A New York Times Notable Book of 2018
"Wilson’s language is fresh, unpretentious and lean…It is rare to find a translation that is at once so effortlessly easy to read and so rigorously considered." Madeline Miller, author of Circe
Composed at the rosy-fingered dawn of world literature almost three millennia ago, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty and power; about marriage and family; about travelers, hospitality, and the yearning for home.
This fresh, authoritative translation captures the beauty of this ancient poem as well as the drama of its narrative. Its characters are unforgettable, none more so than the “complicated” hero himself, a man of many disguises, many tricks, and many moods, who emerges in this version as a more fully rounded human being than ever before.
Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, Emily Wilson’s Odyssey sings with a voice that echoes Homer’s music; matching the number of lines in the Greek original, the poem sails along at Homer’s swift, smooth pace.
A fascinating, informative introduction explores the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the poem’s major themes, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this is an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of readers.
|Publisher:||Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Emily Wilson is a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in Philadelphia. Her website is emilyrcwilson.com, and she is active on Twitter as @EmilyRCWilson.
Read an Excerpt
A Magnificent Saga
BOOK I: WHAT WENT ON IN THE HOUSE OF ODYSSEUS
BOOK II: HOW THE COUNCIL MET IN THE MARKETPLACE OF ITHACA; AND WHAT CAME OF IT
BOOK III: WHAT HAPPENED IN SANDY PYLOS
BOOK IV: WHAT HAPPENED IN LACEDAIMON
BOOK V: HERMÊS IS SENT TO CALYPSO’S ISLAND; ODYSSEUS MAKES A RAFT AND IS CARRIED TO THE COAST OF SCHERIA
BOOK VI: HOW ODYSSEUS APPEALED TO NAUSICAÄ, AND SHE BROUGHT HIM TO HER FATHER’S HOUSE
BOOK VII: WHAT HAPPENED TO ODYSSEUS IN THE PALACE OF ALCINOÖS
BOOK VIII: HOW THEY HELD GAMES AND SPORTS IN PHAIACIA
BOOK IX: HOW ODYSSEUS VISITED THE LOTUS-EATERS AND THE CYCLOPS
BOOK X: THE ISLAND OF THE WINDS; THE LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN; CIRCÊ
BOOK XI: HOW ODYSSEUS VISITED THE KINGDOM OF THE DEAD
BOOK XII: THE SINGING SIRENS, AND THE TERRORS OF SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS
BOOK XIII: HOW ODYSSEUS CAME TO ITHACA
BOOK XIV: ODYSSEUS AND THE SWINEHERD
BOOK XV: HOW TELEMACHOS SAILED BACK TO ITHACA
BOOK XVI: HOW TELEMACHOS MET HIS FATHER
BOOK XVII: HOW ODYSSEUS RETURNED TO HIS OWN HOME
BOOK XVIII: HOW ODYSSEUS FOUGHT THE STURDY BEGGAR
BOOK XIX: HOW THE OLD NURSE KNEW HER MASTER
BOOK XX: HOW GOD SENT OMENS OF THE WRATH TO COME
BOOK XXI: THE CONTEST WITH THE GREAT BOW
BOOK XXII: THE BATTLE IN THE HALL
BOOK XXIII: HOW ODYSSEUS FOUND HIS WIFE AGAIN
BOOK XXIV: HOW ODYSSEUS FOUND HIS OLD FATHER, AND HOW THE STORY ENDED
I have to thank several friends for reading and commenting upon certain parts of this translation; and particularly Miss A. M. Croft, B.A., whose help has been indispensable.
Four Books were published in the New English Weekly (1935), for which I thank the Editor, Mr. P. Mairet.
To guard against possible mistakes I add that the translation was made before T. E. Lawrence’s Odyssey was published. Whenever I was in doubt as to the meaning I consulted the scholiasts, Merry and Riddell and Munro for the Odyssey, Walter Leaf for the Iliad, and the most careful and exact translation I know, that of A. T. Murray in the Loeb Library, to all of whom I return my sincere thanks.
Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
HOMER’S ODYSSEY TELLS A SIMPLE AND FAMILIAR STORY: the return of a hero, a veteran of the Trojan War, who has spent ten trial-filled years wandering in exotic lands. Arriving at last in his homeland, Ithaca, he finds that domestic and community affairs have gone badly wrong in his absence. His wife, Penelopeia, is surrounded by aggressive suitors who presume her husband has perished abroad; his son, Telemachos, on the brink of manhood, lacks the authority to expel these unruly interlopers, who are eating him out of house and home. In this power vacuum, where lowly swineherds and housekeepers try to fill the roles vacated by their masters, Odysseus, slowly and painfully, begins to recover his position as master of his household and patrimony. Using first guile, and then force, he ultimately takes vengeance on those who are seeking to displace him, restores his household and reclaims his wife.
If the story is simple, Homer’s narrative is brilliantly complex. Its opening is a notorious tease, a deliberate play on audience expectations and a taste of what this convention-breaking song will offer. The poem’s first line springs a double surprise: where Homer’s Iliad, the predecessor and countermodel to the Odyssey, begins by announcing in resounding fashion both the name of its protagonist, “Achillês, son of Peleus,” and the prime mover of its story—the cosmic wrath that drives Achillês to destroy his nearest and dearest, and himself too—the second composition tells us only that it is about a man, “one who was never at a loss.” From the outset then, Odysseus is a hero with a difference; alone among those celebrated in epic by the ancient bards, he allows himself to remain incognito, and the suppression of his identity proves key to his resourceful nature and survival. It will be nine books before Odysseus declares who he is and the source of his renown: no Achillês-like rage or battle prowess, but a “readiness for any event.”
Nor do the novelties end there. Our poet has a supremely compelling story to tell: Odysseus’ adventures on his journey home include encounters with the one-eyed cannibal Polyphemos and a visit to a land where the mind-altering lotus is the food of choice: fresh dangers come in the form of the drug-dealing Circê, whose potions turn Odysseus’ crew into swine, a visit to the land of the dead, singers whose voices are so alluring that seafarers linger to listen until their bones rot, and battles with sea-swallowing monsters. But instead of leading with these famous episodes, which Homer’s audience would have been expecting, for the first four books of the poem, the poet says nothing of the travels that make Odysseus a paradigm for contemporary Greeks embarking on their first colonizing ventures. Instead we accompany Telemachos, a somewhat backward youth, on his own mini-odyssey; roused from inaction by a visit from his father’s patron goddess, Athena, he sets out to discover news of Odysseus, visiting veterans of the Trojan War in the hope of learning whether his father is alive or dead. In postponing the main event, the poet knows exactly what he is about. For a hero whose best hope of salvation depends on his remaining unknown, an oblique introduction is required, and we, members like Telemachos of the post-heroic age, must encounter Odysseus indirectly before meeting him face-to-face.
As we realize later on, Telemachos’ seemingly low-key journey also proves a dress rehearsal, in which the son’s experiences hold up a mirror to those that his father, in the poem’s multilayered chronology, simultaneously undergoes. Here too Homer flirts with audience expectations, making us think ourselves embarked on a typical coming-of-age story, where a young man achieves manhood and a sense of who he is by virtue of the ancient equivalent of a Grand Tour and his initiation into family lore. But ultimately the poet discards this first trajectory: were Telemachos fully to join the rank of heroes, what role would be left for his father? The Odyssey charts no Oedipal struggle in which the son displaces the paternal figure (although the poet occasionally nods toward that scenario); instead, when father and son do find each other in the poem’s second half, the youth gamely consents to play second fiddle to his illustrious progenitor.
The master story resumes in book V, when Athena engineers our hero’s release from the nymph Calypso’s too warm attentions (not for nothing does her name mean “the concealer”). Within this larger narrative, a smaller one is inscribed. Washed up naked and destitute on the island of the Phaiacians, Odysseus is rescued by another seductive and nubile maiden, and treated to the choicest hospitality in a land whose luxuries would have answered to the fantasies of the elite among the poet’s audience. But there is something sinister about the entertainment the Phaiacians supply, and when Odysseus inserts his own story into the poet’s larger tale in books IX-XII, bringing us up to the point at which Homer began his song, he designs his narrative as a warning to his hosts. As the adventures he relates demonstrate, two criteria distinguish good hosts from bad: poor hospitality means feeding off your guest (instead of treating him to a meal) and/or detaining him against his will. Fortunately the Phaiacian king, Alcinous, understands the message. After hearing the spellbinding story of the hero, whose compositional powers equal those of a poet and whose audience responds with all the generosity the ancient singer would hope to receive, the king completes the duties of the ancient host: where a stranger’s arrival demands the provision of a bath, food and maybe some clean clothes, departure requires gifts and conveyance home. The Phaiacians come up trumps: their magical, self-propelled ships can travel in wintertime, when no real-world Greek would risk seafaring, and they deposit the sleeping Odysseus on his native shore when hibernal cold still holds the site in frozen inactivity. The chronology and nature of the hero’s homecoming shows Homer’s novelistic skill and the archetypal nature of his story. Odysseus’ recovery of his home and kingdom will coincide with the springtime season of renewal, and his passage back to reality from the supernatural realm—this encompassing all Odysseus’ experiences after leaving Troy and including his sojourn in Phaiacia, a halfway house mingling fairy tale elements with details familiar to those acquainted with actual Greek colonies—occurs in the unconsciousness of sleep.
Like all good storytellers, Homer then seals off his magical world. When we last glimpse the Phaiacians, Poseidon, whose wrath against Odysseus stems from the hero’s blinding of his son Polyphemos, has turned their ship to stone and threatens to cover their island with a mountain (an original “cliff-hanger” that the poet never resolves). With all means of conveyance gone, no one can repeat the journey Odysseus achieved or verify whether the stories our hero and poet have told are true.
Many have found the early stages of the poem’s second half something of a letdown. For much of four books, we linger in a humble swineherd’s hut, where Odysseus, now disguised as a filthy beggar at a tap of Athena’s wand, is treated to an almost comic form of rustic hospitality while he trades hard-luck stories with Eumaios, his kindly if obtuse host. But here too design underlies the poem. Not only does Homer sound several of his central themes—the importance of a scrupulous observance of hospitality; the fact that the suitors have so corrupted the urban sphere that the usually disparaged countryside is now the more ethical realm—but he also offers a fascinating window onto his own art. Through the fictitious stories that Odysseus tells, we see how poets such as Homer worked. Reusing material from the story he told the Phaiacians, Odysseus also helps himself to characters and motifs from the Iliad and to the alternate stories of his own wanderings that bards contemporary with Homer would be singing. Because the poet flags these accounts as mendacious, he simultaneously deauthenticates rival singers’ narratives and makes us retrospectively wonder about the veracity of the seaman’s yarn Odysseus spun for the Phaiacians; we recall that his story—unlike Homer’s own—came without an opening appeal to the Muses, guarantors of the truth of ancient poets’ tales.
Disguise, of course, begs for recognition, and the second half of the poem is structured, as ancient critics already observed, as a series of recognition scenes. The first of these features the also disguised Athena, the only “reunion” in which the hero does not hold all the cards. The tables are turned when Odysseus, now enjoying the omniscience and impenetrability that Athena earlier possessed, reveals himself to the baffled Telemachos in book XVI. Book XVII varies the scheme with the meeting between the hero and his faithful hound, Argos: impervious to the disguise that works only on humans, the dog, like the goddess, immediately “sniffs out” his master without any sign or prompt. The loyal housekeeper and retainers are made party to Odysseus’ identity in books XIX-XXI, and the suitors’ almost willful blindness in the face of the visual and verbal clues given them abruptly ends when the hero declares himself just moments before delivering his enemies to their deaths. Still more tantalizingly postponed is the episode in book XXIII when Penelopeia finally acknowledges Odysseus as her husband even as she proves herself his faithful wife. The hero’s father, Laërtês, completes the sequence that has restored Odysseus to every facet of his pre-Trojan identity, repositioning him as father, husband, son and master of his patrimony. These reunions observe a neat arc: beginning with the son’s acknowledgment of the father, they close with the father’s recognition of the son.
Patterning is also apparent at the more microcosmic level. The poet plots the recognition episodes on a spatial trajectory that brings Odysseus ever closer to his goal: from the seashore he advances to the extra-urban realm, from the palace courtyard to its banqueting hall, and from the hearth to the innermost chamber, which houses the marital bed. The signs and tokens through which the revelations come about follow another intricate scheme. Each fills in a period in the hero’s life: his childhood, his adolescence, and the moment he brings his bride to his home. These tokens are crucial to our full understanding of Odysseus’ nature: when the housekeeper Eurycleia discovers the scar that the hero received in the course of the hunt that constituted his “initiation” into manhood, the poet includes a flashback telling how the infant Odysseus received his name: derived from the Greek verb meaning “to be a source of and/or target of pain,” it styles Odysseus nothing other than “Trouble.” Little wonder that characters sympathetic to the hero do best to use circumlocutions when describing or addressing him. (Recall that Odysseus’ name brought disaster on his own person: had he not revealed himself to Polyphemos in a parting act of bravado that belies his circumspection elsewhere, the giant would have been unable to bring Poseidon’s curse down on the hero’s head.) The bed, which the husband built for his wife, fittingly serves as the sign that reunites the marital pair. Probably Homer’s innovation, it symbolizes the essential properties of the participants in the scene: Odysseus as a craftsman whose products carry more conviction than his too crafty words; Penelopeia as the chaste wife who has remained as “fixed” in her home as the unmovable and inviolate bed. The olive wood post that anchors the bridal chamber not only recalls the mast to which Odysseus had himself bound so as to resist the Sirens’ beguilement but also looks forward to the final token, the fruit trees in the orchard that Odysseus must enumerate by way of “fixed signs” for Laërtês. Again the objects join the poem’s two worlds of the fantastic and the familiar into one: both evocative of and different from the trees that produce fruit throughout the year in the magical garden of Alcinous, they also symbolize the hero’s recovery of the land on which he stands and whose fertility he guarantees.
Interrupting this orderly progression is Odysseus’ act of vengeance, and all the problems it poses. For the better part of twenty books, the poet has reiterated a theme of obvious importance for our probably itinerant performer: hospitality for strangers is a cardinal virtue and retribution falls on renegade hosts. Book XXI opens with a fresh reminder. When Penelopeia goes to fetch the bow that will prove the instrument of her husband’s revenge, the poet pauses to give the object’s genealogy: Odysseus received it from one Iphitos, whom Heraclês killed while he was a guest in his home, a crime the poet condemns in his harshest terms. The parallels between the criminal and our hero are unmistakable: an encounter in the Underworld underscored the similarities between Odysseus and Heraclês, the latter the bowman par excellence. As the audience knows, Heraclês first encountered Iphitos when he competed in an archery contest to win Iphitos’ sister for his bride. The fact that the remarriage of Odysseus and Penelopeia depends on Odysseus’ success in just such a sporting event compounds the problematic nature of the act. As numerous Greek myths and historical episodes suggest, athletic-cum-courtship competitions properly serve to resolve elite conflicts over status and prestige (exactly the problem in Odysseus’ halls) without bloodshed; but here that conflict-averting device becomes the catalyst for internecine violence instead.
But from the song’s outset, our partisan poet has been subtly exonerating his hero. Already in the prelude, Homer evokes the destruction of Odysseus’ crew on account of their sacrilegious consumption of the god Helios’ cattle. What seemed a gratuitous detail proves critical, not just because the crew’s behavior presages the suitors feasting off Odysseus’ herds, but also because the poet’s editorial comment that the men “perished by their own madness” introduces the precise term that repeatedly describes the suitors as they wantonly carouse in Odysseus’ home. When Odysseus clears his halls, he is thus, within the value system the poem has set up, guiltless: as he claims in book XXII, the suitors are victims of their own “madness.” Homer also has a second line of defense. Interwoven with the account of the hero’s penetration of his home is a very old story pattern, involving a divinity who comes to earth, frequently in humble disguise, in order to test the worth of mortals by requesting hospitality. At several points, particularly when Odysseus’ self-revelations resemble divine epiphanies, the poet hints that his hero might be such a god, whose purpose is to dole out rewards and punishment. The suitors perfectly fit the role of the wicked and/or benighted individuals of the traditional tale, and their destruction proves a case of divine retribution in which sinners meet their just deserts.
But for all Homer’s whitewashing of his hero, the composer does not allow us to forget the darker aspects of the vengeance. In a marvelous simile at the close of book XXI, the poet likens the seeming beggar effortlessly stringing the bow that has stymied all the suitors to a musician who “stretches a new string on his harp.” If that comparison folds poet and protagonist and reality and representation into one, it also raises questions about the nature of Odysseus’ “song.” Since the poet’s lyre is designed to dispense delight and harmony, Odysseus’ death-dealing shafts inevitably pervert the instrument’s true purpose.
No account of the Odyssey can be complete without mention of the figure who dominates the poem’s final portions, and whose makeup and behavior continue to charm and puzzle. When we first meet Penelopeia, she appears the perfectly faithful spouse, using every means at her disposal (particularly the web that, some scholars think, is cognate with her name) to keep the suitors at bay while hoping against hope that Odysseus will return. But in books XVIII and XIX, this exemplary lady, initially so different from the countermodels the poem proposes, the faithless Clytemnestra and Helen, no longer proves so true to type. Why, presented with compelling indicators that Odysseus is on his way home, does she decide to show herself to the suitors in a seductive move that looks awfully like the actions of the adulterous goddess Aphroditê featured in an intermezzo in book VIII? Worse still, why does she reject the disguised Odysseus’ unequivocal assurance that her husband will destroy the suitors, and go on to set up a contest designed to produce her marriage to one of those whom she claims to detest? And why, when the suitors lie dead in her halls, and the truth is literally staring her in the face, does she still withhold recognition? Where earlier critics faulted Penelopeia for inconsistency, obtuseness and irrational behavior (so like a woman...), or thought an inattentive ancient editor had clumsily cobbled together two different tales, modern explanations propose everything from a canny plotter who, like her husband, manipulates those around her, to an ethically right-minded agent trying to do her best in a situation beyond her control. Is Penelopeia a site for the poet to play complex narrative games designed to keep an audience on its toes, or an enigma whose indecipherability reflects the problems the female gender poses for the Greeks?
If the poet declines to tip his hand, most readers will find their doubts laid to rest in the compelling moment of reunion between husband and wife. As Odysseus encircles his long-lost wife in his arms, Penelopeia is likened to a “shipwrecked mariner” reaching dry land, the very experience the hero has actually undergone. By the time the simile ends, Odysseus has imperceptibly become the object of the embrace, and Penelopeia assumed the position of the land to which the beleaguered seafarer comes home. No wonder Athena holds back dawn’s advent so that the two can enjoy a magically prolonged night in which—most fittingly for this poem so preoccupied with storytelling, its seductions and lures—husband and wife enjoy not so much the pleasures of the nuptial bed as the narratives with which they entertain each other.
In conclusion, a word about the nature of our song. Most scholars agree that the Odyssey, as we have it today, was composed sometime in the second half of the eighth century BCE, in a region of Greece called Ionia and by a poet to whom later antiquity assigned the probably made-up name “Homer.” We also recognize the Odyssey as a product of an oral tradition, a technique of poetic composition developed over hundreds of years by bards who preserved and transmitted their repertoire from one generation to the next, all without the knowledge or aid of writing. This tradition included an artificial poetic dialect and a stock of conventional verbal expressions, called “formulas,” uniquely suited to the hexameter in which the poet chanted his song to the accompaniment of a lyre; also available was a repository of larger building blocks, the episodes, themes and motifs integral to the epic poems. Thus equipped, and schooled through listening to other bards, the oral poet composed extempore, improvising an original song on each occasion by expanding, curtailing and modifying the preexisting material so as to suit the time, place and nature of his audience and the imperative of offering a new and arresting account (remember Telemachos’ praise for the singer who tells the most recent story in book I of the Odyssey, as Homer advertises his own excellence!). What distinguishes the skilled individual from the hack is this capacity for innovation: relying less on prefabricated elements and familiar scenarios, he weaves a fresh narrative that may, as the poem presented here does, challenge canonical stories and advance new values and ideologies.
How this oral composition achieved written form remains a much-debated issue: did the poet dictate his song to a scribe, or write it down and edit it following a particularly successful performance? Did the poem continue to circulate in oral form in multiple versions until a powerful and wealthy patron of the arts chose, several centuries later, to assemble a more canonical Odyssey? But the puzzles that surround the work’s genesis and transmission merely enhance its enduring wonder. Whether heard in performance in the archaic age in the halls of a local king or at a religious festival, or encountered today in the pages of a book, the Odyssey offers a piece of consummate artistry to which we still succumb—much as the Phaiacians did when they sat enthralled, late into the night, listening as Odysseus related the tale of his wanderings.
THIS IS THE BEST STORY EVER WRITTEN, AND IT HAS BEEN a favourite for three thousand years: not long since I heard its far-off echo in a caique on the Ægean Sea, when the skipper told me how St. Elias carried an oar on his shoulder until some one called it a winnowing-fan.1 Until lately it has been in the mind of every educated man; and it is a thousand pities that the new world should grow up without it. Indeed it enchants every man, lettered or unlettered, and every boy who hears it; but unless some one tells it by word of mouth, few are likely to hear it or read it unless they know Greek. They cannot get it from any existing translation, because all such are filled with affectations and attempts at poetic language which Homer himself is quite free from. Homer speaks naturally, and we must do the same. That is what I have tried to do in this book, and I ask that it may be judged simply as a story. If the names are odd, they are not more so than what people are content to swallow in their Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or Turgeniev. They are less so, indeed; for readers will soon become familiar with the Greek surnames and even welcome their musical cadences as Homer’s audience did. Those who like thrillers and detective novels will find excitement enough here, and nothing they can find elsewhere will be as good as the fight with Penelope’s pretenders. Those who like fairy tales will find nothing better than Polyphemos the Goggle-eye. Those who like psychology will find plenty to entertain them in the characters, both gods and men, and particularly in the wonderful picture of Odysseus himself: as he grows from the gay prattling child and the merry young husband to the grim dispenser of vengeance, patient, untiring, unfailing, and within as tender-hearted as Nausicaä herself. Those who like delicacies of deep feeling will find it in Penelope and her husband, whose meeting is one of the supreme scenes of human life.
But I have to think also of scholars, although the book is not addressed to them in the first place. If they have studied Homer only in the library they may be apt to worry more than I do about the digamma, and recensions, and interpolations. But if they have heard, as I have, the whole Iliad and Odyssey read aloud in Greek by intelligent readers a dozen times from beginning to end, they will be able to test what I say in the Appendix, about stock epithets and traditional tags. Nor will they be shocked when I speak of Homer as a man, and not as a syndicate. But I foresee that some will be shocked at the simple words which I put into the mouths of Homer’s characters. Then I will ask them to consider what I have said below on that matter. And if they can bring themselves not to regret the affectations of the so-called “poetic style,” they may compare Homer’s words with what they know of the Greek language, and they will find that Homer uses what people did use in daily life and did not reject blunt words or even invented words.
They will see also how this simple style brings out the characters of the speakers and the real meaning of what they say. They will see also how Homer uses the domestic scenes of Olympos as a comic relief against the grim realities of the world; and they will see how he dots in touches of comedy amid the battles, a scene here or a phrase there. His hearers, remember, were in rollicking mood after a good dinner. They do not mind having their feelings harrowed, but you can’t keep always on that level. Nestor’s son says to Menelaos, “Don’t think me rude, sir, but I don’t like crying over my supper,” and after a bit of bloodshed, cheerfulness keeps breaking in. If Homer bores his audience he will not be invited to dinner again. The passages of poetry, again, are beautiful by their own merits, even in English prose; and they come breaking in of themselves in the middle of everyday sayings and doings just as such things do in human life. They do not try to be poetic, they are poetic in the true sense.
The manners and thoughts of the heroic age are illuminated by the Icelandic sagas, such as Dasent’s Burnt Njál and Morris’s Grettir the Strong. Many references to the great hall and the home-buildings can be understood by the help of the figures in Dasent’s book; and the judgment scene on the shield of Achilles might have been taken from the Althing.
—W. H. D. ROUSE
What Went On in the House of Odysseus
THIS IS THE STORY OF A MAN, ONE WHO WAS NEVER AT a loss. He had travelled far in the world, after the sack of Troy, the virgin fortress; he saw many cities of men, and learnt their mind; he endured many troubles and hardships in the struggle to save his own life and to bring back his men safe to their homes. He did his best, but he could not save his companions. For they perished by their own madness, because they killed and ate the cattle of Hyperion the Sun-god, and the god took care that they should never see home again.
At the time when I begin, all the others who had not been killed in the war were at home, safe from the perils of battle and sea: but he was alone, longing to get home to his wife. He was kept prisoner by a witch, Calypso, a radiant creature, and herself one of the great family of gods, who wanted him to stay in her cave and be her husband. Well then, the seasons went rolling by, and when the year came, in which by the thread that fate spins for every man he was to return home to Ithaca, he had not yet got free of his troubles and come back to his own people. The gods were all sorry for him, except Poseidon, god of the sea, who bore a lasting grudge against him all the time until he returned.
But it happened that Poseidon went for a visit a long way off, to the Ethiopians; who live at the ends of the earth, some near the sunrise, some near the sunset. There he expected a fine sacrifice of bulls and goats, and there he was, feasting and enjoying himself mightily; but the other gods were all gathered in the palace of Olympian Zeus.
Then the Father of gods and men made them a speech; for his heart was angry against a man, Aigisthos, and Agamemnon’s son Orestês, as you know, had just killed the man. So he spoke to the company as follows:
“Upon my word, just see how mortal men always put the blame on us gods! We are the source of evil, so they say—when they have only their own madness to thank if their miseries are worse than they ought to be. Look here, now: Aigisthos has done what he ought not to have done. Took Agamemnon’s wedded wife for himself, killed Agamemnon when he came home, though he knew quite well it would be his own ruin! We gave him fair warning, sent our special messenger Hermês, and told him not to kill the man or to make love to his wife; their son Orestês would punish him, when he grew up and wanted his own dominions. Hermês told him plainly, but he could do nothing with Aigisthos, although it was for his own good. Now he has paid the debt in one lump sum.”
Then up spoke Athena, with her bright eyes glinting:
“Cronidês our Father, King of Kings and Lord of Lords! I have nothing to say for Aigisthos, he richly deserved his ruin. So perish any one else who does a thing like that! But what about that clever Odysseus? I am anxious about him, poor fellow, kept from his friends all this while, in trouble and sorrow, in that island covered with trees, and nothing but the waves all round it, in the very middle of the sea! It is the home of one of ourselves, the daughter of Atlas, you remember, that creature of mischief, who knows all the depths of the sea; you know, he holds up the pillars which keep earth and heaven apart. It is his daughter who keeps the wretched man a prisoner. She is always coaxing him with soft deceitful words to forget Ithaca; but Odysseus would be happy to see as much as the smoke leaping up from his native land, and then to die. And you cannot spare him a thought, Olympian. Don’t you owe him something for all those sacrifices which he used to offer in their camp on the plain of Troy? Why have you such an odd grudge against him, Zeus?”
Then Zeus Cloudgatherer answered:
“My child, what a word to let out between your teeth! How could I forget that fine fellow Odysseus, after all! He is almost one of us. Wise beyond mortal men, ready beyond all to offer sacrifice to the lords of the broad heavens. But Poseidon Earthholder bears him unrelenting hatred, because of the Cyclops whose eye he put out; I mean Polyphemos, who has our blood in his veins, the most powerful of all the Cyclopians.
“Thoösa was his mother, the daughter of Phorcys prince of the barren brine; Poseidon possessed her in a hollow cave. Ever since then, Poseidon has kept the man wandering about, although he does not kill him outright. Come now, let us all try to think how we can persuade Poseidon to abate his anger and let him go home to his native land. Surely he will not be able to stand out against all the immortals, and keep up a quarrel all by himself!”
Then Athena said:
“Cronidês our Father, King of Kings and Lord of Lords! If all the gods now agree that Odysseus shall return to his own home, then let us dispatch our messenger Hermês Argeiphontês to the island of Ogygia; and let him announce forthwith to the nymph our unchangeable will, that Odysseus, after all he has patiently endured, shall return home. And I will myself go to Ithaca, to put heart into his son and make him do something. He shall call the people to a meeting, and speak his mind to all the would-be bridegrooms who have been butchering his sheep and his cattle in heaps. And I will send him to Sparta and to sandy Pylos to inquire about his beloved father, if he can hear that he is on his way home. That will be some credit to him in the world.”
So saying, she fastened under her feet those fine shoes, imperishable shoes of gold, which used to carry her over moist and dry to the ends of the earth, quick as the blowing of the breeze; down she went shooting from the peaks of Olympos, and stood in the town of Ithaca against the outer gates of Odysseus upon the threshold of the courtyard. In her hand she held a spear of bronze, and she took the form of a family friend, Mentês, the chief man of the Taphians.
So there she found those high and mighty gallants. Just then they were amusing themselves with a game of draughts in front of the door, sitting on the skins of the cattle which they had killed themselves; and their orderlies and servants were all busy, some mixing wine and water in the great bowls, some wiping up the tables with oozing sponges and laying the dishes, some serving the meat, and there was plenty of it.
Telemachos saw the visitor long before the others. He was a fine-looking boy; and he sat there among the intruders in deep distress, with his heart full of his noble father. He wondered if his father would suddenly appear and make a clean sweep of them all, and take his own honourable place again, and manage his property.
These were his thoughts as he sat among them, and saw some one at the door. He went straight to the porch, indignant to think that a visitor should be left standing at the door. He took the visitor’s right hand, and relieved him of the spear, and spoke to him in words that wing like arrows to the mark:
“Good day to you, sir. You will be welcome in our house. Refresh yourself, and after you have eaten and drunk you shall say what you have come for.”
So saying, he led the stranger in. Then as soon as they were within the lofty hall he carried the spear to a tall pillar, and set it in a polished spear-stand in which other spears were standing: the spears of Odysseus, that patient man, a whole lot of them. Then he led his visitor to a seat and bade him be seated. He threw a rug over it, a beautiful rug, an artist’s work; and there was a footstool ready at his feet. Beside him he placed an armchair of carven work, apart from the rest of the company; for he did not wish the visitor to be disgusted by the noise, and to lose all relish for his food as he found himself amongst a rabble of bullies. He wanted also to ask about his lost father. A servant brought the hand-wash for the visitor, and poured it over his hands from a jug all made of fine gold into a silver basin. He drew up to the seat a polished table, a comely maid brought in the vittles and put them on the table—all sorts of things, she did not spare her store; the carver added plates of all sorts of meat, and set beside them cups of gold; an orderly kept their cups filled with wine.
In came the gallants, full of pride. They flung themselves down at once into chairs or settles, one after another, and the orderlies poured water over their hands, while the women piled up heaps of rolls in the baskets, and the boys filled the mixing-bowls with drink to the brim. Then they put out their hands to take the good things that lay ready. At last, when they had eaten and drunk till they wanted no more, their fancies turned to other things, singing and dancing: for these are the graces of a feast. An orderly brought a beautiful harp, and put it in the hands of Phemios, who used to sing for them because he could not help it. So he struck up a prelude for his song. Then Telemachos spoke to Mentês, who was really Athena, and he brought his head close, that the others might not hear;
“Kind sir, will you think me rude if I say something to you? You see what these fellows care about, music and song—easy enough, when some one else pays for the food they eat, a man whose white bones are lying on the ground and rotting in the rain, no doubt, or rolling about in the salt sea. That man! if they only caught sight of him here in Ithaca once more, they would gladly give a fortune of gold for a light pair of heels! But he is dead and gone in this miserable way, and there is no comfort for us, even if there are people in the world who say he will come back. No, the day of his return will never dawn.
“Well now, please tell me this: I want to know all about you. Who are you, where do you come from? Where is your country, what is your family? What ship carried you here? I don’t suppose you walked all the way! How was it those sailors brought you to Ithaca? Who did they say they were? And another thing I want you to tell me: Is it your first visit, or are you a friend of our family? For a great many other men used to come to our place, since that man also was a traveller in the world.”
Athena answered him, with her bright eyes glinting:
“Very well, I will tell you all about it. My name is Mentês; I am the son of a clever father, Anchialos, and I rule over a nation of seamen, the Taphians. I have come here now with ship and crew, voyaging over the dark face of the sea to places where they speak other languages than ours; just now to Temesê for bronze, and I have a cargo of shining steel. My ship came to land some way from your town, and she lies in the harbour of Rheithron, under woody Neïon. Let me say that we are family friends from long ago, if you will only go and ask that fine old gentleman Laërtês; they say he does not come to town any more, but keeps far away in the country in a miserable plight, with one servant, an old woman who gives him something to eat and drink when his poor limbs are tired out with stumbling over the slopes of his vine-plot. And now here I am. They did say he was come home from his travels—your father I mean, but I suppose the gods have put something in his way. I tell you he is not dead yet, that grand man Odysseus, but he is still alive—a prisoner somewhere in the broad sea, in an island amid the waters; and dangerous men hold him fast, savages, who are keeping him no doubt against his will.
“Well, now, I will play the prophet, and tell you what is in the mind of the immortals, and what I think will come to pass; although I am no prophet really, and I do not know much about the meaning of birds. I tell you he will not long be absent from his dear native land, not if chains of iron hold him fast. He will find a way to get back, for he is never at a loss.
“Come now, please tell me this; I want to know all about you. Are you really his son—a boy as big as you the son of Odysseus? You seem terribly like him, that head and those fine eyes of yours—I can see him now! for we used to meet ever so often in the old days, before he embarked for Troy, when so many of the best men of the nation sailed away in that fleet. Since then I have not seen Odysseus, and he has not seen me.”
The boy answered politely:
“Very well, sir, I will tell you all about it. My mother says I am his son, but I don’t know myself; I never heard of any one who did know whose son he was. I only wish my father had been a man who lived to grow old upon his own rich acres! But now!—there never was mortal man more unlucky than the man whom they call my father, since you ask me the question.”
Then Athena said, with her bright eyes glinting:
“I tell you one thing: the breed will not be inglorious in time to come, when you are what I see and your mother is Penelopeia; thank God for that. But come now, please tell me this. Feasting—company—what does it all mean? What has it to do with you? Banquet or wedding? It is clear that this is no bring-what-you-like picnic! It seems to me they are making themselves very much at home. Lords of all they survey! It is enough to make a man angry to see all this rough behaviour, if he had any decent feeling.”
The boy answered once more:
“Sir, since you ask me the question, this house might have been wealthy and beyond reproach, so long as that man was at home; but now the gods have willed otherwise. They have chosen to send trouble upon us. That man they have picked out of all the men in the world, and they have made him vanish out of our sight. If he were dead, it would not hurt me so much; if he had fallen before Troy among his comrades, or if he had died in the arms of his friends, after he had wound up the war. Then the whole nation would have built him a barrow, and he would have won a great name for his son as well in days to come. But now, there is not a word of him. The birds of prey have made him their prey; he is gone from sight, gone from hearing, and left anguish and lamentation for me.
“And that man is not all I have to mourn and lament, since the gods have sent other sorrows to trouble me, in this way: All the great men who rule in the islands, in Dulichion, and Samê, and woody Zacynthos, and all those who are lords in rocky Ithaca, one and all they want to marry my mother, and here they are, wasting our wealth. She hates the thought of it, but she neither denies nor dares to make an end of the matter, while they eat me out of house and home. Like enough they will tear me to pieces myself as well.”
“Insufferable!” was the thought of Pallas Athena; and she said, “What a shame! It’s clear you do need Odysseus to lay hands on these heartless men who pester his wife! And he is so far away! If only he would come at this moment, and stand right in the doorway of this hall, with helmet and shield and a couple of spears; looking as he did when I first set eyes upon him in our house, while he drank his wine and enjoyed himself, on his way back from Ephyra, from the house of Ilos Mermeridês! He had been all that way in a fast ship, Odysseus I mean; he was looking for a deadly poison to smear on the barbs of his arrows. The man would not give him any, for fear of the everlasting gods; but my father did give him some, for he was terribly fond of him. May he be like what he was then when he comes upon these rioters! Quick death would be theirs, one and all! They would be sorry they ever wanted to marry! Ah, well, of course all that lies on the knees of the gods—whether he will come back or not, and punish them in his own house. But you had better think how to get them out of the place, that is my advice.
“Look here now, just listen to me. To-morrow call together all the great men of the nation to a meeting, make them a speech, protest before all the gods. Tell the intruders to make themselves scarce and go home, and your mother—if she has a mind to marry again, let her first go back to her father’s house; he is a man of influence, they will arrange the marriage, and see that the bridegroom makes a handsome provision for her, such as a beloved daughter ought to have.
“My advice to you is this, if you will let me advise you. Get the best ship you can find, put twenty oarsmen aboard, go and find out about your father and why he is so long away. Perhaps some one may tell you, or you may hear some rumour that God will send, which is often the best way for people to get news.
“First go to Pylos, and ask that noble prince Nestor; then to Sparta and Menelaos (good old red-head!), for he was the last to come home of all the army. Then, if you hear that your father is alive, and on his way back, for all your wearing and tearing you can bear up for another year. But if you hear that he is dead and no longer in this world, come back yourself to your own home, and build him a barrow, and do the funeral honours in handsome style, as you ought, and give away your mother to some husband.
“When at last all this is finished and done, collect your wits and make a good plan to kill these hangers-on, either by craft or by open fight. Indeed, you ought not to play about in the nursery any longer; your childhood’s days are done. Haven’t you heard what a great name Orestês made for himself in the world, the fine young fellow, when he killed the traitor Aigisthos who had murdered his famous father? You, too, my dear boy, big and handsome as I see you now, you too be strong, that you may have a good name on the lips of men for many generations.
“Now I will go back to my ship and my crew, for they will be tired of waiting for me. It is your own business, so don’t forget what I say.”
Telemachos answered with his usual good manners:
“Sir, I thank you for your kindness; you might be a father speaking to his own son, and I will not forget one word of what you say. But do stay a little, even if you are in a hurry. Let me offer you a bath, rest and refresh yourself, and take back to your ship a gift from me—something precious, a real good thing, to be an heirloom, from me, such as a friend gives to a friend.”
Then the goddess Athena answered:
“Don’t keep me longer, I want to be off. As to any gift which your kind heart bids you offer, when I come back you may give it me to take home. If you choose me a good one, you shall have as good in return.”
When Athena had said this, away she went like a bird, up through the luffer in the roof. In the spirit of the boy she left courage and confidence, and he thought of his father even more than before. He understood what it all meant, and he was amazed; for he believed her to be a god. At once he went back to that rough crew, looking more like a god than a man himself.
He found the minstrel singing to them in fine style, while they sat all round in silence, listening. He sang of the lamentable return of the Achaians from Troy which Pallas Athena had laid upon them.
In the upper chamber the wonderful sounds fell on the ears of Penelopeia the daughter of Icarios, the wise and faithful wife. She came down the high staircase out of her room; but not alone, two waiting-women went with her. And when this lovely creature came amongst the men who would have her for a wife, she stood by the doorpost of the great hall, with its massive walls, and drew the soft veil over her cheeks. There she stood, with one honest waiting-woman on each side. Tears were in her eyes, as she spoke to the singer of that divine song:
“Phemios, you know many other songs fit to charm the ear, great deeds of men and gods, which singers are used to noise abroad. Sing one of those to the company, and let them drink their wine in silence; but make an end to this piteous song, which tears the heart-strings in my breast, since I beyond all have had to suffer grief intolerable. So dear is he that I long for and never forget—my husband, whose fame is known over the length and breadth of the land.”
Telemachos answered her with good sense: “My dear mother, why won’t you let the worthy minstrel entertain us as he likes? Don’t blame the minstrel, blame Zeus, who makes men work hard for their living, and then gives them just what he chooses for each! As for the minstrel, there is no harm in his singing the bad luck of the Danaäns; the song people praise is always the latest thing. You should brace up your heart and mind to listen. Odysseus was not the only one who never saw the day of return from Troy; many other good fellows were lost too. Go to your room and see about your own business, loom and distaff, and keep the servants to their work; talking is always the man’s part, and mine in particular, for the man rules the house.”
She was astonished to hear him, and went back to her room, but she noticed how sensibly her son had spoken. When she was upstairs with the servants she wept for Odysseus her beloved husband, until Athena laid sweet sleep upon her eyelids.
But the pretenders made quite an uproar in the shadowy hall, and each one might be heard praying loudly that she might share his bed. Then Telemachos made them a speech:
“Gentlemen, you pretend to marry my mother, but you are behaving in a most outrageous fashion. For this once, let us eat and drink and be merry, but let there be no shouting, for it’s a fine thing to hear a man sing when he has a heavenly voice like this. Then to-morrow let us hold session in the market-place, for I wish to tell you in plain words that you must go from my house. Lay your dinners elsewhere, and eat your own food in your own houses, change and change about.—Well, if you think it meet and right to consume one man’s goods without paying, carve away. I will appeal to the everlasting gods, and see if Zeus may one day grant me vengeance! There would be no ransom then: in this house you should perish!”
As he said this they all bit their lips; they were surprised to hear how boldly Telemachos spoke.
Antinoös rose to answer him—his father was the soft-spoken Eupeithês:
“Why, Telemachos, you must have gone to school with the gods! They have taught you their fine rhetoric and bold style! I do hope Cronion will never make you king in our island of Ithaca, to sit in the seat of your fathers!”
Telemachos took him up neatly, and said:
“I dare say it might annoy you, Antinoös, but I should be glad to accept the gift. Do you think it the worst thing in the world to be a king? It is not a bad thing at all. He gets plenty of wealth, he is highly honoured. But of course there are other kings in our nation, not a few in this island young and old, and one of them might perhaps have the place of that great man Odysseus as he is dead. But then I will at least be master of my own house and my own servants, which my great father won for me.”
Now Eurymachos o’ Polybos answered him:
“Telemachos, it lies on the knees of the gods, you may be quite sure, who is to be king over the people in our island of Ithaca; but your property I hope you may keep for yourself and be master in your own house. I pray that no man may ever come to force you against your will, and rob you of your property, so long as Ithaca is a place to live in.
“But I do beg you, my good sir, tell me about that stranger, where the man came from, what country he claims, where he was born, who in the world he is. Does he bring a rumour of your father’s return? Did some private business send him here like this? How he jumped up! Gone in a moment, and did not wait for us to make his acquaintance! Certainly he did not look a bad sort of fellow.”
Telemachos answered him:
“Eurymachos, I am sure my father will never see home again. I believe no rumours any more, wherever they come from; I take no notice of any divinations, if my mother calls in a diviner and asks him questions. That is an old family friend from Taphos; he says he is Mentês, the son of a clever father Anchialos, and prince of the seafaring Taphians.” That is what he said, but in his heart he knew the immortal goddess.
So they turned to dancing and joyous singing, and made merry. They were still at it when the darkness of evening came on them; then off they went, each to his home and bed.
And Telemachos went up to bed in his room, which was built high up over the wide courtyard, with a view all round, and his heart was full of thoughts. To light him on the way a faithful old servant carried a blazing torch. She was Eurycleia, daughter of Ops Peisenoridês; Laërtês had bought her long ago at his own cost, when she was in her first youth, and he gave twenty oxen for her. He treated her as well as he did his own faithful wife; but he did not lie with her, for he wanted to avoid any quarrel with his wife.
This was the woman who carried the torch for Telemachos; she loved him more than any other of the household, and she had been his nurse when he was a little tot. He opened the door of the handsome room and sat down on the bed, and stript off his soft shirt, which he gave into the wise old woman’s hands. She folded it up and smoothed it out, and hung it on a peg beside the bed-frame, and left the room, pulling the door to by the silver crow’s-beak, and ran home the bolt by pulling the strap.2 There all night long, covered up with a soft fleece of wool, he thought over the journey which Athena had told him to go.
How the Council Met in the Market-place of Ithaca; and What Came of It
DAWN CAME, SHOWING HER ROSY FINGERS THROUGH the early mists, and Telemachos leapt out of bed. He dressed himself, slung a sharp sword over his shoulder, strapt a stout pair of boots on his lissom feet, and came forth from his chamber like a young god. He called the criers at once, and told them to use their good lungs in summoning the people to Council.
The criers did their part, and the people came. As soon as they were assembled, he went down to the Council himself, with a strong spear in his hand, and a couple of dogs for company, which danced round him as he walked. He was full of enchanting grace, and the people stared at him in admiration. Not for nothing Athena was his friend.
He took his seat in his father’s place, and the reverend seniors made room.
The first speaker was Aigyptios, a great gentleman, bent with age and full of ripe wisdom. He also had lost a son, who had sailed with Prince Odysseus in the fleet to Ilios, Antiphos the lancer; the savage Cyclops had killed him in the cave, in fact he was the monster’s last supper. Three other sons the old man had. One of them, Eurynomos, was among the wooers, and two kept their father’s farms; but he could not forget the other, whom he mourned unceasingly, and now there were tears in his eyes for his son’s sake as he began to speak:
“Listen to me, men of Ithaca, for I have something to say to you. There has been no session of our Council since the time when Prince Odysseus sailed with the fleet: and now who has summoned us? Is it a young man or one of the elders? Was it some private need that moved him? Or has he news of some threatening raid, and now wishes to report what he was the first to hear? Or is there some other public matter which he wishes to bring before us? He has done well, I think, and deserves our thanks. I pray Zeus may grant him that blessing which his heart desires.”
These words seemed a good omen to Telemachos, and encouraged him. He made no delay, for he was eager to speak, so he stood up before the Council. The speaker’s staff was put in his hand by Peisenor, the public crier. Then Telemachos first addressed himself to the old Councillor:
“The man you call for is not far away, reverend Sir, who summoned the people together, as you shall soon know—I am that man, and I am in great trouble of my own. There is no news of a threatening raid to report; I have no advantage of you there, and there is no other public matter which I wish to bring before you. This is my own private need, trouble which has fallen upon my house—two troubles, indeed: first, I have lost a good father, who once was king over you that are present here, and he was like a kind father to you; and now again there is something much worse, which I tell you will soon utterly tear to pieces my whole house, and destroy my whole living. My mother is besieged by those who would marry her against her will, own sons to those men who are chief among you here; they will not go near her father’s house, and lay a formal proposal before Icarios—the thought makes them shiver!—for then he might collect the bridal gifts for his daughter, and give her to the man of his choice, the one he likes best. No! it is our house they visit regularly every day, kill our cattle and sheep and fat goats, hold high revel and drink my sparkling wine, quite reckless: that is the way it all goes. For there is no man at the head, no one like Odysseus, to drive this curse from the house. You see, we are not able to drive it away ourselves. Sorry champions we shall prove, if we try; we have little skill for the combat.
“Indeed I would defend myself if I had the strength! What they have done is quite intolerable, there is no decent excuse for the ruin they have made of my house. You ought to be ashamed in your own hearts, you ought to think what others will say about it, our neighbours, who live all round us; you should fear the wrath of the gods, who may be provoked by such wickedness to turn upon you. I appeal to Olympian Zeus, and Themis, who dissolves the parliaments of men, and summons them! Let me be, my friends! leave me alone to be worn out by my bitter sorrow—unless I must suppose that my father Odysseus, my good father, was a cruel man and ill-treated the nation, and that is why you are cruel and ill-treat me, out of revenge—why you encourage these men.
“I should like it better if you would eat up my treasures and my flocks. If you would eat them up, perhaps there might be some redress. Then we might go round the town, dunning you, imploring, demanding our goods again, till you should give all back. But now! I am helpless, all I can do is to suffer the humiliations which you heap upon me!”
He spoke angrily, and now he dropt down the staff on the ground and burst into tears. All the people were sorry for him, and they all sat silent, not one had the heart to say an unkind word in reply; only Antinoös answered and said:
“You are a boaster, Telemachos, and you don’t know how to keep your temper! What a speech! Cry shame on us, fasten the blame on us, that’s what you want to do! Blame us indeed! Your own mother is at fault. You cannot find fault with us for paying court to your mother. She is a clever piece indeed! It is three years already, and the fourth will soon go by, since she has been deluding the wits of the whole nation. Hopes for all, promises for every man by special messenger—and what she means is something quite different. Here is the latest trick which came out of her meditations.
“She set up a great warp on her loom in the mansion, and wove away, fine work and wide across, and this is what she told us: ‘Young men who seek my hand, now that Odysseus is dead I know you are in a hurry for marriage; but wait until I finish this cloth, for I don’t want to waste all the thread I have spun. It is a shroud for my lord Laërtês, against the time when all-destroying fate shall carry him away in dolorous death. I should not like the women of our nation to cry scandal, if he should lie without a winding-sheet when he had great possessions.’
“That is what she said, and we swallowed our pride, and consented. There she was all day long, working away at the great web; but at night she used to unravel it by torchlight. So for three years she deluded the whole nation, and they believed her. But the seasons passed on, and the fourth year began, and a time came when one of her women told us, one who knew the secret; we caught her unravelling that fine web! So she had to finish it, because she must, not because she would.
“And as for you, this is the answer of those who pay court to your mother, a plain answer to you and to all the nation: Send your mother out of the house, tell her to marry whichever her father says, whichever she likes herself; but if she will go on and on teasing the young men of our nation—with her head full of pride to think how Athena has been generous to her beyond all others, given her skill in beautiful work, and good intelligence, and cleverness such as never was heard of, even in the old stories—those women of our nation who lived long ago, with their lovely hair, Tyro, Alcmenê, Mycenê with her fine coronals—not one of them had the clever wits of Penelopeia: but this clever turn was a wicked trick. To put it plainly, we will go on eating up your living and substance just so long as God allows her to keep the mind she has now. She is making a great name for herself, but for you—good-bye to a great fortune! As for us, we will not go to our lands or anywhere else, before she marries whoever may please her best out of the nation!”
The boy stood up to him, and said:
“Antinoös, it is impossible for me to turn out of doors the mother who bore me and brought me up; my father is somewhere in the world, alive or dead, and it is a hard thing for me to pay back all that dowry to Icarios, if I send away my mother of my own will. Her father will be bad enough, but heaven will send me worse, for my mother will call down the dread Avengers upon me, if she leaves home; and men will reproach me—so I will never say that word. And if your own minds have any fear of such a reproach, go out of my house, get your dinners elsewhere, eat your own food turn by turn in your own houses. But if you think it meet and right to consume one man’s goods without paying, carve away; I will appeal to the everlasting gods, and see whether Zeus may not one day grant me vengeance. There would be no ransom then, in that house you should perish!”
So spoke Telemachos: and Zeus, whose eye can see what is far off, sent him a pair of eagles, flying from a lofty mountainpeak. On they flew down the wind awhile, side by side, soaring on wide-stretched sails; but when they came right over the place of debate, they took a turn round; then hovering with quick-beating wings they stared down on the heads of all, with death in their eyes; and tearing at their cheeks and necks with their talons, away they darted to the east across the houses of the town. The people were amazed, when they saw this sight with their own eyes; and they pondered in their hearts what was to come of it.
Then up and spoke a noble old man, Halithersês Mastoridês; for there was no man of his day who came near him in the knowledge of birds or in telling what omens meant. He spoke to them in this fashion, out of an honest heart:
“Hear me now, men of Ithaca, for I have something to say. I speak especially to those who would wed, for upon them a great woe is rolling; Odysseus will not long keep away from his friends, but I think he is already near, planting the seed of death and destruction for all these men. Trouble there will be also for many others of us who live in the island of Ithaca. But let us consider in good time how we can stop these men; or let them stop themselves—indeed, the sooner the better. I am no novice in prophecy, that is something I understand. As for that man, I declare that all has been fulfilled as I told him, when our people embarked for Ilios and with them went Odysseus, the man who is ready for anything and everything. I said he would have many troubles, and lose all his companions, and after twenty long years, unknown, he would come home again: and see now, all is being fulfilled.”
Excerpted from "The Odyssey"
Copyright © 2015 W. H. D. Homer.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Note on the Text
Note on the Translation
Index of Personal Names
What People are Saying About This
"This is a fine, fast-moving version of the liveliest epic of classical antiquity. With a bracing economy, accuracy, and poetic control, Edward McCrorie conveys the freshness and challenge of the original in clear, sensitive, and direct language. Instead of the uncertain solemnity of some previous translations or the free re-creation of others, McCrorie has managed a version that will have immediate appeal to this generation of students and general readers alike."
"Edward McCrorie's translation of the Odyssey answers the demands of movement and accuracy in a rendition of the poem. His verse line is brisk and efficient, often captures the rhythm and the sound of the Greek, and functions well as an English equivalent of the Greek hexameter. Unlike most translators, he wishes to preserve at least some of the sound of the Greek, and his rendition of the formula glaukôpis Athene as glow-eyed Athene is inspired. He remains true to the formulae of Homeric verse, and several of his choicessuch as rose-fingered daylight or words had a feathery swiftnessdelight. Homer, Zeus-like, would have nodded his approval."