HOMER
ODYSSEY

 

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

 

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BOOK SEVENTEEN
ODYSSEUS GOES TO THE PALACE AS A BEGGAR

[Telemachus leaves Eumaeus and Odysseus at the farm, telling the swineherd that the beggar (Odysseus) must go to the city; Telemachus is welcomed in the palace by Eurycleia and his mother; Telemachus joins the suitors; Peiraeus leads in Theoclymenus; Theoclymenus and Telemachus dine with Penelope; Telemachus tells Penelope about his journey; Theoclymenus makes a prophecy of Odysseus’s return; Eumaeus and Odysseus leave the farm for the city; they meet Melanthius, the goat herder, on the way, who insults them; Eumaeus and Odysseus arrive at the palace, meet Odysseus’s old dog, Argus, who recognizes him and dies; Eumaeus enters the palace and joins Telemachus at dinner; Odysseus sits by the entrance way; Telemachus offers food to the disguised Odysseus, who then starts begging from the suitors; Melanthius and Antinous insult Eumaeus and Odysseus; Odysseus tells Antinous his story, they trade insults, and Antinous throws a foot stool at Odysseus and hits him; Penelope summons Eumaeus to her, asks him to call the disguised beggar to her; Odysseus tell Eumaeus that he’ll meet Penelope in the evening; Eumaeus tells Penelope, talks to Telemachus, and returns to the farm, leaving the feast still in progress.]

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
Telemachus, dear son of god-like Odysseus,
tied sandals on his feet, took a powerful spear,
well suited to his grip, and, as he headed off
towards the city, called out to the swineherd:

“Old friend, I’m now leaving for the city,
so I can see my mother. I don’t think
her dreadful grieving and her sorry tears
will stop until she sees me for herself.
So I’m telling you to do as follows—                                              10
take this vagrant stranger to the city.                                                   [10]
Once there, he can beg food from any man
who’ll offer him bread and cups of water.
I can’t take on the weight of everyone,
not when I have these sorrows in my heart.
As for the stranger, if he’s upset at this,
things will be worse for him. Those are the facts,
and I prefer to speak the truth.”

                                                                                          Odysseus,
that adventurous man, then answered him and said:

“Friend, I myself am not all that eager                                           20
to be held back here. For a beggar man
it’s better to ask people for a meal
inside cities instead of in the fields.
Whoever’s willing should give me something.
For an old man, it’s not appropriate                                                   [20]
to linger any longer at the farm,
obeying everything a master says.
So you should be on your way. This swineherd,
who you give orders to, will take me there,
as soon as I’ve warmed up beside the fire                                     30
and the sun gets hot. These clothes I’m wearing
are miserably bad, and I’m afraid
the morning frost may be too much for me—
you say the city is a long way off.”

Odysseus finished. Telemachus walked away,
out through the farmyard, moving at a rapid pace.
He was sowing seeds of trouble for the suitors.
When he entered the beautifully furnished house,
he carried in his spear and set it in its place,
against a looming pillar. Then he moved inside,                                    40     [30]
across the stone threshold. His nurse, Eurycleia,
saw him before the others, while spreading fleeces
on the finely crafted chairs. She burst out crying,
rushed straight up to him, and other female servants
of brave Odysseus were quick to gather round them.
They kissed his head and shoulders in loving welcome.
Then from her chamber wise Penelope emerged,
looking like Artemis or golden Aphrodite.
She embraced the son she loved, while shedding tears,
and kissed his head and both his beautiful eyes.                                  50
As her eyes wept, she spoke to him—her words had wings:                        [40]

“You’ve returned, Telemachus, you sweet light.
I thought I’d never see you anymore,
when you secretly sailed off to Pylos
in that ship, against my wishes, seeking
some report of your dear father. So come,
describe for me what you have heard of him.”

Prudent Telemachus then answered her and said:

“Mother, do not encourage me to grieve,
or get the heart inside my chest stirred up.                                 60
I’ve just escaped being utterly destroyed.
You should have a bath and put fresh clothing
on your body. Then, with your attendants
go to your upper chambers and promise
the gods you’ll make a perfect sacrifice,                                             [50]
if Zeus will somehow bring to fulfillment
actions which will give us retribution.
I’ll go to the place where we assemble,
so I can call upon a stranger there
who came with me on my trip from Pylos.                                     70
I sent him to town with my fine comrades,
telling Peiraeus to make him welcome,
to treat him kindly, and to honour him,
until I got there.”

                                                                     Telemachus finished.
Penelope was quiet—no winged words flew from her.
She bathed herself, took fresh clothing for her body,
and promised she would offer a perfect sacrifice
to all the gods, if Zeus would somehow bring about
a way of gaining her revenge against the suitors.                                        [60]
Telemachus walked through the hall, gripping his spear.                   80
Two swift dogs went with him. Athena poured on him
such marvellous beauty that, as he moved along,
all people gazed at him. The arrogant suitors
thronged around him, making gentle conversation,
but deep within their hearts they nurtured evil plans.
Avoiding the main group of them, he chose a seat
where Mentor, Antiphus, and Halitherses sat,
companions of his father many years ago.                                                       [70]
They asked him all kinds of questions. Then Peiraeus,
the well-known spearman, approached, leading the stranger             90
through the city to the place where they assembled.(1)
Telemachus did not keep his back turned for long
upon the stranger, but went up to him. Peiraeus
was the first to speak:

                                          “Telemachus,
get some women to hurry to my home,
so I may have those gifts brought here to you—
the ones from Menelaus.”

                                                 Shrewd Telemachus
then answered him and said:

                                                                 “Peiraeus,
we don’t know how these matters will turn out.
If these overbearing suitors kill me                                                100
in my own halls in secret and divide                                                     [80]
the goods my father owns amongst themselves,
I’d much prefer you keep those gifts yourself
and enjoy them than any of those men.
But if I sow a lethal fate for them,
then bring those presents to me in my home,
for I will be rejoicing in my heart.”

With these words, he led the long-suffering stranger
towards the house. When they reached the stately palace,
they removed their cloaks, put them on the stools and chairs,           110
and went into the polished tubs to take a bath.
After the attending women had washed both men,
rubbed their bodies down with oil, and wrapped around them
woollen cloaks and tunics, they came out from the bath,                            [90]
and both of them sat down. A servant brought water
in a lovely golden pitcher and poured it out
into a silver bowl, so they could wash their hands.
Beside both men she set in place a polished table.
The worthy housekeeper brought bread and set it down,
then added plates of meat, giving freely from her stores.                     120
Telemachus’s mother sat across from him,
by the doorpost of the hall, leaning from her seat
to spin fine threads of yarn. They reached out with their hands
to take the fine food prepared and set before them.
When they had satisfied their hearts with food and drink,
the first to speak to them was wise Penelope:                                                [100]

“Telemachus, once I’ve gone up to my room,
I’ll lie in bed, which has become for me
a place of sorrow, always damp with tears,
ever since Odysseus sailed off to Troy                                            130
with Atreus’s sons. Yet you don’t dare
to tell me clearly of your father’s trip,
before those haughty suitors come back here
and shame my home, no word of what you learned.”

Prudent Telemachus then answered her and said:

“All right then, mother, I’ll tell you the truth.
First, we sailed to Pylos and reached Nestor,
shepherd of his people. He welcomed us                                              [110]
into his home with hospitality
and kindness, like a father for a son                                              140
who has just returned from far-off places
after many years—that’s how lord Nestor
looked after me, helped by his splendid sons,
with loving care. But of brave Odysseus,
alive or dead, he had not heard a thing
from any man on earth. He sent me off
with horses and a well-built chariot
to that famous spearman Menelaus,
son of Atreus. I saw Argive Helen,
for whom countless Trojans and Achaeans                                   150
struggled hard, as the will of gods decreed.
Menelaus, skilled at war shouts, at once                                              [120]
questioned me: Why had I come to Sparta?
What was I was looking for? I told the truth,
all the details. He answered me and said:

‘That is disgraceful! They want to lie down
in the bed of a courageous warrior,
when they themselves are cowards—just as if
a doe has put two new-born suckling fawns
in a lion’s thicket, so they can sleep,                                   160
and roams mountain slopes and grassy valleys
seeking pasture, and then the lion comes
back to that lair and brings a dismal fate                                 [130]
for both those fawns—that is how Odysseus
will bring those men to their disastrous end.
By Father Zeus, Athena, and Apollo,
how I wish he could be as he was once
in well-built Lesbos, in a wrestling match,
when he stood and fought Philomeleides,
threw him decisively, and all Achaeans                               170
felt great joy—if he were that sort of man,
Odysseus might well mingle with the suitors
and destroy them all, a bitter courtship.
As for the things you’re asking me about,
begging me to speak, I’ll not evade them
or lead you astray. No. I won’t neglect
or hide a single word that I was told
by that all-knowing Old Man of the Sea.                                  [140]
He claimed to me that he had seen Odysseus
on an island, suffering great distress                                   180
in nymph Calypso’s home—she keeps him there
by force. He can’t get to his native land
because he has no ship available,
no oars, and no companions, men who might
transport him on the broad back of the sea.’

That’s what great spearman Menelaus said,
the son of Atreus. When I was finished,
I came home, and the immortals gave me
favouring winds which quickly carried me
back to my home once more.”

                                                                                  Telemachus’s words             190    [150]
stirred the heart within her chest. Then among the group
Theoclymenus, a godlike man, spoke out and said:

“Noble wife of Odysseus, Laertes’ son,
Menelaus has no certain knowledge.
You should attend to what I have to say,
for I will make a truthful prophecy
and not conceal a thing. Now, let lord Zeus,
first among the gods, act as my witness,
and this fine table welcoming your guests,
and the hearth of excellent Odysseus,                                          200
which I have reached—Odysseus is, in fact,
in Ithaca already, sitting still
or moving, learning of these wicked acts,
and sowing trouble for every suitor.                                                   [160]
That’s how I interpret that bird omen
which I saw, sitting on the well-decked ship—
that’s what I told Telemachus back then.”

Wise Penelope then answered him and said:

“Ah stranger, how I wish what you’ve just said
might come about. For then you’d quickly learn                         210
how kind we are, how many gifts I’d give—
anyone you met would call you blessed.”

That is how they talked to one another of these things.
Meanwhile, in front of the palace of Odysseus,
the suitors were relaxing, throwing a discus,
and tossing javelins on a patch of level ground,
as was their custom, displaying their arrogance.
When it was time for dinner and the sheep arrived,                                     [170]
coming from the fields in all directions, with those
whose task it was to drive them there, Medon spoke up.                     220
He was the herald they liked more than all the rest,

and he was always with them when they had a feast:

“Young men, now you have entertained your hearts
with tests of skill, so come inside the house,
and we’ll prepare a meal. There’s nothing wrong
with eating when it’s time to have some food.”

Medon spoke. Persuaded by his words, the suitors
stood up and moved away. When they reached the palace,
they removed their cloaks and draped them on stools and chairs.
Men sacrificed huge sheep and goats with lots of fat.                           230    [180]
They killed some plump hogs and a heifer from the herd,
as they prepared the meal.

                                             Meanwhile Odysseus
and the loyal swineherd were hastening to leave
their country fields and start walking to the city.
Eumaeus, a worthy man, was the first to speak:

“Stranger, you are eager to reach the town,
as my master asked, and to go today.
Myself, I’d rather leave you at the farm
to guard it, but I respect and fear him,
for he may reprimand me afterwards,                                            240
and a master’s punishment can be severe.
So come now, let’s be off. Most of the day                                         [190]
has passed already, and as evening comes
you’ll quickly sense how cold the air can get.”

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said:

“I see that. I know. You’re talking to a man
who understands. So let’s be setting out.
You take the lead. Show me the way to town.
But if you’ve got a pole somewhere that’s cut
for you to lean on, then give it to me.                                            250
For you did say the road is slippery.”

Odysseus finished, then threw around his shoulders
his tattered bag, full of holes, with a twisted strap.
Eumaeus offered Odysseus a staff he liked.
Then the two of them set off, while dogs and herdsmen                            [200]
remained behind to guard the farmyard. The swineherd
led his master to the city, like a beggar
leaning on a stick, an old and wretched vagrant,
with his body covered by shabby, threadbare rags.
But as they made their way along the rugged path,                               260
getting near the city, they reached a well-made spring,
built by Ithacus, Neritus and Polyctor,
where townsfolk drew their water from a steady flow.(2)
Around it was a poplar grove, fed by its stream.
They grew on all sides of the spring. Cold water flowed
down from a rock above. High up on the summit,                                      [210]
an altar had been dedicated to the nymphs,
where all the people passing by made offerings.
Here Melanthius, son of Dolius, met them—
he was driving a herd of goats, the finest ones                                       270
in all the flocks, to serve as dinner for the suitors.
Two herdsmen followed him. When he caught sight of them,
Melanthius started yelling shameful insults—
Odysseus in his heart was enraged at such abuse:

“Now here we have a truly filthy man
leading on another filthy scoundrel.
As always, a god matches like with like.
You wretched swineherd, where are you off to
with this disgusting pig, this beggar man,
a tedious bore who’ll interrupt our feasts?                                    280   [220]
He’ll rub his shoulders on many doorposts,
begging scraps—no need for sword or cauldron.(3)
If you’d let me have him guard my farmyard,
clean out the pens, and carry tender shoots
to my young goats, then he could drink down whey
and put some muscle on those thighs of his.
But since he’s picked up his thieving habits,
he has no urge to cope with real work.
No. He’d rather creep around the country
and beg food to fill his bottomless gut.                                         290
I’ll tell you something—and this will happen—
if he goes in the home of brave Odysseus,                                          [230]
many a footstool hurled by real men
will hit his ribs and all parts of his head,
while he gets tossed around all through the house.”

Melanthius spoke, and as he moved on past them,
the stupid herder kicked Odysseus on the hip.
But that did not dislodge Odysseus from the path.
He stood there without budging. He was wondering
whether he should charge in and kill him with his staff,                      300
or grab him by the waist, lift him up, and smash his head
down on the ground. But he controlled himself, checking
the fury in his heart. Eumaeus looked at the man,
scolded him, then, lifting up his hands in prayer,
he cried aloud:

               “You nymphs, daughters of Zeus,                                           [240]
if for your sake Odysseus ever burned
pieces of thigh from lambs or from young goats,
richly wrapped in fat, grant me this prayer—
let my master come, guided by some god.
He would soon shatter the rude presumption                              310
that you now, in your insolence, display,
always wandering down into the town,
while wicked herdsmen devastate our flocks.”

Melanthius the goatherd answered him and said:

“Dear me, the things this crafty mongrel says!
I’ll take him someday on a trim black ship
far from Ithaca—he can make me rich.                                                  [250]
O how I wish Apollo’s silver bow
would strike Telemachus in his own house
this very day, or that he’d be silenced                                            320
by all the suitors, for the day Odysseus
will be returning home has disappeared
in some land far away.”

                                                                    Melanthius said this
and left them there, as they trudged slowly onward.
He strode ahead and quickly reached the royal house.
He went in at once and sat among the suitors,
opposite Eurymachus, who was fond of him
more so than were the others. A household servant
set down a portion of the meat in front of him.
The worthy housekeeper then carried in the bread                               330
and placed it there for him to eat.

                                                 Meanwhile Odysseus                                        [260]
and the loyal swineherd paused as they came closer.
Around them rang the music of the hollow lyre,
for Phemius was striking up a song to sing
before the suitors. Odysseus clutched the swineherd
by the hand and said to him:

                                                  “Eumaeus,
this place surely is the splendid palace
belonging to Odysseus. It’s easy
to recognize, even when one sees it
among many others, for here there is                                             340
building after building, and this courtyard—
it’s finished off with walls and coping stones,
and there’s a double gateway well fenced in.
No man could criticize a house like this.
I notice many men are eating here—
there’s smoke from roasting meat above the house,                          [270]
and a lyre is playing. A god made that
to serve as our companion at a feast.”

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said:

“You recognized it easily enough,                                                   350
for in other things you’re quite perceptive.
But come, let’s consider how this business
will be carried out. Either you go first
and move inside the finely furnished house
to join the suitors, while I stay outside,
or, if you wish, stay here. I’ll go ahead.
But don’t hang around for long, just in case
someone sees you here outside and hits you
or starts throwing something. That’s my advice.
You should think about it.”

                               Long-suffering Odysseus                                            360   [280]
then said to Eumaeus:

                                                “I know. I see that.
You’re talking to a man who understands.
But you go on ahead. I’ll stay out here.
Having things thrown at me or being hit
is nothing new. My heart can bear all that,
for I’ve put up with numerous hardships
in war and on the waves. So let all this
be added in with those. There is no way
someone can hide a ravenous stomach—
that torment which brings mortal men such grief.                      370
Because of it, they launch their well-built ships
and transport evil to their enemies
across the restless seas.”

                                                          And so these two men                                         [290]
talked to each other about these things. Then a dog,
prone in the dirt, raised its head and pricked up its ears.
It was Argus, brave Odysseus’s hunting dog,
whom he himself had brought up many years ago.
But before he could enjoy being with the hound,
he left for sacred Troy. In earlier days, young men
would take the dog to hunt wild goats, deer, and rabbits,                   380
but now, with his master gone, he lay neglected
in the piles of dung left there by mules and cattle,
heaped up before the doors, until the household slaves
took it to manure some large field. Argus lay there,                                    [300]
covered in fleas. But then, when he saw Odysseus,
who was coming closer, Argus wagged his tail
and dropped his ears. But he no longer had the strength
to approach his master. Odysseus looked away
and brushed aside a tear—he did so casually
to hide it from Eumaeus. Then he questioned him:                               390

“Eumaeus, it’s strange this dog is lying here,
in the dung. He has a handsome body.
I’m not sure if his speed once matched his looks
or if he’s like those table dogs men have,
the pets their masters raise and keep for show.”                               [310]

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said:

“Yes, this dog belongs to a man who died
somewhere far away. If he had the form
and acted as he did when Odysseus
left him and went to Troy, you’d quickly see                                400
his speed and strength, and then you’d be amazed.
No wild animal he chased escaped him
in deep thick woods, for he could track a scent.
He’s in a bad way now. His master’s dead
in some foreign land, and careless women
don’t look after him. For when their masters                                     [320]
no longer exercise their power, slaves
have no desire to do their proper work.
For Zeus steals half the value of a man
the day he’s taken and becomes a slave.”                                      410

This said, Eumaeus went inside the stately palace,
straight into the hall to join the noble suitors.
But once he’d seen Odysseus after nineteen years,
Argus died, seized by the fatal clutch of Death.

As the swineherd Eumaeus came inside the house,
godlike Telemachus was the first to see him,
well before the others. He quickly summoned him
by nodding. Eumaeus looked around, then picked up                                  [330]
a stool placed where a servant usually sat
and carved massive cuts of meat to feed the suitors,                             420
when they were feasting in the house. He took this stool,
placed it by Telemachus’s table, facing him,
and then sat down. Meanwhile, a herald offered him
a portion of the meat, set it in front of him,
and helped him to some bread served in a basket.
Odysseus came in the house behind Eumaeus,
looking like an old and miserable beggar,
leaning on his staff, with his body dressed in rags.
He sat on the ash wood threshold in the doorway,
propping his back against a post of cypress wood,                                430
which a craftsman had cut and planed with utmost skill                            [340]
and set in true alignment. Then Telemachus
called the swineherd to him and from the basket took
an entire loaf and as much meat as he could hold
in both his hands. As he did this he spoke to him:

“Take this food, and give it to the stranger.
Tell him he can move among the suitors
and solicit each of them in person.
When a man is hungry, they say that shame
is not a good companion.”

                                                                  Telemachus spoke.                   440
Once he had heard these words, Eumaeus went and stood
beside Odysseus, then spoke to him—his words had wings:

“Stranger, Telemachus gives you this food                                         [350]
and invites you to move around and beg
among the suitors, each in turn. He says,
when one’s in need, it’s bad to feel ashamed.”

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said:

“May lord Zeus, I pray, grant Telemachus
be blest among all men. May he obtain
whatever he desires in his heart.”

                                                              Once he said this,                                      450
he took the food in his two hands and set it down
right there at his feet, on his tattered bag, and ate,
while the minstrel sang to those feasting in the hall.
When he had eaten and the godlike singer finished,
the suitors were causing an uproar in the room.
Athena approached Odysseus, Laertes’ son,                                                [360]
and urged him to beg for bread from all the suitors,
so he might find out those who did respect the law
and those who flouted their traditions. Even so,
she would not let any of them evade his fate.                                         460
Odysseus then moved off to beg for scraps of bread,
holding his hand out to each of them on every side,
starting on the right, as if he had been a beggar
for years and years. They pitied him and gave him bread,
then asked about him, questioning one another
who he was and where he came from. Then the goatherd,
Melanthius, spoke out to them:

                                                     “Listen to me,                                            [370]
those of you courting the glorious queen,
about this stranger. I’ve seen him before.
The swineherd was the one who brought him here.                    470
I don’t know his identity for sure
or the family he claims to come from.”

Once he said this, Antinous turned on Eumaeus,
to reprimand him:

                                          “You really are a man
who cares for pigs—why bring this fellow here
into the city? As far as vagrants go,
do we not have enough apart from him,
greedy beggars who disrupt our banquets?
Do you believe too few of them come here
and waste away your master’s livelihood,                                     480
so you invite this man to come as well?”

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered him and said:                             [380]

“Antinous, you may be a noble man,
but what you’ve said is not a worthy speech.
Who looks for strangers from another land
and then in person asks them to come in,
unless they’re workers in a public space—
prophets, healers of disease, house builders,
or gifted minstrels, who sing for our delight?
Such men are summoned to where people live                             490
everywhere on boundless earth. But no one
invites a beggar to consume his goods.
You are abusive to my master’s slaves,
more so than any of the other suitors,
especially to me. But I don’t care,
not while faithful Penelope lives here,                                                   [390]
with brave Telemachus inside these halls.”

Then prudent Telemachus answered him and said:

“Be quiet. For my sake don’t reply to him
with a long speech. It’s Antinous’s habit                                       500
always to offer nasty provocation,
to start a quarrel with abusive words.
He urges other men to do the same.”

That said, he spoke to Antinous—his words had wings:

“Antinous, you really do care for me,
like fathers for their sons, when you tell me,
in your forceful way, to drive this stranger
from the house. May god forbid such action.
Take some food and give it to him yourself—
I don’t mind. I’m asking you to do it.                                              510    [400]
You need not worry about my mother
or any of the servants in this house
belonging to godlike Odysseus. But still,
there is no thought like this inside your heart—
you’d much prefer to stuff yourself with food
than give it to another man.”

                                                   Antinous
then answered him and said:

                                                        “Telemachus,
you’re a braggart and won’t control your rage.
What are you saying? If every suitor
offered him as much as I will, this house                                       520
would make him stay away at least three months.”

As he said this, he picked up a stool standing there,
where he used to rest his shining feet while feasting,                                  [410]
and lifted it up high, as if about to throw it.
But every other suitor offered Odysseus food,
and so his bag was quickly filled with meat and bread,
enough to make him stop and shuffle to his place
back in the doorway where he could squat down and eat
the food the suitors gave. But he stopped by Antinous,
and spoke to him, saying:

                         “My friend, give something.                                     530
You don’t seem to me the worst Achaean,
but one of the best—you have a regal look.
So you should give a bigger piece of bread
than other men. I’d publicize your fame
across the boundless earth. For once I, too,
lived among those in my home, a rich man
with a happy life. There were many times                                             [420]
I’d offer presents to some vagabond,
no matter who he was or what he needed
when he came. I had countless servants                                        540
and many other things that people have
when they live well and are considered rich.
But Zeus, son of Cronos, destroyed all that.
That’s what he wanted, I suppose. He sent me
with some roaming pirates off to Egypt,
a lengthy trip. He wanted me to die.
I moored my curving ships in Egypt’s river
and told my loyal comrades to stay there
and protect the ships. Then I sent out scouts                                    [430]
to go up to the lookouts. But the crew,                                          550
giving way to impulse and counting on
their numbers, quickly set off to ravage
the attractive farms of the Egyptians,
capturing the women and their children,
while slaughtering the men. The cry went up,
and soon it reached the city. Hearing noise,
the people came as soon as dawn appeared—
the entire plain was filled with men on foot
and in chariots, armed with gleaming bronze.
Then Zeus, who hurls the thunderbolt, threw down                   560
dreadful panic on my crew. None of them
dared stand and face up to the enemy.
Disaster loomed for us from every side.
With their sharp bronze they killed a lot of us,                                    [440]
but others they led off while still alive
so they could be compelled to work for them.
They gave me to a stranger they had met,
bound for Cyprus, Dmetor, son of Iasus,
a man with power and king of Cyprus.
From there I reached this place in great distress.”                        570

Then Antinous answered him and said:

                                                  “What god
sent this nuisance to interrupt our feast?
Leave my table alone! Go over there,
in the middle, or you’ll soon find yourself
somewhere worse than Cyprus or in Egypt.
You’re an insolent and shameless beggar—
you come up to each of us, one by one,
and they give you things, with no holding back,                                  [450]
for there’s no check or scruple when one gives
from someone else’s goods, and each of us                                     580
has so much food set here in front of him.”

Resourceful Odysseus then moved back and replied:

“Well now, it seems as if that mind of yours
doesn’t match your looks—you’d refuse to give
even a grain of salt from your own house
to a followers of yours, and now you sit
in someone else’s house and do not dare
to take some bread and offer it to me.
And yet there’s plenty right in front of you.”

Odysseus finished. Antinous deep in his heart                                       590
was even angrier than before. He glared at him,
and, with a scowl, gave his response—his words had wings:

“I do not think you’ll leave this hall unharmed,                                  [460]
now that you’ve begun to babble insults.”

As he said these words, he grabbed the stool and threw it.
It hit Odysseus at the base of his right shoulder,
where it joins the back. But he stood firm, like a rock—
what Antinous had thrown did not make him stagger.
He shook his head in silence, making cruel plans.
He shuffled to the door, set down his well stuffed bag,                         600
crouched in the entranceway, and addressed the suitors:

“Listen to me, you suitors of the queen—
for in my chest my heart prompts me to speak.
A man’s heart feels no pain and does not grieve                                 [470]
when he’s hit fighting for the things he owns,
for cattle or white sheep. But Antinous
just struck me thanks to my wretched belly,
that curse which brings such pain to mortal men.
So if beggars have their gods and Furies,
may Antinous come to a fatal end,                                                   610
before his wedding day.”

                                    Antinous, Eupeithes’ son,
gave him this reply:

                                “Sit still and eat, stranger,
or go someplace else, in case younger men
haul you through the house by your hands and feet
for what you say, scraping your whole body.”                                     [480]

He finished. But all those proud men were furious,
and one of the more insolent young men spoke out:

“Antinous, it was wrong of you to hit
a wretched beggar. And you may be doomed,
if somehow he’s a god come down from heaven.                             620
For gods can truly make themselves appear
like foreign strangers, assuming many shapes
and haunting cities, to investigate
men’s pride and their obedience to laws.”

That’s what the suitors said. However, Antinous
paid no attention to their words. Telemachus,
having seen the blow, felt pain growing in his heart.
But no tear passed his eyelids and dripped onto the floor.                           [490]
He remained silent, shaking his head and planning
dark schemes in his heart.

                                              But when wise Penelope                              630
heard that the stranger had been hit inside the hall,
she spoke out to her attendant women, saying:

“O how I wish Antinous might be struck
by the famous archer god, Apollo!”

The housekeeper, old Eurynome, said to her:

“If what we all pray for could be fulfilled,
not one of them would see Dawn’s lovely throne.”

Wise Penelope then answered her:

                                       “Good nurse,
they are all enemies with evil plans,
but Antinous, more than any of them,                                            640   [500]
is like black fate. Some unhappy stranger
wanders through the house, begging from the men.
His own need drives him to it. The others,
all of them, gave him gifts and filled his bag,
but Antinous threw a footstool at him
and hit a bone in his right shoulder blade.”

So Penelope talked with her serving women,
sitting in her upper room, while Odysseus ate.
Then she called out to the loyal swineherd, saying:

“Good Eumaeus, go and ask the stranger                                        650
to come here, so I can greet him warmly
and ask if he perhaps has heard about                                                [510]
my brave Odysseus, or caught sight of him
with his own eyes. For he looks like a man
who’s spent a long time wandering around.”

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered her and said:

“How I wish Achaeans would keep quiet,
my queen, for he tells the kind of stories
which delight one’s heart. I had him with me
for three nights, and for three days I kept him                               660
in my hut. He came to me first of all—
he was fleeing in secret from a ship.
He never finished what he had to say
of his misfortunes. Just as any man
hears a minstrel who sings enticing songs
to mortal men, ones the gods have taught him,
and there’s no end to his desire for more,                                           [520]
no matter what he sings, that’s how this man
enchanted me, as he sat in my home.
He claims that he’s a guest-friend of Laertes                                 670
from Crete, where the race of Minos lives,
He’s come from there, after many hardships,
as he keeps wandering from place to place.
He insists he’s heard about Odysseus—
who is close by, living in the rich land
of Thesprotians—with many treasures
which he intends to bring back home.”

                                         Wise Penelope
then answered him:

                              “Go and call him here—
he can tell me for himself. Let the men                                               [530]
keep sitting in the hall or at the door                                              680
enjoying themselves—their hearts are cheerful.
Their own possessions lie untouched at home,
sweet wine and bread, which their house servants eat.
But they fill up our home day after day,
butchering our cattle, fat sheep, and goats,
carousing and drinking our gleaming wine
without restraint. Much of it is wasted.
There’s no one like Odysseus here who’ll guard
our house from ruin. If Odysseus came
back here to Ithaca, he and his son                                                  690
would quickly seek revenge on all these men                                       [540]
for their unseemly ways.”

                                            As Penelope said this,
Telemachus gave a mighty sneeze—it echoed
through the house. Penelope laughed and quickly spoke
some winged words to Eumaeus:

                                            “Call the stranger.
Bring him here before me. Did you not see
my son sneezing at everything I said?
The complete destruction of the suitors
will not go unfulfilled—for all of them—
not one will flee his fatal destiny.(4)                                                700
I’ll tell you something else. Lay it to heart.
If I can see he’s telling me the truth,
I’ll offer him fine clothes, a cloak and tunic.”                                        [550]

Penelope finished. Once Eumaeus heard her,
he went off and, standing close beside Odysseus,
spoke to him—his words had wings:

                       “Honoured stranger,
wise Penelope is summoning you,
Telemachus’s mother. For her heart,
in spite of bearing much anxiety,
is urging her to ask about her husband.                                         710
If she perceives that everything you say
is true, she’ll give you a cloak and tunic,
things you desperately need. As for food,
you can beg for it throughout the country
and fill your stomach. Whoever’s willing
will give it to you.”

                                     Long-suffering lord Odysseus                                  [560]
then answered him:

             “Eumaeus, I’ll tell the truth,
all the details, to wise Penelope,
daughter of Icarius, and quickly, too.
I know Odysseus well—for both of us                                             720
have had the same misfortunes. But I fear
this abusive crowd of suitors, whose pride
and violence reach up to iron heaven.
Just now, as I was moving through the house,
doing nothing wrong, one of them struck me
and caused me pain—and no one sitting there,
not even Telemachus, could do a thing
to stop him. So you should tell Penelope,
for all her eagerness, to wait right now,
there in the hall, until the sun goes down.                                    730   [570]
Let her ask me then about her husband
and the day of his return. Let me sit
close by the fire, for the clothes I’m wearing
are pitiful, as you yourself well know,
since I came to you first of all for help.”

Odysseus finished. Once he’d listened to these words
the swineherd went away. As he crossed the threshold,
Penelope said:

                 “He’s not with you, Eumaeus.
Why is the beggar acting in this way?
Is he somehow too afraid to come here,                                          740
or does he feel ashamed by something else?
He’s a poor beggar if he feels disgraced.”

Then, swineherd Eumaeus, you answered her and said:

“What he said made sense—what any man                                           [580]
would think if he was planning to avoid
the insolence of those presumptuous men.
He says you should wait for him till sunset.
And, my queen, it would be appropriate
for you to talk in person to this man,
so you yourself may hear what he may say.”                                   750

Wise Penelope then answered him and said:

“The stranger is not stupid. For he thinks
about the dangers that may well threaten.
I don’t believe that any mortal men
are as high-handed as these suitors are,
the way they plan their wicked foolishness.”

Penelope spoke. Once he’d told her everything,
the loyal swineherd mixed with the crowd of suitors.                                   [590]
Moving up close to Telemachus, so others
could not hear, he spoke to him—his swift words had wings:               760

“Friend, I’m going to leave and guard the swine
and other things, your livelihood and mine.
You take charge of what’s going on in here.
First and foremost, protect yourself. Your heart
must stay alert, so you don’t suffer harm.
Many Achaeans are hatching evil plans—
may Zeus kill them all before they hurt us.”

Prudent Telemachus then answered him and said:

“It will happen, old friend. Now, you should eat
before you leave. Come here in the morning,                                  770
and bring fine animals for sacrifice.                                                        [600]
Everything in here will be my concern,
mine and the immortals.”

                                                          Telemachus spoke.
The swineherd sat down on the polished chair again.
Once he had filled his heart with food and drink, he left,
returning to his pigs, through the hall and courtyard,
where the throngs of suitors were enjoying themselves
with dance and song, for evening had already come.

 

 ENDNOTES

(1) The “stranger” being led to the city is the prophet Theoclymenus, who earlier (in Book Sixteen) asked Telemachus to take him in his ship to Ithaca. [Back to Text]

(2) Ithacus, Neritus, and Polyctor were the ancient founders of Cephallenia and Ithaca. [Back to Text]

(3) Melanthius is mocking the beggar’s status. All he wants is scraps of food, so the traditional trophies sought by and awarded to successful warriors (swords and cauldrons) are irrelevant to him. [Back to Text]

(4) Sneezes were sometimes viewed as omens, hence Penelope’s prophetic tone. [Back to Text]

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