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


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[Odysseus and Telemachus hide the weapons; Telemachus leaves to go to bed; Penelope comes down; Melantho insults Odysseus a second time; Penelope upbraids her, then has a conversation with Odysseus; Penelope tells him of her deception of the suitors; Odysseus gives her a long false story of his Cretan ancestry and talks of meeting Odysseus; Penelope questions him about Odysseus’s clothes and comrades; Penelope orders Eurycleia to wash Odysseus’s feet; the story of the scar on Odysseus’s knee, how Odysseus got his name; the hunting expedition with Autolycus; Eurycleia recognizes the scar; Odysseus threatens her; Penelope and Odysseus resume their conversation; Penelope tells about her dream; Odysseus comments on the interpretation of the dream; Penelope talks about the two gates of dreams, then proposes the contest of firing an arrow through twelve axe heads; Odysseus urges her to have the contest; Penelope goes upstairs to sleep.]

So lord Odysseus remained in the hall behind,
thinking of ways he might overcome the suitors,
with Athena’s help. He spoke out immediately
to his son—his words had wings:

all these war weapons we must stash inside,
and when the suitors notice they’re not there
and ask you questions, then reassure them,
using gentle language:

                                                       ‘I’ve put them away
in a place far from the smoke. Those weapons
are no longer like the ones Odysseus left                             10
when he set off for Troy so long ago.
They’ve been tarnished. Fires have breathed on them
and left their stain. Then, too, a god has set                               [10]
great fear inside my heart—you men may drink
far too much wine and fight amongst yourselves
and wound each other. That would shame the feast
and harm your courtship. For iron by itself
can draw a man to use it.’”

                                                                  Odysseus finished.
The words his father said convinced Telemachus.
He called his nurse, Eurycleia, and said to her:                                       20

“Nurse, come here and help me. Keep the women
in their rooms, so I can put in storage
these splendid weapons, which were my father’s.
Since the time he left, when I was a child,
no one’s looked after them, and they’ve been tarnished
by smoky fires. Now I wish to keep them
where they cannot be stained by breathing flames.”                            [20]

His dear nurse, old Eurycleia, then said to him:

“Yes, my child, may you always think about
caring for this house, guarding all its wealth.                                30
But come, who will go off and fetch a light
and carry it for you, if you won’t let
the servant women, who could bear torches,
walk out in front of you?”

                                             Shrewd Telemachus
then answered her and said:

                                         “This stranger will.
I won’t let anyone who’s touched my food
rest idle, not even if he’s come here
from somewhere far away.”

                                                                 Telemachus spoke.
She did not answer him—her words could find no wings.
So in that stately hall she bolted shut the doors.                                    40    [30]
Then both Odysseus and his splendid son jumped up
and carried off the helmets, embossed body shields,
and pointed spears. Pallas Athena was their guide,
holding a golden lamp, which cast a lovely light.
Then, all of a sudden, Telemachus spoke up:

“Father, what my two eyes are witnessing
is an enormous wonder. In this room
the beautiful rafters, the well-built walls,
the fir beams, and high supporting pillars
are glowing in my eyes, as if lit up                                                   50
by fire. Some god who holds wide heaven
must be inside the hall.”                                                                          [40]

                                       Resourceful Odysseus
then answered him and said:

                                                “Keep quiet.
Check those ideas and ask no questions.
This is how the gods who hold Olympus work.
You should go and get some rest. I’ll stay here,
so I can stir the servants even more—
and your mother. As she laments, she’ll ask
for each and every detail.”

                                                        Odysseus finished.
Telemachus moved away, striding through the hall,                              60
below the flaming torches, out into the room
where he used to rest when sweet Sleep came to him.
Then he lay down in bed, waiting for early Dawn.                                          [50]
Lord Odysseus stayed there, lingering in the hall,
thinking how to kill the suitors with Athena’s help.

Then wise Penelope emerged out of her room,
looking like Artemis or golden Aphrodite.
Beside the fire where she used to sit, servants placed
a chair for her, inlaid with ivory and silver.
Imalcius, a craftsman, had made it years ago.                                         70
He’d fixed a footstool underneath, part of the chair,
on which attendants used to throw a large sheep fleece.
Here wise Penelope sat, while white-armed servants                                    [60]
came from the women’s hall and started to remove
lavish amounts of food, the tables, and the cups
high-spirited suitors had used to hold their wine.
They threw the embers in the braziers on the floor,
then filled them up once more with plenty of fresh wood
for warmth and light. But then Melantho once again
went at Odysseus, chiding him a second time:                                       80

“Stranger, are you about to pester us
in here at this hour and throughout the night,
roaming around the house, spying on slaves?
Get outside, you wretch, and be satisfied
with what you’ve had to eat, or soon enough
you’ll have to leave, beaten out with torches.”

Resourceful Odysseus scowled and then said to her:                                     [70]

“You’re a passionate woman—why is it
you go at me like this, with such anger
in your heart? Is it because I’m filthy,                                              90
have shabby clothing covering my limbs,
and beg throughout the district? I have to—
sheer need forces that on me. That is what
beggars and vagabonds are like. But once
I was wealthy and lived in my own home,
in a rich house, too, among my people.
I often gave gifts to wanderers like me,
no matter who they were or what their needs
when they arrived. I had countless servants
and many other things that people own                                         100
when they live well and are considered rich.
But then Zeus, son of Cronos, ruined me.                                           [80]
That’s what he wanted, I suppose. And so,
woman, take good care that you, too, someday
do not lose that beauty which now makes you
stand out among the woman servants here.
Your mistress may lose her temper with you
and make things difficult, or Odysseus
may come home, for there’s still a shred of hope.
Even if he’s dead and won’t come home again,                               110
thanks to Apollo he’s got Telemachus,
a son just like himself. And no woman
in this palace who acts with recklessness
escapes his notice. He’s a child no more.”

Odysseus spoke. Wise Penelope heard his words
and rebuked Melantho, saying:

                                              “You can be sure,
you bold and brazen bitch, that I have seen
your shameless acts. You’ll wipe away the stain
with your own head. You clearly know full well,
because you heard me say it—I’m planning                                    120
to ask this stranger in my halls some questions
about my husband, since I feel such grief.”

Penelope paused, then spoke to Eurynome,
her housekeeper, and said:

fetch a chair over here with a thick fleece,
so the stranger can sit down, talk to me,
and hear me out. I want to question him.”

Once Penelope had spoken, Eurynome                                                         [100]
quickly brought a polished chair and placed it by her.
She threw a sheep fleece over it. Lord Odysseus,                                    130
who had endured so much hardship, sat down with her.
Then wise Penelope began to speak to him:

“Stranger, first of all I’ll ask this question—
Who are you among men? Where are you from?
From what city? And where are your parents?”

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

“Lady, no man living on boundless earth
could find fault with you. And your fame extends
right up to spacious heaven, as it does
for an excellent king who fears the gods                                         140
and governs many courageous people,                                                  [110]
upholding justice. His black earth is rich
in barley and in wheat, and his orchards
are laden down with fruit. His flocks bear young
and never fail, while seas yield up their fish—
all this from his fine leadership. With him
his people thrive. So here inside your home
question me about anything you wish
except my family or native land,
in case you fill my heart with still more grief,                                150
as I remember them. For I’m a man
who’s suffered a great deal, and there’s no need
for me to sit here weeping my laments
in someone else’s house—for it’s not good                                         [120]
to wallow in one’s grief and never stop,
in case the slaves or you yourself resent it
and say I swim in tears because my mind
is now besotted, drenched in too much wine.”

Wise Penelope then answered him and said:

“Stranger, the immortal gods took away                                         160
the excellence in my poise and body
when Argives got on board their ships for Troy,
and Odysseus went with them, my husband.
If he would come and organize my life,
my reputation would be even greater,
more beautiful, as well. But now I grieve.
Some god has laid on me a heavy load.
All the finest men who rule the islands—                                           [130]
Dulichium, Same, wooded Zacynthus—
and those who live in sunny Ithaca,                                                170
these men are courting me against my will.
And they are ruining the house. That’s why
I have no time for suppliants and strangers,
or for heralds who do the people’s work.(1)
Instead I waste away my heart, longing
for Odysseus. They’re all keen on marriage,
but I tricked them with my weaving. Some god
was the first to breathe into my heart the plan
that I should place a huge loom in the halls
and weave a robe of delicate design.                                               180    [140]
So I spoke to them at once:

                                  ‘You young men,
my suitors, since Odysseus is dead,
you’re keen for me to marry. You must wait
until I have finished with this garment,
so I don’t weave this twisted yarn in vain.
It’s a burial shroud for lord Laertes,
for when the lethal fate of his sad death
will seize him, so no Achaean woman
in the district will get angry with me
that a man who has acquired such great wealth                 190
should have to lie in death without a shroud.’

That’s what I said, and their proud hearts agreed.
So every day I’d weave at the big loom.
But at night, once the torches were set up,                                           [150]
I’d unravel it. And so for three years
I tricked Achaeans into believing me.
But as the seasons came and months rolled on,
and many days passed by, the fourth year came.
That’s when they caught me unravelling yarn—
thanks to my slaves, those ungrateful hussies.                             200
The suitors all shouted speeches at me,
and, against my will, forced me to complete
that piece of weaving. Now I can’t escape
the marriage or invent some other scheme.
My parents are urging me to marry,
and my son is worried about those men
eating his livelihood. He notices,                                                         [160]
because he’s now a man, quite capable
of caring for a household to which Zeus
has granted fame. But tell me of your house,                                 210
the race you come from. For you did not spring
up from an oak tree in some ancient tale
or from a stone.”

                            Odysseus, a man of many schemes,
then answered her and said:

                                   “Noble lady,
wife of Odysseus, Laertes’s son,
will you never cease from asking questions
about my family? All right, I’ll tell you.
But you’ll be giving me more miseries
than those which grip my heart—as is the rule
when a man’s been absent from his homeland                            220
as long as I have, wandering around,                                                  [170]
through many towns of mortal men, suffering
great distress. Still, I’ll answer what you ask,
the questions you have posed. There’s a place
in the middle of the wine-dark sea called Crete,
a fertile land surrounded by the sea.
Many men live there, more than one can count,
in ninety cities. The dialects they speak
are all mixed up. There are Achaeans there,
as well as stout-hearted native Cretans,                                         230
Cydonians, three groups of Dorians,
and noble Pelasgians. Their cities
include great Cnossos, where king Minos reigned,
after he’d talked with Zeus for nine full years,
the father of my father, Deucalion,                                                      [180]
who, in turn, sired Idomeneus and me.
Idomeneus went away to Troy
in his beaked ships with Atreus’s sons.
My name’s well known—Aethon—the younger son.
Idomeneus, my elder brother,                                                           240
was the finer man. I saw Odysseus there
and gave him welcoming gifts. The wind’s force
brought him to Crete, as he was sailing on,
headed for Troy—it drove him off his course
past Malea. He’d moored at Amnisus,
where the cavern of Eilithyia lies,
in a dangerous harbour, fleeing the storm,
but only just.(2) He went immediately                                                   [190]
to the town, seeking Idomeneus,
saying he was his loved and honoured friend.                                250
But by this time nine or ten days had passed
since Idomeneus and his beaked ships
had left for Troy. So I invited him
into my house and entertained him well,
with a warm welcome, using the rich store
of goods inside my home. For the others,
comrades who followed him, I gathered up
and gave out barley from the public stores,
gleaming wine, and cattle for sacrifice,
enough to satisfy their hearts. Those men,                                     260
Achaean lords, remained there for twelve days.
The howling North Wind kept them in that place—                           [200]
he would not even let them stand up straight.
Some angry deity had stirred him up.
But on the thirteenth day, the wind eased off,
and they put out to sea.”

                                                          As Odysseus spoke,
he made his many falsehoods seem just like the truth.
Penelope listened, tears flowing from her eyes.
Her flesh melted—just as up on high mountain peaks
snow drifts melt away beneath West Wind’s warm thaw,                      270
once East Wind starts to blow them down, and, as they melt,
the flowing rivers fill—that’s how her lovely cheeks
melted then, as she kept weeping for her husband,
the man sitting there beside her.(3) Lord Odysseus
in his heart felt great pity for his grieving wife,                                              [210]
but he held his eyes steady between his eyelids,
like horn or iron, and he kept up his deceit
and concealed his tears. But then, when Penelope
had had enough of her laments and shedding tears,
she spoke to him once more and said:

                                   “Now, stranger,                                                280
I think I’d really like to test you out,
to see if you did, in fact, entertain
my husband and his fine companions there,
in your halls, as you just claimed. So describe
the style of clothing he was wearing then
and the kind of man he was. And tell me
about his comrades, the ones there with him.”

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:                                      [220]

“Lady, it’s difficult to tell you this
for any man who’s been away so long—                                          290
it’s almost twenty years since he set out
and sailed from Crete. But I’ll describe for you
how my heart pictures him. Lord Odysseus
wore a woollen purple cloak, a double one.
The brooch on it was made of gold—it had
a pair of clasps and a fine engraving
on the front, a dog held in its forepaws
a dappled fawn and gripped it as it writhed.
Everyone who saw it was astonished
at those gold animals—the dog held down                                    300   [230]
the fawn, as he throttled it, and the fawn
was struggling with its feet, trying to flee.
I noticed the tunic on his body
glistening like a dried-out onion skin—
it was so soft and shone out like the sun.
In fact, many women kept watching him
in wonder. And I’ll tell you something else.
Keep in mind I don’t know if Odysseus
dressed in these clothes when he was at home,
or whether some comrade gave them to him                                  310
on his swift ship after he went aboard,
or perhaps a stranger did—Odysseus
was liked by many men. Few Achaeans                                                  [240]
could equal him. I gave him gifts myself,
a bronze sword, an exquisite purple cloak,
with a double fold, and a fringed tunic,
and I sent him off on his well-benched ship
with every honour. In his company
he had a herald, older than himself,
but not by much. I’ll describe him for you.                                    320
He looked like this—he had rounded shoulders,
a dark skin, and curly hair. And his name
was Eurybates. Odysseus valued him
above all the rest of his companions—
for he had a mind that could match his own.”

As Odysseus spoke, in Penelope he roused
desire to weep still more, because she recognized
in what Odysseus said signs that he spoke the truth.                                   [250]
But then, when she had had enough of tearful grief,
she answered him and said these words:

                                                   “Stranger,                                        330
though I pitied you before, in my home
you’ll now find genuine welcome and respect.
I was the one who put him in those clothes
you talk about. I brought them from the room,
smoothed them out, and pinned on the shining brooch
to be an ornament for him. But now,
I’ll not be welcoming him here again,
when he returns to his dear native land.
Odysseus set off with an evil fate
to catch a glimpse of wicked Ilion,                                                   340
a place that we should never speak about.”                                           [260]

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

“Wife of Odysseus, Laertes’s son,
don’t mar your lovely skin or waste your heart
by weeping for your husband any more.
I don’t blame you in the least, for anyone
would lament the husband she had married
and then lost, one she’d had loving sex with
and to whom she’d borne a child, even if
he were not Odysseus, who, people say                                          350
is just like the gods. But end your crying,
and listen to my words. I’ll speak the truth,
hiding nothing—I have already heard                                                    [270]
about Odysseus’ return. He’s close by,
in the wealthy land of Thesprotians,
still alive and bringing much fine treasure
with him. He’s urging men to give him gifts
throughout that land. He lost his loyal crew
on the wine-dark sea and his hollow ship,
as they were sailing from Thrinacia.                                                360
Zeus and Helios were angry with him—
his crew had slaughtered Helios’s herds.
So they all perished in the surging sea.
But Odysseus, by clinging to the keel,
made it to shore, tossed by the waves on lands
of the Phaeacians, who by their descent
are close relations of the gods. These men
honoured him with all their hearts, as if                                               [280]
he were a god. They gave him many gifts
and were eager to bring him home unharmed.                              370
Odysseus would have been here long ago,
but to his heart it seemed a better plan
to visit many lands collecting wealth.
For above all mortal men, Odysseus
knows ways to win many advantages.
No other man can rival him in this.
That’s what Pheidon, king of Thesprotians,
told me, and he swore to me in person,
as he poured out libations in his home,
the ship was launched and comrades were prepared                   380
to take him back to his dear native soil.                                                 [290]
But before they left he sent me away.
It happened that a Thesprotian ship
was sailing for wheat-rich Dulichium.
He showed me all the expensive presents
lord Odysseus had assembled—enough
to feed ten generations of his family—
that’s how much was lying in storage there,
in that king’s house. He told me Odysseus
had travelled to Dodona to find out                                                 390
from the towering oak what plans Zeus had
for the voyage back to his dear native land,
after being away so long.(4) Should he come
openly or not? He’s nearby and safe                                                       [300]
and will be here soon. He won’t stay away
from his friends in Ithaca much longer.
I’ll make an oath on that for you. May Zeus
be my first witness, highest and best of gods,
and the hearth of excellent Odysseus,
which I have reached, all these things will happen                       400
just as I describe. In this very month
Odysseus will come, as the old moon wanes
and the new moon starts to rise.”

                                               Wise Penelope
then answered him and said:

                                                        “O stranger,
I wish what you have said might come about.
You’d soon come to recognize my friendship,                                     [310]
so many gifts from me that any man
who met you would call you truly blessed.
But my heart has a sense of what will be—
Odysseus won’t be coming home again,                                         410
and you’ll not find an escort out of here,
because there are no leaders in this house,
not the quality of man Odysseus was,
if there was ever such a man, to welcome
honoured strangers and send them on their way.
But, you servant women, wash this stranger,
and prepare a place to sleep—a bed, cloaks,
bright coverlets—so in warmth and comfort
he may await the golden throne of Dawn.
Tomorrow morning early give him a bath                                        420   [320]
and rub him down with oil, so he’ll be ready
to take his seat inside the hall and eat
beside Telemachus. Things will not go well
for any one of them who injures him
and pains his heart—that man will accomplish
nothing further here, even though his rage
is truly fierce. How will you learn from me,
stranger, that I in any way excel
among all women for my prudent plans
and my intelligence, if you dine here,                                             430
in my halls, dressed in filthy ragged clothes?
Men don’t live long. And if a man is harsh
and thinks unfeelingly, then everyone
lays painful curses on his future life,                                                     [330]
and when he’s dead they all make fun of him.
But if a man is innocent and thinks
with no sense of injury, then strangers
spread his fame far and wide among all men,
and many say he truly is a man.”

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:                               440

“Honoured wife of Odysseus, Laertes’ son,
I’ve hated cloaks and shining coverlets
since I first left the mountain snows of Crete,
when I departed on my long-oared ship.
So I’ll lie down, as I have done before                                                      [340]
through sleepless nights. For I have often lain
on filthy bedding, awaiting bright-throned Dawn.
And having my feet washed brings no delight
into my heart. No woman in your house
will touch my feet, none of those who serve you                            450
in your home, unless there is an old one,
who knows true devotion and has suffered
in her heart as many pains as I have.
I’d not resent it if she touched my feet.”

Wise Penelope then answered him and said:

“Dear stranger, no visitor from far-off lands                                           [350]
who’s come into my house has ever been
as wise as you or more welcome—your words
are all so sensible and kind. I have
a woman with an understanding heart.                                          460
She gave my helpless husband her fine care
the day his mother first gave birth to him.
Although she’s weak and old, she’ll wash your feet.
So come now, stand up, wise Eurycleia,
and bathe a man the same age as your master.
Odysseus may have feet and hands like his,
for mortal men soon age when times are bad.”                                     [360]

Penelope spoke. The old woman clasped her hands
across her face and shed warm tears. Then she spoke out
uttering words of sorrow:

                                       “Alas for you, my child.                               470
There’s nothing I can do. Zeus must hate you
above all people, though you have a heart
that fears the gods. No mortal up to now
has given Zeus, who hurls the thunderbolt,
so many rich burned pieces of the thigh,
or offered such well-chosen sacrifice
as you have made to him, praying to reach
a sleek old age and raise your splendid son.
But now from you alone he’s taken away
the day that you’ll return. And it may be                                       480   [370]
that women in some strange and distant land
make fun of him, as well, when he arrives
at some famous home, the way these hussies
mock you here, all of them. To stop their slurs,
their insults, you won’t let them wash your feet.
But wise Penelope, Icarius’ child,
has asked me to do it, and I’m willing.
For Penelope’s sake I’ll bathe your feet,
and for yours, since the heart in me is stirred
with sorrow. But come now, listen to me.                                       490
Hear what I say. Many worn-out strangers
have come here, but none of them, I tell you,
was so like him to look at—your stature,                                               [380]
voice, and feet are all just like Odysseus.”

Then resourceful Odysseus answered her and said:

“Old woman, those who’ve seen the two of us
with their own eyes all say the same—we both
look very like each other, as you’ve seen
and mentioned.”

                           After these words from Odysseus,
the old woman took a bright bowl to wash his feet.                                500
She poured in plenty of cold water and added
warmer water to it. Odysseus then sat down
some distance from the hearth and quickly turned around
towards the darkness. For suddenly in his heart
he was afraid that, when she touched him, she might see                           [390]
a scar he had, and then the truth would be revealed.
When Eurycleia began to wash her master,
she recognized the scar immediately, a wound
he’d suffered years ago from white tusks on a boar,
when he went to Parnassus, making a visit                                              510
to Autolycus, his mother’s splendid father,
and his sons. Autolycus surpassed all others
in thievery and swearing. A god himself, Hermes,
had given him those skills. For him he used to burn
pleasing offerings, thighs of younger goats and lambs.
So Hermes travelled with him, bringing willing gifts.
When he travelled to the rich land of Ithaca,
Autolycus had met his daughter’s new born son,                                          [400]
and once he had eaten dinner, Eurycleia
set the young child upon his knees and spoke to him:                          520

“Autolycus, you’re the person who must name
your daughter’s child. We have been praying now
for a long time to have a child like this.”

So Autolycus then answered her by saying:

“My son-in-law and daughter, give the boy
whatever name I say. Since I’ve come here
as one who’s been enraged at many people,
men and women, on this all-nourishing earth,
let him be called Odysseus, a man of rage.(5)
And I say this: when he is fully grown                                             530    [410]
and travels to his mother’s family home,
by Mount Parnassus, where I keep my wealth,
I’ll give him some of it and send him off.
He’ll be delighted.”

                                  Odysseus had travelled there
to fetch those splendid presents from Autolycus.
When he got there, Autolycus and his splendid sons
clasped his hand and welcomed him with real affection.
His mother’s mother, Amphithea, embraced him,
kissed him on the head and both his beautiful eyes.
Autolycus instructed his distinguished sons                                          540
to prepare a meal, and they did what he had asked.
They hastened to bring in a male ox, five years old,                                      [420]
flayed it, and prepared the beast, slicing up the limbs.
They cut these with great skill, skewered the meat on spits,
roasted them with care, and passed around the portions.
All day long they feasted until the sun went down.
Each one had a share, and their hearts were quite content.
After the sun descended and the world grew dark,
they went to bed to rest and took the gift of Sleep.
But as soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,                                550
they set off to hunt, with Autolycus’s sons
and dogs, as well. And young Odysseus left with them.                               [430]
They climbed up Mount Parnassus, through the forest there,
and quickly reached its windy gullies. By this time,
Helios’s rays had started to strike the fields,
rising from deep streams of gently flowing Ocean.
The beaters reached a clearing. The dogs went in first,
ahead of them, following the tracks. Behind them
came Autolycus’s sons, with lord Odysseus
in their group, close to the dogs. He was holding up                             560
his long-shadowed spear. Now, right there a huge wild boar
was lying in a tangled bush—it was so dense
the power of watery winds could not get through,                                        [440]
none of Helios’s rays could pierce it, and rain
would never penetrate. There were fallen leaves
in piles around the place. The sound of rustling feet
made by the men and dogs, as they pursued the hunt,
disturbed the boar—it came charging from the thicket
to confront the hunters—with bristles on its back,
eyes flashing fire, the beast stood at bay before them.                           570
Odysseus ran up first, eager to strike the boar,
his long spear held up in his two powerful fists.
The beast jumped out at him, attacking from the flank,
and struck above his knee, a long gash in his flesh
sliced by the creature’s tusk. It did not reach the bone.                               [450]
Then Odysseus struck back at the boar, hitting it
on its right shoulder. That long spear’s glittering point
went straight through—with a grunt the beast fell in the dust,
and its life force flew away. Autolycus’ sons
attended to the carcass. They neatly bound up                                       580
brave Odysseus’s wound, using a healing spell
to staunch the flow of dark blood seeping from his skin.
The hunters hurried back to their dear father’s home.
Once Autolycus and Autolycus’s sons
had fully cured him and presented lavish gifts,                                              [460]
they soon sent him back in a joyful frame of mind
to Ithaca, his native land. When he got back,
his father and honoured mother were delighted,
asked him every detail of how he got the wound,
and he told them the truth—how, while he was hunting                      590
on Mount Parnassus with Autolycus’s sons,
a boar’s white tusk had gored him. That was the scar
that old Eurycleia was grasping in her hands.
She traced it out, recognized it, and dropped his foot.
His leg fell in the basin, and the bronze rang out.
It tipped over on its side and spilled the water.                                              [470]
All at once, joy and sorrow gripped her heart. Her eyes
welled up with tears, and her full voice was speechless.
She reached up to his chin and said:

                                        “It’s true, dear child.
You are Odysseus, and I did not know you,                                   600
until my hands had touched my master’s leg.”

She spoke, and her eyes glanced over at Penelope,
anxious to tell her that her husband had come home.
But Penelope could not see her face or notice,
for Athena had diverted her attention.
Odysseus’s arms reached out for Eurycleia—
with his right hand he grabbed her firmly by the throat,                              [480]
and with the other pulled her even closer to him.
Then he said:

                              “My good mother, why this wish
to have me slaughtered? You yourself nursed me
at this breast of yours. In the twentieth year,                                610
after suffering through numerous ordeals,
I’ve come back to my native soil. And now,
you’ve recognized me—a god has put that
in your heart. Stay silent, so in these halls
no one finds out. For I’ll tell you something—
and it will happen. If gods overcome
these haughty suitors, set them at my feet,
I will not spare you, though you are my nurse,
when I kill other women in my home.”                                               [490]

Prudent Eurycleia then answered him:

                                                             “My child,                            620
what words escaped the barrier of your teeth!
You know how strong and firm my spirit is.
I’ll be as tough as a hard stone or iron.
I’ll tell you something else. Keep it in mind.
If a god does overwhelm these suitors
and sets them under you, then I’ll tell you
about the women in your home, the ones
demeaning you and those who bear no shame.”

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:                               630

“Good mother, why speak to me about them?                                    [500]
There’s no need. I myself will look at them
and get to know each one. But keep this news
to yourself. Leave the matter with the gods.”

Once Odysseus spoke, the old woman left the room
to fetch water for his feet, since what she had before
had all been spilled. When she had finished bathing him,
she rubbed him with rich oil. Then Odysseus once more
pulled his chair closer to the fire to warm himself.
He hid the scar beneath his rags. Wise Penelope                                   640
began to speak. She said:

            “Stranger, there’s one small thing
I’ll ask you myself. Soon it will be time
to take a pleasant rest. And sleep is sweet                                            [510]
to every man, even if he’s troubled.
But gods have given me unmeasured grief.
Every day I get my joy from mourning,
from laments, as I carry out my work
and supervise the servants in the house.
But when night comes and Sleep grips everyone,
I lie in bed, and piercing worries crowd                                          650
my throbbing heart and give me great distress,
while I mourn. Just as Pandareus’s child,
the nightingale of the green woods, sings out
her lovely song when early spring arrives,
perched in thick foliage of the forest,                                                     [520]
pouring forth her richly modulating voice
in wailing for her dear child Itylus,
Zethus’s son, whom with a sword one day
she’d killed unwittingly—that’s how my heart
moves back and forth in its uncertainty.(6)                                     660
Should I stay with my son keeping an eye
on all possessions and my female slaves
and my large and lofty home, honouring
my husband’s bed and what the people say,
or marry the best of those Achaeans
who court me in my halls—the one who gives
countless bridal gifts. For my son, while young                                   [530]
and with a feeble mind, would not agree
I should get married and leave my husband’s home.
But now he’s grown—his youth has reached an end—                  670
he’s begging me to go back home again,
away from here, for he is truly worried
about our property, which these Achaeans
are using up. But come now, hear my dream
and interpret it for me. In this house
twenty geese approach me from the water
to eat my wheat. And when I look at them
I am delighted. Then from the mountains
a huge hook-beaked eagle came and killed them—
snapping all their necks. They lay there in piles,                          680
inside my hall, while he was carried up                                               [540]
into a shining sky. Now in that dream
I wept and wailed. Meanwhile, all around me
fair-haired women of Achaea gathered,
as, in my sorrow, I was there lamenting
that the eagle had slaughtered all my geese.
But he came back and, sitting on a beam
projecting from the roof, checked my sorrow,
and in a human voice spoke out to me:

‘Daughter of illustrious Icarius,                                              690
you must be resolute. That was no dream,
but a glimpse of what will truly happen.
The suitors are those geese, and I am here—
before I was an eagle, now I’ve come
as your own husband, who will execute
a cruel fate on each and every suitor.’                                        [550]

That’s what he said. Then sweet Sleep released me.
When I looked round the hall, I saw the geese—
pecking the wheat beside the water trough,
as they used to do before.”

                                    Resourceful Odysseus                                              700
then answered her and said:

                                       “Lady, it’s impossible
to twist another meaning from this dream—
the real Odysseus has revealed to you
how he will end all this. The suitors’ deaths
are all plain to see, and not one of them
will escape destruction and a lethal fate.”

Wise Penelope then replied to him and said:

“Stranger, stories told in dreams are difficult—                                  [560]
their meanings are not clear, and for people
they are not realized in every detail.                                               710
There are two gates for insubstantial dreams,
one made of horn and one of ivory.
Those which pass through the fresh-cut ivory
deceive—the words they bring are unfulfilled.
Those which come through the gate of polished horn,
once some mortal sees them, bring on the truth.
But I don’t think, in my case, the strange dream
came through that gate. It truly would have been
a welcome thing to me and to my son.
I’ll tell you something else. Keep it in mind.                                  720   [570]
That morning is already drawing near
when I leave the palace of Odysseus,
a day of evil omen. I will arrange
a competition featuring those axes
he used to set up in his hall, aligned
like ribs on ships, twelve axes in a row.
He’d stand and shoot an arrow through them all.(7)
I’ll suggest this contest for the suitors.
The one whose hand most deftly strings his bow
and then shoots an arrow through twelve axes                              730
is the one I’ll go with. I’ll leave my house,
a lovely home where I’ve lived as a wife,                                              [580]
full of what one needs—even in my dreams
it will stay in my memory forever.”

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:

“Honoured wife of Odysseus, Laertes’s son,
do not delay this contest in your halls
a moment longer. I can assure you,
Odysseus will be here with all his schemes,
before these men pick up the polished bow,                                  740
string it, and shoot an arrow through the iron.”

Wise Penelope then answered him:

if you wished to sit with me in these halls
to bring me pleasure, Sleep would never sit                                        [590]
on these eyelids of mine. But there’s no way
men can go on forever without sleep.
Immortal gods have set a proper time
for every man on this grain-bearing earth.
So now I’ll go up to my upstairs room
and lie down on the bed, which is for me                                        750
a place for grieving, always damp with tears,
since Odysseus went to wicked Ilion,
a name no one should ever talk about.
I’ll lie down there. But you can stretch out here,
in the house, putting cushions on the floor.
Or let the servants make a bed for you.”

Once she said this, she went to her bright upper room,                              [600]
not by herself, for two attendants went with her.
When she and both her servants reached the upstairs room,
she cried out for Odysseus, her dear husband,                                      760
until Athena cast sweet sleep across her eyes.



(1) Public heralds worked on public business, as opposed to heralds retained by rich aristocrats to carry their private messages. [Back to Text]

(2) Eilithyia is the goddess of childbirth, especially associated with the pains of labour. [Back to Text]

(3) Following the suggestion of another editor (Myres), I have exchanged the name of the winds, since in Homer the West Wind is commonly associated with warmth and the East Wind with cold weather and snow. [Back to Text]

(4) Dodona, in Epirus, was an ancient centre for the worship of Zeus and a popular place to consult an oracle. The rustling sounds in the large oak tree there were believed to be the words of Zeus himself. [Back to Text]

(5) This explanation for Odysseus’s name derives it from the Greek verb odussomai, meaning to be angry at. Homer calls attention to this etymology more than once. [Back to Text]

(6) Itylus, son of king Zethus, was killed by his mother Aedon accidentally. The mother was then transformed into a nightingale, whose song is a constant lament for her dead child. In some versions of the story, Itylus is a daughter. [Back to Text]

(7) The details of this famous trial of shooting an arrow through a row of axes have been much discussed. Some interpreters have suggested that it makes sense if we imagine that there is a hole in the head of each axe and that they can be lined up so that an arrow might pass through them all (obviously a very difficult shot). Some ancient axes apparently had this feature. Others have suggested that the holes are rings at the bottom end of the shaft or that the holes are those which normally hold the axe shaft (so that the line of axes is actually a line of axe heads with the shaft removed. [Back to Text]

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