now the other warriors, those
that had escaped head-long ruin
by sea or in battle, were safely home. Only Odysseus tarried, shut up
by Lady Calypso, a nymph and very Goddess, in her hewn-out
She craved him for her bed-mate: while he was longing for his house
and his wife. Of a truth the rolling seasons had at last brought up the
year marked by the Gods for his return to Ithaca; but not even there
among his loved things would he escape further conflict. Yet had all
the Gods with lapse of time grown compassionate towards Odysseus -
all but Poseidon, whose enmity flamed ever against him till he had
his home. Poseidon, however, was for the moment far away among
the Aethiopians, that last race of men, whose dispersion across the
world's end is so broad that some of them can see the Sun-God rise while
others see him set. Thither had Poseidon gone in the hope of burnt
offerings, bulls and rams, by hundreds: and there he sat feasting
merrily while the other Gods came together in the halls of Olympian Zeus.
To them the father of Gods and men began speech, for his breast teemed
with thought of great Aegisthus, whom famous
of Agamemnon, had slain.
vexes me to see how mean are these creatures of a day towards us Gods,
when they charge against us the evils (far beyond our worst dooming)
which their own exceeding wantonness has heaped upon themselves.
Just so did Aegisthus exceed when he took to his bed the lawful wife of
Atrides and killed her returning husband. He knew the sheer
ruin this would entail. Did we not warn him by the mouth of our trusty Hermes, the keen-eyed slayer of Argus, neither to murder the man
nor lust after the woman's body? "For the death of the son of
will be requited by Orestes, even as he grows up and dreams of his
native place." These were Hermes' very words: but not even such friendly
interposition could restrain Aegisthus, who now pays the final penalty.'
there took him up Athene, goddess of the limpid eyes. 'Our
heir of Kronos, Lord of lords! That man Aegisthus has been
served. May everyone who slaughters a victim after his fashion go down
likewise into hell! But my heart is heavy for Odysseus, so shrewd, so
ill-fated, pining in long misery of exile on an island which is just a speck
in the belly of the sea. This wave-beset, wooded island is the domain
of a God-begotten creature, the daughter of baleful Atlas
are the pillars that prop the lofty sky: whose too are the deepest soundings
of the sea. The daughter has trapped the luckless wretch and with
subtle insistence cozens him to forget his Ithaca. Forget! Odysseus is
so sick with longing to see if it were but the smoke of his home spiring
up, that he prays for death. I marvel, my Lord of Olympus, how your
heart makes no odds of it. Can you lightly pass over the burnt offerings
Odysseus lavished upon you, by the Argive ships in the plain
child,’ protested Zeus, the cloud-compeller, 'what sharp judgements
you let slip through your teeth! As if I could overpass the merit of
Odysseus, who stands out above the ruck of men as much for worldly
wisdom as for his generous offerings to the Gods that eternally possess
the open sky. It is Poseidon the world-girdler who is so headily bitter
against him, for the sake of that Cyclops whom Odysseus
even the god-like Polyphemus, their chief figure and Poseidon's
son: - for his mother Thoosa (daughter to
Phorkys, an overlord of the
ungarnered sea) conceived him after she had lain with the God under
the beetling cliffs. Because of this, Poseidon the land-shaker, though
he dare not quite kill Odysseus, at least implacably frustrates his every
effort to get back to the land of his fathers. But come, let us put all
our heads together and contrive the man's return; then will Poseidon
have to swallow his bile. Against the concert of the Immortals he
cannot stand alone.'
the dear-eyed, the Goddess, answered and said: 'Father and Lord
of all, Kronides, if indeed the ineffable Gods now judge it fit that
Odysseus should return, then let us call Hermes, our usher, the
killer of Argus, and despatch him straight to
Ogygia, the island of
nymph with the lovely hair: to warn her how it is become our fixed act
that the dauntless one be allowed to set out homeward forthwith. For
my part I shall go to Ithaca and rouse his son Telemachus, instilling
some tardy purpose into his spirit, so that he may call his Greek
exquisites to council and give check to the mob of wooers besetting
his mother Penelope, the while they butcher his wealth of
sheep and rolling-gaited, screw-horned oxen. I will send the youth
to Sparta - yes, and to sandy
Pylos - to ask those he meets for
of his dear father's return: not that he will hear anything, but his zeal
will earn him repute among men.'
ceased, and drew upon her feet those golden sandals (whose fairness
no use could dim) that carried their mistress as surely and wind-swiftly
over the waves as over the boundless earth. She laid hold of
her guardian spear, great, heavy, and close-grained, tipped with cutting
bronze. When wrath moved the goddess to act, this spear was her weapon:
with it, and stayed by her pride of birth, she would daunt serried ranks
of the very bravest warriors. Downward she now glided from
the summit of Olympus, to alight on Ithaca before Odysseus'
by the sill of the main gate. With that war spear in her fist she seemed
some traveller seeking hospitality: she had a look of Mentes, a chief
gateway was thronged with the self-assertive suitors, whose pleasure for
the moment was to sit there playing at chequers on the hides
of the oxen they had killed and eaten. Round them busied their criers
and nimble pages, some mixing wine and water in the parent-bowls
ready to drink, others wiping down table-tops with soft sponges or
re-laying them for the next meal, while yet others were jointing huge
sides of meat. If the suitors saw her they did not move or look before
handsome Telemachus gave sign. He sat despondent in the hurly,
fancying to himself his honest father's sudden arrival from somewhere,
somehow: and the scatter there would be, through the palace,
of these wasters when they saw him stride in to regain men's respect
and king it honourably once more over his household.
he so dreamed amidst the unheeding suitors he became aware of Athene
waiting by the threshold; and went straight to her, vexed to the heart
that any guest should be delayed at their door for lack of welcome.
He clasped her right hand, relieving her of the metal spear, and spoke
to her these winged words: 'Accept, O guest, the friendliest greetings.
Enter and taste our food: and thereafter make known to us your
he led the way into the noble house. Pallas followed until
set her spear in the polished spear rack beside a high pillar, amongst weapons
once used by the long-suffering Odysseus. Then he spread smooth
draperies over a throne of cunning workmanship and seated her upon
it. For her feet there was a foot-stool while for himself he drew up a
painted lounge-chair in such a way that they were shut off from the suitors.
Telemachus feared lest that roistering mob's impertinences might
disgust the stranger and turn his stomach against eating. Then too
he wished to put some privy questions about his missing father.
maid came with a precious golden ewer and poured water for them above
its silver basin, rinsing their hands. She drew to their side a gleaming
table and on it the matronly house-keeper arranged her store of
bread and many prepared dishes, making an eager grace of all the hospitality.
A carver filled and passed them trenchers of meat in great variety,
and set out on their table two golden beakers which the steward, as
often as he walked up and down the hall, refilled for them with wine. The
suitors swaggered in. One after the other they seated themselves on the
thrones and long chairs. Their retainers poured water for their hands,
and the maids of the house heaped loaves of bread in each man's table-basket
while the serving lads brimmed the wine cisterns with drink..
Every hand went out to the abundance so laid ready.
when their lusting for food and drink had been assuaged the suitors
began to mind them of other things; of singing and dancing, those twin
glories which crown a feast The steward returned with a very
splendid lyre for Phemius, whose hap it was to play the bard for them,
under compulsion. He ran his hands over the strings, plucking out an
exquisite air, under cover of which Telemachus bent towards clear-eyed
Athene and said softly, that the company might not overhear:
stranger, will my words offend? I pray not. They now have
their minds easy for music and verse, these suitor-maggots who freely
devour another man's livelihood. Freely indeed, without let or fine!
Ah, if they did but catch a glimpse of the Master returning to Ithaca,
how they would beseech high heaven for the gift of swifter running
rather than more wealth in gold or raiment. But alas, his bones whiten
today in some field under the rain: or the swell rolls them through
the salty deep. Yea, he has perished dreadfully: nor would a glow
of hope kindle in our hearts if the wisest man on earth told us he was
coming home. The sun of his return has utterly gone down.
of this - instead, tell me, I pray you, and exactly, who you are:
of what state and stock? You came, I suspect, by ship; for I am very sure
that by dry land you found no road. But what were the sailors who put
you ashore in Ithaca, or rather, what did they profess themselves to be?
I ask all this in order to satisfy myself that you are really a newcomer,
tasting our hospitality for the first time, and not a guest entailed on
us by my father for so great a traveller was he, you know, that our house
is honoured by throngs of his acquaintance from every land..'
said the clear-eyed Goddess, ‘I will meet all these questions of yours
frankly. My name is Mentes. My father Anchialus was a noted warrior.
I am a leader of the oar-loving islanders of Taphos. I put in here with
my ship and crew on our way across the wine-dark sea to Temesa,
where we hope to barter a cargo of sparkling iron ore for the copper
of those foreign-speaking people. My ship is berthed well away from
the city, in Reithron, that lonely inlet which lies below tree-grown
our families there is a long tradition of friendship and guesting,
which father Laertes will confirm, if you ask him: though
tell me that he now comes no more to town, because of the infirmities
of his advanced years. Wherefore he buries himself in his secluded
vineyard, among his vine-stocks on their ordered terraces: up and
down which the old man drags himself, slow step after step, cherishing
the grapes, until the feebleness of age once again takes him sorely
by the knees. Then he rests, for the old woman, his sole attendant,
to wait on him with restoring meat and drink.
the reason for my present visit? Because I heard that he was back..
I mean your father: for be assured that the marvellous Odysseus has
in no wise perished off the face of the earth: though it seems the Gods
yet arrest him in mid-path of his return. And therefore (albeit I am
by trade no teller of fortunes, nor professed reader of the significance
of birds), therefore I am about to prophesy to you what the Deathless
Ones have put into my heart and made my faith: - namely, that the day of
Odysseus' coming again to his native place is near. He may
be penned within some surf-beaten islet ringed by the wide sea: or some
rude tribe of savages may hold him in durance. But only for the time.
Infallibly he will find means of escape, though they fetter him in fetters
of the purest iron. The man is fertility itself in his expedients. -Now
tell me something, plainly, as I have told you. Are you real and very
son to Odysseus, you who are so well grown of body? His head and
fine eyes you have exactly, as I remember him in our old association;
for we were much together in the days before he set out for Troy in the
hollow ships with all the chivalry of Greece; since when we have
Telemachus answered thus: ‘Indeed you shall have it very plain,
my friend.. My mother says I am his son: for myself I do not know.
Has any son of man yet been sure of his begetting? Would that I had
been the child of some ordinary parent whom old age had overtaken
in the quiet course of nature on his estate! But as it is, since you
press it, they do name me the child of that vaguest-fated of all men born
put to him one more question. ‘I think when Penelope conceived
so goodly a son it was meant that the Gods had not appointed
a nameless future for your stock. But give me the straight truth
again. What feast or rout of a feast is this which rages about us? What
part in it have you? Is it a drinking bout or some sort of marriage?
No sodality would be thus indecent. A mannered man now, entering
by chance, might well forget himself with disgust at seeing how
outrageously they make free with your house.'
Telemachus answered her again, saying, 'Stranger, since you probe
into this also and put it to me, I must confess that our house looked
to be rich and well-appointed while my father ruled it as master. But
the Gods saw fit to order it quite otherwise when they spirited him
away with an utterness beyond example. Had he plainly died I
have taken it so hardly: above all had he died with his likes on the field
of Troy in his friends' arms, after winding up the pitch of battle to its
height. For then the fellowship of Greece would have united to rear his
funerary mound and the fame of his prowess would have been (for his
son) a glorious, increasing heritage.
we have this instant vanishment into blind silence, as though the Harpies, winged Scavengers of the Wind, had whirled him into
void: and I am left weeping with pain. Nor do I weep only his pain.
The Gods have gone on to invent other evils for my count. Every man
of authority in the islands, from Doulichion, and
Same, and Zacynthos
of the woods, as well as every figure of this rugged Ithaca -all,
all, are come wooing my mother. It seems that she can neither reject
the horrible offers, out and out, nor accept any one of mem. So here
they sit, for ever eating up my substance and making havoc of the house.
Surely soon they will devour me too.'
heard him out and then said fiercely, 'A shameful tale! Here's a
crying need for Odysseus, to man-handle these graceless suitors. Would
that he might appear now in the outer gate, erect, helmeted, with
shield and two stabbing spears, the figure of a man I saw enter our
house the first time we entertained him on his way up from Ephyra. He
been down in his war-vessel to get from Ilus, son of Mermerus, some
deadly poison to smear on the bronze heads of his arrows. Ilus feared
to affront the everlasting Gods and refused him any. So it was my
carried away by the huge love he bore him, who furnished it. If only
that Odysseus we knew might today thrust in among the suitors! Indeed
their mating would be bitter and their shrift suddenly sharp. However
such things rest on the knees of the Gods, whose it is to appoint
whether he shall re-enter his halls and exact vengeance, or no.
instead I counsel you to take most earnest thought in what
way you shall by your single self expel the suitors from the house. Listen
to this plan of mine which I would urge upon you. Tomorrow assemble
all the Greek chiefs. Address them bluntly, calling the Gods to
witness how you order, firstly, that the suitors disperse, every man to his
place; and secondly, that your mother (if her nature yet inclines toward
marriage) betake herself to the palace of the mighty man her father.
It shall be for them, there, to make the new match for her, regulating
rich dues and providing such wedding festivities as befit the alliance
of a favourite daughter.
remains your personal duty, on which also I have a word to say, if you
will hear it. Get yourself a ship of twenty rowers, the very best
ship you can find. Set forth in this to seek news of your long-overdue
father. Even if no mortal tells you anything, yet who knows but
there may steal into your mind that divine prompting by which Zeus
very often gives mankind an inkling of the truth.. Go to Pylos first and
consult its revered Nestor, thence to Sparta where you will find
brown-haired Menelaus, latest of all the mail-clad
Achaeans to get back
Troy. If you learn that your father is living and has his face towards
home, then steel your temper to one more year of this afflicted house.
But if you learn that he is no more - that he is surely dead - then return
and throw up a mound to his name, with the plenishing and ceremonial
befitting a great fallen warrior: after which do you yourself give
his widow, your mother, to some man for wife.
things first. Yet also it must be your study and passion to slay these
suitors in your house, either by fair fight or by stratagem. Childishness
no longer beseems your years: you must put it away. My friend
(I wish to call you that, for you are man in frame and very man in form),
my friend, be brave, that generations not yet bom may glorify your
name. Consider young Orestes and the honour he has won in all men's
mouths by putting to death his father's murderer, the crafty blood-boltered
Aegisthus who trapped noble Agamemnon. No more -I
must back to my swift ship: its waiting crew will be grumbling because I
have delayed them all this weary while. Only a parting word - make it your
instant and main effort to do as I have said.'
Telemachus replied, 'Sir, the kindness of your advice to me has
been like a father's to his son: and I will ever gratefully remember it.
But I beg you, however urgent your business, to delay your setting out
till you have bathed and refreshed yourself. Then go to your ship, spirit-gladdened,
with a gift from me in your hand: for it shall be a worthy
gift to remind you of me always: some very beautiful treasure such as
only great friend gives to friend'
Goddess Athene, the clear-eyed, refused him. 'Do not try to-hold
me. I long to be on the way. As for this token which your friendly interest
prompts, let it be mine on the return journey when I can carry it
straight home. Choose your richest gift. It shall be matched by what I give
you in exchange' - and having so said she went, suddenly and elusively
as a sea bird goes; leaving the young man quick with ardour and
decision and more mindful of his father than ever of late. Telemachus,
as he felt this change come to his spirit, was amazed. The persuasion
took him that his visitant had been in some way divine. Accordingly
his carriage as he went once more among the suitors reflected
that audience the great singer still sang: and they sat round hanging
on the song which told of the woeful return entailed by Pallas Athene
upon such Greeks as had gone to Troy. In her upper storey, Penelope,
that most circumspect daughter of Icarius, caught rising snatches of the
minstrelsy. Her wit pieced these together into their sense. Down she
came by the high stairs from her quarters and entered the great hall:
not indeed alone, for always two waiting women closely followed her. So,
like a stately goddess among mortals, she descended upon the suitors: to
halt there where the first great pillar propped the massy roof. As veil
for her face she held up a fold of her soft wimple: and the ever
watchful maidens covered her, one on either side. Thus stood she and
wept, till she found words to address the inspired bard.
she cried, 'do you not know many other charmed songs for people's ears?
Songs in which poets have extolled the great deeds of Gods or men? Sing
one of those, here from your place in the company which will, none the
less, sit silently drinking and listening. But this lamentable tale give
over: the sorrow of it slowly melts my heart within my bosom; for you
tell of the event which has brought down upon me -me above all women —
this unappeasable pain. So continually does my memory yearn after that
dear head. O my lost hero! whose glory had spread throughout Hellas and
Argos, the very heart of the land!'
decently cut her short 'My Mother, why take it amiss that our trusty
singer should entertain us as the spirit moves him? I think it is not
poets who bring things to pass, but rather Zeus who pays out to men, the
Makers, their fates at his whim: we have no cause against Phemius for
drawing music out of the hard fate of the Danaans. A crowd ever extols
the song which sounds freshest in its ears. Harden your heart and mind
to hear this tale. Remember that Odysseus was not singular in utterly
losing at Troy the day of his return. There were others, many others,
who in the Troad lost their very selves. Wherefore I bid you get back
to your part of the house, and be busied in your proper sphere, with the
loom and the spindle, and in overseeing your maids at these, their
tasks. Speech shall be the men's care: and principally my care: for mine
is the mastery in this house.' She, astonished, went back up the stairs,
laying away in her breast this potent saying of her son's. But when she
had regained the upper storey with her serving women she began to weep
for Odysseus her lost husband, and wept until the grey-eyed Goddess
Athene cast a pitying sleep upon her eyelids.
her back the wooers broke into riot across the twilit hall, everyone
swearing aloud that his should be the luck of lying in her bed: but to
them the dispassionate Telemachus began, 'Suitors of my mother and lewd
ruffians: - tonight let us forgather and feast : but no shouting,
please, to spoil our privilege of hearing this singer with the divine
voice. Tomorrow I vote we go early to the assembly and all take seat
there. I have to unburden my soul to you formally and without stint on
the subject of your quitting this house: and to suggest that you
remember your own banqueting halls in which you may eat your own
food-stuffs and feast each other in rotation from house to house. But if
you deem it meeter and more delightful to waste the entire substance of
a solitary man, scot-free and for nothing - why men, waste away! Only I
shall pray to the Gods - the ever-lasting Gods - on the chance that Zeus
may decree acts of requital. In which case you will all be destroyed in this house, scot-free and for nothing.'
he spoke: and they curbed their lips between their teeth to contain
their astonishment at Telemachus daring to taunt them with such spirit.
At last Antinous, son of Eupeithes, undertook to reply. ‘Why,
Telemachus, those very Gods must have been giving you lessons in freedom
of speech and heady taunting! All the same I doubt Zeus ever making you
king of sea-girt Ithaca, even if that dignity does happen to be your
Telemachus with restraint, 'Antinous, take not my words against the
grain. If Zeus willed it I would assume even that charge ungrudgingly.
You imply it is the worst thing that could happen amongst us men? Let me
tell you it is not so bad a fate to be King: quickly does a royal house
grow rich, and himself amass honour. However, since the mighty Odysseus
is dead, surely this headship will fall to some one of the swarm of
kings young and old now infesting this land of Ithaca. My determination
and aims are bounded by this house -to be lord in it and over its
bond-servants whom the triumphant might of Odysseus led in from his
forays as thralls.'
son of Polybus then put in his word. ‘Telemachus, the question of
which Greek shall reign over this island lies on the lap of the Gods.
Yet assuredly you shall possess your belongings and have the lordship in
your own houses: nor against your will shall any man come and strip you
of them forcibly while Ithaca holds an inhabitant. But my good lad, let
me question you about that visitor of yours who slipped away so suddenly
that none of us had time to make him out. Yet his face was not the face
of a negligible man. Whence came he and what country gave he as his own?
Where do his kindred live and where are the corn-lands of his family?
Did he come with news of your father, or on some business of his own?'
Telemachus reassured him: 'Eurymachus, the time of my father's return is
long over. I do not now credit any messages regarding him, whatever
their source. Nor does any soothsaying take me in : though my mother may
at whiles call some noted diviner to the palace
and seek sooth of him.. As for the stranger, he is a former friend of
our family from Taphos called
Mentes, whose father was old wise-minded Anchialus.
Mentes is a man of authority among the seafaring Taphians.' So
he said: but secretly Telemachus was sure of the immortal Goddess.
the suitors turned to dance and to the enthralling song, making
merry while the evening drew down; and they celebrated until evening had
darkened into night. Then the longing for sleep took them and they
scattered, each man to the house where he lodged.
mind of Telemachus was perplexedly brooding over many things as
he also sought his bed within his own room, which was contrived in the
highest part of the main building, that stately landmark of the country-side.
Eurycleia the daughter of Ops son of Peisenor, attended him,
lighting his way with flaring slips of pine-wood - Eurycleia the trusted,
the adept, who, in the flush of her youth, had been bought by Laertes,
out of his great wealth, for the price of twenty oxen. In the house
Laertes had esteemed her even as his beloved wife, but never dared
have intercourse with her, fearing the temper of his wife. Of all the
servants it was Eurycleia who most loved Telemachus, for she had nursed
him when he was a tiny child. Accordingly it was she who lighted him
to his well-built room.
He flung open its doors and sat himself on the couch. There he pulled off his long clinging tunic, which the old woman received into her skilful hands and folded and patted into smoothness before she hung it on the clothes-peg beside his fretted, inlaid bedstead. Then she quitted the chamber, pulling-to the door after her by the silver beak which served as handle and sliding the bolt across by its leathern thong. And there Telemachus lay all night, wrapped in a choice fleece, pondering in his heart how he should compass the journey enjoined upon him by Athene.