no one could whip this out of me. I’ll be
a woman turned to stone, iron I’ll be.
And let me tell you too—mind now—if god
cuts down the arrogant suitors by your hand,
I can report to you on all the maids,
those who dishonor you, and the innocent.”
But in response the great tactician said:
“Nurse, no need to tell me tales of these.
I will have seen them, each one, for myself.
Trust in the gods, be quiet, hold your peace.”
Silent, the old nurse went to fetch more water,
her basin being all spilt.
When she had washed
and rubbed his feet with golden oil, he turned,
dragging his bench again to the fire side
for warmth, and hid the scar under his rags.
Penélopê broke the silence, saying:
allow me one brief question more. You know,
the time for bed, sweet rest, is coming soon,
if only that warm luxury of slumber
would come to enfold us, in our trouble. But for me
my fate at night is anguish and no rest.
By day being busy, seeing to my work,
I find relief sometimes from loss and sorrow;
but when night comes and all the world’s abed
I lie in mine alone, my heart thudding,
while bitter thoughts and fears crowd on my grief.
Think, how Pandáreos’13 daughter, pale forever,
sings as the nightingale in the new leaves
through those long quiet hours of night,
on some thick-flowering orchard bough in spring;
how she rills out and tilts her note, high now, now low,
mourning for Itylos whom she killed in madness—
her child, and her lord Zêthos’ only child.
My forlorn thought flows variable as her song,
wondering: shall I stay beside my son
and guard my own things here, my maids, my hall,
to honor my lord’s bed and the common talk?
Or had I best join fortunes with a suitor,
the noblest one, most lavish in his gifts?
Is it now time for that?
In this version of the nightingale myth, Aedon (daughter of Pandáreos and wife of Zêthos)
was metamorphosed into a nightingale, through the compassion of Zeus, after she had killed
her only son, Itylos, by mistake. She had intended to kill the eldest son of Niobe, her sister-
in-law, who had aroused her jealousy by having so many children.
/ The Odyssey, Book Nineteen
05_273-611_Homer 2/Aesop 7/10/00 1:25 PM Page 533
My son being still a callow boy forbade
marriage, or absence from my lord’s domain;
but now the child is grown, grown up, a man,
he, too, begins to pray for my departure,
aghast at all the suitors gorge on.
interpret me this dream: From a water’s edge
twenty fat geese have come to feed on grain
beside my house. And I delight to see them.
But now a mountain eagle with great wings
and crooked beak storms in to break their necks
and strew their bodies here. Away he soars
into the bright sky; and I cry aloud—
all this in dream—I wail and round me gather
softly braided Akhaian women mourning
because the eagle killed my geese.
out of the sky he drops to a cornice beam
with mortal voice telling me not to weep.
‘Be glad,’ says he, ‘renowned Ikários’ daughter:
here is no dream but something real as day,
something about to happen. All those geese
were suitors, and the bird was I. See now,
I am no eagle but your lord come back
to bring inglorious death upon them all!’
As he said this, my honeyed slumber left me.
Peering through half-shut eyes, I saw the geese
in hall, still feeding at the self-same trough.”
The master of subtle ways and straight replied:
“My dear, how can you choose to read the dream
differently? Has not Odysseus himself
shown you what is to come? Death to the suitors,
sure death, too. Not one escapes his doom.”
Penélopê shook her head and answered:
many and many a dream is mere confusion,
a cobweb of no consequence at all.
Two gates for ghostly dreams there are: one gateway
of honest horn, and one of ivory.
Issuing by the ivory gate are dreams
of glimmering illusion, fantasies,
but those that come through solid polished horn
may be borne out, if mortals only know them.
I doubt it came by horn, my fearful dream—
too good to be true, that, for my son and me.
But one thing more I wish to tell you: listen
carefully. It is a black day, this that comes.
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Odysseus’ house and I are to be parted.
I shall decree a contest for the day.
We have twelve axe heads. In his time, my lord
could line them up, all twelve, at intervals
like a ship’s ribbing; then he’d back away
a long way off and whip an arrow through.
Now I’ll impose this trial on the suitors.
The one who easily handles and strings the bow
and shoots through all twelve axes I shall marry,
whoever he may be—then look my last
on this my first love’s beautiful brimming house.
But I’ll remember, though I dream it only.”
“Dear honorable lady,
wife of Odysseus Laërtiadês,
let there be no postponement of the trial.
Odysseus, who knows the shifts of combat,
will be here: aye, he’ll be here long before
one of these lads can stretch or string that bow
or shoot to thread the iron!”
Grave and wise,
“If you were willing
to sit with me and comfort me, my friend,
no tide of sleep would ever close my eyes.
But mortals cannot go forever sleepless.
This the undying gods decree for all
who live and die on earth, kind furrowed earth.
Upstairs I go, then, to my single bed,
my sighing bed, wet with so many tears
after my Lord Odysseus took ship
to see that misery at Ilion, unspeakable.
Let me rest there, you here. You can stretch out
on the bare floor, or else command a bed.”
So she went up to her chamber softly lit,
accompanied by her maids. Once there, she wept
for Odysseus, her husband, till Athena
cast sweet sleep upon her eyes.
BOOK TWENTY: SIGNS AND A VISION
Outside in the entry way he made his bed—
raw oxhide spread on level ground, and heaped up
fleeces, left from sheep the Akhaians killed.
/ The Odyssey, Book Twenty
05_273-611_Homer 2/Aesop 7/10/00 1:25 PM Page 535
And when he had lain down, Eur´ynomê
flung out a robe to cover him. Unsleeping
the Lord Odysseus lay, and roved in thought
to the undoing of his enemies.
Now came a covey of women
laughing as they slipped out, arm in arm,
as many a night before, to the suitors’ beds;
and anger took him like a wave to leap
into their midst and kill them, every one—
or should he let them all go hot to bed
one final night? His heart cried out within him
the way a brach1 with whelps between her legs
would howl and bristle at a stranger—so
the hackles of his heart rose at that laughter.
Knocking his breast he muttered to himself:
“Down; be steady. You’ve seen worse, that time
the Kyklops like a rockslide ate your men
while you looked on. Nobody, only guile,
got you out of that cave alive.”
held hard in leash, submitted to his mind,
while he himself rocked, rolling from side to side,
as a cook turns a sausage, big with blood
and fat, at a scorching blaze, without a pause,
to broil it quick: so he rolled left and right,
casting about to see how he, alone,
against the false outrageous crowd of suitors
could press the fight.
And out of the night sky
Athena came to him; out of the nearby dark
in body like a woman; came and stood
over his head to chide him:
“Why so wakeful,
most forlorn of men? Here is your home,
there lies your lady; and your son is here,
as fine as one could wish a son to be.”
Odysseus looked up and answered:
goddess, that much is true; but still
I have some cause to fret in this affair.
I am one man; how can I whip those dogs?
They are always here in force. Neither
is that the end of it, there’s more to come.
Female dog; bitch.
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If by the will of Zeus and by your will
I killed them all, where could I go for safety?
Tell me that!”
And the grey-eyed goddess said:
“Your touching faith! Another man would trust
some villainous mortal, with no brains—and what
am I? Your goddess-guardian to the end
in all your trials. Let it be plain as day:
if fifty bands of men surrounded us
and every sword sang for your blood,
you could make off still with their cows and sheep.
Now you, too, go to sleep. This all night vigil
wearies the flesh. You’ll come out soon enough
on the other side of trouble.”
sleep on his eyes, the beautiful one was gone
back to Olympos. Now at peace, the man
slumbered and lay still, but not his lady.
Wakeful again with all her cares, reclining
in the soft bed, she wept and cried aloud
until she had had her fill of tears, then spoke
in prayer first to Artemis:
divine lady Artemis, daughter of Zeus,
if you could only make an end now quickly,
let the arrow fly, stop my heart,
or if some wind could take me by the hair
up into running cloud, to plunge in tides of Ocean,
as hurricane winds took Pandáreos’ daughters
when they were left at home alone. The gods
had sapped their parents’ lives. But Aphroditê
fed those children honey, cheese, and wine,
and Hêra gave them looks and wit, and Artemis,
pure Artemis, gave lovely height, and wise
Athena made them practised in her arts—
till Aphroditê in glory walked on Olympos,
begging for each a happy wedding day
from Zeus, the lightning’s joyous king, who knows
all fate of mortals, fair and foul—
but even at that hour the cyclone winds
had ravished them away
to serve the loathsome Furies.
Pandáreos stole a statue from a temple of Zeus; after the death of Pandáreos, his three
daughters (Aedon and two of her sisters), though pitied by the greatest of the goddesses, were
carried away by the Furies, the avengers of the father’s wickedness. This story differs from the
one in Book XIX, in which Aedon was changed into a nightingale.
/ The Odyssey, Book Twenty
05_273-611_Homer 2/Aesop 7/10/00 1:25 PM Page 537
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Let me be
blown out by the Olympians! Shot by Artemis,
I still might go and see amid the shades
Odysseus in the rot of underworld.
No coward’s eye should light by my consenting!
Evil may be endured when our days pass
in mourning, heavy-hearted, hard beset,
if only sleep reign over nighttime, blanketing
the world’s good and evil from our eyes.
But not for me: dreams too my demon sends me.
Tonight the image of my lord came by
as I remember him with troops. O strange
exultation! I thought him real, and not a dream.”
Now as the Dawn appeared all stitched in gold,
the queen’s cry reached Odysseus at his waking,
so that he wondered, half asleep: it seemed
she knew him, and stood near him! Then he woke
and picked his bedding up to stow away
on a chair in the mégaron. The oxhide pad
he took outdoors. There, spreading wide his arms,
“O Father Zeus, if over land and water,
after adversity, you willed to bring me home,
let someone in the waking house give me good augury,
and a sign be shown, too, in the outer world.”
He prayed thus, and the mind of Zeus in heaven
heard him. He thundered out of bright Olympos
down from above the cloudlands, in reply—
a rousing peal for Odysseus. Then a token
came to him from a woman grinding flour
in the court nearby. His own handmills were there,
and twelve maids had the job of grinding out
whole grain and barley meal, the pith of men.
Now all the rest, their bushels ground, were sleeping;
one only, frail and slow, kept at it still.
She stopped, stayed her hand, and her lord heard
the omen from her lips:
“Ah, Father Zeus
almighty over gods and men!
A great bang of thunder that was, surely,
out of the starry sky, and not a cloud in sight.
It is your nod to someone. Hear me, then,
make what I say come true:
let this day be the last the suitors feed
so dainty in Odysseus’ hall!
They’ve made me work my heart out till I drop,
grinding barley. May they feast no more!”
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The servant’s prayer, after the cloudless thunder
of Zeus, Odysseus heard with lifting heart,
sure in his bones that vengeance was at hand.
Then other servants, wakening, came down
to build and light a fresh fire at the hearth.
Telémakhos, clear-eyed as a god, awoke,
put on his shirt and belted on his sword,
bound rawhide sandals under his smooth feet,
and took his bronze-shod lance. He came and stood
on the broad sill of the doorway, calling Eur´ykleia:
“Nurse, dear Nurse, how did you treat our guest?
Had he a supper and a good bed? Has he lain
uncared for still? My mother is like that,
perverse for all her cleverness:
she’d entertain some riff-raff, and turn out
a solid man.”
The old nurse answered him:
“I would not be so quick to accuse her, child.
He sat and drank here while he had a mind to;
food he no longer hungered for, he said—
for she did ask him. When he thought of sleeping,
she ordered them to make a bed. Poor soul!
Poor gentleman! So humble and so miserable,
he would accept no bed with rugs to lie on,
but slept on sheepskins and a raw oxhide
in the entry way. We covered him ourselves.”
Telémakhos left the hall, hefting his lance,
with two swift flickering hounds for company,
to face the island Akhaians in the square;
and gently born Eur´ykleia, the daughter
of Ops Peisenóridês, called to the maids:
“Bestir yourselves! you have your brooms, go sprinkle
the rooms and sweep them, robe the chairs in red,
sponge off the tables till they shine.
Wash out the winebowls and two-handled cups.
You others go fetch water from the spring;
no loitering; come straight back. Our company
will be here soon; morning is sure to bring them;
everyone has a holiday today.”
The women ran to obey her—twenty girls
off to the spring with jars for dusky water,
the rest at work inside. Then tall woodcutters
entered to split up logs for the hearth fire,
The day is a special festival.
/ The Odyssey, Book Twenty
05_273-611_Homer 2/Aesop 7/10/00 1:25 PM Page 539
the water carriers returned; and on their heels
arrived the swineherd, driving three fat pigs,
chosen among his pens. In the wide court
he let them feed, and said to Odysseus kindly:
“Friend, are they more respectful of you now,
or still insulting you?”
“The young men, yes. And may the gods requite
those insolent puppies for the game they play
in a home not their own. They have no decency.”
During this talk, Melánthios the goatherd
came in, driving goats for the suitors’ feast,
with his two herdsmen. Under the portico
they tied the animals, and Melánthios
looked at Odysseus with a sneer. Said he:
I see you mean to stay and turn our stomachs
begging in this hall. Clear out, why don’t you?
Or will you have to taste a bloody beating
before you see the point? Your begging ways
nauseate everyone. There are feasts elsewhere.”
Odysseus answered not a word, but grimly
shook his head over his murderous heart.
A third man came up now: Philoítios
the cattle foreman, with an ox behind him
and fat goats for the suitors. Ferrymen
had brought these from the mainland, as they bring
travellers, too—whoever comes along.
Philoítios tied the beasts under the portico
and joined the swineherd.
“Who is this,” he said,
“Who is the new arrival at the manor?
Akhaian? or what else does he claim to be?
Where are his family and fields of home?
Down on his luck, all right: carries himself like a captain.
How the immortal gods can change and drag us down
once they begin to spin dark days for us!—
Kings and commanders, too.”
Then he stepped over
and took Odysseus by the right hand, saying:
“Welcome, Sir. May good luck lie ahead
at the next turn. Hard times you’re having, surely.
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O Zeus! no god is more berserk in heaven
if gentle folk, whom you yourself begot,
you plunge in grief and hardship without mercy!
Sir, I began to sweat when I first saw you,
and tears came to my eyes, remembering
Odysseus: rags like these he may be wearing
somewhere on his wanderings now—
I mean, if he’s alive still under the sun.
But if he’s dead and in the house of Death,
I mourn Odysseus. He entrusted cows to me
in Kephallênia,5 when I was knee high,
and now his herds are numberless, no man else
ever had cattle multiply like grain.
But new men tell me I must bring my beeves
to feed them, who care nothing for our prince,
fear nothing from the watchful gods. They crave
partition of our lost king’s land and wealth.
My own feelings keep going round and round
upon this tether: can I desert the boy
by moving, herds and all, to another country,
a new life among strangers? Yet it’s worse
to stay here, in my old post, herding cattle
I’d have gone long since,
gone, taken service with another king; this shame
is no more to be borne; but I keep thinking
my own lord, poor devil, still might come
and make a rout of suitors in his hall.”
Odysseus, with his mind on action, answered:
“Herdsman, I make you out to be no coward
and no fool: I can see that for myself.
So let me tell you this. I swear by Zeus
all highest, by the table set for friends,
and by your king’s hearthstone to which I’ve come,
Odysseus will return. You’ll be on hand
to see, if you care to see it,
how those who lord it here will be cut down.”
The cowman said:
“Would god it all came true!
You’d see the fight that’s in me!”
echoed him, and invoked the gods, and prayed
that his great-minded master should return.
4To say that Zeus was their father was a way of describing great leaders.
5A large island near Ithaka; modern Cephalonia.
/ The Odyssey, Book Twenty
05_273-611_Homer 2/Aesop 7/10/00 1:25 PM Page 541
While these three talked, the suitors in the field
had come together plotting—what but death
for Telémakhos?—when from the left an eagle
crossed high with a rockdove in his claws.
Amphínomos got up. Said he, cutting them short:
“Friends, no luck lies in that plan for us,
knifing the lad. Let’s think of feasting.”
A grateful thought, they felt, and walking on
entered the great hall of the hero Odysseus,
where they all dropped their cloaks on chairs or couches
and made a ritual slaughter, knifing sheep,
fat goats and pigs, knifing the grass-fed steer.
Then tripes were broiled and eaten. Mixing bowls
were filled with wine. The swineherd passed out cups,
Philoítios, chief cowherd, dealt the loaves
into the panniers, Melánthios poured wine,
and all their hands went out upon the feast.
Telémakhos placed his father to advantage
just at the door sill of the pillared hall,
setting a stool there and a sawed-off table,
gave him a share of tripes, poured out his wine
in a golden cup, and said:
“Stay here, sit down
to drink with our young friends. I stand between you
and any cutting word or cuffing hand
from any suitor. Here is no public house
but the old home of Odysseus, my inheritance.
Hold your tongues then, gentlemen, and your blows,
and let no wrangling start, no scuffle either.”
The others, disconcerted, bit their lips
at the ring in the young man’s voice. Antínoös,
Eupeithês’ son, turned round to them and said:
“It goes against the grain, my lords, but still
I say we take this hectoring by Telémakhos.
You know Zeus balked at it, or else
we might have shut his mouth a long time past,
the silvery speaker.”
paid no heed to what Antínoös said.
6The bird’s appearance on the left is an ill omen.
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