HOMER
ODYSSEY

 

Translated by Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada.
Revised Edition 2019

 

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For a Rich Text Format Version of the entire Odyssey, please use the following link: Odyssey [RTF]

 

BOOK FOURTEEN
ODYSSEUS MEETS EUMAEUS

[Odysseus leaves the harbour and moves inland to the farm of Eumaeus, the swineherd; Eumaeus welcomes Odysseus and prepares a meal for him; Eumaeus talks about his absent master; Odysseus assures Eumaeus that his master will return, but Eumaeus does not believe him; Odysseus tells Eumaeus a long made-up story about his identity and his adventures in Egypt and elsewhere, telling him he heard news of Odysseus’s return; Eumaeus still does not believe him; the other swineherds arrive; Eumaeus prepares a sacrifice and another meal; Odysseus tells another story about an incident in the Trojan War; Eumaeus prepares a bed for Odysseus, then goes outside to guard the boars.]

Odysseus left the harbour, taking the rough path
into the woods and across the hills, to the place
where Athena told him he would meet the swineherd,
who was, of all the servants lord Odysseus had,
the one who took greatest care of his possessions.
He found him sitting in the front part of his home,
a built-up courtyard with a wide extensive view,
a large, handsome place, with cleared land all around it.
The swineherd built it by himself to house the pigs,
property belonging to his absent master.                                                10
He had not told his mistress or old Laertes.
He made it from huge stones, with a thorn hedge on top                            [10]
and surrounded on the outside with close-set stakes
facing both directions, made by splitting oaks trees
to leave the dark heart of the wood. Inside the yard,
to hold in the pigs, he packed twelve sties together.
In each of these fifty wallowing swine were penned,
sows for breeding. The boars, in a much smaller group,
stayed outside. The feasting of the noble suitors
kept their numbers low, for the swineherd always sent                        20
the finest of all fattened hogs for them to eat.
There were three hundred and sixty boars there—four dogs,                      [20]
fierce as wild animals, always crouched beside them.
These the swineherd, a splendid man, had raised himself.
He was trimming off a piece of coloured ox-hide,
shaping sandals for his feet. Three of his fellows
had gone off, herding pigs in different places.
He had had to send a fourth man to the city,
taking a boar to be butchered for the suitors,
so they could feast on meat, as much as they desired.                          30

All of a sudden, the dogs observed Odysseus.
They howled and ran at him, barking furiously.                                              [30]
Odysseus was alert enough to drop his staff
and sit. Still, he could have been severely injured
in his own farmyard, but the swineherd ran up fast
right behind them, dropping the leather in his hands.
Hurrying through the gate and shouting at his dogs,
he scattered them in a hail of stones here and there.
Then he spoke out to his master, saying:

                                                            “Old man,
those dogs would’ve ripped at you in no time,                            40
and then you would’ve heaped the blame on me.
Well, I’ve got other troubles from the gods,
things to grieve about. For as I stay here,
raising fat pigs for other men to eat,
I’m full of sorrow for my noble master,                                                    [40]
who’s probably going hungry someplace else,
as he wanders through the lands and cities
where men speak a foreign tongue, if, in fact,
he’s still alive, looking at the sunlight.
But follow me, old man. Come in the hut.                                   50
When you have had enough to eat and drink
and your heart’s satisfied, you can tell me
where you come from, what hardships you’ve endured.”

With these words, the loyal swineherd entered the hut,
brought Odysseus in, and invited him to sit,
after piling some leafy twigs and, over them,
spreading out the rough shaggy skin of a wild goat,                                         [50]
the large and hairy hide which covered his own bed.
Odysseus was glad to get this hospitality,
so he addressed the swineherd, saying:

                                                       “Stranger,                                 60
may Zeus and other gods who live forever
give what you truly want—you’ve welcomed me
with such an open heart.”

                                 Then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you answered him and said:(1)

                              “It would be wrong,
stranger, for me to disrespect a guest,
even if one worse off than you arrived,
for every guest and beggar comes from Zeus,
and any gift from people like ourselves,
though small, is welcome. It’s the fate of slaves
to always fear young masters who control them.                         70    [60]
The gods are holding up the journey home
of the man who would have loved me kindly
and given me possessions of my own,
a home, a plot of land, a wedded wife
worthy of being wooed by many suitors,
the sorts of things a generous master gives
a servant who has toiled so hard for him,
whose work the gods have helped to thrive and grow,
the way the tasks I put my mind to here
have prospered. If my master was at home                                  80
and growing old, he would have given me
so many presents. But he has perished.
How I wish all of Helen’s relatives
had been knocked to their knees and lost their lives—
for she brought death to many fighting men.
He went to Troy, famous for its horses,                                                  [70]
to carry out revenge for Agamemnon
by fighting Trojans.”

                                                          After saying this,
Eumaeus quickly cinched the belt around his tunic,
left the hut for the pens where the young pigs were held,                    90
selected two from there, brought them in, and killed them.
He singed and cut them up, then skewered them on spits.
When they were completely roasted, he picked them up
and, without taking out the spits, brought them, still hot,
over to Odysseus. On top of them he spread
white barley meal. Then in a bowl of ivy wood
he mixed wine sweet as honey. That done, he sat down
opposite Odysseus, inviting him to dine:

“Eat now, stranger, what a servant offers,                                              [80]
meat from a young pig, for the suitors take                                 100
the fatted hogs. Their hearts have no compassion,
and they never think about gods’ anger.
The truth is this—the blessed gods don’t love
men’s reckless acts. No. They honour justice
and men’s righteousness. Even enemies
with cruel intentions can invade the lands
of someone else, and Zeus awards them spoils.
They fill their ships and then sail off for home.
And even in the hearts of men like these
falls a great fear of vengeance from the gods.                              110
But these suitors here, I think, know something—
they have heard a voice from one of the gods
about my master’s painful death. That’s why                                         [90]
they do not wish to have a proper courtship
or to go back to their homes. Instead,
without a care they waste our property
in all their insolence, sparing nothing.
For every day and night Zeus sends, they kill
our animals, and not just one or two,
and, with their arrogance, they draw our wine,                           120
taking what they want—sometimes even more.
My master used to be a man of substance,
beyond all measure. No warrior hero
in Ithaca itself or on the mainland
possessed what he did. Twenty men combined
did not have so much wealth. I’ll tell you this—
on the mainland he’s got twelve cattle herds,                                       [100]
as many flocks of sheep and droves of pigs
and wide-ranging herds of goats, all of these
tended by foreign herdsmen or his own.                                      130
And here, on the edges of this island,
graze roaming herds of goats, eleven in all,
with loyal servants guarding every one.
To supply the suitors, all these herdsmen
keep bringing in more creatures from their flocks,
the fattest ones which seem to them the best.
That always happens, each and every day.
As for me, I protect and raise these pigs.
I choose with care and then deliver them
the finest of the boars.”

                                                    Eumaeus finished.                                140
Meanwhile Odysseus eagerly devoured the meat
and drank the wine in silence. He was ravenous.                                               [110]
He was also sowing troubles for the suitors.
Once he had eaten his heart’s fill and had enough,
Eumaeus filled the bowl from which he drank himself
and gave it to him full of wine. Odysseus took it,
rejoicing in his heart, and spoke winged words to him:

“My friend, who was the man who used his wealth
to purchase you? Was he rich and powerful,
as you’ve just said? You claim he was destroyed                          150
helping Agamemnon get his revenge.
Tell me. I may know him, a man like that.
Zeus and the rest of the immortal gods
know if I’ve seen him or heard any news.
For I’ve been travelling a lot.”                                                                       [120]

                                              Then Eumaeus,
a worthy man, answered him and said:

                                                      “Old man,
no wanderer who came with news of him
could convince his wife or his dear son.
Men who roam about, when they need a meal,
have no desire to speak the truth—they lie.                                160
Whoever moves around and reaches here,
this land of Ithaca, goes to my mistress
with some made-up tale. She receives him well,
with hospitality, and questions him
about each detail. Then she starts to grieve,
and tears fall from her eyes, as is fitting
when a woman’s husband dies far away.                                               [130]
You too, old man, would make up a story
quickly enough, if someone offered you
a cloak and tunic—you need clothes to wear.                              170
But by this time swift birds and dogs have ripped
the flesh from off his bones, and his spirit
has slipped away. Or else fish in the sea
have eaten him, and now his bones remain
somewhere on the shore, buried in deep sand.
Anyway, he died out there. From now on,
it is the fate of all his friends to grieve,
especially me—however far I go,
I’ll never come across another man
who could match him as a gentle master,                                    180
not even if I went back home again
to where my mother and my father live,                                                  [140]
where I was born, where they reared me themselves.
I don’t mourn for them so much, though I yearn
for these eyes of mine once more to see them
and be in my own native land again.
What grips me is a longing for Odysseus,
who is gone. Even though he is not here,
stranger, I speak his name with full respect.
His love for me was great, and in his heart                                   190
he cared. So although he may be absent,
I call him my dear master.”

                                                               Odysseus,
that resourceful man, answered him and said:

                                            “My friend,
since you are so firm in your denials,
when you declare he’ll not come home again,
and your heart always clings to this belief,                                                     [150]
I won’t tell you Odysseus will return—
no, I’ll take an oath on it. When he comes,
when he gets back home, give me my reward
for my good news—let me have fine clothing,                              200
a cloak and tunic. Until that moment,
there’s nothing I’ll accept, despite my need.
For just as I despise the gates of Hades,
I hate the man who, in his poverty,
tells stories which are lies. So now let Zeus,
the first of gods, this welcoming table,
and the hearth of excellent Odysseus,
which I have reached, let them all bear witness—
everything will happen the way I say—                                                           [160]
Odysseus will return within a month,                                                210
between the waning and the rising moons.
He’ll get back home and take out his revenge
on anyone here who has not honoured
his wife and noble son.”

                                     Then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you gave him your reply and said:

                                                          “Old man,
I won’t be rewarding you for that good news.
Odysseus won’t be coming back. Drink up—
and relax. Now, let’s talk of something else.
I don’t want to remember all those things.
The heart here in my chest fills up with grief,                             220
whenever someone mentions my good master.                                  [170]
So let’s forget about your oath. I wish
Odysseus would come home—that’s what I want.
So does Penelope, Laertes, too,
the old man, and noble Telemachus.
Right now I’m always grieving for the boy,
the child Odysseus had, Telemachus.
Immortal gods reared him like a sapling,
and, as a man, I thought he’d be a match
for his dear father, with a splendid shape                                         230
and handsome. But one of the immortals
warped his better judgment—perhaps it was
some mortal being. He’s gone on a trip
to sacred Pylos to learn any news
about his father. Now noble suitors                                                                 [180]
lie in wait for him on his voyage home.
And so the race of brave Arceisius
will die without a name in Ithaca.(2)
But let’s just let him be—they may get him,
or they may fail, if the son of Cronos                                                  240
holds out his hand to guard him. But come now,
old man, describe for me what you’ve been through.
Give me the truth, so I clearly understand—
Who are you among men? Where are you from?
Where is your city? Who are your parents?
On what kind of ship did you travel here?
How did sailors bring you to Ithaca?
Who did they claim they were? For I don’t think                                      [190]
you reached this place on foot.”

                                       Resourceful Odysseus
then answered Eumaeus and said:

                                                             “All right,                             250
I’ll tell you the truth of what you’ve asked me.
I wish we two had food and honey wine
to last a while, so we could feast in peace
inside your hut, while others did the work.
I could easily go on for one whole year
and never finish talking of those things
my heart has suffered, all the miseries
I’ve endured, thanks to what the gods have willed.
I claim my people come from spacious Crete.
I am a rich man’s child, and in his house                                      260
several other sons were born and raised,                                             [200]
his legal children from his lawful wife.
My mother was a purchased concubine.
But still, Castor, son of Hylax, the man
I claim as my own father, honoured me,
just as he did his true-born sons. Back then,
since he had wealth and land and worthy sons,
the Cretans in the country looked on him
as if he were a god. But lethal Fates
sent him down to Hades, and his proud sons                               270
divided up his goods by drawing lots.
They gave me a really tiny portion                                                                   [210]
and assigned a house. But I won a wife
from people who had many rich estates,
thanks to my courage—for I was no fool,
nor was I a coward. Now all that strength
has gone. A host of troubles wears me down.
But by examining the husk, I think,
you can assess the plant. Back then, Ares
and Athena gave me strength and courage,                                    280
the power to break ranks of men apart.
Whenever I would choose the bravest men
to set an ambush and put my enemies
in peril, my proud spirit never sensed
that I might die. I always jumped out first,                                                     [220]
and my spear killed whatever enemy
ran past me. That’s the kind of man I was
when it came to war. But I got no joy
from working on the land or household chores,
like raising lovely children. No. Instead,                                           290
I always took pleasure in ships with oars
and weapons—well polished shields and arrows—
deadly things, so horrible to others.
I think I loved those things because a god
somehow set them in my heart. Different men
find their delight in different kinds of work.
Before Achaea’s sons set foot in Troy,
I’d led fast ships and warriors nine times,                                                 [230]
attacking troops from foreign lands, and won
enormous quantities of loot. I’d take                                              300
what I desired and later pile up more,
when we drew lots. So my house soon grew rich,
and Cretans honoured and respected me.
When far-seeing Zeus planned that fatal trip
which loosed the knees of many warriors,
they asked me and famed Idomeneus
to lead their ships to Troy. There was no way
one could refuse—the people’s voice insisted.
So we Achaean sons fought there nine years,                                            [240]
and ransacked Priam’s city in the tenth.                                        310
We set out, sailing for home, but some god
scattered the Achaeans. Counsellor Zeus
devised some difficulties just for me,
to make me miserable. I stayed at home,
enjoying my children, the wife I’d married,
and what I owned, for just a single month.
Then my heart urged me to outfit some ships
and sail to Egypt with my noble comrades.
I manned nine ships. The fleet was soon prepared.
My loyal shipmates feasted for six days—                                          320
I gave them many beasts to sacrifice,                                                          [250]
as offerings to the gods and to prepare
a banquet for them. On the seventh day,
we left wide Crete. North Wind provided us
a stiff and welcome breeze, so we sailed on
quite easily, like drifting down a stream.
None of my ships was damaged, no one got sick
or suffered harm, and we stayed in our seats,
while wind and helmsman held us on our course.
The fifth day we reached Egypt’s mighty river,                             330
where I moored my curving ships. Then I told
my loyal crew to stay there with the ships,                                          [260]
keeping watch on them, while I sent out scouts
to find some places we could use as lookouts.
But my men, overcome with arrogance,
and trusting their own might, at once began
to plunder the Egyptians’ finest fields.
They took their women and small children, too,
and killed the men. Shouts soon reached the city,
and, once they heard the noise, Egyptians came,                        340
as daylight first appeared. The entire plain
filled up with chariots and infantry,
all flashing bronze. Zeus, who hurls the lightning,
threw a nasty panic in my comrades,
so no one dared to stay and face the fight.
We were badly threatened from all quarters.                                           [270]
They slaughtered many men with their sharp bronze
and took some alive. They wished to force us
to do their work for them. Then Zeus himself
put an idea inside my heart—but still,                                           350
I wish I’d died and met my fate right there,
in Egypt, since all sorts of troubles still
lay waiting for me—I at once removed
the finely crafted helmet from my head
and the shield I had slung round my shoulders.
My hand let go my spear, and I ran out
straight to the king’s chariot, clutched his knee,
and kissed it. The king felt pity for me
and spared my life. He set me in his chariot,
and, as I wept, he took me to his home.                                         360   [280]
Many of his men, armed with their ash spears,
came after me—their anger was so great,
they were all keen to kill me. But the king
kept them in check—he wanted to respect
the rage of mighty Zeus, god of strangers,
who is especially irked at impious deeds.
I remained there seven years, amassing
wealth in huge amounts from those Egyptians,
for they all gave me gifts. When the eighth year
came wheeling in, a Phoenician man arrived,                                 370
a greedy rogue who understood deceit.
He’d already brought men lots of trouble.
Well, he won me over with his cunning                                                       [290]
and I travelled with him, until we reached
his house and his possessions in Phoenicia.
I remained there with him an entire year.
But as the days and months kept passing by
and yearly seasons rolled around once more,
he put me on a ship to Libya,
making up a false story of some scheme                                         380
that he would be taking cargo with him,
whereas, in fact, once we were there, he meant
to sell me for an enormous profit.
Though I was suspicious, I had to go
with him and board the ship. North Wind blew
a fresh and welcome breeze, and we sailed off,
on a mid-sea course, the windward side of Crete.(3)                           [300]
Then Zeus planned the destruction of his men.
When we sailed past Crete, we saw land no more,
only sky and sea. The son of Cronos                                                390
sent a black cloud above our hollow ship.
Underneath the sea grew dark. All at once,
Zeus thundered and then hurled a lightning flash
down on our ship, which shook from stem to stern
and filled with sulphur smoke, as Zeus’s bolt
came crashing down. The crew fell overboard
and floated on the waves, like cormorants,
past our black ship—the god then took away
the day of their return. As for myself,                                                           [310]
though anguish filled my heart, lord Zeus himself                      400
let me wrap my hands around the main mast
from our black-prowed ship, so that once again
I could escape destruction. I hung on,
and was carried along by dreadful winds
for nine full days. Then on the tenth dark night,
a huge rolling wave threw me up on shore
in Thesprotian land, and there the king,
Pheidon, ruler of the Thesprotians,
welcomed me, without demanding ransom.(4)
When I’d been beaten down by weariness                                        410
and freezing winds, his dear son had met me,
helped me stand up again, and brought me home,
to his father’s palace. He gave me clothes—                                              [320]
a cloak and tunic. There I heard reports
about Odysseus. For king Pheidon said
he had welcomed him with entertainments,
as he was returning home to Ithaca.
He showed me what Odysseus had collected,
all the bronze and gold and well-worked iron,
so many riches stored in Pheidon’s house,                                        420
they’d feed ten generations after him.
Odysseus, he said, was in Dodona,
to hear from the huge towering oak tree,
sacred to the god, what great Zeus had willed
about his own return to that rich land
of Ithaca, after his long absence.(5)                                                                 [330]
Should he go back there openly or not?
As he poured libations in his palace,
he swore to me a ship had been hauled down
and a crew prepared to take Odysseus                                              430
back to his native land. But before that,
he sent me off, since, as it so happened,
a ship manned with a crew of Thesprotians
was sailing to Dulichium carrying corn.
He ordered them to take me there, treating me
with all due kindness, and deliver me
to king Acastus. But those sailors’ hearts
were more attracted to a nasty scheme
concerning me—and I would be reduced
to abject poverty. So when the ship                                                     440
had sailed some distance from the land, they tried
from that day forward to make me their slave.                                      [340]
They ripped away my clothes, cloak and tunic,
and dressed me differently, a ragged cloak
and filthy tunic torn to shreds, these here—
the ones you see before your very eyes.
They reached the fields of sunny Ithaca
that very night. Inside that well-decked ship
they tied me up with tightly twisted rope
and went ashore, eager to eat a meal                                                   450
beside the sea. But the immortal gods
with ease untied my bonds, and so I wrapped
my rags around my head and slipped away
down a smooth plank, chest first into the sea.                                         [350]
Then with both arms I paddled and swam off.
I left the water far away from them
and moved inland, where leafy bushes grew,
and lay crouching down. They began to shout
and wandered here and there. But then they thought
there was no point in searching any more.                                       460
So they went back on board their hollow ship.
The gods themselves concealed me easily
and led me on my way. They brought me here,
to the farmyard of a man who understands.
My fate, I think, is to continue living.”

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said:                                           [360]

“Stranger, you’re unlucky. The tale you tell
has really touched my heart, all those ordeals
you’ve suffered, all the places where you roamed.
But I don’t think it’s all just as you said,                                      470
and the things you mentioned of Odysseus
do not convince me. Given who you are,
why must you include such pointless falsehoods?
I know that in my master’s journey home
he was totally despised by all the gods.
That’s why they didn’t kill him over there,
among the Trojans or in his comrades’ arms,
when he was done with war. For the Argives
would have made him a tomb—and for his son
he would have won great fame in days to come.                          480   [370]
Now the spirits of the storm have snatched him,
and there’s no glory. As for me, I live
here among the pigs, far away from men.
I don’t go to the town, unless I’m called
to travel there by wise Penelope,
when a message reaches her from somewhere.
Then people sit around the man who’s come
and ask him questions about everything,
those who are still grieving for their ruler,
who’s been away so long, and other men                                         490
who delight in using up his livelihood
without paying anything. I don’t like
to investigate it or ask questions,
not since the day an Aetolian man
tricked me with his story. He’d killed someone.                                       [380]
After roaming around in many lands,
he reached my home, where I made him welcome.
He claimed he’d seen Odysseus in Crete,
Idomeneus’s home, repairing ships
damaged in a storm, vowing he’d return                                            500
by summer or before they harvest crops,
with his fine comrades, bringing treasure home.
And so you, you long-suffering old man,
since a spirit led you here, should not try
to cheer me up or secure my favour
by telling falsehoods. That’s not the reason
I show you respect and give you welcome,
but because I pity you and fear Zeus,
the god of strangers.”

                                      Resourceful Odysseus                                                             [390]
answered Eumaeus with these words:

                        “That heart in your chest                                            510
is truly hard to sway. The oath I swore,
even those words did not influence you
or win you over. But come now, let’s make
this promise—the gods who hold Olympus
will stand as witnesses for both of us
in days to come—if your master does get back
to his own home, you’ll give me some clothing,
a cloak and tunic, and then send me off
to Dulichium, as my heart desires,
and if your master does not come the way                                        520
I say he will, then set your men on me,
have them throw me from a towering cliff,
so some other vagrant will be careful                                                          [400]
to avoid deception.”

                                 The splendid swineherd
then said in reply:

“Yes, stranger, what a way for me
to gather fame and fortune among men,
both now and in the future, to kill you,
steal your precious life, after bringing you
to my own hut and entertaining you!
I could later pray to Zeus, son of Cronos,                                          530
with a sincere heart. Now it’s time to eat.
I hope my comrades will get here quickly,
so we can cook our meal here in the hut.”

As these two were talking like this to each other,
the other herdsmen came up, bringing home their swine.                                [410]
They shut the sows up in their customary pens,
so they could sleep. The pigs gave out amazing squeals,
as they were herded in. Then the trusty swineherd
called out to his companions:

                          “Bring a boar in here,
the best there is, so I can butcher it                                                 540
for this stranger from another country.
We too will get some benefit from it,
seeing we’ve worked so hard for a long time
and gone through hardships for these white-tusked pigs,
while others gorge themselves on our hard work
without paying anything.”

                                                                     Once he’d said this,
with his sharp bronze axe he chopped up wood for kindling,
while others led in a huge great boar, five years old,
and stood it by the hearth. The swineherd’s heart was sound—                 [420]
he did not neglect the gods and began the meal                                   550
by throwing in the fire some bristles from the head
of the white-tusked boar and uttering a prayer
that wise Odysseus would get back to his own home.
He raised his arm, and with a club made out of oak,
which he’d left lying beside him, he struck the boar.
Life left the beast. The other herdsmen slit its throat,
singed its bristles, and, working quickly, carved it up.
At first, the swineherd offered pieces of the meat
from all the limbs, wrapped up in layers of rich fat.
After sprinkling white barley meal all over these,                                    560
he threw them in the fire. The others sliced the rest,                                     [430]
put it on spits, cooked it with care, drew it all off,
and set out heaps of meat on platters. The swineherd,
whose heart always concerned itself with what was fair,
stood up to carve, and as he shared each piece of meat,
he split the food in seven portions. With a prayer,
he set one aside for Hermes, son of Maia,
and for the nymphs. The rest he gave out equally,
honouring Odysseus with a long cut from the back
of the white-tusked boar. That pleased his master’s heart.                  570
Then adventurous Odysseus spoke to him and said:

“Eumaeus, may father Zeus treat you as well                                             [440]
as you are treating me with this boar’s chine,
the very finest cut of meat, even though
I’m just a beggar.”

                                Then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you replied by saying:

                   “Eat, god-guided stranger,
and enjoy the kind of food we offer.
A god gives some things and holds others back,
as his heart prompts, for he can do all things.”

Eumaeus spoke and offered to eternal gods                                            580
the first pieces he had cut. He poured gleaming wine
as a libation, handed it to Odysseus,
sacker of cities, then sat to eat his portion.
Mesaulius passed around the bread, a servant
Eumaeus purchased on his own, when his master                                         [450]
was away from home. He’d not informed his mistress
or old man Laertes. He had acquired the slave
from Taphians, using resources of his own.(6)
So they stretched out their hands to the generous meal
set out in front of them. Once they enjoyed their fill                            590
of food and drink, and each man’s heart was quite content,
Mesaulius took away their food. They had eaten
so much bread and meat, they were eager for some rest.

Night came on, bringing stormy winds. There was no moon.
And Zeus sent blustery West Wind blowing in with rain,
a relentless downpour all night long. Odysseus
spoke to them, testing Eumaeus, to find out if,
given the hospitality he had offered,
he’d take off his cloak and give it to Odysseus,                                             [460]
or would urge one of his comrades to give up his:                                   600

“Eumaeus and you others, his work mates,
hear me now—I wish to tell a story,
prompted by this wine, which addles our wits.
Wine can make a man, even though he’s wise,
sing out loud, or laugh softly to himself,
or leap up and dance. It can bring out words
which were better left unspoken. But still,
since I’ve begun to talk, I’ll hide nothing.
I wish I were as young, my strength as firm,
as when we were setting up an ambush                                         610
and leading men to it below Troy’s walls,
led by Menelaus, son of Atreus,                                                           [470]
and by Odysseus—and they had ordered
that I was to be the third man in command.
When we reached the steep walls of the city,
we lay down in thick bushes round the place,
crouching with our weapons in swampy reeds.
A nasty night came on. North Wind dropped off,
and it was freezing cold. Snow fell on us,
like frost from high above, bitterly cold.                                         620
Our shields were caked with ice. Now, the others
all wore cloaks and tunics, and could rest there
quite easily, shields across their shoulders.
But when I’d set out, like a fool I’d left                                                    [480]
my own cloak behind with my companions,
Not thinking I might feel cold without it,
I’d only brought my tunic and my shield.
Well, when it was the third watch of the night
and the stars had shifted their positions,
I spoke to Odysseus, who was close by.                                          630
When my elbow nudged him, he was all ears,
instantly prepared to listen:

                                            ‘Odysseus,
you resourceful man, son of Laertes
and child of Zeus, I won’t be here for long,
not among the living. Instead, this cold
will kill me off—for I don’t have a cloak.
Some spirit deluded me, made me come
with just a tunic. Now there’s no way out.’

That is what I said. In his heart he had a plan—                                     [490]
that’s the kind of man he was for scheming                                   640
or for fighting war. With a quiet whisper,
he spoke to me:

                 ‘Keep silent for the moment,
in case one of our Achaeans hears you.’

Then he propped his head up on his elbow,
and spoke out, saying:

                                       ‘Listen to me, friends.
As I slept here, a dream sent from the gods
came to me. We’ve moved a long way forward,
too far from our ships. I would like someone
to tell Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
a shepherd of his people, in the hope                                   650
he’d tell more men to come out from the fleet.’(7)

Once he’d said this, Thoas jumped up quickly,
Andraemon’s son. He threw off his purple cloak                                  [500]
and ran off to the ships. I grabbed the cloak
and was quite happy to crouch down again.
Then early Dawn arose on her golden throne.
I wish I were as young as I was then,
and my strength as firm. Then in this farmyard,
some swineherd would give me a cloak to wear,
from kindness and respect for a brave man.                                   660
But now, with filthy clothing on my skin,
I receive no honours.”(8)

                                Then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you answered him and said:

                                      “Old man, that story
you just told us is all right—you’ve spoken
very clearly and told us what you want.
You won’t lack clothes or any other thing                                              [510]
a long-suffering suppliant should get
from those he meets, at least for this cold night.
When morning comes you’ll have to dance around
in those rags of yours. We don’t have many cloaks                        670
or other tunics. We’ve each got just one.
But when Odysseus’s dear son arrives,
he’ll give you some clothes, a cloak and tunic,
and send you where your heart desires to go.”

After saying this, he jumped up and placed a bed
for Odysseus near the fire. On the bed he threw
some skins from sheep and goats. Odysseus lay down there.                        [520]
Eumaeus covered him up with a huge thick cloak,
which he kept as a change of clothing in the hut,
something to wear whenever a great storm blew in.                               680
So Odysseus went to sleep there, and the young men
slept around him. But Eumaeus had no desire
to have his bed indoors and sleep so far away
from all his boars. So he prepared to go outside.
Odysseus was pleased the swineherd took such trouble
with his master’s goods while he was absent far away.
First, Eumaeus slung a sharp sword from his shoulder
and wrapped a thick woollen cloak around his body,
to protect him from the wind. He took a huge fleece                                     [530]
from a well-nourished goat and grabbed a pointed spear                      690
to warn off dogs and men. And then he left the hut,
going to lie down and rest where the white-tusked boars
slept beneath a hollow rock, sheltered from the wind.

 

ENDNOTES

(1) Here the narrator makes an unexpected shift and addresses one of the characters in person (“you”), suggesting a certain closeness between the narrator and the character. While this is not common in Homer, it does occur several times (e.g., with Menelaus in the Iliad). [Back to Text]

(2) Arcesius is the name of the father of Laertes and thus of Odysseus’s paternal grandfather. [Back to Text]

(3) This seems to mean that the ship passed along the northern coast of Crete, but the precise meaning is disputed. [Back to Text]

(4) The Thesprotians lived in southern Epirus, a coastal region in north-west Greece, nowadays on the border with Albania. [Back to Text]

(5) Dodona was a very ancient shrine in the interior of Epirus, sacred to Zeus and Dione. The centre of the oracle was an oak tree where doves nested, and interpretations were made of the noises coming from the leaves of the tree, the doves, and brass ornaments hung in the branches. [Back to Text]

(6) The Taphians lived on a cluster of islands in the Ionian Sea. In Book 1 of the Odyssey, when Athena visits Telemachus in Ithaca (1.138), she takes on the form of Mentes, son of the king of the Taphians. [Back to Text]

(7) Something seems awry with this speech, since we are given no details of what the dream might have been, and the rest has no apparent connection to a dream. [Back to Text]

(8) The last lines of this speech (598-602) have long been rejected by many critics, since they obviously destroy the point of the story by making an explicit request at the end, rather than displaying a clever hint. [Back to Text]


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