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The Odyssey, book 20


c.800 BC


translated by Samuel Butler

Book XX

Pallas and Odysseus consult of the killing of the wooers.

But the goodly Odysseus laid him down to sleep in the vestibule of the house. He spread an undressed bull's hide on the ground and above it many fleeces of sheep, that the Achaeans were wont to slay in sacrifice, and Eurynome threw a mantle over him where he lay. There Odysseus lay wakeful, with evil thoughts against the wooers in his heart. And the women came forth from their chamber, that aforetime were wont to lie with the wooers, making laughter and mirth among themselves. Then the heart of Odysseus was stirred within his breast, and much he communed with his mind and soul, whether he should leap forth upon them and deal death to each, or suffer them to lie with the proud wooers, now for the last and latest time. And his heart growled sullenly within him. And even as a bitch stands over her tender whelps growling, when she spies a man she knows not, and she is eager to assail him, so growled his heart within him in his wrath at their evil deeds. Then he smote upon his breast and rebuked his own heart, saying:

'Endure, my heart; yea, a baser thing thou once didst bear, on that day when the Cyclops, unrestrained in fury, devoured the mighty men of my company; but still thou didst endure till thy craft found a way for thee forth from out the cave, where thou thoughtest to die.'

So spake he, chiding his own spirit within him, and his heart verily abode steadfast in obedience to his word. But Odysseus himself lay tossing this way and that. And as when a man by a great fire burning takes a paunch full of fat and blood, and turns it this way and that and longs to have it roasted most speedily, so Odysseus tossed from side to side, musing how he might stretch forth his hands upon the shameless wooers, being but one man against so many. Then down from heaven came Athene and drew nigh him, fashioned in the likeness of a woman. And she stood over his head and spake to him, saying:

'Lo now again, wherefore art thou watching, most luckless of all men living? Is not this thy house and is not thy wife there within and thy child, such a son as men wish to have for their own?'

Then Odysseus of many counsels answered her saying: 'Yea, goddess, all this thou hast spoken as is meet. But my heart within me muses in some measure upon this, how I may stretch forth my hands upon the shameless wooers, being but one man, while they abide ever in their companies within. Moreover, this other and harder matter I ponder in my heart: even if I were to slay them by thy will and the will of Zeus, whither should I flee from the avengers? Look well to this, I pray thee.'

Then answered the goddess, grey-eyed Athene: 'O hard of belief! yea, many there be that trust even in a weaker friend than I am, in one that is a mortal and knows not such craft as mine; but I am a god, that preserve thee to the end, in all manner of toils, And now I will tell thee plainly; even should fifty companies of mortal men compass us about eager to slay us in battle, even their kine shouldst thou drive off and their brave flocks. But let sleep in turn come over thee; to wake and to watch all night, this too is vexation of spirit; and soon shalt thou rise from out of thy troubles.'

So she spake and poured slumber upon his eyelids, but for her part the fair goddess went back to Olympus.

While sleep laid hold of him loosening the cares of his soul, sleep that loosens the limbs of men, his good wife awoke and wept as she sat on her soft bed. But when she had taken her fill of weeping, to Artemis first the fair lady made her prayer:

'Artemis, lady and goddess, daughter of Zeus, would that even now thou wouldst plant thy shaft within my breast and take my life away, even in this hour! Or else, would that the stormwind might snatch me up, and bear me hence down the dusky ways, and cast me forth where the back-flowing Oceanus mingles with the sea. It should be even as when the stormwinds bare away the daughters of Pandareus. Their father and their mother the gods had slain, and the maidens were left orphans in the halls, and fair Aphrodite cherished them with curds and sweet honey and delicious wine. And Here gave them beauty and wisdom beyond the lot of women, and holy Artemis dowered them with stature, and Athene taught them skill in all famous handiwork. Now while fair Aphrodite was wending to high Olympus, to pray that a glad marriage might be accomplished for the maidens, - and to Zeus she went whose joy is in the thunder, for he knows all things well, what the fates give and deny to mortal men - in the meanwhile the spirits of the storm snatched away these maidens, and gave them to be handmaids to the hateful Erinyes. Would that in such wise they that hold the mansions of Olympus would take me from the sight to men, or that fair-stressed Artemis would strike me, that so with a vision of Odysseus before mine eyes I might even pass beneath the dreadful earth, nor ever make a baser man's delight! But herein is an evil that may well be borne, namely, when a man weeps all the day long in great sorrow of heart, but sleep takes him in the night, for sleep makes him forgetful of all things, of good and evil, when once it has overshadowed his eyelids. But as for me, even the dreams that the gods send upon me are evil. For furthermore, this very night one seemed to lie by my side, in the likeness of my lord, as he was when he went with the host, and then was my heart glad, since methought it was no vain dream but a clear vision at the last.'

So she spake, and anon came the golden-throned Dawn. Now goodly Odysseus caught the voice of her weeping, and then he fell a musing, and it seemed to him that even now she knew him and was standing by his head. So he took up the mantle and the fleeces whereon he was lying, and set them on a high seat in the hall, and bare out the bull's hide out of doors and laid it there, and lifting up his hands he prayed to Zeus:

'Father Zeus, if ye gods of your good will have led me over wet and dry, to mine own country, after ye had plagued me sore, let some one I pray of the folk that are waking show me a word of good omen within, and without let some sign also be revealed to me from Zeus.'

So he spake in prayer, and Zeus, the counsellor, heard him. Straightway he thundered from shining Olympus, from on high from the place of clouds; and goodly Odysseus was glad. Moreover, a woman, a grinder at the mill, uttered a voice of omen from within the house hard by, where stood the mills of the shepherd of the people. At these handmills twelve women in all plied their task, making meal of barley and of wheat, the marrow of men. Now all the others were asleep, for they had ground out their task of grain, but one alone rested not yet, being the weakest of all. She now stayed her quern and spake a word, a sign to her lord:

'Father Zeus, who rulest over gods and men, loudly hast thou thundered from the starry sky, yet nowhere is there a cloud to be seen: this surely is a portent thou art showing to some mortal. Fulfil now, I pray thee, even to miserable me, the world that I shall speak. May the wooers, on this day, for the last and latest time make their sweet feasting in the halls of Odysseus! They that have loosened my knees with cruel toil to grind their barley meal, may they now sup their last!'

Thus she spake, and goodly Odysseus was glad in the omen of the voice and in the thunder of Zeus; for he thought that he had gotten his vengeance on the guilty.

Now the other maidens in the fair halls of Odysseus had gathered, and were kindling on the hearth the never-resting fire, And Telemachus rose from his bed, a godlike man, and put on his raiment, and slung a sharp sword about his shoulders, and beneath his shining feet he bound his goodly sandals. And he caught up his mighty spear shod with sharp bronze, and went and stood by the threshold, and spake to Eurycleia:

'Dear nurse, have ye honoured our guest in the house with food and couch, or does he lie uncared for, as he may? For this is my mother's way, wise as she is: blindly she honours one of mortal men, even the worse, but the better she sends without honour away.'

Then the prudent Eurycleia answered: 'Nay, my child, thou shouldst not now blame her where no blame is. For the stranger sat and drank wine, so long as he would, and of food he said he was no longer fain, for thy mother asked him. Moreover, against the hour when he should bethink him of rest and sleep, she bade the maidens strew for him a bed. But he, as one utterly wretched and ill-fated, refused to lie on a couch and under blankets, but on an undressed hide and on the fleeces of sheep he slept in the vestibule, and we cast a mantle over him.'

So she spake, and Telemachus passed out through the hall with his lance in his hand, and two fleet dogs bare him company. He went on his way to the assembly-place to join the goodly-greaved Achaeans. But the good lady Eurycleia, daughter of Ops son of Peisenor, called aloud to her maidens:

'Come hither, let some of you go busily and sweep the hall, and sprinkle it, and on the fair-fashioned seats throw purple coverlets, and others with sponges wipe all the tables clean, and cleanse the mixing bowls and well wrought double beakers, and others again go for water to the well, and return with it right speedily. For the wooers will not long be out of the hall but will return very early, for it is a feast day, yea for all the people.'

So she spake, and they all gave ready ear and hearkened. Twenty of them went to the well of dark water, and the others there in the halls were busy with skilful hands.

Then in came the serving-men of the Achaeans. Thereon they cleft the faggots well and cunningly, while, behold, the women came back from the well. Then the swineherd joined them leading three fatted boars, the best in all the flock. These he left to feed at large in the fair courts, but as for him he spake to Odysseus gently, saying:

'Tell me, stranger, do the Achaeans at all look on thee with more regard, or do they dishonour thee in the halls, as heretofore?'

Then Odysseus of many counsels answered him saying:

'Oh, that the gods, Eumaeus, may avenge the scorn wherewith these men deal insolently, and devise infatuate deeds in another's house, and have no place for shame!'

On such wise they spake one to another. And Melanthius drew near them, the goatherd, leading the goats that were most excellent in all the herds to be a dinner for the wooers, and two shepherds bare him company. So he tethered the goats beneath the echoing gallery, and himself spake to Odysseus and taunted him, saying:

'Stranger, wilt thou still be a plague to us here in the hall, with thy begging of men, and wilt not get thee gone? In no wise do I think we twain will be sundered, till we taste each the other's fists, for thy begging is out of all order. Also there are elsewhere other feasts of the Achaeans.'

So he spake, but Odysseus of many counsels answered him not a word, but in silence he shook his head, brooding evil in the deep of his heart.

Moreover a third man came up, Philoetius, a master of men, leading a barren heifer for the wooers and fatted goats. Now ferrymen had brought them over from the mainland, boatmen who send even other folks on their way, whosoever comes to them. The cattle he tethered carefully beneath the echoing gallery, and himself drew close to the swineherd, and began to question him:

'Swineherd, who is this stranger but newly come to our house? From what men does he claim his birth? Where are his kin and his native fields? Hapless is he, yet in fashion he is like a royal lord but the gods mar the goodliness of wandering men, when even for kings they have woven the web of trouble.'

So he spake, and came close to him offering his right hand in welcome, and uttering his voice spake to him winged words:

'Father and stranger, hail! may happiness be thine in the time to come; but as now, thou art fast holden in many sorrows! Father Zeus, none other god is more baneful than thou; thou hast no compassion on men, that are of thine own begetting, but makest them to have fellowship with evil and with bitter pains. The sweat brake out on me when I beheld him, and mine eyes stand full of tears for memory of Odysseus, for he too, methinks, is clad in such vile raiment as this, and is wandering among men, if haply he yet lives and sees the sunlight. But if he be dead already and in the house of Hades, then woe is me for the noble Odysseus, who set me over his cattle while I was but a lad in the land of the Cephallenians. And now these wax numberless; in no better wise could the breed of broad-browed cattle of any mortal increase, even as the ears of corn. But strangers command me to be ever driving these for themselves to devour, and they care nothing for the heir in the house, nor tremble at the vengeance of the gods, for they are eager even now to divide among themselves the possessions of our lord who is long afar. Now my heart within my breast often revolves this thing. Truly it were an evil deed, while a son of the master is yet alive, to get me away to the land of strangers, and go off, with cattle and all, to alien men. But this is more grievous still, to abide here in affliction watching over the herds of other men. Yea, long ago I would have fled and gone forth to some other of the proud kings, for things are now past sufferance; but still my thought is of that hapless one, if he might come I know not whence, and make a scattering of the wooers in the halls.'

Then Odysseus of many counsels answered him saying:

'Neatherd, seeing thou art not like to an evil man or a foolish, and of myself I mark how that thou hast gotten understanding of heart, therefore I will tell thee somewhat, and swear a great oath to confirm it. Be Zeus now my witness before any god, and the hospitable board and the hearth of noble Odysseus, whereunto I am come, that while thou art still in this place Odysseus shall come home, and thou shalt see with thine eyes, if thou wilt, the slaying of the wooers who lord it here.'

Then the neatherd made answer, saying:

'Ah, would, stranger, that Cronion may accomplish this word! So shouldst thou know what my might is, and how my hands follow to obey.'

In like manner Eumaeus prayed to all the gods, that wise Odyseus might return to his own home.

On such wise they spake one to the other, but the wooers at that time were framing death and doom for Telemachus. Even so there came by them a bird on their left, an eagle of lofty flight, with a cowering dove in his clutch. Then Amphinomus made harangue and spake among them:

'Friends, this counsel of ours will not go well, namely, the slaying of Telemachus; rather let us bethink us of the feast.'

So spake Amphinomus, and his saying pleased them well. They passed into the halls of godlike Odysseus and laid by their mantles on the chairs and high seats, and sacrificed great sheep and stout goats and the fatlings of the boars and the heifer of the herd; then they roasted the entrails and served them round and mixed wine in the bowl, and the swineherd set a cup by each man. And Philoetius, a master of men, handed them wheaten bread in beautiful baskets, and Melanthius poured out the wine. So they put forth their hands on the good cheer set before them.

Now Telemachus, in his crafty purpose, made Odysseus to sit down within the stablished hall by the threshold of stone, and placed for him a mean settle and a little table. He set by him his mess of the entrails, and poured wine into a golden cup and spake to him, saying:

'There, sit thee down, drinking thy wine among the lords, and the taunts and buffets of all the wooers I myself will ward off from thee, for this is no house of public resort, but the very house of Odysseus, and for me he won it. But, ye wooers, refrain your minds from rebukes and your hands from buffets, that no strife and feud may arise.'

So he said, and they all bit their lips and marvelled at Telemachus, in that he spake boldly. Then Antinous, son of Eupeithes, spake among them, saying:

'Hard though the word be, let us accept it, Achaeans, even the word of Telemachus, though mightily he threatens us in his speech. For Zeus Cronion hath hindered us of our purpose, else would we have silenced him in our halls, shrill orator as he is.'

So spake Antinous, but Telemachus took no heed of his words. Now the henchmen were leading through the town the holy hecatomb of the gods, and lo, the long-haired Achaeans were gathered beneath the shady grove of Apollo, the prince of archery.

Now when they had roasted the outer flesh and drawn it off the spits, they divided the messes and shared the glorious feast. And beside Odysseus they that waited set an equal share, the same as that which fell to themselves, for so Telemachus commanded, the dear son of divine Odysseus.

Now Athene would in nowise suffer the lordly wooers to abstain from biting scorn, that the pain might sink yet the deeper into the heart of Odysseus, son of Laertes. There was among the wooers a man of a lawless heart, Ctesippus was his name and in Same was his home, who trusting, forsooth, to his vast possessions, was wooing the wife of Odysseus the lord long afar. And now he spake among the proud wooers:

'Hear me, ye lordly wooers, and I will say somewhat. The stranger verily has long had his due portion, as is meet, an equal share; for it is not fair nor just to rob the guests of Telemachus of their right, whosoever they may be that come to this house. Go to then, I also will bestow on him a stranger's gift, that he in turn may give a present either to the bath-woman, or to any other of the thralls within the house of godlike Odysseus.'

Therewith he caught up an ox's foot from the dish, where it lay, and hurled it with strong hand. But Odysseus lightly avoided it with a turn of his head, and smiled right grimly in his heart, and the ox's foot smote the well builded wall. Then Telemachus rebuked Ctesippus, saying:

'Verily, Ctesippus, it has turned out happier for thy heart's pleasure as it is! Thou didst not smite the stranger, for he himself avoided that which was cast at him, else surely would I have struck thee through the midst with the sharp spear, and in place of wedding banquet thy father would have had to busy him about a funeral feast in this place. Wherefore let no man make show of unseemly deeds in this my house, for now I have understanding to discern both good and evil, but in time past I was yet a child. But as needs we must, we still endure to see these deeds, while sheep are slaughtered and wine drunken and bread devoured, for hard it is for one man to restrain many. But come, no longer work me harm out of an evil heart; but if ye be set on slaying me, even me, with the sword, even that would I rather endure, and far better would it be to die than to witness for ever these unseemly deeds - strangers shamefully entreated, and men haling the handmaidens in foul wise through the fair house.'

So he spake, and they were all hushed in silence. And late and at last spake among them Agelaus, son of Damastor:

'Friends, when a righteous word has been spoken,, none surely would rebuke another with hard speech and be angry. Misuse ye not this stranger, nor any of the thralls that are in the house of godlike Odysseus. But to Telemachus himself I would speak a soft word and to his mother, if perchance it may find favour with the mind of those twain. So long as your hearts within you had hope of the wise Odysseus returning to his own house, so long none could be wroth that ye waited and held back the wooers in the halls, for so had it been better, if Odysseus had returned and come back to his own home. But now the event is plain, that he will return no more. Go then, sit by thy mother and tell her all, namely, that she must wed the best man that wooes her, and whose gives most gifts; so shalt thou with gladness live on the heritage of thy father, eating and drinking, while she cares for another's house.'

Then wise Telemachus answered, and said: 'Nay by Zeus, Agelaus, and by the griefs of my father, who far away methinks from Ithaca has perished or goes wandering, in nowise do I delay my mother's marriage; nay, I bid her be married to what man she will, and withal I offer gifts without number. But I do indeed feel shame to drive her forth from the hall, despite her will, by a word of compulsion; God forbid that ever this should be.'

So spake Telemachus, but among the wooers Pallas Athene roused laughter unquenchable, and drave their wits wandering. And now they were laughing with alien lips, and blood-bedablled was the flesh they ate, and their eyes were filled with tears and their soul was fain of lamentation. Then the godlike Theoclymenus spake among them:

'Ah, wretched men, what woe is this ye suffer? Shrouded in night are your heads and your faces and your knees, and kindled is the voice of wailing, and all cheeks are wet with tears, and the walls and the fair main-beams of the roof are sprinkled with blood. And the porch is full, and full is the court, of ghosts that hasten hellwards beneath the gloom, and the sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist has overspread the world.'

So spake he, and they all laughed sweetly at him. Then Eurymachus, son of Polybus, began to speak to them, saying:

'The guest that is newly come from a strange land is beside himself. Quick, ye young men, and convey him forth out of doors, that he may go to the place of the gathering, since here he finds it dark as night.'

Then godlike Theoclymenus answered him: 'Eurymachus, in nowise do I seek guides of thee to send me on my way. Eyes have I, and ears, and both my feet, and a stable mind in my breast of no mean fashioning. With these I will go forth, for I see evil coming on you, which not one man of the wooers may avoid or shun, of all you who in the house of divine Odysseus deal insolently with men and devise infatuate deeds.'

Therewith he went forth from out of the fair-lying halls, and came to Peiraeus who received him gladly. Then all the wooers, looking one at the other, provoked Telemachus to anger, laughing at his guests. And thus some one of the haughty youths would speak:

'Telemachus, no man is more luckless than thou in his guests, seeing thou keepest such a filthy wanderer, whosoever he be, always longing for bread and wine, and skilled in no peaceful work nor any deed of war, but a mere burden of the earth. And this other fellow again must stand up to play the seer! Nay, but if thou wouldest listen to me, much better it were. Let us cast these strangers on board a benched ship, and send them to the Sicilians, whence they would fetch thee their price.'1

[Footnote 1: Reading aXpolv which is a correction. Or, keeping the MSS. aXpol 'and this should bring thee in a goodly price,' the subject to aXpol being, probably, the sale, which is suggested by the context.]

So spake the wooers, but he heeded not their words; in silence he looked towards his father, expecting evermore the hour when he should stretch forth his hands upon the shameless wooers.

Now the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, had set her fair chair over against them, and heard the words of each one of the men in the halls. For in the midst of laughter they had got ready the midday meal, a sweet meal and abundant, for they had sacrificed many cattle. But never could there be a banquet less gracious than that supper, such an one as the goddes and the brave man were soon to spread for them; for that they had begun the devices of shame.

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Main Index

The Odyssey, book 1 The Odyssey, book 2 The Odyssey, book 3 The Odyssey, book 4 The Odyssey, book 5 The Odyssey, book 6 The Odyssey, book 7 The Odyssey, book 8 The Odyssey, book 9 The Odyssey, book 10 The Odyssey, book 11 The Odyssey, book 12 The Odyssey, book 13 The Odyssey, book 14 The Odyssey, book 15 The Odyssey, book 16 The Odyssey, book 17 The Odyssey, book 18 The Odyssey, book 19 The Odyssey, book 20 The Odyssey, book 21 The Odyssey, book 22 The Odyssey, book 23 The Odyssey, book 24

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