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Everyman's Library Copyright © 1992 Homer
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To the Muse.
The anger of Poseidon.
In Poseidon's absence,
a gathering of the gods in Zeus' halls on Olympus.
Athena's plea for help for the stranded Odysseus;
Athena in the guise of Mentes visits Ithaca.
Her advice to Telemachus:
he is to confront the Ithacan elders
with the problem of the suitors
and to leave Ithaca to search
for news of his father.
Penelope's appearance among the suitors.
Her silencing of Phemius the singer.
Telemachus and the suitors:
their sharp exchange.
Telemachus and his old nurse, Eurycle¯¯a.
Muse, tell me of the man of many wiles,
the man who wandered many paths of exile
after he sacked Troy's sacred citadel.
He saw the cities-mapped the minds-of many;
and on the sea, his spirit suffered every
adversity-to keep his life intact;
to bring his comrades back. In that last task,
his will was firm and fast, and yet he failed:
he could not save his comrades. Fools, they foiled
themselves: they ate the oxen of the Sun,
the herd of Helios Hyperion;
the lord of light requited their transgression-
he took away the day of their return.
Muse, tell us of these matters. Daughter of Zeus,
my starting point is any point you choose.
All other Greeks who had been spared the steep
descent to death had reached their homes-released
from war and waves. One man alone was left,
still longing for his home, his wife, his rest.
For the commanding nymph, the brightest goddess,
Calypso, held him in her hollow grottoes:
she wanted him as husband. Even when
the wheel of years drew near his destined time-
the time the gods designed for his return
to Ithaca-he still could not depend
upon fair fortune or unfailing friends.
While other gods took pity on him, one-
Poseidon-still pursued: he preyed upon
divine Odysseus until the end,
until the exile found his own dear land.
But now Poseidon was away-his hosts,
the Ethiopians, the most remote
of men (they live in two divided parts-
half, where the sun-god sets; half, where he starts).
Poseidon, visiting the east, received
the roasted thighs of bulls and sheep. The feast
delighted him. And there he sat. But all
his fellow gods were gathered in the halls
of Zeus upon Olympus; there the father
of men and gods spoke first. His mind upon
the versatile Aegisthus-whom the son
of Agamemnon, famed Orestes, killed-
he shared this musing with the deathless ones:
"Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves-in their depravity-design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.
So did Aegisthus act when he transgressed
the boundaries that fate and reason set.
He took the lawful wife of Agamemnon;
and when the son of Atreus had come back,
Aegisthus murdered him-although he knew
how steep was that descent. For we'd sent Hermes,
our swiftest, our most keen-eyed emissary,
to warn against that murder and adultery:
'Orestes will avenge his father when,
his manhood come, he claims his rightful land.'
Hermes had warned him as one warns a friend.
And yet Aegisthus' will could not be swayed.
Now, in one stroke, all that he owes is paid."
Athena, gray-eyed goddess, answered Zeus:
"Our father, Cronos' son, you, lord of lords,
Aegisthus died the death that he deserved.
May death like his strike all who ape his sins.
But brave Odysseus' fate does break my heart:
long since, in misery he suffers, far
from friends, upon an island in the deep-
a site just at the navel of the sea.
And there, upon that island rich in trees,
a goddess has her home: the fair-haired daughter
of Atlas the malevolent (who knows
the depths of every sea, for he controls
the giant column holding earth and sky
apart). Calypso, Atlas' daughter, keeps
the sad Odysseus there-although he weeps.
Her words are fond and fragrant, sweet and soft-
so she would honey him to cast far off
his Ithaca; but he would rather die
than live the life of one denied the sight
of smoke that rises from his homeland's hearths.
Are you, Olympus' lord, not moved by this?
Was not Odysseus your favorite
when, on the spacious plain of Troy, beside
the Argive ships, he sacrificed to you?
What turned your fondness into malice, Zeus?"
Zeus, shepherd of the clouds, replied: "My daughter,
how can the barrier of your teeth permit
such speech to cross your lips? Can I forget
godlike Odysseus, most astute of men,
whose offerings were so unstinting when
he sacrificed to the undying gods,
the masters of vast heaven? Rest assured.
Only Poseidon, lord whose chariot runs
beneath the earth, is furious-it was
Odysseus who deprived the grandest Cyclops,
the godlike Polyphemus, of his eye.
(Thoosa-nymph whose father, Phorcys, keeps
a close watch on the never-resting deep-
gave birth to that huge Cyclops after she
had lain in her deep sea-cave with Poseidon.)
And ever since his son was gouged, the god
who makes earth tremble, though he does not kill
Odysseus, will not let him end his exile.
But now we all must think of his return-
of how to bring him home again. Poseidon
will set aside his anger; certainly
he cannot have his way, for he is only
one god against us all, and we are many." NNN
Athena, gray-eyed goddess, answered him:
"Our father, Cronos' son, you, lord of lords,
if now the blessed gods indeed would end
the wanderings of Odysseus, let us send
the keen-eyed Hermes to Calypso's isle,
Ogy´gia. Let him there at once declare
to her, the goddess with the lovely hair,
our undeniable decree: Steadfast
Odysseus is to find his homeward path.
But I shall make my way to Ithaca
at once, to give his son the strength to summon
the long-haired Ithacans; when they assemble
he can denounce-and scatter-all the suitors:
they are forever slaughtering his sheep,
his shambling oxen with their curving horns.
Then off to sandy Pylos and to Sparta
I'll send him to seek tidings of his father's
return; he may yet hear some hopeful word-
and men will then commend him for his search."
That said, Athena fastened on fine sandals:
these-golden, everlasting-carried her
with swift winds over seas and endless lands.
The goddess took her bronze-tipped battle lance,
heavy and huge and solid; with this shaft,
she-daughter of so great a force-can smash
the ranks of warriors who've earned her wrath.
One leap-and from Olympus' peaks she reached
the land of Ithaca. She stood before
Odysseus' door, the threshold of his court.
She gripped the bronze-tipped shaft, and taking on
the likeness of a stranger, she became
lord Mentes, chieftain of the Taphians.
She found the braggart suitors at the gate.
Delighting in their dicing, they reclined
on hides of oxen they themselves had skinned-
with pages and attendants serving them,
some mixing wine and water in wide bowls,
while others washed the tables down with sponges
and readied them for food, and others still
stacked meat in heaps on platters-high and full.
The very first to notice Mentes' presence
was young Telemachus. He-sad, morose-
sat with the suitors. In his reverie,
he saw his sturdy father-would that he,
returning suddenly, might banish these
intruders from his palace and restore
the rights and rule that had been his before.
Such was the sadness of Telemachus,
alone among the suitors, till he saw
Athena; he rushed toward the outer door,
ashamed that none had gone to greet the stranger.
He drew near, clasped her right hand, even as
his left relieved her of the heavy lance.
And when he spoke, his words were like winged shafts:
"My greetings, stranger. Welcome to our feast.
Eat first-and then do tell us what you seek."
He led the way; Athena followed him.
Once they were in the high-roofed hall, he placed
her lance against a column at whose base
a polished rack, with slots for spears, was set;
within that rack there stood still other shafts,
the many spears that brave Odysseus left.
He led the stranger to a tall chair, wrought
with care; across its frame he spread rich cloth.
There he invited her to sit and rest
her feet upon a stool; and he himself
sat nearby, on another well-carved chair,
set far off from the suitors, lest his guest,
in all that brouhaha, might look askance
at feasting with such overbearing men-
and, too, because he wanted so to gather
what news he could about his distant father.
That they might wash their hands, a servant poured
fresh water from a lovely golden jug
into a silver basin; at their side
she placed a polished table. The old housewife
was generous: she drew on lavish stores;
to each of them she offered much and more.
The carver offered meats of every sort,
and for their wine he set out golden cups;
and these-again, again-a page filled up.
But then the suitors swaggered in; they sat,
in order, on low seats and high-backed chairs.
The pages poured fresh water for their hands,
and servants brought them baskets heaped with bread.
The suitors' hands reached out. The feast was theirs.
When they had had their fill of food and drink,
the feasters felt the need for chant and dance-
at banquets, these are pleasing ornaments.
A steward now consigned a handsome harp
into the hands of Phemius, who was forced,
from time to time, to entertain those lords.
He struck the strings, and music graced his words.
Then, as Telemachus turned toward his guest,
lest he be overheard, he held his head
close to the gray-eyed goddess-and he said:
"Dear guest, will you be vexed at what I say?
This harping and this chant delight these men,
for all these goods come easily to them:
they feed-but never need to recompense.
They feast at the expense of one whose white
bones, surely, either rot beneath the rain,
unburied and abandoned on the land,
or else are preyed upon by churning waves.
Yet, were Odysseus to return, were they
to see him here again, they would not pray
for gold or richer clothes-just faster feet.
But he has died by now, died wretchedly;
and nothing can console us now, not even
if some man on this earth should say my father
will yet return. The day of his homecoming
is lost: it is a day we'll never see.
But tell me one thing-tell me honestly:
Who are you? Of what father were you born?
Where is your city, where your family?
On what ship did you sail? Why did that crew
bring you to Ithaca? And who were they?
For surely you did not come here on foot!
And also tell me truthfully-is this
the first time you have come to Ithaca,
or have you been my father's guest before?
For many other foreigners have come
to visit us-like you, my father knew
the ways of many men and many lands."
Athena, gray-eyed goddess, answered him:
"My words to you are true: I'm Mentes, son
of wise Anchialus; the Taphians,
tenacious oarsmen, are the men I rule.
Now I have landed here with ship and crew;
we cross the winedark sea toward Temese-
all this in search of copper. What we stow
is gleaming iron, which we're set to barter.
Outside the city, moored in Rhe¯¯thron's harbor,
close to the fields, beneath Mount Neion's forest,
my ship is waiting. Years ago, your father
and mine were guests and friends. (Just ask the brave
Laertes-though they say he shuns the city;
it seems that now he much prefers to grieve
far off, alone, except for one old servant.
She, when his body aches from the hard climb
he makes, from slope to slope, to tend his vines,
still carries food and drink right to his side.)
"Now I have come-for I had heard indeed
that he, your father, had returned. Surely
it is the gods who now obstruct his journey.
For bright Odysseus has not died upon
this earth: he is alive somewhere, delayed
upon an island set among vast waves,
held by harsh savages, against his will.
I am no augur or interpreter
of flights of birds, but now I shall foretell-
even as the immortals prompt my soul-
events my mind can see: Your father will
not be kept back from his dear land much longer,
though they may bind him fast in iron chains;
he is a man of many wiles, who can
contrive the way to reach his home again.
But you-do tell me now with honesty:
Are you, so tall, indeed Odysseus' son?
Your head and handsome eyes resemble his
extraordinarily; we two had met
quite often in the days before he left
for Troy, where others, too-the Argives' best-
sailed in their hollow ships. But since then I
have not seen him, and he has not seen me."
Telemachus' reply was keen and wise:
"Dear friend, I cannot be more frank than this.
My mother says I am his son, but none
can know for sure the seed from which he's sprung.
In any case, would I had been the son
of one so blessed that he grew old among
his own belongings. I, instead, am born-
or so they say-of one who surely was
the most forsaken man, the most forlorn.
Now you have had and heard my full response.&
Excerpted from The Odyssey by Homer Copyright © 1992 by Homer. Excerpted by permission.
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