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The Odyssey of Homer

translated from the Greek by T. E. Lawrence



Odysseus lingered where he was in the hall, nursing his schemes to kill the suitors with Athene's help. Suddenly he spoke out to his son: "My Telemachus, let us now stow away all the serviceable weapons; and for reasoned excuse, when the suitors ask you why, say, 'To save them from the fire-reek: for they have become so tarnished by smoke as not to look like the same weapons Odysseus left here when he sailed for Troy. Also the graver thought came to me from above that some day in wine you might yield to anger and disgrace the hospitality of this courtship by wounds given and taken. Iron has that attraction for men.'"

In furtherance of his father's words Telemachus called to Eurycleia the nurse: "Mother, pray keep me the women in their quarters while I transfer my father's costly war-gear to the store. The things are getting so sooted, with no one to care for them since he went. I was a baby then; but now I would put them where the fumes of the fire will not reach." Eurycleia answered, "It would be as well, my child, if you made a habit of caring for the house and the preservation of its goods: but who is going to light you at work, if you will not have the maids whose office that is? " He replied, "The stranger here. Though a man come to me from the ends of the earth I will not have him idle while he eats at my expense." This saying cut off her speech: the well-fitting doors clashed behind her. Up sprang Odysseus and his noble son, to start carrying off helmets, bossed shields and sharp spears; while Pallas Athene with a golden lamp made their way beautifully bright.

Telemachus gasped out, "Father, my eyes behold a miracle. The sides of the hall, its roof-beams and pinewood framing and the tall columns glow with lambent flame. Some must be here in the midst; one of the heavenly host." "Hush," said Odysseus, " repress your thoughts and ask no question. This is the mode of the divinities of Olympus. To bed with you, and leave me here to probe the feelings of the serving-women and your mother. Grief will make her question me by and large." Telemachus duly crossed the hall, under its flaring torch-light, to seek the room where he always lay when sleep's bounty visited him. Through this night, too, he rested on his couch for Dawn to come: while Odysseus waited alone in the hall, still meditating the suitors' destruction by aid of Athene.

Like Artemis or golden Aphrodite Penelope appeared from her room. In its wonted place before the fire they had set her chair, an early piece turned in ivory and silver by Ikmalius the artist, who had added an extension forward from the seat to serve as foot-rest: and this was upholstered with a great fleece. In such state Penelope sat, while from their part of the house her bare-armed maids pressed in to clear the tables of the plentiful broken bread and the cups which those haughty ones had used. They raked out the embers from the braziers and piled them high again with fresh logs, to afford light and heat.

But Melantho began again upon Odysseus: "Hanging about still, plaguy stranger, to prowl through the darkened house peeping at the maids? Put paid to your supper, wretch, and get outside the gate. Quickly too, or you will be chased out at the point of a fire-brand." Odysseus, looking at her hardly, said, "Damsel, why persecute me with such malignity? I know I am dirty. I know I am ragged. I do beg round the country-side, as I needs must. It is the way of paupers and homeless men. Once, like my fellows, I had a house and was prosperous, with crowds of freedmen and the other trappings of an easy life. In those days I often helped such-like waifs, no matter what their need or nature. Only Zeus brought me down: God's will be done. One day, woman, you too may lose this pride of place wherefrom you now dominate the maids, for your lady might fall out with you, or Odysseus return. There is still hope of that: while supposing he is really dead and gone, his son, Telemachus (like him, by grace of Apollo), is old enough now to notice it whenever a servant of the house misconducts herself."

Penelope overheard his speech and called up the maid for reproof. "Bold brazen piece!" she rated her, " the great secret in your life is not hidden from me. Your head shall pay for it. Also you know perfectly (having heard me say it) that the stranger waits in the hall because I mean to question him upon my husband, so grievously lost." She turned to Eurynome: "Bring a bench and spread it with a sheepskin for the stranger to sit and hear me and reply. I want all his tale." Quickly the place was set and then Penelope opened, with, "Stranger, my first enquiry must be - whence are you and who? What town and parents?" and Odysseus said, "Lady, no mortal man could resent your least saying. High and wide as heaven your fame extends, pure as the glory of some god-fearing king of a populous powerful race, by virtue of whose equity and good governance the masses prosper and the dark earth abounds with wheat or barley and the trees bow down with fruit and the ewes lamb infallibly and the sea yields fish. Enquire of me, here in your house, upon every imaginable thing save only those of my race and country. Their memories would fill my heart too full of woe. I am a very melancholy man; but it is unbecoming to sit in another's house sobbing and sighing, for such promiscuous grief makes things worse. Further, one of the maids or even yourself, Lady, losing patience with me, might cry out that the tears in which I wallow derive from an overload of wine."

Penelope replied, "Stranger, my beauty went forfeit to the Gods the day my husband sailed with the Argives for Troy. Should he return to cherish me my fortune and favour would improve. As it is Heaven afflicts me too sorely. All the island chiefs court me uninvited and ravage the estate: while I neglect my guests, the suppliants that come and even heralds on mission, to eat my heart out for Odysseus. Men urge my re-marriage: but over that I lead them a fair dance. I was inspired to build me a monster loom upstairs, on which I set up a great, fine-threaded linen weave, telling them by and by, 'My lords and suitors, be patient with me (however much you wish me wedded now great Odysseus is lost) till I complete this shroud against the inevitable day that death shall smite Laertes, the aged hero, low. I would not have my threads idly wind-scattered, lest some Achaean woman find me blameworthy - with good reason should this once-wealthy man lie unhouseled.' They honoured my request. All day I would weave and after dark unravel my work by torch-light. So for three undetected years I fooled them, but by connivance of my traitorous and despicable maids they caught me in the act as the fourth year drew toward its close. Their wrath forced me to finish the winding-sheet incontinently, and now I can find no other excuse or means of shirking this marriage. My parents insist on it; my son resents the inroads upon his income caused by the suitors' forced entertainment and is very conscious of their expensiveness, he being now a grown man, house-proud and honourably endowed by Zeus with wits. Yet do tell me of your family, for you cannot be the fabulous child of some crag or oak-tree."

Odysseus said to her in answer, "O honoured wife of Odysseus, must you indeed press me about my family? Very well: you shall have it, though the telling entails great pain, as is ever the way with men who have spent years in sorry vagabondage from city to city. Hear your answer. Amidst the wine-dark sea lies Crete, a fair rich island populous beyond compute, with ninety cities of mixed speech, where several languages co-exist. Besides the Cretans proper there are Achaeans, Cydonians, Dorians of tossing crests and noble Pelasgians. The capital is Knosos, ruled by Minos, who from his ninth year talked familiarly with great Zeus. He was my grandfather, King Idomeneus and myself being the children of Deucalion, his son. I had the honour of being called Aethon but was the cadet, Idomeneus being elder and preferred. He accompanied the sons of Atreus to Ilion in the war-fleet, so giving me the chance of seeing Odysseus and playing host to him when an adverse wind forced him to leeward of Maleia and ashore in Crete, while Troy-bound. He only just escaped the storm but made the difficult port of Amnisus by the cave of Eileithyia; and there stopped. Presently he visited our city to ask after Idomeneus, claiming close and esteemed friendship. Only Idomeneus had sailed for Ilium ten or eleven dawns before; so I had the bringing of him to our palace where I could entertain him with all courtesy and nobility, because of our abundant wealth. I found him, and the troop that followed him, in barley-meal and dark wine from the public magazines; and collected all the cattle they needed for sacrifice. Twelve days these noble Achaeans passed with us while a northerly gale (excited by some wrathful God) raged so madly that they could not even stand upon the shore. On the thirteenth the wind fell and they put out."

As he spun them, his lies took on the hue of truth; and as she listened, her tears rained down till her being utterly dissolved, as the snow laid upon the lofty peaks by the west wind melts before the breath of the south-easter and streams down to fill the water-brooks. So did her fair cheeks stream with grief for the husband who was sitting beside her in the flesh. Even Odysseus pitied his unhappy wife, but crafty purpose kept his eyes hard, with never a tremor to break their steady stare from eyelids that might have been of horn or iron. She wept her fill and ceased; to say, "Now before everything, Stranger, I must test you to make sure it was really my husband and his glorious company you entertained, as you allege. So tell me of his dress. Describe him and the fellows in his train."

Odysseus answered, "Lady it is hard after so long; twenty years have passed since he came and went: but I will recite the impression he left on my mind. Odysseus himself wore a heavy purple cloak; lined self, it was. His brooch of wrought gold was double-bowed. Its flat bore the design of a hound holding down a dappled fawn with his fore-paws and watching it struggle. All admired how the dog was made (in the metal) to be eyeing his prey while gripping it by the throat; and how the fawn's feet writhed in convulsive effort to escape. Also I noted the sheen of the tunic that fitted his trunk as closely as clings the sheath to a dried onion, smooth like that and shining like the sun. The many women could not take their eyes from it. Let me recount another thing for you, as there can be no certainty that Odysseus wore these clothes at home and did not have them given him for the voyage by some friend or host, he being greatly beloved, a man almost beyond compare amongst Achaeans. Myself when re-conducting him respectfully to his ship presented to him a bronze sword, another good doubled purple cloak, and a fringed tunic. But he had a herald with him, a man rather older than himself; whom I can describe as well, for he was stooping and dark-faced, with clustering curls. His name? Eurybates. Odysseus, finding him sympathetic, prized him beyond his other men-at-arms."

His words renewed her longing to weep, for she recognized the authentic proofs he showed. She cried herself out and said, "Till now, stranger, you have been an object of compassion. Henceforward you shall be privileged and loved here in my house. The garments you describe I furnished from my store and packed for him; adding the burnished pin to be his ornament. Alas that I shall never have him back with me, home in his own dear land! An ill-season took Odysseus in his hollow ship to desTroy, that cursed place whose name shall not pass my lips."

Odysseus urged her, "Lady of Odysseus, melt not your heart nor mar your face with further grief for your lord. Though I cannot blame you, seeing how many women lament the dear dead fathers of their children, husbands not to be mentioned in the same breath with Odysseus, who all agree was godlike. Yet dry your tears, to mark what I now say frankly, and with assurance. Very recently I had news of Odysseus returning. He is alive and near-by, no further than the rich Thesprotian land; and well, for he has collected and brings with him great store of choice treasure. Only he lost all his retinue and ship in the sea this side of Thrinacia, when Zeus and Helios were wroth with him for his men's killing the cattle of the Sun. The crew perished to a man in the waves: but the currents brought him ashore riding the ship's keel, to the Phaeacians who are near-Gods by race. These almost worshipped him and gave him great gifts, offering to bring him safely here - in which case he would have been back already: but he preferred to fetch a long compass round and further enrich himself. Odysseus is wiser at profit-turning than any of us. No one matches him there. Pheidon king of the Thesprotians (my informant) swore to me in the act of libation at his house that both ship and crew to bring Odysseus home stood ready. He sent me first only because a merchantman was clearing for Dulichium. He showed me Odysseus' stored wealth; and what was there of his in the royal treasury would suffice his heirs for ten generations. The king said he had gone to Dodona to hear Zeus counsel him, out of the tall leafy oak, upon the manner of his return to Ithaca, whether it should be open or secret, after so long. I assure you, and swear to it, that he is safe, well, near and about to regain his friends and land. Bear me witness Zeus, the supreme and noblest God, as also the hearth of great Odysseus to which I have attained. As I have said, all things shall come to pass. During this cycle of the sun, between the waning of the present moon and the next, will Odysseus arrive."

Penelope replied, "Ah, stranger, should that come true my bounty will rain on you till all comers praise your state. But my heart warns me that the contrary will be the way of it. Odysseus will never return, nor you secure your passage hence: for today we have not in our house masterful ones like Odysseus - was there ever an Odysseus? - to greet guests of merit and speed them onward. Let be now. Women, prepare the bath and make down the stranger's bed, with quilt and rugs and glossy blankets, that he may arrive snugly before Dawn's golden throne. And be prompt in the morning to wash and anoint him, that he may sit at table within the hall beside Telemachus. Any one of these bullies who off ends him shall learn to his vexation that he has done himself no good in his suit here. But tell me, stranger, how you adjudge me to transcend all women in character and resource, while I leave you sitting here weather-beaten and in tatters at your meal? Man's day is very short before the end, and the cruel man whose ways are cruel lives accursed and is a by-word after death: while the righteous man who works righteousness has his renown bruited across the wide earth by guests, until many acclaim such nobility."

Odysseus protested, "O great and grave spouse of Odysseus, I foreswore rugs and smooth blankets that day the snow-clad hills of Crete faded in my long-oared galley's wake. Let me lie as I have lain through many wakeful nights. How many dark hours have I not endured on rough couches till the well-throned Dawn! Baths for my feet appeal to me no more, nor shall any waiting-maid of yours lay hand on me - save you have some aged and trusty woman upon whose head have passed sorrows like mine. Of her tending I should not be jealous." Penelope said, "Dear stranger, among all the great travellers received in this house, never has one in speech given proof of such grateful discretion or juster insight than yourself. I have a shrewdly-conducted old dame, the nurse whose arms received my unhappy lord from his mother the day of his birth, and who tended and nourished him devotedly. She is frail now, but can wash your feet. Rise, prudent Eurycleia, to serve this man of your master's generation. Who dare say that the feet and hands of Odysseus are not, today, old like his? Hardship does so soon age its men."

At the Queen's words the old servant covered her face with her hands and burst into scalding tears, while she bewailed Odysseus: "My child, my child! And I cannot help. Despite that piety of yours Zeus has hated you worse than all mankind. Never were such fat thighs, such choice hecatombs consumed to the Thunder-lover as when you prayed him for calm declining years in which to educate your splendid son. Yet you alone are denied a home-coming. Is Odysseus, when seeking hospitality in some foreign palace, mocked by its women as all these curs, O stranger, mock at you? For shame of their ribald vileness you will not let them tend your feet; but in me the wisdom of Penelope has found you a glad ministrant. For her sake do I wash your feet; but for your own too, my heart being touched and thrilled. Why thrilled? Because we have had many way-worn strangers here: but never have seen such likeness as yours I say to Odysseus, in shape and feet and voice."

With presence of mind Odysseus exclaimed, "Old woman, all who have set eye on both of us remark it. They saw what you say, that we are exceedingly like." While he spoke the hoary woman had taken the burnished foot-bath and poured in much cold water before stirring in the hot. Odysseus had been sitting towards the hearth, but now sharply turned himself to face the shadow, as his heart suddenly chilled with fear that in handling him she might notice his scar, and the truth come to light. Yet so it was, when she bent near in her washing. She knew it for the old wound of the boar's white tusk that he took years ago in Parnassus, while visiting his mother's brother and noble Autolycus, their father, who swore falser and stole better than all the world beside. These arts were conferred upon him by Heroes the God, who lent him cheerful countenance for the gratification of his kids' and goats' thighs burned in Sacrifice.

Autolycus once visited Ithaca, to find his daughter just delivered of a son. Eurycleia brought in the baby and set it in his lap at the end of supper, saying, "Autolycus, invent a name for this your dear daughter's son - a child much prayed for," and Autolycus had answered, "Son-in-law and daughter, name him as I shall say. Forasmuch as I come here full of plaints against many dwellers upon earth, women as well as men, so call him Odysseus, for the odiousness: and when he is a man make him visit the palace of his mother's family at Parnassus, which is mine, and I will give him enough to send him joyfully home." And so it came about. Young Odysseus went for his gifts and Autolycus with his sons welcomed him in open-handed courtesy, while his grandmother Amphithea embraced him to kiss his face and two lovely eyes. Autolycus told his famous sons to order food. Hastily they produced a five-year-old bull which they flayed and flensed, before jointing its limbs to piece them cunningly small for the spits. After roasting them they served the portions round; and day-long till sunset all feasted, equally content. After sunset when the darkness came they stretched out and took the boon of sleep. At dawn they were for hunting, the sons of Autolycus with their hounds. Odysseus went too. Their way climbed steep Parnassus through the zone of trees till they attained its wind-swept upper folds just as the sun, newly risen from the calm and brimming river of Ocean, touched the plough-lands. Their beaters were entering a little glen when the hounds broke away forward, hot on a scent. After them ran the sons of Autolycus, with Odysseus pressing hard upon the pack, his poised spear trembling in his eager hand. A great boar was couching there in a thicket so dense and over-grown as to be proof against all dank-breathing winds; and proof, too, against the flashing sun-heat and the soaking rain; while its ground was deep in fallen leaves. About this rolled the thunder of their chase. When the tramp of men and dogs came close the boar sprang from his lair to meet them. With bristling spine and fire-red eyes he faced their charge. Odysseus in the van eagerly rushed in to stick him, brandishing the spear in his stout hand: but the boar struck first with a sideways lift of the head that drove in his tusk above the man's knee and gashed the flesh deeply, though not to the bone. Odysseus' return thrust took the beast on the right shoulder, the spear-point flashing right through and out. Down in the dust with a grunt dropped the boar, and its life fled. Then the sons of Autolycus turned to and skilfully bound up the wound of gallant god-like Odysseus. They staunched the dark blood with a chanted rune and made back at once to their dear father's house, and then Autolycus and the sons completed his cure, made him great gifts (delighting a delightful guest) and punctually returned him to his own land of Ithaca. Laertes and his lady mother, in welcoming him home, enquired of everything and especially of how he suffered that wound: and he recounted the whole story of the boar's gleaming tusk that ripped his leg while he hunted Parnassus with the sons of Autolycus.

Now as the old woman took up his leg and stroked her hands gently along it she knew the scar by its feel. She let go the foot, which with his shin splashed down into the tub and upset it instantly with a noisy clatter. The water poured over the ground. In Eurycleia's heart such joy and sorrow fought for mastery that her eyes filled with tears and her voice was stifled in her throat. So she caught Odysseus by the beard to whisper, "You are my own child, Odysseus himself, and I never knew - not till I had fondled the body of my King." Her eyes travelled across to Penelope, meaning to signal that her beloved husband was at home: but Penelope failed to meet this glance or read its meaning, because Athene momently drew her thought away. Odysseus' right hand shot out, feeling for Eurycleia's throat, and tightened about it, while with his left he crushed her to him and muttered, "Would you kill me, nurse, you who have so often suckled me at your breasts, when I at last return after twenty years of manifold misfortune? Now you have guessed this and the God has flashed its truth into your mind, keep it close, not to let another soul in the house suspect. Otherwise, believe me - and I mean it - if Heaven lets me beat the suitor lords I shall not spare you, my old nurse though you be, when I slaughter the other serving-women in my hall."

Wise Eurycleia protested, "My child, what a dreadful thing to say! You should know my close and stubborn spirit and how I carry myself with the starkness of iron or rock. Allow me, in turn, to suggest a point for your considering. If the God delivers you the bold suitors, then let me rehearse to you which women of the house disgrace you and which are innocent." He replied, "Nurse, why trouble? There is no need: on my own I can note them, and class each one. Keep your news to yourself and commend the issue to the Gods." Thereupon the beldam hobbled off through the house for water to replace what had been spilled; and Odysseus after being washed and anointed with smooth olive oil dragged his bench nearer the fire to warm himself, carefully hiding the scarred leg beneath his rags.

Then said Penelope, "Stranger, only a trifle have I to put to you now: for soon it will be the hour of happy sleep which comes so graciously to man, however sad. But not to me; Heaven has overburdened me with griefs beyond measure. During the daytime I glut myself with sorrow and lament, having my own duties to see to, and my house-maidens' work: but night falls and the world sleeps. Then I lie in my bed and the swarming cares so assail my inmost heart that I go distraught with misery. You know how the daughter of Pandareus, the sylvan nightingale, lights when the spring is young amidst the closest sprays and sings marvellously ; the trills pouring from her colourful throat in saddest memory of the son she bore King Zethus, darling Itylus, whom she unknowingly put to the sword and slew.

My troubled mind quavers like her song. Must I stay by my son and firmly guard all my chattels, my maids, the towering great palace itself, out of reverence for my lord's bed and what people say? Or shall I go off with the best of these Achaeans who court me here and proffer priceless gifts? While my son was an unthinking child his tender years forbade my leaving home to take a new husband: but he, tall now and come to man's estate, prays me to leave for my father's house, so greatly does he grudge the sight of the Achaeans swallowing up his substance. Wherefore listen, and read me this dream of mine. I have twenty geese on the place, wild geese from the river, who have learned to eat my corn: and I love watching them. But a great hook-billed eagle swooped from the mountain, seized them neck by neck and killed them all. Their bodies littered the house in tumbled heaps, while he swung aloft again into God's air. All this I tell you was a dream, of course, but in it I wept and sobbed bitterly, and the goodly-haired Achaean women thronged about me while I bewailed my geese which the eagle had killed. But suddenly he swooped back to perch on a projecting black beam of the house and bring forth a human voice that dried my tears: ' Daughter of Icarius, be comforted,' it said. 'This is no dream but a picture of stark reality, wholly to be fulfilled. The geese are your suitors; and I, lately the eagle, am your husband come again, to launch foul death upon them all.' With this in my ears I awoke from my sleep, to be aware of the geese waddling through the place or guzzling their food from the trough, just as ever."

Odysseus replied to her, "Lady, this dream cannot be twisted to read otherwise than as Odysseus himself promised its fulfilment. Destruction is foredoomed for each and every suitor. None will escape the fatal issue." But wise Penelope responded, "Stranger, dreams are tricksy things and hard to unravel. By no means all in them comes true for us. Twin are the gates to the impalpable land of dreams, these made from horn and those of ivory. Dreams that pass by the pale carven ivory are irony, cheats with a burden of vain hope: but every dream which comes to man through the gate of horn forecasts the future truth. I fear my odd dream was not such a one, welcome though the event would be to me and my son. Let me tell you something to bear in mind. Presently will dawn the ill-famed day which severs me from the house of Odysseus. To introduce it I am staging a contest with those axes my lord (when at home) used to set up, all twelve together, like an alley of oaken bilge-blocks, before standing well back to send an arrow through the lot. Now will I put this same feat to my suitors: and the one who easiest strings the bow with his bare hands and shoots through the twelve axes, after him will I go, forsaking this house of my marriage, this very noble, well-appointed house that surely I shall remember, after, in my dreams."

Odysseus uttered his opinion again: "August wife of Odysseus, do not hesitate to arrange this trial in the hall; for Odysseus of the many sleights will be here before these men, for all their pawing of the shapely bow, shall have strung it and shot the arrow through the gallery of iron." Said Penelope, "If only you would consent, stranger, to sit by me all night, entertaining me, sleep would not again drown my eyes. Yet mortals cannot for ever dispense with sleep, the deathless ones having appointed its due time to each thing for man upon this fertile earth. So I will away to my room and lie on its couch, the place of my groaning, which has been wet with my tears all the while since Odysseus went to desTroy that place I never name. There shall I be lying while you rest here in the hall. Either spread something on the floor, or have them arrange you a bed."

She ceased and went off to her shining upper room; not alone, for the maids trooped after her. So she lamented Odysseus, her dear husband, till Athene's kindly sleep closed her eyelids.

Book 20 >>

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