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The Odyssey: Book 1 - Poem by Homer

Tell me, o muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide
after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit,
and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was
acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save
his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he
could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer
folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god
prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all
these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may
know them.
So now all who escaped death in battle or by shipwreck had got
safely home except Ulysses, and he, though he was longing to return to
his wife and country, was detained by the goddess Calypso, who had got
him into a large cave and wanted to marry him. But as years went by,
there came a time when the gods settled that he should go back to
Ithaca; even then, however, when he was among his own people, his
troubles were not yet over; nevertheless all the gods had now begun to
pity him except Neptune, who still persecuted him without ceasing
and would not let him get home.
Now Neptune had gone off to the Ethiopians, who are at the world's
end, and lie in two halves, the one looking West and the other East.
He had gone there to accept a hecatomb of sheep and oxen, and was
enjoying himself at his festival; but the other gods met in the
house of Olympian Jove, and the sire of gods and men spoke first. At
that moment he was thinking of Aegisthus, who had been killed by
Agamemnon's son Orestes; so he said to the other gods:
"See now, how men lay blame upon us gods for what is after all
nothing but their own folly. Look at Aegisthus; he must needs make
love to Agamemnon's wife unrighteously and then kill Agamemnon, though
he knew it would be the death of him; for I sent Mercury to warn him
not to do either of these things, inasmuch as Orestes would be sure to
take his revenge when he grew up and wanted to return home. Mercury
told him this in all good will but he would not listen, and now he has
paid for everything in full."
Then Minerva said, "Father, son of Saturn, King of kings, it
served Aegisthus right, and so it would any one else who does as he
did; but Aegisthus is neither here nor there; it is for Ulysses that
my heart bleeds, when I think of his sufferings in that lonely
sea-girt island, far away, poor man, from all his friends. It is an
island covered with forest, in the very middle of the sea, and a
goddess lives there, daughter of the magician Atlas, who looks after
the bottom of the ocean, and carries the great columns that keep
heaven and earth asunder. This daughter of Atlas has got hold of
poor unhappy Ulysses, and keeps trying by every kind of blandishment
to make him forget his home, so that he is tired of life, and thinks
of nothing but how he may once more see the smoke of his own chimneys.
You, sir, take no heed of this, and yet when Ulysses was before Troy
did he not propitiate you with many a burnt sacrifice? Why then should
you keep on being so angry with him?"
And Jove said, "My child, what are you talking about? How can I
forget Ulysses than whom there is no more capable man on earth, nor
more liberal in his offerings to the immortal gods that live in
heaven? Bear in mind, however, that Neptune is still furious with
Ulysses for having blinded an eye of Polyphemus king of the
Cyclopes. Polyphemus is son to Neptune by the nymph Thoosa, daughter
to the sea-king Phorcys; therefore though he will not kill Ulysses
outright, he torments him by preventing him from getting home.
Still, let us lay our heads together and see how we can help him to
return; Neptune will then be pacified, for if we are all of a mind
he can hardly stand out against us."
And Minerva said, "Father, son of Saturn, King of kings, if, then,
the gods now mean that Ulysses should get home, we should first send
Mercury to the Ogygian island to tell Calypso that we have made up our
minds and that he is to return. In the meantime I will go to Ithaca,
to put heart into Ulysses' son Telemachus; I will embolden him to call
the Achaeans in assembly, and speak out to the suitors of his mother
Penelope, who persist in eating up any number of his sheep and oxen; I
will also conduct him to Sparta and to Pylos, to see if he can hear
anything about the return of his dear father- for this will make
people speak well of him."
So saying she bound on her glittering golden sandals,
imperishable, with which she can fly like the wind over land or sea;
she grasped the redoubtable bronze-shod spear, so stout and sturdy and
strong, wherewith she quells the ranks of heroes who have displeased
her, and down she darted from the topmost summits of Olympus,
whereon forthwith she was in Ithaca, at the gateway of Ulysses' house,
disguised as a visitor, Mentes, chief of the Taphians, and she held
a bronze spear in her hand. There she found the lordly suitors
seated on hides of the oxen which they had killed and eaten, and
playing draughts in front of the house. Men-servants and pages were
bustling about to wait upon them, some mixing wine with water in the
mixing-bowls, some cleaning down the tables with wet sponges and
laying them out again, and some cutting up great quantities of meat.
Telemachus saw her long before any one else did. He was sitting
moodily among the suitors thinking about his brave father, and how
he would send them flying out of the house, if he were to come to
his own again and be honoured as in days gone by. Thus brooding as
he sat among them, he caught sight of Minerva and went straight to the
gate, for he was vexed that a stranger should be kept waiting for
admittance. He took her right hand in his own, and bade her give him
her spear. "Welcome," said he, "to our house, and when you have
partaken of food you shall tell us what you have come for."
He led the way as he spoke, and Minerva followed him. When they were
within he took her spear and set it in the spear- stand against a
strong bearing-post along with the many other spears of his unhappy
father, and he conducted her to a richly decorated seat under which he
threw a cloth of damask. There was a footstool also for her feet,
and he set another seat near her for himself, away from the suitors,
that she might not be annoyed while eating by their noise and
insolence, and that he might ask her more freely about his father.
A maid servant then brought them water in a beautiful golden ewer
and poured it into a silver basin for them to wash their hands, and
she drew a clean table beside them. An upper servant brought them
bread, and offered them many good things of what there was in the
house, the carver fetched them plates of all manner of meats and set
cups of gold by their side, and a man-servant brought them wine and
poured it out for them.
Then the suitors came in and took their places on the benches and
seats. Forthwith men servants poured water over their hands, maids
went round with the bread-baskets, pages filled the mixing-bowls
with wine and water, and they laid their hands upon the good things
that were before them. As soon as they had had enough to eat and drink
they wanted music and dancing, which are the crowning embellishments
of a banquet, so a servant brought a lyre to Phemius, whom they
compelled perforce to sing to them. As soon as he touched his lyre and
began to sing Telemachus spoke low to Minerva, with his head close
to hers that no man might hear.
"I hope, sir," said he, "that you will not be offended with what I
am going to say. Singing comes cheap to those who do not pay for it,
and all this is done at the cost of one whose bones lie rotting in
some wilderness or grinding to powder in the surf. If these men were
to see my father come back to Ithaca they would pray for longer legs
rather than a longer purse, for money would not serve them; but he,
alas, has fallen on an ill fate, and even when people do sometimes say
that he is coming, we no longer heed them; we shall never see him
again. And now, sir, tell me and tell me true, who you are and where
you come from. Tell me of your town and parents, what manner of ship
you came in, how your crew brought you to Ithaca, and of what nation
they declared themselves to be- for you cannot have come by land. Tell
me also truly, for I want to know, are you a stranger to this house,
or have you been here in my father's time? In the old days we had many
visitors for my father went about much himself."
And Minerva answered, "I will tell you truly and particularly all
about it. I am Mentes, son of Anchialus, and I am King of the
Taphians. I have come here with my ship and crew, on a voyage to men
of a foreign tongue being bound for Temesa with a cargo of iron, and I
shall bring back copper. As for my ship, it lies over yonder off the
open country away from the town, in the harbour Rheithron under the
wooded mountain Neritum. Our fathers were friends before us, as old
Laertes will tell you, if you will go and ask him. They say,
however, that he never comes to town now, and lives by himself in
the country, faring hardly, with an old woman to look after him and
get his dinner for him, when he comes in tired from pottering about
his vineyard. They told me your father was at home again, and that was
why I came, but it seems the gods are still keeping him back, for he
is not dead yet not on the mainland. It is more likely he is on some
sea-girt island in mid ocean, or a prisoner among savages who are
detaining him against his will I am no prophet, and know very little
about omens, but I speak as it is borne in upon me from heaven, and
assure you that he will not be away much longer; for he is a man of
such resource that even though he were in chains of iron he would find
some means of getting home again. But tell me, and tell me true, can
Ulysses really have such a fine looking fellow for a son? You are
indeed wonderfully like him about the head and eyes, for we were close
friends before he set sail for Troy where the flower of all the
Argives went also. Since that time we have never either of us seen the
"My mother," answered Telemachus, tells me I am son to Ulysses,
but it is a wise child that knows his own father. Would that I were
son to one who had grown old upon his own estates, for, since you
ask me, there is no more ill-starred man under heaven than he who they
tell me is my father."
And Minerva said, "There is no fear of your race dying out yet,
while Penelope has such a fine son as you are. But tell me, and tell
me true, what is the meaning of all this feasting, and who are these
people? What is it all about? Have you some banquet, or is there a
wedding in the family- for no one seems to be bringing any
provisions of his own? And the guests- how atrociously they are
behaving; what riot they make over the whole house; it is enough to
disgust any respectable person who comes near them."
"Sir," said Telemachus, "as regards your question, so long as my
father was here it was well with us and with the house, but the gods
in their displeasure have willed it otherwise, and have hidden him
away more closely than mortal man was ever yet hidden. I could have
borne it better even though he were dead, if he had fallen with his
men before Troy, or had died with friends around him when the days
of his fighting were done; for then the Achaeans would have built a
mound over his ashes, and I should myself have been heir to his
renown; but now the storm-winds have spirited him away we know not
wither; he is gone without leaving so much as a trace behind him,
and I inherit nothing but dismay. Nor does the matter end simply
with grief for the loss of my father; heaven has laid sorrows upon
me of yet another kind; for the chiefs from all our islands,
Dulichium, Same, and the woodland island of Zacynthus, as also all the
principal men of Ithaca itself, are eating up my house under the
pretext of paying their court to my mother, who will neither point
blank say that she will not marry, nor yet bring matters to an end; so
they are making havoc of my estate, and before long will do so also
with myself."
"Is that so?" exclaimed Minerva, "then you do indeed want Ulysses
home again. Give him his helmet, shield, and a couple lances, and if
he is the man he was when I first knew him in our house, drinking
and making merry, he would soon lay his hands about these rascally
suitors, were he to stand once more upon his own threshold. He was
then coming from Ephyra, where he had been to beg poison for his
arrows from Ilus, son of Mermerus. Ilus feared the ever-living gods
and would not give him any, but my father let him have some, for he
was very fond of him. If Ulysses is the man he then was these
suitors will have a short shrift and a sorry wedding.
"But there! It rests with heaven to determine whether he is to
return, and take his revenge in his own house or no; I would, however,
urge you to set about trying to get rid of these suitors at once. Take
my advice, call the Achaean heroes in assembly to-morrow -lay your
case before them, and call heaven to bear you witness. Bid the suitors
take themselves off, each to his own place, and if your mother's
mind is set on marrying again, let her go back to her father, who will
find her a husband and provide her with all the marriage gifts that so
dear a daughter may expect. As for yourself, let me prevail upon you
to take the best ship you can get, with a crew of twenty men, and go
in quest of your father who has so long been missing. Some one may
tell you something, or (and people often hear things in this way) some
heaven-sent message may direct you. First go to Pylos and ask
Nestor; thence go on to Sparta and visit Menelaus, for he got home
last of all the Achaeans; if you hear that your father is alive and on
his way home, you can put up with the waste these suitors will make
for yet another twelve months. If on the other hand you hear of his
death, come home at once, celebrate his funeral rites with all due
pomp, build a barrow to his memory, and make your mother marry
again. Then, having done all this, think it well over in your mind
how, by fair means or foul, you may kill these suitors in your own
house. You are too old to plead infancy any longer; have you not heard
how people are singing Orestes' praises for having killed his father's
murderer Aegisthus? You are a fine, smart looking fellow; show your
mettle, then, and make yourself a name in story. Now, however, I
must go back to my ship and to my crew, who will be impatient if I
keep them waiting longer; think the matter over for yourself, and
remember what I have said to you."
"Sir," answered Telemachus, "it has been very kind of you to talk to
me in this way, as though I were your own son, and I will do all you
tell me; I know you want to be getting on with your voyage, but stay a
little longer till you have taken a bath and refreshed yourself. I
will then give you a present, and you shall go on your way
rejoicing; I will give you one of great beauty and value- a keepsake
such as only dear friends give to one another."
Minerva answered, "Do not try to keep me, for I would be on my way
at once. As for any present you may be disposed to make me, keep it
till I come again, and I will take it home with me. You shall give
me a very good one, and I will give you one of no less value in
With these words she flew away like a bird into the air, but she had
given Telemachus courage, and had made him think more than ever
about his father. He felt the change, wondered at it, and knew that
the stranger had been a god, so he went straight to where the
suitors were sitting.
Phemius was still singing, and his hearers sat rapt in silence as he
told the sad tale of the return from Troy, and the ills Minerva had
laid upon the Achaeans. Penelope, daughter of Icarius, heard his
song from her room upstairs, and came down by the great staircase, not
alone, but attended by two of her handmaids. When she reached the
suitors she stood by one of the bearing posts that supported the
roof of the cloisters with a staid maiden on either side of her. She
held a veil, moreover, before her face, and was weeping bitterly.
"Phemius," she cried, "you know many another feat of gods and
heroes, such as poets love to celebrate. Sing the suitors some one
of these, and let them drink their wine in silence, but cease this sad
tale, for it breaks my sorrowful heart, and reminds me of my lost
husband whom I mourn ever without ceasing, and whose name was great
over all Hellas and middle Argos."
"Mother," answered Telemachus, "let the bard sing what he has a mind
to; bards do not make the ills they sing of; it is Jove, not they, who
makes them, and who sends weal or woe upon mankind according to his
own good pleasure. This fellow means no harm by singing the
ill-fated return of the Danaans, for people always applaud the
latest songs most warmly. Make up your mind to it and bear it; Ulysses
is not the only man who never came back from Troy, but many another
went down as well as he. Go, then, within the house and busy
yourself with your daily duties, your loom, your distaff, and the
ordering of your servants; for speech is man's matter, and mine
above all others- for it is I who am master here."
She went wondering back into the house, and laid her son's saying in
her heart. Then, going upstairs with her handmaids into her room,
she mourned her dear husband till Minerva shed sweet sleep over her
eyes. But the suitors were clamorous throughout the covered cloisters,
and prayed each one that he might be her bed fellow.
Then Telemachus spoke, "Shameless," he cried, "and insolent suitors,
let us feast at our pleasure now, and let there be no brawling, for it
is a rare thing to hear a man with such a divine voice as Phemius has;
but in the morning meet me in full assembly that I may give you formal
notice to depart, and feast at one another's houses, turn and turn
about, at your own cost. If on the other hand you choose to persist in
spunging upon one man, heaven help me, but Jove shall reckon with
you in full, and when you fall in my father's house there shall be
no man to avenge you."
The suitors bit their lips as they heard him, and marvelled at the
boldness of his speech. Then, Antinous, son of Eupeithes, said, "The
gods seem to have given you lessons in bluster and tall talking; may
Jove never grant you to be chief in Ithaca as your father was before
Telemachus answered, "Antinous, do not chide with me, but, god
willing, I will be chief too if I can. Is this the worst fate you
can think of for me? It is no bad thing to be a chief, for it brings
both riches and honour. Still, now that Ulysses is dead there are many
great men in Ithaca both old and young, and some other may take the
lead among them; nevertheless I will be chief in my own house, and
will rule those whom Ulysses has won for me."
Then Eurymachus, son of Polybus, answered, "It rests with heaven
to decide who shall be chief among us, but you shall be master in your
own house and over your own possessions; no one while there is a man
in Ithaca shall do you violence nor rob you. And now, my good
fellow, I want to know about this stranger. What country does he
come from? Of what family is he, and where is his estate? Has he
brought you news about the return of your father, or was he on
business of his own? He seemed a well-to-do man, but he hurried off so
suddenly that he was gone in a moment before we could get to know
"My father is dead and gone," answered Telemachus, "and even if some
rumour reaches me I put no more faith in it now. My mother does indeed
sometimes send for a soothsayer and question him, but I give his
prophecyings no heed. As for the stranger, he was Mentes, son of
Anchialus, chief of the Taphians, an old friend of my father's." But
in his heart he knew that it had been the goddess.
The suitors then returned to their singing and dancing until the
evening; but when night fell upon their pleasuring they went home to
bed each in his own abode. Telemachus's room was high up in a tower
that looked on to the outer court; hither, then, he hied, brooding and
full of thought. A good old woman, Euryclea, daughter of Ops, the
son of Pisenor, went before him with a couple of blazing torches.
Laertes had bought her with his own money when she was quite young; he
gave the worth of twenty oxen for her, and shewed as much respect to
her in his household as he did to his own wedded wife, but he did
not take her to his bed for he feared his wife's resentment. She it
was who now lighted Telemachus to his room, and she loved him better
than any of the other women in the house did, for she had nursed him
when he was a baby. He opened the door of his bed room and sat down
upon the bed; as he took off his shirt he gave it to the good old
woman, who folded it tidily up, and hung it for him over a peg by
his bed side, after which she went out, pulled the door to by a silver
catch, and drew the bolt home by means of the strap. But Telemachus as
he lay covered with a woollen fleece kept thinking all night through
of his intended voyage of the counsel that Minerva had given him.

Translated by Samuel Butler

Comments about The Odyssey: Book 1 by Homer

  • Gold Star - 8,547 Points Is It Poetry (8/21/2009 2:39:00 PM)

    From writing in memory of history..
    to the common every day intitlements..
    and it is obvious..being well..known about..
    his world...and large to him..
    still was story telling..an art...iip (Report) Reply

    1 person liked.
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Poems About Father

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  7. 57. A Presentiment , William Cullen Bryant
  8. 58. The Wreck Of The Golfer , Banjo Paterson
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  10. 60. Hymn For Atonement Day , Yehudah HaLevi
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  12. 62. The Iliad: Book 24 , Homer
  13. 63. A Last Confession , Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  14. 64. A Ballad , James Whitcomb Riley
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  43. 93. The Iliad: Book 5 , Homer
  44. 94. Hermann And Dorothea - Ii. Terpsichore , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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  47. 97. Peruvian Tales: Aciloe, Tale V , Helen Maria Williams
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