reply:

"Far-shooting lord Apollo,
I wish there were three times as many nets, [340]
impossible to break, and all you gods
were looking on, if I could like down there, 430
alongside golden Aphrodite."

At Hermes' words,
laughter arose from the immortal deities.
But Poseidon did not laugh. He kept requesting
Hephaestus, the celebrated master artisan,
to set Ares free. When he talked to him,
his words had wings:

"Set him loose.
I promise he will pay you everything,
as you are asking, all he truly owes,
in the presence of immortal gods."

The famous lame god then replied:

"Poseidon, 440
Shaker of the Earth, do not ask me this. [350]
It's a nasty thing to accept a pledge
made for a nasty rogue. What if Ares
escapes his chains, avoids the debt, and leaves—
how then among all these immortal gods
do I hold you in chains?"

Earthshaker Poseidon
then answered him and said:

if indeed Ares does not discharge his debt
and runs away, I'll pay you in person."

Then the celebrated crippled god replied: 450

"It would be inappropriate for me
to refuse to take your word."

After saying this,
powerful Hephaestus then untied the netting. [360]
Once they'd been released from their strong chains, both gods
jumped up immediately—Ares went off to Thrace,
and laughter-loving Aphrodite left for Paphos,
in Cyprus, where she has her sanctuary, her sacred altar.
There the Graces bathed and then anointed her
with heavenly oil, the sort that gleams upon the gods,
who live forever. Next, they took some gorgeous clothes 460
and dressed her—the sight was marvelous to see.

That was the song the famous minstrel sang.
As he listened, Odysseus felt joy in his heart—
long-oared Phaeacians, famous sailors, felt it, too.
Alcinous then asked Laodamas and Halius [370]
to dance alone. No man could match their dancing skill.
The two men picked up a lovely purple ball,
which clever Polybus had made for them.
Then, leaning back, one of them would throw it high,
towards the shadowy clouds, and then the other, 470
before his feet touched ground, would catch it easily.
Once they'd shown their skill in tossing it straight up,
they threw it back and forth, as they kept dancing
on the life-sustaining earth, while more young men
stood at the edge of the arena, beating time.
The dancing rhythms made a powerful sound. [380]
Then lord Odysseus spoke:

"Mighty Alcinous,
most renowned among all men, you claimed
your dancers were the best, and now, indeed,
what you said is true. When I gaze at them, 480
I'm lost in wonder."

At Odysseus' words,
powerful king Alcinous felt a great delight,
and spoke at once to his Phaeacians, master sailors.

"Leaders and counsellors of the Phaeacians,
listen—this stranger seems to me a man
with an uncommon wisdom. So come now,
let's give him gifts of friendship, as is right.
Twelve distinguished kings are rulers here [390]
and govern in this land, and I myself
am the thirteenth king. Let each of you 490
bring a fresh cloak and tunic, newly washed,
and a talent of pure gold. All of this
we should put together very quickly,
so this stranger has his gifts in hand
and goes to dinner with a joyful heart.
Euryalus must apologize in person
to the stranger, verbally and with a gift,
for what he said is not acceptable."

Alcinous spoke. All those present agreed with him
and said it should be done. Then every one of them 500
sent an attendant out to bring back presents.
And Euryalus addressed the king and said: [400]

"Lord Alcinous, most renowned among all men,
to this stranger I will indeed apologize,
as you instruct me. And I'll give him
a sword completely made of bronze,
with a silver hilt, and scabbard, too,
of fresh-carved ivory which fits around it,
a gift worth a great deal, and just for him."

With these words he set into Odysseus' hands 510
the silver-studded sword and then addressed him—
his words had wings:

"Greetings, honoured stranger.
If any harsh word has been spoken here,
let storm winds snatch it, carry it away.
As for you, may gods grant you see your wife
and reach your native land. You've suffered much, [410]
for such a long time distant from your friends."

Then Odysseus, that resourceful man, replied and said:

"And you, my friend, best wishes to you, too.
May gods give you joyful prosperity. 520
And may you never miss this sword
which you are giving me. These words of yours
have made amends to me."

Odysseus spoke
and slung the silver-studded sword around his shoulders.
As the sun went down, the splendid presents were brought in,
carried to Alcinous' home by worthy heralds.
The sons of noble Alcinous took the lovely gifts [420]
and set them down before their honoured mother.
With powerful king Alcinous leading them,
they came in and sat down on their upraised thrones. 530
Mighty Alcinous then said to Arete:

"My lady, have a precious trunk brought here,
the best there is. You yourself should place in it
a tunic and a freshly laundered cloak.
Then heat a cauldron for him on the fire,
warm up some water, so he can bathe,
and, after he's seen safely stowed away
all the splendid gifts Phaeacian noblemen
have brought in here, he can enjoy the feast,
while listening to the minstrel's singing. 540
And I will give him this fine cup of mine— [430]
it's made of gold—for all his days to come
he will remember me, as he pours libations
in his halls to Zeus and other gods."

Alcinous finished. Arete then told her servants
to set a large cauldron full of water on the fire
as quickly as they could. They placed it on the fire,
poured water in it, and added wood below.
So flames then licked the belly of the cauldron,
heating up the water. Meanwhile for her guest 550
Arete had brought out from her inner rooms
a splendid chest, which she filled with precious gifts,
the clothing and the gold brought by Phaeacians. [440]
She herself added a cloak and lovely tunic.
Then she addressed Odysseus—her words had wings:

"You must attend to the lid yourself,
and secure it quickly with a knot,
so no one robs you on your journey,
perhaps when you are lost in a sweet sleep
sometime later, as your black ship sails on." 560

Long-suffering lord Odysseus heard what she advised.
He quickly shut the lid and bound it with a knot,
a tricky one which he'd picked up from queenly Circe.
Then the housekeeper invited him to step
into the bathing tub. His heart was filled with joy [450]
to see hot water—he'd not had such welcome care
since the day he'd left fair-haired Calypso's home.
Till then he'd been treated always like a god.
The servant women washed him, rubbed him down with oil,
and dressed him in a handsome cloak and tunic. 570
He left his bath and went to drink wine with the men.
Nausicaa, whose beauty was a gift from god,
standing by the doorway of that well-built hall,
looked at Odysseus and was filled with wonder.
She spoke winged words to him: [460]

"Farewell, stranger.
When you are back in your own land,
I hope you will remember me sometimes,
since you owe your life to me."

Then Odysseus,
that resourceful man, replied to her and said:

"Nausicaa, daughter of great Alcinous, 580
may Hera's loud-thundering husband, Zeus,
grant that I see the day of my return
when I get home. There I will pray to you
all my days, as to a god. For you, girl,
you gave me my life."

Odysseus finished speaking.
Then he sat down on a chair beside king Alcinous.
They were already serving food and mixing wine. [470]
A herald approached leading the faithful singer,
Demodocus, whom the people held in honour,
and sat him in the middle of the banquet, 590
leaning his chair against a lofty pillar.
Then shrewd Odysseus, as he was slicing meat
from the large amount remaining, took pieces
from the back cut of a white-tusked boar, lots of fat
on either side, and called out to the herald:

"Herald, take this portion of our food
to Demodocus, so that he can eat.
Though in grief, I'll give him a warm welcome,
for from all people living on the earth
singers win honour and respect. The Muse 600 [480]
has taught them song and loves their tribe."

At Odysseus' words, the herald took the serving
and handed it to noble Demodocus,
who accepted it with a delighted heart.
Their hands reached out to take the tasty food
prepared and set out there before them. And then,
when they'd had their heart's fill of food and drink,
quick-witted Odysseus said to Demodocus:

"Demodocus, to you I give high praise,
more so than to all other mortal men, 610
whether it was that child of Zeus, the Muse,
who taught you, or Apollo. For you sing
so well and with such true expressiveness
about the destiny of the Achaeans,
everything they did and suffered, the work [490]
they had to do—as if you yourself were there
or heard the story from a man who was.
Come, change the subject now, and sing about
the building of that wooden horse, the one
Epeius made with guidance from Athena. 620
Lord Odysseus then, with his trickery,
had it taken to the citadel, filled with men,
those who ransacked Troy. If, at my request,
you will recite the details of this story,
I'll tell all men how, of his own free will,
god gives poetic power to your song."

Odysseus spoke. And the minstrel, inspired by god,
began to sing to them, taking up the story [500]
at the point where Argives, having burned their huts
and gone on board their well-oared ships, were sailing off, 630
while those warriors led by glorious Odysseus
were at Troy's meeting ground, hidden in the horse.*
Trojans had dragged the horse all by themselves
inside their citadel. It stood there, while Trojans
sat and talked around it, confused what they should do.
There were three different options people favoured—
to split the hollow wood apart with pitiless bronze,
or drag it to the heights and throw it from the rocks,
or let it stay there as a great offering to the gods,
something to assuage their anger. And that, indeed, 640 [510]
is what they finally did, for it was their fate
to be wiped out once they had within their city walls
a gigantic wooden horse in which lay hidden
all the finest Argives, bringing into Troy
death and destruction. Then Demodocus sang
how Achaea's sons left their hollow hiding place,
poured from the horse, and then destroyed the city.
He sang about the various ways those warriors
laid waste that lofty city and how Odysseus,
like Ares, god of war, and godlike Menelaus 650
went to the home of Deiphobus, where, he said,
Odysseus battled in the most horrendous fight,
from which he then emerged at last victorious,
thanks to assistance from Athena's mighty heart. [520]

That was the tale the celebrated minstrel sang.
Odysseus was moved to weep—below his eyes
his face grew wet with tears. Just as a woman cries,
as she prostrates herself on her dear husband
who's just been killed in front of his own city
and his people, trying to save his children 660
and the citizens from the day they meet their doom—
as he dies, she sees him gasping his last breath,
embraces him, and screams out her laments,
while at her back her enemies keep beating her,
with spears across her spine and shoulders,
then lead her off, cheeks ravaged by her grief, [530]
into a life of bondage, pain, and sorrow—
that's how Odysseus let tears of pity fall
from his eyes then. But he concealed those tears
from all of them except Alcinous, who, 670
as he sat there beside him, was the only one
who noticed and could hear his heavy sighs.
He spoke out at once to his Phaeacians,
lovers of the sea.

"Listen to me,
you Phaeacians counsellors and leaders.
Let Demodocus cease from playing now
his clear-toned lyre, for the song he sings
does not please all his listeners alike.
Since our godlike minstrel was first moved to sing,
as we were dining, our guest has been in pain— 680 [540]
his mournful sighs have never stopped. His heart,
I think, must surely overflow with grief.
Then let our singer end his song, so all of us,
both hosts and guest, can enjoy our feasting.
Things will be much better. We've done all this—
the farewell dinner and the friendship gifts,
offered up with love—in honour of our guest.
To any man with some intelligence,
a stranger coming as a suppliant
brings the same delight a brother does. 690
And you, our guest, should no longer hide
behind those cunning thoughts of yours and skirt
the things I ask you. It's better to be frank.
Tell me your name, what they call you at home— [550]
your mother and your father and the others,
those in the town and in the countryside.
There's no one in the world, mean or noble,
who goes without a name once he's been born.
Parents give one to each of us at birth.
Tell me your country and your people, 700
your city, too, so ships can take you there,
using what they know to chart their passage.
Phaeacians have no pilots, no steering oar,
like other boats, for their ships on their own
can read men's hearts and thoughts—they know
all men's cities, their rich estates, as well, [560]
and quickly skim across wide tracts of sea,
concealed in mist and clouds, without a fear
of shipwrecks or disaster. Still, my father,
Nausithous, once told me this story— 710
he used to say we made Poseidon angry
because we carried everyone in safety.
He claimed that one day, as a well-built ship
with a Phaeacian crew was sailing back
from such a trip, over the misty sea,
Poseidon would destroy it and then place
a massive ring of mountains round our city.
That's what the old man said. It's up to god [570]
to make that happen or leave it undone,
whatever he finds pleasing to his heart. 720
So come, tell me this, and speak the truth—
Where have you traveled in your wanderings?
What men's countries have you visited?
Tell me of people and their well-built towns,
whether they are cruel, unjust, and savage,
or welcome strangers and fear god in their hearts.
Tell us why you weep, your heart full of pain,
to hear the fate of Argives and Danaans,
and of Troy. Gods made these things happen.
They spun out that destructive thread for men, 730
to weave a song for those as yet unborn. [580]
Was someone in your family killed at Troy—
a good and loyal man, a son-in-law,
your wife's father, one of those we truly love
after our flesh and blood? A companion?
A fine and worthy man dear to your heart?
For a companion who's a heart's true friend
is every bit as dear as one's own brother."

Notes to Book Eight

*Odysseus . . . Achilles: Ancient commentators explained these lines as a reference to a fierce argument between Odysseus and Achilles about the most appropriate tactics to use against the Trojans, cunning or brute force. The fact that Demodocus (the singer) has the Trojan War as his subject reinforces the traditional claim that this image of the blind harper is a portrait of Homer himself.

*mules . . . fallow land: This rather obscure measurement, Butcher and Lang suggest, seems to have something to do with the length of a furrow which a pair of mules could plow before having to rest.

*Philoctetes: a famous Achaean warrior king, was left for years alone on the island of Lemnos by the allied forces as they moved toward Troy, because a wound in his foot (from a snake bite) produced an insupportable smell. His bow was essential for the capture of Troy, and so Odysseus and Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, returned to Tenedos to bring it back.

*Hephaestus: Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love and beauty, is the wife of Hephaestus, the divine master craftsman, the crippled god of the forge (hence, he is often called the lame god). This famous story of the sexual affair between Ares, god of war, and Aphrodite has inspired some famous art works. It also provides the most famous example of "Homeric laughter," boisterously loud continuous group laughter at the plight of someone else, the reaction of the Olympian gods at the end of the song. This story has also prompted a good deal of negative criticism, even in ancient times, about the lack of morality among the Olympian deities.

*Sintians: a Thracian (i.e., non-Greek-speaking) people living on Lemnos who had helped Hephaestus when Zeus threw him out of heaven.

*wife: Aphrodite, Ares, and Hephaestus are all children of Zeus. Aphrodite's mother was, in some accounts, the goddess Dione; in other accounts she emerged from the foam of the sea (as in Botticelli's famous painting The Birth of Venus). The mother of Ares and Hephaestus was Hera, Zeus' wife and sister.

*in the horse: This is the earliest surviving account of the famous story of the wooden horse. The deception practised on the Trojans began with the Achaean army pretending it had abandoned the war. Hence, the army burned its camp, got on board ship, and sailed away, apparently for home, but, in reality, hiding behind a nearby island. They left the horse behind them.




Ulysses Giving Wine to Polyphemus

Book Nine

Ismarus, the Lotus Eaters, and the Cyclops

[Odysseus identifies himself and his origins to the Phaeacians; recounts his first adventures after leaving Troy: the attack on the Cicones, the storm sent from Zeus, the arrival in the land of the Lotus-eaters; the arrival in the land of the Cyclops; the slaughter of his men; he and his men burn out Polyphemus’ eye and escape from the cave; Odysseus and his men sail on.]

Resourceful Odysseus then replied to Alcinous:

"Lord Alcinous, most renowned of men,
it is indeed a truly splendid thing
to listen to a singer such as this,
whose voice is like a god's. For I say
there's nothing gives one more delight
than when joy grips entire groups of men
who sit in proper order in a hall
feasting and listening to a singer,
with tables standing there beside them 10
laden with bread and meat, as the steward
draws wine out of the mixing bowl, moves round, [10]
and fills the cups. To my mind this seems
the finest thing there is. But your heart
wants to ask about my grievous sorrows,
so I can weep and groan more than before.
What shall I tell you first? Where do I stop?
For the heavenly gods have given me
so much distress. Well, I will make a start
by telling you my name. Once you know that, 20
if I escape the painful day of death,
then later I can welcome you as guests,
though I live in a palace far away.
I am Odysseus, son of Laertes,
well known to all for my deceptive skills—
my fame extends all the way to heaven. [20]
I live in Ithaca, a land of sunshine.
From far away one sees a mountain there,
thick with whispering trees, Mount Neriton,
and many islands lying around it 30
close together—Dulichium, Same,
forested Zacynthus. Ithaca itself,
low in the sea and furthest from the mainland,
lies to the west—while those other islands
are a separate group, closer to the Dawn
and rising Sun. It's a rugged island,
but nurtures fine young men. And in my view,
nothing one can see is ever sweeter
than a glimpse of one's own native land.
When Calypso, that lovely goddess, tried 40
to keep me with her in her hollow caves,
longing for me to be her husband, [30]
or when, in the same way, the cunning witch
Aeaean Circe held me in her home
filled with keen desire I'd marry her,
they never won the heart here in my chest.
That's how true it is there's nothing sweeter
than a man's own country and his parents,
even if he's living in a wealthy home,
but in a foreign land away from those 50
who gave him life. But come, I'll tell you
of the miserable journey back which Zeus
arranged for me when I returned from Troy.*

"I was carried by the wind from Troy
to Ismarus, land of the Cicones.
I destroyed the city there, killed the men, [40]
seized their wives, and captured lots of treasure,
which we divided up. I took great pains
to see that all men got an equal share.
Then I gave orders we should leave on foot— 60
and with all speed. But the men were fools.
They didn't listen. They drank too much wine
and on the shoreline slaughtered many sheep,
as well as shambling cows with twisted horns.
Meanwhile the Cicones set off and gathered up
their neighbours, tribesmen living further inland.
There are more of them, and they're braver men,
skilled at fighting enemies from chariots
and also, should the need arise, on foot. [50]
They reached us in the morning, thick as leaves 70
or flowers growing in season. Then Zeus
brought us disaster—he made that our fate,
so we would suffer many casualties.
They set their ranks and fought by our swift ships.
We threw our bronze-tipped spears at one another.
While the morning lasted and that sacred day
gained strength, we held our ground and beat them back,
for all their greater numbers. But as the sun
moved to the hour when oxen are unyoked,
the Cicones broke through, overpowering 80
Achaeans. Of my well-armed companions, [60]
six from every ship were killed. The rest of us
made our escape, avoiding Death and Fate."

"We sailed away from there, hearts full of grief
at losing loyal companions, though happy
we had eluded death ourselves. But still,
I would not let our curved ships leave the place
until we'd made the ritual call three times
for our poor comrades slaughtered on that plain, 90
killed by the Cicones. Cloud-gatherer Zeus
then stirred North Wind to rage against our ships—
a violent storm concealing land and sea,
as darkness swept from heaven down on us.
The ships were driven off course, our sails [70]
ripped to shreds by the power of that wind.
We lowered the masts into the holds and then,
fearing for our lives, quickly rowed the ships
toward the land. For two whole days and nights
we lay there, hearts consumed with sorrow 100
and exhaustion. But when fair-haired Dawn
gave birth to the third day, we raised the masts,
hoisted white sails, and took our place on board.
Wind and helmsman held us on our course,
and I'd have reached my native land unharmed,
but North Wind, sea currents, and the waves
pushed me off course, as I was doubling back [80]
around Malea, driving me past Cythera.*

"Nine days fierce winds drove me away from there,
across the fish-filled seas, and on the tenth 110
we landed where the Lotus-eaters live,
people who feed upon its flowering fruit.
We went ashore and carried water back.
Then my companions quickly had a meal
by our swift ships. We had our food and drink,
and then I sent some of my comrades out
to learn about the men who ate the food
the land grew there. I chose two of my men [90]
and with them sent a third as messenger.
They left at once and met the Lotus-eaters, 120
who had no thought of killing my companions,
but gave them lotus plants to eat, whose fruit,
sweet as honey, made any man who sampled it
lose his desire to ever journey home
or bring back word to us—they wished to stay,
to remain among the Lotus-eaters,
feeding on the plant, eager to forget
about their homeward voyage. I forced them,
eyes full of tears, into our hollow ships,
dragged them underneath the rowing benches, 130
and tied them up. Then I issued orders [100]
for my other trusty comrades to embark
and sail away with speed in our fast ships,
in case another man might eat a lotus
and lose all thoughts about his journey back.
They raced on board, went to their places,
and, sitting in good order in their rows,
struck the gray sea with their oar blades."

The King of the Lestrigens Seizing One of the Companions of Ulysses


"We sailed away from there with heavy hearts
and reached the country of the Cyclopes, 140
a crude and lawless people.* They don't grow
any plants by hand or plough the earth,
but put their trust in the immortal gods,
and though they never sow or work the land,
every kind of crop springs up for them—
wheat and barley and rich grape-bearing vines, [110]
and Zeus provides the rain to make them grow.
They live without a council or assembly
or any rule of law, in hollow caves
among the mountain tops. Each one of them 150
makes laws for his own wives and children,
and they shun all dealings with each other.

"Now, near the country of the Cyclopes,
outside the harbour, there's a fertile island,
covered in trees, some distance from the shore,
but not too far away. Wild goats live there
in countless numbers. They have no need
to stay away from any human trails.
Hunters never venture there, not even those [120]
who endure great hardships in the forest, 160
as they roam across the mountain peaks.
That island has no flocks or plough land—
through all its days it's never once been sown
or tilled or known the work of human beings.
The only life it feeds is bleating goats.
The Cyclopes don't have boats with scarlet prows
or men with skills to build them well-decked ships,
which would enable them to carry out
all sorts of things—like traveling to the towns
of other people, the way men cross the sea 170
to visit one another in their ships—
or men who might have turned their island
into a well-constructed settlement. [130]
The island is not poor. All things grow there
in season. It has soft, well-watered meadows
by the shore of the gray sea, where grape vines
could flourish all the time, and level farm land,
where they could always reap fine harvests,
year after year—the sub-soil is so rich.
It has a harbour, too, with good anchorage, 180
no need for any mooring cable there,
or setting anchor stones, or tying up
with cables on the stern. One can beach a ship
and wait until a fair wind starts to blow
and sailors' hearts tell them to go on board.
At the harbour head there is a water spring— [140]
a bright stream flows out underneath a cave.
Around it poplars grow. We sailed in there.
Some god led us in through the murky night—
we couldn't see a thing, and all our ships 190
were swallowed up in fog. Clouds hid the moon,
so there was no light coming from the sky.
Our eyes could not catch any glimpse of land
or of the long waves rolling in onshore,
until our well-decked ships had reached the beach.
We hauled up our ships, took down all the sails,
went up along the shore, and fell asleep, [150]
remaining there until the light of Dawn.

"When rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
we moved across the island quite amazed. 200
Some nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus,
flushed out mountain goats, food for us to eat.
We quickly brought our curved bows from the ships
and our long spears, as well. Then, splitting up,
we fanned out in three different groups to hunt.
The god soon gave us our heart's fill of game—
I had twelve ships with me, and each of them
received nine goats by lot. I was the only one [160]
to be allotted ten. So all day long
until the sunset, we sat there and ate, 210
feasting on that rich supply of meat,
with sweet wine, too—we'd not yet used up
the red wine in our ships and had some left.
We'd taken many jars for everyone
the day we'd seized the sacred citadel
of the Cicones. Then we looked across
toward the country of the Cyclopes,
which was nearby. We observed their smoke,
heard their talk and sounds of sheep and goats.
Then the sun went down, and darkness fell. 220
So we lay down to sleep on the sea shore.

"As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared, [170]
I called a meeting and spoke to all the men:

'My loyal comrades, stay here where you are.
I'll take my ship and my own company
and try to find out who those people are,
whether they are rough and violent,
with no sense of law, or kind to strangers,
with hearts that fear the gods.'

I said these words,
then went down to my ship and told my crew 230
to loose the cables lashed onto the stern
and come onboard. They embarked with speed,
and, seated at the oarlocks in their rows,
struck the gray sea with their oars. And then, [180]
when we'd made the short trip round the island,
on the coast there, right beside the sea,
we saw a high cave, overhung with laurel.
There were many flocks, sheep as well as goats,
penned in there at night. All around the cave
there was a high front courtyard made of stones 240
set deep into the ground—with tall pine trees
and towering oaks. At night a giant slept there,
one that grazed his flocks all by himself,
somewhere far off. He avoided others
and lived alone, away from all the rest,
a law unto himself, a monster, made [190]
to be a thing of wonder, not like man
who lives by eating bread, no, more like
a lofty wooded mountain crag, standing there
to view in isolation from the rest. 250

"I told the rest of my trustworthy crew
to stay there by the ship and guard it,
while I selected twelve of my best men
and went off to explore. I took with me
a goatskin full of dark sweet wine. Maron,
Euanthes' son, one of Apollo's priests,
the god who kept guard over Ismarus,
gave it to me because, to show respect,
we had protected him, his wife, and child.
He lived in a grove of trees, a piece of ground 270 [200]
sacred to Apollo. He gave me splendid gifts—
seven finely crafted golden talents,
a pure silver mixing bowl, and wine as well,
a total of twelve jars poured out unmixed,
drink fit for gods. None of his servants,
men or women in his household, knew
about this wine. He was the only one,
other than his wife and one house steward.
Each time they drank that honey-sweet red wine,
he'd fill one cup with it and pour that out 280
in twenty cups of water, and the smell
arising from the mixing bowl was sweet, [210]
astonishingly so—to tell the truth,
no one's heart could then refuse to drink it.
I took some of this wine in a large goatskin,
a pouch of food, as well. My soldier's heart
was warning me a man might soon attack,
someone invested with enormous power,
a savage with no sense of law and justice.

"We soon reached his cave but didn't find him. 290
He was pasturing his rich flocks in the fields.
We went inside the cave and looked around.
It was astonishing—crates full of cheese,
pens crammed with livestock—lambs and kids
sorted into separate groups, with yearlings, [220]
older lambs, and newborns each in different pens.
All the sturdy buckets, pails, and milking bowls
were awash with whey. At first, my comrades
urged me to grab some cheeses and return,
then drive the lambs and kids out of their pens 300
back to our swift ship and cross the water.
But I did not agree, though if I had,
things would've been much better. I was keen
to see the man in person and find out
if he would show me hospitality.
When he did show up, as it turned out,
he proved no joy to my companions. [230]

"We lit a fire and offered sacrifice.
Then we helped ourselves to cheese and ate it.
We stayed inside the cave and waited there, 310
until he led his flocks back home. He came,
bearing an enormous pile of dried-out wood
to cook his dinner. He hurled his load
inside the cave with a huge crash. In our fear,
we moved back to the far end of the cave,
into the deepest corner. He then drove
his fat flock right inside the spacious cavern,
just the ones he milked. Rams and billy goats
he left outside, in the open courtyard.
Then he raised up high a massive boulder 320 [240]
and fixed it in position as a door.
It was huge—twenty-two four-wheeled wagons,
good ones, too, could not have shifted it
along the ground—that's how immense it was,
the rock he planted right in his doorway.
He sat down with his bleating goats and ewes
and milked them all, each in turn, setting
beside each one its young. Next, he curdled
half the white milk and set aside the whey
in wicker baskets, then put the other half 330
in bowls for him to drink up with his dinner.
Once he'd finished working at these tasks, [250]
he lit a fire. Then he spied us and said:

who are you? What sea route brought you here?
Are you trading men, or wandering the sea
at random, like pirates sailing anywhere,
risking their lives to injure other men.'

"As he spoke, our hearts collapsed, terrified
by his deep voice and monstrous size. But still,
I answered him by saying:

'We are Achaeans 340
coming back from Troy and blown off course
by various winds across vast tracts of sea. [260]
Attempting to get home, we had to take
a different route and chart another course,
a scheme, I think, which gave Zeus pleasure.
We boast that we are Agamemnon's men,
son of Atreus, now the best-known man
beneath wide heaven—the city he wiped out
was such a great one, and he killed so many.
As for us, we're visitors here and come 350
as suppliants to your knee, in hope that you
will make us welcome or provide some gift,
the proper thing one does for strangers.
So, good sir, respect the gods. We're here
as suppliants to you, and Zeus protects [270]
all suppliants and strangers—as god of guests,
he cares for all respected visitors.'

"I finished speaking. He answered me at once—
his heart was pitiless:

'What fools you are, you strangers,
or else you come from somewhere far away— 360
telling me to fear the gods and shun their rage.
The Cyclopes care nothing about Zeus,
who bears the aegis, or the blessed gods.
We are much more powerful than them.
I wouldn't spare you or your comrades
to escape the wrath of Zeus, not unless
my own heart prompted me to do it.
But now, tell me this—when you landed here,
where did you moor your ship, a spot close by
or further off? I'd like to know that.' 370 [280]

"He said this to throw me off, but his deceit
could never fool me. I was too clever.
So I gave him a cunning answer:

'Earthshaker Poseidon broke my ship apart—
driving it against the border of your island,
on the rocks there. He brought us close to land,
hard by the headland, then winds pushed us
inshore from the sea. But we escaped—
me and these men here. We weren't destroyed.'

"That's what I said. But his ruthless heart 380
gave me no reply. Instead, he jumped up,
seized two of my companions in his fist,
and smashed them on the ground like puppy dogs.
Their brains oozed out and soaked the ground below. [290]
He tore their limbs apart to make a meal,
and chewed them up just like a mountain lion—
innards, flesh, and marrow—leaving nothing.
We raised our hands to Zeus and cried aloud,
to witness the horrific things he did,
our hearts unable to do anything. 390
Once Cyclops had stuffed his massive stomach
with human flesh and washed it down with milk,
he lay down in the cave, stretched out there
among his flocks. Then, in my courageous heart
I formed a plan to move up close beside him,
draw the sharp sword I carried on my thigh, [300]
and run my hand along his chest, to find
exactly where his midriff held his liver,
then stick him there. But I had second thoughts.
We, too, would have been utterly destroyed, 400
there in the cave—we didn't have the strength
with our own hands to roll from the high door
the massive rock he'd set there. So we groaned,
and stayed there waiting for bright Dawn.

"As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
he lit a fire and milked his flock, one by one,
with a new-born placed beside each mother.
When this work was over, he once again [310]
snatched two of my men and gorged himself.
After his meal, he easily rolled back 410
the huge rock door, drove his rich flock outside,
and set the stone in place, as one might put
a cap back on a quiver. Then Cyclops,
whistling loudly, drove his fat flocks away
towards the mountain. He left me there,
plotting a nasty scheme deep in my heart,
some way of gaining my revenge against him,
if Athena would grant me that glory.
My heart came up with what appeared to me
the best thing I could do. An enormous club 420
belonging to Cyclops was lying there
beside a stall, a section of green olive wood [320]
he'd cut to carry with him once it dried.
To human eyes it seemed just like the mast
on a black merchant ship with twenty oars,
a broad-beamed vessel which can move across
the mighty ocean—that's how long and wide
that huge club looked. Moving over to it,
I chopped off a piece, six feet in length,
gave it to my companions, telling them 430
to smooth the wood. They straightened it, while I,
standing at one end, chipped and tapered it
to a sharp point. Then I picked up the stake
and set it in the blazing fire to harden.
That done, I placed it carefully to one side,
concealing it beneath some of the dung
which lay throughout the cave in massive piles. [330]
Then I told my comrades to draw lots
to see which men would risk their lives with me—
when sweet sleep came upon the Cyclops, 440
we'd lift that stake and twist it in his eye.
The crew drew lots and picked the very men
I would have chosen for myself, four of them,
with me included as fifth man in the group.
In the evening he came back, leading on
his fine-skinned animals and bringing them
inside the spacious cave, every sheep and goat
in his rich flock—not leaving even one
out in the open courtyard. Perhaps he had
a sense of something wrong, or else a god 450
had given him an order. He picked up [340]
and put his huge rock door in place, then sat
to milk each ewe and bleating goat,
one by one, setting beside each mother
one of her young. When this task was over,
he quickly seized two men and wolfed them down.
Then I moved up and stood at Cyclops' side,
holding in my hands a bowl of ivy wood
full of my dark wine. I said:

take this wine and drink it, now you've had 460
your meal of human flesh, so you may know
the kind of wine we had on board our ship,
a gift of drink I was carrying for you,
in hope you'd pity me and send me off
on my journey home. But your savagery [350]
is something I can't bear. You cruel man,
how will any of the countless other men
ever visit you in future? How you act
is so against all human law.'

"I spoke.
He grabbed the cup and gulped down the sweet wine. 470
Once he'd swallowed, he felt such great delight,
he asked me for some more, a second taste.

'Be kind and give me some of that again.
And now, without delay tell me your name,
so, as my guest, I can offer you a gift,
something you'll like. Among the Cyclopes,
grain-bearing earth grows clusters of rich grapes,
which Zeus' rain increases, but this drink—
it's a stream of nectar and ambrosia.'

"He spoke. So I handed him more fiery wine. 480 [360]
Three times I poured some out and gave it to him,
and, like a fool, he swilled it down. So then,
once the wine had addled Cyclops' wits,
I spoke these reassuring words to him:

'Cyclops, you asked about my famous name.
I'll tell you. Then you can offer me a gift,
as your guest. My name is Nobody.
My father and mother, all my other friends—
they call me Nobody.'

"That's what I said.
His pitiless heart replied:

'Well, Nobody, 490
I'll eat all your companions before you
and have you at the end—my gift to you, [370]
since you're my guest.'

"As he said this,
he collapsed and toppled over on his back,
lying with his thick neck twisted to one side.
All-conquering sleep then overpowered him.
In his drunken state he kept on vomiting,
his gullet drooling wine and human flesh.
So then I pushed the stake deep in the ashes,
to make it hot, and spoke to all my men, 500
urging them on, so no one, in his fear,
would hesitate. When that stake of olive wood,
though green, was glowing hot, its sharp point
ready to catch fire, I walked across to it [380]
and with my comrades standing round me
pulled it from the fire. And then some god
breathed powerful courage into all of us.
They lifted up that stake of olive wood
and jammed its sharpened end down in his eye,
while I, placing my weight at the upper end, 510
twisted it around—just as a shipwright
bores a timber with a drill, while those below
make it rotate by pulling on a strap
at either end, so the drill keeps moving—
that's how we held the red-hot pointed stake
and twisted it inside the socket of his eye.
Blood poured out through the heat—around his eye,
lids and brows were singed, as his eyeball burned— [390]
its roots were crackling in fire. When a blacksmith
plunges a great axe or adze in frigid water 520
with a loud hissing sound, to temper it
and make the iron strong—that's how his eye
sizzled around the stake of olive wood.
His horrific screams echoed through the rock.
We drew back, terrified. He yanked the stake
out of his eye—it was all smeared with blood—
hurled it away from him, and waved his arms.
He started yelling out to near-by Cyclopes,
who lived in caves up on the windy heights, [400]
his neighbours. They heard him shouting out 530
and came crowding round from all directions.
Standing at the cave mouth, they questioned him,
asking what was wrong:

what's so bad with you that you keep shouting
through the immortal night and wake us up?
Is some mortal human driving off your flocks
or killing you by treachery or force?'

"From the cave mighty Polyphemus roared:

'Nobody is killing me, my friends,
by treachery, not using any force.' 540

"They answered him—their words had wings:

'Well, then,
if nobody is hurting you and you're alone, [410]
it must be sickness given by great Zeus,
one you can't escape. So say your prayers
to our father, lord Poseidon.'

"With these words,
they went away, and my heart was laughing—
my cunning name had pulled off such a trick.
But Cyclops groaned, writhing in agony.
Groping with his hands he picked up the stone,
removed it from the door, and sat down there, 550
in the opening. He stretched out his arms,
attempting to catch anyone who tried
to get out with the sheep. In his heart,
he took me for a fool. But I was thinking
the best thing I could do would be to find
if somehow my crewmen and myself [420]
could escape being killed. I wove many schemes,
all sorts of tricks, the way a man will do
when his own life's at stake—and we were faced
with a murderous peril right beside us. 560
To my heart the best plan was as follows:
In Cyclops' flocks the rams were really fat—
fine, large creatures, with thick fleecy coats
of deep black wool. I picked three at a time
and, keeping quiet, tied them up together,
with twisted willow shoots, part of the mat
on which the lawless monster Polyphemus
used to sleep. The middle ram carried a man.
The two on either side were for protection. [430]
So for every man there were three sheep. 570
I, too, had my own ram, the finest one
in the whole flock by far. I grabbed its back
then swung myself under its fleecy gut,
and lay there, face upwards, with my fingers
clutching its amazing fleece. My heart was firm.
We waited there like that until bright Dawn.

"As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
males in the flock trotted off to pasture,
while the females, who had not been milked
and thus whose udders were about to burst, 580
bleated in their pens. Their master, in great pain, [440]
ran his hands across the backs of all his sheep
as they moved past him, but was such a fool,
he didn't notice how my men were tied
underneath their bellies. Of that flock
my ram was the last to move out through the door,
weighed down by its thick fleece and my sly thoughts.
Mighty Polyphemus, as he stroked its back,
spoke to the animal:

'My lovely ram,
why are you the last one in the flock 590
to come out of the cave? Not once before
have you ever lagged behind the sheep.
No. You've always been well out in front,
striding off to graze on tender shoots of grass
and be the first to reach the river's stream. [450]
You're the one who longs to get back home,
once evening comes, before the others.
But now you're last of all. You must be sad,
grieving for your master's eye, now blinded
by that evil fellow with his hateful crew. 600
That Nobody destroyed my wits with wine.
But, I tell you, he's not yet escaped being killed.
If only you could feel and speak like me—
you'd tell me where he's hiding from my rage.
I'd smash his brains out on the ground in here,
sprinkle them in every corner of this cave,
and then my heart would ease the agonies
this worthless Nobody has brought on me.' [460]

"With these words, he pushed the ram away from him,
out through the door. After the ram had moved 610
a short distance from the cave and courtyard,
first I got out from underneath its gut
and then untied by comrades. We rushed away,
driving off those rich, fat, long-legged sheep,
often turning round to look behind us,
until we reached our ship—a welcome sight
to fellow crewmen—we'd escaped being killed,
although they groaned and wept for those who'd died.
But I would not allow them to lament—
with a scowl I told everyone to stop. 620
I ordered them to quickly fling on board
the many fine-fleeced sheep and then set sail [470]
across the salty sea. They climbed aboard
at once, took their places on the rowing bench,
and, sitting in good order in their rows,
struck the gray sea with their oars. But then,
when I was as far from land as a man's voice
can carry when he shouts, I yelled out
and mocked the Cyclops:

it seems he was no weakling, after all, 630
the man whose comrades you so wished to eat,
using brute force in that hollow cave of yours.
Your evil acts were bound to catch you out,
you wretch—you didn't even hesitate
to gorge yourself on guests in your own home.
Now Zeus and other gods have paid you back.'

"That's what I said. It made his heart more angry. [480]
He snapped off a huge chunk of mountain rock
and hurled it. The stone landed up ahead of us,
just by our ship's dark prow.* As the stone sank, 640
the sea surged under it, waves pushed us back
towards the land, and, like a tidal flood,
drove us on shore. I grabbed a long boat hook
and pushed us off, encouraging the crew,
and, with a nod of my head, ordering them
to ply their oars and save us from disaster.
They put their backs into it then and rowed. [490]
But when we'd got some distance out to sea,
about twice as far, I started shouting,
calling the Cyclops, although around me 650
my comrades cautioned me from every side,
trying to calm me down:

'That's reckless.
Why are you trying to irritate that savage?
He just threw a boulder in the sea
and pushed us back on shore. We really thought
he'd killed us there. If he'd heard us speak
or uttering a sound, he'd have hurled down
another jagged rock, and crushed our skulls,
the timbers on this ship, as well. He's strong,
powerful enough to throw this far.'

"That's what they said. 660 [500]
But my warrior spirit didn't listen.
So, anger in my heart, I yelled again:

'Cyclops, if any mortal human being
asks about the injury that blinded you,
tell them Odysseus destroyed your eye,
a sacker of cities, Laertes' son,
a man from Ithaca.'

"When I said this,
he groaned and spoke out in reply:

Now an ancient prophecy about me
has truly been fulfilled! Telemus, 670
fine, tall son of Eurymus, a seer
who surpassed all men in prophecy,
reached old age among the Cyclopes [510]
as a soothsayer. He said all these things
would come to pass someday—I'd lose my sight
at the hand of someone called Odysseus.
But I always expected he'd be large,
a noble man, with enormous power.
But now a puny, good-for-nothing weakling,
after overpowering me with wine, 680
has destroyed my eye. Come here, Odysseus,
so I can give you your gift as my guest,
and urge the famous Shaker of the Earth
to escort you home—I am his son,
and he boasts he's my father. If he wishes, [520]
he himself will cure me. No other blessed god,
nor any mortal man, can do that.'

"He finished speaking. I answered him and said:

'I wish I were as certain I could end your life,
rob you of your living spirit, and send you 690
off to Hades' home, as I am confident
not even the great Shaker of the Earth
will fix your eye.'

"After I'd said this,
he stretched out his hands to starry heaven
and offered this prayer to lord Poseidon:

'Hear me, Poseidon, Enfolder of the Earth,
dark-haired god, if I truly am your son
and if you claim to be my father,
grant that Odysseus, sacker of cities, [530]
a man from Ithaca, Laertes' son, 700
never gets back home. If it's his destiny
to see his friends and reach his native land
and well-built house, may he get back late
and in distress, after all his comrades
have been killed, and in someone else's ship.
And may he find troubles in his house.'

"That's what he prayed. The dark-haired god heard him.
Then Cyclops once again picked up a rock,
a much larger stone, swung it round, and threw it,
using all his unimaginable force. 710
It landed right behind the dark-prowed ship
and almost hit the steering oar. Its fall [540]
convulsed the sea, and waves then pushed us on,
carrying our ship up to the further shore.

"We reached the island where our well-decked ships
were grouped together. Our comrades sat around them,
in great sorrow, always watching for us.
We rowed in, drove our ship up on the sand,
then climbed out through the surf. From the ship's hold
we unloaded Cyclops' flock and shared it out. 720
I took great care to see that all men there
received an equal part. But when the flock
was being divided up, my well-armed comrades [550]
awarded me the ram, my special gift,
one just for me. I sacrificed that ram,
there on the shore, to Zeus, Cronos' son,
lord of the dark cloud, ruler of all,
offering him burnt pieces of the thigh.
But he did not care for my sacrifice.
Instead he started planning to destroy 730
all my well-decked ships and loyal comrades.

"So then, all day long until the sunset,
we sat feasting on the huge supply of meat
and sweet wine, too. When the sun went down
and darkness came, we lay down to rest
and slept there on the shore beside the sea.

"As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared, [560]
I roused my shipmates and ordered them aboard
to untie cables fastened to the sterns.
They got in at once, moved to the rowing bench, 740
and sitting in good order in their rows,
they struck the gray sea with their oar blades.
So we sailed away from there, sad at heart,
happy to have avoided being destroyed,
although some dear companions had been killed."


Notes to Book Nine

*Troy: For a map charting the various adventures of Odysseus on his way home, consult one of the following links: Odysseus' Journey Home or Odyssey Map or Odysseus' Voyage Home. His first adventure, at Ismarus with the Cicones, seems to have been on the mainland north of Troy.

*Malea . . . Cythera: Malea is a cape on the southeast coast of the Peloponnese, one of the most southerly points in mainland Greece; Cythera is an island off the south coast of the Peloponnese.

*people: The Cyclopes (singular Cyclops) are hairy monsters, rather than people, with only one eye in the middle of their foreheads. They originated from the primal gods, Ouranus and Gaea, and had been imprisoned in Tartarus. But they helped Zeus in his fight against his father, Cronos, and Zeus freed them. Odysseus, one assumes, either doesn't know about the Cyclopes before this adventure or is not aware he is about to meet one, since he assumes he's moving into a place where the laws of hospitality apply. Most geographical interpretations place the incident with the Cyclops in Sicily. We learn later that the Cyclops Odysseus meets has a name (Polyphemus) and is, along with his neighbours, a son of Poseidon.

*ship's dark prow: As in many other translations, line 483 in the Greek (which mentions how the rock just missed the steering oar) has been omitted, on the ground that if the projectile falls in front of the ship, it is nowhere close to the steering oar in the stern. Exactly the same line occurs again in the description of Polyphemus' second rock (line 540 in the Greek), where it fits the sense exactly.




Ulysses at the Table of Circe

Book Ten

Aeolus, the Laestrygonians, and Circe

[Odysseus continues his narrative: he and his ships reach Aeolia, home of Aeolus, god of the winds; Aeolus welcomes them and gives Odysseus a bag with all the winds tied up inside it; Odysseus sails from Aeolia, but his men open the bag, bringing on a storm which drives them back to Aeolia; Aeolus refuses Odysseus’ request for further help and orders him off the island; Odysseus and his men reach the land of the Laestrygonians, who attack them and destroy all the ships except Odysseus’ vessel; that one ship sails to the island of Aeaea, land of Circe; Odysseus kills a stag for a meal; half the men go to Circe’s house and are changed into pigs; Eurylochus brings the news to Odysseus; Odysseus meets Hermes, who gives him an antidote to Circe’s spells; Circe tries to bewitch Odysseus and fails; they go to bed together; Circe changes the men back to human beings; they stay there one year, and then sail on, heading for Hades' home.]

"Next we reached Aeolia, a floating island,
where Aeolus lived, son of Hippotas,
whom immortal gods hold dear.* Around it,
runs an impenetrable wall of bronze,
and cliffs rise up in a sheer face of rock.
His twelve children live there in the palace,
six daughters as well as six full-grown sons.
He gave the daughters to the sons in marriage,
and they are always at a banquet feasting,
beside their dear father and good mother, 10
with an infinite supply of tasty food
set out before them. The smells of cooking [10]
fill the house all day. The courtyard echoes
to the sounds of celebration. At night,
they go to sleep beside their faithful wives,
on coverlets and beds well strung with cord.*

"We reached the splendid palace in the city,
and for one whole month he entertained me,
always asking questions about everything—
Troy, Argive ships, how Achaeans made it home— 20
and I told him all from start to finish.
When, for my part, I asked to take my leave
and told him he should send me on my way,
he denied me nothing and helped me go.
He gave me a bag made out of ox-hide,
flayed from a creature nine years old,
and tied up in it all the winds that blow [20]
from every quarter, for Cronos' son
has made Aeolus keeper of the winds,
and he could calm or rouse them, as he wished. 30
With a shining silver cord he lashed that bag
inside my hollow ship, so as to stop
even the smallest breath from getting out.
He also got a West Wind breeze to blow
to carry ships and men on their way home.
But that's not how things happened to turn out—
we ruined everything with our own folly.

"For nine whole days and nights we held our course,
and on the tenth we glimpsed our native land.
We came in so close we could see the men 40 [30]
who tend the beacon fires.* But then sweet Sleep
came over me—I was too worn out.
All that time my hands had gripped the sail rope—
I'd not let go of it or passed it on
to any shipmate, so that we'd get home
more quickly. But as I slept, my comrades
started talking to each other, claiming
I was taking gold and silver back with me,
gifts of Aeolus, brave son of Hippotas.
Glancing at the man who sat beside him, 50
one of them would say something like this:

'It's not fair. Everyone adores this man
and honours him, no matter where he goes,
to any city, any land. From Troy
he's taking a huge stash of glorious loot— [40]
but those of us who've been on the same trip
are coming home with empty hands. And now,
Aeolus, because he's a friend of his,
has freely given him these presents.
Come on, let's see how much gold and silver 60
he has in this bag.'

"As they talked like this,
my companions' greedy thoughts prevailed.
They untied the bag. All the winds rushed out—
storms winds seized them, swept them out to sea,
in tears, away from their own native land.
At that point I woke up. Deep in my heart [50]
I was of two minds—I could jump overboard
and drown at sea or just keep going in silence,
remain among the living. I stayed there
and suffered on. Covering up my head, 70
I lay down on the deck, while our ships,
loaded with my whimpering companions,
were driven by those wicked blasts of wind
all the way back to Aeolus' island.

"We went ashore there and brought back water.
My crew had a quick meal beside the ships.
After we'd had something to eat and drink,
I set off for Aeolus' splendid palace,
taking with me one comrade and a herald.
I found him feasting with his wife and children. 80 [60]
So we went into the house and sat down
on the threshold, right beside the door posts.
In their hearts they were amazed. They asked me

'Odysseus, how is it you've come back here?
What cruel god has been attacking you?
We took great care to send you on your way
so you'd get home, back to your native land
or any other place, just as you wished.'

"That's what they asked. With a heavy heart,
I answered them:

'My foolish comrades, 90
aided by malicious Sleep, have injured me.
But, my friends, you can repair all this—
that's in your power.'

"I said these words [70]
to reassure them. But they stayed silent.
Then their father gave me this reply:

'Of all living men, you are the worst—
so you must leave this island with all speed.
It would violate all sense of what is right
if I assisted or escorted on his way
a man the blessed gods must hate. So leave. 100
You're here because deathless gods despise you.'

"Once he'd said this, he sent me from his house,
for all my heavy groans. Then, sick at heart,
we sailed on further, my crewmen's spirits
worn down by the weary work of rowing.
Because we'd been such fools, there was no breeze
to help us on our way. We went on like this
for six whole days and nights. On the seventh [80]
we came to Telepylus, great citadel
of Lamus, king of Laestrygonians, 110
where the herdsman driving in his flock
salutes the herdsman moving his beasts out.*
There a man who had no need of sleep
could earn two wages—one for tending cattle,
one for grazing sheep. Day and night-time trails
lie close together.* We came up there,
into a lovely harbour, with a sheer cliff
around it on both sides. Jutting headlands
facing one another extended out
beyond the harbour mouth, a narrow entrance. 120 [90]
All my shipmates brought their curved ships up
and moored them inside the hollow harbour
in a tightly clustered group—in that spot
there were never any waves, large or small.
Everything was calm and bright around them.
But I moored my black ship all by itself
outside the harbour, right against the land,
tying it to the rock. I clambered up the cliff
and stood there, on a rugged outcrop,
looking round. I could see no evidence 130
of human work or ploughing, only smoke
arising from the land. I sent some comrades out [100]
to learn what the inhabitants were like,
the men who ate the food this land produced.
I chose two men, with a third as herald.
They left the ships and came to a smooth road,
which wagons used to haul wood to the town
from high mountain slopes. Outside the city
they met a young girl collecting water,
the noble daughter of Antiphates, 140
a Laestrygonian. She'd come down there
to the fine flowing spring Artacia,
where the townsfolk went to draw their water.
The men walked up and spoke to her. They asked
who ruled the people here and who they were. [110]
She quickly pointed out her father's lofty home.
They reached the splendid house and found his wife,
a gigantic woman, like a mountain peak.
They were appalled. She called her husband,
strong Antiphates, out of a meeting, 150
and he arranged a dreadful death for them—
he seized one of my shipmates and prepared
to make a meal of him. The other two
jumped up, ran off, and came back to the ships.
Antiphates then raised a hue and cry
throughout the city. Once they heard his call,
the powerful Laestrygonians poured out,
thronging in countless numbers from all sides—
not like men at all, but Giants. From the cliffs [120]
they hurled rocks down on us, the largest stones 160
a man can lift. The clamour rising from the ships
was dreadful—men were being destroyed,
ships were smashing into one another,
with those monsters spearing men like fish,
and taking them to eat a gruesome meal.
While they were slaughtering the sailors there,
trapped in the deep harbour, I grabbed my sword,
pulled it from my thigh, and cut the cables
on my dark-prowed ship, yelling to my crew,
ordering them to put their oars to work, 170
so we could get away from this disaster.
They all churned the water with their oar-blades, [130]
terrified of being killed. We were relieved,
as my ship left the beetling cliffs behind,
moving out to sea. But all the other ships,
moored together in the harbour, were destroyed.

"We sailed on from there with heavy hearts,
grieving for dear shipmates we had lost,
though glad we had avoided death ourselves,
until we reached the island of Aeaea, 180
where fair-haired Circe lived, fearful goddess
with a human voice—sister by blood
to bloody minded Aeetes, both children
of sun god Helios, who gives men light.*
Perse, child of Oceanus, was their mother.
Here, in silence, we brought our ship to land, [140]
inside a harbour with fine anchorage.
Some god was guiding us. Then we disembarked
and laid up in that spot two days and nights,
our hearts consumed with weariness and pain. 190

"When fair-haired Dawn gave birth to the third day,
with my sharp sword and spear I quickly climbed
above the ships up to a vantage point,
to see if I could notice signs of men
or hear their voices. From the rocky lookout
where I stood, I could see smoke rising
from the spacious grounds of Circe's home
through dense brush and trees. Seeing the smoke, [150]
my mind and heart considered going down
to look around. But as I thought about it, 200
the best initial action seemed to be
to get back to our swift ship by the shore,
let my comrades eat, then send them out
to reconnoiter. On my way back there,
in a lonely place close to our curved ship,
some god pitied me and sent across my path
a huge stag with massive antlers, on its way
from pastures in the woods towards the river
for a drink—the sun's heat forced it down. [160]
As it came out, I struck it in the spine, 210
the middle of its back. My bronze-tipped spear
sliced right through—with a groan the stag collapsed
down in the dust, and its spirit left the beast.
Planting my foot, I pulled my bronze spear
out of the wound and left it lying there,
on the ground. I picked up some willow shoots
and wove a rope about six feet in length,
by plaiting them together back and forth,
until they were well twisted. After that,
I tied the huge creature's feet together, 220
and, carrying it across my back, returned
to my black ship. I had to support myself
by leaning on my spear—there was no way
I could just sling a beast as large as that [170]
and hold it on my shoulder with one hand.*
I tossed the stag down right before our ship
and cheered up my crew with words of comfort,
standing by each man in turn:

'My friends,
we're not going down to Hades' house just yet,
although we're grieving, not until the day 230
our fate confronts us. So come on now,
while there's food and drink in our swift ship,
let's think of eating, so we don't waste away
and die of hunger.'

"That's what I said. My words
soon won them over. Uncovering their heads,
they were amazed at the stag lying there,
such a huge beast beside the restless sea. [180]
Once they'd had their fill of looking at it,
they washed their hands and made a splendid meal.
So all day long until the sun went down 240
we sat feasting on that huge supply of meat
and on sweet wine. When the sun had set
and darkness came, we lay down on the shore.

"As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
I called a meeting and addressed them all:

'Shipmates, though you're all feeling our distress,
listen now to what I have to tell you.
My friends, how far east or west we are [190]
we just don't know, or how far away
from where the Sun, who brings men light, 250
goes down underneath the earth or rises.*
But let's quickly put our heads together
to see if we have any options left.
I don't think we do. I climbed a rocky crag,
and from that vantage point spied out the land.
It's an island with deep water round it,
low-lying and flat. I saw with my own eyes
smoke rising in the middle of the island,
through dense brush and trees.'

"That's what I said.
But their spirits fell, as they remembered 260
what Laestrygonian Antiphates had done
and the violence of great Polyphemus, [200]
that man-eating Cyclops. They wept aloud,
shedding frequent tears. But their laments
were not much help to us. So I split up
my well-armed comrades in two separate groups,
each with its own leader. I commanded one,
and godlike Eurylochus led the other.
We shook our tokens in a bronze helmet.
When brave Eurylochus' lot fell out, 270
he set off with twenty-two companions,
all in tears, leaving us behind to grieve.
In a forest clearing they found Circe's house— [210]
built of polished stone, with views in all directions.
There were mountain wolves and lions round it,
all bewitched by Circe's wicked potions.
But these beasts made no attack against my men.
No. They stood on their hind legs and fawned,
wagging their long tails. Just as dogs will beg
around their master when he comes from dinner— 280
since he keeps bringing scraps to please their hearts—
that's how the wolves and sharp-clawed lions there
kept fawning round those men, who were afraid
just looking at those fearful animals.
They stood in fair-haired Circe's gateway [220]
and heard her sweet voice singing in the house,
as she went back and forth before her loom,
weaving a huge, immortal tapestry,
the sort of work which goddesses create,
finely woven, luminous, and beautiful. 290
Then Polites, one of the men's leaders,
the man I trusted most and cherished
more than any of my comrades, spoke:

'My friends, someone's in there moving to and fro,
before a giant tapestry, and singing
so sweetly the floor echoes to her song—
perhaps a goddess, or maybe a woman—
come, let's call out to her right now.'

"He spoke,
and they all started shouting, calling her.
She came out at once, opened the bright doors, 300
and asked them in. In their foolishness,
they all accompanied her. Eurylochus [230]
was the only one who stayed outside—
he thought it could be something of a trick.
She led the others in and sat them down
on stools and chairs, then made them a drink
of cheese and barley meal and yellow honey
stirred into Pramnian wine. But with the food
she mixed a vicious drug, so they would lose
all memories of home. When they'd drunk down 310
the drink she gave them, she took her wand,
struck each man, then penned them in her pigsties.
They had bristles, heads, and voices just like pigs—
their bodies looked like swine—but their minds [240]
were as before, unchanged. In their pens they wept.
In front of them Circe threw down feed,
acorns, beech nuts, cornel fruit, the stuff
pigs eat when they are wallowing in mud.
Eurylochus came back immediately
to our swift black ship, bringing a report 320
of his comrades' bitter fate. But though he tried,
he couldn't say a single word, his heart
felt too much pain. His eyes were full of tears,
his mind transfixed with sorrow. When all of us,
astonished, questioned him, he spoke out,
telling us of his companions' fate: [250]

'Lord Odysseus, we went through the woods,
as you had ordered and, in a clearing there,
found a splendid house built of polished stone,
with a view in all directions. Inside, 330
someone was singing in a loud clear voice,
in front of an enormous piece of weaving,
moving back and forth—some god or woman.
They all shouted, calling her. She came out,
opened up her shining doors without delay,
and asked them in. In their foolishness,
they all accompanied her inside. But I,
thinking it might be a trick, remained behind.
Then the whole bunch disappeared, all of them.
No one came out again. And I sat there 340
a long time, watching for them.' [260]

Ulysses Terrified by the Ghosts


"He spoke.
I slung my large bronze silver-studded sword
across my shoulder, grabbed my bow, and told him
to take me back there on the selfsame trail.
He gripped me with both hands, clasped my knees,
moaned, and spoke to me—his words had wings:

'Child raised by Zeus, don't take me there
against my will. Leave me here. I know
you won't be coming back again yourself
or bringing back the rest of your companions. 350
No. Let's get out of here and quickly, too,
with these men here. We may still escape
this day's disasters.'

"That's what he said.
But I gave him this answer: [270]

you can stay right here, in this very spot,
eating and drinking by our black hollow ship.
But I will go. I don't have any choice.'

"With these words, I went up from the ship and shore.
But while I was moving through the sacred groves
on my way to Circe's home, a goddess 360
skilled in many magic potions, I met
Hermes of the Golden Wand. I was going
toward the house. He looked like a young man
when the first growth of hair is on his lip,
the age when youthful charm is at its height.
He gripped my hand, spoke to me, and said: [280]

'Where are you off to now, you poor man,
going through these hills all by yourself
and knowing nothing of the country here?
Your comrades, over there in Circe's house, 370
are penned up like swine in narrow stalls.
Are you intending now to set them free?
I don't think you'll make it back yourself—
you'll stay there with the rest of them. But come,
I'll keep you free from harm and save you.
Here, take a remedial potion with you.
Go in Circe's house. It's a protection
and will clear your head of any dangers
this day brings. Now I'll describe for you
each and every one of Circe's fatal ploys. 380
She'll mix a drink for you and with the food [290]
include a drug. But she won't have power
to cast a spell on you. This fine potion,
which I'll provide you, won't allow it.
I'll tell you now in detail. When Circe
strikes you with her elongated wand,
then draw that sharp sword on your thigh and charge,
just as if you meant to slaughter her.
She'll be afraid. And then she'll order you
to sleep with her. At that point don't refuse 390
to share a goddess' bed, if you want her
to free your crew and entertain you.
But tell her she must swear a solemn oath,
on all the blessed gods, not to make plans
to harm you with some other injury, [300]
so when she's got you with your clothes off,
she won't change you to an unmanned weakling.'

"After saying this, the Killer of Argus
pulled a herb out of the ground, gave it to me,
and explained its features. Its roots were black, 400
the flower milk-white. Moly the gods call it.*
It's hard for mortal men to pull it out,
but gods have power to do anything.
Then Hermes left, through the wooded island,
bound for high Olympus. I continued on
to Circe's home. As I kept going, my heart
was turning over many gloomy thoughts.
Once I'd made it over to the gateway [310]
of fair-haired Circe's house, I just stood there
and called out. The goddess heard my voice. 410
She came out at once, opened her bright doors,
and asked me in. So I went in with her,
heart full of misgivings. She led me in
and sat me on a silver-studded chair,
a lovely object, beautifully made,
with a stool underneath to rest my feet.
She mixed her potion in a golden cup
for me to drink. In it she placed the drug,
her heart still bent on mischief. She gave it me,
and, when I'd drunk it, without being bewitched, 420
she struck me with her wand and said these words:

'Off now to your sty, and lie in there [320]
with the rest of your companions.'

"She spoke.
But I pulled out the sharp sword on my thigh
and charged at Circe, as if I meant to kill her.
She gave a piercing scream, ducked, ran up,
and clasped my knees. Through her tears she spoke—
her words had wings:

'What sort of man are you?
Where are you from? Where is your city?
Your parents? I'm amazed you drank this drug 430
and were not bewitched. No other man
who's swallowed it has been able to resist,
once it's passed the barrier of his teeth.
In that chest of yours your mind holds out
against my spell. You must be Odysseus, [330]
that resourceful man. The Killer of Argus,
Hermes of the Golden Wand, always told me
Odysseus in his swift black ship would come
on his way back from Troy. Come, put that sword
back in its sheath, and let the two of us 440
go up into my bed. When we've made love,
then we can trust each other.'

"Once she said this,
I answered her and said:

'O Circe,
how can you ask me to be kind to you?
In your own home you've changed my crew to pigs
and keep me here. You're plotting mischief now,
inviting me to go up to your room, [340]
into your bed, so when I have no clothes,
you can do me harm, destroy my manhood.
But I won't agree to climb into your bed, 450
unless, goddess, you'll agree to swear
a solemn oath that you'll make no more plans
to injure me with some new mischief.'

"When I'd said this, she made the oath at once,
as I had asked, that she'd not harm me.
Once she'd sworn and finished with the oath,
I went up with Circe to her splendid bed.

"Meanwhile four women serving in her home
were busy in the hall, children of springs, [350]
groves, and sacred rivers flowing to the sea. 460
One of them threw lovely purple coverlets
across the chairs and spread linen underneath.
Another pulled silver tables over to each chair
and then placed silver baskets on them.
The third one mixed deliciously sweet wine
inside a silver bowl, then served it out
in cups of gold. The fourth brought water in,
lit a large fire under a huge cauldron,
and warmed the water up until it boiled
inside the shining bronze. She sat me in a tub, 470 [360]
then, diluting water from that cauldron
so it was right for me, gave me a bath,
pouring water on my head and shoulders,
until the weariness that sapped my spirit
had left my limbs. After bathing me,
she rubbed me with rich oil, then dressed me
in a fine cloak and tunic and led me
to a handsome chair embossed with silver,
finely crafted, with a footstool underneath.
A servant brought in a lovely golden jug, 480
poured water out into a silver basin,
so I could wash, and set a polished table [370]
at my side. Then the worthy steward
brought in bread and set it there before me,
placing with it large quantities of food,
given freely from her stores. She bid me eat.
But in my heart I had no appetite.
So I sat there, thinking of other things,
my spirit sensing something ominous.
When Circe noticed me just sitting there, 490
not reaching for the food, weighed down with grief,
she came up close and spoke winged words to me:

'Odysseus, why are you sitting here like this,
like someone who can't speak, eating out your heart,
never touching food or drink? Do you think
this is another trick? You don't need to fear— [380]
I've already made a solemn promise
I won't injure you.'

"When she said this,
I answered her and said:

'O Circe,
what man with any self-respect would start 500
to eat and drink before he had released
his shipmates and could see them face to face?
If you are being sincere in asking me
to eat and drink, then set my comrades free,
so my own eyes can see my trusty crew.'

"When I'd said this, Circe went through the hall,
her wand clutched in her hand, and opened up
the pig-sty doors. She drove the herd out.
They looked like full-grown pigs, nine years old, [390]
standing in front of her. She went through them, 510
smearing on each one another potion.
Those bristles brought on by that nasty drug
which they'd received from Circe earlier
fell from their limbs, and they were men again,
more youthful and much taller than before,
more handsome to the eye. Now they knew me.
Each man grabbed my hand, and all of them
were overcome with passionate weeping,
so the house around them echoed strangely.
Circe herself was moved to pity then— 520
standing close to me, the lovely goddess said: [400]

'Son of Laertes, resourceful Odysseus,
born from Zeus, go now to the sea shore,
back to your swift ship, drag it up on land,
and stash your goods and all equipment
in the caves. Then come back here in person,
and bring your loyal companions with you.'

"Her words persuaded my proud heart. I left,
going back to our swift ship beside the sea.
I found my trusty comrades at the ship 530
lamenting miserably, shedding many tears.
Just as on a farm calves frisk around the herd [410]
when cows, having had their fill of grazing,
return back to the yard—they skip ahead,
and pens no longer hold them, as they run,
mooing in a crowd around their mothers,
that's how my shipmates, once they saw me,
thronged around, weeping—in their hearts it felt
as if they they'd got back to their native land,
the rugged town of Ithaca itself, 540
where they were born and bred. In their distress
they spoke winged words to me:

'You're back,
you favourite of Zeus. We glad of that,
as if we had returned to Ithaca, [420]
our native land. But come, tell us
how the rest of our comrades came to grief.'

"They spoke. I replied and calmed them down:

'First of all, let's drag the ship onshore,
stow all our goods and tackle in the caves.
Then you can rouse yourselves and come with me, 550
see your comrades in Circe's sacred home,
eating and drinking. They have lots of both.'

"The words I spoke quickly brought them round.
Of all my shipmates there, Eurylochus
was the only one to hesitate. He spoke— [430]
his words to them had wings:

'You wretched creatures,
where are you going? Are you so in love
with these disasters you'll go back there,
to Circe's house, where she'll transform you all
to pigs or wolves or lions, so we'll be forced 560
to protect her great house for her? It's like
what the Cyclops did, when our companions
went inside his cave with this reckless man,
Odysseus—thanks to his foolhardiness
those men were killed.'

"Eurylochus finished.
Then my heart considered drawing the long sword
hanging on my sturdy thigh and striking him,
slicing off his head and knocking it to earth, [440]
even though he was a relative of mine,
closely linked by marriage.* But my crewmen, 570
one by one, relaxed me with their soothing words:

'Child of Zeus, if you give the order,
we'll leave him behind. He can stay here,
beside the ship, and stand guard over it,
while you lead us to Circe's sacred home.'

"This said, they moved up from the ships and shore.
And Eurylochus was not left behind
at the hollow ship. He came along as well,
afraid I might reprimand him harshly.

"Meanwhile, Circe had been acting kindly 580
to the rest of my companions in her home.
She'd given them baths, rubbed them with rich oil, [450]
and dressed them in warm cloaks and tunics.
We found them all quite cheerful, eating
in the hall. When my men saw each other
and recognized their shipmates face to face,
their crying and moaning echoed through the house.
The lovely goddess came to me and said:

'Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son
and Zeus' child, you should no longer rouse 590
an outburst of such grief. I know myself
every pain you've suffered on the fish-filled seas,
every wrong that hostile men have done on land.
But come now, eat my food, and drink my wine, [460]
until you've got back that spirit in your chest
you had when you first left your native land
of rugged Ithaca. You're exhausted now—
you have no spirit—you're always brooding
on your painful wanderings. There's no joy
inside your hearts—you've been through so much.' 600

"Our proud hearts were persuaded by her words.
We stayed there, day by day, for one whole year,
feasting on sweet wine and large supplies of meat.
But as the months and seasons came and went,
long spring days returned. A year had passed. [470]
My trusty comrades summoned me and said:

'You god-driven man, now the time has come
to think about your native land once more,
if you are fated to be saved and reach
your high-roofed home and your own country.' 610

"My proud heart was persuaded by their words.
So all day long until the sun went down,
we sat there, feasting on huge amounts of meat
and on sweet wine. Once the sun had set
and darkness came, they lay down to sleep
in the shadowy hall. I went to Circe, [480]
in her splendid bed, and clasped her knees.
The goddess listened to me as I begged,
speaking these winged words to her:

'Circe, grant me the promise which you made 620
to send me home. My spirit's keen to leave,
as are the hearts in my companions, too,
who, as they grieve around me, drain my heart,
whenever you are not among us.'

"I spoke. The lovely goddess answered me at once.

'Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son
and Zeus' child, if it's against your will,
you should not now remain here in my house.
But first you must complete another journey— [490]
to the home of Hades and dread Persephone. 630
Consult the shade of that Theban prophet,
blind Teiresias. His mind is unimpaired.
Even though he's dead, Persephone
has granted him the power to understand—
the others flit about, mere shadows.'

"As Circe finished, my spirit was breaking.
I sat weeping on her bed for my heart
no longer wished to live or glimpse the daylight.
But when I'd had enough of shedding tears
and rolling in distress, I answered her: 640 [500]

'Circe, who'll be the guide on such a journey?
No one ever sailed a black ship down to Hades.'

"The lovely goddess gave me a quick answer:

'Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son
and Zeus' child, don't concern yourself
about a pilot for your ship. Raise the mast,
spread your white sail, and just take your seat.
Then the breath of North Wind Boreas
will take you on your way. But once your ship
crosses flowing Oceanus, drag it ashore 650
at Persephone's groves, on the level beach,
where tall poplars grow, willows shed their fruit, [510]
right beside deep swirling Oceanus.*
Then you must go to Hades' murky home.
There Periphlegethon and Cocytus,
a stream which branches off the river Styx,
flow into Acheron. There's a boulder
where these two foaming rivers meet. Go there,
heroic man, and follow my instructions—
move close and dig a hole there two feet square.* 660
Pour libations to the dead around it,
first with milk and honey, next sweet wine,
and then a third with water. And shake out [520]
white barley meal. Then pray there in earnest
to many powerless heads of those who've died,
with a vow that, when you reach Ithaca,
at home you'll sacrifice a barren heifer,
the best you have, and will cram the altar
with fine gifts, and that you'll make an offering
to Teiresias, a black ram just for him, 670
the finest creature in your flocks. And then,
when you've offered prayers of supplication
to celebrated nations of the dead,
you must sacrifice a ram and a black ewe,
twisting their heads down toward Erebus,
while you turn to face the flowing rivers,
looking backwards.* At that point many spirits
will emerge—they're the shadows of the dead. [530]
Then call your crew. Tell them to flay and burn
the sheep lying there, killed by pitiless bronze. 680
Pray to the gods, to powerful Hades
and dread Persephone. Then from your thigh,
you must yourself draw that sharp sword out,
and, sitting there, prevent the powerless heads
of those who've died from coming near the blood,
until you've listened to Teiresias.
That prophet, the leader of his people,
will soon come to you. He'll tell you your course,
the distance you must go on your return,
and how to sail across the fish-filled seas.' 690 [540]

"Circe finished. Dawn soon came on her golden throne.
The nymph then dressed me in a cloak and tunic
and clothed her body in a long white robe,
a lovely, finely woven garment, and tied
a splendid golden belt around her waist.
On her head she placed a veil. Then I went
through her house, rousing my companions,
going up to each man and reassuring him:

'No more sleeping now, no sweet slumbering.
Let's go. Queen Circe's told me what to do.' 700

"That what I said. And their proud hearts agreed. [550]
But I could not lead my men off safely,
not even from that place. Of all of them
the youngest was Elpenor, in battle
not all that brave or clever. He'd lain down
in Circe's sacred home some distance off,
away from his companions. Heavy with wine,
he'd climbed onto the roof, seeking cooler air.
When he heard the noise and the commotion
made by his shipmates as they moved around, 710
he jumped up on the spot, but then forgot
to use the long ladder to come down again.
He fell headfirst from the roof, snapped his neck,
and broke his spine. His spirit went to Hades. [560]
As my men came out, I spoke to them and said:

'No doubt you now believe you're going home,
back to your dear native land. But Circe
has stated we must take a different route,
to Hades' home and dread Persephone,
to meet the shade of Teiresias from Thebes.' 720

"That's what I said, and it broke their spirits.
Sitting down right where they were, they wept,
they tore their hair. But their laments were useless.
We moved down to our swift ship by the shore,
shedding many tears of grief. Meanwhile Circe [570]
went out and tied a ram and a black ewe
by our black ship. She'd slipped past us with ease,
for who can see a god going back and forth,
if she has no desire to be observed?"


Notes to Book Ten

*Aeolia: This next stop on Odysseus' journey is a small island to the north of Sicily.

*well strung with cord: The Greek says "pierced (or perforated) beds." The best beds had bedsteads which had been bored with holes so that cords could be strung through to provide more flexible support for the sleeper.

*beacon fires: These fires would serve to guide the ship toward land.

*. . . out early: The land of the Laestrygonians seems to be north of Sicily, possibly Corsica.

*close together: This rather odd passage has attracted some commentary. It's not clear why the sheep have to come in at night, just as the cattle are going out to graze. The detail about the trails seems to suggest that one man could get the double wage because the roads he would have to use are conveniently near each other. The precise meaning, however, is still disputed.

*Aeaea: the precise location of this island is a matter of scholarly argument. In this passage, it would seem to lie close to the land of the Laestrygonians, probably somewhere to the west of Corsica. Later in the Odyssey references to the island seem to place it in a more easterly location.

*one hand: The image here suggests (according to Merry, Riddell, and Monro) that Odysseus stuck his head between the bound legs and body of the deer and carried it like a packsack, with both his hands on the spear, because the beast was too heavy to carry in the usual way, slung over the shoulder and held in place with one hand.

*or rises: Odysseus literally says "we don't know where the darkness is or the dawn or where the sun sets or rises," a claim that seems to mean he's so lost he doesn't know East from West any more. That seems extremely unlikely, especially since the sun has apparently been shining earlier in the story. The general sense is clear enough—they're not sure where they are.

*gods call it: The moly plant is probably a poetic fiction. Merry, Riddell, and Monro suggest it might be hellebore, which fits the description of the roots and flower and which was believed to be a protections against madness.

*linked by marriage: According to some stories Eurylochus was married to Odysseus' sister.

*deep swirling Oceanus: Oceanus or Ocean is a river which in Homeric geography surrounds the lands and the sea—it is, as it were, the outer rim of the world (which is flat). It is not the same as the sea, although one can reach it by sailing across the sea.

*two feet square: The Greek reads "as great as the length of a pugon (the distance from the elbow to the first finger joints) here and there." This is the length of a cubit, about two feet.

*looking back: Erebus is the deepest pit of Hades. Odysseus is, one assumes, not to watch while the gods of the underworld sample the blood of the sacrificial animals in the pit.




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