Homer

(Disputed - c 850 B.C.E. / Disputed)

The Odyssey: Book 20 - Poem by Homer

Ulysses slept in the cloister upon an undressed bullock's hide, on
the top of which he threw several skins of the sheep the suitors had
eaten, and Eurynome threw a cloak over him after he had laid himself
down. There, then, Ulysses lay wakefully brooding upon the way in
which he should kill the suitors; and by and by, the women who had
been in the habit of misconducting themselves with them, left the
house giggling and laughing with one another. This made Ulysses very
angry, and he doubted whether to get up and kill every single one of
them then and there, or to let them sleep one more and last time
with the suitors. His heart growled within him, and as a bitch with
puppies growls and shows her teeth when she sees a stranger, so did
his heart growl with anger at the evil deeds that were being done: but
he beat his breast and said, "Heart, be still, you had worse than this
to bear on the day when the terrible Cyclops ate your brave
companions; yet you bore it in silence till your cunning got you
safe out of the cave, though you made sure of being killed."
Thus he chided with his heart, and checked it into endurance, but he
tossed about as one who turns a paunch full of blood and fat in
front of a hot fire, doing it first on one side and then on the other,
that he may get it cooked as soon as possible, even so did he turn
himself about from side to side, thinking all the time how, single
handed as he was, he should contrive to kill so large a body of men as
the wicked suitors. But by and by Minerva came down from heaven in the
likeness of a woman, and hovered over his head saying, "My poor
unhappy man, why do you lie awake in this way? This is your house:
your wife is safe inside it, and so is your son who is just such a
young man as any father may be proud of."
"Goddess," answered Ulysses, "all that you have said is true, but
I am in some doubt as to how I shall be able to kill these wicked
suitors single handed, seeing what a number of them there always
are. And there is this further difficulty, which is still more
considerable. Supposing that with Jove's and your assistance I succeed
in killing them, I must ask you to consider where I am to escape to
from their avengers when it is all over."
"For shame," replied Minerva, "why, any one else would trust a worse
ally than myself, even though that ally were only a mortal and less
wise than I am. Am I not a goddess, and have I not protected you
throughout in all your troubles? I tell you plainly that even though
there were fifty bands of men surrounding us and eager to kill us, you
should take all their sheep and cattle, and drive them away with
you. But go to sleep; it is a very bad thing to lie awake all night,
and you shall be out of your troubles before long."
As she spoke she shed sleep over his eyes, and then went back to
Olympus.
While Ulysses was thus yielding himself to a very deep slumber
that eased the burden of his sorrows, his admirable wife awoke, and
sitting up in her bed began to cry. When she had relieved herself by
weeping she prayed to Diana saying, "Great Goddess Diana, daughter
of Jove, drive an arrow into my heart and slay me; or let some
whirlwind snatch me up and bear me through paths of darkness till it
drop me into the mouths of overflowing Oceanus, as it did the
daughters of Pandareus. The daughters of Pandareus lost their father
and mother, for the gods killed them, so they were left orphans. But
Venus took care of them, and fed them on cheese, honey, and sweet
wine. Juno taught them to excel all women in beauty of form and
understanding; Diana gave them an imposing presence, and Minerva
endowed them with every kind of accomplishment; but one day when Venus
had gone up to Olympus to see Jove about getting them married (for
well does he know both what shall happen and what not happen to
every one) the storm winds came and spirited them away to become
handmaids to the dread Erinyes. Even so I wish that the gods who
live in heaven would hide me from mortal sight, or that fair Diana
might strike me, for I would fain go even beneath the sad earth if I
might do so still looking towards Ulysses only, and without having
to yield myself to a worse man than he was. Besides, no matter how
much people may grieve by day, they can put up with it so long as they
can sleep at night, for when the eyes are closed in slumber people
forget good and ill alike; whereas my misery haunts me even in my
dreams. This very night methought there was one lying by my side who
was like Ulysses as he was when he went away with his host, and I
rejoiced, for I believed that it was no dream, but the very truth
itself."
On this the day broke, but Ulysses heard the sound of her weeping,
and it puzzled him, for it seemed as though she already knew him and
was by his side. Then he gathered up the cloak and the fleeces on
which he had lain, and set them on a seat in the cloister, but he took
the bullock's hide out into the open. He lifted up his hands to
heaven, and prayed, saying "Father Jove, since you have seen fit to
bring me over land and sea to my own home after all the afflictions
you have laid upon me, give me a sign out of the mouth of some one
or other of those who are now waking within the house, and let me have
another sign of some kind from outside."
Thus did he pray. Jove heard his prayer and forthwith thundered high
up among the from the splendour of Olympus, and Ulysses was glad
when he heard it. At the same time within the house, a miller-woman
from hard by in the mill room lifted up her voice and gave him another
sign. There were twelve miller-women whose business it was to grind
wheat and barley which are the staff of life. The others had ground
their task and had gone to take their rest, but this one had not yet
finished, for she was not so strong as they were, and when she heard
the thunder she stopped grinding and gave the sign to her master.
"Father Jove," said she, "you who rule over heaven and earth, you have
thundered from a clear sky without so much as a cloud in it, and
this means something for somebody; grant the prayer, then, of me
your poor servant who calls upon you, and let this be the very last
day that the suitors dine in the house of Ulysses. They have worn me
out with the labour of grinding meal for them, and I hope they may
never have another dinner anywhere at all."
Ulysses was glad when he heard the omens conveyed to him by the
woman's speech, and by the thunder, for he knew they meant that he
should avenge himself on the suitors.
Then the other maids in the house rose and lit the fire on the
hearth; Telemachus also rose and put on his clothes. He girded his
sword about his shoulder, bound his sandals on his comely feet, and
took a doughty spear with a point of sharpened bronze; then he went to
the threshold of the cloister and said to Euryclea, "Nurse, did you
make the stranger comfortable both as regards bed and board, or did
you let him shift for himself?- for my mother, good woman though she
is, has a way of paying great attention to second-rate people, and
of neglecting others who are in reality much better men."
"Do not find fault child," said Euryclea, "when there is no one to
find fault with. The stranger sat and drank his wine as long as he
liked: your mother did ask him if he would take any more bread and
he said he would not. When he wanted to go to bed she told the
servants to make one for him, but he said he was re such wretched
outcast that he would not sleep on a bed and under blankets; he
insisted on having an undressed bullock's hide and some sheepskins put
for him in the cloister and I threw a cloak over him myself."
Then Telemachus went out of the court to the place where the
Achaeans were meeting in assembly; he had his spear in his hand, and
he was not alone, for his two dogs went with him. But Euryclea
called the maids and said, "Come, wake up; set about sweeping the
cloisters and sprinkling them with water to lay the dust; put the
covers on the seats; wipe down the tables, some of you, with a wet
sponge; clean out the mixing-jugs and the cups, and for water from the
fountain at once; the suitors will be here directly; they will be here
early, for it is a feast day."
Thus did she speak, and they did even as she had said: twenty of
them went to the fountain for water, and the others set themselves
busily to work about the house. The men who were in attendance on
the suitors also came up and began chopping firewood. By and by the
women returned from the fountain, and the swineherd came after them
with the three best pigs he could pick out. These he let feed about
the premises, and then he said good-humouredly to Ulysses,
"Stranger, are the suitors treating you any better now, or are they as
insolent as ever?"
"May heaven," answered Ulysses, "requite to them the wickedness with
which they deal high-handedly in another man's house without any sense
of shame."
Thus did they converse; meanwhile Melanthius the goatherd came up,
for he too was bringing in his best goats for the suitors' dinner; and
he had two shepherds with him. They tied the goats up under the
gatehouse, and then Melanthius began gibing at Ulysses. "Are you still
here, stranger," said he, "to pester people by begging about the
house? Why can you not go elsewhere? You and I shall not come to an
understanding before we have given each other a taste of our fists.
You beg without any sense of decency: are there not feasts elsewhere
among the Achaeans, as well as here?"
Ulysses made no answer, but bowed his head and brooded. Then a third
man, Philoetius, joined them, who was bringing in a barren heifer
and some goats. These were brought over by the boatmen who are there
to take people over when any one comes to them. So Philoetius made his
heifer and his goats secure under the gatehouse, and then went up to
the swineherd. "Who, Swineherd," said he, "is this stranger that is
lately come here? Is he one of your men? What is his family? Where
does he come from? Poor fellow, he looks as if he had been some
great man, but the gods give sorrow to whom they will- even to kings
if it so pleases them
As he spoke he went up to Ulysses and saluted him with his right
hand; "Good day to you, father stranger," said he, "you seem to be
very poorly off now, but I hope you will have better times by and
by. Father Jove, of all gods you are the most malicious. We are your
own children, yet you show us no mercy in all our misery and
afflictions. A sweat came over me when I saw this man, and my eyes
filled with tears, for he reminds me of Ulysses, who I fear is going
about in just such rags as this man's are, if indeed he is still among
the living. If he is already dead and in the house of Hades, then,
alas! for my good master, who made me his stockman when I was quite
young among the Cephallenians, and now his cattle are countless; no
one could have done better with them than I have, for they have bred
like ears of corn; nevertheless I have to keep bringing them in for
others to eat, who take no heed of his son though he is in the
house, and fear not the wrath of heaven, but are already eager to
divide Ulysses' property among them because he has been away so
long. I have often thought- only it would not be right while his son
is living- of going off with the cattle to some foreign country; bad
as this would be, it is still harder to stay here and be ill-treated
about other people's herds. My position is intolerable, and I should
long since have run away and put myself under the protection of some
other chief, only that I believe my poor master will yet return, and
send all these suitors flying out of the house."
"Stockman," answered Ulysses, "you seem to be a very well-disposed
person, and I can see that you are a man of sense. Therefore I will
tell you, and will confirm my words with an oath: by Jove, the chief
of all gods, and by that hearth of Ulysses to which I am now come,
Ulysses shall return before you leave this place, and if you are so
minded you shall see him killing the suitors who are now masters
here."
"If Jove were to bring this to pass," replied the stockman, "you
should see how I would do my very utmost to help him."
And in like manner Eumaeus prayed that Ulysses might return home.
Thus did they converse. Meanwhile the suitors were hatching a plot
to murder Telemachus: but a bird flew near them on their left hand- an
eagle with a dove in its talons. On this Amphinomus said, "My friends,
this plot of ours to murder Telemachus will not succeed; let us go
to dinner instead."
The others assented, so they went inside and laid their cloaks on
the benches and seats. They sacrificed the sheep, goats, pigs, and the
heifer, and when the inward meats were cooked they served them
round. They mixed the wine in the mixing-bowls, and the swineherd gave
every man his cup, while Philoetius handed round the bread in the
breadbaskets, and Melanthius poured them out their wine. Then they
laid their hands upon the good things that were before them.
Telemachus purposely made Ulysses sit in the part of the cloister
that was paved with stone; he gave him a shabby-looking seat at a
little table to himself, and had his portion of the inward meats
brought to him, with his wine in a gold cup. "Sit there," said he,
"and drink your wine among the great people. I will put a stop to
the gibes and blows of the suitors, for this is no public house, but
belongs to Ulysses, and has passed from him to me. Therefore, suitors,
keep your hands and your tongues to yourselves, or there will be
mischief."
The suitors bit their lips, and marvelled at the boldness of his
speech; then Antinous said, "We do not like such language but we
will put up with it, for Telemachus is threatening us in good earnest.
If Jove had let us we should have put a stop to his brave talk ere
now."
Thus spoke Antinous, but Telemachus heeded him not. Meanwhile the
heralds were bringing the holy hecatomb through the city, and the
Achaeans gathered under the shady grove of Apollo.
Then they roasted the outer meat, drew it off the spits, gave
every man his portion, and feasted to their hearts' content; those who
waited at table gave Ulysses exactly the same portion as the others
had, for Telemachus had told them to do so.
But Minerva would not let the suitors for one moment drop their
insolence, for she wanted Ulysses to become still more bitter
against them. Now there happened to be among them a ribald fellow,
whose name was Ctesippus, and who came from Same. This man,
confident in his great wealth, was paying court to the wife of
Ulysses, and said to the suitors, "Hear what I have to say. The
stranger has already had as large a portion as any one else; this is
well, for it is not right nor reasonable to ill-treat any guest of
Telemachus who comes here. I will, however, make him a present on my
own account, that he may have something to give to the bath-woman,
or to some other of Ulysses' servants."
As he spoke he picked up a heifer's foot from the meat-basket in
which it lay, and threw it at Ulysses, but Ulysses turned his head a
little aside, and avoided it, smiling grimly Sardinian fashion as he
did so, and it hit the wall, not him. On this Telemachus spoke
fiercely to Ctesippus, "It is a good thing for you," said he, "that
the stranger turned his head so that you missed him. If you had hit
him I should have run you through with my spear, and your father would
have had to see about getting you buried rather than married in this
house. So let me have no more unseemly behaviour from any of you,
for I am grown up now to the knowledge of good and evil and understand
what is going on, instead of being the child that I have been
heretofore. I have long seen you killing my sheep and making free with
my corn and wine: I have put up with this, for one man is no match for
many, but do me no further violence. Still, if you wish to kill me,
kill me; I would far rather die than see such disgraceful scenes day
after day- guests insulted, and men dragging the women servants
about the house in an unseemly way."
They all held their peace till at last Agelaus son of Damastor said,
"No one should take offence at what has just been said, nor gainsay
it, for it is quite reasonable. Leave off, therefore, ill-treating the
stranger, or any one else of the servants who are about the house; I
would say, however, a friendly word to Telemachus and his mother,
which I trust may commend itself to both. 'As long,' I would say,
'as you had ground for hoping that Ulysses would one day come home, no
one could complain of your waiting and suffering the suitors to be
in your house. It would have been better that he should have returned,
but it is now sufficiently clear that he will never do so; therefore
talk all this quietly over with your mother, and tell her to marry the
best man, and the one who makes her the most advantageous offer.
Thus you will yourself be able to manage your own inheritance, and
to eat and drink in peace, while your mother will look after some
other man's house, not yours."'
To this Telemachus answered, "By Jove, Agelaus, and by the sorrows
of my unhappy father, who has either perished far from Ithaca, or is
wandering in some distant land, I throw no obstacles in the way of
my mother's marriage; on the contrary I urge her to choose
whomsoever she will, and I will give her numberless gifts into the
bargain, but I dare not insist point blank that she shall leave the
house against her own wishes. Heaven forbid that I should do this."
Minerva now made the suitors fall to laughing immoderately, and
set their wits wandering; but they were laughing with a forced
laughter. Their meat became smeared with blood; their eyes filled with
tears, and their hearts were heavy with forebodings. Theoclymenus
saw this and said, "Unhappy men, what is it that ails you? There is
a shroud of darkness drawn over you from head to foot, your cheeks are
wet with tears; the air is alive with wailing voices; the walls and
roof-beams drip blood; the gate of the cloisters and the court
beyond them are full of ghosts trooping down into the night of hell;
the sun is blotted out of heaven, and a blighting gloom is over all
the land."
Thus did he speak, and they all of them laughed heartily. Eurymachus
then said, "This stranger who has lately come here has lost his
senses. Servants, turn him out into the streets, since he finds it
so dark here."
But Theoclymenus said, "Eurymachus, you need not send any one with
me. I have eyes, ears, and a pair of feet of my own, to say nothing of
an understanding mind. I will take these out of the house with me, for
I see mischief overhanging you, from which not one of you men who
are insulting people and plotting ill deeds in the house of Ulysses
will be able to escape."
He left the house as he spoke, and went back to Piraeus who gave him
welcome, but the suitors kept looking at one another and provoking
Telemachus fly laughing at the strangers. One insolent fellow said
to him, "Telemachus, you are not happy in your guests; first you
have this importunate tramp, who comes begging bread and wine and
has no skill for work or for hard fighting, but is perfectly
useless, and now here is another fellow who is setting himself up as a
prophet. Let me persuade you, for it will be much better, to put
them on board ship and send them off to the Sicels to sell for what
they will bring."
Telemachus gave him no heed, but sat silently watching his father,
expecting every moment that he would begin his attack upon the
suitors.
Meanwhile the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, had had had a rich
seat placed for her facing the court and cloisters, so that she
could hear what every one was saying. The dinner indeed had been
prepared amid merriment; it had been both good and abundant, for
they had sacrificed many victims; but the supper was yet to come,
and nothing can be conceived more gruesome than the meal which a
goddess and a brave man were soon to lay before them- for they had
brought their doom upon themselves.


Translated by Samuel Butler


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Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003



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