HOMER
ODYSSEY

 

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

 

This document is in the public domain (released January 2024). For a brief publication history see Odyssey: Table of Contents. For an RTF or PDF format of this translation use the following links: Odyssey [RTF]; Odyssey [PDF]

 

BOOK FIVE
ODYSSEUS LEAVES CALYPSO’S ISLAND AND REACHES PHAEACIA

[The assembled gods decide to send Hermes to tell Calypso she must let Odysseus go home; Calypso welcomes Hermes on her island, hears Zeus’s orders; Calypso helps Odysseus construct a raft; Odysseus sets sail from Calypso’s island and gets within sight of Phaeacia; Poseidon sends a storm which destroys the raft; Odysseus gets help from the sea goddess Leucothea; Odysseus has trouble finding a place to come ashore, finds a river mouth, climbs ashore, and falls asleep in the bushes near the river.]

As Dawn stirred from her bed beside lord Tithonus,
bringing light to eternal gods and mortal men,
the gods were sitting in assembly, among them
high-thundering Zeus, whose power is supreme.
Athena was reminding them of all the stories
of Odysseus’ troubles—she was concerned for him
as he passed his days in nymph Calypso’s home.

“Father Zeus and you other blessed gods
who live forever, let no sceptred king
be prudent, kind, or gentle from now on,                                           10
or think about his fate. Let him instead
always be cruel and treat men viciously,                                                   [10]
since no one now has any memory
of lord Odysseus, who ruled his people
and was a gentle father. Now he lies
suffering extreme distress on that island
where nymph Calypso lives. She keeps him there
by force, and he’s unable to sail off
and get back to his native land—he lacks
a ship with oars and has no companions                                             20
to send him out across the sea’s broad back.
And now some men are setting out to kill
the son he loves, as he sails home. The boy
has gone to gather news about his father,
off to sacred Pylos and holy Sparta.”                                                    [20]

Cloud-gatherer Zeus then answered her and said:

                                                                       “My child,
what a speech has slipped the barrier of your teeth!
Did you not come up with this plan yourself,
so that Odysseus, once he made it home,
could take out his revenge against those men?                                 30
As for Telemachus, you should use your skill
to get him to his native land unharmed—
that’s well within your power. The suitors
will sail back in their ship without success.”

Zeus spoke and then instructed Hermes, his dear son:

“Hermes, since in every other matter
you are our herald, tell the fair-haired nymph                                     [30]
my firm decision—the brave Odysseus
is to get back home. He’ll get no guidance
from the gods or mortal men, but sail off                                           40
on a raft of wood well lashed together.
He’ll suffer hardships, but in twenty days
he’ll reach the fertile land of Scheria,
the territory of the Phaeacians,
people closely connected to the gods.
They will honour him with all their hearts,
as if he were divine, then send him off,
back in a ship to his dear native land.
They’ll give him many gifts of bronze and gold
and clothing, too, a greater hoard of goods                                        50
than Odysseus could ever win at Troy,
even if he made it back safe and sound                                                      [40]
with his share of the loot they passed around.
For that’s how Fate decrees he’ll see his friends
and reach his high-roofed house and native land.”

Once Zeus finished speaking. The killer of Argus,
his messenger, obeyed him. At once he laced up
on his feet those lovely golden ageless sandals
which carry him as fast as stormy blasts of wind
across the ocean seas and boundless tracts of land.                                   60
He took with him the wand he uses to put to sleep
or wake up the eyes of anyone he chooses.(1)
With this in hand, the mighty killer of Argus
flew away—speeding high above Pieria,
then leaping from the upper sky down to the sea.                                             [50]
Across the waves he raced, just like a cormorant,
a bird which hunts for fish down in the perilous gulfs
below the restless sea, soaking his thick plumage
in the brine—that how Hermes rode the crowded waves.
But when he reached the distant island, he rose up,                                 70
above the violet sea, and moved in onshore,
until he came to an enormous cave, the home
of the fair-haired nymph Calypso. He found her there,
a huge fire blazing in her hearth—from far away
the smell of split cedar and burning sandal wood                                         [60]
spread across the island. With her enchanting voice
Calypso sang inside the cave, as she moved round,
back and forth, before her loom—she was weaving
with a golden shuttle.(2) All around her in the cave
trees were in bloom, alder and sweet-smelling cypress,                            80
and poplar, too, with long-winged birds nesting in them—
owls, hawks, and chattering sea crows, who spend their time
out on the water. A garden vine, fully ripe
and loaded with rich grapes, trailed through the hollow cave.
From four fountains, close to each other in a row,                                             [70]
clear water streamed out in various directions,
and all around soft meadows spread out in full bloom
with fresh violets and parsley. Even a god,
who lives forever, coming there, would be amazed
to gaze at it, and his heart would fill with pleasure.                                   90
The killer of Argus, god’s messenger, stood there,
marvelling at the sight. But after his spirit
had contemplated all these things with wonder,
he went inside the spacious cave. And Calypso,
that lovely goddess, when she saw him face to face,
was not ignorant of who he was, for the gods
are not unknown to one another, even though
the home of some immortal might be far away.                                                  [80]

But Hermes did not find Odysseus in the cave—
that great-hearted man sat lamenting on the shore,                                   100
just as before, breaking his heart with tears and groans,
full of sorrow, as he looked out on the restless sea
and wept. Calypso invited Hermes to sit down
on a lustrous shining chair. Then the lovely goddess
questioned him:

                     “Hermes, honoured and welcome guest,
why have you come here with your golden wand?
You have not been a visitor before.
Tell me what’s on your mind. My heart desires
to perform what you request, if I can,
and if it’s something fated to be done.                                             110    [90]
But bear with me now, so I can show you
the hospitality I give my guests.”

After this speech, Calypso set out a table
laden with ambrosia, then mixed red nectar.(3)
And so the messenger god, killer of Argus,
ate and drank. When his meal was over and the food
had comforted his heart, Hermes gave his answer,
speaking to Calypso with these words:

                                                          “You’re a goddess,
and you’re asking me, a god, why I’ve come.
Since you’ve questioned me, I’ll tell you the truth.                           120
Zeus told me to come here against my will.
For who would volunteer to race across                                                     [100]
that huge expanse of sea—so gigantic
it cannot be described? There’s no town there
where mortal men can offer sacrifice
or choice gifts to the gods. But there’s no way
that any other god can override
or shun the will of aegis-bearing Zeus.
He says that you have here with you a man
more unfortunate than all the others                                                  130
who fought nine years around king Priam’s city,
which in the tenth year they destroyed and left
to get back home.(4) But on that voyage back
they sinned against Athena, and she sent
tall waves and dangerous winds against them.
All his other noble comrades perished,                                                     [110]
but winds and waves still carried him ahead
and brought him here. Now Zeus is telling you
to send him off as soon as possible.
For it is not ordained that he will die                                                  140
far from his friends. Instead his fate decrees
he’ll see his family and make it home
to his own high-roofed house and native land.”

Hermes finished. Calypso, the lovely goddess,
trembled as she replied to him—her words had wings:

“The gods are cruel and far too jealous—
more so than others. They are unhappy
if goddesses make mortal men their partners,
taking them to bed for sex. That’s how it was                                     [120]
when rose-fingered Dawn wanted Orion—                                         150
you gods that live at ease were jealous of her,
until golden-throned sacred Artemis
came to Ortygia and murdered him
with her gentle arrows.(5) In the same way,
when fair-haired Demeter was overcome
with passion and had sex with Iasion
in a thrice-ploughed fallow field, soon enough
Zeus heard of it and utterly destroyed him
by throwing down his dazzling lightning bolt.
Now once again you gods are envious,                                                 160
because a mortal man lives here with me.
I saved him when he was all by himself,                                                     [130]
riding his ship’s keel—his swift ship was smashed
by a blow from Zeus’s flaming lightning,
while in the middle of the wine-dark sea,
where all his other brave companions died.
Wind and waves brought him here. This is a man
I cherished and looked after, and I said
I would make him ageless and immortal
for all days to come. But since there’s no way                                     170
another god can override the plans
of aegis-bearing Zeus or cancel them,
let him be off across the restless seas,
if Zeus has so commanded and decreed.
But I’ll have no part of escorting him                                                          [140]
away from here—I have no ships with oars
nor any crew to take him on his way
across the broad back of the sea. But still,
I can make sincere suggestions to him
and keep nothing hidden, so he can reach                                          180
his native land and get back safe and sound.”

Then the killer of Argus, Zeus’s messenger,
said to Calypso:

                                     “Yes, send him away.
Think of Zeus’s rage. He may get angry
and make things hard for you in days to come.”

The killer of Argus, the gods’ great messenger,
said these words and left. The regal nymph Calypso,
once she heard Zeus’s message, went away to find                                             [150]
great-hearted Odysseus. She met him on the shore,
sitting by the sea, his eyes always full of tears,                                            190
because he was squandering his sweet life, mourning
for his return. The nymph no longer gave him joy.
At night he slept beside her in the hollow cave,
as he was forced to do—not of his own free will,
though she was keen enough. But in the daylight hours
he’d sit down on the rocks along the beach, his heart
straining with tears and groans and sorrow, as he gazed,
through his tears, over the restless sea. Moving up,
close to him, the lovely goddess spoke:

                                                        “Poor man,                                          [160]
spend no more time grieving on this island,                                       200
wasting your life away. My heart agrees—
the time has come for me to send you off.
So come now, cut long timbers with an axe,
and make a raft, a large one. Build a deck
high up on it, so it can carry you
across the misty sea. I’ll provision it
with all the food and water and red wine
you’re going to need to satisfy your wants.
I’ll give you clothes and send a favouring wind
blowing from your stern, so you may reach                                         210
your own native land unharmed, if the gods
are willing, the ones who hold wide heaven,
whose will and force are mightier than mine.”                                           [170]

Calypso finished her speech. Odysseus trembled,
then replied to her—his words had wings:

                                                              “Goddess,
in all this you’re planning something different.
You don’t want me to get home, when you tell me
to go across that huge gulf of the sea
and in a raft—a harsh and dangerous trip.
Not even swift well-balanced ships get through                                220
when they enjoy fair winds from Zeus. Besides,
without your consent I’d never board a raft,
not unless you, goddess, would undertake
to swear a mighty oath on my behalf
you’ll not come up with other devious plans
to injure me.”

                                        Odysseus finished speaking.                                   [180]
Calypso, the lovely goddess, smiled, caressed him,
and then replied by saying:

                          “You’re a cunning man,
with no lack of wit—to even consider
answering me like that. But let the earth                                            230
stand as witness, and wide heaven above,
and flowing waters of the river Styx—
the mightiest and most terrible oath
the blessed gods can make—I will not plan
any other injury against you. No.
I’ll think of things and give advice, as if
I was scheming for my own advantage,
if ever I should be in such distress.
For my mind is just, and inside my chest                                                   [190]
there is no iron heart—it feels pity,                                                      240
just like your own.”

                                                                     The beautiful goddess
finished speaking, then quickly led him from the place.
Odysseus followed in her footsteps. Man and goddess
entered the hollow cave. He sat down in the chair
Hermes had just risen from, and the nymph set out
all kinds of food to eat and drink, the sort of things
mortal human beings consume. She took a seat
opposite god-like Odysseus, and her servants
placed ambrosia and nectar right beside her.
The two of them reached out to take the tasty food                                    250   [200]
spread out in front of them. When they had had their fill
of food and drink, beautiful divine Calypso
was the first to speak:

                             “Nobly born son of Laertes,
resourceful Odysseus, so you now wish
to get back to your own dear native land
without delay? In spite of everything,
I wish you well. If your heart recognized
how much distress Fate has in store for you
before you reach your homeland, you’d stay here
and keep this home with me. You’d never die,                                   260
not even if you yearned to see your wife,
the one you always long for every day.                                                        [210]
I can boast that I’m no worse than her
in how I look or bear myself—it’s wrong
for mortal women to compete with gods
in form and beauty.”

                                           Resourceful Odysseus
then answered her and said:

                               “Mighty goddess,
do not be angry with me over this.
I myself know very well Penelope,
although intelligent, is not your match                                              270
to look at, not in stature or in beauty.
But she’s a human being and you’re a god.
You’ll never die or age. But still I wish,
every moment to get back to my home,                                                       [220]
to see the day of my return. And so,
even if out there on the wine-dark sea
some god breaks me apart, I will go on—
the heart here in my chest is quite prepared
to bear affliction. I’ve already had
so many troubles, and I’ve worked so hard                                          280
through waves and warfare. Let what’s yet to come
be added in with those.”

                                                                                     Odysseus finished.
Then the sun went down, and it grew dark. Both of them
went in the inner chamber of the hollow cave
and lay down there beside each other to make love.

As soon as rose-fingered early Dawn appeared,
Odysseus quickly put on a cloak and tunic,
and the nymph dressed in a long white shining robe,                                        [230]
a lovely lightly woven dress. Around her waist
she fixed a gorgeous golden belt and placed a veil                                      290
high on her head. Then she gathered up the tools
that brave Odysseus would need for his departure,
handing him a huge axe, well suited to his grip,
made of two-edged bronze, with a finely crafted shaft
of handsome olive wood. Next she provided him
a polished adze. Then she led him along a path
down to the edges of the island, where tall trees grew,
alder, poplar, and pine that reached the upper sky,
well-seasoned, dried-out wood, which could keep him afloat.                         [240]
Once she had shown the location of these trees,                                         300
Calypso, the lovely goddess, returned back home.
Odysseus then began to cut the wood. He worked
as quickly as he could and chopped down twenty trees.
Using his bronze axe, he trimmed and deftly smoothed them,
then lined them up. Calypso, that lovely goddess,
brought him an auger, so he could bore the timbers,
fasten them to one another, and tighten them
with pins and rope.(6) Odysseus made a giant raft,
as wide as the broad hull of a large cargo ship
traced out by someone very skilled in carpentry.                                         310    [250]
Then he worked to fasten the deck, attaching it
onto the close-set timbers and then finished it
with extended gunwales. Next he set up a mast
with a yardarm fastened to it and then carved out
a steering oar to guide the raft. From stem to stern
he wove a lattice of willow reeds reinforced
with wood to protect him from the waves. Calypso,
the enchanting goddess, brought him woven linen
to make a sail—which he did very skilfully.
On it he tied bracing ropes and sheets and halyards.(7)                              320    [260]
Then he levered the raft down to the shining sea.

By the fourth day he had completed all this work.
So on the fifth beautiful Calypso bathed him,
dressed him in sweet-smelling clothes, and ordered him
to leave her island. She had stowed on board the raft
a sack full of dark wine and another large one,
filled with water, and a sack of food, containing
many tasty things for him to eat. She sent him
a warm and favouring wind, and lord Odysseus
was happy as he set his sails to catch the breeze.                                       330
He sat beside the steering oar and used his skill                                                [270]
to guide the raft. Sleep did not fall across his eyelids,
as he watched the constellations—the Pleiades,
the late-setting Boötes and the Great Bear,
which men call the Wain, always turning in one place,
keeping watch over Orion—the only star
that never takes a bath in Ocean.(8) Calypso,
the lovely goddess, had told him to keep this star
to his left as he moved across the sea. He sailed
for ten days on the water, then for seven more,                                            340
and on the eighteenth day shadowy hills appeared,
where the land of the Phaeacians, like a large shield                                         [280]
riding on the misty sea, lay very close to him.


But at that moment, the powerful Earthshaker,
returning from the Ethiopians, saw him
from the distant mountain tops of the Solymi.
Poseidon watched Odysseus sailing on the sea,
and his spirit grew enraged. So he shook his head
and spoke to his own heart:

                                                                           “Something’s wrong!
The gods must have changed what they were planning                    350
for Odysseus, while I’ve been far away
among the Ethiopians. For now
he’s hard by the land of the Phaeacians,
where he’ll escape the great extremes of sorrow
which have come over him—so Fate ordains.
But still, even now I think I’ll push him                                                      [290]
so he gets his fill of troubles.”

                                                                                Poseidon spoke.
Then he drove the clouds together, seized his trident,
and stirred up the sea. He brought on blasting tempests
from every kind of wind, concealing land and sea                                       360
with gloomy clouds, so darkness fell from heaven.
East Wind clashed with South Wind, while West Wind, in a rage,
smashed straight into North Wind, born in the upper sky,
pushing a massive wave. Odysseus’ knees gave way,
his spirit fell, and in great distress he cried out,
addressing his great heart:

                               “I’m facing a disaster!
How is all this going to end up for me?                                                      [300]
I’m afraid everything the goddess said
was true, when she claimed that out at sea,
before I got back to my native land,                                                     370
I’d have my fill of troubles. And right now
all that is taking place—just look how Zeus
has covered the wide sky with clouds, stirred up
the sea with howling blasts from different winds
swooping down on me. My sheer destruction
is now beyond all doubt. O those Danaans,
three and four times blest, who perished back there
in spacious Troy, while doing a favour
for the sons of Atreus!(9) How I wish
I’d died as well and met my Fate that day                                            380
when companies of Trojans hurled at me
their bronze-tipped spears, as we battled it out                                      [310]
around the corpse of Peleus’s son.(10)
Then I’d have received my funeral rites,
and Achaeans would have made me famous.
But now I’m fated to be overwhelmed
and die a pitiful death.”

                                                            As he said these words,
that massive wave charged at him with tremendous force,
swirled round the raft, and then, from high above, crashed down.
Odysseus let go his grip on the steering oar                                                390
and fell out, a long way from the raft. Ferocious gusts
of howling winds snapped the mast off in the middle.
The sail and yardarm dropped away, down in the sea,
some distance off. For many moments he was held
under the water—he found it impossible
to rise above the power of that mighty wave,                                                      [320]
because the clothes he’d got from beautiful Calypso
dragged him down. But finally he reached the surface,
spitting tart salt water from his mouth, as it streamed
down from his head. But even so, though badly shaken,                            400
he did not forget about the raft. Through the waves
he swam up, grabbed hold, and crouched down in the middle,
trying to escape destructive Fate. The huge wave
carried him along its course this way and that.
Just as in autumn North Wind sweeps the thistledown
along the plain, and the tufts bunch up together,
that’s how the winds then blasted his raft to and fro                                        [330]
across the stormy sea. Sometimes South Wind would toss it
over to North Wind to carry. At other times,
East Wind would allow West Wind to lead the chase.                               410

Then Ino with the lovely ankles noticed him—
Cadmus’ child, once a mortal being who could speak,
but now, deep in the sea, she was Leucothea
and had her share of recognition from the gods.(11)
She felt pity for Odysseus as he suffered
in such perilous distress. She rose up from the waves,
like a sea gull on the wing, climbed onto the raft,
and spoke to him, saying:

                                             “You poor wretch,
why do you put Earthshaker Poseidon
in such a furious temper, so that he                                                    420
keeps stirring up all this trouble for you?                                                 [340]
No matter what he wants, he won’t kill you.
It seems to me you’ve got a clever mind,
so do just what I say. Take off these clothes,
and jump out of the raft. Drift with the winds.
But paddle with your hands, and try to reach
the land of the Phaeacians, where Fate says
you will be rescued. Come on, take this veil—
it’s from the gods—and tie it round your chest.
Then there’s no fear you’ll suffer anything                                         430
or die. But when your hand can grab the shore,
then take it off and throw it far from land
into the wine-dark sea and turn away.”                                                       [350]

The goddess said this, handed him the veil, and left,
diving like a sea bird down in the heaving sea.
A dark wave swallowed her. Resourceful Odysseus,
who had endured so much, considered what to do,
speaking, in great distress, to his courageous heart:

“I’m in trouble. I hope none of the gods
is weaving dangers for me once again                                                  440
with this advice of hers to leave the raft.
Well, I won’t follow what she says—not yet.
For I can see with my own eyes how far
that land is where she said I would be saved.
So I will do what now seems best to me—                                                  [360]
as long as these raft timbers hold in place,
I’ll stay here and bear whatever happens,
but once the waves have smashed my raft apart,
I’ll swim for it. There is no better way.”

As his mind and heart were thinking about these things,                          450
Earthshaker Poseidon set the seas in motion
with a monstrous, menacing, and terrifying wave,
arching high above his head, and drove it at him.
Just as a storm wind scatters dry straw in a heap,
blowing pieces here and there in all directions—
that’s how that huge wave split the long planks on the raft.
But while straddling a board, as if astride a horse,                                         [370]
Odysseus stripped away the clothing he’d received
from fair Calypso. He wound the veil across his chest,
and then, with arms outstretched, fell face first in the sea,                      460
trying to swim. The mighty Shaker of the Earth
saw him, shook his head, and then spoke to his own heart:

“So now, after suffering so much anguish,
keep roaming on the sea until you meet
a people raised by Zeus. Still, I don’t think
you’ll be laughing at the troubles still in store.”

With these words Poseidon lashed his fine-maned horses                            [380]
and left for Aegae where he has his splendid home.

Then Athena, Zeus’s daughter, thought of something.
She blocked off the pathways of every wind but one                                   470
and ordered all of them to stop and check their force,
then roused the swift North Wind and broke the waves in front,
so that divinely born Odysseus might yet meet
the people of Phaeacia, men who love the oar,
avoiding death and Fates.

                                            So for two days and nights
he floated on the ocean waves—his heart was filled
with countless thoughts of death. But when the fair-haired Dawn                  [390]
gave rise at last to the third day, the wind died down,
the sea grew calm and still. Odysseus was raised up
by a large swell, and as he quickly looked ahead,                                       480
he could see the land close by. Just as young children
rejoice to see life in a father who lies sick,
in savage pain through a lengthy wasting illness,
with a malicious god afflicting him, and then,
to their delight, the gods release him from disease,
that is how Odysseus rejoiced when he could see
the land and forests. He swam on ahead, eager
to set foot on the shore. But when he came in closer,
as far as man’s voice can carry when he shouts,                                                  [400]
he heard the crashing of the sea against the rocks—                                  490
huge waves with a dreadful roar smashing on dry land
and foaming clouds of spray concealing everything—
there were no harbours fit for ships to ride or coves,
but jutting headlands, cliffs, and boulders—at that point
Odysseus felt both his knees and spirit give way,
and in despair he spoke to his great heart:

                                                                 “What’s this?
great Zeus has given me a glimpse of land,
just when I’d lost hope, and I’ve made my way
cutting across this gulf, but I can’t find
a place where I can leave this cold grey sea.                                       500   [410]
There’s an outer rim of jagged boulders
where waves come crashing on them with a roar.
The rock face rises sheer, the water there
is deep—there’s no way to gain a foothold
and escape my death. If I try to land,
a huge wave may pick me up and smash me
on those protruding rocks, and my attempt
would be quite useless. But if I keep swimming
and hope I’ll find a sloping beach somewhere
or havens from the sea, then I’m afraid                                                510
the stormy winds will grab me once again
and carry me, for all my heavy groans,                                                       [420]
across the fish-filled seas, or else some god
may set some monstrous creature of the sea
against me—illustrious Amphitrite
raises many beasts like that. I know well
the rage the great Earthshaker feels for me.”

As he debated in his mind and heart like this,
a huge wave carried him toward the rocky shore.
His skin would have been ripped and all his bones smashed up,              520
but the goddess with the gleaming eyes, Athena,
put a thought inside his mind. As he surged ahead,
he grabbed a rock with both his hands and held it,
groaning, until that giant wave had passed him by.
So he escaped. But as the wave flowed back once more,                                   [430]
it charged, struck, and flung him back out to sea. Just as
an octopus is dragged out from its den, its suckers
full of clinging pebbles, that’s how his skin was scraped
from his strong hands against the rocks, as that great wave
engulfed him. And then unfortunate Odysseus                                          530
would have perished there, something not ordained by Fate,
if bright-eyed Athena had not given him advice.
Moving from the surf where it pounded on the shore,
he swam out to sea, but kept looking at the land,
hoping to come across a sloping beach somewhere                                           [440]
or a haven from the sea. He kept swimming on
until he reached the mouth of a fair-flowing river,
which seemed to him the finest place to go onshore.
There were no rocks, and it was sheltered from the wind.
Odysseus recognized the river as it flowed                                                   540
and prayed to it deep in his heart:

                                           “Hear me, my lord,
whoever you may be. I’ve come to you,
the answer to my many prayers, fleeing
Poseidon’s punishment from the deep sea.
A man who visits as a wanderer
commands respect, even with deathless gods—
just as I’ve now come to your stream and knees,
after suffering so much. So pity me,
my lord—I claim to be your suppliant.”                                                     [450]

Odysseus spoke. At once the god held back his flow,                                 550
checked the waves, calmed the water up ahead of him,
and brought him safely to the river mouth. Both knees bent,
he let his strong hands fall—the sea had crushed his heart.
All his skin was swollen, and water flowed in streams
up in his mouth and nose. He lay there out of breath,
without a word, hardly moving—quite overcome
with terrible exhaustion. But when he revived
and spirit moved back into his heart, he untied
the veil the goddess gave him and let the river                                                   [460]
take it as it flowed out to the sea. A great wave                                           560
carried it downstream, and then without delay
Ino’s friendly hands retrieved it. But Odysseus
turned from the river, collapsed down in the rushes,
and kissed life-giving earth. Then in his anxiety,
he spoke to his great heart:

“What now? What’s next for me?
How will I end up? If I stay right here
all through the wretched night, with my eye on
the river bed, I fear the bitter frost
and freshly fallen dew will both combine
to overcome me when, weak as I am,                                                    570
my spirit’s breath grows faint—the river wind
blows cold in early morning. But if I climb                                                [470]
uphill to the shady woods and lie down
in some thick bushes and so rid myself
of cold and weariness, sweet Sleep may come
and overpower me, and then, I fear,
I may become some wild beast’s prey, its prize.”

He thought about what he should do and resolved
to move up to the woods. Close by the water
he found a place with a wide view. So he crept in,                                      580
beneath two bushes growing from a single stem—
one was an olive tree, the other a wild thorn.
Wet winds would not be strong enough ever to blow
through both of these, nor could the bright sun’s rays shine in,
and rain would never penetrate—they grew so thick,                                   [480]
all intertwined with one another. Under these
Odysseus crawled, and his strong hands quickly made
a spacious bed for him—for all around that spot
there were fallen leaves, enough to cover two or three
on a winter night, however bad the weather.                                         590
When resourceful lord Odysseus noticed that,
he was delighted and lay down in the middle
and piled heaps of fallen leaves around his body.    
Just as someone on a farm without a neighbour
hides a torch beneath black embers, and in this way
saves a spark of fire and does not need to kindle it                                            [490]
from somewhere else, that is how he spread out the leaves
on top of him. Athena poured sleep on his eyes,
covering his eyelids, so he could find relief,
a quick respite from his exhausting troubles.

 

ENDNOTES

(1) golden wand: Hermes is often depicted carrying his staff, the caduceus. [Back to Text]

(2) Shuttle: Instrument used in weaving (carrying the weft thread back and forth between the strands of warp thread). [Back to Text]

(3) ambrosia, then … red nectar: Foods of the gods, who do not consume the same foods as mortals. [Back to Text]
 

(4) Priam’s city: Troy; Priam, the king of Troy, was killed upon the city’s capture. [Back to Text]

(5) Orion: a mythical hunter, son of Poseidon. By some accounts he was killed by Artemis in an archery contest with Apollo. [Back to Text]

(6) augers: Tools used for making holes in wood. [Back to Text]

(7) halyards: Ropes used to raise and lower sails. [Back to Text]

(8) The Great Bear or Wain (in modern times often called the Plough) turns more or less around the same spot in the night sky and at the latitudes of the eastern Mediterranean never disappears below the horizon (that is, bathes in the Ocean). The Bootes (Herdsman) is the constellation Arcturus. [Back to Text]

(9) The sons of Atreus are Menelaus and Agamemnon, for whose sake many Achaean kings joined the expedition to Troy, because of a promise they had made that they would assist whoever married Helen. [Back to Text]

(10) Peleus’s dead son is a reference to Achilles and to a famous incident in the Trojan war when the Achaean leaders fought to protect the body of Achilles. [Back to Text]

(11) Ino was the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia (king and queen of Thebes). After her death Zeus changed Ino into a goddess of the sea, Leucothea. [Back to Text]

 

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