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The Odyssey of Homer

translated from the Greek by T. E. Lawrence


 

BOOK 24

Hermes the Cyllenian bade forth those ghosts of men that had been suitors. In his hand was the rod of pure gold with which at will he charms men's eyes to rest or stirs them from sleep. By a wave of it he had them afoot and following him with such thin cries as bats use in the fastnesses of their mysterious cave, whenever one falls squeaking from the clustered swarms that hang downward from the rocky roof. So they flocked after, weakly piping, while gentle Hermes led them down the dank, dark passage - by the Ocean Stream and the White Crag, past the portal of the Sun and the land of Dreams - till soon they entered the asphodel meadows where harbour the shadowy ghosts of those that have passed away.

There was to be found the soul of Achilles, son of Peleus, with that of Aias, next after him of all the Greeks for splendid face and figure; also the souls of Patroclus and of brave Antilochus. As these were grouped round Achilles the woebegone spirit of Agamemnon son of Atreus approached amidst a concourse of those who fell with him in the house of Aegisthus and there miserably died. To him Achilles' ghost began: "Why, Atrides, we used to fancy you more continually beloved of Zeus the Thunderer than any earthly hero, because you commanded the hosts of brave men in that Trojan land so costly to us Achaeans. Yet was it decreed that the doom of death (which no son of man avoids) must come to you so soon! If only you could have met it in the Troad while your sovranty endured—for then the Concert of Achaea would have raised your tomb and a great glory been earned for your son- instead of this piteous fate which has been your lot."

The ghost of Atrides answered: "You happy son of Peleus, god-like Achilles, to have found death near Troy and not near Argos! Some of the noblest youths, both Trojan and Achaean, died about you, furiously contending for your body whose grandeur lay so grandly in the whirling dust, forgetful of its chivalry. Through the long day we battled, and should not even then have ceased but for the storm with which Zeus halted us. Afterward we bore you from the field to our ships, where we set you on a couch and cleansed your beautiful body with warmed water and unguents. Round you the Danaans pressed, shedding hot tears and shearing their love-tresses. Your mother, when she heard, came forth from the waves with her deathless sea-maidens, the cry of them ringing across Ocean so marvellously that a thrill of fear passed over the Achaean host, which would have risen and fled to the ships but for Nestor's stemming them with his rich, rare wisdom, so often tested and approved. Because he knew, he called to them and said, "Be still, Argives: flee not, you young Achaeans. This is his mother coming from the sea and with her the immortal maidens of the sea, to encounter her dead son." When they heard him the Achaeans bravely contained their fear, while the daughters of the ancient of the sea circled about you with bitter lamentations and wound your body in imperishable robes. The nine Muses joined to sing your dirge, voice answering sweet voice in harmony; and so movingly rose and fell their clear chant that you would not have found one Argive there dry-eyed. Through seventeen days and seventeen nights we mourned you, deathless Gods and mortal men alike; and on the eighteenth, having sacrificed many good sheep and screw-horned kine, we gave you to the flames and you were consumed, in those divine robes and lapped with a plenty of spices and sweet honey; while panoplied companies of Achaean warriors, mounted or on foot, tramped round your burning pyre with a loud clashing of arms. Then after the fire of Hephaestus had had its way with you, very early in the morning we disposed your white bones, Achilles, in neat wine and unguent. Your mother offered a gold two-handled urn, saying it was Dionysus' gift and a work of famed Hephaestus. In it, brilliant Achilles, rest your white bones with the bones of dead Patroclus the son of Menoetias; while apart but near lie the ashes of Antilochus whom you admired above all your other friends, the fallen Patroclus only excepted. Over you we, the army of devoted Argive spears-men, piled a great tomb that towers on its jutting headland far over the Hellespont, a mark for seafaring men of our day and days to come. Your mother went to the Gods and begged of them noble trophies which she exhibited in an arena for the Achaean athletes. In your time you have attended the obsequies of many champions, or seen the young men, when some king has died, gird themselves to compete for prizes: but had you seen these treasures your mind would have been astonished, so wonderful were the gages offered in your honour by that fair Goddess, Thetis of the silver foot. The Gods loved you out of measure, Achilles, and even death has not robbed you of your name. Everywhere and for ever you will inherit glory. But for me, what satisfaction did I gain in winding up my war's coil, when Zeus had plotted me so dismal a fate at the hands of Aegis-thus and my accursed wife, upon my coming home?"

Thus they communed as the slayer of Argus, the messenger, drew near conducting the ghosts of the suitors Odysseus killed. Amazement at the throng of them led the two forward to watch, and so the spirit of Agamemnon recognized famous Amphimedon, the dear son of Melaneus, by whom he had been entertained in Ithaca. Atrides' spirit called across to him asking, "Amphimedon, what disaster brings all you picked men in your prime down to this land of shades? Almost might someone have chosen out and gathered the best men of your city. Did Poseidon's harsh winds raise running seas and overwhelm you in your ships? Or did enemies destroy you on some shore while you were busied rounding up their cattle or great flocks of sheep? Or perhaps the fighting was to protect their wives and towns? Tell it me, for I ask as your intimate. Do you not recollect great Menelaus and me coming to your place when we wanted Odysseus to follow with his fleet to Ilium? A full month we were, before we got across the wide gulf, so hard to persuade was the spoiler of cities, Odysseus."

"Most renowned son of Atreus, Agamemnon, King of Kings," answered the spirit of Amphimedon, "Indeed, Majesty, I do remember it. So here I will give you the full, exact account of our death's deplorable chance. Odysseus was missing: wherefore we fell to courting his wife. She never admitted that our proposals were abhorrent, any more than she would determine upon one of us: nevertheless her heart of hearts kept plotting our black death and doom. For the moment she imagined another device, by setting up a very broad, fine warp on a great loom in her chamber; and pleading to us regarding it, 'My lords and courtiers, as great Odysseus is dead, can you not bridle your haste to have me wedded, until I finish this winding-sheet against hero Laertes' burial on the fateful day that all-conquering death lays him low? I would not have my yarns rot unused, lest some Achaean woman of the district censure me for letting a man who had broad possessions lie unshrouded.' This was her petition and we lords accepted it. Day-long she wove at her great task but after dark, by torchlight, would unpick it. For three years she maintained this deceit and fooled the Achaeans; but when a fourth year came with its days passing and its months, in seasonal progression, then one of her women (who knew) told on her I and we surprised her unravelling the splendid fabric. That I forced her, very unwillingly, to finish it. When the immense sheet was washed and displayed, its brilliance was like the sun or moon —but on that very day somehow some unfriendly power led Odysseus back to the isolated homestead where his swineherd lived. Thither also came his son, returned from Pylos after a sea voyage; and the two of them, before ever setting out thence for town, concerted the suitors' murder. Telemachus started first, followed by Odysseus under guidance of the swineherd, like a worn-out wretched beggar, tattered and limping on a crutch. On his sudden appearance in such rags none of us could guess what he was: even our seniors failed to know him. We gave him the rough of our tongues, not to mention blows; and for a time he endured this abuse and pelting in his own halls stolidly enough; but at last inspiration came to him from Zeus, lord of the Aegis. With the help of Telemachus he collected all the house-weapons, hid them in the store-chamber and bolted the doors. Then he ingeniously prompted his wife to set out his bow and irons as test of the suitors' prowess - and also to provide means for our fatal undoing. None of us had strength enough, not by a long way, to notch the string: yet when the bow came round to Odysseus' hands we all vehemently protested against his having it, despite his pleading. However Telemachus stood out and made him try it. When mighty Odysseus got the bow he strung it easily and flashed an arrow through the irons: then he leaped to the threshold, poised himself firmly, tipped the arrows out all ready, glared round him and shot royal Antinous. Afterwards he rained his murderous shafts upon the crowd, shooting so accurately that men fell dead in rows. Evidently some God was aiding his party for they raged at will through the house, slaughtering right and left. Awful was the screaming as the brains were beaten out, while the floor ran with blood. That was the manner of our perishing, Atrides, and our neglected bodies still strew the house of Odysseus, for tidings have not yet reached the friends in our houses who would wash the clotted gore from our wounds, lay out our bodies and raise dirges as the dead deserve."

The shade of Agamemnon loudly intoned: "Blessed have you been O son of Laertes, ingenious Odysseus, in winning a wife of such surpassing virtue! So upright in disposition was Penelope the daughter of Icarius that she never forgot Odysseus the husband of her youth: and therefore shall the fame of her goodness be conserved in the splendid poem wherewith the Immortals shall celebrate the constancy of Penelope for all the dwellers upon earth. How unlike the wickedness of that daughter of Tyndareus who slew her husband! In the poem that men sing of her she shall seem abominable, a blot upon even the honest women among her sex." Things like this the two said to one another where they stood in Hades' mansions, under the hidden places of the world.

Meanwhile Odysseus and his men had passed the town. Soon they reached the flourishing estate of Laertes, acquired by him years before, after great effort. There stood his place, ringed with the hovels in which the slaves who served his purposes ate and sat and slept: while in the house proper he kept an old Sicilian woman who diligently tended her aged master in this farm so far from the town. Now Odysseus had a word for his son and the serfs. "In with you smartly to the well-built house," he said, "and there devote the finest of their hogs to making our dinner; meanwhile, in view of my long absence abroad I shall go to test if my father knows me again by sight, or not." He handed his arms to the two thralls who went straight in, as Odysseus proceeded through the rich fruit-farm, on his quest. He went down the great garden, but did not meet Dolius, nor any other of the serfs or serfs' sons. Everybody had gone under that old man's guidance to collect stones for walling up the vines. So what he found was his father alone in the neat vineyard, hoeing round a vinestock. The greasy tunic upon him was patched and mean. His shins were cross-gartered in botched leggings of cowhide, to save their being scratched, and he wore hedging gloves against the brambles, with a goat-skin cap for his head: all of which made plain his despondency. When Odysseus knew for his father this out-worn old man, lined with heart-sickness, he paused beneath a tall pear-tree to drop a tear, while his heart asked his head if he might not kiss and clasp this father and blurt out how he had returned and regained his native land - instead of catechising him first and trying him every way - but upon reflection he deemed it still expedient to rake him with searching enquiries.

In this mood Odysseus marched up to him: only he had his head down and so went on working carefully about his vine till his famous son was beside him and said: "Old man, you prove yourself no fool at looking after trees. What a return they make! In all the garden there is not one plant - no fig, vine, olive, pear or vegetable plot - without its contribution to the whole. Yet one remark I would offer, and take it not amiss. Your own state seems less considered. Old age presses ruinously upon you, yet you go wasted and pitifully clad. No idleness gives the master grounds for this neglect: nor do your carriage and demeanour betray the slave. You have a royal air like one who can take his ease abed, after bath and refreshment, as befits great age. So tell me now plainly and well whose serf you are and whose fruit garden is this you tend? I require the truth particularly to satisfy myself that this is really Ithaca, as a fellow just now told me when I met him in my way. A boorish fellow, lacking the manners to answer me fully or hear out my enquiries after a friend of whom I wished to know if he were yet here, alive, or dead and in Hades' domain. Wherefore let me enlarge upon this to your attentive ear. Once in my own dear land I played host to a man that happened along: and never among all the wayfaring creatures that visited me was one more welcome. He acknowledged himself an Ithacan by race: his father Laertes son of Arcesius. I brought him to my home and entertained him lavishly, as I well could from the plenty I possessed. Also I gave him gifts of hospitality agreeable to the event. Seven talents of refined gold I gave, and a petal-bowl of solid silver ; twelve cloaks of a piece, so many carpets, over-mantles, tunics; and beside all these four women superbly trained in handicraft and very buxom, those which his own taste chose."

The father wept as he answered him, "Stranger, you are in the land you seek, but alas it has fallen into the hands of coarse and ungodly ruffians. Vain have been the gifts you generously gave, your many splendid gifts. Had you found that man living here in his land of Ithaca he would have received you with noble hospitality, as is the due of the prime benefactor, and sent you on with a goodly return of gifts. But tell me this, precisely:- how many years is it since you entertained your guest, your unhappy guest, my son - had I a son? - that ill-starred one whom the fishes of the deep sea may have swallowed, or birds and beasts of the field devoured, far from his friends and country? His mother and his father, we his parents, have not shrouded his body or raised his dirge. His well-dowered wife, faithful Penelope, never wailed as a wife should over her husband's bier, or closed his eyes in pious duty to the dead. Tell me all the truth of what you are: your city and people? Where lies the swift ship with capable crew that brought you? Or did you ferry here in another's ship which landed you and sailed away?"

Devious Odysseus answered and said: "Yea, hear the truth. I am from Alybas, where my house is famous. My father is Apheidas, son of Polypemon, and royal. My own name is Eperitus. Some involuntary urge drove me hither from Sicania. My ship stands off the open shore beyond the town. As for Odysseus, this is the fifth year since he took leave and left my country. Unhappy man - and yet the bird-omens were favourable, wholly on his right, as he went away. That made me glad to speed him, and him glad to go. Both of us in our hearts were hoping for another meeting to seal our friendship with rich gifts."

The news shrouded the old man in a black misery. He groaned deep and long and gathered cupped palm-fulls of dust which he poured over his grey head. This touched Odysseus to the heart; there stabbed through his nostrils a spasm of pain, to see his dear father thus. He leaped forward and caught him in his arms and kissed him, crying, "I, my father, I myself am the one you ask after, arrived in this twentieth year at home. Cease your sighs and sobs - for let me tell you, quickly as the need is, that I have killed all those suitors in my house, to punish their burning insolence and iniquity."

Laertes wailed, "If you are my son Odysseus returned, then show me some clear sign that I may believe," and the ready Odysseus answered, " Set your eyes first on this scar, given me by the boar's white tusk that time I was on Parnassus, when you and my mother had sent me to her father, Autolycus, after the presents which he proposed and promised for me while he stayed in our house. Next I shall repeat to you the tale of trees all down the formal garden—trees which you gave me once when I was but a child following you about and asking for every thing I saw. We were walking amongst these very trees when you told me each one's name and sort. Thirteen pear-trees you gave me, ten apples, forty fig-trees: also you described the fifty rows of vines you would give, each ripening in its time, so that bunches of grapes there would be continually, as the seasons of Zeus swelled them from on high."
At these words Laertes' knees and heart gave way, for he recognized the manifest proofs furnished by his son. He caught at the great Odysseus who drew the old man, fainting, to his breast and held him thus till the breath came back and the spirit quickened in him once more. Then Laertes called, "Father Zeus, still there are Gods on tall Olympus, if truly the suitors have paid the penalty of their shocking pride. Yet terribly the fear takes my soul that now all the men of Ithaca will mass against us here, while they send hue and cry through the cities of the Cephallenians."

"Never fear it," replied Odysseus, "nor let it concern your mind. Off with us to the near-by garden house whither I despatched Telemachus with the cowman and swineherd, to prepare a hasty meal:" and away the two strolled, chatting, to the pleasant house, within whose stout walls laboured Telemachus and the herdsmen carving the abundant flesh and mixing rich wine. There his Sicilian dame washed honest Laertes and anointed him, before putting upon him a handsome cloak: while Athene came down, to enhance the stature and build of this shepherd of the people, so dignifying his limbs that the figure which issued from the bath was like an immortal. His amazed son put his wonder into words. "Father," he said, " surely one of the Eternal Gods has made you taller and more impressive to the eye," to which the wise old man replied, "Ah, if but Zeus and Athene and Apollo would make me the man I was when as King of my Cephallenians I led them to the capture of Nericus, that great fortress of the mainland! Had that old fighting self of mine been with you yesterday in our house to help you repulse the suitors, I should have made many a one give at the knees, and delighted your heart of hearts."

They talked till the others, having ended their work of getting the meal, sat down in order upon their thrones or chairs. They were helping themselves to the food when old man Dolius arrived and with him his sons, panting from their toil. Their mother, the old Sicilian, whose zealous cherishing of her age-crippled master yet let her care for them, had run outdoors and hailed them in. When they saw Odysseus and minded him again they stood dumbstruck in the hall: but Odysseus fastened upon them with honeyed words, saying: "Forget your surprise, aged man, and sit down to eat. For quite a while we have been in the house eager to begin; but we hung about, momently expecting you." Dolius heard him and ran forward open-armed to take Odysseus' hand and kiss his wrist while he cried excitedly, " My dear, now you have come back to those who loved and longed and despaired for you - now the Gods bring you home - all hail and very welcome! Heaven grant you happiness. But do assure me that Penelope knows of your return. Else must we send a messenger." To which Odysseus: "Ancient man, she knows already; you have no call to meddle there," and back went venerable Dolius to his polished bench, while the sons pressed round famous Odysseus, greeting him and clasping his hands. Then they sat properly beside their father and were busied on their dinner in the house.

Meanwhile in the city rumour had coursed far and fast, proclaiming the destruction of the suitors by death. When the people heard of it they gathered from all sides to Odysseus' house with wailing and lamentation. Thence party after party bore out the corpses of their dead to burial: while those that came from outlying cities were loaded into swift ships and sent by boatmen home. Afterward the entire populace trooped in deepest mourning to their debating-ground; and when all were in place Eupeithes rose, heart-burdened with inconsolate misery for sake of his son Antinous, the first victim of kingly Odysseus. Tears rained from his eyes as he harangued them, saying, "O my friends, the vast mischief this man has worked against the Achaeans! Think of the many stout warriors he took aboard with him, only to cast away his ships and all their crews; while he returns only to butcher the very best leaders of the Cephallenians that remained. You must act before he takes swift flight to Pylos or to sacred Elis, the Epeian sanctuary. Let us forward, or our faces will be for ever bowed with shame. The disgrace of it will echo down the generations, should we fail to punish the murderers of our sons and kinsmen. For me, there would remain no sweetness in life. Rather would I choose death and the company of these dead. Up and strike, before they steal from us oversea."

This and his tears awoke pity in every Achaean; but now Medon appeared, coming with the inspired bard from the palace of Odysseus where they had just awaked. They strode to the heart of the gaping crowd, and there Medon halted to say temperately, "O men of Ithaca, hear me. What Odysseus has done was not of his own design, unsupported by the Immortal Gods. With my own eyes I saw a deathless form, in exact guise of Mentor, stand next Odysseus and manifest divinity by thrusting forward to embolden him; and again by an onslaught which drove the suitors in terror about the hall, till they fell side by side." His words turned them pale with fear, and then old Halitherses, Mastor's stately son, struck in to exhort them, out of his unequalled knowledge of things past and things to be. Very candidly he spoke, saying, "And now listen to me, men of Ithaca, and to what I say. These disasters have followed upon your negligence, my friends. You would not be persuaded by me, or by Mentor the people's shepherd, to make your sons cease their insensate ways. Wilfully and wantonly they were led to waste the property and insult the wife of a man of virtue, through believing him gone beyond return. But take my advice now and let things be. If we make another move, maybe some will find that evil recoils." Thus he counselled and a few stayed in their place; but the rest, the majority, preferred Eupeithes' advice and leaped to their feet crying the war-cry. They ran to arms and arrayed their bodies in shining bronze, before assembling in their multitudes outside the broad town. Eupeithes led them, frantic at the slaying of his son and thinking to avenge him: whereas in the event he was to find his own death and never return.

In heaven Athene appealed to Zeus, son of Cronos. "O Father of us all and King of Kings, answer what I ask and make plain the secret working of your mind. Will you provoke a new cruel war, more din of battle? Or turn them again to loving one another?" Then the Cloud-compellor replied, "Daughter, why put to Me this question? The affair is of your creating. Did you not plan for the coming of Odysseus to be with vengeance upon the suitors? Now work it as you please, though I will tell you the fitting way. Great Odysseus has revenged himself. Let the parties compose a binding treaty, by virtue of which he shall remain their king: while we will expunge from memory this slaughter of the people's kith and kin. So shall they love one another as of yore and peace abound, with wealth." His words exalted Athene, already eager. Down she went hurtling from the crest of Olympus.

At the farm the men had glutted their desire for the honey-sweet food. Odysseus began directing them. "One of you had better look if any enemy approaches," he said, and accordingly out went a son of Dolius to the threshold: whence he saw the mob quite near at hand. So he cried in haste to Odysseus, "They are on top of us. Our arms! Quick! " They leaped to their feet and armed. Besides the four with Odysseus, Dolius had six of his sons; while even the hoary-headed Laertes and Dolius harnessed themselves once again to become men of war at the need. They flung wide the gate and marched out, all corseleted in shining bronze, Odysseus leading. Athene, talking and looking like Mentor, joined them, to the delight of Odysseus who admonished his son: "My Telemachus, you are taking part with men in battle where the best will win. Learn instantly not to disgrace your lineage: ours has had a world-reputation for courage and skill" - and to this Telemachus appositely replied, "Dear Father, if it pleases you to watch, you will see me in such form as will indeed not disgrace my forbears, the way you put it." Laertes, who had overheard them, gleefully cried out, "Dear Gods, what a day for me! O joy, to have my son and my son's son vying on the point of valour!"

Athene came to Laertes' elbow and whispered, "Son of Arcesius, whom I love best of all my friends, offer a prayer to the grey-eyed Goddess and to Father Zeus, then poise your long-shafted spear and let fly." With her words she breathed vigour into him. He invoked the daughter of great Zeus, balanced the weapon a moment and hurled it to strike Eupeithes on his helmet's bronze cheek-piece, which did not resist the spear. The point went through and with a clang of armour the man crashed down.

Odysseus and his brave son fell upon the leading rank, hacking with their swords and thrusting with their spears. They would have cut them off and destroyed every one had not Athene, the daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, shouted with such force as to halt the array. "Let be your deadly battle, men of Ithaca," she cried. "Without bloodshed is the affair best arranged." The voice of the Goddess blenched them with fear. In their panic the weapons slipped from their grasp and fell together to the ground, as the Goddess called. They turned their faces toward the town for dear life, while with a roar the great long-suffering Odysseus gathered himself for the spring and launched after them, like an eagle in free air.

But instantly the son of Cronos flung his lurid levin which fell before the grey-eyed Goddess, the dread Father's own child; then did Athene cry to Odysseus, "Back with you, heaven-nourished son of Laertes, Odysseus of the many wiles. Hold back. Cease this arbitrament of civil war. Move not far-sighted Zeus to wrath."

So Athene said, she the daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus. Odysseus obeyed, inwardly glad: and Pallas, still with Mentor's form and voice, set a pact between them for ever and ever.

 
Translator's Note >>



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