History of Literature





HOMER


The Odyssey



 

 



Odyssey

 

 

 

 


Translation by Ian Johnston

 

 

 

 
 

Illustrations by John Flaxman

 

 

 

 



Morning





Book Eleven



Odysseus Meets the Shades of the Dead

[Odysseus continues his narrative: Odysseus and his men sail to Oceanus, land there, and make a sacrifice; the shades of the dead come up out of the hole; Elpenor's shade appears first and asks for burial; then Odysseus' mother appears; Odysseus has a conversation with Teiresias, who prophesies his future and his death; Odysseus talks with his mother, who gives him news of his family; a series of female shades appears: Tyro, Antiope, Alcmene, Megara, Jocasta, Chloris, Leda, Iphimedea, Phaedra, Procis, Ariadne, Maera, Clymene, and Eriphyle; Odysseus interrupts his narrative to discuss his leaving Phaeacia with Alcinous; Odysseus resumes his story and tells of his encounters with Agamemnon, Achilles, and Ajax; Odysseus describes Minos and Orion and the punishments of Tityus, Tantalus, and Sisyphus; the final shade to appear and speak to Odysseus is the image of Hercules; Odysseus and men return to the ship and sail away from Oceanus.]

"When we reached our boat down on the beach,
we dragged it out into the glittering sea,
set up the mast and sail in our black ship,
led on the sheep, and then embarked ourselves,
still full of sorrow, shedding many tears.
But that fearful goddess with a human voice,
fair-haired Circe, sent us a welcome breeze,
blowing from behind our dark-prowed ship—
it filled the sail, an excellent companion.
Once we'd checked the gear all through the ship, 10
we just sat—wind and helmsman held the course. [10]
All day long, the sail stayed full, and we sped on
across the sea, until the sun went down,
and all sea routes grew dark. Our ship then reached
the boundaries of deep-flowing Oceanus,
where Cimmerians have their lands and city,
a region always wrapped in mist and cloud.
Bright Helios never gazes down on them,
not when he rises into starry heaven,
or when he turns again from heaven to earth. 20
Fearful Night envelops wretched mortals.
We sailed in there, dragged our ship on land, [20]
and walked along the stream of Oceanus,
until we reached the place Circe described.

"Perimedes and Eurylochus held the sheep,
our sacrificial victims, while I unsheathed
the sharp sword on my thigh and dug a hole,
two feet each way. I poured out libations
to all the dead—first with milk and honey,
then sweet wine, and then a third with water. 30
Around the pit I sprinkled barley meal.
Then to the powerless heads of the departed
I offered many prayers, with promises
I'd sacrifice, once I returned to Ithaca,
a barren heifer in my home, the best I had, [30]
and load the altar with fine gifts, as well.
To Teiresias in a separate sacrifice
I'd offer up a ram, for him alone,
the finest in my flocks. With prayers and vows
I called upon the families of the dead. 40
Next I held the sheep above the hole
and slit their throats. Dark blood flowed down.

"Then out of Erebus came swarming up
shades of the dead—brides, young unmarried men,
old ones worn out with toil, young tender girls,
with hearts still new to sorrow, and many men
wounded by bronze spears, who'd died in war, [40]
still in their blood-stained armour. Crowds of them
came thronging in from all sides of the pit,
with amazing cries. Pale fear took hold of me. 50
Then I called my comrades, ordering them
to flay and burn the sheep still lying there,
slain by cruel bronze, and pray to the gods,
to mighty Hades and dread Persephone.
And then I drew the sharp sword on my thigh
and sat there, stopping the powerless heads
of all the dead from getting near the blood,
until I'd asked Teiresias my questions. [50]

"The first shade to appear out of the pit
was my companion Elpenor, whose corpse 60
had not been buried in the broad-tracked earth.
We'd left his body back in Circe's house,
without lament or burial—at the time
another need was driving us away.
When I saw him, I wept. My heart felt pity.
So I spoke to him—my words had wings:

'Elpenor, how did you come to this place,
this gloomy darkness? You got here on foot
faster than I did, sailing my black ship.'

"I spoke. He groaned and gave me his reply: 70

'Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son, [60]
and child of Zeus, some fatal deity
has brought me down—that and too much wine.
In Circe's house, after I'd been sleeping,
I didn't think of using the long ladder
to get back again. So I fell head first
down from the roof. My neck was broken,
shattering the spine. My shade departed,
going down to Hades' house. I beg you now,
in the name of those we left behind, 80
the ones who are not with us, of your wife,
your father, who reared you as a child,
and Telemachus, whom you left at home,
your only son. I know that your fine ship,
once you leave here and sail from Hades' home,
will once more reach the island of Aeaea, [70]
where, my lord, I ask you to remember me.
When you sail from there, don't leave me behind,
unburied, unlamented. Don't turn away,
or I may bring gods' anger down on you. 90
Burn me with all the armour I possess.
Raise a mound for me by the gray sea shore,
memorial to an unfortunate man,
for those in times to come. Do this for me.
And on the tomb there fix the oar I used
while I lived and rowed with my companions.'

"He finished. I answered him and said:

'Unhappy man, I'll do this, complete it all.' [80]

"So we two sat in gloomy conversation,
I, on one side, holding out my sword 100
above the blood, and, on the other side,
the shade of my companion speaking out.

"Then appeared the ghost of my dead mother,
Anticleia, brave Autolycus' daughter.
I'd left her still alive when I set off
for sacred Troy. Once I caught sight of her,
I wept, and I felt pity in my heart.
But still, in spite of all my sorrow,
I could not let her get too near the blood,
until I'd asked Teiresias my questions. 110

"Then came the shade of Teiresias from Thebes, [90]
holding a golden staff. He knew who I was
and started speaking:

'Resourceful Odysseus,
Laertes' son and Zeus' child, what now,
you unlucky man? Why leave the sunlight,
come to this joyless place, and see the dead?
Move from the pit and pull away your sword,
so I may drink the blood and speak the truth.'

"Teiresias finished talking. I drew back
and thrust my silver-studded sword inside its sheath. 120
When the blameless prophet had drunk dark blood,
he said these words to me:

'Glorious Odysseus, [100]
you ask about your honey-sweet return.
But a god will make your journey bitter.
I don't think you can evade Poseidon,
whose heart is angry at you, full of rage
because you blinded his dear son.* But still,
though you'll suffer badly, you may get home,
if you will curb your spirit and your comrades.
As soon as you've escaped the dark blue sea 130
and reached the island of Thrinacia
in your sturdy ship, you'll find grazing there
the cattle and rich flocks of Helios,
who hears and watches over everything.
If you leave them unharmed and keep your mind [110]
on your return, you may reach Ithaca,
though you'll have trouble. But if you touch them,
then I foresee destruction for your crew,
for you, and for your ship. And even if
you yourself escape, you'll get home again 140
in distress and late, in someone else's ship,
after losing every one of your companions.
There'll be trouble in your home—arrogant men
eating up your livelihood and wooing
your godlike wife by giving courtship gifts.
But when you come, you'll surely take revenge
for all their violence. Once you have killed
the suitors in your house with your sharp sword, [120]
by cunning or in public, then take up
a well-made oar and go, until you reach 150
a people who know nothing of the sea,
who don't put salt on any food they eat,
and have no knowledge of ships painted red
or well-made oars that serve those ships as wings.
I'll tell you a sure sign you won't forget—
when someone else runs into you and says
you've got a shovel used for winnowing
on your broad shoulders, then fix that fine oar
in the ground there, and make rich sacrifice [130]
to lord Poseidon with a ram, a bull, 160
and a boar that breeds with sows. Then leave.*
Go home, and there make sacred offerings
to the immortal gods, who hold wide heaven,
to all of them in order. Your death will come
far from the sea, such a gentle passing,
when you are bowed down with a ripe old age,
and your people prospering around you.*
In all these things I'm telling you the truth.'

"He finished speaking. Then I replied and said:

'Teiresias, no doubt the gods themselves 170
have spun the threads of this. But come, tell me— [140]
and speak the truth—I can see there the shade
of my dead mother, sitting near the blood,
in silence. She does not dare confront
the face of her own son or speak to him.
Tell me, my lord, how she may understand
just who I am.'

"When I'd finished speaking,
Teiresias quickly gave me his reply:

'I'll tell you so your mind will comprehend.
It's easy. Whichever shadow of the dead 180
you let approach the blood will speak to you
and tell the truth, but those you keep away
will once again withdraw.'

"After saying this, [150]
the shade of lord Teiresias returned
to Hades' home, having made his prophecy.
But I stayed there undaunted, till my mother
came and drank dark blood. Then she knew me.
Full of sorrow, she spoke out—her words had wings:

'My son, how have you come while still alive
down to this sad darkness? For living men 190
it's difficult to come and see these things—
huge rivers, fearful waters, stand between us,
first and foremost Oceanus, which no man
can cross on foot. He needs a sturdy ship.
Have you only now come here from Troy, [160]
after a long time wandering with your ship
and your companions? Have you not reached
Ithaca, nor seen your wife in your own home?'

"Once she'd finished, I answered her:

'Mother,
I had to come down here to Hades' home, 200
meet the shade of Teiresias of Thebes,
and hear his prophecy. I have not yet
come near Achaea's shores or disembarked
in our own land. I've been wandering around
in constant misery, ever since I left
with noble Agamemnon, bound for Troy,
that city celebrated for its horses,
to fight against the Trojans. But come now,
tell me—and make sure you speak the truth— [170]
What grievous form of death destroyed you? 210
A lingering disease, or did archer Artemis
attack and kill you with her gentle arrows?*
And tell me of my father and my son,
whom I left behind. Do they still possess
my kingship, or has another man already
taken it, because they now are saying
I won't be coming back? Tell me of the wife
I married. What are her thoughts and plans?
Is she still there with her son, keeping watch
on everything? Or has she been married 220
to the finest of Achaeans?'

"When I'd said this, [180]
my honoured mother answered me at once:

'You can be sure she's waiting in your home,
her heart still faithful. But her nights and days
all end in sorrow, with her shedding tears.
As for your noble kingship rights, no one else
has taken them as yet. Telemachus
controls the land unchallenged and can feast
in banquets with his equals, or at least
those which a man who renders judgment 230
should by rights attend. They all invite him.*
As for your father, he stays on his farm
and never travels down into the city.
He has no bed or bedding—no cloaks
or shining coverlets. In wintertime,
he sleeps inside the house beside his slaves, [190]
close to the fire in the dirt, and wears
disgraceful clothes. During the summer months
and in fruitful autumn, he makes his bed
from fallen leaves scattered on the ground 240
here and there along his vineyard slopes.
There he lies in sorrow, nursing in his heart
enormous grief, longing you'll come back.
A harsh old age has overtaken him.
That's how I met my fate and died, as well.
I was not attacked and killed in my own home
by gentle arrows of the keen-eyed archer,
nor did I die of some disease which takes [200]
the spirit from our limbs, as we waste away
in pain. No. It was my longing for you, 250
glorious Odysseus, for your loving care,
that robbed me of my life, so honey sweet.'



Scylla

 

"She finished. I considered how in my heart
I wished to hold the shade of my dead mother.
Three times my spirit prompted me to grasp her,
and I jumped ahead. But each time she slipped
out of my arms, like a shadow or a dream.
The pain inside my heart grew even sharper.
Then I spoke to her—my words had wings:

'Mother, why do you not wait for me? 260 [210]
I'd like to hold you, so that even here,
in Hades' home, we might throw loving arms
around each other and then have our fill
of icy lamentation. Or are you
just a phantom royal Persephone has sent
to make me groan and grieve still more?'

"I spoke. My honoured mother quickly said:

'My child, of all men most unfortunate,
no, Persephone, daughter of Zeus,
is not deceiving you. Once mortals die, 270
this is what's set for them. Their sinews
no longer hold the flesh and bone together.
The mighty power of blazing fire [220]
destroys them, once our spirit flies from us,
from our white bones. And then it slips away,
and, like a dream, flutters to and fro.
But hurry to the light as quickly as you can.
Remember all these things, so later on
you can describe the details to your wife.'

"As we talked together, some women came, 280
all wives and daughters of the noblest men,
sent out by queen Persephone. They flocked
by the black blood, throngs of them. I wondered
how I could get to question each of them.
To my heart the best idea seemed to be [230]
to draw the sharp sword by my sturdy thigh
and stop them drinking dark blood all at once.
So they came forward one by one in turn,
and each of them described her lineage,
and I could question every one of them. 290

"There I saw high-born Tyro first of all,
daughter, she said, of noble Samoneus,
and wife of Cretheus, son of Aeolus.
She'd loved the river god Enipeus,
most beautiful by far of all the streams
that flow on earth. She used to stroll along [240]
beside the lovely waters of Enipeus.
But the Encircler and Shaker of the Earth,
taking on the form of Enipeus,
lay with her in the foaming river mouth.* 300
A high dark wave rose arching over them,
like a mountain, keeping them concealed,
the mortal woman and the god. Poseidon
removed the virgin's belt and made her sleep.
After he'd finished having sex with her,
the god then held her by the hand and said:

'Woman, be happy about making love.
Before the year goes by, you'll be giving birth
to marvelous children, for a god's embrace
does not lack power. Take good care of them, 310 [250]
and raise them well. But now you must go home.
Hold your tongue, and don't tell anyone.
Know that I am Earthshaker Poseidon.'

"That said, he plunged into the surging sea.
Tyro conceived and then gave birth to sons,
Pelias and Neleus, and they became
two stalwart followers of mighty Zeus.
Pelias lived in spacious Iolcus,
where he owned many flocks, and Neleus
made his home in sandy Pylos. Tyro, 320
queen among women, bore other children
to Cretheus—Aeson, Pheres, and Amythaon—
who loved to go to battle in a chariot.

"Then I saw Antiope, daughter of Asopus. [260]
She boasted she'd made love with Zeus himself,
and borne two sons, Zethus and Amphion,
who first established seven-gated Thebes,
constructing walls around it—for all their strength,
they lacked the power to live in spacious Thebes,
unless the place was fortified. After her, 330
I saw Alcmene, Amphitryon's wife,
who had sex with powerful Zeus and bore
that great fighter, lion-hearted Hercules.
And I saw Megara, proud Creon's daughter,
who married that son of Amphitryon,
a man whose fighting spirit never flagged. [270]

"The next I saw was Oedipus' mother,
fair Jocasta, who, against her knowledge,
undertook a monstrous act—she married
her own son.* Once he'd killed his father, 340
he made her his wife. And then the gods
showed everyone the truth. But Oedipus,
thanks to the fatal counsels of the gods,
for all his painful suffering, remained king
in lovely Thebes, ruling the Cadmeans.
But she descended down to Hades' home,
the mighty gaoler. She tied a fatal noose
to a roof-beam high above her head and died,
overwhelmed with grief. But she left behind
enormous agonies for Oedipus, 350
all that a mother's Furies can inflict.* [280]

"Next I saw lovely Chloris, whom Neleus
married because she was so beautiful,
after he'd given countless courtship gifts.
She was the youngest child of Amphion,
son of Iasus, once the mighty king
of Minyan Orchomenus. As queen in Pylos,
she bore her husband splendid children—
Nestor, Chromius, noble Periclymenus,
and lovely Pero, a mortal wonder, 360
so much so that all the neighbouring men
sought her hand in marriage. But Neleus
wouldn't give her to anyone except the man
who drove great Iphicles' cattle herd [290]
from Phylace—broad-faced beasts with spiral horns,
and hard to manage. A trusty prophet
was the only one who promised he would try,
but a painful fate determined by the gods
ensnared him—those savage cattle herders
imprisoned him in cruel bondage.* 370
But as the days and months went by, bringing
a change in seasons, the new year rolled in,
and mighty Iphicles had him released—
after he'd told them all his prophecies,
and Zeus' will then came to be fulfilled.

"Then I saw Leda, wife of Tyndareus.
She bore Tyndareus two stout-hearted sons,
horse-taming Castor and Polydeuces, [300]
the illustrious boxer.* Life-giving earth 380
has buried them, although they live on still.
Even in the world below Zeus honours them.
On every other day they are alive
and then, on alternating days, are dead.
And they have won respect reserved for gods.

"After Leda, I saw Iphimedea,
wife of Aloeus. Poseidon, she said,
had made love to her, and she'd had two sons,
godlike Otus and famed Ephialtes.
Though neither one of them lived very long, 390
grain-giving Earth had raised them up to be
the tallest and handsomest men by far, [310]
after glorious Orion. They stood,
at nine years old, twenty-two feet wide
and fifty-four feet high.* But they threatened
to bring the battle din of furious war
against the immortals on Olympus.
They wished to pile mount Ossa on Olympus,
then stack Pelion with its trembling forests
on top of Ossa.* Then they could storm heaven. 400
And if they'd reached their full-grown height as men,
they might well have succeeded. But Zeus' son,
the one whom Leto bore, killed both of them,
before the hair below their temples grew
and hid their chins beneath a full-fledged beard.* [320]

"I saw Phaedra, Procis, and fair Ariadne,
daughter of Minos, whose mind loved slaughter.
Theseus brought her once away from Crete
to the hill in sacred Athens. But he got
no joy of her. Before he did, Artemis 410
on sea-girt Dia killed Ariadne,
because of something Dionysus said.*

"And I saw Maera and Clymene,
and hateful Eriphyle, too, who sold
her dear husband's life for precious gold.
I cannot mention all the woman I saw,
every wife and daughter of those heroes—
immortal night would end before I finished. [330]
It's time to sleep, in my swift ship or here.
How I am escorted from this place 420
is now up to you and to the gods."

Odysseus paused. All Phaeacians sat in silence,
saying not a word, spellbound in the shadowy hall.
The first to speak was white-armed Arete, who said:

"Phaeacians, how does this man seem to you
for beauty, stature, and within himself,
a fair, well-balanced mind? He is my guest,
though each of you shares in this honour, too.
So don't be quick to send him on his way,
and don't hold back your gifts to one in need. 430 [340]
Thanks to favours from the gods, you have
many fine possessions stored away at home."

Then old warrior Echeneus addressed them all—
one of the Phaeacian elders there among them:

"Friends, what our wise queen has just said to us,
as we'd expect, is not wide of the mark.
You must attend to her. But the last word
and the decision rest with Alcinous."

Once Echeneus finished, Alcinous spoke out:

"The queen indeed will have the final word, 440
as surely as I live and am the king
of the Phaeacians, men who love the oar.
But though our guest is longing to return, [350]
let him try to stay until tomorrow.
By then I'll have completed all our gifts.
His leaving here is everyone's concern,
especially mine, since I control this land."

Resourceful Odysseus then replied to him and said:

"Lord Alcinous, of all men most renowned,
if you asked me to stay for one whole year, 450
to organize my escort and give splendid gifts,
then I would still agree. It's far better
to get back to one's own dear native land
with more wealth in hand. I'll win more respect, [360]
more love from anyone who looks at me,
whenever I return to Ithaca."

Alcinous then answered him and said:

"Odysseus,
when we look at you, we do not perceive
that you're in any way a lying fraud,
like many men the black earth nourishes 460
and scatters everywhere, who make up lies
from things no man has seen. You speak so well,
and you have such a noble heart inside.
You've told your story with a minstrel's skill, [370]
the painful agonies of all the Argives
and your own, as well. Come then, tell me this—
and speak the truth—did you see any comrades,
those godlike men who went with you to Troy
and met their fate there? This night before us
will be lengthy, astonishingly so. 470
It's not yet time to sleep here in the halls,
so tell me of these marvelous events.
I could stay here until bright Dawn arrives,
if you'd agree to tell me in this room
the tale of your misfortunes."


 

Resourceful Odysseus
then answered him and said:

"Lord Alcinous,
most renowned among all men, there's a time
for many stories and a time for sleep.
If you are eager to hear even more, [380]
I will not hesitate to speak to you 480
of other things more pitiful than these.
I mean the troubles of those friends of mine
who perished later, who managed to escape
the Trojans frightening battle cries, but died
when they returned, thanks to the deviousness
of a malicious woman.

"Once sacred Persephone
dispersed those female shadows here and there,
then the grieving shade of Agamemnon,
son of Atreus, appeared. Around him
other shades had gathered, all those who died 490
and met their fate alongside Agamemnon
in Aegisthus' house. He knew me at once. [390]
When he'd drunk some blood, he wept aloud,
shedding many tears, stretching out his hands,
keen to reach me. But he no longer had
any inner power or strength, not like
the force his supple limbs possessed before.
I looked at him and wept. Pity filled my heart.
Then I spoke to him—my words had wings:

'Lord Agamemnon, son of Atreus, 500
king of men, what fatal net of grievous death
destroyed you? Did Poseidon stir the winds [400]
into a furious storm and strike your ships?
Or were you killed by enemies on land,
while you were cutting out their cattle
or rich flocks of sheep? Or were you fighting
to seize their city and their women?'

"I paused, and he at once gave me his answer:

'Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son,
and Zeus' child, Poseidon didn't kill me 510
in my ships by rousing savage winds
into a vicious storm. Nor was I killed
by enemies on land. No. Aegisthus
brought on my fatal end. He murdered me,
and he was helped by my accursed wife, [410]
after he'd invited me into his home
and prepared a feast for me, like an ox
one butchers in its stall. And so I died
the most pitiful of deaths. Around me
they kept killing the rest of my companions, 520
like white-tusked pigs at some wedding feast,
communal meal, or fine drinking party
in a powerful and rich man's home.
You've encountered dying men before,
many of them, those slain in single combat
or the thick of war. But if you'd seen that,
your heart would've felt great pity. There we were,
lying in the hall among the mixing bowls
and tables crammed with food, the entire floor [420]
awash with blood. The saddest thing I heard 530
was Cassandra, Priam's daughter, screaming.
That traitor Clytaemnestra slaughtered her
right there beside me. Though I was dying,
I raised my arms to strike her with my sword,
but that dog-faced bitch turned her back on me.
Though I was on my way to Hades,
she made no attempt to use her fingers
to close my eyelids or to shut my mouth.*
The truth is, there's nothing more disgusting,
more disgraceful, than a woman whose heart 540
is set on deeds like this—the way she planned
the shameless act, to arrange the murder [430]
of the man she'd married. I really thought
I'd be warmly welcomed when I reached home
by my children and my slaves. That woman,
more than anyone, has covered herself
and women born in years to come with shame,
even the ones whose deeds are virtuous.'

"Agamemnon finished. I answered him at once:

'That's horrible. Surely wide-thundering Zeus 550
for many years has shown a dreadful hate
towards the family of Atreus,
thanks to the conniving of some woman.
Many died for Helen's sake, and then
Clytaemnestra organized a trap for you,
while you were somewhere far away.'

"I spoke,
and he immediately replied, saying: [440]

'That's why you should never treat them kindly,
not even your own wife. Never tell her
all the things you've determined in your mind. 560
Tell her some, but keep the rest well hidden.
But in your case, Odysseus, death won't come
at your wife's hand, for wise Penelope,
Icarius' daughter, is a virtuous woman,
with an understanding heart. When we left
to go to war, she'd not been married long.
She had a young lad at her breast, a child,
who now, I think, sits down among the men,
happy his dear father will notice him [450]
when he comes back home. Then he'll welcome him 570
in an appropriate way. But my wife
didn't let my eyes feast on my own son.
Before I could do that, she slaughtered me,
her husband. But I'll tell you something else—
keep this firmly in your mind. Bring your ship
back to your dear native land in secret,
without public display. For there's no trust
in women any more. But come, tell me—
and speak the truth—whether you chanced to hear
where my son's living now. He may well be 580
in Orchomenus or in sandy Pylos,
or perhaps in Sparta with Menelaus. [460]
For noble Orestes has not yet died
up there on the earth.'

"Once Agamemnon paused,
I gave him my answer right away:

'Son of Atreus, why ask me that question?
I don't know whether he's alive or dead.
And there's no point in prattling like the wind.'

"So we two stood there in sad conversation,
full of sorrow and shedding many tears. 590
Then Achilles' shade came up, son of Peleus,
with those of splendid Antilochus
and Patroclus, too, as well as Ajax,
who in his looks and body was the best
of all Danaans, after Achilles, [470]
who had no equal. Then the shadow
of the swift-footed son of Aeacus
knew who I was, and with a cry of grief,
he spoke to me—his words had wings:*

'Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son 600
and Zeus' child, what a bold man you are!
What exploit will your heart ever dream up
to top this one? How can you dare to come
down into Hades' home, the dwelling place
for the mindless dead, shades of worn-out men?'

"Achilles spoke. I answered him at once:

'Achilles, son of Peleus, mightiest
by far of the Achaeans, I came here
because I had to see Teiresias.
He might tell me a plan for my return 610 [480]
to rugged Ithaca. I've not yet come near
Achaean land. I've still not disembarked
in my own country. I'm in constant trouble.
But as for you, Achilles, there's no man
in earlier days who was more blest than you,
and none will come in future. Before now,
while you were still alive, we Argives
honoured you as we did the gods. And now,
since you've come here, you rule with power
among those who have died. So Achilles, 620
you have no cause to grieve because you're dead.'

"I paused, and he immediately replied:

'Don't try to comfort me about my death,
glorious Odysseus. I'd rather live
working as a wage-labourer for hire
by some other man, one who had no land
and not much in the way of livelihood, [490]
than lord it over all the wasted dead.
But come, tell me of my noble son—
whether he went off to war or not. 630
Did he became a leader? Talk to me
about great Peleus, if there's something
you have heard. Is he still held in honour
among the many Myrmidons? Do men
disparage him in Greece and Phthia
because old age now grips his hands and feet?
I am not there, living in the sunlight,
to help him with the power I once had
in spacious Troy, when I killed their best men [500]
and kept the Argives safe. But if I came 640
back to my father's house with strength like that,
though only for the briefest moment,
those who act with disrespect against him,
denying him honour, would soon come to fear
my force, these overpowering hands of mine.'

"Achilles spoke. I answered him at once:

'To tell the truth, I've heard nothing at all
of worthy Peleus. As for your son,
dear Neoptolemus, I can tell you
the entire truth, just as you requested. 650
I myself brought him in my fine ship
from Scyros, to join well-armed Achaeans.
And when we discussed our strategies [510]
around the Trojans' city, I tell you,
he was always first to state his own ideas,
and when he talked, he never missed the mark.
The only ones superior to him
were godlike Nestor and myself. And then,
on the Trojan plain when we Achaeans fought,
he never stayed back in the crowds of men 660
with ranks of soldiers. No. He ran ahead,
far out in front. No man's strength matched his.
In fearful battles he killed many men.
I can't give you the names of all of them,
those he slew while fighting for the Argives.
But his sword cut down the son of Telephus,
brave Eurypylus. What a man he was!
Many of his comrades, the Ceteians, [520]
were also slaughtered there around him
because a certain woman wanted gifts.* 670
He was the finest looking man I saw
after noble Memnon. And then, when we,
the noblest Argives, were climbing in
the wooden horse crafted by Epeius,
with me in overall command, telling men
to open up or close our well-built trap,
many other Danaan counsellors
and leaders, too, were brushing tears aside,
and each man's legs were trembling—even then
my eyes never saw his fair skin grow pale 680
or watched him wipe his cheeks to clear off tears. [530]
He begged me many times to let him loose,
to leave the horse, and he kept reaching for
his sword hilt and his spear of heavy bronze.
That's how keen he was to kill the Trojans.
Once we'd ravaged Priam's lofty city,
he took his share of loot and a fine prize,
when he went to his ship. He was unhurt—
no blows from sharp bronze spears or other wounds
from fighting hand-to-hand, the sort one gets 690
so frequently in battle. For Ares,
when he's angry, does not discriminate.'

"I spoke. Then the shade of swift Achilles
moved off with massive strides through meadows
filled with asphodel, rejoicing that I'd said
his son was such a celebrated man. [540]

"The other shadows of the dead and gone
stood there in sorrow, all asking questions
about the ones they loved. The only one
who stood apart was the shade of Ajax, 700
son of Telamon, still full of anger
for my victory, when I'd bested him
beside our ships, in that competition
for Achilles' arms. His honoured mother
had offered them as prizes. The judges
were sons of Troy and Pallas Athena.*
How I wish I'd never won that contest!
Those weapons were the cause earth swallowed up
the life of Ajax, such a splendid man,
who, in his looks and actions, was the best 710 [550]
of all Danaans after the noble son
of Peleus. I called to him—my words
were meant to reassure him:

'Ajax,
worthy son of Telamon, can't you forget,
even when you're dead, your anger at me
over those destructive weapons? The gods
made them a curse against the Argives,
when they lost you, such a tower of strength.
Now you've been killed, Achaeans mourn your death
unceasingly, just as they do Achilles, 720
son of Peleus. No one is to blame
but Zeus, who in his terrifying rage [560]
against the army of Danaan spearmen
brought on your death. Come over here, my lord,
so you can hear me as I talk to you.
Let your proud heart and anger now relent.'

"I finished. He did not reply, but left,
moving off toward Erebus, to join
the other shadows of the dead and gone.
For all his anger, he would have talked to me, 730
or I to him, but in my chest and heart
I wished to see more shades of those who'd died.

"Next I saw Minos, glorious son of Zeus,
sitting there, holding a golden sceptre
and passing judgments on the dead, who stood
and sat around the king, seeking justice, [570]
throughout the spacious gates of Hades' home.*

"After him I noticed huge Orion
rounding up across a field of asphodel
wild creatures he himself had hunted down 740
in isolated mountains. In his hand,
he clutched his still unbreakable bronze club.

"And I saw Tityus, son of glorious Earth,
lying on the ground. His body covered
nine acres and more. Two vultures sat there,
one on either side, ripping his liver,
their beaks jabbing deep inside his guts.
His hands could not fend them off his body.
He'd assaulted Leto, Zeus' lovely wife, [580]
as she was passing through Panopeus, 750
with its fine dancing grounds, towards Pytho.*

"Then I saw Tantalus in agony,
standing in a pool of water so deep
it almost reached his chin. He looked as if
he had a thirst but couldn't take a drink.
Whenever that old man bent down, so keen
to drink, the water there was swallowed up
and vanished. You could see black earth appear
around his feet. A god dried up the place.
Some high and leafy trees above his head 760
were in full bloom—pears and pomegranates,
apple trees—all with gleaming fruit—sweet figs [590]
and luscious olives. Each time the old man
stretched out his arms to reach for them,
a wind would raise them to the shadowy clouds.*

"And then, in his painful torment, I saw
Sisyphus striving with both hands to raise
a massive rock. He'd brace his arms and feet,
then strain to push it uphill to the top.
But just as he was going to get that stone 770
across the crest, its overpowering weight
would make it change direction. The cruel rock
would roll back down again onto the plain.
Then he'd strain once more to push it up the slope.
His limbs dripped sweat, and dust rose from his head.* [600]

"And then I noticed mighty Hercules,
or at least his image, for he himself
was with immortal gods, enjoying their feasts.
Hebe with the lovely ankles is his wife,
daughter of great Zeus and Hera, goddess 780
of the golden sandals. Around him there
the dead were making noises, like birds
fluttering to and fro quite terrified.
And like dark night, he was glaring round him,
his unsheathed bow in hand, with an arrow
on the string, as if prepared to shoot.
The strap across his chest was frightening,
a golden belt inlaid with images— [610]
amazing things—bears, wild boars, and lions
with glittering eyes, battles, fights, and murders, 790
men being killed. I hope whoever made it,
the one whose skill conceived that belt's design,
never made or ever makes another.
His eyes saw me and knew just who I was.
With a mournful tone he spoke to me—
his words had wings:

'Resourceful Odysseus,
son of Laertes and a child of Zeus,
are you now bearing an unhappy fate
below the sunlight, as I, too, did once?
I was a son of Zeus, son of Cronos, 800
and yet I had to bear countless troubles, [620]
forced to carry out labours for a man
vastly inferior to me, someone
who kept assigning me the harshest tasks.
Once he sent me here to bring away
Hades' hound. There was no other challenge
he could dream up more difficult for me
than that one. But I carried the dog off
and brought him back from Hades with my guides,
Hermes and gleaming-eyed Athena.' 810

"With these words he returned to Hades' home.
But I stayed at that place a while, in case
one of those heroic men who perished
in days gone by might come. I might have seen
still more men from former times, the ones [630]
I wished to see—Theseus and Perithous,
great children of the gods. Before I could,
a thousand tribes of those who'd died appeared,
with an astounding noise. Pale fear gripped me—
holy Persephone might send at me 820
a horrific monster, the Gorgon's head.*
I quickly made my way back to the ship,
told my crew to get themselves on board,
and loosen off the cables at the stern.
They went aboard at once and took their seats
along each rowing bench. A rising swell
carried our ship down Oceanus' stream.
We rowed at first, but then a fair wind blew. [640]



 

Notes to Book Eleven

*. . . dear son: This, of course, is a reference to Polyphemus, the Cyclops, whose story is told in Book Nine.

*Then leave: This curious journey seems to suggest that Odysseus must finally propitiate Poseidon by going somewhere far inland, where people have never heard of that god and, in effect, make him known with the oar planted in the ground and a sacrifice. The winnowing shovel is a device for separating grain from chaff. The fact that the person confuses an oar with such a device is an indication of just how ignorant he is about the sea.

*. . . prospering around you: This prophecy of the death of Odysseus has prompted much comment, especially the phrase "far from the sea," which some interpreters wish to emend to "from the sea" (i.e., someone will arrive by boat and bring about Odysseus' death—but that detail seems to counter the sense here that he will die calmly from old age). It's difficult to reconcile the idea of Odysseus being far from the sea with the mention of his people (i.e., those in Ithaca) living well all around him, unless, as some legends have it, he leaves Ithaca and becomes a ruler somewhere else.

*. . . gentle arrows: The choice here seems to be between a long, painful ordeal and a more peaceful final fever. Artemis and her brother Apollo, both archers, are associated with death by fever.

*. . . all invite him: The point here is that Telemachus, although young, is still being accorded royal honours in the social life of the palace, as if he is representing the king. Anticleia is not necessarily stating he's actually performing the work of a king. Telemachus' exact age is not known, but he must be in his mid to late teens, since he was a young child when Odysseus left for Troy about thirteen years previously.

*. . . the Encircler and Shaker of the Earth: This is, of course, a very common phrase to indicate Poseidon.

*. . . fair Jocasta: The Greek text calls her Epicaste, which seems to be an alternative name for Jocasta, rather than a different person from another legend. The name Jocasta has been used here, since that name is better known from Sophocles' Oedipus the King.

*. . . Furies can inflict: The Furies were the goddesses of blood revenge within the family.

*. . . trusty prophet: Later commentators have suggested that this "trusty prophet" may have been Melampus.

*. . . cruel bonds: One of the stories of Melampus has him captured for stealing cattle and spending a year in prison. But he had the ability to communicate with animals and heard the worms in the roof beams of his prison talking about how the timbers were about to collapse. Melampus passed this information onto his captor (in this story Iphicles), who was so impressed he released him.

*. . . illustrious boxer: Leda is the mother of Helen of Troy and of Clytaemnestra, two twin sisters, but with different fathers, since Helen is a daughter of Zeus; thus, Castor and Polydeuces are her half-brothers.

*. . . fifty-four feet high: The Greek says nine cubits wide and nine fathoms tall. A cubit is the length of a man's arm from the elbow to the tip of his middle finger, and a fathom is six feet.

*. . . on top of Ossa: Ossa and Pelion are mountains in Thessaly. This attempt to scale the heights of heaven is part of the famous stories of the war between the giants and the Olympian deities.

* . . . growing beard: The son referred to is Apollo, child of Zeus and Leto.

*. . . Dionysus said: In the best-known version of this famous story, Theseus sails off from Crete with Ariadne, who has helped him escape from her father's labyrinth, but then deserts her on an island (Dia or Naxos). She later marries Dionysus. It is not clear here just what Dionysus may have told Artemis to make her want to kill Ariadne.

*. . . shut my mouth: These actions were made out of respect for the dead on their way to the underworld. The refusal to carry them out shows the greatest disrespect for the dead.

* . . . swift-footed son of Aeacus: This is a reference to Achilles, who is, of course, not literally the "son of Aeacus," since his father is Peleus. Aeacus was a son of Zeus and father of Peleus, hence Achilles' grandfather. By the same form of reference, Odysseus is often called "child of Zeus," although his literal father is Laertes.

* . . . certain woman wanted gifts: Eurypylus was sent to fight for the Trojans by his mother Astyoche, who did so because her brother Priam promised to give her a golden vine.

*. . . Troy and Pallas Athena: When Achilles died there was a contest for his famous weapons. The two main claimants were Odysseus and Ajax. When Odysseus was awarded the weapons by the judges, Ajax went berserk and later killed himself. Different versions of the story provide different accounts of how the decision was made.

*. . . gates of Hades' home: This scene and the following details are a remarkable view of the underworld as a place of judgment, with eternal punishment inflicted on particularly grievous wrongdoers, a view of a moralized afterlife unknown anywhere else in Homer. Not surprisingly, this sudden description of such a different sense of Hades has given rise to charges that it is a later interpolation.

* . . . toward Pytho: Tityus was a giant son of Zeus (or of Uranus). Hera persuaded Tityus to attack Leto, whose children, Apollo and Artemis, came to her help and killed him. The measurement describing his size on the ground is unclear.

* . . . to the shadowy clouds: Tantalus was a son of Zeus and a distant ancestor of Agamemnon and Menelaus. His punishment comes from some action he committed against the gods (stealing the gods' food or murdering his son Pelops and serving him to the gods for dinner).

* . . . rose from his head: Sisyphus was the son of Aeolus and founder of Corinth, famous for his trickery. He gave away the secrets of the gods and once tricked the god of death, so that the dead could not reach the underworld.

* . . . enjoying their feasts: Hercules had the rare distinction of being admitted to heaven, even though he was a mortal son of Zeus. Hence, Odysseus meets an "image" of Hercules. His later mention of serving an inferior man is a reference to the Labours of Hercules, work he had to carry out for king Eurystheus over a twelve-year period as punishment for having murdered his own wife and children in a fit of temporary insanity brought on by Zeus' wife, Hera. One of those labours involved bringing back Cerberus, a dog belonging to Hades.

* . . . the Gorgon's head: The Gorgons were three sisters (the most famous being Medusa, the only mortal of the three). Perseus killed Medusa, but her head retained its power to turn people and even some immortals to stone.






 

 

 



The Sirens





Book Twelve



The Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, the Cattle of the Sun

[ Odysseus continues his story in Phaeacia: the ship sails from Oceanus back to Circe’s island where they bury Elpenor; Circe advises Odysseus about future adventures; Odysseus and his crew leave Circe and sail past the Sirens; then they encounter Scylla and Charybdis and lose six men; the ship then sails on to Thrinacia, where the herds and flocks of Helios graze; Odysseus’ men swear not to touch the animals; winds keep them on the island; desperate with hunger the crewmen round up some of the animals and kill them; they leave the island, and Zeus sends on a storm as punishment; the boat is destroyed and all of Odysseus’ shipmates drown; Odysseus drifts back on a temporary raft to Charybdis, but manages to escape; he reaches Calypso’s island; the tale of his past adventures concludes.]

"Our ship sailed on, away from Ocean's stream,
across the great wide sea, and reached Aeaea,
the island home and dancing grounds of Dawn.*
We sailed in, hauled our ship up on the beach,
then walked along the shore beside the sea.
There, waiting for bright Dawn, we fell asleep.

"As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
I sent my comrades off to Circe's house
to fetch the body of the dead Elpenor. [10]
Then, after quickly cutting down brush wood, 10
we buried him where the land extended
furthest out to sea. Overcome with grief,
we shed many tears. After we had burned
the dead man's corpse and armour, we piled up
a mound, raised a pillar, then planted there,
above the mound, his finely fashioned oar.

"While we were occupied with all these tasks,
Circe was well aware of our return
from Hades' home. Dressed in her finery,
she quickly came to us. With her she brought 20
servants carrying bread, plenty of meat,
and bright red wine. Then the lovely goddess
stood in our midst and spoke to us: [20]

'You reckless men,
you've gone to Hades' home while still alive,
to meet death twice, when other men die once.
But come, eat this food and drink this wine.
Take all day. As soon as Dawn arrives,
you'll sail. I'll show you your course and tell you
each sign to look for, so you'll not suffer,
or, thanks to vicious plans of sea and land, 30
endure great pain.'

"Circe finished speaking.
And our proud hearts agreed with what she'd said.
So all that day until the sun went down
we sat there eating rich supplies of meat [30]
and drinking down sweet wine. The sun then set,
and darkness came. So we lay down and slept
beside stern cables of our ship. But Circe
took me by the hand and led me off,
some distance from the crew. She made me sit,
while she lay there on the ground beside me. 40
I told her every detail of our trip,
describing all of it from start to finish.
Then queen Circe spoke to me and said:

'All these things have thus come to an end.
But you must listen now to what I say—
a god himself will be reminding you.
First of all, you'll run into the Sirens.
They seduce all men who come across them. [40]
Whoever unwittingly goes past them
and hears the Sirens' call never gets back. 50
His wife and infant children in his home
will never stand beside him full of joy.
No. Instead, the Sirens' clear-toned song
will captivate his heart. They'll be sitting
in a meadow, surrounded by a pile,
a massive heap, of rotting human bones
encased in shriveled skin. Row on past them.
Roll some sweet wax in your hand and stuff it
in your companions' ears, so none of them
can listen. But if you're keen to hear them, 60
make your crew tie you down in your swift ship. [50]
Stand there with hands and feet lashed to the mast.
They must attach the rope ends there as well.
Then you can hear both Sirens as they sing.
You'll enjoy their song. If you start to beg
your men, or order them, to let you go,
make sure they lash you there with still more rope.
When your crew has rowed on past the Sirens,
I cannot tell you which alternative
to follow on your route—for you yourself 70
will have to trust your heart. But I'll tell you
the options. One has overhanging rocks,
on which dark-eyed Amphitrite's great waves [60]
smash with a roar. These cliffs the blessed gods
have called the Planctae. No birds pass through there,
not even timid doves who bring ambrosia
to father Zeus. The sheer rock precipice
snatches even these away. And then Zeus
sends out another to maintain their count.
No human ship has ever reached this place 80
and got away. Instead, waves from the sea
and deadly blasts of fire carry away
a whirling mass of timbers from the boat
and human bodies. Only one ocean ship,
most famous of them all, has made it through,
the Argo, sailing on her way from Aeetes, [70]
and waves would soon have smashed that vessel, too,
against the massive rocks, had not Hera
sent her through. For Jason was her friend.*
On the other route there are two cliffs. 90
One has a sharp peak jutting all the way
up to wide heaven. Around that mountain
a dark cloud sits, which never melts away.
No blue sky ever shows around the peak,
not even in summer or at harvest time.
No human being could climb up that rock
and stand on top, not even if he had
twenty hands and feet. The cliff's too smooth,
like polished stone. Half way up the rock face [80]
there's a shadowy cave. It faces west, 100
towards Erebus. You'll steer your ship at it,
illustrious Odysseus. There's no man
powerful enough to shoot an arrow
from a hollow ship and reach that cavern.
In there lives Scylla. She has a dreadful yelp.
It's true her voice sounds like a new-born pup,
but she's a vicious monster. Nobody
would feel good seeing her, nor would a god
who crossed her path. She has a dozen feet,
all deformed, six enormously long necks, 110 [90]
with a horrific head on each of them,
and three rows of teeth packed close together,
full of murky death. Her lower body
she keeps out of sight in her hollow cave,
but sticks her heads outside the fearful hole,
and fishes there, scouring around the rock
for dolphins, swordfish, or some bigger prey,
whatever she can seize of all those beasts
moaning Amphitrite keeps nourishing
in numbers past all counting. No sailors 120
can yet boast they and their ship sailed past her
without getting hurt. Each of Scylla's heads
carries off a man, snatching him away [100]
right off the dark-prowed ship. Then, Odysseus,
you'll see the other cliff. It's not so high.
The two are close together. You could shoot
an arrow from one cliff and hit the other.
There's a huge fig tree there with leaves in bloom.
Just below that tree divine Charybdis
sucks black water down. She spews it out 130
three times a day, and then three times a day
she gulps it down—a terrifying sight.
May you never meet her when she swallows!
Nothing can save you from destruction then,
not even Poseidon, Shaker of the Earth.
Make sure your ship stays close to Scylla's rock.
Row past there quickly. It's much better
to mourn for six companions in your ship [110]
than to have all of them wiped out together.'

"Circe paused. I answered her directly: 140

'Goddess, please tell me this, and speak the truth—
is there some way I can get safely through,
past murderous Charybdis, and protect
me and my crew when Scylla moves to strike.'

"I spoke. The lovely goddess then replied:

'You reckless man, you think you're dealing here
with acts of war or work? Why won't you yield
to the immortal gods? She's not human,
but a destroyer who will never die—
fearful, difficult, and fierce—not someone 150
you can fight. There's no defence against her.
The bravest thing to do is run away. [120]
If you linger by the cliff to arm yourself,
I fear she'll jump out once more, attack you
with all her heads and snatch away six men,
just as before. Row on quickly past her,
as hard as you can go. Send out a call
to Crataiis, her mother, who bore her
to menace human beings. She'll restrain her—
Scylla's heads won't lash out at you again. 160
Next you'll reach the island of Thrinacia,
where Helios' many cattle graze,
his rich flocks, too—seven herds of cattle
and just as many lovely flocks of sheep,
with fifty in each group. They bear no young [130]
and never die. Their herders are divine,
fair-haired nymphs Lampetie and Phaethusa.
Beautiful Neaera gave birth to them
from Helios Hyperion, god of the sun.
Once she'd raised them, their royal mother 170
sent them off to live on Thrinacia,
an island far away, where they could tend
their father's sheep and bent-horned cattle.
Now, if you leave these animals unharmed
and focus on your journey home, I think
you may get back to Ithaca, although
you'll bear misfortunes. But if you harm them,
then I foresee destruction for your ship
and crew. Even if you yourself escape, [140]
you'll get back home in great distress and late, 180
after all your comrades have been killed.'

"Circe finished speaking. When Dawn came up
on her golden throne, the lovely goddess
left to go up island. So I returned
back to the ship and urged my comrades
to get on board and loosen off the stern ropes.
They quickly climbed into the ship, sat down
in proper order at each rowing bench,
and struck the gray sea with their oars. Fair winds
began to blow behind our dark-prowed ship, 190
filling the sail, excellent companions
sent by fair-haired Circe, fearful goddess [150]
who possessed the power of song. We checked out
the rigging on our ship and then sat down.
The wind and helmsman kept us on our course.
Then, with an aching heart, I addressed my crew:

'Friends, it's not right that only one or two
should know the prophecies revealed to me
by the lovely goddess Circe. And so,
I'll tell you all—once we understand them, 200
we may either die or ward off Death and Fate
and then escape. She told me first of all
we should guard against the wondrous voices
of the Sirens in their flowery meadows.
She said I alone should listen to them. [160]
But you must tie me down with cruel bonds,
so I stay where I am and cannot move,
standing upright at the mast. You must fix
the rope at both its ends onto the mast.
If I start ordering you to set me free, 210
you have to tie me down with still more rope.'

"I reviewed these things in every detail,
informing my companions. Our strong ship,
with a fair wind still driving us ahead,
came quickly to the island of the Sirens.
Then the wind died down. Everything was calm,
without a breeze. Some god had stilled the waves.
My comrades stood up, furled the sail, stowed it [170]
in the hollow ship, and then sat at their oars,
churning the water white with polished blades 220
carved out of pine. With my sharp sword I cut
a large round chunk of wax into small bits,
then kneaded them in my strong fingers.
This pressure and the rays of Helios,
lord Hyperion, made the wax grow warm.
Once I'd plugged my comrades' ears with wax,
they tied me hand and foot onto the ship,
so I stood upright hard against the mast.
They lashed the rope ends to the mast as well,
then sat and struck the gray sea with their oars. 230 [180]
But when we were about as far away
as a man can shout, moving forward quickly,
our swift ship did not get past the Sirens,
once it came in close, without being noticed.
So they began their clear-toned cry:

'Odysseus,
you famous man, great glory of Achaeans,
come over here. Let your ship pause awhile,
so you can hear the songs we two will sing.
No man has ever rowed in his black ship
past this island and not listened to us, 240
sweet-voiced melodies sung from our lips.
That brings him joy, and he departs from here
a wiser man, for we two understand
all the things that went on there in Troy,
all Trojan and Achaean suffering, [190]
thanks to what the gods then willed, for we know
everything that happens on this fertile earth.'

"They paused. The voice that reached me was so fine
my heart longed to listen. I told my crew
to set me free, sent them clear signals 250
with my eyebrows. But they fell to the oars
and rowed ahead. Then two of them got up,
Perimedes and Eurylochus, bound me
with more rope and lashed me even tighter.
Once they'd rowed on well beyond the Sirens,
my loyal crewmates quickly pulled out wax
I'd stuffed in each man's ears and loosed my ropes. [200]

"But once we'd left the island far behind,
I saw giant waves and smoke. Then I heard
a crashing roar. The men were terrified. 260
The oars were snatched away, out of their hands,
and banged each other in the swirling sea.
Once they were no longer pulling hard
on their tapered oars, the boat stopped moving.
I went through the ship, cheering up the crew,
standing beside each man and speaking words
of reassurance:

'Friends, up to this point,
we've not been strangers to misfortunes.
Surely the bad things now are nothing worse
than when the Cyclops with his savage force 270 [210]
kept us his prisoners in his hollow cave.
But even there, thanks to my excellence,
intelligence, and planning, we escaped.
I think someday we'll be remembering
these dangers, too. But come now, all of us
should follow what I say. Stay by your oars,
and keep striking them against the surging sea.
Zeus may somehow let us escape from here
and thus avoid destruction. You, helmsman,
I'm talking, above all, to you, so hold 280
this in your heart—you control the steering
on this hollow ship. Keep us on a course
some distance from the smoke and breaking waves.
Hug the cliff, in case, before you know it, [220]
our ship veers over to the other side,
and you throw us all into disaster.'

"I spoke. They quickly followed what I'd said.
I didn't speak a word of Scylla—she was
a threat for which there was no remedy—
in case my comrades, overcome with fear, 290
might stop rowing and huddle together
inside the boat. At that point I forgot
Circe's hard command, when she'd ordered me
not to arm myself. After I'd put on
my splendid armour, I took two long spears
and moved up to the foredeck of the ship,
where, it seemed to me, I could see Scylla [230]
as soon as she appeared up on the rock
and brought disaster down on my companions.
I couldn't catch a glimpse of her at all. 300
My eyes grew weary as I searched for her
all around that misty rock. We sailed on,
up the narrow strait, groaning as we moved.
On one side lay Scylla; on the other one
divine Charybdis terrified us all,
by swallowing salt water from the sea.
When she spewed it out, she seethed and bubbled
uncontrollably, just like a cauldron
on a massive fire, while high above our heads
spray was falling on top of both the cliffs. 310
When she sucked the salt sea water down, [240]
everything in there looked totally confused,
a dreadful roar arose around the rocks,
and underneath the dark and sandy ground
was visible. Pale fear gripped my crewmen.
When we saw Charybdis, we were afraid
we'd be destroyed. Then Scylla snatched away
six of my companions, right from the ship,
the strongest and the bravest men I had.
When I turned to watch the swift ship and crew, 320
already I could see their hands and feet,
as Scylla carried them high overhead.
They cried out and screamed, calling me by name
one final time, their hearts in agony. [250]
Just as an angler on a jutting rock
casts out some bait with his long pole to snare
small fish and lets the horn from some field ox
sink down in the sea, then, when he snags one,
throws it quivering on shore, that's how those men
wriggled as they were raised towards the rocks.* 330
Then, in the entrance to her cave, Scylla
devoured the men, who still kept screaming,
stretching out their arms in my direction,
as they met their painful deaths. Of all things
my eyes have witnessed in my journeying
on pathways of the sea, the sight of them
was the most piteous I've ever seen.

"Once we'd made it past those rocks and fled, [260]
escaping Scylla and dread Charybdis,
we reached the lovely island of the god, 340
home of those splendid broad-faced cattle
and numerous rich flocks belonging to
Helios Hyperion, god of the sun.
While I was still at sea in my black ship,
I heard the lowing cattle being penned
and bleating sheep. There fell into my heart
the speeches of Teiresias of Thebes,
the sightless prophet—Circe's words, as well,
on Aeaea. They had both strictly charged
that I should at all costs miss this island, 350
the property of Helios, who brings
such joy to men. So with a heavy heart, [270]
I spoke to my companions:

'Comrades,
though you have endured a lot of trouble,
hear what I have to say, so I can speak
about the prophecies Teiresias made
and Circe, too, on Aeaea. They both
strictly charged me to avoid this island,
which Helios owns, who gives men such joy.
Here, she said, we face our gravest danger. 360
So row our black ship past this island.'

"I paused. The spirit in my crew was shattered.
Then Eurylochus answered me. His words
were full of spite:

'You're a hard man,
Odysseus, with more strength than other men.
Your limbs are never weary. One would think [280]
you were composed entirely of iron,
if you refuse to let your shipmates land,
when they're worn out with work and lack of sleep.
Here on this sea-girt island, we could make 370
a tasty dinner. You tell us instead
to wander on like this through the swift night.
But harsh winds which destroy men's ships arise
out of the night. And how could we avoid
total disaster, if we chance to meet
unexpected blasts from stormy South Wind
or from blustering West Wind, the ones
most likely to completely wreck our ship,
no matter what the ruling gods may wish? [290]
Surely we should let black night persuade us, 380
and now prepare a meal, while we stay put
alongside our swift ship. When morning comes,
we'll go on board, set off on the wide sea.'

"Eurylochus spoke. My other comrades
all agreed. So then I understood too well
some god was planning trouble. I replied—
my words had wings:

'It seems, Eurylochus,
you're forcing me to stand alone. But come,
let all of you now swear this solemn oath—
if by chance we find a herd of cattle 390
or a large flock of sheep, not one of you [300]
will be so overcome with foolishness
that you'll kill a cow or sheep. No. Instead,
you'll be content to eat the food supplies
which goddess Circe gave.'

"Once I'd said this,
they swore, as I had asked, they'd never kill
those animals. When they had made the oath
and finished promising, we moved our ship
inside a hollow harbour, by a spring
whose water tasted sweet. Then my crewmen 400
disembarked and made a skilful dinner.
When everyone had eaten food and drunk
to his heart's ease, they wept as they recalled
those dear companions Scylla snatched away
out of the hollow ship and then devoured. [310]
As they cried there, sweet sleep came over them.

"But when three-quarters of the night had passed
and the stars had shifted their positions,
cloud-gatherer Zeus stirred up a nasty wind
and an amazing storm, which hid in clouds 410
both land and sea alike. And from heaven
the night rushed down. Once rose-fingered Dawn arrived,
we dragged up our ship and made it secure
inside a hollow cave, a place nymphs used
as a fine dancing and assembly ground.
Then I called a meeting of the men and said:

'My friends, in our ship we have meat and drink, [320]
so let's not touch those cattle, just in case
that causes trouble for us. For these cows
and lovely sheep belong to Helios, 420
a fearful god, who spies out all there is
and listens in on everything as well.'

"These words of mine won over their proud hearts.
But then South Wind kept blowing one whole month.
It never stopped. No other wind sprang up,
except those times when East or South Wind blew.
As long as the men had red wine and bread,
they didn't touch the cattle. They were keen
to stay alive. But once what we had stored
inside our ship was gone, they had to roam, 430
scouring around for game and fish and birds, [330]
whatever came to hand. They used bent hooks
to fish, while hunger gnawed their stomachs.
At that point I went inland, up island,
to pray to the gods, hoping one of them
would show me a way home. Once I'd moved
across the island, far from my comrades,
I washed my hands in a protected spot,
a shelter from the wind, and said my prayers
to all the gods who hold Mount Olympus. 440
Then they poured sweet sleep across my eyelids.
Meanwhile Eurylochus began to give
disastrous advice to my companions:

'Shipmates, although you're suffering distress, [340]
hear me out. For wretched human beings
all forms of death are hateful. But to die
from lack of food, to meet one's fate that way,
is worst of all. So come, let's drive away
the best of Helios' cattle, and then
we'll sacrifice to the immortal gods 450
who hold wide heaven. And if we get home,
make it to Ithaca, our native land,
for Helios Hyperion we'll build
a splendid temple, and inside we'll put
many wealthy offerings. If he's enraged
about his straight-horned cattle and desires
to wreck our ship and other gods agree,
I'd rather lose my life once and for all [350]
choking on a wave than starving to death
on an abandoned island.'

"Eurylochus spoke. 460
My other comrades agreed with what he'd said.
They quickly rounded up the finest beasts
from Helios' herd, which was close by,
sleek, broad-faced animals with curving horns
grazing near the dark-prowed ship. My comrades
stood around them, praying to the gods.
They broke off tender leaves from a high oak,
for there was no white barley on the ship.*
After their prayers, they cut the creature's throats,
flayed them, and cut out portions of the thighs. 470
These they covered in a double layer of fat [360]
and laid raw meat on top. They had no wine
to pour down on the flaming sacrifice,
so they used some water for libations
and roasted all the entrails in the fire.
Once the thigh parts were completely roasted
and they'd had a taste of inner organs,
they sliced up the rest and skewered it on spits.
That was the moment sweet sleep left my eyes.
I went down to our swift ship by the shore. 480
As I drew closer to our curving ship,
the sweet smell of hot fat floated round me.
I groaned and cried out to immortal gods: [370]

'Father Zeus and you other sacred gods,
who live forever, you forced it on me,
that cruel sleep, to bring about my doom.
For my companions who remained behind
have planned something disastrous.'

"A messenger
quickly came to Helios Hyperion,
long-robed Lampetie, bringing him the news— 490
we had killed his cattle. Without delay,
he spoke to the immortals, full of rage:

'Father Zeus and you other blessed gods,
who live forever, take your vengeance now
on those companions of Odysseus,
Laertes' son, who, in their arrogance,
have killed my animals, the very ones
I always look upon with such delight [380]
whenever I move up to starry heaven
and then turn back from there toward the earth. 500
If they don't pay me proper retribution
for those beasts, then I'll go down to Hades
and shine among the dead.'




Lampetia Complaining to Apollo




 

"Cloud-gatherer Zeus
answered him and said:

'Helios, I think
you should keep on shining for immortals
and for human beings on fertile earth.
With a dazzling thunderbolt I myself
will quickly strike at that swift ship of theirs
and, in the middle of the wine-dark sea,
smash it to tiny pieces.'

"I learned of this 510
from fair Calypso, who said she herself [390]
had heard it from Hermes the Messenger.

"I came down to the sea and reached the ship.
Then I bitterly attacked my crewmen,
each of them in turn, standing by the boat.
But we couldn't find a single remedy—
the cattle were already dead. The gods
immediately sent my men bad omens—
hides crept along the ground, while on the spits
the meat began to bellow, and a sound 520
like cattle lowing filled the air.

"For six days,
those comrades I had trusted feasted there,
eating the cattle they had rounded up,
the finest beasts in Helios' herd.
But when Zeus, son of Cronos, brought to us
the seventh day, the stormy winds died down. [400]
We went aboard at once, put up the mast,
hoisted the white sail, and then set off,
out on the wide sea

"Once we'd left that island,
no other land appeared, only sky and sea. 530
The son of Cronos sent us a black cloud,
above our hollow ship, while underneath
the sea grew dark. Our boat sailed on its course,
but not for long. All at once, West Wind whipped up
a frantic storm—the blasts of wind snapped off
both forestays on the mast, which then fell back, [410]
and all our rigging crashed down in the hold.
In the stern part of the ship, the falling mast
struck the helmsman on his head, caving in
his skull, every bone at once. Then he fell, 540
like a diver, off the ship. His proud spirit
left his bones. Then Zeus roared out his thunder
and with a bolt of lightning struck our ship.
The blow from Zeus' lightning made our boat
shiver from stem to stern and filled it up
with sulphurous smoke. My crew fell overboard
and were carried in the waves, like cormorants,
around our blackened ship, because the god
had robbed them of their chance to get back home.

"But I kept pacing up and down the ship, 550 [420]
until the breaking seas had loosened off
both sides of the keel. Waves were holding up
the shattered ship but then snapped off the mast
right at the keel. But the ox-hide backstay
had fallen over it, and so with that
I lashed them both together, mast and keel.
I sat on these and then was carried off
by those destructive winds. But when the storms
from West Wind ceased, South Wind began to blow,
and that distressed my spirit—I worried 560
about floating back to grim Charybdis.
All night I drifted. When the sun came up,
I reached Scylla's cliff and dread Charybdis [430]
sucking down salt water from the sea.
But I jumped up into the high fig tree
and held on there, as if I were a bat.
But there was nowhere I could plant my feet,
nor could I climb the tree—its roots were spread
far down below me, and its branches stretched
above me, out of reach, immense and long, 570
overshadowing Charybdis. I hung there,
staunch in my hope that when she spewed again,
she'd throw up keel and mast. And to my joy
they finally appeared. Just at the hour
a man gets up for dinner from assembly,
one who adjudicates the many quarrels [440]
young men have, who then seek judgment,
that's when those timbers first came into view
out from Charybdis.* My hands and feet let go
and from up high I fell into the sea 580
beyond those lengthy spars. I sat on them
and used my hands to paddle my way through.
As for Scylla, the father of gods and men
would not let her catch sight of me again,
or else I'd not have managed to escape
being utterly destroyed.

"From that place
I drifted for nine days. On the tenth night,
the gods conducted me to Ogygia,
the island where fair-haired Calypso lives,
fearful goddess with the power of song. 590
She welcomed and took good care of me. [450]
But why should I tell you that story now?
It was only yesterday, in your home,
I told it to you and your noble wife.
And it's an irritating thing, I think,
to re-tell a story once it's clearly told.



 

Notes to Book Twelve

*. . . grounds of Dawn: This return to Aeaea, Circe's island, has puzzled commentators, because the description of it here seems to place in a very different location than the earlier one (in the east rather than in the north west).

*. . . Jason was her friend: The Argo, a ship named after its builder Argus, carried Jason and his companions (the Argonauts) to Colchis on their trip to capture the Golden Fleece and back again. Aeetes was king of Colchis, father of Medea.

* . . . toward the rocks: The horn of the field ox mentioned here is, one assumes, designed to act as a lead sinker and carry the hook down into deeper water.

* . . . white barley on the ship: The traditional sacrifice requires white barley. But since the sailors are out of food, they have to substitute the leaves for the barley.

* . . . out from Charybdis: These details suggest that Odysseus was stuck in the tree virtually all day.

 

 

 




Ulysses Asleep Laid on his Own Coast by the Phaeacian Sailors






Book Thirteen




Odysseus Leaves Phaeacia and Reaches Ithaca

[Odysseus ends his story; the Phaeacians collect gifts and store them on a ship; Odysseus takes his leave and goes on board, where he sleeps during the voyage to Ithaca; the Phaeacians land in Ithaca, unload the goods, place Odysseus sleeping on the shore, and leave; Poseidon complains to Zeus about the Phaeacians' transporting Odysseus safely home; Poseidon decides to turn the Phaeacian ship to stone and put up a mountain range around their city; the Phaeacians are amazed at the transformation of their ship; Alcinous recalls his father's prophecies; the Phaeacians sacrifice to Poseidon; Odysseus wakes up on Ithaca but does not recognize the place; Athena visits him in the form of a young man; she tells him he is in Ithaca; Odysseus fabricates a story about his identity; Athena transforms herself into a woman, reveals her identity, and points out the features of the island; the two of them plan how Odysseus will take his revenge on the suitors; Athena transforms his appearance so that he looks like an impoverished old beggar; she tells him to seek out the man who tends his swine; Athena leaves for Sparta to fetch Telemachus]

Odysseus paused. All Phaeacians sat in silence,
without saying a word, spellbound in the shadowy hall.
Then Alcinous again spoke up and said to him:

"Odysseus, since you're visiting my home,
with its brass floors and high-pitched roof, I think
you won't leave here and go back disappointed,
although you've truly suffered much bad luck.
And now I'll speak to all men present here,
those who in this hall are always drinking
the council's gleaming wine and enjoying 10
the songs the minstrel sings. I tell you this.
Clothing for our guest is packed already, [10]
stored in a polished chest inlaid with gold,
as well as all the other gifts brought here
by Phaeacia's counsellors. But come now,
let's give him a large tripod and a cauldron,
each one of us. We can repay ourselves—
we'll get the people to provide the cost.
It's too expensive for one man to give
without receiving any money back." 20

Alcinous spoke. And they agreed with what he'd said.
Then they all left to go back home and get some rest.

But as soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
they hurried to the ship and loaded on the bronze,
which strengthens men. Strong and mighty Alcinous [20]
went in person through the ship and had the gifts
stowed below the benches, where they wouldn't hinder
any of the crewmen, as they plied their oars.
Then they went back to Alcinous' home to feast.

On their behalf, strong and mighty Alcinous 30
sacrificed a bull to Zeus, god of the dark cloud
and son of Cronos, who rules over everything.
Once they'd burned pieces of the thigh, they then enjoyed
a splendid banquet. Among them Demodocus,
the godlike minstrel honoured by his people,
sang a song of celebration. But Odysseus
kept on turning round toward the blazing sunlight,
keen to see it set—he so wanted to return. [30]
Just as a man longs for supper, when all day long
a pair of wine-dark oxen pull a well-made plough 40
through fallow land for him, and as the sun goes down,
the sight delights him—now he can prepare a meal,
for his knees are tired when he moves—that's how
Odysseus rejoiced to see the sunlight disappear.
He spoke up at once, addressing the Phaeacians,
men who love the oar, and especially Alcinous,
saying these words:

"Lord Alcinous, of all men
most renowned, pour out your libations now,
and send me safely off. Farewell to you!
Now everything my dear heart once desired 50 [40]
has come about—an escort and these gifts,
marks of friendship. And may the heavenly gods
make me content with them. When I get back,
may I find my excellent wife at home,
with all my family safe. And as for you,
may you stay here and make a happy life
for the wives you married and your children.
May gods grant you success of every kind,
and may no evil things afflict your people."

Odysseus spoke. They all approved of what he'd said, 60
and ordered that their guest should be escorted off,
because he'd spoken well. Then mighty Alcinous
addressed the herald, saying:

"Pontonous, [50]
stir the mixing bowl, and serve out the wine
to all those in the hall, so once we've prayed
to Father Zeus, we may send off our guest,
back to his native land."

Alcinous finished speaking.
Pontonous mixed wine sweet as honey, then served it round
to all of them, coming up to everyone in turn,
and, from where they sat, they poured libations 70
to all the blessed gods who hold wide heaven.
Lord Odysseus stood up, placed a two-handled cup
in Arete's hands, and spoke winged words to her:

"Fare you well, O queen, through all your years,
until old age and death arrive, the fate [60]
of every human being. I'm leaving now.
But in this house may you have much delight
from your own children and your people,
and from Alcinous, the king."

Lord Odysseus spoke,
then moved across the threshold. Mighty Alcinous 80
dispatched a herald to conduct him to the sea
and his fast ship. Arete sent slave girls with him.
One held a freshly laundered cloak and tunic.
She told a second one to follow on behind
escorting the large trunk. Another female slave
brought red wine and bread. Once they'd come down to the ship, [70]
beside the sea, the noble youths accompanying him
immediately took all the food and drink on board
and stowed them in the hollow ship. They spread a rug
and linen sheet on the deck inside the hollow ship, 90
at the stern, so Odysseus could sleep in peace.
He went aboard, as well, and lay down in silence.
Each man sat in proper order at his oarlock.
They loosed the cable from the perforated stone.
Once they leaned back and stirred the water with their oars,
a calming sleep fell on his eyelids, undisturbed
and very sweet, something very similar to death. [80]
Just as four stallions yoked together charge ahead
across the plain, all running underneath the lash,
and jump high as they gallop quickly on their way, 100
that's how the stern of that ship leapt up on high,
while in her wake the dark waves of the roaring sea
were churned to a great foam, as she sped on her path,
safe and secure. Not even a wheeling hawk,
the swiftest of all flying things, could match her speed,
as she raced ahead, slicing through the ocean waves,
carrying a man whose mind was like a god's.
His heart in earlier days had endured much pain, [90]
as he moved through men's wars and suffered on the waves.
Now he slept in peace, forgetting all his troubles. 110

When the brightest of the stars rose up, the one
which always comes to herald light from early Dawn,
the sea-faring ship sailed in close to Ithaca.
Now, in that land, Phorcys, the Old Man of the Sea,
has his harbour.* Two jutting headlands at its mouth
drop off on the seaward side, but on the other,
slope down to the cove and keep the place protected
from huge waves whipped up by stormy winds at sea.
In there well-timbered ships can ride without being moored, [100]
once they reach that anchorage. An olive tree 120
with long pointed leaves stands at the harbour head,
and close beside it there's a pleasant shadowy cave,
sacred to the nymphs whom people call the Naiads.*
Mixing bowls and jars of stone are stored inside,
and bees make honey there. The cave has long stone looms
where nymphs weave cloth with a deep sea-purple dye,
an amazing thing to see. In there, too, are springs
which always flow. The cave has two entrances—
one, which faces North Wind, is the one men use [110]
to go inside; the other one, which faces South Wind, 130
is divine—human beings may not go in there,
for the pathway is confined to the immortals.

They rowed in here, a place they knew about before.
Those rowers' arms had so much strength, half the boat,
which was moving fast, was driven up on shore.
Once they climbed out of that well-built rowing ship
onto dry land, first they took Odysseus out,
lifting him from the hollow ship still wrapped up
in the linen sheet and splendid blanket, placed him,
fast asleep, down on the sand, then carried out 140
the gifts Phaeacia's noblemen had given him, [120]
thanks to the goodwill of great-hearted Athena,
when he was setting out for home. They put these gifts
against the trunk of the olive tree, in a pile,
some distance from the path, in case someone came by,
before Odysseus could wake up, stumbled on them,
and robbed him. Then they set off, back to Phaeacia.

But the Shaker of the Earth had not forgotten
those threats he'd once made against godlike Odysseus.
So he asked Zeus what plan he had in mind:

"Father Zeus, 150
the immortal gods will honour me no more,
for these men pay me no respect at all,
these Phaeacians, who, as you well know, [130]
are my descendants.* For I clearly said
Odysseus should suffer much misfortune
before he made it home. I'd not rob him
of his return completely, once you'd made
that promise and confirmed it with a nod.
But these men carried him, while still asleep,
over the sea in their swift ship, set him 160
in Ithaca, and gave him countless gifts—
bronze and gold and piles of woven clothing,
more than Odysseus ever would have got
at Troy, if he'd come safely back, bringing
his fair share of the trophies with him."

Cloud-gatherer Zeus then gave Poseidon this reply:

"Mighty Earthshaker, what strange things you say! [140]
The gods aren't treating you with disrespect.
To heap dishonour on the oldest and the best
would be hard to bear. But if any man, 170
seduced by his own force and power,
fails to honour you somehow, it's up to you
to take vengeance later. Do what you want,
what gives your heart delight."

Earthshaker Poseidon
then answered Zeus:

"Lord of the Dark Cloud,
I would have quickly done as you've just said,
but I was afraid you might be angry,
and that I wanted to avoid. But now,
I wish to strike at those Phaeacians,
at their splendid ship, as it sails back home, 180 [150]
after its trip across the misty seas,
so they will stop and never more provide
an escort carrying human beings.
Then all around their city I'll throw up
a massive mountain range."

Cloud-gatherer Zeus
then answered him and said:

"Brother, listen now
to what my heart thinks best—when all of them
are in the city looking out, as that boat
speeds on her way, then turn her into stone
close to the shore, a rock that looks just like 190
some fast ship, so all men will be amazed.
Then raise a massive mountain round their town."

When Earthshaker Poseidon heard these words, he left
and went to Scheria, home of the Phaeacians. [160]
There he waited. As their sea-faring ship approached,
moving quickly on her course, Earthshaker came up
and turned it into stone. With the palm of his hand
he hit it once and from below froze it in place.
Then Poseidon left. The long-oared Phaeacians,
men famous for their ships, spoke to one another— 200
their words had wings. Looking at the man beside him,
one of them would say:

"Who has fixed our swift ship
out at sea as she was racing homeward,
and in plain sight of all?"

That's what they said. [170]
But they didn't understand why this had happened.
Then Alcinous addressed them all and said:

"Alas!
The prophecies my father used to make
so long ago have come to pass. He'd say
Poseidon would get angry with us,
because we conduct all men in safety. 210
He claimed that one day, as a splendid ship
of the Phaeacians was returning home,
after a convoy on the misty seas,
Poseidon would strike her and then throw up
a huge mountain range around our city.
That's what the old man said. And now all this
is taking place. But come, let all of you
attend to what I say. You must now stop [180]
escorting mortal men when any man
comes to our city. And let's sacrifice 220
twelve choice bulls as offerings to Poseidon,
so he'll take pity and not ring our city
with a lofty mountain range."

Alcinous spoke.
They were all afraid, so they prepared the bulls.
Then the Phaeacian counsellors and leaders,
standing by the altar, prayed to lord Poseidon.

Meanwhile, Odysseus, asleep in his own land,
woke up. He didn't recognize just where he was.
He'd been away so long, and Pallas Athena, [190]
Zeus' daughter, had shed a mist around him, 230
to make him hard for people to identify,
so she could tell him everything, while his wife,
his townsfolk, and his friends would not know who he was,
until the suitors' crimes had all been paid in full.
And so all things seemed unfamiliar to their king,
the long straight paths, the harbour with safe anchorage,
the sheer-faced cliffs, the trees in rich full bloom.
So he jumped up and looked out at his native land.
He groaned aloud and struck his thighs with both his palms,
then expressed his grief, saying:

"Where am I now? 240 [200]
Whose country have I come to this time?
Are they violent, unjust, and cruel,
or do they welcome strangers? Do their minds
respect the gods? And all this treasure here,
where do I take that? Where do I go next?
I wish I'd stayed with the Phaeacians there.
I'd have visited another mighty king
who would've welcomed me, then sent me off
on my way home. I've no idea now
where to put this wealth. I won't leave it here, 250
in case someone robs me and removes it
as his spoils. Alas! All those Phaeacians,
those counsellors and leaders, weren't so wise [210]
or just—they led me to a foreign land.
They said they'd bring me to bright Ithaca,
but that's not what they've done. I pray that Zeus,
god of suppliants, who watches everyone
and punishes the man who goes astray,
will pay them back. But come, I'll count these gifts
and check them out, just in case these men 260
in their hollow ship have carried away
some property of mine."

After saying this,
Odysseus began to count the lovely tripods,
cauldrons, gold, and splendid clothing. It was all there.
Then, overwhelmed with longing for his native land,
he wandered on the shore beside the crashing sea, [220]
with many cries of sorrow. Then Athena came,
moving close to him in the form of a young man,
someone who herded sheep, but with a refined air
that marks the sons of kings. She wore a well-made cloak, 270
a double fold across her shoulders, and sandals
on her shining feet. In her hand she gripped a spear.
Odysseus, happy to catch sight of her, came up
and spoke to her—his words had wings:

"My friend,
since you're the first one I've encountered here,
my greetings to you, and may you meet me
with no evil in your mind. Save these goods, [230]
and rescue me. For I'm entreating you,
the way I would a god, and I've come here
begging as a dear friend at your knee. 280
Tell me the truth, so I can understand—
What country is this? Who are these people?
Is it some sunny island or a headland
of the fertile mainland reaching out to sea?"

Athena, goddess with the gleaming eyes, replied:

"Stranger, you're a fool, or else you've come
from somewhere far away, if you must ask
about this land. It's name is not unknown—
not at all—many men have heard of it,
all those who live in regions of the dawn 290 [240]
and rising sun, as well as all who dwell
towards the gloomy darkness in the west—
a rugged place, not fit for herding horses,
yet not too poor, although not very wide.
There are countless crops and wine-bearing grapes.
There's no lack of rain or heavy dew,
a fine land for raising goats and cattle.
There are all sorts of trees and watering holes
that last throughout the year. And so, stranger,
the name of Ithaca is even known in Troy, 300
a long way from Achaean land, they say."

Athena spoke, and much-enduring lord Odysseus [250]
felt great joy, happy to learn of his ancestral lands
from what Pallas Athena said, daughter of Zeus,
who bears the aegis. So he spoke winged words to her.
He didn't tell the truth, but left some things unsaid,
always thinking up sly thoughts inside his chest:

"I've heard of Ithaca, even in wide Crete,
far across the sea. Now I'm here in person,
with these goods of mine. When I ran away, 310
I left even more there with my children.
I killed a dear son of Idomeneus,
swift-footed Orsilochus—in spacious Crete [260]
he was the fastest runner of all those
who work to earn their bread.* He wished
to steal away the spoils I'd won at Troy,
for which my heart had gone through so much pain,
suffering men's wars and dangers on the sea,
because I wouldn't gratify his father
and serve as his attendant there in Troy, 320
but led another group of my own men.
As he was coming home, back from the fields,
I lay in wait for him with my companions,
close to the road. There with my bronze-tipped spear
I struck him. Black night concealed the heavens,
and no one noticed us or was aware [270]
I took his life. Once my sharp bronze killed him,
I ran off to a ship without delay,
offered prizes to some fine Phoenicians,
as much as they could wish, entreating them, 330
begging them to take me off to Pylos,
land me there, or else to lovely Elis,
where Epeians rule. Much against their will,
the power of the winds drove them off course.
They didn't wish to cheat me, but were blown
away from there and sailed in here at night.
We quickly rowed into this anchorage.
Although we needed food, we never thought [280]
of dinner—we all lay down where we were.
I was so tired, sweet sleep fell over me. 340
They took my goods out of the hollow ship
and piled them where I lay down in the sand.
Then they went on board and sailed away
for bustling Sidon, leaving me behind
with all these troubles in my heart."

Odysseus finished.
Bright-eyed Athena smiled and stroked him with her hand.
Then she changed herself into a lovely woman,
tall and very skilled in making splendid things.
She spoke to him—her words had wings: [290]

"Any man
or even a god who ran into you 350
would have to be a cunning charlatan
to surpass your various kinds of trickery.
You're bold, with subtle plans, and love
deceit. Although you're now in your own land,
it doesn't look as if you're going to stop
your lies or making up those artful stories,
which you love from the bottom of your heart.
But come, let's no longer speak of this,
for we both understand what shrewdness means.
Of all men you're the best in making plans 360
and giving speeches, and among all gods
I'm well known for subtlety and wisdom.
Still, you failed to recognize Pallas Athena, [300]
daughter of Zeus, who's always at your side,
looking out for you in every crisis.
Yes, I made all those Phaeacians love you.
Now I've come to weave a scheme with you
and hide these goods Phaeacian noblemen
gave you as you were setting out for home,
thanks to my plans and what I had in mind. 370
I'll tell you what Fate has in store for you—
you'll find harsh troubles in your well-built home.
Be patient, for you must endure them all.
Don't tell anyone, no man or woman,
you've returned from wandering around.
Instead, keep silent. Bear the many pains,
and, when men act savagely, do nothing." [310]

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

"Goddess, it's difficult for any man
to recognize you when he meets you, 380
even if he's really wise, for you appear
in any shape you wish. But I know well
that in years past you've been kind to me,
when we sons of Achaea fought in Troy.
But when we'd ransacked Priam's lofty city
and sailed off in our ships and then some god
scattered the Achaeans, I never saw you,
daughter of Zeus. I didn't notice you
coming aboard our ship to keep me safe
from danger. So I kept on wandering, 390 [320]
my heart always divided in my chest,
until the gods delivered me from trouble.
Then, in the rich land of the Phaeacians,
your words encouraged me, and you yourself
led me into their city. Now I beg you,
in your father's name, for I don't believe
I've come back to sunny Ithaca. No.
I'm footloose in some other country,
and you're attempting to confuse my mind.
So tell me truly if I have arrived 400
in my dear native land."

Then Athena,
the bright-eyed goddess, answered him:

"That heart in your chest [330]
always thinks this way. And that's the reason
I can't leave you in distress. You're so polite,
intelligent, and cautious. Another man
who'd just come back from wandering around
would've been eager to rush home to see
his wife and children. But you're not keen
to learn about or hear of anything,
before you can observe your wife yourself. 410
She's still living in her home, as before—
her nights and days always end in sorrow,
and she weeps. As for me, I had no doubts,
for my heart always knew you'd get back home,
although your comrades would all be destroyed. [340]
But you should know I had no wish to fight
against Poseidon, my father's brother,
who bears anger in his heart against you,
enraged that you destroyed his dear son's eye.
But come, I'll demonstrate to you this land 420
is Ithaca, so you'll be reassured.
This anchorage here belongs to Phorcys,
the Old Man of the Sea. At the harbour head
stands the long-leafed olive tree. Beside it
is the pleasant, shadowy cave, sacred
to those nymphs they call the Naiads.
This, you must know, is the arching cavern
where you made many sacrificial gifts [350]
to those same nymphs to grant your wishes.
And there is forested Mount Neriton." 430

As the goddess said these words, she dispersed the mist.
Once the land was visible, lord Odysseus,
who had endured so much, overjoyed to see it,
kissed the fertile ground. Then, stretching out his arms
towards the nymphs, he made this prayer:

"You Naiad nymphs,
Zeus' daughters, I thought I'd never catch
a glimpse of you again. Now I greet you
with a loving prayer. I'll give gifts, as well,
as I have done for you in earlier days,
if Zeus' daughter who awards the spoils 440
will in her goodness let me stay alive
and help my dear son grow into a man." [360]

Athena, the bright-eyed goddess, then said to him:

"Be brave, and don't weigh down your heart with this.
Now, let's not delay, but put away these goods
in some hidden corner of this sacred cave,
where they'll stay safely stored inside for you.
And then let's think about how all these things
may turn out for the best."

After saying this,
the goddess went into the shadowy cave 450
and looked around for hiding places. Odysseus
brought in all the treasures—enduring bronze and gold
and finely woven clothes, gifts from the Phaeacians.
He stored these carefully, and Pallas Athena, [370]
daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, set a rock in place
to block the entranceway.

Then the two of them
sat down by the trunk of the sacred olive tree
to think of ways to kill those arrogant suitors.
Bright-eyed goddess Athena was the first to speak:

"Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son 460
and child of Zeus, think how your hands may catch
these shameless suitors, who for three years now
have been lording it inside your palace,
wooing your godlike wife and offering her
their marriage gifts. She longs for your return.
Although her heart is sad, she feeds their hopes, [380]
by giving each man words of reassurance.
But her mind is full of other things."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

"Goddess, if you had not told me all this, 470
I would have shared the fate of Agamemnon,
son of Atreus, and died in my own home.
Come, weave a plan so I can pay them back.
Stand in person by my side, and fill me
with indomitable courage, as you did
when we loosed the bright diadem of Troy.
O goddess with the gleaming eyes,
if you are with me now as eagerly
as you were then, with your aid I'd fight [390]
three hundred men, if you, mighty goddess, 480
are willing in your heart to help me."

Bright-eyed goddess Athena then answered him:

"You can be sure I'll stand beside you.
I won't forget you when the trouble starts.
I think the brains and blood of many suitors
who consume your livelihood will spatter
the wide earth. But come, I'll transform you,
so you'll be unrecognizable to all.
I'll wrinkle fine skin on your supple limbs,
remove the dark hair on your head, and then 490
dress you in rags which would make you shudder [400]
to see clothing anyone. And your eyes,
so striking up to now, I'll make them dim.
To all those suitors you'll appear disgusting,
and to the wife and son you left at home.
You must go first of all to see the swineherd,
who tends your pigs. He's well disposed to you
and loves your son and wise Penelope.
You'll find him keeping his swine company
where they feed by Corax Rock, near the spring 500
of Arethusa, drinking its dark water
and eating lots of acorns, which make pigs [410]
grow rich in fat. Stay there and sit with him.
And ask him questions about everything.
I'll go to Sparta, land of lovely women,
and there, Odysseus, I'll summon back
your dear son, Telemachus, who has gone
to spacious Lacedaemon, to the home
of Menelaus, to find out news of you,
to learn if you are still alive somewhere." 510

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

"Why did you not tell him, since in your mind
you know all things? What did you intend—
that he'd experience hardships on his trip
across the restless seas, while other men
were eating up his livelihood?"

Athena, [420]
goddess with the gleaming eyes, then said to him:

"Don't let your heart get too concerned with him.
I sent him off myself, so he might earn
a well-known reputation going there. 520
He's not in trouble, but sits there in peace,
in the home of the son of Atreus,
with countless fine things set before him.
It's true some young men out in a black ship
are lying in ambush, keen to murder him
before he gets back to his native land,
but I don't think that's what will come about.
Before that happens, earth will cover up
the many suitors who consume your goods."

As she said this, Athena touched him with her staff. 530
She wrinkled the fair skin on his supple limbs [430]
and took the dark hair from his head. His arms and legs
she covered with an old man's ancient flesh and dimmed
his eyes, which had been so beautiful before.
She dressed him in different clothes—a ragged cloak,
a dirty tunic, ripped and disheveled, stained
with stinking smoke. Then she threw around him
a large hairless hide from a swift deer and gave him
a staff and a tattered leather pouch, full of holes
and with a twisted strap.

When the two of them 540
had made their plans, they parted, and Athena went
to Lacedaemon to bring back Odysseus' son. [440]




Notes to Book Thirteen

* . . . has his harbour: Phorcys was an ancient god of the sea who produced large number of monster children. The title "Old Man of the Sea," the name given to Proteus in Menelaus' account of his adventures in Egypt ( in Book 4), is applied here to Phorcys as well and, elsewhere in Greek literature, to the sea god Nereus, father of the fifty Nereids, one of whom was Thetis, mother of Achilles.

* . . . the Naiads: the Naiads are the nymph goddesses of fresh water, one of three classes of water nymphs (the others being the Nereids, nymphs of the sea, and the Oceanids, nymphs of the Ocean).

* . . . my descendants: The Phaeacians, according to legend, stem from Pheax, a son of Poseidon, or from Nausithous, father of Alcinous, also a son of Poseidon.

* . . . to earn their bread: In the Iliad Idomeneus, leader of the forces from Crete, is a major ally and a senior general among the Achaean troops fighting against the Trojans.





 

 

 




Ulysses Conversing with Eumaeus



Book Fourteen


Odysseus Meets Eumaeus

[Odysseus leaves the harbour and moves inland to the farm of Eumaeus, the swineherd; Eumaeus welcomes Odysseus and prepares a meal for him; Eumaeus talks about his absent master; Odysseus assures Eumaeus that his master will return, but Eumaeus does not believe him; Odysseus tells Eumaeus a long made-up story about his identity and his adventures in Egypt and elsewhere, telling him he heard news of Odysseus' return; Eumaeus still does not believe him; the other swineherds arrive; Eumaeus prepares a sacrifice and another meal; Odysseus tells another story about an incident in the Trojan War; Eumaeus prepares a bed for Odysseus, then goes outside to guard the boars.]

Odysseus left the harbour, taking the rough path
into the woods and across the hills, to the place
where Athena told him he would meet the swineherd,
who was, of all the servants lord Odysseus had,
the one who took best care of his possessions.
He found him sitting in the front part of his house,
a built-up courtyard with a panoramic view,
a large, fine place, with cleared land all around.
The swineherd built it by himself to house the pigs,
property belonging to his absent master. 10
He hadn't told his mistress or old man Laertes.
He'd made it from huge stones, with a thorn hedge on top [10]
and surrounded on the outside with close-set stakes
facing both ways, made by splitting oaks apart
to leave the dark heart of the wood. Inside the yard,
to house the pigs, he'd packed twelve sties together.
In each one fifty wallowing swine were penned,
sows for breeding. The boars, far fewer of them,
stayed outside. The feasting of the noble suitors
kept their numbers low, for the swineherd always sent 20
the finest of all fattened hogs for them to eat.
Three hundred and sixty boars were there—four dogs, [20]
fierce as wild animals, always lay beside them.
These the swineherd, a splendid man, had raised himself.
He was trimming off a piece of coloured ox-hide,
shaping sandals for his feet. Three of his fellows
had gone off, herding pigs in different directions.
He'd had to send a fourth man to the city
with a boar to be butchered for the suitors,
so they could eat meat to their heart's content. 30

All of a sudden the dogs observed Odysseus.
They howled and ran at him, barking furiously. [30]
Odysseus was alert enough to drop his staff
and sit. Still, he'd have been severely mauled
in his own farmyard, but the swineherd ran up fast
behind them, dropping the leather in his hands.
Charging through the gate and shouting at his dogs,
he scattered them in a hail of stones here and there.
Then he spoke out to his master:

"Old man,
those dogs would've ripped at you in no time, 40
and then you'd have heaped the blame on me.
Well, I've got other troubles from the gods,
things to grieve about. For as I stay here,
raising fat pigs for other men to eat,
I'm full of sorrow for my noble master, [40]
who's probably going hungry somewhere,
as he wanders through the lands and cities
where men speak a foreign tongue, if, in fact,
he's still alive and looking at the sunlight.
But follow me, old man. Come in the hut. 50
When you've had enough to eat and drink
and your heart's satisfied, you can tell me
where you come from, what troubles you've endured."

With these words, the loyal swineherd went inside the hut,
brought Odysseus in, and invited him to sit,
after piling up some leafy twigs and, over them,
spreading out the shaggy skin of a wild goat, [50]
the large and hairy hide which covered his own bed.
Odysseus was glad to get this hospitality,
so he addressed him, saying:

"Stranger, 60
may Zeus and other gods who live forever
give you what you truly want—you've welcomed me
with such an open heart."

Then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you answered him and said:*

"It would be wrong,
stranger, for me to disrespect a guest,
even if one worse off than you arrived,
for all guests and beggars come from Zeus,
and any gift from people like ourselves,
though small, is welcome. It's the fate of slaves
always to fear young masters who control them. 70 [60]
The gods are holding up the journey home
of the man who would've loved me kindly
and given me possessions of my own,
a home, a plot of land, a wedded wife
worthy of being wooed by many suitors,
the sorts of things a generous master gives
a servant who has toiled so hard for him,
whose work the gods have helped to thrive and grow,
the way the tasks I put my mind to here
have prospered. If my master was at home 80
and growing old, he would've given me
so many things. But he has perished.
How I wish all of Helen's relatives
had died, brought to their knees, since she
loosed the knees of so many warriors.
He went to Troy, famous for its horses, [70]
to carry out revenge for Agamemnon
by fighting Trojans."

After saying this,
he quickly cinched a belt around his tunic,
went out to the pig pens where the swine were held, 90
picked out two from there, brought them in, and killed them.
He singed and cut them up, then skewered them on spits.
Once he'd roasted them completely, he picked them up
and, without taking out the spits, carried them still hot
over to Odysseus. Then he sprinkled over them
white barley meal. In a bowl carved out of ivy wood
he mixed wine sweet as honey. Then he sat down
opposite Odysseus, inviting him to dine:

"Eat now, stranger, what a servant offers, [80]
meat from a young pig, for the suitors take 100
the fatted hogs. Their hearts have no pity
and don't ever think about gods' anger.
The truth is this—the blessed gods don't love
men's reckless acts. No. They honour justice
and men's righteousness. Even enemies
with cruel intentions can invade the lands
of someone else, and Zeus awards them spoils.
They fill their ships and then sail off for home.
And even in the hearts of men like these
falls a great fear of vengeance from the gods. 110
But these suitors here, I think, know something—
they've heard a voice from one of the gods
about my master's painful death. That's why [90]
they don't want to have a righteous courtship
or go back to their own homes. No. Instead,
without a care they waste our property
in all their insolence, sparing nothing.
Every day and night Zeus sends, they kill
our animals, and not just one or two,
and, with their arrogance, they draw our wine, 120
taking what they want and even more.
My master used to be a man of substance,
beyond all measure. No warrior hero
on the dark mainland or Ithaca itself
possessed as much. Twenty men combined
did not have so much wealth. I'll tell you this—
on the mainland he's got twelve cattle herds, [100]
as many flocks of sheep and droves of pigs
and wide-ranging herds of goats, all of these
tended by foreign herdsmen or his own. 130
And here, on the edges of this island,
graze wandering herds of goats, eleven in all,
with loyal servants keeping watch on them.
To serve the suitors, every one of them
keeps driving in a creature from his flock,
the fattest one which seems to him the best.
That always happens, each and every day.
As for me, I guard and raise these pigs.
I choose with care and then deliver them
the finest of the boars."

Eumaeus finished. 140
Meanwhile Odysseus eagerly devoured the meat
and drank the wine in silence. He was ravenous. [110]
He was also sowing troubles for the suitors.
Once he'd eaten his heart's fill and had enough,
Eumaeus filled the bowl from which he drank himself
and gave it to him full of wine. Odysseus took it,
happy in his heart, and spoke winged words to him:

"My friend, who was the man who used his wealth
to purchase you? Was he powerful and rich,
as you've just said? You claim he was destroyed 150
helping Agamemnon get his revenge.
Tell me. I may know him, a man like that.
Zeus and the rest of the immortal gods
know if I've seen him or heard any news.
For I've been travelling a lot." [120]

Then Eumaeus,
a worthy man, answered him and said:

"Old man,
no wanderer who came with news of him
could convince his wife or his dear son.
Men who roam about, when they need a meal,
have no desire to speak the truth—they lie. 160
Whoever moves around and reaches here,
this land of Ithaca, goes to my mistress
with some made-up tale. She receives him well,
with hospitality, and questions him
about each detail. Then she starts to grieve,
and tears fall from her eyes, as is fitting
when a woman's husband dies far away. [130]
You too, old man, would make up a story
quickly enough, if someone offered you
a cloak and tunic and some clothes to wear. 170
But by this time swift birds and dogs have ripped
the flesh from off his bones, and his spirit's
slipped away. Or else in the sea the fish
have eaten him, and his bones now lie
on shore somewhere, buried in deep sand.
Anyway, he died out there. From now on,
it's the fate of all his friends to grieve,
especially me—however far I travel,
I'll never come across another man
who'd match him as a gentle master, 180
not even if I went back home again
to where my mother and my father live, [140]
where I was born, where they reared me themselves.
I don't mourn for them so much, though I yearn
to see them again with my own eyes
and be in my own native land once more.
What grips me is a longing for Odysseus,
who is gone. Even though he is not here,
stranger, I speak his name with full respect.
His love for me was great, and in his heart 190
he cared. So although he may be absent,
I call him my dear master."

Resourceful lord Odysseus
then answered him and said:

"My friend,
since you're so resolved in your denials,
when you declare he'll not come home again,
and your heart always clings to this belief, [150]
I won't just tell you Odysseus will be back—
no, I'll take an oath on it. When he comes,
when he gets back home, give me my reward
for my good news—let me have fine clothing, 200
a cloak and tunic. Until that moment,
there's nothing I'll accept, despite my need.
For just as I despise the gates of Hades,
I hate the man who, in his poverty,
tells stories which are lies. Now let Zeus,
the first of gods, this welcoming table,
and the hearth of excellent Odysseus,
which I have reached, let them bear witness—
all these things will happen the way I say— [160]
Odysseus will come here within a month, 210
between the waning and the rising moons.
He'll get back home and take out his revenge
on anyone here who has not honoured
his wife and noble son."

Then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you answered him and said:

"Old man,
I won't be rewarding you for that good news.
Odysseus won't be coming back. Drink up.
Relax. Now, let's talk of something else.
I don't want to remember all those things.
The heart here in my chest gets full of grief, 220
when someone mentions my good master. [170]
So let's forget about your oath. I wish
Odysseus would come home—that's what I want.
So does Penelope, Laertes, too,
the old man, and noble Telemachus.
Right now I'm always grieving for the boy,
the child Odysseus had, Telemachus.
The gods brought him up just like a sapling,
and, as a man, I thought he'd be a match
for his dear father, with a splendid shape 230
and handsome. But one of the immortals
warped his better judgment—perhaps it was
some human being. For he's gone on a trip
to sacred Pylos to find out some news
about his father. Now noble suitors [180]
lie in wait for him as he comes home,
and so the race of noble Arceisius
will die without a name in Ithaca.*
But let's just let him be—they may get him,
or he may escape, if the son of Cronos 240
holds out his hand to guard him. But come now,
old man, tell me about your troubles.
Give me the truth, so I clearly understand—
Who are you among men? Where are you from?
Where are your city and your parents?
On what kind of ship did you get here?
How did sailors bring you to Ithaca?
Who did they claim they were? For I don't think [190]
you reached this place on foot."

Resourceful Odysseus
then answered him and said:

"All right, then, 250
I'll tell you the truth of what you've asked me.
I wish we two had food and honey wine
to last a while, so we could feast in peace
inside your hut, while others did the work.
I could easily go on for one whole year
and never finish talking of those things
my heart has suffered, all those torments
I've endured, thanks to what the gods have willed.
I claim my family comes from spacious Crete.
I'm a rich man's child, and in his house 260
many other sons were born and raised, [200]
his legal children from his lawful wife.
My mother was a purchased concubine.
Still, Castor, son of Hylax, the man
I claim as my own father, honoured me,
just as he did his true-born sons. Back then,
since he had wealth and land and worthy sons,
the Cretans in the country looked on him
as if he were a god. But lethal Fates
took him to Hades' home, and his proud sons 270
divided up his goods by drawing lots.
They gave me a really tiny portion [210]
and assigned a house. But I won a wife
from people who had many rich estates,
thanks to my courage—for I was no fool,
nor was I a coward. Now all that strength
has gone. A host of troubles wears me down.
But by examining the husk, I think,
you can assess the plant. Back then, Ares
and Athena gave me strength and courage, 280
the power to break ranks of men apart.
When I picked the finest troops for ambush
devising perils for my enemies,
my proud spirit never gave me any sense
that I might die. I always jumped out first, [220]
and my spear killed whatever enemy
ran off in front of me. That's what I was like
when it came to war. But I got no joy
from working on the land or household chores,
like raising lovely children. No. Instead, 290
I was always fond of ships with oars
and wars with polished shields and arrows,
deadly things, so horrible to others.
I think I loved those things because a god
somehow set them in my heart. Different men
find their delight in different kinds of work.
Before Achaea's sons set foot in Troy,
I'd led warriors and fast ships nine times [230]
against soldiers from foreign lands and won
enormous quantities of loot. I'd pick out 300
what pleased me and then later get much more,
when we drew lots. Soon my house grew rich,
and Cretans honoured and respected me.
But when far-seeing Zeus planned that fatal trip
which loosed the knees of many warriors,
they asked me and famous Idomeneus
to lead their ships to Troy. There was no way
one could refuse—the people's voice insisted.
So we Achaean sons fought there nine years, [240]
and ransacked Priam's city in the tenth. 310
We set out for home, but then some god
scattered the Achaeans. And Counselor Zeus
devised some difficulties just for me,
to make me miserable. I stayed at home,
enjoying my children, the wife I'd married,
and my wealth only for a single month.
Then my heart urged me to outfit some ships
and sail to Egypt with my noble comrades.
I manned nine ships. The fleet was soon prepared.
My loyal companions feasted for six days— 320
I gave them many beasts to sacrifice, [250]
as offerings to the gods and to prepare
a banquet for themselves. On the seventh day,
we left wide Crete. North Wind provided us
a stiff and welcome breeze, so we sailed on
quite easily, like drifting down a stream.
None of my ships was harmed, no one got sick
or injured, and we stayed in our seats,
while wind and helmsman held us on our course.
The fifth day we reached Egypt's mighty river, 330
where I moored my curving ships. Then I told
my loyal comrades to stay there with the ships, [260]
keeping watch on them, while I sent out scouts
to find some places we could use as lookouts.
But my crew, overcome with arrogance,
and trusting their own might, at once began
to plunder the Egyptians' finest fields.
They took their women and small children, too,
and killed the men. Shouts soon reached the city,
and, once they heard the noise, Egyptians came, 340
as daylight first appeared. The entire plain
filled up with chariots and infantry,
all flashing bronze. Zeus, who hurls the lightning,
threw a nasty panic in my comrades,
so no one dared to stay and face the fight.
We were badly threatened from all quarters. [270]
They killed many of our men with their sharp bronze,
and took some alive, so they could force men
to do their work for them. Then Zeus himself
put an idea in my heart—but still, 350
I wish I'd died and met my fate right there,
in Egypt, since all sorts of troubles still
lay waiting for me—I at once removed
the finely crafted helmet from my head
and the shield slung round my shoulders. My hand
let go my spear. I ran out straight ahead,
to the chariot of the king, clutched his knee,
and kissed it. Because he pitied me,
he saved my life. He set me in his chariot,
and, as I wept, he took me to his home. 360 [280]
Many of his men, armed with their ash spears,
charged at me—their anger was so great,
they were keen to slaughter me. But the king
restrained them—he wanted to respect
the rage of Zeus, the god of strangers,
who is especially irked at wicked deeds.
I stayed there seven years and gathered up
a great deal of wealth from those Egyptians,
for they all gave me gifts. When the eighth year
came wheeling in, a Phoenician man arrived, 370
a greedy rogue who understood deceit.
He'd already brought men lots of trouble.
Well, he won me over with his cunning [290]
and took me with him, until we reached
his house and his possessions in Phoenicia.
I stayed there with him an entire year.
But as the days and months kept passing by
and yearly seasons rolled around once more,
he put me on a sea-going ship to Libya,
making up a story for me of some scheme 380
that I'd be carrying a cargo with him,
whereas, in fact, once we were there, he meant
to sell me off for an enormous profit.
Though I suspected something, I had to go
aboard the ship with him. North Wind blew
a fresh and welcome breeze, and we sailed off,
a mid-sea course on the windward side of Crete.* [300]
Then Zeus planned the destruction of his men.
When we'd sailed past Crete, we saw land no more,
only sky and sea. Then the son of Cronos 390
sent a black cloud above our hollow ship.
Underneath the sea grew dark. All at once,
Zeus thundered and then hurled a lightning flash
down on our ship, which shook from stem to stern
and filled with sulphurous smoke, as Zeus' bolt
came crashing down. All the crew fell overboard
and floated on the waves, like cormorants,
by our black ship—the god then took away
the day of their return. As for me, [310]
though anguish filled my heart, Zeus himself 400
set my hands on the colossal main mast
from our black-prowed ship, so once again
I could escape destruction. I hung on,
and was carried off by dreadful winds
for nine full days. On the tenth dark night,
a huge rolling wave threw me up on shore
in Thesprotian land, and there the king,
Pheidon, ruler of the Thesprotians,
welcomed me, without demanding ransom.*
When I'd been overcome with weariness 410
and freezing wind, his dear son had met me,
helped me stand again, and brought me home,
to his father's palace. He gave me clothes— [320]
a tunic and a cloak. There I heard reports
about Odysseus. For king Pheidon said
he'd welcomed him with entertainments,
as he was returning to his native land.
He showed me what Odysseus had gathered,
all the bronze and gold and well-worked iron,
so many riches stored in Pheidon's home, 420
they'd feed ten generations after him.
Odysseus, he said, had gone to Dodona,
to hear from the massive towering oak tree,
sacred to the god, what Zeus had willed
about his own return to that rich land
of Ithaca, after being away so long— [330]
whether he should do so openly or not.*
As he poured libations in his house,
he swore to me a ship had been hauled down
and a crew prepared to take Odysseus 430
to his native land. However, before that,
he sent me off, since, as it so happened,
a ship with a crew of Thesprotians,
full of corn, was sailing to Dulichium.
He told them to take me there, treating me
with all due kindness, and deliver me
to king Acastus. But those sailors' hearts
were more attracted to a nasty scheme
concerning me—so I would be reduced
to utter wretchedness. Thus, when the ship 440
had sailed some distance from the land, they tried
from that day forward to make me their slave. [340]
They ripped away my clothes, cloak and tunic,
and dressed me differently, a ragged cloak
and filthy tunic ripped to bits, these here—
the ones you see before your very eyes.
They reached the fields of sunny Ithaca
that evening. Inside that well-decked ship
they tied me up with tightly twisted rope
and went ashore, in a rush to eat a meal 450
beside the sea. But the gods themselves
with ease untied my bonds, and so I wrapped
my rags around my head and slipped away
down a smooth plank, chest first into the sea. [350]
Then with both arms I paddled and swam off.
I left the water far away from them
and moved inland, where leafy bushes grew,
and lay crouching down. They began to shout
and wandered here and there. But then they thought
there was no point in searching any more. 460
So they went back on board their hollow ship.
The gods themselves concealed me easily
and led me on my way. They brought me here,
to the farmyard of a man who understands.
My fate, I think, is to continue living."



Apollo and Diana Discharging their Arrows

 

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said: [360]

"Stranger, you're unlucky. The tale you tell
has really touched my heart, all those things
you've suffered, all the places where you roamed.
But I don't think it's all just as you said, 470
and what you mentioned of Odysseus
does not convince me. Given who you are,
why must you tell such pointless falsehoods?
I know well that in my master's journey home
he was totally despised by all the gods.
That's why they didn't kill him over there,
among the Trojans or in his comrades' arms,
when he was done with war. All Achaeans then
would have made him a tomb—and for his son
he would've won great fame in days to come. 480 [370]
Now the spirits of the storm have snatched him,
and there's no glory. And as for me, I live
here among the pigs, far away from men.
I don't go to the city, unless I'm called
to travel there by wise Penelope,
when a message reaches her from somewhere.
Then people sit around the man who's come
and ask him questions about everything,
both those who are grieving for their ruler,
who's been away so long, and other men 490
who're happy to consume his livelihood
without paying anything. I don't like
to investigate it or ask questions,
not since the day a man from Aetolia
tricked me with his story. He'd killed a man. [380]
After moving around in many lands,
he reached my home. I gave him a fine welcome.
He said he'd seen Odysseus with Cretans
in Idomeneus' home, mending his ships,
which had been damaged in some storms. He claimed 500
he'd return by summer or harvest time,
with his fine comrades and many treasures.
And so you, you long-suffering old man,
since a spirit led you to me, shouldn't try
to cheer me up or secure my favour
by telling falsehoods. That's not the reason
I show you respect and give you welcome,
but because I pity you and fear Zeus,
god of strangers."

Then resourceful Odysseus [390]
answered Eumaeus with these words:

"The heart in your chest 510
is really hard to sway. That oath I swore,
even that action didn't influence you
or win you over. But come now, let's make
this promise—the gods who hold Olympus
will stand as witnesses for both of us
in days to come—if your master does get back
to his own home, you'll give me some clothing,
a cloak and tunic, and then send me off
to Dulichium, as my heart desires,
and if your master doesn't come the way 520
I say he will, then set your men on me
and have them throw me off a towering cliff,
so some other beggar will be careful [400]
to avoid deception."

The splendid swineherd
then said in reply:

"Yes, stranger, what a way for me
to gather fame and fortune among men,
both now and in the future, to kill you,
steal your precious life, after bringing you
to my own hut and entertaining you!
I could later pray to Zeus, Cronos' son, 530
with a sincere heart. Now it's time to eat.
I hope my comrades get here quickly,
so we can make a tasty meal here in the hut."

As these two were talking like this to each other,
the other herdsmen came in with their swine. [410]
They shut the sows up in their customary pens,
so they could sleep. The pigs gave out amazing squeals,
as they were herded in. Then the trusty swineherd
called out to his companions:

"Bring a boar in here,
the best there is, so I can butcher it 540
for this stranger from another country.
We too will get some benefit from it,
seeing that we've worked hard for such a long time
and gone through troubles for these white-tusked pigs,
while others gorge themselves on our hard work
without paying anything."

Once he'd said this,
with his sharp bronze axe he chopped up wood for kindling,
while others led in a big fat boar, five years old,
and stood him by the hearth. The swineherd's heart was sound, [420]
and he did not forget the gods. So he began 550
by throwing in the fire some bristles from the head
of the white-tusked boar and praying to all the gods
that wise Odysseus would come back to his own home.
Then he raised his arm, and with a club made out of oak,
which he'd left lying beside him, he struck the boar.
Life left the beast. Then the others slit its throat,
singed its bristles, and quickly carved it up.
At first, the swineherd offered pieces of the meat
from all the limbs, set in layers of rich fat.
After sprinkling barley meal all over these, 560
he threw them in the fire. They sliced up the rest, [430]
put it on spits, cooked it with care, drew it all off,
and set heaps of meat on platters. The swineherd,
whose heart always concerned itself with what was fair,
stood up to carve, and as he served up all the meat,
he split it into seven portions. Saying a prayer,
he set one aside for Hermes, son of Maia,
and for the nymphs. The rest he gave to each of them,
honouring Odysseus with a long cut from the back
of the white-tusked boar. That pleased his master's heart. 570
So resourceful Odysseus spoke to him and said:

"Eumaeus, may father Zeus treat you as well [440]
as you are treating me with this boar's chine,
the very finest cut of meat, even though
I'm just a beggar."

Then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you replied by saying:

"Eat up, god-guided stranger,
and enjoy the kind of food we offer.
A god gives some things and holds others back,
as his heart prompts, for he can do all things."

Eumaeus spoke and offered to eternal gods 580
the first pieces he had cut. He poured gleaming wine
as a libation, passed it over to Odysseus,
sacker of cities, then sat to eat his portion.
Mesaulius served the bread, a servant
Eumaeus purchased on his own, when his master [450]
was away. He'd not informed his mistress
or old man Laertes. He'd acquired the slave
from Taphians, using resources of his own.*
So they stretched out their hands to the generous meal
set out in front of them. Once they'd had their fill 590
of food and drink, and their hearts were quite content,
Mesaulius took away their food. They'd eaten
so much bread and meat, they were keen to get some rest.

Night came on, bringing storms. There was no moon.
And Zeus sent blustery West Wind blowing in with rain,
a steady downpour all night long. Odysseus
spoke to them, trying to test Eumaeus, to see if,
given all the hospitality he'd shown,
he'd take off his cloak and give it to Odysseus, [460]
or would urge one of his comrades to give up his. 600

"Eumaeus and the rest of you, his work mates,
hear me now—I wish to tell a story,
prompted by this wine, which can confuse our wits.
Wine can make a man, even though he's wise,
sing out loud, or giggle softly to himself,
or leap up and dance. It can bring out words
which were better left unsaid. But still,
since I've begun to speak, I'll hide nothing.
I wish I were as young, my strength as firm,
as when we were setting up an ambush 610
and guiding men to it below Troy's walls.
Our leaders were Odysseus and Menelaus, [470]
son of Atreus—and along with them,
I was third in command, on their orders.
When we reached the steep walls of the city,
we lay down in thick bushes round the place,
swampy reeds, crouched down behind our weapons.
A nasty night came on. North Wind dropped off,
and it was freezing cold. Snow fell on us,
like frost from high above, bitterly cold. 620
Our shields were caked with ice. Now, the others
all wore cloaks and tunics, and could rest there
quite easily, their shields across their shoulders.
But when I'd set out, like a fool I'd left [480]
my cloak behind with my companions,
Not thinking I'd feel the cold without it,
I'd just brought my shield and shining doublet.
Well, when it was the third watch of the night
and the stars had shifted their positions,
I spoke to Odysseus, who was close by. 630
When my elbow nudged him, he was all ears,
instantly prepared to listen:

'Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son,
and child of Zeus, I won't be here for long,
not among the living. Instead, this cold
will kill me off. I don't have a cloak.
Some spirit deluded me, made me come
with just a tunic. Now there's no way out.'

"That's what I said. In his heart he had a plan— [490]
that's the kind of man he was for scheming 640
or for fighting war. With a quiet whisper,
he spoke to me:

'Keep silent for the moment,
in case one of our Achaeans hears you.'

"Then he propped his head up on his elbow,
and spoke out, saying:

'Listen to me, friends.
As I slept, a dream sent from the gods
came to me. We've moved a long way forward,
too far from our ships. I wish some man
would tell Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
shepherd of his people, in the hope 650
he'd tell more men to come out from the fleet.'*

"Once he'd said this, Thoas jumped up quickly,
Andraemon's son. He threw off his purple cloak [500]
and started running to the ships. Well then,
I was happy to lie down in his cloak.
Then Dawn appeared on her golden throne.
I wish I were as young as I was then,
and my strength as firm. Then in this farmyard,
some swineherd would give me a cloak to wear,
from kindness and respect for a brave man. 660
But now, with filthy clothing on my skin,
I receive no honours."*

Then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you answered him and said:

"Old man, that story
you just told us is all right—you've spoken
to the point and made your wishes clear.
You won't lack clothes or any other thing [510]
which a long-suffering suppliant should get
from those he meets, for tonight at least.
When morning comes you'll have to dance around
in those rags of yours. We don't have many cloaks 670
or other tunics here. We've each got only one.
But when Odysseus' dear son arrives,
he'll give you clothes himself, a cloak and tunic,
and send you where your heart desires to go."

After saying this, he jumped up and placed a bed
for Odysseus near the fire. On the bed he threw
some skins from sheep and goats. Odysseus lay down there. [520]
Eumaeus covered him with a huge thick cloak,
which he kept there as a change of clothing,
something to wear whenever a great storm blew. 680

So Odysseus went to sleep there, and the young men
slept around him. But Eumaeus had no wish
to have his bed inside and sleep so far away
from all his boars. So he prepared to go outside.
Odysseus was pleased he took so many troubles
with his master's goods while he was far away.
First, Eumaeus slung his sharp sword from his shoulder
and wrapped a really thick cloak all around him,
to keep out the wind. Then he took a massive fleece [530]
from a well-fed goat and grabbed a pointed spear 690
to fight off dogs and men. Then he left the hut,
going to lie down and rest where the white-tusked boars
slept beneath a hollow rock, sheltered from North Wind.



 

Notes to Book Fourteen

* . . . you then answered him and said: Here the narrator makes an unexpected shift and addresses one of the characters in person ("you"), suggesting a certain closeness between the narrator and the character. While this is not common in Homer, it does occur several times (e.g., with Menelaus in the Iliad).

*. . . without a name in Ithaca: Arcesius is the name of the father of Laertes and thus of Odysseus' paternal grandfather.

* . . . windward side of Crete: This seems to mean that the ship passed along the northern coast of Crete, but the precise meaning is disputed.

* . . . without demanding ransom: The Thesprotians lived in southern Epirus, a coastal region in north-west Greece, nowadays on the border with Albania.

* . . . openly or not: Dodona was a very ancient shrine in the interior of Epirus, sacred to Zeus and Dione. The centre of the oracle was an oak tree where doves nested, and interpretations were made of the noises coming from the leaves of the tree, the doves, and brass ornaments hung in the branches.

* . . . resources of his own: the Taphians lived on a cluster of islands in the Ionian Sea. In Book 1 of the Odyssey, when Athena visits Telemachus in Ithaca (1.138), she takes on the form of Mentes, son of the king of the Taphians.

* . . . from the fleet: Something seems awry with this speech, since we are given no details of what the dream might have been, and the rest has no apparent connection to a dream.

* . . . receive no honours: The last lines of this speech (598-602) have long been rejected by many critics, since they obviously destroy the point of the story by making an explicit request at the end, rather than displaying a clever hint.






 

 

 




Minerva Restoring Ulysses to his Own Shape




Book Fifteen



Telemachus Returns to Ithaca

[Pallas Athena visits Sparta to urge Telemachus to return home, tells him to visit Eumaeus, the swineherd, when he gets back; Telemachus tells Menelaus he'd like to leave; Menelaus and Helen give gifts and a farewell banquet; they receive a favourable omen before leaving; Helen interprets the omen; Telemachus and Peisistratus leave Sparta and reach Pylos; Telemachus asks Peisistratus to leave him at his ship, so that Nestor won't delay his return; Peisistratus agrees; a stranger arrives, Theoclymenus, a descendant of the prophet Melampus, and asks for passage on Telemachus' ship; Telemachus agrees, and they sail for Ithaca; Odysseus and Eumaeus feast in the hut; Odysseus asks Eumaeus about his parents, and Eumaeus tells him; Eumaeus tells the story of how he got to Ithaca and was sold to Laertes; Telemachus lands in Ithaca and tells the crew to take the ship on without him; Theoclymenus interprets a bird omen; Telemachus walks to Eumaeus' farmyard.]

Then Pallas Athena went to spacious Lacedaemon,
to remind the noble son of glorious Odysseus
about going home and to urge him to return.
She found Telemachus and Nestor's noble son
lying on the portico, resting in their beds,
inside the palace of splendid Menelaus.
Gentle sleep had overpowered Nestor's son,
but for Telemachus no sweet sleep had come—
because in his heart all through that immortal night
anxious thoughts about his father kept him awake. 10
Bright-eyed Athena stood beside him and spoke out:

"Telemachus, it's not good to wander [10]
any longer from your home, abandoning
your property and leaving in your house
such overbearing men, who may divide
and use up all your goods. Then this journey
you have undertaken will be pointless.
As quickly as you can urge Menelaus,
expert at war shouts, to let you go back,
so you can find your noble mother there, 20
still at home. Her father and her brothers
are already telling her to marry
Eurymachus—he gives more courting gifts
than any other suitor, and now he's going
to offer even more as wedding gifts.
Take care she doesn't carry from the house
some property, without your knowing it.
You understand what sort of spirit lies [20]
inside a woman's chest. She wants to enrich
the household of the man who marries her 30
and no longer thinks about her children
or her previous husband whom she loved.
Now he's dead, she doesn't ask about him.
You should go yourself and entrust your goods
to the female slave you esteem the most,
until the gods show you a splendid bride.
I'll tell you something else—take it to heart.
The bravest of the suitors lie in wait,
enough to set an ambush, in the straits
between Ithaca and rugged Samos. 40
Before you get back to your native land, [30]
they want to murder you. But in my view,
that won't be happening. Before it does,
the earth will cover many of those suitors,
who are consuming all your livelihood.
You must steer your well-built ship on a course
far from the islands, and keep on sailing
day and night. One of the immortal gods
who's watching over and protecting you
will send you following winds. And then, 50
at the first place you reach in Ithaca,
send your companions and the ship ahead,
on to the city—you yourself should go
to see the swineherd, the man who tends your pigs.
He's very well disposed towards you.
Spend the night with him. And then tell him [40]
to go into the city and bring news
to wise Penelope that you are safe
and have returned from Pylos."

Athena spoke.
Then she left, going back to high Olympus. 60
With his foot Telemachus nudged Nestor's son
and roused him from sweet sleep. Then he spoke to him:

"Wake up, Peisistratus, son of Nestor.
Bring up your well-shod horses, then yoke them
to the chariot, and we'll be on our way."

Peisistratus, Nestor's son, then answered him:

"No matter how keen you may be to leave,
Telemachus, there's no way we can ride
in this dark night. Dawn will soon be here. [50]
So wait until warrior Menelaus, 70
son of Atreus, that famous spearman,
brings gifts and puts them in the chariot,
then sends us off with a kind farewell speech.
A guest remembers all his life the man
who gave him hospitality and kindness."

He spoke. Soon Dawn arrived on her golden throne.
Then Menelaus, expert in battle shouts,
rose up from bed beside his fair-haired Helen
and came to see the two. When he noticed him,
Odysseus' dear son rushed to put on a bright tunic, 80 [60]
slung a thick cloak across his hefty shoulders,
and went out. He came up to Menelaus
and spoke to him, saying:

"Menelaus,
son of Atreus and cherished of Zeus,
leader of your people, send me back now
to my native land, for my heart is keen
to get back home."

Then Menelaus,
expert at war cries, answered him:

"Telemachus,
I'll not hold you back a long time here,
not if you're eager to return. I'd blame 90
another man who, as a host, provides [70]
too much hospitality or not enough.
It's far better to show moderation.
It's bad when someone doesn't want to leave
to be too quick to send him on his way,
but just as bad is holding someone back
when he's ready to depart. For a host
should welcome any guest in front of him
and send away the one who wants to go.
But stay until I bring some fine gifts here 100
and set them in your chariot, where your eyes
can see them, and I can tell the women
to prepare a meal inside the palace
from the plentiful supply of food there.
For a traveler to feast before he leaves
to journey on the wide unbounded earth
brings double benefits—it gives him help
and gives me fame and honour. If you wish
to go through Hellas and middle Argos, [80]
then I'll accompany you in person.* 110
I'll have some horses harnessed for you,
and I'll guide you to men's cities there.
Not one of them will send us from their town
without offering some gift for us to take,
a beautiful bronze tripod or a cauldron,
a pair of mules or goblet made of gold."

Prudent Telemachus then answered him and said:

"Menelaus, son of Atreus,
child of Zeus, and leader of your people,
I wish to get back home without delay— 120
when I went away I didn't leave behind
anyone to protect my property.
As I keep searching for my noble father, [90]
I hope I don't get killed or in my palace
have any fine possessions stolen."

When Menelaus, skilled in war cries, heard these words,
he quickly told his wife and her attendants
to use some of the abundant food they stored
to prepare a banquet. Then Etoneus,
son of Boethous, came up to Menelaus— 130
he lived close by and had just got out of bed.
Menelaus, skilled at war shouts, ordered him
to get a fire started and to roast some meat.
Once Etoneus heard, he did what he'd been asked.
Menelaus went down to his fragrant storage room—
not by himself, for Helen and Megapenthes [100]
went along as well. Once they reached the places
where his treasures lay, the son of Atreus
picked up a two-handled cup and told his son,
Megapenthes, to take a silver mixing bowl. 140
Helen went up to the storage chests which held
the richly woven garments she herself had made.
Then Helen, goddess among women, picked out one,
the largest and most beautifully embroidered—
it lay below the others, shining like a star.
Helen carried off this robe, and they returned,
back through the house, until they reached Telemachus. [110]
Fair-haired Menelaus then spoke to him:

"Telemachus,
may Zeus, Hera's loud-thundering husband,
accomplish your return, as your heart desires. 150
Of all the treasured gifts stored in my home,
I'll give you the one with highest value
and the loveliest—I'll present to you
this finely crafted mixing bowl. It's made
entirely of silver and its rims
are plated gold. Hephaestus crafted it.
Warrior Phaedimus, the Sidonian king,
presented it to me on my way home,
when his house gave me shelter. Now I'd like
to send it back with you."

Menelaus spoke. 160
Then Atreus' warrior son handed Telemachus [120]
the two-handled cup, and mighty Megapenthes
brought in the mixing bowl of shining silver
and set it down before him. Fair-cheeked Helen,
standing beside him with the garment in her hands,
spoke to Telemachus and said:

"My dear child,
I'm giving you this gift as a reminder
of Helen, something made by her own hands.
Your bride can wear it on her wedding day,
a moment to look forward to. Until then, 170
let it remain in your dear mother's room.
As for you, I wish you a joyful journey
back to your well-built home and native land."

With these words, Helen placed the garment in his hands. [130]
Telemachus accepted it with pleasure.
Noble Peisistratus took the gifts and packed them
in a box inside the chariot, gazing at them
with wonder in his heart. Fair-haired Menelaus
then led them to the house, where they sat down
on stools and chairs. A female servant carried in 180
a beautiful gold jug and poured some water out
into a silver basin, so they could rinse their hands,
then placed a polished table right beside them.
The worthy housekeeper carried in some bread
and set it down before them, then lots of meat,
giving freely from the food she had in store.
Standing near them, Etoneus carved the meat [140]
and handed out the portions, while Megapenthes,
son of splendid Menelaus, poured the wine.
Then their hands reached for the food spread out before them. 190
Once they'd had food and drink to their heart's content,
Telemachus and the noble son of Nestor
yoked the horses, climbed in the ornate chariot,
and drove from the portico through the echoing gate.
Fair-haired Menelaus went out after them.
His right hand held a gold cup full of honey wine,
so they might pour libations before setting out.
Standing there beside the horses, Menelaus
made a pledge to both of them and said: [150]

"Farewell,
young men. Make sure you greet Nestor for me, 200
shepherd of his people. Over in Troy,
when we sons of Achaea went to war,
he truly was a gentle father to me."

Prudent Telemachus then replied and said:

"Zeus-fostered king, we will indeed tell him
all the things you ask, once we get there.
How I wish when I returned to Ithaca
I'd come across Odysseus in his home,
so I could tell him how, when I left here,
I'd met with every hospitality 210
and taken many splendid gifts away."

As he said these words, a bird flew over them, [160]
to the right—an eagle clutching in its talons
a huge white goose, a tame one from some farm.
A crowd of men and women chased behind it,
shouting as they ran. The bird came close to them,
then veered off to the right before the horses.
When they saw that, they were happy—in all their chests
the spirits filled with joy. Then the son of Nestor,
Peisistratus, was the first of them to speak: 220

"Menelaus, leader of your people,
cherished by Zeus, tell us about this sign—
whether god sent it to the two of us
or just to you alone."

Peisistratus spoke.
War-loving Menelaus thought it over—
How should he understand the omen properly [170]
and then provide the correct interpretation?
But before he said a word, long-robed Helen spoke
and said these words:

"Listen to me.
I will prophesy what the immortals 230
have set into my heart, what I believe
will happen. Just as this eagle came here
from mountains where it and its young were born
and snatched up this goose bred in the household,
that's how Odysseus, after all his suffering
and his many wanderings, will come home
and take revenge. Or he's already home,
sowing destruction for all the suitors."

Wise Telemachus then answered her and said:

"Now may Zeus, loud-thundering mate of Hera, 240 [180]
bring that about. If so, I'll pray to you
as to a god."

Telemachus said this,
then flicked the horses with his whip. They sped off quickly,
keen to move on through the city toward the plain.
All day long the yoke around their shoulders rattled.
Then the sun went down, and all the roads grew dark.
They came to Pherae, to Diocles' house,
the son of Ortilochus, Alpheus' child.
Diocles welcomed them with hospitality
the way one should with strangers. There hey spent the night. 250

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
they yoked the horses, climbed in the ornate chariot, [190]
then drove out from the echoing portico and gate.
Peisistratus touched the horses with his whip,
and they sped on willingly. They quickly reached
the steep citadel of Pylos. Telemachus
then addressed the son of Nestor:

"Peisistratus,
will you promise to do something for me,
and see it through just as I tell you?
We can claim that we've always been friends, 260
because our fathers were good friends, as well,
and we are the same age. This trip of ours
will make our hearts united even more.
So, child of Zeus, don't take me past my ship
but leave me there, in case old man Nestor [200]
keeps me in his house against my will,
wishing to show me hospitality,
when I must now get home with all due speed."

Telemachus spoke. In his heart Nestor's son
considered how he might make such a promise 270
and see it through to its conclusion. As he thought,
he did what seemed to him the better option—
he turned the horses to the swift ship by the shore,
took out the lovely gifts, the clothing and the gold,
which Menelaus had given Telemachus,
stowed them in the stern, then urged him onward—
his words had wings:

"Move quickly now.
Climb in your ship, and tell all your comrades
to do so, too, before I get back home [210]
and let old Nestor know what's happening. 280
For in my heart and mind I know too well
he likes things done his way—he won't let you go
but come in person here to call you back.
I tell you, he won't go back without you.
In any case, he's sure to be upset."

Once he'd said this, Peisistratus drove his horses,
creatures with lovely manes, quickly back to Pylos.
He soon reached the palace. Meanwhile, Telemachus
urged his companions on, saying to them:

"Comrades, put all the stuff in our black ship. 290
Let's get ourselves on board, so we can sail." [220]

Once he spoke, they all heard him and obeyed at once.
Soon they were aboard, sitting at their oarlocks.
At the ship's stern, Telemachus was busy
praying to Athena and offering sacrifice.
Then a man approached, someone from far away,
fleeing from Argos because he'd killed a man.
He was prophet, descended from Melampus,
who many years ago had lived in Pylos,
a sheep-breeding land. He'd been a wealthy man, 300
living in a rich house among the Pylians.
But then Melampus went into a foreign land,
fleeing his country and great-hearted Neleus,
the most illustrious of all living men,
who for one whole year had taken his wealth by force, [230]
while Melampus lay tied up in savage bondage
in Phylacus' palace, suffering harsh cruelty,*
all for the sake of Neleus' daughter
and thanks to the terrible blindness in his heart
which the goddess Erinys, who strikes down families, 310
had fixed on him. But then he got away from Fate
and drove the bellowing herd from Phylace
to Pylos. Thus, he managed to obtain revenge
for the disgraceful acts of noble Neleus
and led the daughter home to be his brother's wife.
But he went off to Argos, where horses graze,
a land of strangers. He was destined to live there,
ruling many Argives. Then he took a wife, [240]
built a high-roofed house, and fathered two strong sons,
Antiphates and Mantius. Antiphates 320
fathered brave Oicles, who then produced
Amphiaraus, a man who could rouse people up,
and whom Apollo and aegis-bearing Zeus
loved in all sorts of ways. But he failed to reach old age—
he died in Thebes, thanks to a woman's need for gifts.*
He had two sons—Alcmaeon and Amphilocus.
And Mantius fathered Cleitus and Polypheides.
Cleitus was so beautiful he was snatched away [250]
by Dawn on her golden throne, so he might live
with the immortal gods, and then Apollo 330
made high-minded Polypheides his prophet,
the best of men, after Amphiaraus was dead.
He was angry with his father and moved away
to Hyperesia, where he lived and prophesied
to all. His son's name was Theoclymenus—
he was the one who now approached Telemachus,
as he poured out libations by his swift black ship
and prayed. Standing by him, Theoclymenus spoke—
his words had wings:

"Friend, since I've met you here [260]
while making sacrifice, I'm asking you, 340
for the sake of your offerings and the god
and by your comrades' lives and by your own,
answer what I ask, and tell me the truth,
concealing nothing. Among men who are you?
Where is your city and your parents?"

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said:

"All right, stranger, I will speak candidly.
I am from Ithaca by birth. My father
is Odysseus, as surely as he was alive,
but now he's died by some pitiful fate. 350
That's why I got this crew and this black ship
and came to find news about my father [270]
who's been absent for so long."

Noble Theoclymenus
then said in reply:

"I, too, have run away,
leaving my own country. I killed a man,
one of my family. Many relatives of his
live in horse-nurturing Argos—they rule
Achaeans there and have enormous power.
I'm fleeing to prevent them killing me,
a dark fate. So now it's my destiny, 360
I think, to roam around among mankind.
Let me board your ship—I'm a fugitive,
and I'm begging you, so they won't kill me.
I think they're on my track."

Prudent Telemachus
then answered him and said:

"If you're keen to come, [280]
there's no way I'd stop you boarding my trim ship.
So come with us. You'll find a welcome here,
as much as we possess."

As he said these words,
he took the bronze spear Theoclymenus held,
set it down lengthwise on the deck of the curved ship, 370
and then himself climbed in the ocean-going boat.
He had Theoclymenus sit by him in the stern.
The crewmen loosed the cables. Then Telemachus
called his comrades, urging them to hoist the tackle.
They hurried to obey, lifting up the mast of fir
and setting it in place in its hollow socket.
They tightened forestays, and then hoisted a white sail [290]
on twisted ox-hide ropes. Bright-eyed Athena
send favouring winds blowing stiffly through the air,
so the ship could complete its voyage quickly 380
over salt waters of the sea. So they sailed on
past Crouni and Calchis, with its lovely streams.
Then the sun went down, and all the routes grew dark.
They made for Pheae, driven on by winds from Zeus,
and for fair Elis, where Epeians rule. From there,
Telemachus steered them past the jagged islands,
wondering if he'd get caught or escape being killed. [300]

Meanwhile, Odysseus and the faithful swineherd
were eating in the hut, with the other men as well.
When they'd had food and drink to their heart's content, 390
Odysseus spoke to them, testing the swineherd,
to see if he would keep up his kindly welcome
and ask him to go on staying there at the farm
or if he would send him off towards the city:

"Eumaeus and all the rest of you,
listen to me now. Tomorrow morning
I'd like to wander off and beg in town,
so I won't exhaust you and your comrades.
So give me good advice, then send me off [310]
with a fine guide who can conduct me there. 400
I'll have to wander round the city by myself,
hoping to get a cup and piece of bread.
Then I could go to lord Odysseus' home
and give some news to wise Penelope
and mingle with those arrogant suitors.
They might give me a meal—they've lots of food.
If so, I could serve them well in what they want.
Let me tell you. Pay attention now and listen.
Thanks to Hermes the Messenger, the one
who places grace and fame on all men's work, 410 [320]
no other man can match the way I serve
in splitting dry wood and building a good fire,
roasting and carving meat, and serving wine,
all those actions performed by lesser men
when they are servants to nobility."

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you were most upset
and spoke out to Odysseus:

"Why, stranger,
is your heart so full of this idea?
You must have a strong desire to die,
if you intend to go among the suitors, 420
that crowd whose pride and violence extend
right up to iron heaven. Their servants [330]
are not like you. No. The ones who serve them
are young men, well dressed in cloaks and tunics,
their heads and faces always sleek with oil.
They keep well-polished tables loaded down
with bread and meat and wine. So stay here.
No one in this place finds you a bother—
I don't, nor do the others here with me.
When the dear son of Odysseus comes, 430
he'll give you clothing, a cloak and tunic,
and send you where your heart and spirit urge."

Then much-enduring lord Odysseus answered him: [340]

"Eumaeus, I hope father Zeus likes you
as much as I do—you've brought to an end
my wanderings and painful hardships.
Nothing's more miserable for human beings
than wandering round, but men put up with
wretched troubles for their stomach's sake,
when they have to face the pain and sorrow 440
their roaming brings. Now, since you keep me here,
telling me to wait for your young master,
tell me of noble Odysseus' mother
and his father, too. When he went away,
he left him just as he was growing old.
Are they still living in the sunshine here
or have they died and gone to Hades' home?" [350]

Then the swineherd, a splendid fellow, answered him:

"Well, stranger, I'll tell you the honest truth.
Laertes is still living, but all the time 450
inside his home he keeps praying to Zeus
the spirit in his limbs will fade away.
He grieves excessively for his own son,
who's gone, and for the wife he married,
a wise lady, whose death, above all else,
really troubled him and made him old
before his time. She died a wretched death
grieving for her splendid son. May no man
who lives here as my friend and treats me well [360]
die the way she did! While she was alive, 460
though she was sad, it was a pleasure for me
to ask about her, to find out how she was,
because she personally brought me up,
together with long-robed Ctimene,
her fine daughter, the youngest child she bore.
I was raised with her, though with less honour.
When we both reached our young maturity,
that time we long for, they sent her to Same
to be married and got countless wedding gifts.
She dressed me in fine clothes, cloak and tunic, 470
and gave me sandals to tie on my feet,
then sent me out into the fields. In her heart [370]
she was especially fond of me. But now,
I lack all this, though personally for me
the sacred gods prosper the work I do.
From that I've had food and drink and helped out
those who have a claim on my attention.
But now bad times have fallen on the house
with those overbearing men, I don't hear
anything good, whether in word or deed, 480
about my lady, although servants have
a powerful longing to talk face to face
with their mistress and find out everything,
to eat and drink and then take something back
into the fields—such things warm servants' hearts."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said: [380]

"Well, swineherd Eumaeus, you were just a child
when you wandered far off from your parents
and your native land. Come now, tell me this—
and speak candidly—was the place ransacked, 490
that populated city with broad streets
where your lady mother and your father lived,
or were you alone with sheep or cattle?
Did hostile people take you in their ships
and bring you here to sell you to the master
of this palace, who paid a decent price?"

The swineherd, an outstanding fellow, then replied:

"Stranger, since you ask me questions about this, [390]
stay quiet, enjoy yourself, drink your wine,
as you sit there, and listen to my tale. 500
These nights go on forever. There's a time
to sleep, and there's a time to take delight
in hearing stories. You don't need to rest
before you're ready, and too much sleep
can leave one weary. As for the others,
if any man's heart and spirit tell him,
let him go outside and sleep. Then at dawn
he can eat and walk behind our master's swine.
We two will drink and feast here in the hut
and enjoy each other's wretched troubles, 510
as we recall them. For once they're over, [400]
a man who's done a lot of wandering
and suffered much gets pleasure from his woes.
So now I'll give you answers to those questions.
There's an island you may have heard about
beyond Ogygia—it's called Syrie,
where Sun changes his course. The land is good.
Though not too many people live on it,
there're many herds and flocks, plenty of wine,
and lots of wheat. Famine never comes there, 520
no dreadful sickness falls on poor mortal men.
Inside the city, when tribes of men get old,
Apollo comes there with his silver bow [410]
and Artemis as well. He attacks them
with his gentle arrows and kills them off.
There are two cities there, with all the land
divided up between them. My father
ruled both of them as king. He was Ctesius,
Ormenus' son, like an immortal god.
Phoenicians came there, famous sailing men, 530
greedy rogues, who carried countless trinkets
in their black ship. Now, in my father's house
lived a tall, beautiful Phoenician woman,
skilled in making lovely things. Those Phoenicians,
truly crafty men, seduced her. First of all,
while she was doing laundry, one of them
had sex with her beside the hollow ship— [420]
love like that distracts the minds of women,
even the virtuous ones. When he asked her
who she was and where she came from, she said, 540
pointing to my father's high-roofed house:

'I claim to come from Sidon, rich in bronze.
I'm a daughter of Arybas, whose wealth
was like a flood. But then I was taken
by Taphian pirates, as I was coming
from the fields. They brought me to this place
and sold me to the household of that man,
who paid an excellent price.'

"Then the man [430]
who'd slept with her in secret said to her:

'Would you come back home again with us, 550
to see your father's and mother's lofty home
and them, as well? Yes, they're still alive
and people say they're wealthy.'

"Then the woman answered him and said:

'I might come, if you sailors were willing
to promise me on oath to take me home
safe and sound.'

"When she'd said that,
they all took the oath, as she'd requested.
When they'd sworn and finished promising,
the woman spoke to them again and said: 560

'Now, keep silent. None of your company [440]
must talk to me, if you meet me in the street
or maybe at the springs, in case someone
runs to tell the old king in the palace.
If he gets suspicious, he'll tie me up
in cruel bondage and then plan your death.
Keep what I'm saying in mind, and finish off
your trading quickly. When your ship is full,
your goods on board, send me a message
at the palace right away. I'll bring gold, 570
whatever I can lay my hands on there.
And there's something else I'd like to offer
to pay my passage. Inside the palace [450]
my master has a child. I am his nurse.
Quite an impish boy—when we're outside
he runs beside me. I'll bring him on board.
He'll earn you an enormous sum of money,
wherever you run into foreigners.'

"She said this, then left for the fine palace.
The men stayed there with us for one whole year, 580
and by trading filled their hollow ship with goods.
When the deep boat was loaded to return,
they sent a messenger to tell the woman.
The man, a shrewd one, reached my father's house
with a gold necklace strung with amber beads. [460]
In the hall servants and my noble mother
were handling and inspecting it, haggling
about the price. He nodded at the woman,
without saying a word. After that signal,
he went back to his hollow ship. So then, 590
she took my hand and led me from the house.
In the front hall she found cups and tables
left by those who had been feasting there,
men who were attendants on my father.
They'd just gone out to a council meeting
where they held public debates. On the spot
she stuffed three goblets in her bosom
and walked out with them. I followed her, [470]
without thinking a thing. The sun went down,
and all the roads grew dark. But we rushed on 600
and came to the fine harbour where we found
the swift ship which belonged to those Phoenicians.
They put us both on board, climbed in themselves,
and sailed away across the watery road.
Zeus sent a favouring wind. We sailed six days,
moving day and night. When Zeus, Cronos' son,
brought us the seventh day, archer Artemis
struck the woman, and she fell with a thud
down in the hold, just like a sea bird's fall.
They threw her overboard to make a meal 610 [480]
for seals and fish. But I was left heart-sick.
The winds and waters carried them along
and brought them to Ithaca, where Laertes
purchased me with his own money. That how
I came to see this land with my own eyes."

Odysseus, born from Zeus, then answered him and said:

"Eumaeus, by telling me these things,
you've really stirred the heart here in my chest,
all those ordeals your spirit has endured..
But with the bad things Zeus has given you 620
he's put some good—you've undergone much pain,
but you did come to a kind man's house.
With a good heart, he gives you food and drink, [490]
and the life you lead is good. As for me,
I've reached here only after wandering
through many cities of men."

So the two men
kept talking to each other. Then they fell asleep.
But they didn't sleep for long, only for a while,
since Dawn soon reached there on her golden throne.

As Telemachus' comrades were approaching land, 630
they furled the sail and quickly lowered the mast.
Then, with their oars they rowed into an anchorage,
tossed out mooring stones, and lashed the cables at the stern.
They themselves then disembarked in the crashing surf,
to prepare a meal and mix the gleaming wine. [500]
When they'd had food and drink to their heart's content,
prudent Telemachus was the first to speak:

"You men row the black ship to the city,
while I check on the fields and herdsmen.
I'll come to the city in the evening, 640
after I've looked over my estates.
In the morning I'll lay out a banquet
as payment to you for the journey,
a splendid meal of meat and sweetened wine."

Then godlike Theoclymenus spoke up and said:

"Where do I go, dear lad? Of those who rule
in rocky Ithaca, whose house do I go to— [510]
directly to your and your mother's home?"

Prudent Telemachus then answered him and said:

"In different circumstances, I'd tell you 650
to visit our house—there is no lack
of welcome there for strangers. But for you
it would be worse, because I'll not be there,
and my mother will not see you. It's rare
for her to show up among the suitors
in the house—she stays away from them
and does her weaving in an upper room.
But I'll mention another man to you
and you can visit him—Eurymachus,
illustrious son of wise Polybius, 660
whom men of Ithaca see as a god. [520]
He's the best man by far and really keen
to marry my mother and then possess
the royal prerogatives of Odysseus.
But Olympian Zeus, who lives in heaven,
knows if, before that wedding day arrives,
he'll bring about a day of reckoning."

As he said this, a bird flew past on the right,
a hawk, Apollo's swift messenger. In its talons
it held a dove, which it was plucking, and feathers 670
fell on the ground halfway between Telemachus
and his ship. Theoclymenus called him aside,
away from his companions, grasped his hand, and spoke: [530]

"Telemachus, this bird flying to our right
has not come without being prompted by some god.
I knew when I saw it darting forward
it was an omen. In the land of Ithaca
no family is more royal than yours is.
No. You'll be powerful for ever."

Prudent Telemachus then answered him and said: 680

"Stranger, I hope that prophecy of yours
may be fulfilled. If so, you'll quickly hear
of many gifts and kindnesses from me,
so any man you meet will call you happy."

Then he spoke to Peiraeus, a faithful comrade:

"Peiraeus, son of Clytius, of all those [540]
who came with me on the trip to Pylos
you're the one who is especially loyal.
So now conduct this stranger to your home,
take care to welcome him with honour, 690
until I get there."

Peiraeus, a famous spearman,
then answered him and said:

"Telemachus,
if you stay for a long time in these parts,
I will entertain him. He will not lack
anything that's appropriate for guests."

After saying this, he went on board the ship,
and told the crew to get in and loose the cables.
They boarded quickly and sat down at their benches.

Telemachus tied sturdy sandals on his feet, [550]
then from the deck picked up his powerful spear 700
with a sharp bronze tip. The crew untied stern cables
and then pushed out to sea, sailing to the city,
as Telemachus, godlike Odysseus' dear son,
had ordered them to do, while he strode quickly off,
his feet carrying him onward, until he reached
the farmyard and the pigs in countless numbers,
among whom the worthy swineherd lay asleep,
always thinking gentle thoughts about his master.




Notes on Book Fifteen

* . . . accompany you in person: This invitation from Menelaus seems to involve a detour on the journey back so as to include a trip through the northern Peloponnese. However, the terms Hellas and Argos in Homer are often very imprecise and ambiguous.

* . . . harsh cruelty: This passages gives yet another reference the story of Melampus (see previous references at 11.320 and 11.352), the prophet who could communicate with animals. His brother fell in love with Neleus' daughter. Neleus said that whoever could steal the cattle of Phylacus could have the daughter. Melampus was caught trying to help his brother and imprisoned by Phylacus, but his prophetic powers persuaded Phylacus to release him and give him the cattle. These he brought back to Neleus and thus won the daughter for his brother.

* . . . woman's need for gifts: Amphiarus was married to Eriphyle, who was bribed with a gold necklace to persuade her husband to join a military expedition against Thebes. He died in the fighting. Eriphyle is one of the women Odysseus glimpses among the shades of the dead .







 

 

 



Ulysses and his Dog






Book Sixteen



Odysseus Reveals Himself to Telemachus

[Telemachus arrives at Eumaeus' farm; Eumaeus is overjoyed to see Telemachus back from his voyage; Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Odysseus (in disguise) talk together; Telemachus sends Eumaeus off to tell Penelope of his safe return; Athena tells Odysseus to reveal himself to his son and transforms his appearance; Telemachus and Odysseus are reunited; Telemachus and Odysseus discuss strategies for dealing with the suitors; Odysseus gives Telemachus instructions about hiding weapons and behaving in front of the suitors; a herald from Telemachus' crew announces to Penelope and others the news of his return from Pylos; the suitors are upset and discuss what to do; Penelope appears before the suitors and upbraids Antinous for his behaviour; Antinous replies; Eumaeus returns to Odysseus and Telemachus in the hut; Athena transforms Odysseus into an old beggar once again; Odysseus, Eumaeus, and Telemachus eat a meal and go to sleep]

Meanwhile at dawn Odysseus and the loyal swineherd,
once they'd sent the herdsmen out with droves of pigs,
made a fire in the hut and prepared their breakfast.
As Telemachus came closer, the yelping dogs
stopped barking and fawned around him. Lord Odysseus
noticed what the dogs were doing and heard his footsteps.
At once he spoke out to Eumaeus—his words had wings:

"Eumaeus, some comrade of yours is coming,
or someone else you know. The dogs aren't barking
and are acting friendly. I hear footsteps." 10

He'd hardly finished speaking when his own dear son
stood in the doorway. The swineherd, amazed, jumped up—
the bowls he was using to mix the gleaming wine
fell from his hands. He went up to greet his master,
kissed his head, both his handsome eyes, his two hands,
then burst into tears. Just as a loving father
welcomes his dear son after a nine-year absence,
when he comes from a foreign land, an only son,
his favourite, for whom he's undergone much sorrow,
that's how the loyal swineherd hugged Telemachus 20 [20]
and kissed him often, as if he'd escaped his death.
And through his tears he spoke winged words to him:

"You've come, Telemachus, you sweet light.
I thought I'd never see you any more,
once you went off in that ship to Pylos.
Come in now, dear boy, so that my heart
can rejoice to see you here in my home,
now you've just returned from distant places.
You don't often visit farm and herdsmen—
your life is in the city. Your heart, I think, 30
must like to watch that hateful bunch of suitors."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said: [30]

"If you say so, old friend. I've come here now
on your account, to see you face to face
and to hear you talk about my mother.
Is she still living in the palace halls,
or has some other man now married her?
Is no one sleeping in Odysseus' bed?
Is it all covered in disgusting cobwebs?"

The swineherd, that outstanding man, then answered him: 40

"Yes indeed, she still lives in your palace,
with a faithful heart, but always grieving,
wasting days and nights away with weeping."

Once he'd said this, he took Telemachus' bronze spear, [40]
and let him enter. He crossed the stone threshold.
As he approached, Odysseus, his father, got up
to offer him his seat, but from across the room
Telemachus stopped him and said:

"Stay put, stranger.
We'll find a chair in the hut somewhere else.
Here's a man who'll get one for us." 50

He spoke. Odysseus went back and sat down again.
Eumaeus piled up green brushwood on the floor
and spread a fleece on top. Odysseus' dear son
sat down there. The swineherd then set out before them
platters of roast meat, left over from the meal [50]
they'd had the day before, and quickly heaped up
baskets full of bread. In a wooden bowl he mixed
wine sweet as honey, and then sat down himself,
opposite godlike Odysseus. Their hands reached out
to the fine meal prepared and spread before them. 60
When they'd had food and drink to their heart's content,
Telemachus then said to the splendid swineherd:

"Old friend, where does this stranger come from?
How did sailors bring him to Ithaca?
Who do they claim to be? For I don't think
there's any way he could get here on foot."

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said: [60]

"My child, I'll tell you nothing but the truth.
He claims that he was born in spacious Crete
and says he has been roaming all around, 70
wandering through many human cities.
That how some god has spun a fate for him.
He's just fled from a ship of Thesprotians
and come here to my farm. I give him to you.
Do as you wish. He's a suppliant, he says."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said:

"Eumaeus, I'm really distressed at heart
by what you've said. How can I welcome [70]
this guest into my home? I myself am young—
I don't believe my hands are strong enough 80
to fight a man who acts with violence
against me first. As for my mother,
in her chest the heart is quite divided,
whether to stay with me and tend the house,
out of respect for what the people say
and for her husband's bed, or to go now
with the finest man of those Achaeans
who've been courting her within the halls,
the one who offers the most marriage gifts.
But anyway, now this stranger's come here, 90
to your home, I'll dress him in fine clothing,
cloak and tunic, and give a two-edged sword [80]
and sandals for his feet. I'll send him off
wherever his heart and spirit prompt him.
If you wish, you can keep him at this farm
and care for him. I'll send some clothing here
and all the food he'll eat, so he won't ruin
you and your comrades. But I won't permit him
to go there and mingle with the suitors—
they are far too full of arrogant pride 100
and might make fun of him, which would bring me
deadly sorrow. It's difficult for one man,
even if he's powerful, to do much
with so many more. They are far stronger."

Then lord Odysseus, who had endured so much, [90]
said to Telemachus:

"Friend, surely it's all right
for me to answer, and my heart is torn
as I hear you talk—these suitors think up
such presumptuous actions in your palace
and flout your will, though you're a decent man. 110
Tell me, do you agree with this oppression?
Do the people of the country hate you
and follow what some god is telling them?
Do you think the blame rests with your kinsmen,
whom a man relies on when there's fighting,
even if a major quarrel should arise?
With my heart the way it is, how I wish
I were either as young as you, the son [100]
of brave Odysseus, or the man himself
returning from his travels—there's still room 120
for us to hope for that—then, if I came
to the halls of Laertes' son, Odysseus,
and didn't bring destruction on them all,
let a stranger slice this head off my neck.
If I, acting all alone, was overwhelmed
by their greater numbers, I'd rather die,
killed in my own home, than continue watching
such disgraceful acts—guests treated badly,
women servants shamelessly being dragged
through the fine palace, wine drawn and wasted, 130 [110]
and all the time food eaten needlessly,
acts which go on and on, without an end."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said:

"Well, stranger, I'll speak candidly to you.
The people are not all angry with me,
nor do they bear a grudge. And I don't blame
my kinsmen, the ones a man relies on
in a fight, even if a great quarrel comes.
The son of Cronos has made our family
follow a single line. It goes like this— 140
Arcisius fathered a single son,
Laertes, and he, too, was the father
of only a single son, Odysseus,
and Odysseus fathered me, his only son,
then left me by myself in his own hall. [120]
He got no joy of me. And that's why now
countless hostile men are in our home.
All those lords with power in the islands—
Dulicium, Same, wooded Zycanthus—
and those who rule in rocky Ithaca, 150
all of them are trying to court my mother
and destroy my home.* She does not turn down
the hateful marriage, but cannot decide
to bring these matters to an end. And so,
with their feasting they consume my household,
and they'll soon be the ruin of me, too.
But all this lies in the lap of the gods.
Old friend, you must go quickly and report [130]
to wise Penelope that I've returned,
I'm safely home from Pylos. I'll stay here, 160
until you've given the news to her alone
and come back here. No other Achaean
must learn about it, for many of them
are planning nasty things against me."

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said:

"I know what you're saying—I understand.
You're speaking to a man who thinks things through.
But come, tell me this, and be frank with me.
On this trip should I go to Laertes
with the news? The poor man's in misery. 170
For a while, though suffering great distress
about Odysseus, he'd supervise the fields [140]
and in his home eat and drink with servants,
as the heart inside his chest would urge him.
But now, since the time you left for Pylos,
people say he no longer eats and drinks
the way he used to or inspects the fields,
but sits there groaning and wailing, in tears,
with his flesh shriveling around his bones."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said: 180

"That's more distressing, but nevertheless,
though it makes us sad, we'll leave him alone.
If mortal men could somehow get all things
simply by wishing, we would first of all
select the day my father gets back home.
But after you've delivered your message, [150]
then come back here. Don't go wandering
around the fields looking for Laertes.
Instead, tell my mother to send her maid,
the housekeeper, quickly and in secret. 190
She can report the news to the old man."

His words spurred on the swineherd. He took his sandals,
tied them on his feet, and set off for the city.

Now, it did not escape the notice of Athena
that swineherd Eumaeus was going from the farm.
She approached the hut, appearing like a woman,
beautiful, tall, and skilled in making lovely things.
She stood just outside the entrance to the farm
and was visible to no one but Odysseus.
Telemachus did not see her face to face 200 [160]
or notice she was there. For when gods appear,
there's no way their form is perceptible to all.
But Odysseus saw her. So did the dogs, as well.
But they didn't bark. Instead, they crept away,
whimpering in fear, to the far side of the hut.
She signaled with her eyebrows. Lord Odysseus
noticed and went out of the hut, past the large wall
around the yard, and stood in front of her.
Then Athena spoke to him:

"Son of Laertes,
resourceful Odysseus, sprung from Zeus, 210
Now is the time to speak to your own son—
make yourself known and don't conceal the facts,
so you two can plan the suitors' lethal fate,
then go together to the famous city. [170]
I won't be absent from you very long—
I'm eager for the battle."

As she said this, Athena
touched Odysseus with her golden wand. To start with,
she placed a well-washed cloak around his body,
then made him taller and restored his youthful looks.
His skin grew dark once more, his countenance filled out, 220
and the beard around his chin turned black again.
Once she'd done this, Athena left. But Odysseus
returned into the hut. His dear son was amazed.
He turned his eyes away, afraid it was a god,
and spoke to him—his words had wings: [180]

"Stranger,
you look different to me than you did before—
you're wearing different clothes, your skin has changed.
You're one of the gods who hold wide heaven.
If so, be gracious, so we can give you
pleasing offerings, well-crafted gifts of gold. 230
But spare us."

Long-suffering lord Odysseus
then answered him and said:

"I'm not one of the gods.
Why do you compare me to immortals?
But I am your father, on whose account
you grieve and suffer so much trouble,
having to endure men's acts of violence."

He spoke, then kissed his son. A tear ran down his cheek [190]
onto the ground—till then he'd held himself in check.
But Telemachus, who could not yet believe
it was his father, spoke to him again, saying: 240

"You cannot be Odysseus, my father.
No. Some spirit has cast a spell on me,
to make me lament and grieve even more.
There's no way a mortal man could plan this
with his own wits, unless some god himself
came by, who could, if he so desired,
make him young or old quite easily.
Not long ago you wore filthy clothing
and were an old man. But now you're like
the gods who hold wide heaven." 250 [200]

Then resourceful Odysseus answered him and said:

"Telemachus, it's not appropriate for you
to be overly surprised your father
is back home or to be too astonished.
You can rest assured—no other Odysseus
will ever be arriving. I am here.
I've endured a lot in many wanderings,
and now, in the twentieth year, I've come back
to my native land. This present business,
you should know, is forager Athena's work. 260
She's made me look like this—it's what she wants,
and she has power—in one moment,
like a beggar, and in another one,
a young man with fine clothes around his body. [210]
It's easy for the gods who hold wide heaven
to glorify or else debase a man."

Once he'd said this, he sat down, and Telemachus
embraced his noble father, cried out, and shed tears.
A desire to lament arose in both of them—
they wailed aloud, as insistently as birds, 270
like sea eagles or hawks with curving talons
whose young have been carried off by country folk
before they're fully fledged. That's how both men then
let tears of pity fall from underneath their eyelids.
And now light from the sun would've gone down on them, [220]
as they wept, if Telemachus had not spoken.
He suddenly addressed his father:

"In what kind of ship,
dear father, did sailors bring you here,
to Ithaca? Who did they say they were?
For I don't think you made it here on foot." 280

Noble long-suffering Odysseus answered him:

"All right, my child, I'll tell you the truth.
Phaeacians, those famous sailors, brought me.
They escort other men, as well, all those
who visit them. And I remained asleep
as they transported me across the sea
in their swift ship and set me on Ithaca.
They gave me splendid gifts of bronze and gold [230]
and woven clothing. Now, thanks to the gods,
these things are stored away in caves. I've come here 290
at Athena's bidding, so we may plan
destruction for our enemies. But come now,
tell me about the number of the suitors,
so I know how many men there are
and what they're like. Then, once my noble heart
has thought it over, I'll make up my mind,
whether we two are powerful enough
to take them on alone, without assistance,
or whether we should seek out other men."

Shrewd Telemachus answered him and said: 300 [240]

"Father,
I've always heard about your great renown,
a mighty warrior—your hands are very strong,
your plans intelligent. But what you say
is far too big a task. I'm astonished.
Two men cannot fight against so many—
and they are powerful. In an exact count,
there are not just ten suitors or twice ten,
but many more. Here, you can soon add up
their numbers—from Dulichium there are
fifty-two hand-picked young men, six servants 310
in their retinue, from Same twenty-four,
from Zacynthus twenty young Achaeans, [250]
and from Ithaca itself twelve young men,
all nobility. Medon, the herald,
is with them, as is the godlike minstrel,
and two attendants skilled in carving meat.
If we move against all these men inside,
I fear revenge may bring a bitter fate,
now you've come home. So you should consider
whether you can think of anyone who'll help, 320
someone prepared to stand by both of us
and fight with all his heart."

Then lord Odysseus,
who had endured so much, answered him and said:

"All right, I'll tell you. Pay attention now,
and listen. Do you believe Athena, [260]
along with Father Zeus, will be enough
for the two of us, or should I think about
someone else to help us?"

Shrewd Telemachus
then said in reply:

"Those two allies you mention
are excellent. They sit high in the clouds, 330
ruling others, men and immortal gods."

Long-suffering lord Odysseus answered him and said:

"The two of them won't stand apart for long
from the great fight—we can be sure of that—
when Ares' warlike spirit in my halls
is put to the test between these suitors
and ourselves. But for now, when Dawn arrives, [270]
go to the house, join those arrogant suitors.
The swineherd will bring me to the city
later on. I'll be looking like a beggar, 340
old and wretched. If they're abusive to me,
let that dear heart in your chest endure it,
while I'm being badly treated, even if
they drag me by my feet throughout the house
and out the door or throw things and hit me.
Keep looking on, and hold yourself in check.
You can tell them to stop their foolishness,
but seek to win them over with nice words,
even though you'll surely not convince them,
because the day they meet their fate has come. 350 [280]
I'll tell you something else—keep it in mind.
When wise Athena puts it in my mind,
I'll nod my head to you. When you see that,
take all the weapons of war lying there,
in the hall, and put them in a secret place,
all of them, in the lofty storage room.
When the suitors notice they've gone missing
and ask about them, you must deceive them
with reassuring words:

'I've placed them
well beyond the smoke, since they're no longer 360
like the weapons Odysseus left behind
when he went off to Troy. They're all tarnished—
the fire has breathed on them too many times. [290]
Beyond that, the son of Cronos has put
a greater worry in my heart that you,
after too much wine, may start up a fight
amongst yourselves and then hurt each other,
dishonouring your courtship and the feast.
For iron attracts a man all on its own.'

"But leave behind a pair of swords, two spears, 370
and two ox-hide shields, for the two of us
to grab up when we make a rush at them,
while Pallas Athena and Counselor Zeus
will keep the suitors' minds preoccupied.
I'll tell you something else—keep it in mind.
If you are my son and truly of our blood, [300]
let no one hear Odysseus is back home.
Don't let Laertes know or the swineherd,
or any servants, or Penelope herself.
You and I alone will investigate 380
how the women feel, and we'll check out
some of the serving men, to discover
if any of them fears and honours us
in his heart—and the ones with no respect,
who discredit you for being the man you are."

Then his splendid son answered him and said:

"Father,
I think you'll later come to recognize
my spirit, for no timidity of mind [310]
possesses me. But still, I do not think
your plan will benefit the two of us. 390
I'd ask you to consider this—you'll spend
a long time simply testing every man,
as you visit the farms, while those others,
in their proud way, relax inside your halls
and consume your goods without restraint.
But I'd suggest you learn about the women,
those disgracing you and the guiltless ones.
As for men on the estates, I'd prefer
we didn't test them. We can deal with that
at a later time, if you truly recognize 400
some sign from Zeus, who bears the aegis." [320]

So the two men talked about these things together.

Meanwhile, the well-built ship which brought Telemachus
from Pylos with all his comrades had reached Ithaca.
Once they'd come inside the deep water harbour,
they hauled the black ship up on shore. Eager servants
carried off their weapons and without delay
took the splendid gifts to Clytius' home.
They also sent a herald to Odysseus' house,
to report to wise Penelope, telling her 410
Telemachus had gone to visit the estates [330]
and had told the ship to sail off for the city,
in case the noble queen might get sick at heart
and shed some tears. This herald and the swineherd met
because they'd both been sent off with the same report
to tell the queen. When they reached the royal palace,
the herald spoke out in front of female servants:

"My queen, your dear son has just returned."

But the swineherd came up close to Penelope
and gave her all the details her dear son 420
had ordered him to say. Once he'd told her [340]
every detail he'd been asked to mention to her,
he went off, leaving the courtyard and the hall,
back to his pigs. The suitors were unhappy,
their hearts dismayed, and they departed from the hall,
past the large courtyard wall. There, before the gates,
they sat down. The first one of them to say something
was Eurymachus, son of Polybus:

"O my friends,
to tell the truth, in his great arrogance
Telemachus has carried out his trip, 430
a great achievement. We never thought
he would complete it. So come on now,
let's launch a black ship, the best one we have,
collect some sailors, a crew of rowers,
so they can quickly carry a report
to those other men to go home at once."* [350]

No sooner had he said all this, than Amphinomus,
turning in his place, saw a ship in the deep harbour.
Men were bringing down the sail, others holding oars.
With a hearty laugh, he then addressed his comrades: 440

"Don't bother with a message any more.
Here they are back home. Either some god
gave them news, or they saw his ship themselves,
as it sailed past, but couldn't catch it."

He spoke. They all got up and went to the sea shore,
then quickly dragged the black ship up onto dry ground,
while eager attendants carried off their weapons. [360]
They themselves went to the meeting place together.
No one else was allowed to sit there with them,
no old or younger men. Then Antinous addressed them, 450
son of Eupeithes:

"Well, this is bad news—
the gods have delivered the man from harm.
Our lookouts sat each day on windy heights,
always in successive shifts. At sunset,
we never spent the night on shore, but sailed
over the sea in our swift ship, waiting
for sacred Dawn, as we set our ambush
for Telemachus, so we could capture
and then kill him. Meanwhile, some god [370]
has brought him home. But let's think about 460
a sad end for Telemachus right here
and ensure he doesn't get away from us.
For as long as he's alive, I don't think
we'll be successful in what we're doing.
He himself is clever, shrewd in counsel,
and now people don't regard us well at all.
So come now, before he calls Achaeans
to assembly. I don't think he will give up.
He'll get angry and stand up to proclaim
to everyone how we planned to kill him 470
and how we didn't get him. The people
will resent us, once they learn about [380]
our nasty acts. Take care they do not harm us
and force us out, away from our own land,
until we reach a foreign country. And so,
let's move first—capture him out in the fields,
far from the city, or else on the road.
We ourselves will keep the property he owns,
his wealth, too, and share it appropriately
among us. As for possession of the house, 480
that's something we should give his mother
and the man who marries her. However,
if what I've been saying displeases you,
and you'd prefer he should remain alive,
retaining all the riches of his fathers,
then let's not keep on gathering in this place,
consuming his supply of pleasant things.
Instead, let each man carry on his courtship [390]
from his own home, seeking to prevail with gifts.
Then she can marry the one who offers most 490
and comes to her as her destined husband."

He finished. They all sat quiet, not saying a thing.
Then Amphinomus spoke out and addressed them,
splendid son of lord Nisus, Areteias' son—
leader of the suitors from Dulichium,
land rich in grass and wheat. Penelope found him
especially pleasant because of how he talked,
for he understood things well. With good intentions,
he spoke to them and said:

"My friends, [400]
I wouldn't want to slay Telemachus. 500
It's reprehensible to kill someone
of royal blood. But first let's ask the gods
for their advice. If great Zeus' oracles
approve the act, I myself will kill him
and tell all other men to do so, too.
But if the gods decline, I say we stop."

Amphinomus finished. They agreed with what he'd said.
So they immediately got up and went away
to Odysseus' house. Once they reached the palace,
they sat down on the polished chairs. By that point, 510
wise Penelope had thought of something else—
to put in an appearance before the suitors, [410]
despite their arrogance, because she'd heard about
the destruction of her son there in the hall.
The herald Medon, who'd heard their plans, had told her.
So she set off on her way toward the hall,
accompanied by her attendant women.
As soon as the noble lady reached the suitors,
she stood beside the door post of the well-built room
and, holding a bright veil across her countenance, 520
addressed Antinous, reprimanding him:

"Antinous, though you're an arrogant man
and come up with devious schemes, people say
you are the best among those men your age
at offering advice and making speeches.
But you don't seem to be a man like that. [420]
You madman, why devise a fatal plan
to kill Telemachus and disregard
the things involved with being a suppliant,
who has Zeus as witness? It's impiety 530
to plan evil things for one another.
Do you not know your father came here
a fugitive, afraid of his own people?
They were extremely angry with him,
because he'd joined with Taphian pirates
to cause trouble for the Thesprotians,
who were allied with us. Those men wished
to kill him, rip out his heart, and devour
his huge and pleasant livelihood. But then,
Odysseus restrained them, kept them in check, 540 [430]
for all their eagerness. Now you eat up
that man's home without paying anything,
court his wife, attempt to kill his son,
and cause me much distress. So stop all this,
I tell you, and order other suitors
to do the same."

Then Eurymachus,
son of Polybus, answered her:

"Wise Penelope,
daughter of Icarius, cheer up. Don't let
these things concern your heart. No man living
and no man born and no one yet to be 550
will lay hands on your son Telemachus,
not while I'm alive, gazing on the earth.
I tell you this—and it will truly happen— [440]
that man's black blood will quickly saturate
my spear, for Odysseus, sacker of cities,
also set me on his knees many times
and put roast meat into my hands and held
red wine up for me. Thus, Telemachus
is far the dearest of all men to me.
I say to him—don't be afraid of death, 560
not from the suitors, but there's no way out
when death comes from the gods."

He said these words to ease her mood, while he himself
was planning her son's death. But Penelope
went to her bright room upstairs and wept there [450]
for Odysseus, her dear husband, until sweet sleep,
cast by bright-eyed Athena, spread across her eyelids.

At evening the fine swineherd came to Odysseus
and to his son, busy getting dinner ready.
They'd killed a boar, one year old. Then Athena 570
approached Odysseus, Laertes' son, and touched him
with her wand to make him an old man once again.
She put shabby clothes around his body, just in case
the swineherd, by looking up, would recognize him
and then go off to tell faithful Penelope,
and thus fail to keep the secret in his heart.
Telemachus addressed the swineherd first and said: [460]

"Good Eumaeus, you've come. What news is there
in the city? Are those arrogant suitors
back in the house already from their ambush, 580
or are they still out there watching for me
as I travel on my journey homeward?"

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said:

"I didn't bother to make enquiries
or ask about such things on my travels
through the town. Once I'd given my report,
my heart told me to get myself back here
as fast as possible. A swift messenger,
who came from your companions, met me,
a herald. Your mother first got the report 590
from him. But I found out something else, [470]
which I saw with my own eyes. As I walked
above the city, by the hill of Hermes,
I saw a fast ship coming in our harbour,
with lots of men aboard and loaded down
with shields and two-edged spears. I thought
it could be them, but I'm not certain."

Eumaeus finished. Telemachus with a smile,
full of confidence and strength, allowed his eyes
to glance over to his father, avoiding contact 600
with the swineherd. Then, once they'd finished working
and dinner was prepared, they dined. Their hearts
did not lack a thing—they shared the meal as equals.
When they'd had food and drink to their heart's content, [480]
they thought of rest, and so they took the gift of sleep.



 

Notes to Book Sixteen

* . . . and destroy my home: As a number of commentators have observed, the exact political status of the suitors is ambiguous and in places confusing. Sometimes, as here, they are called the chief leaders or rulers of the islands or those with ruling power in Ithaca. They all appear to live in Ithaca and visit the palace during the day. However, the islands listed here are sometimes described as under Odysseus' control. What does seem clear is that the suitors have political importance as noblemen, as the most important leaders, whatever the precise arrangements between them and the royal family of Odysseus in Ithaca.

* . . . to go home at once: The "other men" are the ones waiting in the islands to ambush Telemachus on his voyage home. They may still unaware that he has slipped past them.






 

 

 



Ulysses Preparing to Fight with Irus






Book Seventeen



Odysseus Goes to the Palace as a Beggar

[Telemachus leaves Eumaeus and Odysseus at the farm, telling the swineherd that the beggar (Odysseus) must go to the city; Telemachus is welcomed in the palace by Eurycleia and his mother; Telemachus joins the suitors; Peiraeus leads in Theoclymenus; Theoclymenus and Telemachus dine with Penelope; Telemachus tells Penelope about his journey; Theoclymenus makes a prophecy of Odysseus' return; Eumaeus and Odysseus leave the farm for the city; they meet Melanthius, the goat herder, on the way, who insults them; Eumaeus and Odysseus arrive at the palace, meet Odysseus' old dog, Argus, who recognizes him and dies; Eumaeus enters the palace and joins Telemachus at dinner; Odysseus sits by the entrance way; Telemachus offers food to the disguised Odysseus, who then starts begging from the suitors; Melanthius and Antinous insult Eumaeus and Odysseus; Odysseus tells Antinous his story, they trade insults, and Antinous throws a foot stool at Odysseus and hits him; Penelope summons Eumaeus to her, asks him to call the disguised beggar to her; Odysseus tell Eumaeus that he'll meet Penelope in the evening, not now; Eumaeus tells Penelope, talks to Telemachus, and returns to the farm, leaving the feast still in progress.]

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
Telemachus, dear son of god-like Odysseus,
tied some fine sandals on his feet, took a strong spear,
well suited to his grip, and, as he headed off
towards the city, spoke out to the swineherd:

"Old friend, I'm leaving for the city,
so my mother can observe me. I don't think
her dreadful grieving and her sorry tears
will stop until she sees me for herself.
So I'm telling you to do as follows— 10
take this wretched stranger to the city. [10]
Once there, he can beg food from anyone
who'll offer him some bread and cups of water.
I can't take on the weight of everyone,
not when I have these sorrows in my heart.
As for the stranger, if he's very angry,
things will be worse for him. Those are the facts,
and I do like to speak the truth."

Odysseus,
that resourceful man, then answered him and said:

"Friend, I myself am not all that eager 20
to be held back here. For a beggar man
it's better to ask people for a meal
in the city instead of in the fields.
Whoever's willing will give me something.
At my age it's not appropriate for me [20]
to stay any longer in the farmyard,
obeying everything a master orders.
No. So be on your way. This man here,
who you give orders to, will take me there,
as soon as I've warmed up beside the fire 30
and the sun get hot. These clothes I'm wearing
are miserably bad, and I'm afraid
the morning frost may be too much for me—
you say the city is a long way off."

Odysseus finished. Telemachus walked away,
across the farmyard, moving with rapid strides.
He was sowing seeds of trouble for the suitors.
As he entered the beautifully furnished house,
he carried in his spear and set it in its place,
against a looming pillar. Then he moved inside, 40 [30]
across the stone threshold. His nurse Eurycleia
saw him well before the others, while spreading fleeces
on the finely crafted chairs. She burst out crying,
rushed straight up to him, while there gathered round them
other female servants of stout-hearted Odysseus.
They kissed his head and shoulders in loving welcome.
Then from her chamber wise Penelope emerged,
looking like Artemis or golden Aphrodite.
She embraced the son she loved, while shedding tears,
and kissed his head and both his beautiful eyes. 50
Through her tears, she spoke to him—her words had wings: [40]

"You've come, Telemachus, you sweet light.
I thought I'd never see you any more,
when you secretly went off to Pylos
in your ship, against my wishes, seeking
some report of your dear father. So come,
describe for me how you ran into him."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered her and said:

"Mother, don't encourage me to grieve,
or get the heart inside my chest stirred up. 60
I've just escaped being utterly destroyed.
But have a bath, and pick fresh clothing
for your body. Then, with your attendants
go to the room upstairs, and promise
all the gods you'll offer perfect sacrifices, [50]
if Zeus will somehow bring to fulfillment
actions which will give us retribution.
I'll go to the place where we assemble,
so I can call upon a stranger, a man
who came with me on my trip from Pylos. 70
I sent him ahead with my noble comrades,
telling Peiraeus to take him to his home,
to treat him kindly, and to honour him,
until the time I got there."

Telemachus finished.
Penelope was quiet—no winged words flew from her.
She bathed herself and took fresh clothing for her body.
Then she promised she'd offer perfect sacrifice
to all the gods, if Zeus would somehow bring about
those actions which would give them retribution. [60]
Telemachus walked through the hall, gripping his spear. 80
Two swift dogs went with him. Athena poured on him
such marvelous grace that, as he moved along,
all people gazed at him. The arrogant suitors
thronged around him, making gentle conversation,
but deep in their hearts they were planning trouble.
He avoided the main crowd of them and took a seat
where Mentor and Antiphus and Halitherses sat,
companions of his father's from many years ago. [70]
They asked him all kinds of questions. Then Peiraeus,
the well-known spearman, approached, leading the stranger 90
through the city to the place where they assembled.*
Telemachus did not turn his back for very long
upon the stranger, but went up to him. Peiraeus
was the first to speak:

"Telemachus,
send some women quickly to my home,
so I may have those gifts sent here to you
which Menelaus gave you."

Shrewd Telemachus
then answered him and said:

"Peiraeus,
we don't know how these matters will turn out.
If these overbearing suitors kill me 100
in my own halls in secret and divide [80]
all my father's goods amongst themselves,
I'd prefer you keep those gifts yourself—
enjoy them—rather than any of those men.
But if I sow a lethal fate for them,
then bring them to the house, and be happy
with me, for I will be rejoicing."

As he said this, he led the long-suffering stranger
towards the house. When they reached the stately palace,
they put their cloaks down on the seats and armchairs, 110
then went into the polished tubs to have a bath.
After the attending women had washed both men,
rubbed them down with oil, and wrapped around them
woolen cloaks and tunics, they came out from the bath [90]
and sat down on the chairs. A servant brought in water
in a lovely golden pitcher and poured it out
in a silver basin, so they could wash their hands.
Beside them she then set up a polished table.
The worthy housekeeper brought bread and set it out,
then added lots of meat, giving freely from her stores. 120
Telemachus' mother sat across from him,
by the door post of the hall, leaning from her seat
to spin fine threads of yarn. They stretched out their hands
to take the fine food prepared and set before them.
When they'd had food and drink to their heart's content,
the first to speak to them was wise Penelope: [100]

"Telemachus, once I've gone up to my room,
I'll lie down in bed, which has become for me
a place where I lament, always wet with tears,
ever since Odysseus went to Troy 130
with Atreus' sons. Yet you don't dare
to tell me clearly of your father's trip,
even before the haughty suitors come
into the house, no word of what you learned."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered her and said:

"All right then, mother, I'll tell you the truth.
We went to Pylos and reached Nestor,
shepherd of his people. He welcomed us [110]
in his lofty home with hospitality
and kindness, as a father for a son 140
who's just returned from far-off places
after many years—that's how Nestor
and his splendid sons looked after me
with loving care. But of brave Odysseus,
alive or dead, he told me he'd heard nothing
from any man on earth. He sent me off
with horses and a well-built chariot
to that famous spearman Menelaus,
son of Atreus. There I saw Argive Helen,
for whom many Trojans and Achaeans 150
struggled hard, because that's what gods had willed.
Menelaus, skilled at war shouts, at once [120]
asked me why I'd come to lovely Sparta,
what I was looking for. I told him the truth,
all the details. He answered me and said:

'That's disgraceful! They want to lie down
in the bed of a courageous warrior,
when they themselves are cowards—just as if
a doe has put two new-born suckling fawns
in a mighty lion's thicket, so they can sleep, 160
and roams mountain slopes and grassy valleys
seeking pasture, and then the lion comes
back to that lair and brings a dismal fate [130]
for both of them—that's how Odysseus
will bring those men to their disastrous end.
By Father Zeus, Athena, and Apollo,
how I wish he could be as he was once
in well-built Lesbos, in a wrestling match,
when he stood and fought Philomeleides,
threw him decisively, and all Achaeans 170
felt great joy—if he were that sort of man,
Odysseus might well mingle with the suitors,
and they'd all meet death, a bitter courtship.
But as for these things you're asking me about,
begging me to speak, I'll not evade them
or lead you astray. No. I won't conceal
or bury a single word that I was told
by that infallible Old Man of the Sea. [140]
He said that he had seen Odysseus
on an island, suffering great distress 180
in nymph Calypso's home—she keeps him there
by force. He can't get to his native land
because he has no ship available,
no oars, and no companions, men who might
transport him on the broad back of the sea.'

"That's what famous spearman Menelaus said,
the son of Atreus. When I was finished,
I came home, and the immortals gave me
favourable winds which quickly carried me
back to my native land."

Telemachus' words 190 [150]
stirred the heart within her chest. Then among the group
Theoclymenus, a godlike man, spoke out:

"Noble wife of Laertes' son, Odysseus,
Menelaus has no certain knowledge.
You should attend to what I have to say,
for I will make a truthful prophecy
and not conceal a thing. Now, let Zeus,
first among the gods, act as my witness,
and this table welcoming your guests,
and the hearth of excellent Odysseus, 200
which I've reached, that Odysseus is, in fact,
already in his native land, sitting still
or moving, learning of these wicked acts.
He's sowing trouble for every suitor. [160]
That's how I interpret that bird omen
I saw, while sitting on the well-decked ship—
that's what I said then to Telemachus."

Wise Penelope then answered him and said:

"Ah stranger, I wish what you've just said
might come about. Then you'd quickly learn 210
how kind we are, how many gifts I'd give—
anyone you met would call you blessed."

Thus they talked to one another of these things.

Meanwhile, outside in front of Odysseus' palace,
the suitors were enjoying themselves, throwing discus
and tossing javelins on a level piece of ground,
as was their custom, displaying their arrogance.
But when it was time for dinner and the sheep arrived, [170]
coming from the fields in all directions, with those
who used to lead them there, Medon spoke to them. 220
He was the herald they liked more than all the rest,
and he was present with them when they feasted:

"Young men, now you've entertained your hearts
with tests of skill, so come inside the house,
and we'll prepare a meal. There's nothing wrong
with eating when it's time to have some food."

Medon spoke. Agreeing with what he'd said, they stood up
and moved away. When they reached the stately home,
they set their cloaks down on the seats and armchairs.
Men sacrificed huge sheep and goats with lots of fat. 230 [180]
They killed a heifer from the herd, plump hogs as well,
as they prepared the meal.

Meanwhile Odysseus
and the loyal swineherd were hastening to leave,
moving from the fields into the city. Eumaeus,
that outstanding man, was the first to speak. He said:

"Stranger, since you're keen to reach the city,
as my master ordered, and get there today—
myself, I'd rather leave you at the farm
to guard the place, but I respect and fear him,
for he may reprimand me afterwards, 240
and a master's punishment can be severe—
so come now, let's be off. Most of the day [190]
has already passed, and as evening comes
you'll quickly sense it's getting colder."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said:

"I see that. I know. You're talking to a man
who understands. So let's be setting out.
You yourself can lead me the whole way.
But if you've got a pole somewhere that's cut
for you to lean on, then give it to me. 250
For you did say the road is slippery."

Odysseus finished, then threw around his shoulders
his ragged bag full of holes, with a twisted strap.
Eumaeus gave him a staff he liked, and then
the two of them set off. The dogs and herdsmen [200]
stayed behind to guard the farmyard. The swineherd
led his master to the city, like a beggar,
leaning on a stick, an old and miserable man,
with his body wrapped in wretched clothing.
But as they walked along the rugged pathway, 260
getting near the city, they reached a well-made spring,
with a steady flow, where townsfolk drew their water,
built by Ithacus, Neritus, and Polyctor.*
Around it was a poplar grove, fed by its waters.
They grew on all sides of the spring. Cold water flowed
down from a rock above, and on the top of that [210]
an altar had been dedicated to the nymphs,
where all the people passing by made offerings.
Here Melanthius, son of Dolius, met them—
he was driving on some goats, the finest ones 270
in all the herds, to serve as dinner for the suitors.
Two herdsmen followed with him. When he saw them,
Melanthius started yelling insults. What he said
was shameful and abusive—it stirred Odysseus' heart.

"Now here we have a truly filthy man
leading on another filthy scoundrel.
As always, god matches like with like.
You miserable swineherd, where are you going
with this disgusting pig, this beggar man,
a tedious bore who'll interrupt our feasts? 280 [220]
He'll scratch his shoulders on many doorposts,
begging scraps—no need for sword or cauldron.*
If you'd let me have him guard my farmyard,
clean out the pens, and carry tender shoots
to my young goats, then he could drink down whey
and put some muscle on those thighs of his.
But since he's picked up his thieving habits,
he won't want to get too close to real work.
No. He'd rather creep around the country
and beg food to fill his bottomless gut. 290
I'll tell you something—and this will happen—
if he reaches godlike Odysseus' home, [230]
many a footstool hurled by real men
will hit his ribs and all parts of his head,
as he's tossed around throughout the house."

Melanthius finished, and as he moved on past them,
in his stupidity he kicked Odysseus on the hip.
But that didn't push Odysseus off the pathway.
He stood there without budging. He was wondering
whether he should charge and kill him with his staff, 300
or grab him by the waist, lift him up, and smash his head
down on the ground. But he hung on, controlling
what was in his heart. Eumaeus looked at the man,
scolded him, then, lifting up his hands in prayer,
he cried aloud:

"Fountain nymphs, daughters of Zeus, [240]
if for your sake Odysseus ever burned
pieces of thigh from lambs or from young goats,
richly wrapped in fat, grant this prayer for me—
let my master come, guided by some god.
Then he would scatter this presumption, 310
which you now, in your arrogance, display,
always roaming down into the city,
while wicked herdsmen are destroying the flock."

Then Melanthius the goatherd answered him:

"Dear me, the things this crafty mongrel says!
I'll take him someday on a trim black ship
far from Ithaca—he can make me very rich. [250]
How I wish Apollo with his silver bow
would strike Telemachus in his own house
this very day, or that he'd be overwhelmed 320
by those suitors, since the day Odysseus
will be returning home has been wiped out
in some land far away."

Melanthius said this
and left them there, as they walked slowly onward.
He strode ahead and quickly reached the royal palace.
He went in at once and sat among the suitors,
opposite Eurymachus, who was fond of him
more than the others were. Those serving at the meal
laid down a portion of the meat in front of him.
The respected housekeeper brought in the bread 330
and placed it there for him to eat.

Meanwhile Odysseus [260]
and the loyal swineherd paused as they came closer.
Around them rang the music of the hollow lyre,
for Phemius was striking up a song to sing
before the suitors. Odysseus grabbed the swineherd
by the hand and said to him:

"Eumaeus,
this place surely is the splendid palace
belonging to Odysseus. It's easy
to recognize, even when one sees it
among many others, for here there is 340
building after building, and this courtyard—
it's finished off with walls and coping stones,
and there's a double gateway well fenced in.
No man could criticize a house like this.
I notice many men are feasting here—
smoke from cooked meat is rising from the house, [270]
and a lyre is playing. A god made that
as our companion at a banquet."

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said:

"You recognized it easily enough— 350
for in other things you're quite perceptive.
But come, let's consider how this business
will be carried out. Either you go first
and move inside the finely furnished house
to join the suitors, while I stay outside,
or, if you wish, stay here. I'll go ahead.
But don't hang around for long, just in case
someone sees you here outside and hits you
or throws something. You should consider that,
I tell you."

Long-suffering lord Odysseus 360 [280]
then said to Eumaeus:

"I know. I see that.
You're talking to a man who understands.
But you go on ahead. I'll stay out here.
Having objects thrown at me or being hit
is nothing new. My heart can bear all that,
since I've put up with many hardships
in war and on the waves. So let all this
be added in with those. There is no way
someone can hide a ravenous stomach—
that torment which brings men so many troubles. 370
Because of it, they launch their well-built ships
and transport evil to their enemies
across the restless sea."

And so these two men [290]
talked to each other about these things. Then a dog
lying there raised its head and pricked up its ears.
It was Argus, brave Odysseus' hunting dog,
whom he himself had brought up many years ago.
But before he could enjoy being with his dog,
he left for sacred Troy. In earlier days, young men
would take the dog to hunt wild goats, deer, and rabbits, 380
but now, with his master gone, he lay neglected
in the piles of dung left there by mules and cattle,
heaped up before the doors until Odysseus' servants
took it as manure for some large field. Argus lay there, [300]
covered in fleas. Then, when he saw Odysseus,
who was coming closer, Argus wagged his tail
and dropped his ears. But he no longer had the strength
to approach his master. Odysseus looked away
and brushed aside a tear—he did so casually
to hide it from Eumaeus. Then he questioned him: 390

"Eumaeus, it's strange this dog is lying here,
in the dung. He has a handsome body.
I'm not sure if his speed once matched his looks
or if he's like those table dogs men have,
ones their masters raise and keep for show." [310]

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said:

"Yes, this dog belongs to a man who died
somewhere far away. If he had the form
and acted as he did when Odysseus
left him and went to Troy, you'd quickly see 400
his speed and strength, and then you'd be amazed.
No wild animal he chased escaped him
in deep thick woods, for he could track a scent.
He's in a bad way now. His master's dead
in some foreign land, and careless women
don't look after him. For when their masters [320]
no longer exercise their power, slaves
have no desire to do their proper work.
Far-seeing Zeus steals half the value of a man
the day he's taken and becomes a slave." 410

This said, Eumaeus went inside the stately palace,
straight into the hall to join the noble suitors.
But once he'd seen Odysseus after nineteen years,
the dark finality of death at once seized Argus.

As the swineherd Eumaeus came inside the house,
godlike Telemachus was the first to see him,
well before the others. He quickly summoned him
by nodding. Eumaeus looked around, then picked up [330]
a stool lying where a servant usually sat
to carve large amounts of meat to serve the suitors, 420
when they feasted in the house. He took this stool,
placed it by Telemachus' table, facing him,
and then sat down. Meanwhile, a herald brought him
a portion of the meat, set it in front of him,
and lifted some bread for him out of the basket.
Odysseus came into the house behind Eumaeus,
looking like an old and miserable beggar,
leaning on his staff, his body dressed in rags.
He sat on the ash wood threshold in the doorway,
propping his back against a post of cypress wood, 430
which a craftsman had once planed with skill [340]
and set in true alignment. Then Telemachus
called the swineherd to him and, taking a whole loaf
from the fine basket and as much meat as he could hold
in both his hands, he spoke to him, saying:

"Take this food, and give it to the stranger.
Tell him he can move among the suitors
and beg from each of them in person.
When a man's in need, they say that shame
is not a good companion."

Telemachus spoke. 440
Once he'd heard these words, Eumaeus went and stood
beside Odysseus, then spoke—his words had wings:

"Stranger, Telemachus gives you this food [350]
and invites you to move around and beg
among the suitors, each in turn. He says,
when one's in need, it's no good being ashamed."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said:

"May lord Zeus, I pray, grant Telemachus
be blessed among all men, get everything
he may desire in his heart."

Once he'd said this, 450
he took the food in his two hands and set it down
right there at his feet, on his tattered bag, and ate,
while the minstrel sang his song throughout the hall.
When he'd eaten and the godlike singer finished,
the suitors were making an uproar in the room.
But Athena approached Odysseus, Laertes' son, [360]
and urged him to collect bread from the suitors,
so he might find out those who did respect the law
and those who flouted their traditions. Even so,
she wouldn't let any man escape destruction. 460
Odysseus then moved off to beg for scraps of bread,
holding out his hand to each of them on every side,
starting on the right, as if he'd been a beggar
for years and years. They pitied him, gave him bread,
and wondered about him, asking one another
who he was and where he came from. Then the goatherd,
Melanthius, spoke out to them:

"Listen to me, [370]
those of you courting the glorious queen,
about this stranger. I've seen him before.
The swineherd was the one who brought him here. 470
I don't know his identity for sure
or the family he claims to come from."

Once he'd said this, Antinous turned on Eumaeus,
to reprimand him:

"You really are a man
who cares for pigs—why bring this fellow here
into the city? As far as vagrants go,
don't we have enough apart from him,
greedy beggars who disrupt our banquets?
Do you think too few of them come here
and waste away your master's livelihood, 480
so you invite this man to come as well?"

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said: [380]

"Antinous, you may be a noble man,
but what you've said is not a worthy speech.
Who looks for strangers from another land
and then in person asks them to come in,
unless they're workers in a public space—
prophets, healers of disease, house builders,
or inspired minstrels, who sing for our delight?
Such men are summoned to where people live 490
all around the boundless earth. But no one
invites a beggar to consume his goods.
You are abusive to Odysseus' slaves,
more so than any of the other suitors,
especially to me. But I don't care,
not while faithful Penelope lives here, [390]
in these halls, and godlike Telemachus."

Then prudent Telemachus replied and said:

"Be quiet. For my sake don't reply to him
with a long speech. It's Antinous' habit 500
always to offer nasty provocation,
to start a quarrel with abusive words.
He urges other men to do the same."

That said, he spoke to Antinous—his words had wings:

"Antinous, you really do care for me,
like a father for his son, when you tell me
with your forceful words to drive this stranger
from the house. May god forbid such action.
Take some food and give it him yourself—
I don't mind. In fact, I'm asking you to do it. 510 [400]
You need not worry about my mother
or any of the servants in this house
belonging to godlike Odysseus. But still,
no thought like this could be inside your chest—
you'd much prefer to stuff yourself with food
than give it to another man."

Antinous
then answered him and said:

"Telemachus,
you're a braggart and won't control your rage.
What are you saying? If every suitor
offered him as much as I will, this house 520
would make him keep his distance for three months."

As he said this, he picked up a stool standing there,
where he used to rest his shining feet while feasting, [410]
raised it from below the table, and brandished it.
But all the other suitors offered something,
and so the beggar's bag was filled with meat and bread.
Odysseus was soon going to retrace his steps
back to the doorway and sound out the Achaeans
with impunity, but he stopped by Antinous,
and spoke to him, saying:

"My friend, give something. 530
You don't seem to me the worst Achaean,
but the very best. You look like a king.
So you should give a bigger piece of bread
than these others. I'd publicize your fame
across the boundless earth. For once I, too,
lived among men in my home, a rich man
with a happy life. There were many times [420]
I'd give presents to some sort of vagabond,
no matter who he was or what he needed
when he came. I had countless servants, too, 540
and many other things that people have
when they live well and are considered wealthy.
But Zeus, son of Cronos, destroyed all that.
That's what he wanted, I suppose. He sent me
with some wandering pirates off to Egypt,
a lengthy voyage, to do away with me.
I moored my curving ships in Egypt's river,
and told my loyal comrades to stay there
with the ships and guard them. I sent out scouts [430]
to go up to the lookouts. But the crew, 550
giving way to impulse and counting on
their strength, quickly began to destroy
the attractive farms of the Egyptians,
carrying off the women and young children,
while slaughtering the men. The cry went up,
and soon it reached the city. Hearing noise,
the people came as soon as dawn appeared—
the entire plain was filled with men on foot
and in their chariots and with gleaming bronze.
Then Zeus, who hurls the thunderbolt, threw down 560
a dreadful panic on my comrades. None of them
dared stand and face up to the enemy.
Disaster loomed for us from every side.
With their sharp bronze they killed a lot of us, [440]
but others they led off while still alive
so they could be compelled to work for them.
They gave me to a stranger they had met,
bound for Cyprus, Dmetor, son of Iasus,
a powerful man who was king of Cyprus.
From there I reached this place in great distress." 570

Then Antinous answered him and said:

"What god
sent this nuisance to interrupt our feast?
Get away from my table—over there,
in the middle, or you'll soon find yourself
in a harsher place than Cyprus or in Egypt.
You're an insolent and shameless beggar—
you come up to every man, one by one,
and they give you things without holding back, [450]
for there's no check or scruple when one gives
from someone else's goods, and each of them 580
has plenty of supplies in front of him."

Resourceful Odysseus then moved back and replied:

"Well now, it seems as if that mind of yours
doesn't match your looks—you'd refuse to give
even a grain of salt from your own house
to a follower of yours, and now you sit
in someone else's house and do not dare
to take some bread and offer it to me.
And yet there's plenty right in front of you."

Odysseus finished. Antinous in his heart 590
was even angrier than before. He glared at him,
then, with a scowl, replied—his words had wings:

"I no longer think you'll leave this hall unharmed, [460]
now that you've begun to babble insults."

As he said this, he grabbed the stool and threw it.
It hit the bottom of Odysseus' right shoulder,
where it joins the back. But he stood firm, like a rock—
what Antinous had thrown didn't make him stagger.
He shook his head in silence, making cruel plans
deep in his heart. He went back to the door, sat there, 600
set down his well-filled bag, and addressed the suitors:

"Listen to me, you suitors of the splendid queen,
so I can say what the heart in my chest prompts.
There's no pain in a man's heart, no grieving, [470]
when he's hit fighting for his own possessions,
for cattle or white sheep. But Antinous
struck me because of my wretched belly,
that curse which gives men all kinds of trouble.
So if beggars have their gods and Furies,
may Antinous come to a fatal end, 610
before his wedding day."

Then Antinous, Eupeithes' son,
gave him this reply:

"Sit still and eat, stranger,
or go somewhere else, just in case young men
drag you by your hands and feet all through the house
for what you say, scraping your whole body." [480]

He finished. But all those proud men were furious,
and one of the arrogant young men spoke out:

"Antinous, it was wrong of you to hit
a wretched vagrant. And you may be doomed,
if somehow he's a god come down from heaven. 620
For, in fact, gods make themselves appear
like foreign strangers, assuming many shapes
and haunting cities, to investigate
men's pride and their obedience to the laws."

That's what the suitors said. However, Antinous
paid no attention to their words. Telemachus,
having seen the blow, felt pain growing in his heart.
But his eyelids shed no tears upon the ground. [490]
No. He shook his head in silence and kept planning
dark schemes in his heart. But when wise Penelope 630
heard about the stranger being hit inside the hall,
she spoke to her attendant women, saying:

"How I wish that he, too, might be struck
by Apollo, that celebrated archer."

Then housekeeper Eurynome said to her:

"Oh, if only our prayers could be fulfilled,
not one of them would see Dawn's lovely throne."

Wise Penelope then answered her:

"Good nurse,
they're all enemies hatching evil plans,
but Antinous, more than any of them, 640 [500]
is like black fate. Some unhappy stranger
roams through the house, begging from the men.
His own need drives him to it. The others,
all of them, gave him gifts and filled his bag,
but Antinous threw a footstool at him
and struck him under his right shoulder."

So Penelope talked with her serving women,
sitting in her room, while lord Odysseus ate.
Then she called out to the loyal swineherd, saying:

"Good Eumaeus, go and ask the stranger 650
to come here, so I can greet him warmly
and ask if he perhaps has heard about [510]
my brave Odysseus, or caught sight of him
with his own eyes. He looks like a man
who's spent a long time wandering around."

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered her and said:

"I wish the Achaeans would keep quiet,
my queen, for he tells the kind of stories
which enchant one's heart. I had him with me
for three nights, and for three days I kept him 660
in my hut. He came to me first of all,
while he was fleeing in secret from a ship.
But he never finished what he had to say
of his misfortunes. Just as any man
looks at a minstrel who sings enticing songs
to mortal men, ones the gods have taught him,
and there's no end to their desire to hear, [520]
whenever he may sing, that's how this man
enchanted me, as he sat in my home.
He claims he's a friend of Odysseus' father, 670
from Crete, where the race of Minos lives,
He's come here from there, enduring troubles,
as he keeps wandering from place to place.
He insists he's heard about Odysseus—
he's close by, still alive in the rich land
of Thesprotians—with many treasures
which he's going to bring back home."

Wise Penelope
then answered him:

"Go and call him here—
he can tell me for himself. And let the men [530]
keep sitting in the hall or at the door 680
enjoying themselves—their hearts are cheerful.
Their own possessions lie untouched at home,
sweet wine and bread, which their servants eat.
But they fill up our house day after day,
butchering our cattle, fat sheep, and goats,
carousing and drinking our gleaming wine,
without restraint. So much is wasted.
There's no one like Odysseus here who'll guard
our house from ruin. If Odysseus came,
got back to his native land, he and his son 690
would quickly take their vengeance on these men [540]
for their violent ways."

As Penelope said this,
Telemachus gave a mighty sneeze—it echoed
through the house. Penelope laughed and quickly spoke
these winged words to Eumaeus:

"Go call the stranger.
Bring him here in front of me. Did you not see
my son sneezing at everything I said?
So the complete destruction of the suitors
will not go unfulfilled—for all of them—
not one will escape his fatal destiny.* 700
I'll tell you something else. Lay it to heart.
If I see he tells me the entire truth,
I'll dress him in fine clothes, cloak and tunic." [550]

Penelope finished. Once Eumaeus heard her,
he went off and, standing beside Odysseus,
spoke to him—his words had wings:

"Honoured stranger,
wise Penelope is summoning you,
Telemachus' mother. For her heart,
in spite of bearing much anxiety,
is telling her to ask about her husband. 710
If she knows that everything you say
is true, she'll give you a cloak and tunic,
things you really need. And as for food,
you can beg for it throughout the country
and fill your stomach. Whoever wants to
will give it to you."

Long-suffering lord Odysseus [560]
then answered him:

"Eumaeus, I'll tell the truth,
all the details, to wise Penelope,
daughter of Icarius, and quickly, too.
For I know Odysseus well—both of us 720
have had the same misfortunes. But I fear
this abusive crowd of suitors, whose pride
and violence reach up to iron heaven.
Just now, as I was moving through the house,
doing nothing wrong, this man struck me
and caused me pain. Meanwhile Telemachus
couldn't do a thing to stop him, nor could
any other man. So tell Penelope,
for all her eagerness, to wait right now,
there in the hall, until the sun goes down. 730 [570]
Let her ask me then about her husband
and the day of his return. And let me sit
close to the fire, for the clothes I have
are pitiful, as you know for yourself,
since I came to you first of all for help."

Odysseus finished. Once he'd listened to him,
the swineherd went away. As he crossed the threshold,
Penelope addressed him:

"You haven't brought him,
Eumaeus. What does the vagrant mean by this?
Is he somehow too afraid of something, 740
or is there some other reason he's ashamed?
He's a bad beggar if he feels disgraced."

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered her and said:

"What he said made sense—what any other man [580]
would think if he was planning to avoid
the insolence of those presumptuous men.
He says you should wait around till sunset.
And, my queen, it would be far more fitting
for you to talk in person to the stranger,
to hear for yourself what he has to say." 750

Wise Penelope then answered him and said:

"The stranger is not stupid. For he thinks
about those things that well may happen.
I don't believe there are any mortal men
who are as high handed as these suitors are,
the way they plan their wicked foolishness."

Penelope spoke. Once he'd told her everything,
the loyal swineherd joined the crowd of suitors. [590]
He quickly spoke winged words to Telemachus,
holding his head close to him, so others couldn't hear: 760

"Friend, I'm going to leave and guard the swine
and other things, your livelihood and mine.
You take charge of all the problems here.
First and foremost, protect yourself. Your heart
must stay alert, so you don't suffer harm.
Many Achaeans are hatching evil plans—
may Zeus destroy them before they harm us."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said:

"It will happen, old friend. Now, you should eat
before you leave. Come here in the morning, 770
and bring fine animals for sacrifice. [600]
Everything going on here is my concern,
mine and the immortals."

Telemachus spoke.
The swineherd sat down on the polished chair again.
Once he'd filled his heart with food and drink, he left,
returning to his pigs, through the courtyard and the hall
full of banqueters, who were enjoying themselves
with dance and song, for evening had already come.



 

Notes to Book Seventeen

* . . . place where they assembled: The "stranger" being led to the city is, of course, the prophet Theoclymenus, who earlier (in Book Sixteen) asked Telemachus to take him in his ship to Ithaca.

* . . . and Polyctor: Ithacus, Neritus, and Polyctor were the ancient founders of Cephallenia and Ithaca.

* . . . sword or cauldron: Melanthius is mocking the beggar's status. All he wants is scraps of food, so the traditional trophies sought by and awarded to successful warriors (swords and cauldrons) are irrelevant to him.

*. . . fatal destiny: sneezes are sometimes viewed as omens, hence Penelope's prophetic tone.






 

 

 



Euryclea Discovers Ulysses






Book Eighteen



Odysseus and Irus the Beggar

[Irus the beggar arrives at the palace and starts abusing Odysseus; the suitors encourage them to fight; in the scrap Odysseus knocks Irus out; Odysseus warns Amphinomus of trouble ahead; Athena makes Penelope want to appear before the suitors; Athena puts Penelope to sleep and makes her more beautiful; Penelope wakes up and goes downstairs to mix with the suitors; Telemachus and Penelope talk about the stranger; Penelope encourages the suitors to bring presents for her, and they do so; Odysseus talks to the female servants, criticizing them for assisting the suitors; Odysseus holds up the lamps for the suitors at their feast; Eurymachus makes fun of Odysseus, and Odysseus give him a heated reply; Eurymachus throws a stool at Odysseus but misses and hits the wine steward; Telemachus and Amphinomus restore order; the suitors continue feasting and then leave]

Then a vagrant from the community arrived,
who used to beg through all the town of Ithaca,
a man celebrated for his gluttonous stomach,
with an incessant appetite for food and drink.
He looked huge, but had little energy or strength.
He was called Arnaeus—his honoured mother
had given him that name when he was born, but now
all young men called him Irus, because he ran around
carrying messages for anyone who asked him.*
At this point he arrived and tried to drive Odysseus 10
away from his own home by shouting out abuse—
his words had wings:

"Get out of the door, old man, [10]
or you'll be dragged off by your feet. Don't you see
how they're all winking at me, telling me
to pull you out? As far as I'm concerned,
I'd be ashamed to do it. So get up,
or else we'll fight this quarrel with our fists."

Resourceful Odysseus frowned, looked at him, and said:

"My good man, I'm not doing you any harm
or shouting insults at you. Nor do I care 20
if someone gives you something, even if
he takes a generous portion. This doorway
has room for both of us, and there's no need
to begrudge what someone else may get.
You seem to be a vagrant, just like me—
gods are supposed to give us happiness.
But don't provoke me too much with your fists, [20]
in case you make me angry. Though I'm old,
I might stain your lips and chest with blood.
If so, I'd enjoy more peace tomorrow, 30
for I don't think you'd come a second time
to Odysseus' home, son of Laertes."

That made the beggar Irus angry, so he said:

"Well, see how nicely this filthy beggar talks,
like an old woman from the baking ovens.
But I'll make trouble for him. I'll punch him
with both fists on the jaw, smash all his teeth
onto the ground, and treat him like a sow
who's been devouring the crop. Come now,
tighten your belt, so all these people here 40 [30]
may recognize that we're about to fight.
How can you go against a younger man?"

So as their tempers heated up, they both grew angry
on the polished threshold by the lofty doors.
Strong and powerful Antinous observed them there,
and, laughing cheerfully, shouted to the suitors:

"My friends, here's something we've not seen before.
Some god has sent this house such entertainment!
Irus and the stranger are quarreling—
they're going to fight each other with their fists. 50
Let's get them started right away!"

Antinous' words [40]
made them all jump up laughing. They gathered there,
around the shabby beggars. Then Eupeithes' son,
Antinous, said to them:

"Listen to me,
you brave suitors. I've something to suggest.
We've got goats' bellies lying by the fire,
stuffed full of fat and blood, our dinner meal.
Whichever of these two men wins this fight
and proves the better man, let him stand up
and take the one he wishes for himself. 60
And he will always eat his meals with us.
Nor will we allow another beggar
to come into our group and ask for food."

Antinous finished. They were pleased with what he said. [50]
Then, resourceful Odysseus with his crafty mind
spoke to them:

"Friends, there's no way an older man
weighed down with grief can fight a younger man.
But that trouble-making stomach of mine
urges me to do it, so he may beat me
with his blows. But come now, let all of you 70
swear a binding oath that not one of you
supporting Irus will use his heavy fists
to strike at me unfairly, and by force
overpower me on Irus' behalf."

Odysseus spoke. They all promised, as he'd asked.
After they had sworn and finished with the oath,
Telemachus spoke up with strength and confidence, [60]
so all could hear:

"Stranger, if your proud spirit
and your heart urge you on to beat this man,
don't fear a single one of these Achaeans. 80
Whoever strikes at you will have to fight
with many more as well. I am your host,
and the two princes here agree with me,
Antinous and Eurymachus, both men
who understand things well."

Telemachus spoke,
and everyone endorsed his words. Then Odysseus,
while hitching up the rags around his private parts,
exposed his fine large thighs, and they could also see
his wide shoulders and his chest and powerful arms.
Athena came up close beside that shepherd of his people 90 [70]
and enlarged his limbs. Each suitor, quite astonished,
would glance at the man beside him and then mutter
words like these:

"Irus will soon be in trouble,
something he brought on himself—he won't be
Irus any more, judging from the thighs
that old man shows under those rags of his."

That's how they talked. Irus' heart was badly shaken.
But the servants girded up his clothes and led him up.
He was afraid—his flesh quivering on every limb—
but they forced him forward. Antinous sneered at him, 100
addressing him right to his face:

"You bragging fool,
if you're afraid and tremble at this man, [80]
you should not exist or ever have been born.
He's a old man worn down by misfortunes
that have overcome him. I'll tell you this,
and what I say will happen—if this man
beats you and proves himself the better man,
I'll throw you in a black ship, then take you
over to the mainland to king Echetus,
who tortures everyone.* With pitiless bronze 110
he'll cut off your nose and ears, then slice away
your cock and balls and throw them to the dogs,
raw meat for them rip to pieces."

Antinous spoke. An even greater trembling seized
the beggar's legs, as they led him to the middle.
Both men raised their fists. At that point lord Odysseus, [90]
who had endured so much, was of two minds—Should he
hit Irus so his life would leave him where he fell,
or should he strike him a less punishing blow
and stretch him on the ground? As he thought about it, 120
this seemed the better choice—to hit him with less force,
so Achaeans wouldn't look at him too closely.
Once their fists were up, Irus hit Odysseus
on his right shoulder, but Odysseus then struck him
on the neck, below his ear, and crushed the bones.
Immediately red blood came flowing from his mouth.
He fell down moaning in the dirt, grinding his teeth.
His feet kept kicking at the ground. The noble suitors
threw up their hands and almost died of laughter. [100]
Odysseus grabbed Irus by the foot and dragged him 130
through the doorway until he reached the courtyard
and the portico gate. There he left him, leaning
against the courtyard wall with his stick in his hands.
Odysseus then addressed him—his words had wings:

"Sit there and scare away the pigs and dogs.
And do not, in your miserable state,
try to boss around strangers and beggars,
in case you end up in even worse distress."

As he spoke, he threw his tattered bag full of holes
across his shoulders, hanging by a twisted strap. 140
Then he went back into the doorway and sat down.
The suitors moved inside, laughing uproariously, [110]
and threw him words of greeting as they went.
One of the arrogant young men said something like:

"May Zeus and the other eternal gods
give you, stranger, the thing you most desire,
what fills your heart—since you've now stopped
this greedy vagrant begging in this place.
We'll soon take him over to the mainland,
to king Echetus, who mutilates all men." 150

That's how they talked. Lord Odysseus was happy
at such welcome words. Then Antinous set down by him
the huge goat stomach stuffed with blood and fat,
and Amphinomus picked two loaves from the basket, [120]
placed them before Odysseus, and then toasted him
with a golden cup, saying:

"Greetings, honoured stranger,
though right now you've got many miseries,
may happiness be yours in future days."

Then resourceful Odysseus answered him and said:

"Amphinomus, you seem to be a man 160
with true intelligence. Your father, too,
had the same quality. I've heard about
his noble name—Nisus of Dulichium,
a brave and wealthy man. And people say
you come from him, and you do seem discreet.
So I'll tell you something. You should note this
and listen. Of all the things that breathe
and move along the ground, Earth does not raise [130]
anything more insignificant than man.
He thinks he'll never suffer any harm 170
in days to come, as long as gods provide
prosperity and his knees stay supple.
But when blessed gods bring on misfortunes,
he bears those, too, though much against his will.
The father of gods and men brings men the days
which shape the spirit of earth's inhabitants.
Among men I was set to be successful, too,
but, yielding to my strength and power,
I did many reckless things. I trusted
my father and my family. So no man 180 [140]
should ever practise any lawlessness.
He should hold his gifts from gods in silence,
whatever they give. I see suitors here
planning desperate acts, wasting the wealth
and dishonouring the wife of a man who,
I think, will not remain away for long,
not from his family and his native land.
He is close by. May some god lead you home,
and may you not have to confront the man
whenever he comes back to his own place. 190
For I don't believe, once he comes here,
under his own roof, he and the suitors
will separate without some blood being spilled." [150]

Odysseus spoke, and after pouring a libation,
drank some honey wine, then handed the cup back
to the leader of the people. Amphinomus
went through the house, head bowed, with foreboding
in his heart, for he had a sense of troubles
yet in store. Still, he did not escape his fate.
Athena had bound even him to be destroyed 200
by a spear in the strong hand of Telemachus.
He sat back down on the chair from which he'd risen.

Then goddess Athena with the gleaming eyes
put an idea in the mind of wise Penelope,
Icarius' daughter—to appear before the suitors,
so she might really get their hearts excited [160]
and win more honour from her son and husband
than she'd had before.* With an unnatural laugh
she spoke out and said:

"Eurynome, though my heart
was never keen before to show myself 210
to these suitors, it is so now, disgraceful
though they are. And I've got words to say
to my own son—it would be better for him
not to mingle with those arrogant suitors.
They may say nice things, but they're making plans
for nasty schemes in future."

Then her housekeeper,
Eurynome, answered her and said:

"Indeed, my child, [170]
all these things you say make sense. So you must go
and say that to your son. Do not hide it.
But first of all, you should wash your body 220
and put ointment on your face. Don't leave here
showing both cheeks stained with tears like this.
It's wrong to go on suffering grief for ever
and never stop. Your son is old enough
to grow a beard—and you prayed very hard
to gods that you would see him reach that age."

Then wise Penelope replied and said:

"Eurynome, although you care for me,
don't tell me I should rinse my body off
or rub my skin with oil. Gods on Olympus 230 [180]
have ravaged all my beauty, since the day
Odysseus went off in his hollow ships.
But tell Hippodameia and Autonoe
to come in here—they can stand beside me
in the hall. For I won't go in there alone
among the men. I'd be ashamed."

Once Penelope said this,
the old woman went through the chamber to instruct
the women and urge them to appear. Then once again,
Athena, bright-eyed goddess, thought of something else.
She poured sweet sleep over Icarius' daughter, 240
who leaned back and fell asleep. Lying on the couch,
all her limbs relaxed. Meanwhile, the lovely goddess [190]
gave her immortal gifts, so those Achaean men
would be enchanted with her. First, with an ointment
made from ambrosia she cleaned her lovely face,
like the balm well-crowned Cytherea rubs on herself
when she goes to the joyful dancing of the Graces.*
She made her taller, too, and changed her figure,
so it looked more regal. Then she made her whiter
than fresh-cut ivory. After she'd done all this, 250
the lovely goddess left, and white-armed servants came,
chattering as they moved there from their chambers.
Sweet sleep then released Penelope. With her hands
she rubbed her cheeks and said: [200]

"In spite of heavy pain,
a deep sweet sleep has held me in its arms.
I wish pure Artemis would quickly bring
a gentle death to me right now, so I
no longer waste my life away, mourning
in my heart and craving my dear husband,
a man with every form of excellence, 260
the finest of Achaeans."

Once she'd said this,
she moved down from her shining upper chambers.
She was not alone—two attendants went with her.
When the noble lady reached the suitors, she stood
beside a pillar holding up the well-made roof,
with a bright veil before her face. Loyal servants [210]
stood with her, one on either side. The suitors
in their hearts felt immediately overwhelmed
with sexual desire, and their legs grew weak.
Each of them prayed that he could go to bed with her. 270
But she addressed her dear son Telemachus:

"Telemachus, your wit and understanding
are not as steady as they used to be.
While still a child, the way you used to think
was more astute. But now you're fully grown,
on the verge of being a man, and anyone
from somewhere far away who looked at you
and only saw your beauty and your size
might well observe that you're a rich man's son.
Yet your mind and thoughts are no longer wise. 280 [220]
What sort of actions are going on in here,
in this house, when you allow a stranger
to be mistreated in this way? And now,
what if this stranger, sitting in our home,
should suffer harm from such severe abuse?
You'd be disgraced among all men and shamed."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered her and said:

"Mother, I don't take issue with you now
for being angry. I know about these things.
My heart understands them, all the details, 290
good and bad. I was still a child before.
But I can't think through everything correctly, [230]
with these men sitting round me on all sides—
they strike at me and hatch their wicked plans.
And I've no one here to guard me. But still,
this battle between Irus and the stranger
did not turn out the way the suitors wished.
The stranger's strength made him the better man.
By Father Zeus, Athena, and Apollo,
I wish these suitors now inside our home 300
could be overpowered, just as Irus was,
their heads drooping down inside the courtyard
and inside the hall, with each man's limbs
gone limp—that's how Irus is now sitting
beside the courtyard gate, nodding his head, [240]
like some drunken fool. He can't stand upright
or wander home, wherever his home is,
because his precious limbs have all gone slack."

As they were talking to each other in this way,
Eurymachus spoke to Penelope and said: 310

"Daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope,
if all the Argives in Iasian Argos
could see you, more suitors would be feasting
in your home from tomorrow on, since you
excel all women for your form, your stature,
and for the wisdom you have in your heart." *

Wise Penelope then answered him: [250]

"Eurymachus,
what's excellent about my form and beauty
the gods destroyed when Argives left for Troy
and Odysseus, my husband, went with them. 320
If he would come and organize my life,
then I'd be more beautiful and famous.
But now I'm grieving. A god has sent me
so much trouble! You know, when he went off
and left his native land, he held the wrist
on my right hand and said:

'Wife,
I don't believe all well-armed Achaeans
will make it safely back from Troy unharmed. [260]
For Trojans, people say, are fighting men,
who can hurl their spears and draw their arrows 330
and control swift-footed horses, those things
which soon decide the outcome of the fight
in an impartial war. So I don't know
if god will get me back or I'll be killed
over there in Troy. So you must care for
everything back here. When I'm away,
think of father and mother in the home,
the way you do right now, but even more.
But when you see our son has grown a beard,
then marry who you wish, and leave the house.' 340 [270]

"That's what he said. Now it's all happening.
The night will come when some hateful marriage
will be my lot, now that I've been cursed,
for Zeus has taken away my happiness,
and painful grief has come into my heart,
into my spirit. The way you men behave
was not appropriate for suitors in the past.
Those who wish to court a noble lady,
daughter of a wealthy man, and compete
against each other, bring in their cattle, 350
their own rich flocks, to feast the lady's friends.
They give splendid presents and don't consume
another's livelihood and pay him nothing." [280]

Penelope finished. Long-suffering lord Odysseus
was pleased that she was getting them to give her gifts,
charming them with soothing words, her mind on other things.

Then Antinous, Eupeithes' son, spoke to her:

"Daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope,
if one of the Achaeans wants to bring
a gift in here, you should accept it. 360
It's not good if you refuse a present.
But we'll not be going back to our estates
or any other place, until you marry
whoever is the best of the Achaeans."

Antinous spoke. His comments pleased the suitors. [290]
Each man sent a herald out to fetch some gifts.
One of them brought back, at Antinous' request,
a large and lovely robe with rich embroidery.
It had golden brooches on it, twelve in all,
fitted with graceful curving clasps. Another man 370
brought in a chain made of gold for Eurymachus,
a finely crafted work strung with amber beads,
bright as the sun. Two attendants carried back
some earrings for Eurydamas, with three droplets
in a stylish shining cluster. For lord Peisander,
Polyctor's son, an attendant brought a necklace, [300]
a splendid piece of jewelry. All Achaeans
presented her with some gorgeous gift or other.
Noble Penelope then left and went upstairs.
Her servants carried up the lovely gifts for her. 380
Then the suitors turned to joyful songs and dances,
enjoying themselves, waiting for evening to arrive.
And as they entertained themselves, black evening came.
They then set up three braziers in the hall for light.
They put dry kindling round them, hard seasoned wood,
freshly split by axe. They set torches in between, [310]
and brave Odysseus' servants held up the blazing flames.
Then Odysseus, born from Zeus, man of many schemes,
addressed those slaves in person, saying:

"Servants of Odysseus,
your master, who's been gone away so long, 390
go to the rooms the honoured queen lives in,
and twist the yarn beside her. Sit down there,
and make her happy, by staying in the room
or combing wool by hand. As for these lamps,
I'll keep providing light for all these men.
Even if they wish to stay for fair-throned Dawn,
they cannot not wear me down, for I'm a man
who can endure much suffering."

Odysseus spoke. [320]
The servants looked at one another and burst out laughing.
Then fair-cheeked Melantho chastised him shamefully, 400
a child of Dolius, but Penelope had raised her,
treating her as her own daughter, providing toys,
whatever she desired. And yet, in spite of this,
her heart was never sorry for Penelope,
for she loved Eurymachus and had sex with him.
Now in abusive language she rebuked Odysseus:

"You idiotic stranger, you're a man
whose mind has had all sense knocked out of it.
You've no wish to go into the blacksmith's home
or a public house somewhere to get some sleep. 410
No. You're here, and you babble all the time.
Around these many men, you're far too brash. [330]
There's no fear in your heart. In fact, it's wine
that's seized your wits, or else your mind
has always been that way and forces you
to prattle uselessly. Are you playing the fool
because you overcame that beggar Irus?
Take care another man, better than him,
doesn't quickly come to stand against you.
His heavy fists will punch you in the head, 420
stain you with lots of blood, and shove you out,
send you packing from this house."

With an angry frown,
wily Odysseus then answered her and said:

"You bitch! Now I'll go and tell Telemachus
the way you talk, so he can cut you up,
limb from limb, right here."

Once Odysseus spoke, [340]
his words alarmed the women, and they scattered,
moving off and fleeing through the hall. Each of them
felt her limbs grow slack with fear—they all believed
he was telling them the truth. Then Odysseus stood 430
beside the flaming braziers, keeping them alight.
He looked at all the men. But in his chest his heart
was making other plans, which he would act upon.

There was no way Athena would allow the suitors,
those arrogant men, to stop behaving badly,
so that still more pain would sink into the heart
of Laertes' son, Odysseus. So Eurymachus,
son of Polybus, began to shout to them,
insulting Odysseus, to make his comrades laugh. [350]

"Listen to me, those of you who're courting 440
the splendid queen, so I may speak to you
of what the heart inside my chest is urging.
The gods were not unwilling this man came
into Odysseus' home. In fact, I think
the torch light emanates from his own head
because he's got no hair up there at all."*

Once he'd said this, he then spoke to Odysseus,
destroyer of cities:

"Stranger, how'd you like to work?
What if I hired you for some distant farm—
I guarantee I'd pay you—gathering stones 450
to build up walls and planting lofty trees?
I'd bring some food there for you all year round, [360]
clothe you, and get some sandals for your feet.
But since you've only learned to misbehave,
you won't want to acquaint yourself with work.
No. You'd prefer to beg throughout the land,
collecting food for your voracious gut."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said:

"Eurymachus, I wish the two of us
could have a contest working in the spring, 460
when long days come, both mowing down the grass.
I'd have a curved scythe in my hands, and you
with one just like it. Then we'd test ourselves,
in lush grass, with no food to eat till dusk. [370]
If we had oxen there, the best there are,
huge tawny beasts, both well fed on grass,
with strength that never tires, and in a field
measuring four acres and containing soil
which turns under the plough, then you'd see
if I could cut a straight unbroken furrow. 470
If this very day Cronos' son stirred up
a battle somewhere and I had a shield,
two spears, and a helmet all of bronze,
well fitted to my temples, then you'd see
how I'd join in with fighters in the front.
And you'd not chatter on, insulting me [380]
about my stomach. But you're much too proud,
and your mind's unfeeling. You really think
you're an important man, with real power,
because you mingle with a few weak men. 480
But if Odysseus returned, got back here
to his native land, those doors over there,
although they're really wide, would quickly seem
too narrow for you as you fled outside."

Odysseus finished. Eurymachus in his heart
grew even angrier, and, with scowl, he spoke—
his words had wings:

"You miserable man,
I'll bring you trouble soon enough. You talk
brashly in this way among so many men, [390]
no fear in your heart! Wine has seized your wits, 490
or else your mind has always been like this,
and prattles vainly on. Have you gone mad
because you beat that beggar Irus?"

As he said this, he picked up a stool. But Odysseus
sat down beside the knee of Amphinomus
from Dulichium, in fear of Eurymachus.
So Eurymachus struck a person serving wine
on his right hand. The wine jug fell and hit the ground
with a resounding clang, and the server groaned,
then toppled backwards in the dirt. The suitors 500
broke into an uproar in the shadowy halls,
and one man, glancing at the person next to him, [400]
said something like these words:

"How I wish
that wandering stranger there had perished
somewhere else before he reached this place.
He'd not be making such a fuss among us.
Now we're brawling over beggars. This meal,
the splendid feast, will bring us no delight,
now that this trouble's got the upper hand."

Telemachus then spoke to them with royal authority: 510

"You fools, you've gone insane, and in your hearts
no longer hide how much you eat and drink.
You must be being incited by some god.
So, now you've feasted well, return back home.
When the spirit bids, you can get some rest.
Still, I'm not chasing anyone away."

Telemachus spoke, and they all bit their lips, [410]
astonished that he'd spoken out so boldly.
Then Amphinomus, splendid son of Nisus,
son of lord Aretias, spoke to them and said: 520

"My friends, when a man says something just,
no one should get enraged and answer him
with hostile words. Don't abuse this stranger
or any slaves in lord Odysseus' home.
But come, let the wine server pour some drops
into our cups so we can make libations,
and then go home and rest. This stranger here, [420]
we'll leave him in Odysseus' palace,
and Telemachus can cater to him—
after all, it's his home which he came to." 530

Amphinomus finished. They were all delighted
with what he'd said. A herald from Dulichium,
lord Mulius, attending on Amphinomus,
mixed wine in a bowl for them and served it round,
coming to each man in his turn. They poured libations
to the sacred gods and drank wine sweet as honey.
Once they'd poured libations and had drinks of wine
to their heart's content, they all went on their way,
each man going to his own house to get some rest.



 

Notes for Book Eighteen

* . . . for anyone who asked him: The name Irus is probably a masculine version of Iris, the name of the goddess who carries messages for the gods.

* . . . tortures everyone: Echetus was king of Epirus and notorious for his extreme cruelty. He is reputed to have driven bronze spikes into his daughter's eyes.

* . . . than she had before: This entire incident (lines 203 to 380) has been the subject of much scholarly discussion, especially concerning Penelope's motivation and the style of the writing, since it seems an unnecessary and awkward interruption in the main narrative.

*Cytherea: a common name for Aphrodite, goddess of sexual desire.

*. . . in your heart: Iasian Argos seems to be a reference to a wide geographical area, either the whole of the Peloponnese or all Greek settlements generally.

* . . . there at all: The point of this odd gibe seems to be that Odysseus must be radiating light (hence must be divine or getting divine help) because he has no hair on his head which might burn to produce a flame.






 

 

 



The Harpies Going to Seize the Daughters of Pandarus






Book Nineteen



Eurycleia Recognizes Odysseus

[Odysseus and Telemachus hide the weapons; Telemachus leaves to go to bed; Penelope comes down; Melantho insults Odysseus a second time; Penelope upbraids her, then has a conversation with Odysseus; Penelope tells him of her deception of the suitors; Odysseus gives her a long false story of his Cretan ancestry and talks of meeting Odysseus; Penelope questions him about Odysseus' clothes and comrades; Penelope orders Eurycleia to wash Odysseus' feet; the story of the scar on Odysseus' knee, how Odysseus got his name; the hunting expedition with Autolycus; Eurycleia recognizes the scar; Odysseus threatens her; Penelope and Odysseus resume their conversation; Penelope tells about her dream; Odysseus comments on the interpretation of the dream; Penelope talks about the two gates of dreams, then proposes the contest of firing an arrow through twelve axe heads; Odysseus urges her to have the contest; Penelope goes upstairs to sleep.]

So lord Odysseus remained in the hall behind,
thinking of ways he might kill off the suitors,
with Athena's help. He spoke out immediately
to Telemachus—his words had wings:

"Telemachus,
all these war weapons we must stash inside,
and when the suitors notice they're not there
and question you, then reassure them,
using gentle language:

'I've put them away
in a place far from the smoke. Those weapons
are no longer like the ones Odysseus left 10
when he set off for Troy so long ago.
They're tarnished. That's how much the fire's breath
has reached them. Moreover, a god has set [10]
greater fear inside my heart—you may drink
too much wine and then fight amongst yourselves
and wound each other. That would shame the feast,
disgrace your courtship. For iron by itself
can draw a man to use it.'"

Odysseus finished.
His dear father's words convinced Telemachus.
He called his nurse, Eurycleia, and said to her: 20

"Nurse, come and help me. Keep the women
in their rooms, so I can put away in storage
these fine weapons belonging to my father.
Since the time he left, when I was still a child,
no one's looked after them, and smoky fires
have tarnished them. Now I want to keep them
beyond the reach of breathing fire." [20]

His dear nurse, Eurycleia, then said to him:

"Yes, my child, may you always think about
caring for this house, guarding all its wealth. 30
But come, who will go off and fetch a light
and carry it for you, if you won't let
the servant women, who could hold torches,
walk out in front of you?"

Shrewd Telemachus
then answered her and said:

"This stranger will.
I won't let anyone who's touched my food
rest idle, not even if he's come here
from somewhere far away."

Telemachus spoke.
She did not reply—her words could find no wings.
So she locked shut the doors in that stately room. 40 [30]
Then both Odysseus and his splendid son jumped up
and carried away the helmets, embossed shields,
and pointed spears. In front of them Pallas Athena
held up a golden lamp and cast a lovely light.
Then suddenly Telemachus spoke to his father:

"Father, what my eyes are witnessing
is an enormous wonder. In this room
the walls and beautiful pedestals,
the fir beams and high supporting pillars
are glowing in my eyes, as if lit up 50
by blazing fire. Some god must be inside,
one of those who hold wide heaven." [40]

Resourceful Odysseus
then answered him and said:

"Keep quiet.
Check those ideas and ask no questions.
This is how gods who hold Olympus work.
You should go and get some rest. I'll stay here,
so I can agitate the servants even more—
and your mother. As she laments, she'll ask
for each and every detail."

Odysseus finished.
Telemachus moved off, going through the hall, 60
below the flaming torches, out into the room
where he used to rest when sweet sleep came to him.
Then he lay down there and waited for the dawn. [50]
Lord Odysseus remained behind, in the hall,
thinking how to kill the suitors with Athena's help.

Then wise Penelope emerged out of her room,
looking like Artemis or golden Aphrodite.
Beside the fire where she used to sit, they placed
a chair for her, inlaid with ivory and silver.
Imalcius, a craftsman, had made it years ago. 70
He'd fixed a footstool underneath, part of the chair,
on which they usually threw a large sheep fleece.
Here wise Penelope sat, while white-armed servants [60]
came from the women's hall and started to remove
the lavish amounts of food, the tables, and the cups
high-spirited suitors had been drinking from.
The embers in the braziers they threw on the floor,
then filled them up with plenty of fresh wood
for warmth and light. But then Melantho once again
went at Odysseus, chiding him a second time: 80

"Stranger, are you still going to pester us
even now, all through the night in here,
roaming around the house, spying on women?
Get outside, you wretch, and be satisfied
with what you've had to eat, or soon enough
you'll be beaten with a torch and leave that way."

Resourceful Odysseus scowled and said to her: [70]

"You're a passionate woman—why is it
you go at me like this, with such anger
in your heart? Is it because I'm filthy, 90
wear shabby clothing on my body,
and beg throughout the district? I have to—
sheer need forces that on me. That's what
beggars and vagabonds are like. But once
I was wealthy and lived in my own home,
in a rich house, too, among my people.
I often gave gifts to a wanderer like me,
no matter who he was or what his needs
when he arrived. I had countless servants
and many other things that people have 100
when they live well and are considered rich.
But then Zeus, son of Cronos, ruined me. [80]
That's what he wanted, I suppose. And so,
woman, take care that you, too, someday
don't lose all that grace which now makes you
stand out among the woman servants here.
Your mistress may lose her temper with you
and make things difficult, or Odysseus
may come home, for there's still a shred of hope.
Even if he's dead and won't come home again, 110
thanks to Apollo he's got Telemachus,
a son just like himself. And no woman
in these halls who acts with recklessness
escapes his notice. He's a child no longer."

Odysseus spoke. Wise Penelope heard his words
and rebuked Melantho, saying to her:

"You can be sure,
you bold and reckless bitch, I've noticed
your gross acts. And you'll wipe away the stain
with your own head. You clearly know full well,
because you heard me say it—I'm intending 120
to ask this stranger in my halls some questions
about my husband, since I'm in so much pain."

Penelope paused, then spoke to Eurynome,
her housekeeper, and said:

"Eurynome,
bring a chair over here with a fleece on it,
so the stranger can sit down and talk to me
and hear me out. I want to question him."

Once Penelope had spoken, Eurynome [100]
quickly brought a polished chair and placed it there.
She threw a sheep fleece over it. Lord Odysseus, 130
who'd been through so much, sat down on it. And then
wise Penelope began their conversation:

"Stranger, first of all I'll ask this question—
Who are you among men? Where are you from?
From what city? And where are your parents?"

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

"Lady, no human living on boundless earth
could find fault with you. And your fame extends
right up to spacious heaven, as it does
for an excellent king who fears the gods 140
and governs many courageous people, [110]
upholding justice. His black earth is rich
in barley and in wheat, and his orchards
are laden down with fruit. His flocks bear young
and never fail, while the sea yields up its fish.
All this from his fine leadership. With him
his people thrive. So here inside your home
ask me questions about anything except
my family or my native land, in case
you fill my heart with still more sorrow, 150
as I remember them. For I'm a man
who's suffered a great deal, and there's no need
for me to sit here weeping my laments
in someone else's house—for it's not good [120]
to be sad all the time and never stop,
in case the slaves or you yourself resent it
and say I swim in tears because my mind
is now besotted, loaded down with wine."

Wise Penelope then answered him and said:

"Stranger, the immortal gods destroyed 160
my excellence in form and body
when Argives got on board their ships for Troy.
Odysseus went with them, my husband.
If he would come and organize my life,
my reputation then would be more famous,
more beautiful, as well. But now I grieve.
Some god has laid so many troubles on me.
For all the finest men who rule the islands— [130]
Dulichium, Same, wooded Zacynthus—
and those who live in sunny Ithaca, 170
these men are courting me against my will.
And they are ruining the house. That's why
I have no time for suppliants and strangers,
or for heralds who do the people's work.*
Instead I waste away my heart, longing
for Odysseus. They're all keen on marriage,
but I trick them with my weaving. Some god
first breathed into my heart the thought
that I should place a huge loom in the halls
and weave a robe, wide and delicate fabric. 180 [140]
So I spoke to them at once:

'You young men,
my suitors, since lord Odysseus is dead,
you're keen for me to marry, but you must wait
until I'm finished with this robe, so I
don't waste this woven yarn in useless work.
It's a burial shroud for lord Laertes,
for when the lethal fate of his sad death
will seize him, so no Achaean woman
in the district will get angry with me
that a man who'd won much property 190
should have to lie without a death shroud.'

That's what I said, and their proud hearts agreed.
So every day I'd weave at the big loom.
But at night, once the torches were set up, [150]
I'd unravel it. And so for three years
I tricked Achaeans into believing me.
But as the seasons came and months rolled on,
and many days passed by, the fourth year came.
That's when they came and caught me undoing yarn—
thanks to my slaves, those ungrateful bitches. 200
They all shouted speeches at me. And so,
against my will, I was forced to finish off
that piece of weaving. Now I can't escape
the marriage or invent some other scheme.
My parents are really urging me to marry,
and my son is worrying about those men
eating away his livelihood. He notices, [160]
because he's now a man, quite capable
of caring for a household to which Zeus
has granted fame. But tell me of your race, 210
where you come from. For you did not spring up
out of an oak tree in some ancient story
or from a stone."

Odysseus, a man of many schemes,
then answered her and said:

"Noble lady,
wife of Odysseus, Laertes' son,
will you never stop asking your questions
about my family? All right, I'll tell you.
But you'll be giving me more sorrows
than those which grip me here—as is the rule
when a man's been absent from his native land 220
as long as I have now, wandering around, [170]
through many towns of mortal men, suffering
great distress. Still, I'll answer what you ask,
the questions you have posed. There's a place
in the middle of the wine-dark sea called Crete,
a lovely, fruitful land surrounded by the sea.
Many men live there, more than one can count,
in ninety cities. The dialects they speak
are all mixed up. There are Achaeans
and stout-hearted native Cretans, too, 230
Cydonians and three groups of Dorians,
and noble Pelasgians. Their cities
include great Cnossos, where king Minos reigned,
after he'd talked with Zeus for nine full years,
the father of my father, brave Deucalion. [180]
Deucalion had me and king Idomeneus.
But Idomeneus went away to Troy
in his beaked ships with Atreus' sons.
My name's well known—Aethon—the younger son,
but Idomeneus was older by birth 240
and was the finer man. I saw Odysseus there
and gave him welcoming gifts. The wind's force
brought him to Crete, as he was sailing on,
bound for Troy—it drove him off his course
past Malea. He'd moored at Amnisus,
where one finds the cave of Eilithyia,
in a difficult harbour, fleeing the storm,
but only just. He went immediately [190]
up to the city, seeking Idomeneus,
saying he was his loved and honoured friend. 250
But by now nine or ten days had gone by
since Idomeneus had set off for Troy
in his beaked ships. So I invited him
into my house and entertained him well,
with a kind welcome, using the rich store
of goods inside my house. For the others,
comrades who followed him, I gathered up
and gave out barley from the public stores,
gleaming wine, and cattle for sacrifice,
enough to satisfy their hearts. And there 260
those Achaean lords remained twelve days.
The great North Wind held them there, penned them in— [200]
he would not let them stand up on the earth.
Some angry deity had stirred him up.
But on the thirteenth day, the wind eased off,
and they put out to sea."

As Odysseus spoke,
he made the many falsehood seem like truth.
Penelope listened with tears flowing down.
Her flesh melted—just as on high mountains
snow melts away under West Wind's thaw, 270
once East Wind blows it down, and, as it melts,
the flowing rivers fill—that's how her fair cheeks
melted then, as she shed tears for her husband,
who was sitting there beside her.* Odysseus
felt pity in his heart for his grieving wife, [210]
but his eyes stayed firm between his eyelids,
like horn or iron, and he kept up his deceit
to conceal his tears. But then, when Penelope
had had enough of crying and mourning,
she spoke to him once more and said:

"Now, stranger, 280
I think I'd really like to test you out,
to see if you did, in fact, entertain
my husband and his fine companions there,
in your halls, as you just claimed. So tell me
what sort of clothes he had on his body
and the kind of man he was. And tell me
about his comrades who went there with him."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said: [220]

"Lady, it's difficult to tell you this
for any man who's been away so long— 290
it's now the twentieth year since he went off
and left my country. But I'll describe for you
how my heart pictures him. Lord Odysseus
wore a woolen purple cloak, a double one.
The brooch on it was made of gold—it had
a pair of clasps and a fine engraving
on the front, a dog held in its forepaws
a dappled fawn, gripping it as it writhed.
Everyone who saw it was astonished
at those gold animals—the dog held down 300 [230]
the fawn, as he throttled it, and the fawn
was struggling with its feet, trying to flee.
I noticed the tunic on his body—
glistening like the skin of a dry onion—
it was so soft and shone out like the sun.
In fact, many women kept watching him
in wonder. And I'll tell you something else.
Keep in mind I don't know if Odysseus
dressed his body in these clothes at home,
or if some comrade gave them to him 310
on his swift ship after he went aboard,
or perhaps a stranger did—Odysseus
was liked by many men. Few Achaeans [240]
could equal him. I gave him gifts myself,
a bronze sword, a lovely purple cloak,
with a double fold, and a fringed tunic,
and I sent him off on his well-benched ship
with every honour. And in his company
he had a herald, older than himself,
but not by much. I'll tell you about him. 320
He looked like this—he had rounded shoulders,
a dark skin, and curly hair. And his name
was Eurybates. Odysseus valued him
more than any other of his comrades—
he had a mind that matched his own."

As Odysseus spoke, in Penelope he roused
desire to weep still more, because she recognized
in what Odysseus said signs that he spoke the truth. [250]
But then, when she'd had enough of tearful sorrow,
she answered him and said these words:

"Stranger, 330
though I pitied you before, in my home
you'll now find genuine welcome and respect.
I was the one who gave him that clothing
you talk about. I brought it from the room,
folded it, and pinned on the shining brooch
to be an ornament for him. But now,
I'll not be welcoming him here again,
when he returns to his dear native land.
Odysseus set off with an evil fate
to catch a glimpse of wicked Ilion, 340
a place that never should be spoken of." [260]

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

"Noble wife of Odysseus, Laertes' son,
don't mar your lovely skin or waste your heart
by weeping for your husband any more.
I don't blame you in the least, for anyone
would mourn the husband she had married
and then lost, one she'd had loving sex with
and to whom she borne a child, even if
he were not Odysseus, who, people say 350
is like the gods. But end your crying,
and listen to my words. I'll tell you the truth,
hiding nothing—for I've already heard [270]
about Odysseus' return. He's close by,
in the wealthy land of Thesprotians,
still alive and bringing much fine treasure
with him. He's urging men to give him gifts
throughout that land. He lost his loyal friends
on the wine-dark sea and his hollow ship,
as he was moving from the island Thrinacia. 360
Zeus and Helios were angry with him—
his crew had slaughtered Helios' cattle.
So they all perished in the surging sea.
But Odysseus, holding onto the ship's keel,
was tossed by waves on shore, in the land
of the Phaeacians, who by their descent
are close relations of the gods. These men
honoured him with all their hearts, just as if [280]
he were a god. They gave him many gifts
and were keen to bring him home unharmed. 370
Odysseus would have been here long ago,
but to his heart it seemed a better thing
to visit many lands collecting wealth.
For above all mortal men, Odysseus
knows ways to win many advantages.
No other man can rival him in this.
That's what Pheidon, the Thesprotian king,
told me, and he swore to me in person,
as he poured libations in his home,
the ship was launched and comrades were prepared 380
to take him back to his dear native land. [290]
But before they left he sent me away.
It happened that a Thesprotian ship
was sailing for wheat-rich Dulichium.
He showed me all the rich possessions
Odysseus had collected. There was enough
to feed his family for ten generations—
that's how much was lying in storage there
in that king's house. Odysseus, he said,
had gone to Dodona to find out there, 390
from the towering oak, what plans Zeus had*
for the voyage back to his dear native land,
after being away so long. Should he come
openly or in secret? He's near by and safe [300]
and will be here soon. He won't stay away
from his friends and native land much longer.
I'll make an oath on that for you. May Zeus
be my first witness, highest and best of gods,
and the hearth of excellent Odysseus,
which I've reached, all these things will happen 400
just as I describe. In this very month
Odysseus will come, as the old moon wanes
and the new moon starts to rise."

Wise Penelope
then answered him and said:

"Oh stranger,
I wish what you have said might come about.
You'd soon come to recognize my friendship, [310]
so many gifts from me that any man
who met you would call you truly blessed.
But my heart has a sense of what will be—
Odysseus won't be coming home again, 410
and you'll not find a convoy out of here,
because there are no leaders in this house,
not the quality of man Odysseus was,
if there was ever such a man, to welcome
honoured strangers and send them on their way.
But, you servant women, wash this stranger,
and prepare a place to sleep—a bed, cloaks,
bright coverlets—so in warmth and comfort
he may reach Dawn with her golden throne.
Tomorrow morning early give him a bath 420 [320]
and rub him down with oil, so he'll be ready
to take his seat inside the hall and eat his meal
beside Telemachus. Things will go badly
for any one of them who injures him
and pains his heart—that man will accomplish
nothing further here, even though his rage
is truly fierce. How will you learn from me,
stranger, that I in any way excel
among all women for my prudent plans
and my intelligence, if you dine here, 430
in my halls, dressed in filthy ragged clothes?
Men don't live long. And if a man is harsh
and thinks unfeelingly, then everyone
lays painful curses on his future life, [330]
and when he's dead they all make fun of him.
But if a man is innocent and thinks
with no sense of injury, then strangers
bear his fame far and wide among all men,
and many say of him 'He's a true man.'"

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said: 440

"Honoured wife of Odysseus, Laertes' son,
I've hated cloaks and shining coverlets
since I first left the mountain snows of Crete,
when I departed on my long-oared ship.
So I'll lie down, as I've been doing before [340]
through sleepless nights. I've lain many nights
on foul bedding, awaiting bright-throned Dawn.
And having my feet washed brings no delight
into my heart. No woman in your household
will touch my feet, none of the serving women 450
in your home, unless there is an old one,
who knows true devotion and has suffered
in her heart as many pains as I have.
I'd not resent it if she touched my feet."

Wise Penelope then answered him and said:

"Dear stranger, no guest from distant lands [350]
who's come into my house has ever been
as wise as you or more welcome—your words
are all so sensible and thoughtful. I do have
an old woman with an understanding heart. 460
She gave my helpless husband her fine care
the day his mother first gave birth to him.
Although she's weak and old, she'll wash your feet.
So come now, stand up, wise Eurycleia,
and bathe a man the same age as your master.
Perhaps Odysseus has feet and hands like his,
for mortal men soon age when times are bad." [360]

Penelope spoke, and the old woman held her hands
over her face and shed warm tears. She spoke out
uttering words of sorrow:

"Alas for you, my child. 470
There's nothing I can do. Zeus must despise you
above all people, though you have a heart
that fears the gods. No mortal up to now
has given Zeus, who hurls the thunderbolt,
so many rich burned pieces of the thigh,
or offered such well-chosen sacrifice
as you've made to him, praying you might reach
a sleek old age and raise your splendid son.
But now from you alone he's taken away
the day that you'll return. And it may be 480 [370]
that women in some strange and far-off land
make fun of him, as well, when he arrives
at some famous home, the way these bitches,
mock you here, all of them. To stop their slurs,
their insults, you won't let them wash your feet.
But Icarius' daughter, wise Penelope,
has asked me to do it, and I'm willing.
So for Penelope's sake I'll bathe your feet,
and for yours, since the heart in me is stirred
with sorrow. But come now, listen to me. 490
Hear what I say. Many worn-out strangers
have come here, but none of them, I tell you,
was so like him to look at—your stature, [380]
voice, and feet are all just like Odysseus."

Then resourceful Odysseus answered her and said:

"Old woman, those who've seen the two of us
with their own eyes all say the same—we both
look very like each other, as you've seen
and mentioned."

After these words from Odysseus,
the old woman took the shining bowl to wash his feet. 500
She poured in plenty of cold water and added
warmer water to it. Odysseus then sat down
some distance from the hearth and quickly turned around
towards the darkness. For suddenly in his heart
he was afraid that, when she touched him, she might see [390]
a scar he had, and then the truth would be revealed.
She came up and began to wash her master.
She recognized the scar immediately, a wound
a boar's white tusk had given him many years ago,
when he'd gone to Parnassus, making a visit 510
to Autolycus, his mother's splendid father,
and his sons. That man could surpass all others
in thievery and swearing. A god himself, Hermes,
had given him those skills. For him he used to burn
pleasing offerings, thighs of younger goats and lambs.
So Hermes traveled with him, bringing willing favours.
When he came to the wealthy land of Ithaca,
Autolycus had met his daughter's new born son, [400]
and once he'd finished dinner, Eurycleia
set the child upon his knees and spoke to him: 520

"Autolycus, you must personally find
your daughter's child a name. We've been praying
for a long time now to have this child."

So Autolycus then answered her and said:

"My son-in-law and daughter, give the boy
whatever name I say. Since I've come here
as one who's been enraged at many people,
men and women, on this all-nourishing earth,
let him be called Odysseus, a man of rage.*
As for me, when he's become a full-grown man 530 [410]
and comes to see his mother's family home
at Parnassus, where I keep my property,
I'll give him some of it and send him off.
He'll be delighted."

It was for that reason,
to get those splendid presents from Autolycus,
that Odysseus had come. Autolycus and his sons
clasped his hand in welcome, greeted him with kindness,
and his mother's mother, Amphithea, hugged him,
kissed him on the head and both his lovely eyes.
Autolycus then called out to his noble sons 540
to prepare a meal, and they answered his call.
Quickly they brought in a male ox, five years old, [420]
flayed it, and prepared the beast, slicing up the limbs.
They cut these skillfully, pierced the meat with spits,
roasted them with care, and passed around the portions.
Then they dined all day long until the sun went down.
They feasted equally—their hearts were quite content.
But when the sun went down and darkness came,
they then lay down to rest and took the gift of sleep.
But as soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared, 550
they went off to the hunt, with Autolycus' sons
and dogs, as well. And lord Odysseus left with them. [430]
They climbed up steep, tree-covered Mount Parnassus
and quickly reached its windy gullies. By this time,
Helios had just begun to strike the fields,
rising from deep streams of gently flowing Ocean.
The beaters reached a clearing. The dogs went first,
ahead of them, following the tracks. Behind them,
came Autolycus' sons, with lord Odysseus
in their group, close to the dogs. He was holding up 560
his long-shadowed spear. Now, right there a huge wild boar
was lying in a tangled thicket—it was so dense
the power of watery winds could not get through, [440]
none of Helios' rays could pierce it, and the rain
would never penetrate. There were fallen leaves
in piles around the place. The sound of rustling feet
from men and dogs, as they pushed on the hunt,
came round the beast, and he charged from the thicket
to confront them—his back was really bristling,
eyes flashing fire, as he stood at bay before them. 570
Odysseus rushed in first, his strong hands gripping
the long spear, keen to strike the boar. But the beast
got the jump on him and struck him above the knee,
charging at him from the side, a long gash in his flesh [450]
sliced by its tusk, but it didn't reach Odysseus' bone.
But then Odysseus struck the boar, hitting it
on its right shoulder. The bright point of his spear
went clean through—the boar fell in the dust, squealing,
and its life force flew away. Autolycus' dear sons
attended to the carcass. They skillfully bound up 580
the wound on noble, godlike Odysseus, staunching
with a spell the flow of his dark blood. And then
they quickly went back to their dear father's home.
When Autolycus and Autolycus' sons
had fully cured him and presented splendid gifts, [460]
they soon sent him back in a joyful frame of mind
to his native land in Ithaca. When he got back,
his father and his honoured mother were delighted,
asked him every detail of how he'd got the wound,
and he told them the truth—how, while he was hunting 590
with Autolycus' sons when he'd gone to Parnassus,
a boar's white tusk had gored him. That was the scar
the old woman was then holding in her hands.
She traced it out and recognized it. She dropped his foot.
His leg fell in the basin, and the bronze rang out.
It tipped onto its side. Water spilled out on the ground. [470]
All at once, joy and sorrow gripped her heart. Her eyes
filled up with tears, and her full voice was speechless.
She reached up to Odysseus' chin and said:

"It's true, dear child.
You are Odysseus, and I didn't know you, 600
not till I'd touched all my master's body."

She spoke, and her eyes glanced over at Penelope,
anxious to tell her that her husband had come home.
But Penelope could not see her face or understand,
for Athena had diverted her attention.
Then Odysseus' arms reached out for Eurycleia—
with his right hand he grabbed her by the throat, [480]
and with the other pulled her closer to him.
Then he said:

"My good mother, why this wish
to have me slaughtered? You yourself nursed me
at this breast of yours. Now in the twentieth year, 610
after suffering through numerous ordeals,
I've come back to my native land. And now,
you've recognized me—a god has put that
in your heart. Stay silent, so in these halls
no one else finds out. I'll tell you something—
and it will happen. If a god overpowers
these arrogant suitors, sets them under me,
I'll not spare you, though you are my nurse,
when I kill other women in my home." [490]

Prudent Eurycleia then answered him:

"My child, 620
what words escaped the barrier of your teeth!
You know how strong and firm my spirit is.
I'll be as tough as a hard stone or iron.
I'll tell you something else. Keep it in mind.
If a god does overpower these lordly suitors
and sets them under you, then I'll tell you
about the women in your home, the ones
dishonouring you and those who bear no shame."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said: 630

"Good mother, why speak to me about them? [500]
There's no need. I myself will look at them
and get to know each one. But keep this news
to yourself. Leave the matter with the gods."

Once Odysseus spoke, the old woman left the room
to fetch water for his feet, since what she'd had before
had all been spilled. When she'd finished bathing him,
she rubbed him with rich oil. Then Odysseus once more
pulled his chair closer to the fire to warm himself.
He hid the scar under his rags. Wise Penelope 640
began to speak. She said:

"Stranger, there's one small thing
I'll ask you for myself. Soon it will be time
to take a pleasant rest. And sleep is sweet [510]
to anyone it seizes, even if he's troubled.
But some god has given me unmeasured grief,
for every day I get my joy from mourning,
from laments, as I look after my own work
and supervise the servants in the house.
But when night comes and Sleep grips everyone,
I lie in bed, and piercing worries crowd 650
my throbbing heart and give me great distress,
while I mourn. Just as Pandareus' daughter,
the nightingale of the green woods, sings out
her lovely song when early spring arrives,
perched up in thick foliage of the forest, [520]
and pours forth her richly modulating voice
in wailing for her child, beloved Itylus,
lord Zethus' son, whom with a sword one day
she'd killed unwittingly—that's how my heart
moves back and forth in its uncertainty.* 660
Should I stay with my son and keep careful watch
on all possessions and my female slaves
and my large and lofty home, honouring
my husband's bed and what the people say,
or go off with the best of those Achaeans
who court me in my halls—the one who offers
countless bridal gifts. My son, while young [530]
and with a feeble mind, would not permit
that I got married and left my husband's home.
But now he's grown—his youth has reached its limit— 670
he's begging me to go back home again,
to leave this house, for he's very worried
about the property which these Achaeans
are using up. But come, listen to my dream
and interpret it for me. In this house
I have twenty geese come from the water
to eat my wheat. And when I look at them
I am delighted. Then from the mountains
a huge hook-beaked eagle came and killed them—
snapping all their necks. They lay there in piles, 680
inside my hall, while he was carried up [540]
into a shining sky. Now in that dream
I wept and wailed. Meanwhile, all around me
fair-haired women of Achaea gathered,
as, in my sorrow, I was there lamenting
that the eagle had slaughtered all my geese.
But he came back and, sitting on a beam
projecting from the roof, checked my sorrow,
and in a human voice spoke out to me:

'Daughter of famous Icarius, 690
you must be brave. That was no dream,
but a true glimpse of what will really happen.
The suitors are those geese, and I am here—
before I was an eagle, but now I've come
as your own husband, who will execute
a cruel fate on each and every suitor.' [550]

"That's what he said. Then sweet sleep released me.
When I looked around the hall, I saw the geese—
they were pecking at the wheat beside the trough,
as they used to do before."

Resourceful Odysseus 700
then answered her and said:

"Lady, it's quite impossible
to twist another meaning from this dream,
since the real Odysseus has revealed to you
how he will end all this. The suitors' deaths
are all plain to see, and not one of them
will escape destruction and his fate."

Wise Penelope then gave him her reply:

"Stranger, stories told in dreams are difficult— [560]
their meanings are not clear, and for people
they are not realized in every detail. 710
There are two gates for insubstantial dreams,
one made of horn and one of ivory.
Those which pass through the fresh-cut ivory
deceive—the words they bring are unfulfilled.
Those which come through the gate of polished horn,
once some mortal sees them, bring on the truth.
But, in my case, I don't think that strange dream
came through that gate. It really would have been
a welcome thing to me and to my son.
But I'll tell you something else. Keep it in mind. 720 [570]
That morning is already drawing near
which will separate me from Odysseus' house,
a day of evil omen. I'll now organize
a competition featuring those axes
he used to set inside his hall, in a line,
like a ship's ribs, twelve of them in all.
He'd stand far off and shoot an arrow through them.*
I'll now set up this contest for the suitors.
The one whose hand most deftly strings his bow
and shoots an arrow through all twelve axes 730
is the one I'll go with. I'll leave my house,
where I've been married, a very lovely home, [580]
full of what one needs to live—even in dreams
it will stay in my memory forever."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

"Honoured wife of Odysseus, Laertes' son,
don't delay this contest in your halls
a moment longer. I can assure you,
Odysseus will be here with all his schemes,
before these men pick up the polished bow, 740
string it, and shoot an arrow through the iron."

Wise Penelope then answered him:

"Stranger,
if you wished to sit beside me in these halls
to bring me pleasure, sleep would never sit [590]
on these eyelids of mine. But there's no way
men can go on forever without sleep.
Immortal gods have set a proper time
for every man on this grain-bearing earth.
So now I'll go up to my upper room
and lie down on the bed, which is for me 750
a place for grieving, always wet with tears,
since Odysseus went to wicked Ilion,
a name which never should be mentioned.
I'll lie down there. But you can stretch out here,
in the house, putting bedding on the floor.
Or let the servants make a bed for you."

Once she'd said this, she went to her bright upper room, [600]
not alone, for two attendant women went with her.
When she and her servants reached the upper room,
she cried out for Odysseus, her dear husband, 760
till bright-eyed Athena cast sweet sleep on her eyelids.



 

Notes to Book Nineteen

. . . people's work: Public heralds work on public business, as opposed to heralds retained by rich aristocrats to carry their private messages.

. . . beside her: Following the suggestion of another editor (Myres), I have exchanged the name of the winds, since in Homer the West Wind is commonly associated with warmth and the East Wind with cold weather and snow.

. . . what plans Zeus had: Dodona, in Epirus, was an ancient centre for the worship of Zeus and a popular place to consult an oracle. The rustling sounds in the large oak tree there were believed to be the words of Zeus himself.

. . . Odysseus, a man of rage: This explanation for Odysseus' name derives it from the Greek verb odussomai, meaning to be angry at. Homer calls attention to this etymology more than once.

. . . in its uncertainty: Itylus, son of king Zethus, was killed by his mother Aedon accidentally. The mother was then transformed into a nightingale, whose song is a constant lament for her dead child. In some versions of the story, Itylus is a daughter.

. . . through them: The details of this famous trial of shooting an arrow through a row of axes have been much discussed. Some interpreters have suggested that it makes sense if we imagine that there is a hole in the head of each axe and that they can be lined up so that an arrow might pass through them all (obviously a very difficult shot). Some ancient axes apparently had this feature. Others have suggested that the holes are rings at the bottom end of the shaft or that the holes are those which normally hold the axe shaft (so that the line of axes is actually a line of axe heads with the shaft removed.






 

 

 


Penelope Carrying the Bow of Ulysses to the Suitors






Book Twenty



Odysseus Prepares for his Revenge

[Odysseus has trouble sleeping; Athena visits him and gives him reassurance; Penelope prays to Artemis, longing for her life to end; Odysseus asks Zeus for two omens; Zeus peals his thunder and a woman grinding grain prays aloud to Zeus; Telemachus asks Eurycleia about the treatment of his guest; Eurycleia organizes the clean up the house; Eumaeus arrives with some animals and talks to Odysseus; Melanthius insults Odysseus again; Philoetius arrives and talks to Eumaeus, then wishes Odysseus well; the suitors plan to kill Telemachus but are dissuaded by an omen; Telemachus tells Odysseus he’ll protect him at the feast and speaks forcefully to the suitors; Ctesippus throws a piece of meat at Odysseus, but misses; Telemachus threatens him; Agelaus proposes that Penelope make up her mind; Pallas Athena makes the suitors laugh uncontrollably and sends images of disaster; Theoclymenus interprets them and warns the suitors; they all laugh at Telemachus; Penelope sits and listens to the conversations.]

So lord Odysseus went to the portico to sleep.
Underneath he spread an untanned hide and on top
fleeces from many sheep slaughtered for sacrifice
by the Achaeans. Eurynome spread a cloak on him,
once he lay down to rest. But he couldn't sleep.
His heart was hatching trouble for the suitors.
Then the women went out from the hall, the ones
who in earlier days had had sex with the suitors.
They were laughing, having fun with one another.
Odysseus' spirit in his chest was stirred—mind and heart 10 [10]
engaged in fierce debate whether he should charge out
and put each one to death or let them and the suitors
have sex one last and final time. Inside him
his heart was growling. Just as a bitch stands snarling
above her tender pups when she sees anyone
she does not recognize and is prepared to fight,
that how in his anger the heart within him growled
at their disgraceful acts. But he struck his chest and said,
as a rebuke to his own heart:

"Hang on, my heart.
You went through things worse than this that day 20
the Cyclops, in his frantic rage, devoured
your strong companions. You held out then, [20]
until your cunning led you from that cave,
where you thought you would die."

He said these words,
to hold down the heart within his chest, and his spirit
submitted, enduring everything with resolution.
But he still tossed back and forth. Just as a man
turns quickly to and fro on a blazing fire a stomach
stuffed with fat and blood when he's keen to roast it fast,
that how Odysseus tossed around, wondering 30
how he might get the shameless suitors in his grip,
one man against so many. Then Athena came, [30]
moving down from heaven, looking like a woman.
She stood above his head and spoke to him, saying:

"Why now, you most ill-fated of all men,
are you awake? This is your home, and here,
inside this house, your wife and child, a man
whom anyone would pray for as a son."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

"Yes, goddess, everything you say is true. 40
But the heart inside my chest is worried—
How can I handle the shameful suitors,
just a single man against so many. [40]
And in the house they're always in a group.
There's something else my heart is thinking of—
it's more important, too—if I do kill them,
with Zeus' help and yours, how do I find
a way of making my escape? That's something
I'd ask you to consider."

Then the goddess,
bright-eyed Athena, gave him her reply:

"You stubborn man, 50
men put their trust in weaker friends than me—
in a mortal man who lacks my wisdom.
I'm a god, and I'm there to protect you
to the end in all your troubles. I tell you—
to make things clear—if there were fifty groups
of mortal men taking a stand around us, [50]
eager to slaughter us in war, even so,
you'd still drive off their cattle and fine sheep.
Let Sleep take hold of you. To stay awake,
on guard all night, will make you weary. 60
You'll soon come out from under these bad times."

After Athena spoke, she poured sleep on his eyelids.
Then the lovely goddess went back to Olympus.

While Sleep, who relaxes troubled human hearts,
relaxed his mind, his faithful wife woke up and cried,
sitting there on her soft bed. But when her heart
had had its fill of crying, the lovely lady
began by saying a prayer to Artemis: [60]

"Artemis,
royal goddess, Zeus' daughter, how I wish
you'd shoot an arrow in my chest right now 70
and take my life or a storm wind would come,
lift me up, carry me away from here,
across the murky roads, and cast me out
in Ocean's backward-flowing stream, just as
storms snatched up Pandareus' daughters,
whose parents the gods killed, thus leaving them
orphans in their home. Fair Aphrodite
looked after them with cheese, sweet honey,
and fine wine, while Hera offered them [70]
beauty and wisdom beyond all women. 80
Chaste Artemis made them tall, and Athena
gave them their skills in famous handicrafts.
But when fair Aphrodite went away
to high Olympus, petitioning Zeus,
who hurls the thunderbolt, that the girls
could find fulfillment in a happy marriage,
for Zeus has perfect knowledge of all things,
what each man's destiny will be or not,
that's when storm spirits snatched away the girls
and placed them in the care of hateful Furies.* 90
How I wish those gods who hold Olympus
would do away with me like that, or else
that fair-haired Artemis would strike at me, [80]
so with Odysseus' image in my mind
I could descend beneath this hateful earth
and never bring delight of any kind
into the heart of some inferior man.
But when a man laments all day, his heart
thick with distress, and sleep holds him at night,
that evil can be borne—sleep makes one forget 100
all things good and bad, once it settles down
across one's eyelids. But some god sends me
bad dreams as well. This very night again
a man who looked like him lay down beside me,
just as he was when he went with the troops.
My heart rejoiced—I thought it was no dream, [90]
but finally the truth."

Penelope finished.
Then Dawn came on her golden throne. As she wept,
lord Odysseus heard her voice and lost himself in thought.
To his heart it seemed she knew him and was standing there, 110
beside his head. He gathered up the cloak and blankets
he was lying on and placed them on a chair
inside the hall. He took an ox-hide from the house,
set it on the ground, and, lifting up his hands,
made this prayer to Zeus:

"O Father Zeus,
if you wished to bring me over land and sea
to my own land, when you had given me
so much distress, let someone in the house
wake up and say something in there for me, [100]
a word of omen, and here outside the house 120
let there appear another sign from Zeus."

That's what he prayed. And Counselor Zeus heard him.
At once he thundered down from glittering Olympus,
from high beyond the clouds. Lord Odysseus rejoiced.
And then some woman grinding on the stones close by
sent out a word of omen from inside the place
where the shepherd of his people placed his millstones.*
At these grinding stones twelve women used to work,
making barley meal and flour, which feed men's marrow.
The other women had already ground their wheat 130
and were asleep, but this one, weaker than the rest, [110]
had not yet finished. She stopped her grinding stone
and said these words, an omen for her master:

"Father Zeus, who rules both gods and men,
you've thundered loud up in the starry sky,
and yet there's not a single cloud up there.
You must be offering a sign to someone.
I'm a poor wretch, but what I have to say,
oh, make that happen. May these suitors here
for the last and final time this very day 140
have a pleasant dinner in Odysseus' home.
Those men have hurt my knees with this hard work
grinding flour—may this meal be their last."

She spoke. That word of omen and Zeus' thunder [120]
made lord Odysseus happy—he thought he'd be revenged
on those malicious men.

Inside Odysseus' lovely home,
other women slaves were up and making tireless fire
inside the hearth, and then godlike Telemachus
got out of bed, put on his clothes, and from his shoulders
slung a keen-edged sword. Under his shining feet he tied 150
his lovely sandals. He picked up a sturdy spear,
with a sharp bronze point, then went out to the threshold,
stood there, and said to Eurycleia:

"My dear nurse,
have you shown our guest respect inside our home
with bed and food, or is he still lying there [130]
unattended to? That's how my mother is,
although she's wise. She seems to deal with men
at random—some inferior mortal man
she'll honour, while some finer person
she'll send away with no respect at all." 160

Wise Eurycleia then answered him:

"My child,
don't blame her now about such things. That man
sat here drinking wine as long as he could wish.
He said he had no appetite for food.
She asked him. When he thought of going to bed
to get some sleep, she told the women slaves
to spread out bedding, but like a wretched man [140]
familiar with hard times, he had no wish
to lie down under blankets on a bed.
So he stretched out on the portico to sleep 170
on sheep fleeces and an untanned ox-hide,
and then we threw a cloak on top of him."

Once she'd finished, Telemachus went through the hall,
spear in hand, with two swift dogs accompanying him.
He went to join the group of finely dressed Achaeans.
Then that good woman Eurycleia, daughter of Ops,
Peisenor's son, called out, summoning female slaves:

"Come on, some of you get busy here—
sweep the hall and sprinkle it. Then spread out [150]
purple covers on these well-fashioned chairs. 180
You others, wipe down all those tables
with sponges, clean up the mixing bowls,
those finely crafted double-handled cups.
And you others, get water from the spring.
Carry it back here. And do it quickly—
the suitors won't be absent from this hall
for very long. They'll be back really soon.
Today's a banquet day for everyone."

As Eurycleia spoke, they all listened carefully,
then acted on her words. Twenty of the women 190
went to the dark-water spring. The others stayed there,
busy working expertly throughout the house.
Then the men who served Achaean lords arrived. [160]
While they were chopping wood skillfully and well,
the women slaves who'd gone off to the spring returned.
Behind them came the swineherd, leading in three hogs,
the best of all he had. He turned them loose to feed
inside the lovely yard, while he talked to Odysseus,
with words of reassurance:

"Stranger, these Achaeans—
do they have any more regard for you? 200
Or in these halls are they dishonouring you,
they way they did before?"

Shrewd Odysseus
then answered him and said:

"Well, Eumaeus,
I hope the gods pay back the injuries
arrogant men so recklessly have planned [170]
in someone else's home, with no sense of shame."

As these two were saying these words to one another,
Melanthius, the goatherd, came up close to them,
leading the very finest she-goats in his flocks,
part of the suitors' feast. Two herdsmen came with him. 210
He tied the goats up by the echoing portico,
then started hurling his insults at Odysseus:

"Stranger, are you still bothering us here,
inside the house, begging from the people?
Why don't you get out? I think it's clear [180]
the two of us won't say goodbye, until
we've had a taste of one another's fists.
The way you beg is not appropriate.
Achaeans do have feasts in other places."

Melanthius spoke, but shrewd Odysseus said nothing. 220
He shook his head in silence. Deep in his heart
he was planning trouble. Then a third one joined them,
Philoetius, an outstanding man, bringing in
a sterile heifer and plump she-goats for the suitors.
Ferrymen, who transport other men across,
whoever comes to them, had brought them over
from the mainland. He tied these animals with care
below the echoing portico, walked up to the swineherd, [190]
and questioned him in person:

"Swineherd,
who's the man who's just come to this house? 230
What people does he claim to come from?
Where are his family and his native land?
He's had bad luck, but in his appearance
he seems to be a royal king. But still,
the gods bring miseries to wandering men,
whenever they spin their threads of trouble,
even though those men are royalty."

Once he'd said this, he walked up to Odysseus,
held his right hand out in greeting, and spoke to him—
his words had wings:

"Greetings, honoured stranger. 240
Though you're facing many troubles now,
may you find happiness in future days. [200]
O Father Zeus, none of the other gods
is more destructive than you are. For men,
once you yourself have given birth to them,
you have no pity. You get them involved
with misery and painful wretchedness.
When I recall Odysseus and think of him,
I start to sweat. My eyes fill up with tears.
For he, too, I think, is dressed in rags like these, 250
wandering among men somewhere, if indeed
he's still alive, looking at the sunlight.
If he's already dead in Hades' home,
then I grieve for excellent Odysseus,
who, when I was still a boy, put me in charge
of cattle in the Cephallenians' land.* [210]
Their numbers now are more than one can count—
this breed of broad-faced cattle has increased
more than it could in any other way
for a different man. Now strangers tell me 260
to drive the cattle in for their own meals.
They don't care about the son inside the house
or tremble at the vengeance of the gods.
Now they're keen to share amongst themselves
my master's goods—he's been away so long.
As for me, the heart here in my chest
keeps turning over many things—it's bad,
really bad, while his son is still alive,
for me to leave here with the cattle herds
and head off to some other district, 270
to a group of strangers. But it's even worse [220]
to stay here, putting up with so much trouble,
to herd these cattle going to other men.
In fact, I would have run off long ago
to one of the other high-minded kings—
for things are now unbearable—but still,
that unlucky man is always on my mind.
Perhaps he might come home from somewhere
and send the suitors packing from his home."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said: 280

"Herdsman, you don't appear to be a man
who's bad or one who lacks intelligence.
I see for myself your understanding heart.
And so I'll swear a powerful oath to you.
I'll speak the truth—let Zeus be my witness, [230]
first among the gods, and this guest table,
and the hearth of excellent Odysseus,
to which I've come—While you are present here
Odysseus will come home. With your own eyes,
you'll see the suitors killed, if that's your wish, 290
those men who act as if they own the place."

The cattle herder answered him:

"Ah stranger,
how I wish Cronos' son might bring about
what you've just said. Then you'd find out
how strong I am and what my hands can do."

Eumaeus also prayed like that to all the gods
for wise Odysseus to return to his own home.

As they were talking in this way to one another, [240]
the suitors were making plans against Telemachus,
scheming to bring him to a fatal destiny. 300
But then a bird went soaring past them, on their left,
an eagle flying up high, gripping a trembling dove.
So Amphinomus addressed them all and said:

"My friends, this plan to kill Telemachus
will not proceed the way we want it to.
We should instead prepare to have our feast."

Amphinomus spoke, and they agreed with him.
So they went inside godlike Odysseus' home,
threw their cloaks on stools and chairs, and sacrificed [250]
big sheep and fattened goats. They killed plump swine, as well, 310
and the heifer from the herd. They roasted entrails,
passed them round, and blended wine in mixing bowls.
The swineherd handed out the cups. Philoetius,
an outstanding man, served bread in a fine basket.
Melanthius poured their wine. And then their hands
reached out to take the fine food set before them.
Thinking it would work to his advantage, Telemachus
sat Odysseus down inside the well-constructed hall,
beside the entrance made of stone, then set for him
a modest stool and tiny table. He placed before him 320
a share of inner organs and poured out some wine [260]
into a golden cup. Then he said:

"Sit here for now,
among these men and drink your wine. I myself
will protect you from all suitors' insults
and their fists—this is not a public house
but a home belonging to Odysseus,
and he acquired this place for me. You suitors,
make sure your hearts do not encourage you
to gibes and blows, so that no arguments
or fights will happen here."

Once he'd finished speaking, 330
all the suitors bit their lips. They were astonished
Telemachus had talked to them so forcefully.
Then Antinous, Eupeithes' son, spoke out to them: [270]

"Achaeans, what Telemachus has said
is challenging, but let's accept his words,
although his speech is a bold threat to us.
For Zeus, son of Cronos, has not given
his permission, or here within these halls
by this time we'd have put a stop to him,
for all his clear-voiced talk."

Antinous spoke. 340
But Telemachus ignored what he'd just said.

Meanwhile, as heralds led offerings sacred to the gods
down through the city, long-haired Achaeans gathered
underneath archer god Apollo's shadowy grove.
They cooked the outer flesh and pulled away the spits,
then shared the meat and had a splendid banquet.* [280]
The servers placed beside Odysseus a portion
matching what they received themselves—Telemachus,
godlike Odysseus' son, had given them those orders.
But there was no way Athena would permit 350
those proud suitors to hold back their bitter insults,
so that Odysseus, Laertes' son, would suffer
still more heartfelt pain. Now, among the suitors
there was man who had a lawless heart. His name
was Ctesippus, and he made his home in Same.
Relying on his prodigious wealth, he courted
the wife of Odysseus, who'd been away so long. [290]
He now addressed the overbearing suitors:

"You noble suitors, listen to me now—
I've got something to say. This stranger here 360
has for some time had an equal portion,
as is right, since it's by no means proper,
nor is it just, for Telemachus' guests
to go without—no matter who it is
who shows up at the house. So now I, too,
will provide a gift to welcome him.
Then he, for his part, can pass it along
to some bath attendant or some other slave
here in the home of godlike Odysseus."

As he said this, his strong hand picked up an ox hoof 370
from the basket where it lay, and then he hurled it. [300]
But by quickly pulling his head back, Odysseus
dodged the throw. In his heart he smiled with bitter scorn.
The gristle hit the solid wall. Telemachus
then went at Ctesippus and said:

"Ctesippus,
in your heart you understand what's good for you—
that's must be why you didn't hit the stranger.
He escaped your throw all on his own.
Otherwise, I'd have taken my sharp spear
and rammed you in the chest. Then your father 380
would be here planning for your funeral
and not a wedding feast. So none of you
make any show of trouble in my house.
For now I am observing every detail—
both good and bad—I know what's going on.
Before now, I was still a foolish child. [310]
But we must still look on and bear these things—
the slaughtered sheep, the wine and bread consumed.
It's hard for one man to restrain so many.
So come, no longer show me such ill will 390
or give me so much trouble. If you're keen
to kill me with your swords, that's what I'd choose—
it would be far better to meet my death
than constantly to watch these shameful deeds,
strangers being abused and female servants
dragged through this lovely home. It's a disgrace."

Telemachus finished. They all sat in silence, [320]
saying nothing. At last Agelaus, Damastor's son,
addressed them:

"My friends, no man could answer
what's been so justly said and in his rage 400
respond with words provoking enmity.
So don't insult the stranger any more
or any of the servants in this home
belonging to godlike Odysseus. Still,
to Telemachus and to his mother
I have some reassuring things to say,
which both their hearts should find agreeable.
As long as you had in your hearts some hope
that wise Odysseus would return back home,
no blame attached itself to you by waiting, 410 [330]
holding off the suitors in your house.
This was the better choice, if Odysseus
had returned and come back to his palace.
But surely it's already clear by now
he won't be coming back, not any more.
So come, sit down beside your mother. Tell her
to marry whoever is the finest man
and offers the best bridal gifts. And then,
you can enjoy all your paternal goods
as yours to keep, all the food and wine, 420
while she looks after someone else's home."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said:

"I swear to you, Agelaus, by Zeus
and by the sufferings of my father,
who's perished or is wandering around [340]
somewhere far from Ithaca, there's no way
I'm trying to delay my mother's marriage.
I tell her to marry any man she wants,
and I'll give her innumerable gifts.
But I'm ashamed to drive her from the home 430
against her wishes, to give an order
which forces her to leave. I hope the god
will never bring about something like that."

Once Telemachus had spoken, Pallas Athena
roused them all to laugh with no sense of control.
She unhinged their minds, so laughter from their mouths
came from an alien source, and the meat they ate
became blood-spattered. Their eyes filled up with tears.*
Their hearts were crammed with thoughts of lamentation.
Then godlike Theoclymenus addressed them all: 440 [350]

"Oh you miserable men, what troubles
are you suffering now? Your heads, your faces,
your lower limbs are shrouded in the night.
You're on fire with grief, faces wet with tears,
fine pedestals and walls have gobs of blood,
the porch is full of ghosts, so is the yard—
ghosts rushing in the dark to Erebus.
Up in the sky the sun has disappeared—
an evil mist is covering everything."

Theoclymenus finished. But they all laughed, 450
enjoying themselves at his expense. The first to speak
was Eurymachus, son of Polybus:

"He's mad, [360]
this stranger who's just recently arrived
from some foreign land. Come on, young men,
hurry and carry him outside the house,
so he can make his way to the assembly,
since he thinks it's like the night in here."

Godlike Theoclymenus then said in reply:

"Eurymachus, I'm not requesting you
to furnish me with guides. I've got my eyes 460
and my two feet. And in my chest
I've got a mind that's not made for a fool.
I'll go outside with these, for I can see
you're headed for disaster—no suitors
who, in the home of godlike Odysseus,
mistreat others and plan their reckless schemes
will be able to avoid it or escape." [370]

After he'd said this, he left the stately palace
and went to Peiraeus, who gladly welcomed him.
But all the suitors looked around at one another 470
and tried to hurt Telemachus with mockery,
laughing at his guests. Some arrogant young man
would make a comment using words like these:

"Telemachus,
no one is more unlucky with his guests
than you are. You have a man like this one,
a dirty tramp in need of food and wine,
with no work skills or strength, just a burden
on the land. Then some other man stood here [380]
and made a prophecy. You'd be better off
to follow what I say. Let's throw these guests 480
onboard a well-decked ship and send them off
to the Sicilians. You'd get good prices there."

That's what the suitors said. But Telemachus
paid no attention to their words. He kept quiet,
looking at his father, always watching him
to see when his hands would fight the shameless suitors.

But wise Penelope, Icarius' daughter,
had set in place a lovely chair across from them.
She heard what each man in the hall was saying.
While they kept laughing, the men prepared a meal, 490
something sweet to satisfy their hearts, slaughtering
many beasts. But there would never be another meal [390]
more sorrowful than the one the mighty warrior
and the goddess would set before them very soon.
With their shameful plans, the suitors brought this on.



 

Notes to Book Twenty

*. . . hateful Furies: This legend of the daughters of Pandareus is very different from the story of Pandareus' daughter Aedon, told in Book 19, who killed her son Itylus by accident and was turned into a nightingale. The Furies are the goddess of blood revenge who live underground and are generally hated by the other gods. It's not clear why the girls should be killed and given to them.

* . . . had placed his mills: The mills are flat stones set on the ground and used to grind wheat and barley. The servant women kneel on the ground to use them. Here they are, it seems, in a building adjacent to the main house.

* . . . Cephallenians' land: The word Cephallenian describes Odysseus' subjects generally, but Cephallenia is the name of a large island immediately to the west of Ithaca. In the Iliad, Odysseus soldiers are called Cephallenians.

* . . . splendid banquet: This reference to a feast in the grove of Apollo is rather abrupt and confusing, since up to this point the feast has been taking place inside Odysseus' home and further details suggest the same location.

* . . . with tears: The Greek says (literally) "they laughed with the jaws of other men," an expression which seems to mean they had no idea of why they were laughing. The blood on the meat is, one assumes, a hallucination, part of the madness Athena has forced upon them.







 

 

 



Ulysses Killing the Suitors





Book Twenty-One



The Contest with Odysseus' Bow

[Penelope decides to set up the archery contest with the axes; she goes to a storeroom to fetch the bow, arrows, and axes; the story of how Odysseus got the bow from Iphitus; Penelope addresses the suitors, saying she will marry whoever succeeds in the competition; Eumaeus and Philoetius weep; Antinous upbraids them; Telemachus addresses the suitors, sets up the bows in line, and tries unsuccessfully to string the bow; Leiodes attempts to string the bow and fails; Antinous criticizes Leiodes, then suggests they rub fat on the bow by the fire to make it more supple; Odysseus reveals his identity outside to Eumaeus and Philoetius and gives them instructions; Eurymachus tries to string the bow and fails; Antinous proposes they postpone the contest for today; Odysseus suggests he be given a chance to succeed with the bow; Antinous objects; Penelope intervenes; Telemachus tells his mother to go upstairs; Eumaeus hands the bow to Odysseus and orders Eurycleia to lock the doors; Philoetius closes the courtyard gates; Odysseus inspects the bow, then fires an arrow through the holes in the axe heads; Telemachus arms himself and moves to stand with his father.]

Bright-eyed Athena then placed inside the heart
of wise Penelope, Icarius' daughter,
the thought that she should set up in Odysseus' halls
the bow and the gray iron axes for the suitors,
as a competition and the prelude to their deaths.
She climbed the lofty staircase to her chamber,
picked up in her firm grip a curved key made of bronze—
beautifully fashioned with an ivory handle.
With her attendants she went off to a storeroom
in a distant corner of the house, where they kept 10
her king's possessions—bronze and gold and iron, [10]
all finely crafted work. His well-sprung bow was there,
and quivers, too, with lots of painful arrows,
gifts he had received from Iphitus, his friend,
son of Eurytus, a man like the immortals,
when they'd met in Lacedaemon, in Messene,
at the home of wise Ortilochus. Odysseus
had gone there to collect a debt the people owed—
Messenian men had run off with three hundred sheep
and seized the shepherds, too, leaving Ithaca 20
in their ships with many oars. Because of this,
Odysseus, who was just a boy, had been sent [20]
a long way by his father and other senior men,
part of an embassy. Iphitus was searching
for twelve mares he'd lost and sturdy mules, as well,
still on the teat. Later on these animals
led him to a fatal destiny, the day he met
the mortal Hercules, Zeus' great-hearted son,
who knew all there was to know about great exploits.
Hercules slaughtered him, although he was a guest 30
in his own home—a cruel man who didn't care
about the anger of the gods or the dining table
he'd set before him. After their meal, he killed him
and kept the strong-hoofed mares with him at home [30]
for his own use.* While Iphitus was enquiring
about these horses, he got to meet Odysseus
and gave him the bow. In earlier days, this weapon
had been used by mighty Eurytus, and when he died,
he'd left it for his son in his high-roofed home.
Odysseus had given him a keen-edged sword 40
and a powerful spear, as well. This was the start
of their close friendship. But they never bonded
as mutual dinner guests—before that happened
Zeus' son had murdered Iphitus, son of Eurytus,
a man like the immortals, who gave Odysseus
that bow of his. Lord Odysseus never took it
whenever he went off to war in his black ships.
It lay there in his home as a memorial [40]
to a dear friend. He carried it in his own land.
When fair Penelope came to the storage room, 50
she crossed the wooden threshold—a long time ago
a skilful craftsman planed it, set it straight and true,
then fitted doorposts and set shining doors in place.
She quickly took the looped thong from its hook,
put in the key, and with a push shoved back the bolt.*
Just as a bull grunts when it grazes in a meadow,
that how the key's force made the fine door creak, [50]
and it quickly swung ajar. She stepped high up,
onto the planking where the storage trunks were placed
in which they kept their fragrant clothing. There she stretched 60
to take the bow in its bright case down from its peg.
She then sat down, placed the bow case on her knees,
and wept aloud, as she took out her husband's bow.
When she'd had enough of her laments and tears,
she went off to the hall, to join the noble suitors,
holding in her hands the well-sprung bow and quiver,
with many pain-inflicting arrows. And with her [60]
came some servants carrying a chest which held
lots of iron and bronze, her husband's battle weapons.
Once the lovely lady reached the suitors, she stood there, 70
by the door post of the well-constructed hall,
with a bright veil on her face. On either side
stood loyal attendant women. Then Penelope
addressed the suitors with these words:

"Listen to me,
bold suitors, who've been ravaging this home
with your incessant need for food and drink,
since my husband's now been so long absent. [70]
The only story you could offer up
as an excuse is that you all desire
to marry me and take me as your wife. 80
So come now, suitors, since I seem to be
the prize you seek, I'll place this great bow here
belonging to godlike Odysseus. And then,
whichever one of you can grip this bow
and string it with the greatest ease, then shoot
an arrow through twelve axes, all of them,
I'll go with him, leaving my married home,
this truly lovely house and all these goods
one needs to live—things I'll remember,
even in my dreams."

When she'd said this, 90 [80]
she then told Eumaeus, the loyal swineherd,
to set the bow and gray iron axes for the suitors.
With tears in his eyes, Eumaeus picked them up
and laid them out. Philoetius, the goatherd,
was weeping, too, in another spot, once he saw
his master's bow. Then Antinous addressed them both
with this reproach:

"You foolish bumpkins,
who only think of what's going on today!
What a wretched pair! Why start weeping now?
Why stir the heart inside the lady's breast? 100
Her spirit lies in pain, now that she's lost
the man she loves. So sit and eat in silence,
or go outside and weep. Leave the bow here. [90]
The contest will decide among the suitors.
I don't think it will be an easy feat
to string that polished bow. Of all men here,
no one is like Odysseus used to be.
I saw him for myself, and I remember,
though at the time I was a little child."

Antinous spoke. In his chest his heart was hoping 110
he would string the bow and then shoot an arrow
through the iron.* But, in fact, he'd be the first
to taste an arrow from brave Odysseus' hands—
the very man he was disgracing shamefully,
as he sat in the hall, inciting all his comrades. [100]
Then among them all Telemachus spoke out
with royal authority:

"Well now, Zeus,
son of Cronos, must have made me foolish—
my dear mother, although quite sensible,
says she'll be leaving with another man, 120
abandoning this home, and I just laugh.
My witless heart finds that enjoyable.
So come, suitors, since your prize seems to be
a woman who throughout Achaean land
has no equal, not in sacred Pylos,
Argos, or Mycenae, not on the mainland,
or in Ithaca itself. But you yourselves
know this. Why should I praise my mother? [110]
So come on. Don't delay this competition
with excuses or use up too much time 130
diverting your attention from this bow string.
Then we'll see. I might try the bow myself.
If I can string it and shoot an arrow
through the iron, I won't get so upset
when my royal mother has to leave here
with another man. I'd be left behind,
as someone capable of picking up
fine prizes from my father in a contest."

After he'd said this, Telemachus threw off
the purple cloak covering his back, jumped up, 140
and removed the sharp sword from his shoulders.
First, he set up the axes. He dug a trench, [120]
one long ditch for all of them, in a straight line.
Then he stamped the earth down flat around them.
Amazement gripped all those observing him
to watch him organize those axes properly,
although before that time he'd never seen them.
Then, going and standing in the threshold, he tried
to test the bow. Three times he made it tremble,
as he strove to bend it, and three times he relaxed, 150
hoping in his heart he'd string that bow and shoot
an arrow through the iron. On his fourth attempt,
as his power bent the bow, he might have strung it,
but Odysseus shook his head, motioning him to stop,
for all his eagerness. So Telemachus spoke out, [130]
addressing them once more with royal authority:

"Well, I suppose I'll remain a coward,
a weak man, too, in future days, or else
I'm still too young and cannot yet rely
on my own strength to guard me from a man 160
who gets angry with me first. But come now,
you men who are more powerful than me,
test this bow. Let's end this competition."

Once he'd said this, Telemachus placed the bow
down on the ground away from him, leaning it
against the polished panels of the door, and set
a swift arrow there beside the bow's fine tip,
then sat down again in the chair from which he'd stood.
Then Antinous, Eupeithes' son, addressed them: [140]

"All you comrades, get up in order now, 170
from left to right, beginning from the place
where the steward pours the wine."

Antinous spoke,
and what he'd just proposed they found agreeable.
The first to stand up was Leiodes, son of Oenops,
their soothsayer. He always sat furthest away,
beside the lovely mixing bowl—the only man
hostile to their reckless acts—he was angry
with the suitors, all of them. That was the man
who first picked up the bow and the swift arrow.
After moving to the threshold and standing there, 180
he tried the bow, but couldn't string it. His hands, [150]
which were delicate and weak, grew weary,
before he could succeed in stringing up the bow.
He then spoke out among the suitors:

"My friends,
I'm not the man to string this bow. So now,
let someone else take hold of it. This bow
will take away from many excellent men
their lives and spirits, since it's far better
to die than live and fail in the attempt
to have what we are gathered here to get, 190
always waiting in hope day after day.
Now every man has feelings in his heart—
he desires and hopes to wed Penelope,
Odysseus' wife. But when he's tried this bow
and observed what happens, then let him woo
another of Achaea's well-dressed women, [160]
seeking to win her with his bridal gifts,
and then Penelope can wed the man
who offers her the most, whose fate it is
to be her husband."

When Leiodes had finished, 200
he set the bow away from him, leaning it
against the polished panels of the door
and placing a swift arrow by the fine bow-tip.
Then he sat again on the chair he'd risen from.
But Antinous took issue with what he'd just said,
talking directly to him:

"Leiodes,
that speech that passed the barrier of your teeth,
what wretched, sorry words! As I listened,
it made me angry—as if this bow would, [170]
in fact, take away the lives and spirits 210
of the very finest men, just because
you couldn't string it. Your royal mother
did not produce in you the sort of man
who has sufficient strength to draw a bow
and shoot an arrow. But some other men
among these noble suitors will soon string it."

This said, Antinous called out to Melanthius,
the goatherd:

"Come now, Melanthius,
light a fire in the hall. Set beside it
a large chair with a fleece across it. 220
And bring a hefty piece of fat—there's some
inside the house—so the young men here
can warm the bow and rub grease into it,
then test the bow and end this contest." [180]

When he'd said this, Melanthius quickly lit
a tireless fire. Then he brought a large chair up,
draped a fleece on it, set it down beside the fire,
and from inside the house fetched a large piece of fat.
Then the young men warmed the bow and tested it.
But they couldn't string it—whatever strength they had 230
was far too little. Antinous and godlike Eurymachus,
the suitors' leaders, still remained—the two of them
with their abilities, were the finest men by far.

Now, the cattle herder and the keeper of the swine
belonging to godlike Odysseus had gone out,
both together, so lord Odysseus himself [190]
walked from the house to follow after them. And then,
when they'd gone beyond the gates and courtyard,
he spoke, addressing them with reassuring words:

"You there, cattleman and swineherd, shall I 240
tell you something or keep it to myself?
My spirit tells me I should speak to you.
If Odysseus were to come back suddenly,
brought from somewhere by a god, would you two
be the sort of men who would defend him?
Would you support the suitors or Odysseus?
Answer as your heart and spirit prompt you."

Then the cattle herder answered him:

"O Father Zeus, [200]
would that you might fulfill this very wish—
may that man come, and led on by some god. 250
Then you would know the kind of strength I have
and how my hands can show my power."

And then Eumaeus, too, made the same sort of prayer
to all the gods that wise Odysseus would come back
to his own home. Once Odysseus had clearly seen
how firm their minds were, he spoke to them again,
saying these words:

"Well, here I am in person—
after suffering much misfortune, I've come home,
back in the twentieth year to my own land.
Of those who work for me, I recognize 260
that you're the only two who want me back.
Among the rest, I've heard no one praying [210]
that my return would bring me home again.
I'll tell you both how this is going to end—
and I'll speak the truth—if, on my behalf
some god will overcome those noble suitors,
I'll bring you each a wife, and I'll provide
possessions and a house built near my own.
Then you'll be my companions—and kinsmen
of Telemachus. Come, I'll show you something, 270
a sure sign, so you will clearly know it's me
and trust me in your hearts—here's the old scar
I got from a boar's white tusk, when I'd gone
to Parnassus with Autolycus' sons." [220]

As he said this, Odysseus pulled aside his rags,
exposing the great scar. Once those two had seen it
and noted every detail, they threw their arms
around the wise Odysseus, burst into tears,
and welcomed him, kissing his head and shoulders.
Odysseus did the same—he kissed their heads and hands. 280
They would have kept on crying until sunset,
if Odysseus himself hadn't called a halt and said:

"Stop these laments. Let's have no more crying.
Someone might come out from the hall, see us,
and tell the people in the house. Let's go in,
one by one, not all together. I'll go first. [230]
You come later. And let's make this our sign.
All those other men, the noble suitors,
will not allow the quiver and the bow
to be given to me. But, good Eumaeus, 290
as you're carrying that bow through the house,
put it in my hands, and tell the women
to lock their room—bolt the close-fitting doors.
If any of them hears the noise of men
groaning or being hit inside our walls,
she's to stay quiet, working where she is,
and not run off outside. Now, as for you, [240]
good Philoetius, I want you to lock
the courtyard gates. Bolt and lash them shut.
Do it quickly."

After he'd said this, 300
Odysseus went into the stately home and sat down
on the chair from which he'd risen. The two men,
godlike Odysseus' servants, then went in as well.

Eurymachus already had the bow in hand,
warming it here and there in the firelight.
But even doing that, he could not string it.
Then his noble heart gave out a mighty groan,
and he spoke to them directly—he was angry.

"It's too bad. I'm frustrated for myself
and for you all. I'm not that unhappy 310 [250]
about the marriage, though I am upset.
There are many more Achaean women—
some here in sea-girt Ithaca itself,
others in different cities. But if we are
so weak compared to godlike Odysseus
that we can't string his bow, it's a disgrace
which men will learn about in years to come."

Antinous, Eupeithes' son, then answered him:

"Eurymachus, that's not going to happen.
You yourself know it. At this moment, 320
in the country there's a feast day, sacred
to the god. So who would bend the bow? No,
set it to one side without saying anything.
As for the axes, what if we let them [260]
just stand there. I don't think anyone
will come into the home of Odysseus,
Laertes' son, and carry them away.
So come, let the steward begin to pour
wine in the cups, so we can make libations.
Set the curved bow aside. In the morning, 330
tell Melanthius the goatherd to bring in
the finest goats by far from all the herds,
so we can set out pieces of the thigh
for Apollo, the famous archer god.
Then we'll test the bow and end the contest."

Antinous finished. They were pleased with what he'd said.
Heralds poured water on their hands, and young men [270]
filled the mixing bowls up to the brim with drink
and served them all, pouring a few drops in the cups
to start the ritual. Once they'd poured libations 340
and drunk wine to their heart's content, Odysseus,
a crafty man who had a trick in mind, spoke out:

"Suitors of the splendid queen, listen to me,
so I can say what the heart inside my chest
is prompting me to state. It's a request,
a plea, especially to Eurymachus
and godlike Antinous, since what he said
was most appropriate—that for the moment
you should stop this business with the bow
and turn the matter over to the gods. 350
In the morning a god will give the strength [280]
to whoever he desires. But come now,
give me the polished bow, so here among you
I can test my power and arms and see
if I still have strength in my supple limbs
the way I used to have, or if my travels
and my lack of food have quite destroyed it."

Odysseus finished. They were all extremely angry,
afraid that he might string the polished bow.
Then Antinous, speaking to him directly, 360
took Odysseus to task:

"You wretched stranger,
your mind lacks any sense—you've none at all.
Aren't you content to share a feast with us,
such illustrious men, without being disturbed [290]
or lacking any food, and then to hear
what we say to one another as we speak?
No other beggar or stranger listens in
on what we say. The wine, so honey sweet,
has injured you, as it harms other men,
when they gulp it down and drink too much. 370
Wine befuddled even great Eurytion,
the centaur, in brave Perithous' house,
when he'd gone to the Lapiths. Afterwards,
when his heart went blind from drinking wine,
in a mad fit he committed evil acts
in Perithous' home. Grief seized the heroes.
They jumped up and hauled him out of doors,
through the gate, then cut off his ears and nose
with pitiless bronze. His wits were reckless, [300]
and he went on his way, bearing madness 380
in his foolish heart. And that's the reason
the fight between centaurs and men began.
But he first discovered evil in himself,
when loaded down with wine.* And so I say
if you string the bow, you'll face great trouble.
You'll not get gentle treatment anywhere,
not in this land. We'll ship you off at once
in a black ship over to king Echetus,
who likes to kill and torture everyone.
You won't escape from him. So drink your wine 390
in peace, and don't compete with younger men." [310]

Wise Penelope then answered him and said:

"Antinous, it's neither good nor proper
to deny guests of Telemachus a chance,
no matter who it is comes to this house.
And if, trusting in his strength and power,
the stranger strings Odysseus' great bow,
do you think he'll take me to his home
and make me his wife? I'm sure he himself
carries no such hope in that chest of his. 400
So none of you should be at dinner here
with sorrow in his heart because of him.
That would be undignified."

Then Eurymachus, [320]
son of Polybus, answered her:

"Wise Penelope,
daughter of Icarius, we do not think
this man will take you home. That would be wrong.
But we would be ashamed by public gossip
from both men and women if later on
some low-born Achaean said something like
'Those men wooing the wife of that fine man 410
are far worse than him—they can't even string
his polished bow, and yet another man,
a beggar who came here on his travels,
did so with ease and then shot through the iron.'
That's what men will say, and it would be
a slur on us."

Then wise Penelope replied: [330]

"Eurymachus, there is no way at all
there will be in this district good reports
of those dishonouring and eating up
a noble's home. Why turn the matter now 420
into a slur? This stranger's very large
and strongly built. Furthermore, he claims
he comes by birth from a good father.
So come now, give him the polished bow,
and let us see. I will say this to you—
and it will happen—if he strings the bow
and Apollo grants him glory, I'll dress him
in some lovely clothes, a cloak and tunic,
and give him a sharp spear, as a defence [340]
from dogs and men, and a two-edged sword. 430
I'll give him sandals for his feet and send him
wherever his heart and spirit tell him."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered her:

"Mother,
among Achaeans, no man has a right
stronger than my own to give the bow
to anyone I wish or to withhold it—
none of those who rule in rocky Ithaca
or in the islands neighbouring Elis,
where horses graze. Among these men, no one
will deny my will by force, if I wish 440
to give the bow, even to this stranger
as an outright gift to take away with him.
But you should go up to your own chamber [350]
and keep busy with your proper work,
the loom and spindle, and tell your women
to go about their tasks. The bow will be
a matter for the men, especially me,
since the power in this house is mine."

Penelope, astonished, went back to her rooms,
taking to heart the prudent words her son had said. 450
With her servant women she walked up to her room
and then wept for Odysseus, her dear husband,
till bright-eyed Athena cast sweet sleep on her eyes.

The worthy swineherd had picked up the curving bow
and was carrying it. But all the suitors cried out [360]
in the hall. One of those arrogant young men
then said something like:

"What are you doing,
you wretched swineherd, carrying that bow,
you idiot? You'll soon be with the swine
all alone, with no men around, being eaten 460
by those swift dogs you yourself have raised,
if Apollo and other immortal gods
act with graciousness to us."

That's what they said.
So, though he was carrying the bow, he put it down,
afraid because inside the hall so many men
were yelling at him. But then from across the room
Telemachus shouted out a threat:

"Old man,
keep on moving up here with that bow. You'll soon
regret obeying them all. I'm younger than you, [370]
but I might force you out into the fields 470
and throw rocks at you. I'm the stronger man.
I wish my hands had that much strength and power
over all the suitors in the house. I'd send
some of them soon enough on their way home,
out of this house, and they'd be miserable.
For they keep coming up with wicked plans."

Telemachus finished speaking. But the suitors
all had a hearty laugh at his expense, relaxing
their bitter anger at Telemachus. Meanwhile,
the swineherd kept on going through the hall, 480
carrying the bow. He came to shrewd Odysseus
and placed it in his hands. Then he called the nurse, [380]
Eurycleia, and said to her:

"Wise Eurycleia,
Telemachus is telling you to lock up
the closely fitted doorway to this hall.
If anyone hears groans inside this room
or any noise from men within these walls,
she's not to run out, but stay where she is,
carrying out her work in silence."*

After he'd said this, her words could find no wings. 490
So she locked the doors of that well-furnished hall.
And Philoetius, without a word, slipped outside
and locked the courtyard gates inside the sturdy walls.
A cable from a curved ship was lying there, [390]
under the portico, made of papyrus fibres.
With that he lashed the gates, then went inside,
sat down again on the seat where he'd got up,
and observed Odysseus, who already had the bow.
He was turning it this way and that, testing it
in different ways to see if, while its lord was gone, 500
worms had nibbled on the horns. One of the men,
with a glance beside him, would say something like:

"This man knows bows—he must be an expert.
Either he has bows like this stored at home
or else he wants to make one. That's why
he's turning it around in all directions.
That beggar's really skilled in devious tricks." [400]

And then another of those arrogant young men
would make some further comment:

"Well, I hope
the chance that this brings him some benefit 510
matches his ability to string this bow."

That's how the suitors talked. But shrewd Odysseus,
once he'd raised the bow and looked it over
on all sides, then—just as someone really skilled
at playing the lyre and singing has no trouble
when he loops a string around a brand-new peg,
tying the twisted sheep's gut down at either end—
that's how easily Odysseus strung that great bow.
Holding it in his right hand, he tried the string. [410]
It sang out, resonating like a swallow's song, 520
beneath his touch. Grief overwhelmed the suitors.
The skin on all of them changed colour. And then Zeus
gave out a sign with a huge peal of thunder.
Lord Odysseus, who had endured so much, rejoiced
that crooked-minded Cronos' son had sent an omen.
Then he picked up a swift arrow lying by itself
on the table there beside him—the other ones,
which those Achaeans soon would be familiar with—
were stored inside the hollow quiver. He set it
against the bow, on the bridge, pulled the notched arrow 530
and the bow string back—still sitting in his seat— [420]
and with a sure aim let the arrow fly. It did not miss,
not even a single top on all the axe heads.
The arrow, weighted with bronze, went straight through
and out the other end. And then Odysseus
called out to Telemachus:

"Telemachus, the stranger
sitting in your halls has not disgraced you.
I did not miss my aim or work too long
to string that bow. My strength is still intact,
in spite of all the suitors' scornful gibes. 540
Now it's time to get a dinner ready
for these Achaeans, while there's still some light,
then entertain ourselves in different ways,
with singing and the lyre. These are things [430]
which should accompany a banquet."

As he spoke, he gave a signal with his eyebrows.
Telemachus, godlike Odysseus' dear son,
cinched up his sword, closed his fist around a spear,
moved close beside his father, right by his seat,
and stood there, fully armed with glittering bronze. 550



 

Notes to Book Twenty-One

* . . . for his own use: Iphitus went to see Hercules, who was his friend, about some stolen cattle. But Hercules went insane (a fit brought on by Hera) and killed Iphitus by throwing him off the walls of Tiryns. Hercules had to be purified and suffer some punishment for this murder. It's not entirely clear how the horses mentioned in Homer's text brought about Hercules' violence, unless the idea is that Hercules killed him to obtain the horses. Hercules is called "mortal" because Iphitus met him when he was still a man, that is, before he became deified after his death. The reference to the "dining table" is a reminder of the special bond between a host and his guest once they had shared a meal together.

*. . . the bolt: Merry, Riddell, and Monro, in their Commentary on the Odyssey (1886) explain that the inside bolt was moved by a thong passing through a slit in the door. Once the door was bolted shut by pulling the thong (when a person was leaving), the thong was attached to a hook on the outside wall. To get into the room from the outside required a key which fit a hole of the appropriate shape. Once the thong was taken off its hook, the key was inserted in the hole, and it pushed the bolt back. The purpose of the thong, it seems, was to prevent someone from opening the door from the inside (where it would be impossible to remove the thong from its hook and thus to move the bolt).

* . . . through the iron: As mentioned in the notes for Book Twenty, the challenge required the contestant to string the bow (i.e., bend it back so that the string could be attached at both tips) and then shoot an arrow through a series of holes in twelve ax heads set up in a straight line. This appears to take place inside the great hall, which, as Merry, Riddell, and Monro note, had a floor consisting of hard earth. However, the precise location of the contest (inside or outside) has long been a matter of dispute.

* . . . loaded down with wine: Eurytion, a Centaur, was a guest at Perithous' wedding. A battle broke out between the centaurs and Perithous' people, the Lapiths. This version blames the fight on Eurytion's drinking.. Eurytion was later killed by Hercules. It's not clear here whether the Centaurs are pictured as normal human beings or, as they were later, as creatures with the head and torso of a human being and the body and legs of a horse.

* . . . in silence: The doorway in question is the entrance to the women's quarters. They are to be locked in so that they don't interrupt the revenge killings or run off to raise a general alarm.






 

 

 



The Meeting of Ulysses and Penelope





Book Twenty-Two



The Killing of the Suitors

[Odysseus stands in the doorway and shoots arrows at the suitors; he first kills Antinous; Eurymachus offers compensation for what the suitors have done; Odysseus kills him; Telemachus kills Amphinomus, then goes to fetch weapons from the storeroom; Melanthius reveals where the weapons are stored and gets some for the suitors; Eumaeus and Philoetius catch Melanthius and string him up to the rafters; Athena appears in the guise of Mentor to encourage Odysseus; Agelaus tries to rally the suitors; Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoetius keep killing suitors until Athena makes the suitors panic; Leiodes seeks mercy from Odysseus but is killed; Odysseus spares Phemius and Medon; Odysseus questions Eurycleia about the women servants who have dishonoured him; he gets them to haul the bodies outside and clean up the hall; Telemachus hangs all the unfaithful female slaves; Melanthius is cut up and castrated; Odysseus purifies the house and yard; Odysseus is reunited with the faithful women servants]

Then shrewd Odysseus stripped off his rags, grabbed up
the bow and quiver full of arrows, and sprang
over to the large doorway. He dumped swift arrows
right there at his feet and then addressed the suitors:

"This competition to decide the issue
is now over. But there's another target—
one no man has ever struck—I'll find out
if I can hit it. May Apollo grant
I get the glory."

As Odysseus spoke,
he aimed a bitter arrow straight at Antinous, 10
who was just about to raise up to his lips
a fine double-handled goblet he was holding [10]
in his hands, so he could drink some wine. In his heart
there was no thought of slaughter. Among those feasting,
who would ever think, in such a crowd of people,
one man, even with truly outstanding strength,
would risk confronting evil death, his own black fate?
Odysseus took aim and hit him with an arrow
in the throat. Its point passed through his tender neck.
He slumped over on his side, and, as he was hit, 20
the cup fell from his hand. A thick spurt of human blood
came flowing quickly from his nose. Then, suddenly
he pushed the table from him with his foot, spilling [20]
food onto the floor—the bread and roasted meat
were ruined. When the suitors saw Antinous fall,
they raised an uproar in the house, leaping from their seats,
scurrying in panic through the hall, looking round
everywhere along the well-constructed walls,
but there were no weapons anywhere, no strong spear
or shield for them to seize. They began to shout, 30
yelling words of anger at Odysseus:

"Stranger,
you'll pay for shooting arrows at this man.
For you there'll be no contests any more.
It's certain you'll be killed once and for all.
You've killed a man, by far the finest youth
in all of Ithaca. And now the vultures [30]
are going to eat you up right here."

Each of them
shouted out some words like these. They did not think
he'd killed the man on purpose. In their foolishness,
they didn't realize they'd all become caught up 40
in destruction's snare. Shrewd Odysseus scowled at them
and gave his answer:

"You dogs, because you thought
I'd not come back from Troy to my own home,
you've been ravaging my house, raping women,
and in your devious way wooing my wife,
while I was still alive, with no fear of gods
who hold wide heaven, or of any man [40]
who might take his revenge in days to come.
And now a fatal net has caught you all."

As Odysseus said these words, pale fear seized everyone. 50
Each man looked around to see how he might flee
complete destruction. Only Eurymachus spoke—
he answered him and said:

"If, in fact, it's true
that you're Odysseus of Ithaca,
back home again, you're right in what you say
about the actions of Achaeans here,
their frequent reckless conduct in your home,
their many foolish actions in the fields.
But the man responsible for all this
now lies dead—I mean Antinous, the one 60
who started all this business, not because [50]
he was all that eager to get married—
that's not what he desired. No. For he had
another plan in mind, which Cronos' son
did not bring to fulfillment. He wanted
to become the king of fertile Ithaca,
by ambushing your son and killing him.
Now he himself has died, as he deserved.
So at this point you spare your own people.
Later on we'll collect throughout the land 70
repayment for all we've had to eat and drink
inside your halls, and every man will bring
compensation on his own, in an amount
worth twenty oxen, paying you back in gold
and bronze until your heart is mollified.
Until that time, no one is blaming you
for being so angry."

Shrewd Odysseus glared at him [60]
and then replied:

"Eurymachus, if you gave me
all the goods you got from your own fathers,
everything which you now own, and added 80
other assets you could obtain elsewhere,
not even then would I hold back my hands
from slaughter, not until the suitors pay
for all their arrogance. Now you've a choice—
to fight here face to face or, if any man
wishes to evade his death and lethal fate,
to run away. But I don't think there's one
who will escape complete destruction."

Once Odysseus spoke, their knees and hearts went slack
right where they stood. Then Eurymachus spoke once more, 90
calling out to them:

"Friends, this man won't hold in check [70]
those all-conquering hands of his. Instead,
now he's got the polished bow and quiver,
from that smooth threshold he'll just shoot at us
until he's killed us all. So let's think now
about how we should fight. Pull out your swords,
and set tables up to block those arrows—
they bring on death so fast. And then let's charge,
go at him all together in a group,
so we can dislodge him from the threshold, 100
clear the door, get down into the city,
and raise the alarm as swiftly as we can.
Then this man should soon take his final shot."

With these words, Eurymachus pulled out his sword,
a sharp two-edged blade of bronze, and then charged out [80]
straight at Odysseus, with a blood-curdling shout.
As he did so, lord Odysseus shot an arrow.
It struck him in the chest beside the nipple
and drove the swift shaft straight down into his liver.
Eurymachus' sword fell from his hand onto the ground. 110
He bent double and then fell, writhing on the table,
knocking food and two-handled cups onto the floor.
His forehead kept hammering the earth, his heart
in agony, as both his feet kicked at the chair
and made it shake. A mist fell over both his eyes.
Then Amphinomus went at glorious Odysseus,
charging straight for him. He'd drawn out his sharp sword, [90]
to see if he would somehow yield the door to him.
But Telemachus moved in too quickly for him—
he threw a bronze-tipped spear and hit him from behind 120
between the shoulders. He drove it through his chest.
With a crash, Amphinomus fell, and his forehead
struck hard against the ground. Telemachus jumped back,
leaving his spear in Amphinomus, afraid that,
if he tried to pull out the long-shadowed spear,
some Achaean might attack and stab him with a sword
or strike him while he was stooping down. And so
he quickly ran away and then moved across
to his dear father. Standing close to him, he spoke— [100]
his words had wings:

"Father, now I'll bring you 130
a shield, two spears, and a bronze helmet,
one that fits your temples. When I get back,
I'll arm myself and hand out other armour
to the swineherd and the keeper of the goats.
It's better if we fully arm ourselves."

Quick-witted Odysseus answered him and said:

"Get them here fast, while still I have arrows
to protect myself, in case they push me
from the doors, since I'm here by myself."

Odysseus spoke, and Telemachus obeyed 140
his dear father. He went off to the storeroom
where their splendid weapons lay. From the place
he took four shields, eight spears, and four bronze helmets [110]
with thick horsehair plumes. He went out carrying these
and came back to his dear father very quickly.
First he armed himself with bronze around his body,
and the two servants did the same, putting on
the lovely armour. Then they took their places
on either side of skilled and sly Odysseus,
who, as long as he had arrows to protect him, 150
kept on aiming at the suitors in his house,
shooting at them one by one. As he hit them,
they fell down in heaps. But once he'd used his arrows,
the king could shoot no more. So he leaned the bow [120]
against the doorpost of the well-constructed wall,
and let it stand beside the shining entrance way.
Then on his own he set across his shoulders
his four-layered shield, and on his powerful head
he placed a beautifully crafted helmet
with horsehair nodding ominously on top. 160
Then he grabbed two heavy bronze-tipped spears.

In that well-constructed wall there was a side door,
and close to the upper level of the threshold
into the sturdy hall the entrance to a passage,
shut off with close-fitting doors. So Odysseus
told the worthy swineherd to stand beside this door
and watch, for there was just one way of reaching it.* [130]
Then Agelaus spoke, calling all the suitors:

"Friends, can someone climb up to that side door
and tell the men to raise a quick alarm? 170
Then this man won't be shooting any more."

But Melanthius the goatherd answered him and said:

"It can't be done, divinely raised Agelaus.
The fine gate to the yard is awfully near,
and the passage entrance hard to get through.*
One man could block the way for everyone,
if he were brave. But come, let me bring you
armour from the storeroom. You can put it on.
It's in the house, I think—there's nowhere else [140]
Odysseus and his noble son could store 180
their weapons."

Once goatherd Melanthius said this,
he climbed a flight of stairs inside the palace,
up to Odysseus' storerooms. There he took twelve shields,
as many spears, as many helmets made of bronze
with bushy horsehair plumes. Once he'd made it back,
carrying the weapons, as quickly as he could
he gave them to the suitors. When Odysseus saw them
putting armour on and their hands brandishing
long spears, his knees and his fond heart went slack.
His task appeared enormous. He called out quickly 190 [150]
to Telemachus—his words had wings:

"Telemachus,
it seems one of the women in the house
is stirring up a nasty fight against us,
or perhaps Melanthius might be the one."

Shrewd Telemachus then said in reply:

"Father, I bear the blame for this myself.
It's no one else's fault. I left it open—
the close-fitting door of that storage room.
One of them has keener eyes than I do.
Come, good Eumaeus, shut the storeroom door. 200
And try to learn if one of the women
has done this, or if it's Melanthius,
son of Dolius—I suspect it's him."

While they were saying these things to one another, [160]
Melanthius the goatherd went back once more
to carry more fine armour from the storeroom.
But the loyal swineherd saw him and spoke out,
saying a quick word to Odysseus, who was close by:

"Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes son,
raised from Zeus, there's that man again, 210
the wretch we think is visiting the storeroom.
Give me clear instructions—Should I kill him,
if I prove the stronger man, or should I
bring him to you here?—he can pay you back
for the many insolent acts he's done,
all those schemes he's thought up in your home."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said: [170]

"These proud suitors Telemachus and I
will keep penned up here inside the hall,
no matter how ferociously they fight. 220
You two twist Melanthius' feet and arms
behind him, throw him in the storeroom,
then lash boards against his back. Tie the man
to a twisted rope and then hoist him up
the lofty pillar till he's near the beams.
Let him stay alive a while and suffer
in agonizing pain."

As Odysseus said this,
they listened eagerly and then obeyed his words.
They moved off to the storeroom, without being seen
by the man inside. He was, as it turned out, searching 230 [180]
for weapons in a corner of the room. So then,
when Melanthius the goatherd was coming out
across the threshold, holding a lovely helmet
in one hand and in the other an old broad shield
covered in mould—one belonging to Laertes,
which he used to carry as a youthful warrior,
but which now was lying in storage, its seams
unraveling on the straps—the two men jumped out
and grabbed him. They dragged him inside by the hair,
threw him on the ground—the man was terrified— 240
and tied his feet and hands with heart-wrenching bonds.
They lashed them tight behind his back, as Odysseus, [190]
Laertes' royal son, who had endured so much,
had told them. They fixed a twisted rope to him,
yanked him up the lofty pillar, and raised him
near the roof beams. And then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you taunted him and said:

"Now, Melanthius,
you can really keep watch all night long,
stretched out on a warm bed, as you deserve.
You won't miss the golden throne of early Dawn, 250
as she rises from the streams of Ocean—
the very hour you've been bringing goats here,
so the suitors can prepare their banquets
in these halls."

They left Melanthius there, [200]
tied up and hanging in bonds which would destroy him.
The two put on their armour, closed the shining door,
and made their way to wise and crafty Odysseus.
Filled with fighting spirit, they stood there, four of them
on the threshold, with many brave men in the hall.
Then Athena, Zeus' daughter, came up to them, 260
looking just like Mentor and with his voice, as well.
Odysseus saw her and rejoiced. He cried:

"Mentor,
help fight off disaster. Remember me,
your dear comrade. I've done good things for you.
You're my companion, someone my own age."

Odysseus said this, thinking Mentor was, in fact, [210]
Athena, who incites armed men to action.
From across the hall the suitors yelled:

"Mentor,
don't let what Odysseus says convince you
to fight the suitors and to stand by him. 270
For this is how it will end up, I think,
when our will prevails. Once we've killed these men,
father and son, then you'll be slaughtered, too,
for all the things you're keen to bring out
here in the hall. You're going to pay for it
with your own head. Once our swords have sliced
your strength from you, we'll mix your property, [220]
all the things you have inside your home
and in the fields, with what Odysseus owns.
We won't allow your sons and daughters 280
to live within your house or your dear wife
to move in Ithaca, not in the city."

After they said this, Athena in her heart
grew very angry, and she rebuked Odysseus
with heated words:

"Odysseus, you no longer have
that firm spirit and force you once possessed
when for nine years you fought against the Trojans
over white-armed Helen, who was nobly born.
You never stopped. You slaughtered many men
in fearful combat. Through your stratagems 290
Priam's city of broad streets was taken. [230]
So how come now, when you've come home
among your own possessions, you're moaning
about acting bravely with these suitors?
Come on, my friend, stand here beside me,
see what I do, so you can understand
the quality of Mentor, Alcimus' son,
when, surrounded by his enemies,
he repays men who've acted well for him."

Athena spoke. But she did not give him the strength 300
to win that fight decisively. She was still testing
the power and resolution of Odysseus
and his splendid son. So she flew up to the roof
inside the smoky hall, and sat there, taking on [240]
the appearance of a swallow.

Meanwhile the suitors
were being driven into action by Agelaus,
Damastor's son, by Eurynomus, Amphimedon,
Demoptolemus, Peisander, Polyctor's son,
and clever Polybus. Among the suitors still alive
these were the finest men by far. Odysseus' bow 310
and his swift arrows had destroyed the others.
Agelaus spoke to them, addressing everyone:

"Friends, this man's hands have been invincible,
but now they'll stop. Mentor has moved away,
once he'd made some empty boast. And now,
they're left alone before the outer gates. [250]
So don't throw those long spears of yours at them,
not all at once. Come, you six men throw first,
to see if Zeus will let us strike Odysseus
and win the glory. Those others over there 320
will be no trouble after he's collapsed."

Agelaus spoke, and in their eagerness
to follow what he'd said, they all hurled their spears.
But Athena made sure their spear throws missed the mark.
One man hit a door post in the well-built hall.
Another struck the closely fitted door. One ash spear,
weighted down with bronze, fell against the wall.
When they'd escaped the suitor's spears, lord Odysseus, [260]
who'd been through so much, was the first to speak:

"Friends, now I'll give the word—let's hurl our spears 330
into that crowd of suitors trying to kill us,
adding to the harmful acts they did before."

Once Odysseus spoke, they all took steady aim,
then threw their pointed spears. Odysseus struck down
Demoptolemus, Telemachus hit Euryades,
the swineherd struck Elatus, and the cattle herder
killed Peisander. These men's teeth chewed up the earth,
all of them together. The suitors then pulled back [270]
into the inner section of the hall. The others
then rushed up to pull their spears out of the dead. 340
The suitors kept throwing spears with frantic haste,
but, though there were many, Athena made them miss.
One man struck the door post of the well-built hall.
Another hit the closely fitted door. One ash spear,
weighted down with bronze, fell against the wall.
But Amphimedon did hit Telemachus' hand
a glancing blow across the wrist. The bronze point
cut the surface of his skin. And with his long spear
Ctessipus grazed Eumaeus' shoulder above his shield,
but the spear veered off and fell down on the ground. 350 [280]
Then the group surrounding sly and shrewd Odysseus
once more threw sharp spears into the crowd of suitors,
and once again Odysseus, sacker of cities,
hit a man—Eurydamas—while Telemachus
struck Amphimedon, and swineherd Eumaeus
hit Polybus. The cattle herder Philoetius
then struck Ctesippus in the chest and boasted
above the body, saying:

"Son of Polytherses,
you love to jeer—but don't yield any more
to your stupidity and talk so big. 360
Leave that sort of boasting to the gods,
for they are far more powerful than you.
This is your guest gift—something to pay back [290]
the ox hoof you gave godlike Odysseus
back when he was begging in the house."

That's what the herder of the bent-horned cattle said.
At close range Odysseus wounded Damastor's son
with his long spear, and Telemachus injured
Leocritus, son of Evenor—he struck him
with his spear right in the groin and drove the bronze 370
straight through—so Leocritus fell on his face,
his whole forehead smashing down onto the ground.
Then Athena held up her man-destroying aegis
from high up in the roof.* The suitors' minds panicked,
and they fled through the hall, like a herd of cattle
when a stinging gadfly goads them to stampede, [300]
in spring season, when the long days come. Just as
the falcons with hooked talons and curved beaks
fly down from mountains, chasing birds and driving them
well below the clouds, as they swoop along the plain, 380
and then pounce and kill them, for there's no defence,
no flying away, while men get pleasure from the chase,
that's how Odysseus and his men pursued the suitors
and struck them down, one by one, throughout the hall.
As they smashed their heads in, dreadful groans arose,
and the whole floor was awash in blood.

But then, [310]
Leiodes ran out, grabbed Odysseus' knees,
and begged him—his words had wings:

"Odysseus,
I implore you at your knees—respect me
and have pity. I tell you I've never 390
harmed a single woman in these halls
by saying or doing something reckless.
Instead I tried to stop the other suitors
when they did those things. They didn't listen
or restrain their hands from acting badly.
So their own wickedness now brings about
their wretched fate. Among them I'm a prophet
who has done no wrong, and yet I'll lie dead,
since there's no future thanks for one's good deeds."

Shrewd Odysseus glared at him and answered: [320]

"If, in fact, 400
you claim to be a prophet with these men,
no doubt here in these halls you've often prayed
that my goal of a sweet return would stay
remote from me, so my dear wife could go
away with you and bear your children.
That's why you won't escape a bitter death."

As he said this, Odysseus picked up in his fist
a sword that lay near by—Agelaus, when he was killed,
had let it fall onto the ground. With this sword
Odysseus struck Leiodes right on the neck— 410
his head rolled in the dust as he was speaking.

And then the minstrel Phemius, son of Terpes, [330]
who'd been compelled to sing before the suitors,
kept trying to get away from his own murky fate.
He stood holding his clear-toned lyre by the side door,
his mind divided—should he slip out from the hall
and take a seat close to the altar of great Zeus,
god of the courtyard, where Laertes and Odysseus
had burned many thighs from sacrificial oxen,
or should he rush up to Odysseus' knee 420
and beg him for his life. As his mind thought it through,
the latter course of action seemed the better choice,
to clasp the knees of Laertes' son, Odysseus.
So he set the hollow lyre down on the ground, [340]
between the mixing bowl and silver-studded chair,
rushed out in person to clasp Odysseus' knees,
and pleaded with him—his words had wings:

"I implore you, Odysseus, show me respect
and pity. There'll be sorrow for you later,
if you kill me, a minstrel, for I sing 430
to gods and men. I am self taught. The god
has planted in my heart all kinds of songs,
and I'm good enough to sing before you,
as to a god. Don't be too eager then
to cut my throat. Your dear son Telemachus [350]
could tell you that it wasn't my desire
nor did I need to spend time at your house,
singing for the suitors at their banquets.
But their greater power and numbers
brought me here by force."

As Phemius said this, 440
royal Telemachus heard him and spoke up,
calling to his father, who was close by:

"Hold on. Don't let your sword injure this man.
He's innocent. We should save Medon, too,
the herald, who always looked out for me
inside the house when I was still a child,
unless Philoetius has killed him,
or the swineherd, or he ran into you
as you were on the rampage in the hall." [360]

Telemachus spoke. Medon, whose mind was clever, 450
heard him, for he was cowering underneath a chair,
his skin covered by a new-flayed ox-hide, trying
to escape his own black fate. He quickly jumped out
from beneath the chair, threw off the ox-hide,
rushed up to clasp Telemachus' knees, and begged—
his words had wings:

"Here I am, my friend.
Stop! And tell your father to restrain himself,
in case, as he exults in his great power,
he slaughters me with that sharp bronze of his,
in his fury with the suitors, those men 460
who consumed his goods here in his own hall, [370]
those fools who did not honour you at all."

Resourceful Odysseus then smiled at him and said:

"Cheer up! This man here has saved your life.
He's rescued you, so you know in your heart
and can tell someone else how doing good
is preferable by far to acting badly.
But move out of the hall and sit outside,
in the yard, some distance from the killing,
you and the minstrel with so many songs, 470
until I finish all I need to do in here."

After Odysseus spoke, the two men went away,
outside the hall, and sat down there, by the altar
of great Zeus, peering round in all directions, [380]
always thinking they'd be killed.

Odysseus, too,
looked round the house to check if anyone
was hiding there, still alive, trying to escape
his own dark fate. But every man he looked at—
and there were many—had fallen in blood and dust,
like fish which, in the meshes of a net, fishermen 480
have pulled from the gray sea up on the curving beach,
lying piled up on the sand, longing for sea waves,
while the bright sun takes away their life—that's how
the suitors then were lying in heaps on one another.

Resourceful Odysseus then said to Telemachus: [390]

"Telemachus, go and call the nurse in here,
Eurycleia, so I can speak to her.
Something's on my mind—I want to tell her."

Once Odysseus spoke, Telemachus obeyed
what his dear father said. He shook the door and called 490
to Eurycleia, saying:*

"Get up, old woman,
born so long ago—the one in charge
of female servants in the palace.
Come out. My father's calling for you.
He's got something he wants to say."

He spoke. But Eurycleia's words could find no wings.
She opened up the door of the well-furnished hall
and came out. Telemachus went first and led the way. [400]
There she found Odysseus with the bodies of the dead,
spattered with blood and gore, like a lion moving off 500
from feeding on a farmyard ox, his whole chest
and both sides of his muzzle caked with blood,
a terrifying sight, that's how Odysseus looked,
with bloodstained feet and upper arms. Eurycleia,
once she saw the bodies and huge amounts of blood,
was ready to cry out for joy now that she'd seen
such a mighty act. But Odysseus held her back
and checked her eagerness. He spoke to her— [410]
his words had wings:

"Old woman, you can rejoice
in your own heart—but don't cry out aloud. 510
Restrain yourself. For it's a sacrilege
to boast above the bodies of the slain.
Divine Fate and their own reckless actions
have killed these men, who failed to honour
any man on earth who came among them,
bad or good. And so through their depravity
they've met an evil fate. But come now,
tell me about the women in these halls,
the ones who disrespect me and the ones
who bear no blame."

His dear nurse Eurycleia 520
then answered him and said:

"All right my child, [420]
I'll tell you the truth. In these halls of yours,
there are fifty female servants, women
we have taught to carry out their work,
to comb out wool and bear their slavery.
Of these, twelve in all have gone along
without a sense of shame and no respect
for me or even for Penelope herself.
Telemachus has only just grown up,
and his mother hasn't let him yet control 530
our female servants. But come, let's go now
to that bright upstairs room and tell your wife.
Some god has made her sleep."

Resourceful Odysseus [430]
then answered her and said:

"Don't wake her up.
Not yet. Those women who before all this
behaved so badly, tell them to come here."

Once he'd said this, the old woman went through the house
to tell the women the news and urge them to appear.
Odysseus then called Telemachus to him,
together with Eumaeus and Philoetius. 540
He spoke to them—his words had wings:

"Start carrying those corpses outside now,
and then take charge of the servant women.
Have these splendid chairs and tables cleaned,
wiped with porous sponges soaked in water.
Once you've put the entire house in order, [440]
then take those servants from the well-built hall
to a spot outside between the round house
and the sturdy courtyard wall and kill them.
Slash them with long swords, until the life is gone 550
from all of them, and they've forgotten
Aphrodite and how they loved the suitors
when they had sex with them in secret."

Odysseus spoke. Then the crowd of women came,
wailing plaintively and shedding many tears.
First they gathered up the corpses of the dead
and laid them out underneath the portico,
leaning them against each other in the well-fenced yard. [450]
Odysseus himself gave them their instructions
and hurried on the work. The women were compelled 560
to carry out the dead. After that, they cleaned
the splendid chairs and tables, wiping them down
with water and porous sponges. Telemachus,
along with Philoetius and Eumaeus,
with shovels scraped the floor inside the well-built hall,
and women took the dirt and threw it in the yard.
When they'd put the entire hall in order,
they led the women out of the sturdy house
to a place between the round house and fine wall
round the courtyard, herding them into a narrow space 570 [460]
where there was no way to escape. Shrewd Telemachus
began by speaking to the other two:

"I don't want
to take these women's lives with a clean death.
They've poured insults on my head, on my mother,
and were always sleeping with the suitors."

He spoke, then tied the cable of a dark-prowed ship
to a large pillar, threw one end above the round house,
then pulled it taut and high, so no woman's foot
could reach the ground. Just as doves or long-winged thrushes
charge into a snare set in a thicket, as they seek out 580
their roosting place, and find out they've been welcomed [470]
by a dreadful bed, that's how those women held their heads
all in a row, with nooses fixed around their necks,
so they'd have a pitiful death. For a little while
they twitched their feet, but that did not last long.

Then they brought Melanthius out through the doorway
into the yard. With pitiless bronze they sliced away
his nose and ears, then ripped off his cock and balls
as raw meat for dogs to eat, and in their rage
hacked off his hands and feet. After they'd done that, 590
they washed their hands and feet and went inside the house,
back to Odysseus. Their work was done. But he [480]
called out to Eurycleia, his dear nurse:

"Old woman,
bring sulphur here to purify the house.
And bring me fire so I can purge the hall.
Ask Penelope to come here with her slaves,
and get all the women in the house to come."

His dear nurse Eurycleia answered him:

"My child,
what you say is all well and good, but come,
I'll fetch you clothing, a cloak and tunic, 600
so you don't stand like this in your own hall
with nothing but rags on your wide shoulders.
That would be the cause of some disgrace."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said: [490]

"But first make me a fire in the hall."

Dear nurse Eurycleia then followed what he'd said.
She brought fire and sulphur, so Odysseus
purged the house and yard completely. Eurycleia
went back through Odysseus' splendid home to tell
the women what had happened and to order them 610
to reappear. They came out holding torches,
then gathered round Odysseus, embracing him.
They clasped and kissed his head, his hands, and shoulders,
in loving welcome. A sweet longing seized him [500]
to sigh and weep, for in his heart he knew them all.



 

Notes to Book Twenty-Two

* . . . reaching it: To understand the architectural details of the palace, please consult the following link: Odysseus' Palace. The key feature to note is the side passage (D) which enables someone to escape from the main hall (C) without having to go through the main entrance where Odysseus is standing shooting arrows. Odysseus instructs Eumaeus to stand at the end of that passage (t) to stop anyone coming through into the courtyard. The back door in the great hall (z) has, one assumes, been locked, since that's an entrance to the women's quarters.

* . . . to get through: Agelaus wants someone to get through the side door by the entrance to the main hall, go out through passage into the yard, and raise the alarm. Melanthius objects, saying that the passage leading from the side door, which is guarded by Eumaeus, is very narrow and the courtyard gate is still close enough for Odysseus to reach with an arrow from the main doorway.

* . . . in the roof: The aegis is a divine shield which, when held up in battle, has the power of terrifying human beings and making them run away.

* . . . to Eurycleia, saying: The doorway here is the entrance to the women's quarters. At the start of the slaughter Eurycleia had locked it to prevent any of the women coming into the great hall.







 

 

 



Mercury Conducting the Souls of the Suitors to the Infernal Regions




Book Twenty-Three



Odysseus and Penelope

[Eurycleia wakes up Penelope to tell her Odysseus has returned and killed the Suitors; Penelope refuses to believe the news; Penelope comes down and sits in the same room as Odysseus but doesn’t recognize him; Telemachus criticizes his mother; Odysseus invites her to test him and discusses with Telemachus what their next step will be to deal with the aftermath of the killings; they organize a fake wedding dance to deceive anyone passing the house; Odysseus is given a bath, and Athena transforms his appearance; Penelope tells Eurycleia to set his old bed up for him outside the bedroom; Odysseus tells the story of the bed; Penelope acknowledges Odysseus and embraces him; Odysseus tells her of the ordeals yet to come, according to the prophecy of Teiresias; Penelope and Odysseus go to bed, make love, and then she hears the story of his adventures; in the morning Odysseus gets up, tells Penelope to stay in her upper rooms, puts on his armour, instructs Eumaeus and Philoetius to arm themselves; Athena leads them out of the city]

Old Eurycleia went up to an upstairs room,
laughing to herself, to inform her mistress
her beloved husband was inside the house.
Her knees moved quickly as her feet hurried on.
She stood beside her lady's head and spoke to her:

"Wake up, Penelope, my dear child,
so you yourself can see with your own eyes
what you've been wanting each and every day.
Odysseus has arrived. He may be late,
but he's back in the house. And he's killed 10
those arrogant suitors who upset this home,
used up his goods, and victimized his son."

Wise Penelope then answered her: [10]

"Dear nurse,
the gods have made you mad. They can do that—
turn even someone really sensible
into a fool and bring the feeble minded
to a path of fuller understanding.
They've injured you—your mind was sound before.
Why mock me, when my heart is full of grief,
telling this mad tale, rousing me from sleep, 20
a sweet sleep binding me, shrouding my eyes?
I've not had a sleep like that since Odysseus
went off to look at wicked Ilion,
a place whose name no one should ever speak.
Come now, go back down to the women's hall. [20]
Among my servants, if some other one
had come to tell me this, woken me up
when I was sleeping, I'd have sent her back
at once to the woman's quarters in disgrace.
But I'll be good to you because you're old." 30

The dear nurse Eurycleia then said to her:

"But I'm not making fun of you, dear child.
It's true. Odysseus has returned. He's back,
here in the house, exactly as I said.
He's that stranger all the men dishonoured
in the hall. For some time Telemachus
knew he was at home, but he was careful [30]
to conceal his father's plans, until the time
he could pay back those overbearing men
for their forceful oppression."

Eurycleia spoke. 40
Penelope rejoiced. She jumped up out of bed,
hugged the old woman, tears falling from her eyelids,
then she spoke to her—her words had wings:

"Come now,
dear nurse, tell me the truth. If he's really here,
back home as you claim, then how could he
turn his hands against those shameless suitors?
He was alone, and in this house those men
were always in a group."

Her dear nurse Eurycleia
then answered her:

"I didn't see or hear about it. [40]
I only heard the groans of men being killed. 50
We sat in our well-built women's quarters,
in a corner, terrified. Close-fitting doors
kept us in there, until Telemachus,
your son, called me from the room. His father
had sent him there to summon me. And then,
I found Odysseus standing with the bodies—
dead men on the hard earth all around him,
lying on each other, a heart-warming sight—
and he was there, covered with blood and gore,
just like a lion. Now all those bodies 60
have been piled up at the courtyard gates,
and he's purging his fair home with sulphur. [50]
He's kindled a great fire. He sent me out
to summon you. Now, come along with me,
so you two can be happy in your hearts.
You've been through so much misfortune, and now
what you've been looking forward to so long
has come about at last. He's come himself,
to his own hearth while still alive—he's found
you and your son inside these halls and taken 70
his revenge on all suitors in his home,
men who acted harmfully against him."

Wise Penelope then answered Eurycleia:

"Dear nurse, don't laugh at them and boast too much.
You know how his appearance in the hall [60]
would please everyone, especially me
and the son born from the two of us.
But this story can't be true, not the way
you've told it. One of the immortal gods
has killed the noble suitors out of rage 80
at their heart-rending pride and wicked acts.
There was no man on this earth they honoured,
bad or good, when he came into their group.
They've met disaster through their foolishness.
But in some place far away Odysseus
has forfeited his journey to Achaea,
and he himself is lost."

Dear nurse Eurycleia
then answered her:

"My child, what kind of speech has slipped [70]
the barrier of your teeth, when you declared
your husband won't get home—he's in the house, 90
at his own hearth. Your heart just has no trust.
But come on, I'll tell you something else—
it's a clear proof—that scar a boar gave him
some time ago with its white tusk. I saw it.
I washed it clean. I was going to tell you,
but his hand gripped me by the throat—his heart
in its great subtlety wouldn't let me speak.
But come with me. I'll stake my life on it.
If I've deceived you, then you can kill me
and choose a painful death."

Wise Penelope 100 [80]
then answered her:

"Dear nurse, you find it hard
to grasp the plans of the eternal gods,
even though you're really shrewd. But let's go
to my son, so I can see the suitors
now they're dead—and the man who killed them."

Penelope spoke, then went down from the upper room,
her heart turning over many things—Should she
keep her distance and question her dear husband,
or should she come up to him, hold his head and hands,
and kiss them? Crossing the stone threshold, she went in 110
and sat down in the firelight opposite Odysseus,
beside the further wall. He was sitting there [90]
by a tall pillar, looking at the ground, waiting
to learn if his noble wife would speak to him
when her own eyes caught sight of him. She sat there
a long time in silence. Amazement came in her heart—
sometimes her eyes gazed at him full in the face,
but other times she failed to recognize him,
he had such shabby clothing covering his body.
Telemachus spoke up, addressing a rebuke 120
directly to her:

"Mother, you're a cruel woman,
with an unfeeling heart. Why turn aside
from my father in this way? Why not sit
over there, close to him, ask him questions?
No other woman's heart would be so hard [100]
to make her keep her distance from a husband
who's come home to her in his native land
in the twentieth year, after going through
so many harsh ordeals. That heart of yours
is always harder than a stone."

Wise Penelope 130
then answered him:

"My child, inside my chest
my heart is quite amazed. I cannot speak
or ask questions, or look directly at him.
If indeed it's true he is Odysseus
and is home again, surely the two of us
have more certain ways to know each other.
We have signs only we two understand. [110]
Other people will not recognize them."

As she spoke, lord Odysseus, who'd been through so much,
smiled and immediately spoke to Telemachus— 140
his words had wings:

"Telemachus, let your mother
test me in these halls. She will soon possess
more certain knowledge. Right now I'm filthy,
with disgusting clothing on my body.
That's why she rejects me and will not say
I am Odysseus. But we need to think
how this matter can best resolve itself.
Anyone who murders just one person
in the district, even when the dead man
does not leave many to avenge him later, 150
goes into exile, leaving his relatives [120]
and his native land. But we have slaughtered
the city's main defence, the best by far
of the young men in Ithaca. I think
you should consider what that means."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said:

"Surely you must look into this yourself,
dear father. For among all men, they say,
your planning is the best—of mortal men
no one can rival you. And as for us, 160
we're keen to follow you, and I don't think
we'll lack the bravery to match our strength."

Resourceful Odysseus said this in reply:

"All right, I'll say what seems to me the best. [130]
First of all, take a bath. Put tunics on.
Next, tell the female servants in the hall
to change their clothing. After that, we'll let
the holy minstrel, with his clear-toned lyre,
lead us in playful dancing, so anyone
who hears us from outside—someone walking 170
down the road or those who live close by—
will say it is a wedding. In that way,
the wide rumour of the suitors' murder
will not spread too soon down in the city,
before we go out to our forest lands.
There later on we'll think of our next move,
whatever the Olympian god suggests." [140]

They listened eagerly to what Odysseus said
and were persuaded. So first of all they bathed
and put on tunics. The women got dressed up. 180
Then the godlike singer took his hollow lyre
and encouraged their desire for lovely songs
and noble dancing. The whole great house resounded
to the steps of men celebrating a good time
with women wearing lovely gowns. So any man
who listened in as he walked past outside the house
might offer a remark like this:

"It seems that someone
has married the queen with all those suitors.
A heartless woman. She lacked the courage [150]
to maintain her wedded husband's home 190
and persevere till he arrived back home."

That's what someone would've said—he'd never know
what was going on. Meanwhile, Eurynome,
the housekeeper, gave brave Odysseus a bath,
rubbed him with oil, and put a tunic on him,
a fine cloak, as well. Athena poured beauty on him,
large amounts to make him taller, more robust
to look at, and on his head she made his hair
flow in curls resembling a hyacinth in bloom.
Just as a man sets a layer of gold on silver, 200
a skillful artisan whom Pallas Athena [160]
and Hephaestus have taught all sorts of crafts,
so he produces marvelous work, that's how Athena
poured grace onto his head and shoulders, as he came
out of his bath, looking like the immortal gods.
He sat back down in the chair from which he'd risen,
opposite his wife, and said to her:

"Strange lady,
to you those who live on Mount Olympus
have given, more so than to other women,
an unfeeling heart. No other woman 210
would harden herself and keep her distance
from her husband, who, in the twentieth year,
came back to her in his own native land, [170]
after going through so much misfortune.
So come, nurse, spread out a bed for me,
so I can lie down by myself. The heart
inside her breast is made of iron."

Wise Penelope then answered him:

"Strange man,
I am not making too much of myself,
or ignoring you. Nor is it the case 220
that I'm particularly offended.
I know well the sort of man you were
when you left Ithaca in your long-oared ship.
So come, Eurycleia, set up for him
outside the well-built bedroom that strong bed
he made himself. Put that sturdy bedstead
out there for him and throw some bedding on,
fleeces, cloaks, and shining coverlets." [180]

Penelope said this to test her husband.
But Odysseus, angry at his true-hearted wife, 230
spoke out:

"Woman, those words you've just uttered
are very painful. Who's shifted my bed
to some other place? That would be difficult,
even for someone really skilled, unless
a god came down in person—for he could,
if he wished, set it elsewhere easily.
But among men there is no one living,
no matter how much energy he has,
who would find it easy to shift that bed.
For built into the well-constructed bedstead 240
is a great symbol which I made myself
with no one else. A long-leaved olive bush [190]
was growing in the yard. It was in bloom
and flourishing—it looked like a pillar.
I built my bedroom round this olive bush,
till I had finished it with well-set stones.
I put a good roof over it, then added
closely fitted jointed doors. After that,
I cut back the foliage, by removing
branches from the long-leaved olive bush. 250
I trimmed the trunk off, upward from the root,
cutting it skillfully and well with bronze,
so it followed a straight line. Once I'd made
the bedpost, I used an augur to bore out
the entire piece. That was how I started.
Then I carved out my bed, till I was done.
In it I set an inlay made of gold, [200]
silver, and ivory, and then across it
I stretched a bright purple thong of ox-hide.
And that's the symbol I describe for you. 260
But, lady, I don't know if that bed of mine
is still in place or if some other man
has cut that olive tree down at its base
and set the bed up in a different spot."

Odysseus spoke, and sitting there, Penelope
went weak at the knees, and her heart grew soft.
For she recognized that it was true—that symbol
Odysseus had described to her. Eyes full of tears,
she ran to him, threw her arms around his neck,
kissed his head, and said:

"Don't be angry, Odysseus, 270
not with me. In all other matters
you've been the cleverest of men. The gods [210]
have brought us sorrows—they were not willing
the two of us should stay beside each other
to enjoy our youth and reach together
the threshold of old age. Now's not the time
to rage at me, resenting what I've done
because I didn't welcome you this way
when I first saw you. But in my dear breast
my heart was always fearful, just in case 280
some other man would come and trick me
with his stories. For there are many men
who dream up wicked schemes. Argive Helen,
a child of Zeus, would never have had sex
with a man who came from somewhere else,
if she'd known Achaea's warrior sons [220]
would bring her back to her dear native land.
And some god drove her to that shameful act.
Not till that time did she start harbouring
within her heart the disastrous folly 290
which made sorrow come to us as well.
But now you've mentioned that clear symbol,
our bed, which no one else has ever seen,
other than the two of us, you and me,
and a single servant woman, Actoris,
whom my father gave me when I came here.
For both of us she kept watch at the doors
of our strong bedroom. You've now won my heart, [230]
though it's been truly stubborn."

Penelope spoke,
and stirred in him an even more intense desire 300
to weep. As he held his loyal and loving wife,
he cried. Just as it's a welcome sight for swimmers
when land appears, men whose well-constructed ship
Poseidon has demolished on the sea, as winds
and surging waves were driving it, and a few men
have swum to shore, escaping the grey sea,
their bodies thickly caked with brine, and they climb
gladly up on land, evading that disaster,
that how Penelope rejoiced to see her husband.
She simply couldn't stop her white arms holding him 310 [240]
around the neck. And rose-fingered early Dawn
would've appeared with them still weeping there,
if goddess Athena with the gleaming eyes,
had not thought of something else—she prolonged
the lengthy night as it came to an end, keeping
Dawn and her golden throne waiting by Ocean's stream—
she would not let her harness her swift horses,
who carry light to men, Lampros and Phaeton,
the colts who bring on Dawn.

Resourceful Odysseus
then said to his wife:

"Lady, we've not yet come 320
to the end of all our trials. Countless tasks
must still be carried out in days to come,
plenty of hard work I have to finish. [250]
That's what the spirit of Teiresias
prophesied to me when I descended
inside Hades' house to ask some questions
concerning our return, my companions
and myself. But come, wife, let's go to bed,
so we can lie down and enjoy sweet sleep."

Wise Penelope then answered him:

"You'll have a bed 330
when your heart so desires, for the gods
have seen to it that you've returned back here
to your well-built home and native land.
But since you've thought of it and some god [260]
has set it in your heart, come and tell me
of this trial. For I think I'll hear of it
in future, so to learn of it right now
won't make things any worse."

Resourceful Odysseus
then answered her and said:

"Strange lady,
why urge me so eagerly to tell you? 340
All right, I'll say it, and I'll hide nothing.
But your heart will not find it delightful.
I myself get no enjoyment from it.
Teiresias ordered me to journey out
to many human cities, carrying
in my hands a well-made oar, till I reached
a people who know nothing of the sea,
who don't put salt on any food they eat, [270]
and have no knowledge of ships painted red
or well-made oars that serve those ships as wings. 350
He told me a sure sign I won't conceal—
when someone else runs into me and says
I've got a shovel used for winnowing
on my broad shoulders, he told me to set it
in the ground there, make rich sacrifice
to lord Poseidon with a ram, a bull,
and a boar that breeds with sows, then leave,
go home, and there make sacred offerings
to immortal gods who hold wide heaven, [280]
all of them in order. My death will come 360
far from the sea, such a gentle passing,
when I'm bowed down with a ripe old age,
with my people prospering around me.
He said all this would happen to me."

Wise Penelope then said to him:

"If it's true the gods
are going to bring you a happier old age,
there's hope you'll have relief from trouble."

While they went on talking to each other in this way,
Eurynome and the nurse prepared the bed
with soft coverlets, by light from flaming torches. 370 [290]
Once they'd quickly covered up the sturdy bed,
the old nurse went back to her room to rest,
and the bedroom servant, Eurynome, led them
on their way to bed, a torch gripped in her hands.
When she'd brought them to the room, then she returned.
Odysseus and Penelope approached with joy
the place where their bed stood from earlier days.

Telemachus, Philoetius, and Eumaeus
stopped their dancing feet, made the women stop as well,
and then lay down in the shadowy hall to sleep. 380

Odysseus and Penelope, once they'd had the joy [300]
of making love, then entertained each other
telling stories, in mutual conversation.
The lovely lady talked of all she'd been through
in the house, looking at that destructive group,
the suitors, who, because of her, had butchered
so many cattle and fat sheep and drained from jars
so much wine. Odysseus, born from Zeus, then told
all the troubles he'd brought down on men, all the grief
he'd had to work through on his own. Penelope 390
was happy listening, and sleep did not flow down
across her eyelids until he'd told it all.

He began by telling how he first destroyed [310]
the Cicones, and then came to the fertile land
of Lotus-eating men, and all the Cyclops did—
and how he forced him to pay the penalty
for his brave comrades eaten by the Cyclops—
then how he came to Aeolus, who'd taken him in
quite willingly and sent him on his way.
But it was not yet his destiny to reach 400
his dear native land. Instead, storm winds once more
caught him, drove him across the fish-filled seas,
for all his weary groans. He told how he next came
to Telepylos where the Laestrygonians live,
men who destroyed his ships and well-armed comrades,
all of them, and how Odysseus was the only one [320]
to escape in his black ship.* He went on to talk
of Circe's devious resourcefulness and how
in his ship with many oars he'd then gone down
to Hades' murky home in order to consult 410
the spirit of Teiresias of Thebes and seen
all his companions and his mother, who bore him
and raised him as a child, and how he'd listened to
the Sirens' voices, in their never-ending song,
then come to the Wandering Rocks, dread Charybdis,
and to Scylla, whom men have never yet escaped
without being harmed, how his comrades slaughtered
the oxen of sun god Helios, how his ship
was shattered by a flaming lightning bolt thrown down [330]
from high-thundering Zeus, how his fine comrades perished, 420
all at once, while he alone escaped from fate,
how he reached the nymph Calypso on her island,
Ogygia, how she kept him in her hollow caves,
longing for him to be her husband, nurturing him
and telling him she'd make him an immortal
who through all his days would not get any older,
but she could not convince the heart within his chest,
how, after suffering a great deal, he then had come
to the Phaeacians, who greatly honoured him,
as if he were a god, and sent him in a ship 430 [340]
to his dear native land, after offering gifts
of bronze and gold and rich supplies of clothing.
He stopped his story at that point, when sweet sleep,
which makes men's limbs relax, came over him,
and eased disturbing worries he had in his heart.

Then Athena, goddess with the gleaming eyes,
came up with something else. When she thought Odysseus
had had his heart's fill of pleasure with his wife and slept,
from Ocean she quickly stirred up early Dawn
on her golden throne to bring her light to men. 440
Odysseus rose from his soft bed and told his wife:

"Lady, the two of us by now have had [350]
sufficient trouble—you here lamenting
my hazardous return, while, in my case,
Zeus and the other gods kept me tied up
far from my native land, in great distress,
for all my eagerness to get back home.
Now that we've come back to the bed we love,
you should tend to our wealth inside the house.
As for the flocks those arrogant suitors stole, 450
I'll seize many beasts as plunder on my own,
and Achaeans will give others, till they fill up
each and every pen. Now I'm going to go
out to my forest lands, and there I'll see
my noble father, who on my behalf [360]
has suffered such anxiety. Lady,
since I know how intelligent you are,
I'm asking you to follow these instructions—
once sunrise comes, the story will be out
about the suitors slaughtered in our home. 460
So you should go up to your upper room
with your female attendants. Then sit there.
Don't look in on anyone or ask questions."

Once he'd said this, he put his splendid armour on,
around his shoulders, and roused Telemachus,
Philoetius, and Eumaeus, and told them all
to get weapons in their hands to fight a war.
They did not disobey, but dressed themselves in bronze,
opened the doors, and went outside, with Odysseus [370]
in the lead. By now light was shining on the ground, 470
but Athena kept them hidden by the night,
as she led them quickly from the city.




Notes to Book Twenty-Three

* . . . his black ship: In this incident with the Laestrygonians, narrated in Book 10, Odysseus loses all his men and ships except his own ship and crew, because he had the foresight not to moor his boat with the others inside the harbour. These lines obviously do not mean that from this point on he was totally alone.






 

 

 



Ulysses Departing from Lacedaemon for Ithaca, with his Bride Penelope





Book Twenty-Four



Zeus and Athena End the Fighting

[Hermes conducts the shades of the dead suitors down to Hades, where they meet Achilles, Patroclus, Antilochus, and Agamemnon; Agamemnon and Achilles talk; Agamemnon gives details of Achilles' burial; Amphimedon complains to Agamemnon about his death at Odysseus' hands; Agamemnon pays tribute to Odysseus and Penelope; Odysseus goes out to find his father; Laertes and Odysseus talk in the vineyard, and Odysseus tests his father with a false story and then reveals his identity; the two men return to Laertes' house, where Eumaeus, Philoetius, and Telemachus have prepared dinner; Laertes' appearance is transformed; Dolius and his sons arrive; the men in Ithaca hear about the slaughter and collect their dead; Eupeithes urges action against Odysseus; Medon and Halitherses advise against such action; the majority decide to follow Eupeithes; Athena questions Zeus about his intentions regarding Odysseus; Zeus tells her to deal with the situation; Odysseus and his followers arm themselves and go out to meet the Ithacan army; Athena urges Laertes to throw a spear; Laertes kills Eupeithes; Athena stops the Ithacan army and sends it back to the city; a thunderbolt from Zeus stops Odysseus; Athena establishes a lasting oath between both sides.]

Meanwhile Hermes of Cyllene summoned up
the spirits of the suitors. In his hand he held
the beautiful gold wand he uses to enchant
the eyes of anyone he wishes or to wake
some other man from sleep. With it he roused and led
these spirits, who kept squeaking as they followed him.
Just as inside the corners of a monstrous cave
bats flit around and squeak when one of them falls down
out of the cluster on the rock where they cling
to one another, that how these spirits squawked 10
as they moved on together. Hermes the Deliverer [10]
conducted them along the murky passageway.*
They went past the streams of Ocean, past Leucas,
past the gates of the Sun and the land of Dreams,
and very soon came to the field of asphodel,*
where spirits live, the shades of those whose work is done.

Here they found Achilles' shade, son of Peleus,
and of Patroclus, too, noble Antilochus,
and Ajax, who had the finest form and shape
of all Danaans, after the son of Peleus, 20
who had no peer. These shades were gathered there,
in a group around Achilles. Then to them came [20]
the spirit of Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
full of sorrow. Around him were assembled shades
of all those who'd been killed with him and met their fate
in Aegisthus' house. The son of Peleus' shade
was the first to speak to him:

"Son of Atreus,
we thought of you as one well loved by Zeus,
who hurls the thunderbolt, for all your days,
more so than every other human warrior, 30
because on Trojan soil you were the king
of many powerful men, where we Achaeans
went through so much distress. And now it seems
destructive Fate was destined to reach you,
as well, and far too soon, the mortal doom
that no man born escapes. Oh, how I wish [30]
you'd met your fatal end in Trojan lands,
still in full possession of those honours
you were master of. Then all Achaeans
would have made a tomb for you—for your son 40
you'd have won great fame in future days.
But as it is, your fate was to be caught
in a death more pitiful than any."

The shade of Atreus' son then answered him:

"Godlike Achilles, fortunate son of Peleus,
killed in the land of Troy, far from Argos.
Other men fell round you, the finest sons
of Trojans and Achaeans, in the fight
above your corpse. You lay in the swirling dust,
a great man in your full magnificence, 50 [40]
with your skill in horsemanship forgotten.
As for us, we fought there all day long.
We never would have pulled back from the fight,
if Zeus had not brought on a storm to end it.
We took you from the battle to the ships,
laid you on a bier, and with warm water
and oil we cleaned your lovely skin. And then,
standing around you, the Danaans wept,
shedding plenty of hot tears, and cut their hair.
When your mother heard the news, she came 60
with immortal sea nymphs up from the sea.*
An amazing cry arose above the water—
all Achaeans were then seized with trembling.
They would've all jumped up and run away [50]
to the hollow ships, if one man, well versed
in ancient wisdom, had not held them back.
I mean Nestor, whose advice in earlier days
had seemed the best. Using his wise judgment,
he addressed them all and said:

'Hold on, Argives.
You young Achaean men, don't rush away. 70
This is his mother coming from the sea
with her immortal sea nymphs to look on
the face of her dead son.'

"That's what Nestor said,
and the brave Achaeans stopped their running.
Then the daughters of the Old Man of the Sea
stood round you in a piteous lament,*
as they put immortal clothing on you.
And Muses, nine in all, sang out a dirge, [60]
their lovely voices answering each other.
You'd not have seen a single Argive there 80
without tears, their hearts so deeply moved
by the Muses' clear-toned song. We mourned you
for seventeen days and nights together,
both mortal humans and immortal gods.
On the eighteenth we gave you to the fire.
Around you we killed many well-fed sheep
and bent-horned cattle. You were cremated
in clothing of the gods, with sweet honey
and much oil. Many Achaean warriors
moved around the funeral pyre in armour, 90
as you were burning, both foot soldiers [70]
and charioteers, making an enormous noise.
And then, Achilles, once Hephaestus' flame
was finished with you, we set your white bones
in unmixed wine and oil. Your mother gave
a two-handled jar of gold. She said it was
a gift from Dionysus, something made
by illustrious Hephaestus. In this jar,
glorious Achilles, lie your white bones,
mixed in with those of dead Patroclus, 100
son of Menoetius.* Separate from these
are Antilochus' bones, whom you honoured
above all the rest of your companions
after Patroclus.* Then, over these bones [80]
we raised a huge impressive burial mound,
we—the sacred army of Argive spearmen—
on a promontory projecting out
into the wide Hellespont, so that men,
those now alive and those in future days,
can view it from a long way out at sea. 110
Your mother asked the gods for lovely prizes
and set them out among the best Achaeans
for a competition. In earlier days
you've been present at the funeral games
of many warriors, when, once a king dies,
the young men, after tying up their clothes,
prepare to win the contests. But if you'd seen [90]
that spectacle you'd have truly marveled—
the goddess, silver-footed Thetis, set
such beautiful prizes in your honour. 120
The gods had that much special love for you.
So even in death, your name did not die.
No. Your glorious fame, Achilles, will endure
among all men forever. As for me,
I finished off the war, but what pleasure
does that give me now? When I got back home,
Zeus organized a dreadful fate for me,
at Aegisthus' hands and my accursed wife's."*

As they talked this way to one another, Hermes,
killer of Argus, came up close to them, leading down 130
the shades of suitors whom Odysseus had killed. [100]
When they observed this, the two, in their amazement,
went straight up to them. The shade of Agamemnon,
son of Atreus, recognized the well-loved son
of Melaneus, splendid Amphimedon,
a guest friend of his from Ithaca, his home.
The shade of Atreus' son spoke to him first, saying:

"Amphimedon, what have you suffered,
all of you picked men of the same age,
to come down here beneath the gloomy earth? 140
If one were to choose the city's finest men,
one would not select any men but these.
Did Poseidon overwhelm you in your ships
by rousing violent winds and giant waves? [110]
Or did hostile forces on the mainland
kill you off, while you were taking cattle
or rich flocks of sheep, or were they fighting
to protect their city and their women?
Answer what I'm asking. For I can claim
I am your guest friend. Don't you remember 150
the time I made a visit to your home
with godlike Menelaus—to urge Odysseus
to come with us in our well-benched ships
to Ilion? It took us an entire month
to cross all that wide sea, and it was hard
to win Odysseus, sacker of cities,
over to our side."

Amphimedon's shade [120]
then answered him and said:

"Noble son of Atreus,
Agamemnon, Zeus-fostered king of men,
I do remember all these things you say, 160
and I'll describe for you every detail,
the truth of how we died, a wicked fate,
and how it came about. For many years,
Odysseus was away from home, so we
began to court his wife. She did not refuse
a marriage she detested, nor did she
go through with it. Instead, she organized
a gloomy destiny for us, our death.
In her heart she thought up another trick.
She had a huge loom set up in her rooms 170
and on it wove a delicate wide fabric. [130]
And right away she said this to us:

'Young men,
my suitors, since lord Odysseus is dead,
you're keen for me to marry—you must wait
until I'm finished with this robe, so I
don't waste this woven yarn in useless work.
It's a burial shroud for lord Laertes,
for when the lethal fate of his sad death
will seize him, so no Achaean woman
in the district will get angry with me 180
that a man who'd won much property
should have to lie without a death shroud.'

That's what she said, and our proud hearts agreed.
So day by day she'd weave at that great loom.
At night she'd have torches placed beside her [140]
and keep unraveling it. She tricked Achaeans
for three years with this scheme—they believed her.
But as the seasons changed and months rolled on,
and many days passed by, the fourth year came.
Then one of her women, who knew the plan, 190
spoke out, and we came in and caught her
undoing the lovely yarn. So after that
we made her finish it against her will.
Once she'd woven it and washed the fabric,
she displayed the robe—it shone like the sun
or like the moon. Then some malignant god
brought Odysseus back from some foreign place
to the borders of the field where the swineherd [150]
has his house. And there, too, came the dear son
of godlike Odysseus, once he'd returned 200
in his black ship, back from sandy Pylos.*
The two hatched a plan against the suitors,
to bring them to a nasty death, then left
for the well-known city. Telemachus
made the journey first, whereas Odysseus
got there later. The swineherd led his master,
who wore shabby clothing on his body—
he looked like an ancient worn-out beggar
leaning on a stick, rags covering his skin.
So none of us could recognize the man 210
when he suddenly showed up, not even [160]
older men. We pelted him with insults,
hurled things at him, but for a little while
his firm heart kept enduring what we threw
and how we taunted him in his own home.
But when aegis-bearing Zeus aroused him,
with Telemachus' help he took away
the fine weapons, put them in a storeroom,
and locked the bolt. Then, with his great cunning,
he told his wife to place before the suitors 220
his bow and gray iron axes, a contest
for those of us who bore an evil fate,
the prelude to our death. None of us [170]
could stretch the string on that powerful bow.
We weren't nearly strong enough. But then,
when the great bow was in Odysseus' hands,
we all called out to say we should not give
that bow to him, no matter what he said.
Telemachus alone kept urging him—
he told him to do it. Once lord Odysseus, 230
who had endured so much, picked up the bow,
he strung it with ease and shot an arrow
through the iron axes. Then he went and stood
inside the doorway with a fearful glare
and kept shooting volleys of swift arrows.
He hit lord Antinous and went on shooting, [180]
aiming at other men across the room,
letting lethal arrows fly. Men collapsed,
falling thick and fast. Then we realized
some god was helping them, when all at once 240
they charged out in a frenzy through the house,
butchering men everywhere. The screams
were hideous, as heads were smashed apart.
The whole floor swam with blood. That's how we died,
Agamemnon, and even now our bodies
are lying uncared for in Odysseus' house.
Each man's friends at home don't know what's happened,
the ones who'd wash the black blood from our wounds,
then lay our bodies out and weep for us, [190]
the necessary rites for those who've died." 250

The shade of Atreus' son then answered Amphimedon:

"Oh, son of Laertes, happy Odysseus,
a resourceful man, who won himself
a wife whose excellence was truly great.
How fine the heart in faultless Penelope,
daughter of Icarius! She remembered well
the husband she was married to, Odysseus.
The story of her excellence will not die—
immortal gods will make a pleasing song
for men on earth about faithful Penelope. 260
Tyndareus' daughter acted differently,*
when she planned to carry out her evil acts
and killed her wedded husband—among men [200]
there'll be a hateful song for her. She gives
all women an evil reputation,
even one whose actions are done well."

So these two talked to one another, as they stood
in the house of Hades, deep beneath the earth.

Once Odysseus and his men had left the city,
they soon reached Laertes' fine, well-managed farm, 270
which Laertes had once won by his own efforts,
working really hard. His house was there, with sheds
surrounding it on every side, where his servants,
bonded slaves who worked to carry out his wishes, [210]
ate and sat and slept. An old Sicilian woman
lived inside his house, looking after the old man,
caring for him at the farm, far from the city.
Odysseus then spoke to his servants and his son:

"You should go inside the well-built home.
Hurry up and kill the finest pig there is, 280
so we can eat. I'll sound out my father,
to find out if he can recognize me,
see who I am, once he's laid eyes on me,
or if he doesn't know me any more,
since I've been away so long."

Odysseus spoke,
then gave his battle weapons to his servants.
They quickly went inside the house. Then Odysseus, [220]
walking out to test his father, came up beside
the fruitful vineyard and from there continued down
to the extensive orchard, where he failed to find 290
Dolius or any sons of his father's slaves.
They'd gone off to gather large rocks for the wall
around the vineyard, with the old man in the lead.
In the well-established vineyard he found his father.
He was digging round a plant, all by himself,
dressed in a filthy, shabby, patched-up tunic.
Around his legs he'd tied shin pads stitched from ox-hide
to protect himself from scratches, and on his hands [230]
he had on gloves, since there were thistles in that spot.
On his head he wore a goatskin hat. In these clothes 300
he was dealing with his grief. When lord Odysseus,
who had endured so much, saw him worn down with age
and carrying so much heavy sorrow in his heart,
he stood under a tall pear tree and shed a tear,
debating in his mind and heart whether he should
embrace and kiss his father or describe for him
in detail how he got back to his native land
or start by questioning him, to test him out
on every point. As he thought about his options,
the best decision seemed to be to test him first, 310 [240]
using words which might provoke him. With this in mind,
lord Odysseus went straight up to his father,
who was digging round a plant with his head down.
His splendid son stood there beside him and spoke out:

"Old man, from the way you tend this orchard
you've no lack of skill. No. Your care is good.
There's nothing here—no plant, fig tree, vine,
olive, pear, or garden plot in all the field—
that needs some care. I'll tell you something else—
don't let this make you angry in your heart— 320
you yourself are not being well looked after.
Along with your old age, you're filthy dirty, [250]
and badly dressed in those disgusting clothes.
Surely it can't be because you're lazy
your lord refuses to look after you.
In appearance you don't seem to be a slave,
not when one sees your stature and your shape.
You're like a king, the kind of man who bathes
and eats and goes to sleep in a soft bed,
as old men should. So come now, tell me this, 330
and speak out candidly—Whose slave are you?
Whose orchard are you tending? And tell me
the truth about this, too, so I understand—
Is this place we've reached really Ithaca,
as some man I just met on my way here [260]
told me. His mind was not too clever—
he didn't try to tell me any details
or listen to my words when I asked him
about a friend of mine, if he's still alive
or is in Hades' home, already dead. 340
I'll explain it to you. Listen to me,
and pay attention. In my dear native land,
I once entertained a man, someone who'd come
to my own home. No other human being
from far away has visited my house
as a more welcome guest. He said he came
from Ithaca. He told me his father [270]
was Laertes, son of Arcesius.
I took him to the house, entertained him
with generous hospitality, and gave him 350
a kind reception with the many things
I had inside my home, providing him
appropriate friendship gifts. I gave him
seven talents of finely crafted gold,
a silver mixing bowl etched with flowers,
twelve cloaks with single folds, twelve coverlets,
as many splendid cloaks, and, besides these,
as many tunics and, what's more, four women
skilled in fine handicrafts and beautiful,
the very ones he wished to choose himself." 360

Then his father shed a tear and answered him: [280]

"Stranger, yes indeed, you've reached the country
which you asked about. But it's been taken over
by arrogant and reckless men. Those presents,
the countless gifts you freely gave, are useless.
If you'd come across him still living here,
in Ithaca, he'd have sent you on your way
after paying you back with splendid presents
and fine hospitality—that's the right
of him who offers kindness first. But come, 370
tell me this, and make sure you speak the truth.
How many years ago did you welcome him,
that unlucky guest, my son, if, indeed,
such an ill-fated man ever was alive? [290]
Somewhere far from native land and friends
the fish have eaten him down in the sea,
or on land he's been the prey of savage beasts
and birds. Neither his father nor his mother,
we who gave him birth, could lay him out
for burial or lament for him. Nor did 380
the wife he courted with so many gifts,
faithful Penelope, bewail her husband
on his bier, closing up his eyes in death,
as is appropriate, though that's a rite
we owe the dead. And tell me this, as well—
speaking the truth so I can understand—
Among men who are you? Where are you from?
What is your city? Who are your parents?
Where did you and your god-like companions
anchor the swift ship that brought you here? 390
Or did you come on other people's ship [300]
as passenger, men who let you disembark
and then set off again?"

Resourceful Odysseus
then answered him:

"All right, I'll tell you everything
quite truthfully. I come from Alybas,
where I have a lovely home. I'm the son
of Apheidas, lord Polypemon's son.
My name's Eperitus. But then some god
made me go off course from Sicania,
so I've come here against my will. My ship 400
is anchored over there, close to the fields
far from the city. As for Odysseus,
this is the fifth year since he went away [310]
and left my country. That unlucky man!
There were auspicious omens from some birds
flying on the right, when he departed.
So when I sent him off, I was happy,
and so was he. The hearts in both of us
hoped we'd meet again as host and guest,
and give each other splendid presents." 410

As Odysseus said these words, a black cloud of grief
swallowed up Laertes. With both hands he scooped up
some grimy dust and dumped it over his gray hair,
moaning all the time. He stirred Odysseus' heart.
Already, as he looked at his dear father, sharp pains
were shooting up his nostrils. He jumped over,
embraced Laertes, kissed him, and then said: [320]

"Father,
I'm here—the very man you asked about.
I've returned here in the twentieth year,
back to my native land. Stop your grieving, 420
these tearful moans. I'll tell you everything,
though it's essential we move really fast.
I've killed the suitors in our home, avenged
their heart-rending insolence, their evil acts."

Laertes then answered him and said:

"If that's true,
if you are indeed my son Odysseus
and have come back, show me some evidence,
something clear so I can be quite certain."

Resourceful Odysseus replied to him and said: [330]

"First, let your eyes inspect this scar—a boar 430
inflicted that on me with its white tusk,
when I went to Parnassus, sent there
by you and by my honourable mother,
to her cherished father, Autolycus,
so I could get the gifts he'd promised me,
what he'd agreed to give when he was here.
Come, I'll tell you the trees you gave me once
in the well-established vineyard—back then
I was a child following you in the yard,
and I asked about each one. It was here— 440
we walked by these very trees. You named them
and described them to me. You offered me
thirteen pear trees and ten apple trees [340]
along with forty fig trees. In the same way,
you said you'd give me fifty rows of vines,
bearing all sorts of different types of grapes,
when Zeus' seasons load their tops with fruit."

As Odysseus spoke, his father's fond heart and knees
gave way—he clearly recognized the evidence
Odysseus had presented. He threw both his arms 450
around the son he loved and struggled hard to breathe.
Lord Odysseus, who had endured so much, held him.
After he'd revived and his spirit came once more
into his chest, Laertes spoke again and said: [350]

"Father Zeus, it seems you gods are still
on high Olympus, if it's true those suitors
have paid the price of their proud arrogance.
But now my heart contains a dreadful fear—
all the men of Ithaca will soon come here
against us, and they'll send out messengers 460
all through Cephallenia, to every city."*

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said:

"Take courage, and don't allow these things
to weigh down your heart. Let's go to the house,
the one close to the orchard, where I sent
Telemachus, together with the swineherd
and the keeper of the goats, so they could
prepare a meal as soon as possible." [360]

After they'd talked like this, they went to the fine house.
Once they reached Laertes' well-furnished home, they found 470
Telemachus with the swineherd and goat keeper
carving lots of meat and mixing gleaming wine.

Inside the home the Sicilian servant woman
gave great-hearted Laertes a bath, then rubbed him
with oil and threw a lovely cloak around him.
Athena then approached and fleshed out the limbs
on that shepherd of his people. She made him
taller than before and sturdier to the eye.
When he left the bath, his dear son was astonished— [370]
as he looked at him he seemed like the immortals. 480
Odysseus spoke to him—his words had wings:

"Father, surely one of the eternal gods
has made you handsomer to look at—
both your form and stature."

Wise Laertes
then answered him and said:

"By Father Zeus,
Athena, and Apollo, I wish I were
just like I was when I took Nericus
on the mainland coast, that well-built fortress,
when I was king of Cephallenians.
With strength like that, I could've stood with you 490
yesterday, my armour on my shoulders, [380]
and driven off the suitors in our home.
I'd have made many of their knees go slack
inside the hall—I'd have pleased your heart."

In this way, the two men conversed with one another.

Meanwhile, the other men had finished working
Dinner was prepared. So they sat down one by one
on stools and chairs. As they were reaching for the food,
old Dolius appeared. With him came his sons,
tired out from work. The ancient Sicilian woman, 500
their mother, had gone outside and summoned them.
She fed them and took good care of the old man, [390]
now that his age had laid its grip on him. These men,
once they saw Odysseus and their hearts took note of him,
stood in the house astonished. Then Odysseus
talked to them with reassuring words and said:

"Old man, sit down and have some dinner.
Forget being so amazed. For some time now
we've been keen to turn our hands to dinner,
but we kept expecting you'd be coming, 510
so we've been waiting in the house."

Odysseus spoke.
Dolius went straight up to him, both arms outstretched,
grabbed Odysseus' hand and kissed it on the wrist.
Then he spoke to him—his words had wings:

"My friend, [400]
you're back with us, who longed for your return
but never thought to see it! The gods themselves
must have been leading you. Joyful greetings!
May gods grant you success! Be frank with me
and tell me so I fully understand—
Does wise Penelope now know for certain 520
you've come back here, or should we send her
a messenger?"

Resourceful Odysseus answered him
and said:

"Old man, she already knows.
Why should you be so concerned about it?"

Odysseus spoke, and Dolius sat down again
on his polished stool. Then Dolius' sons
also came up around glorious Odysseus,
clasping his hands with words of welcome. Then they sat [410]
in a row alongside Dolius, their father.
So these men occupied themselves with dinner 530
inside the house.

Meanwhile, Rumour the Messenger
sped swiftly through the entire city, speaking
of the suitors' dreadful death, their destiny.
People heard about it all at once and came in
from all directions, gathering with mournful groans
before Odysseus' home. Each one brought his dead
outside the house and buried them. All the men
from other cities they sent home, placing them
aboard swift ships to be escorted back by sailors.
Then, with sorrowful hearts, they went in person 540 [420]
to meet in an assembly. Once they'd got there
together in a group, Eupeithes rose to speak.
Constant grief lay on his heart for his own son,
Antinous, the first man killed by lord Odysseus.
Weeping for him, he spoke to the assembly:

"My friends, this man has planned and carried out
dreadful acts against Achaeans. He led
many fine courageous men off in his fleet,
then lost his hollow ships, with all men dead.
Now he's come and killed our finest men by far 550
among the Cephallenians. So come on,
before he can quickly get to Pylos [430]
or to holy Elis, where Epeians rule,
let's get started. If not, in future days
we'll be eternally disgraced, since men
yet to be born will learn about our shame,
if we don't act to take out our revenge
on those murderers of our sons and brothers.
As far as I'm concerned, the life we'd live
would not be sweet. I rather die right now 560
and live among the dead. So let us go,
in case those men have a head start on us
and get across the sea."

As Eupeithes said this,
he wept, and all Achaeans were seized by pity.
Then Medon and the godlike singer, released
from sleep, approached them from Odysseus' house, [440]
and stood up in their midst. They were astonished.
Then Medon, a shrewd man, spoke out.

"Men of Ithaca,
now hear me. Odysseus didn't plan these acts
without the gods' consent. I myself observed 570
an immortal god who stood beside him,
looking in every detail just like Mentor.
The deathless god appeared before Odysseus
at that time to spur him on to action,
and, at another time, charged through the hall,
terrifying the suitors. They collapsed in droves."

As Medon spoke, pale fear gripped them all. And then, [450]
old warrior Halitherses, son of Mastor, addressed them.
He was the only man who could see past and future.
Bearing in the mind their common good, he spoke out, 580
saying these words:

"Men of Ithaca,
listen to me now, hear what I have to say.
What's happened now, my friends, has come about
because of your own stupidity.
You just would not follow my instructions
or Mentor's, that shepherd of his people,
and make your sons stop their reckless conduct,
their monstrous acts of wanton foolishness,
squandering a fine man's property and then
dishonouring his wife, claiming the man 590 [460]
never would come back. So now, let that be,
and agree with what I'm going to tell you—
we should not move out, in case some men here
run into trouble they've brought on themselves."

He ended. Some men stayed together in their seats,
but others, more than half, jumped up with noisy shouts.
Their hearts had not responded to what he'd just said.
They'd been won over by Eupeithes. And so,
they quickly rushed away to get their weapons.
Once they'd put gleaming bronze around their bodies, 600
they gathered in a group on the spacious grounds
before the city. Eupeithes was the leader
in this foolishness. He thought he could avenge [470]
the killing of his son, but he would not return—
that's where he was going to meet his fate.

Then Athena spoke to Zeus, Cronos' son, saying:

"Father of us all and son of Cronos,
highest of all those who rule, answer me
when I ask this—What are you concealing
in that mind of yours? Will you be creating 610
further brutal war and dreadful battle,
or bring both sides together here as friends?"

Cloud-gatherer Zeus then answered her and said:

"My child, why are you asking this of me?
Why these questions? Were you not the one
who devised this plan all on your own,
so Odysseus could take out his revenge [480]
against these men, after he got back?
Do as you wish. But I'll lay out for you
what I think is right. Since lord Odysseus 620
has paid back the suitors, let them swear
a binding oath that he'll remain their king
all his life, and let's make them forget
the killing of their sons and brothers.
Let them love each other as they used to,
and let there be wealth and peace in plenty."

His words stirred up Athena, who was already keen.
She swooped down from the heights of Mount Olympus.

Meanwhile, once his group had eaten their hearts' fill
of food as sweet as honey, lord Odysseus, 630 [490]
who had endured so much, was the first to speak:

"Someone should go outside to look around,
see whether they are getting close to us."

Once he said this, a son of Dolius went out,
as he had ordered. He stood in the doorway
and saw all those men approaching. At once
he called out to Odysseus—his words had wings:

"They're here, close by. Let's get our weapons—
we'd better hurry!"

At these words, they leapt up
and put on their armour. Odysseus and his men 640
were four, the sons of Dolius six, and with them
Dolius and Laertes, though they had gray hair,
were dressed in armour, too, forced to be warriors.
When they'd put glittering bronze around their bodies, [500]
they opened up the doors and went outside. Odysseus
led them out. But then Athena, Zeus' daughter,
with the shape and voice of Mentor, came up to them.
When lord Odysseus, who'd endured so much, saw her,
he was glad and quickly spoke up to Telemachus,
his dear son:

"Telemachus, now you've reached 650
the field of battle, where the finest men
are put to the test. Soon enough you'll learn
not to disgrace your ancestral family—
for in earlier times we've been preeminent
for strength and courage everywhere on earth."

Shrewd Telemachus then answered him and said: [510]

"Dear father, if that's what you want, you'll see
that I, with my heart as it is at present,
won't shame your family. I'll do what you say."

When he said this, Laertes felt great joy and said: 660

"You dear gods, what a day this is for me!
I'm really happy when my son and grandson
compete for excellence with one another."

Then Athena with the glittering eyes came up,
stood by Laertes, and said to him:

"Child of Arcesius,
by far the dearest of all those I cherish,
pray to the young girl with the flashing eyes
and to Father Zeus, then without delay
raise that long spear of yours and throw it."

Pallas Athena spoke and then breathed into him 670 [520]
enormous power. Laertes said a prayer
to great Zeus' daughter, and quickly lifting up
his long-shadowed spear, he threw it. It hit home,
through the bronze cheek piece on Eupeithes' helmet,
which didn't stop the spear—the bronze point went on through.
Eupeithes fell down with a thud, his armour
crashing round him. Odysseus and his splendid son
charged at the fighters in the front, striking them
with swords and two-edged spears. They'd have killed them all, 680
cut them down so none of them returned, had not
Athena, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, cried out—
her voice held back every man in that whole army. [530]

"Men of Ithaca, stop this disastrous war,
so you can quickly go your separate ways
without spilling any blood."

Athena spoke,
and pale fear gripped the men. They were so terrified
they dropped their weapons and all fell on the ground,
at that goddess' resounding voice. They turned round,
back towards the city, eager to save their lives.
Then much-enduring lord Odysseus gave out 690
a fearful shout, gathered himself, and swooped down
like an eagle from on high. But at that moment,
Zeus, son of Cronos, shot a fiery thunderbolt.
It struck at the feet of the bright-eyed daughter [540]
of that mighty father. And then Athena,
goddess with the glittering eyes, said to Odysseus:

"Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes' son,
and child of Zeus, hold back. Stop this fight,
this impartial war, in case thundering Zeus,
who sees far and wide, grows angry with you." 700

Once Athena spoke, Odysseus obeyed,
joy in his heart. And then Pallas Athena,
daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, in shape and form
looking just like Mentor, had both parties swear
a solemn pact designed to last forever.




 

Notes to Book Twenty-Four

*Hermes the Deliverer: Hermes, in addition to his other roles as messenger of the gods, traditionally escorted the souls of the dead down into Hades, hence the epithet "Deliverer."

*. . . field of asphodel: Leucas is the "White Rock" at the entrance to Hades. These details of the approach to the underworld are not entirely consistent with the details given in Book Eleven, where Odysseus communicates with the spirits of the dead.

* . . . up from the sea: Achilles' mother is Thetis, a minor deity of the sea.

* . . . in piteous lament : Homer uses the phrase Old Man of the Sea to refer to different minor sea gods. The father of the sea nymphs is Nereus, who is not the same god as Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea whom Menelaus talks about in his adventures in Egypt in Book Four.

* . . . son of Menoetius: Patroclus is Achilles' closest companion in the Iliad. In that poem, his dying request to Achilles is to have their bones placed together in a funeral urn when Achilles is killed.

* . . . after Patroclus: Antilochus is a son of Nestor. He was killed in the fighting around Troy. His name is mentioned in Book Three when Telemachus visits Nestor in Pylos.

* . . . accursed wife: This is the second fairly direct accusation in the Odyssey that Clytaemnestra was complicit in the actual murder of Agamemnon. Most other references place the blame squarely on Aegisthus or else are ambiguous about Clytaemnestra's role in the killing. The shade of Agamemnon in 11.509 says she butchered Cassandra and insulted him as he lay dying. Further on, he states she slaughtered him (11.573). There's another fairly explicit accusation from Agamemnon later in this book, at line 263.

* . . . from sandy Pylos: It's not clear just how Amphimedon, who was one of the suitors in Odysseus' home, could know all these details about what went on between Odysseus, Eumaeus, and Telemachus. Death in Homer's world does not convey such knowledge.

* . . . Tyndareus' daughter: This is a reference to Agamemnon's wife, Clytaemnestra.

* . . . to every city: Cephallenia is a large island neighbouring Ithaca, named after Cephalus, grandfather of Laertes and great-grandfather of Odysseus. The term Cephallenians is sometimes used to designate all of Odysseus' people.

 

 

 

 
     
         
 

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