The Odyssey

Book XIX


Ulysses and Telemachus remove the arms from the hall to an upper-chamber. The Hero then confers with Penelope, to whom he gives a fictitious narrative of his adventures. Euryclea, while bathing Ulysses, discovers him by a scar on his knee, but he prevents her communication of that discovery to Penelope.

They went, but left the noble Chief behind
In his own house, contriving by the aid
Of Pallas, the destruction of them all,
And thus, in accents wing’d, again he said.
My son! we must remove and safe dispose
All these my well-forged implements of war;
And should the suitors, missing them, enquire
Where are they? thou shalt answer smoothly thus—
I have convey’d them from the reach of smoke,
For they appear no more the same which erst
Ulysses, going hence to Ilium, left,
So smirch’d and sullied by the breath of fire.
This weightier reason (thou shalt also say)
Some God suggested to me,—lest, inflamed
With wine, ye wound each other in your brawls,
Shaming both feast and courtship; for the view
Itself of arms incites to their abuse.
He ceased, and, in obedience to his will,
Calling the ancient Euryclea forth,
His nurse, Telemachus enjoin’d her thus.
Go—shut the women in; make fast the doors
Of their apartment, while I safe dispose
Elsewhere, my father’s implements of war,
Which, during his long absence, here have stood
Till smoke hath sullied them. For I have been
An infant hitherto, but, wiser grown,
Would now remove them from the breath of fire.
Then thus the gentle matron in return.
Yes truly—and I wish that now, at length,
Thou would’st assert the privilege of thy years,
My son, thyself assuming charge of all,
Both house and stores; but who shall bear the light?
Since they, it seems, who would, are all forbidden.
To whom Telemachus discrete replied.
This guest; for no man, from my table fed,
Come whence he may; shall be an idler here.
He ended, nor his words flew wing’d away,
But Euryclea bolted every door.
Then, starting to the task, Ulysses caught,
And his illustrious son, the weapons thence,
Helmet, and bossy shield, and pointed spear,
While Pallas from a golden lamp illumed
The dusky way before them. At that sight
Alarm’d, the Prince his father thus address’d.
Whence—whence is this, my father? I behold
A prodigy! the walls of the whole house,
The arches, fir-tree beams, and pillars tall
Shine in my view, as with the blaze of fire!
Some Pow’r celestial, doubtless, is within.
To whom Ulysses, ever-wise, replied.
Soft! ask no questions. Give no vent to thought,
Such is the custom of the Pow’rs divine.
Hence, thou, to bed. I stay, that I may yet
Both in thy mother and her maidens move
More curiosity; yes—she with tears
Shall question me of all that I have seen.
He ended, and the Prince, at his command,
Guided by flaming torches, sought the couch
Where he was wont to sleep, and there he slept
On that night also, waiting the approach
Of sacred dawn. Thus was Ulysses left
Alone, and planning sat in solitude,
By Pallas’ aid, the slaughter of his foes.
At length, Diana-like, or like herself,
All golden Venus, (her apartment left)
Enter’d Penelope. Beside the hearth
Her women planted her accustom’d seat
With silver wreathed and ivory. That throne
Icmalius made, artist renown’d, and join’d
A footstool to its splendid frame beneath,
Which ever with an ample fleece they spread.
There sat discrete Penelope; then came
Her beautiful attendants from within,
Who cleared the litter’d bread, the board, and cups
From which the insolent companions drank.
They also raked the embers from the hearths
Now dim, and with fresh billets piled them high,
Both for illumination and for warmth.
Then yet again Melantho with rude speech
Opprobrious, thus, assail’d Ulysses’ ear.
Guest—wilt thou trouble us throughout the night
Ranging the house? and linger’st thou a spy
Watching the women? Hence—get thee abroad
Glad of such fare as thou hast found, or soon
With torches beaten we will thrust thee forth.
To whom Ulysses, frowning stern, replied.
Petulant woman! wherefore thus incensed
Inveigh’st thou against me? is it because
I am not sleek? because my garb is mean?
Because I beg? thanks to necessity—
I would not else. But such as I appear,
Such all who beg and all who wander are.
I also lived the happy owner once
Of such a stately mansion, and have giv’n
To num’rous wand’rers, whencesoe’er they came,
All that they needed; I was also served
By many, and enjoy’d all that denotes
The envied owner opulent and blest.
But Jove (for so it pleas’d him) hath reduced
My all to nothing. Therefore well beware
Thou also, mistress, lest a day arrive
When all these charms by which thou shin’st among
Thy sister-menials, fade; fear, too, lest her
Thou should’st perchance irritate, whom thou serv’st,
And lest Ulysses come, of whose return
Hope yet survives; but even though the Chief
Have perish’d, as ye think, and comes no more,
Consider yet his son, how bright the gifts
Shine of Apollo in the illustrious Prince
Telemachus; no woman, unobserved
By him, can now commit a trespass here;
His days of heedless infancy are past.
He ended, whom Penelope discrete
O’erhearing, her attendant sharp rebuked.
Shameless, audacious woman! known to me
Is thy great wickedness, which with thy life
Thou shalt atone; for thou wast well aware,
(Hearing it from myself) that I design’d
To ask this stranger of my absent Lord,
For whose dear sake I never cease to mourn.
Then to her household’s governess she said.
Bring now a seat, and spread it with a fleece,
Eurynome! that, undisturb’d, the guest
May hear and answer all that I shall ask.
She ended. Then the matron brought in haste
A polish’d seat, and spread it with a fleece,
On which the toil-accustom’d Hero sat,
And thus the chaste Penelope began.
Stranger! my first enquiry shall be this—
Who art thou? whence? where born? and sprung from whom?
Then answer thus Ulysses, wise, return’d.
O Queen! uncensurable by the lips
Of mortal man! thy glory climbs the skies
Unrivall’d, like the praise of some great King
Who o’er a num’rous people and renown’d
Presiding like a Deity, maintains
Justice and truth. The earth, under his sway,
Her produce yields abundantly; the trees
Fruit-laden bend; the lusty flocks bring forth;
The Ocean teems with finny swarms beneath
His just controul, and all the land is blest.
Me therefore, question of what else thou wilt
In thy own palace, but forbear to ask
From whom I sprang, and of my native land,
Lest thou, reminding me of those sad themes,
Augment my woes; for I have much endured;
Nor were it seemly, in another’s house,
To pass the hours in sorrow and in tears,
Wearisome when indulg’d with no regard
To time or place; thy train (perchance thyself)
Would blame me, and I should reproach incur
As one tear-deluged through excess of wine.
Him answer’d then Penelope discrete.
The immortal Gods, O stranger, then destroy’d
My form, my grace, my beauty, when the Greeks
Whom my Ulysses follow’d, sail’d to Troy.
Could he, returning, my domestic charge
Himself intend, far better would my fame
Be so secured, and wider far diffused.
But I am wretched now, such storms of woe
The Gods have sent me; for as many Chiefs
As hold dominion in the neighbour isles
Samos, Dulichium, and the forest-crown’d
Zacynthus; others, also, rulers here
In pleasant Ithaca, me, loth to wed,
Woo ceaseless, and my household stores consume.
I therefore, neither guest nor suppliant heed,
Nor public herald more, but with regret
Of my Ulysses wear my soul away.
They, meantime, press my nuptials, which by art
I still procrastinate. Some God the thought
Suggested to me, to commence a robe
Of amplest measure and of subtlest woof,
Laborious task; which done, I thus address’d them.
Princes, my suitors! since the noble Chief
Ulysses is no more, enforce not now
My nuptials; wait till I shall finish first
A fun’ral robe (lest all my threads be marr’d)
Which for the ancient Hero I prepare
Laertes, looking for the mournful hour
When fate shall snatch him to eternal rest.
Else, I the censure dread of all my sex,
Should he, so wealthy, want at last a shroud.
Such was my speech; they, unsuspicious all,
With my request complied. Thenceforth, all day
I wove the ample web, and, by the aid
Of torches, ravell’d it again at night.
Three years by artifice I thus their suit
Eluded safe; but when the fourth arrived,
And the same season after many moons
And fleeting days return’d, passing my train
Who had neglected to release the dogs,
They came, surprized and reprimanded me.
Thus, through necessity, not choice, at last
I have perform’d it, in my own despight.
But no escape from marriage now remains,
Nor other subterfuge for me; meantime
My parents urge my nuptials, and my son
(Of age to note it) with disgust observes
His wealth consumed; for he is now become
Adult, and abler than myself to rule
The house, a Prince distinguish’d by the Gods,
Yet, stranger, after all, speak thy descent;
Say whence thou art; for not of fabulous birth
Art thou, nor from the oak, nor from the rock.
Her answer’d then Ulysses, ever-wise.
O spouse revered of Laertiades!
Resolv’st thou still to learn from whom I sprang?
Learn then; but know that thou shalt much augment
My present grief, natural to a man
Who hath, like me, long exiled from his home
Through various cities of the sons of men
Wander’d remote, and num’rous woes endured.
Yet, though it pain me, I will tell thee all.
There is a land amid the sable flood
Call’d Crete; fair, fruitful, circled by the sea.
Num’rous are her inhabitants, a race
Not to be summ’d, and ninety towns she boasts.
Diverse their language is; Achaians some,
And some indigenous are; Cydonians there,
Crest-shaking Dorians, and Pelasgians dwell.
One city in extent the rest exceeds,
Cnossus; the city in which Minos reign’d,
Who, ever at a nine years’ close, conferr’d
With Jove himself; from him my father sprang
The brave Deucalion; for Deucalion’s sons
Were two, myself and King Idomeneus.
To Ilium he, on board his gallant barks,
Follow’d the Atridæ. I, the youngest-born,
By my illustrious name, Æthon, am known,
But he ranks foremost both in worth and years.
There I beheld Ulysses, and within
My walls receiv’d him; for a violent wind
Had driv’n him from Malea (while he sought
The shores of Troy) to Crete. The storm his barks
Bore into the Amnisus, for the cave
Of Ilythia known, a dang’rous port,
And which with difficulty he attain’d.
He, landing, instant to the city went,
Seeking Idomeneus; his friend of old,
As he affirm’d, and one whom much he lov’d.
But he was far remote, ten days advanced,
Perhaps eleven, on his course to Troy.
Him, therefore, I conducted to my home,
Where hospitably, and with kindest care
I entertain’d him, (for I wanted nought)
And for himself procured and for his band,—
By public contribution, corn, and wine,
And beeves for food, that all might be sufficed.
Twelve days his noble Greecians there abode,
Port-lock’d by Boreas blowing with a force
Resistless even on the land, some God
So roused his fury; but the thirteenth day
The wind all fell, and they embark’d again.
With many a fiction specious, as he sat,
He thus her ear amused; she at the sound
Melting, with fluent tears her cheeks bedew’d;
And as the snow by Zephyrus diffused,
Melts on the mountain tops, when Eurus breathes,
And fills the channels of the running streams,
So melted she, and down her lovely cheeks
Pour’d fast the tears, him mourning as remote
Who sat beside her. Soft compassion touch’d
Ulysses of his consort’s silent woe;
His eyes as they had been of steel or horn,
Moved not, yet artful, he suppress’d his tears,
And she, at length with overflowing grief
Satiate, replied, and thus enquired again.
Now, stranger, I shall prove thee, as I judge,
If thou, indeed, hast entertain’d in Crete
My spouse and his brave followers, as thou say’st.
Describe his raiment and himself; his own
Appearance, and the appearance of his friends.
Then her Ulysses answer’d, ever-wise.
Hard is the task, O Queen! (so long a time
Hath since elaps’d) to tell thee. Twenty years
Have pass’d since he forsook my native isle,
Yet, from my best remembrance, I will give
A likeness of him, such as now I may.
A double cloak, thick-piled, Mœonian dyed,
The noble Chief had on; two fast’nings held
The golden clasp, and it display’d in front
A well-wrought pattern with much art design’d.
An hound between his fore-feet holding fast
A dappled fawn, gaped eager on his prey.
All wonder’d, seeing, how in lifeless gold
Express’d, the dog with open mouth her throat
Attempted still, and how the fawn with hoofs
Thrust trembling forward, struggled to escape.
That glorious mantle much I noticed, soft
To touch, as the dried garlick’s glossy film;
Such was the smoothness of it, and it shone
Sun-bright; full many a maiden, trust me, view’d
The splendid texture with admiring eyes.
But mark me now; deep treasure in thy mind
This word. I know not if Ulysses wore
That cloak at home, or whether of his train
Some warrior gave it to him on his way,
Or else some host of his; for many loved
Ulysses, and with him might few compare.
I gave to him, myself, a brazen sword,
A purple cloak magnificent, and vest
Of royal length, and when he sought his bark,
With princely pomp dismiss’d him from the shore.
An herald also waited on the Chief,
Somewhat his Senior; him I next describe.
His back was bunch’d, his visage swarthy, curl’d
His poll, and he was named Eurybates;
A man whom most of all his followers far
Ulysses honour’d, for their minds were one.
He ceased; she recognising all the proofs
Distinctly by Ulysses named, was moved
Still more to weep, till with o’erflowing grief
Satiate, at length she answer’d him again.
Henceforth, O stranger, thou who hadst before
My pity, shalt my rev’rence share and love,
I folded for him (with these hands the cloak
Which thou describ’st, produced it when he went,
And gave it to him; I that splendid clasp
Attach’d to it myself, more to adorn
My honour’d Lord, whom to his native land
Return’d secure I shall receive no more.
In such an evil hour Ulysses went
To that bad city never to be named.
To whom Ulysses, ever-wise, replied.
Consort revered of Laertiades!
No longer let anxiety impair
Thy beauteous form, nor any grief consume
Thy spirits more for thy Ulysses’ sake.
And yet I blame thee not; a wife deprived
Of her first mate to whom she had produced
Fair fruit of mutual love, would mourn his loss,
Although he were inferior far to thine,
Whom fame affirms the semblance of the Gods.
But cease to mourn. Hear me. I will relate
A faithful tale, nor will from thee withhold
Such tidings of Ulysses living still,
And of his safe return, as I have heard
Lately, in yon neighb’ring opulent land
Of the Thesprotians. He returns enrich’d
With many precious stores from those obtain’d
Whom he hath visited; but he hath lost,
Departing from Thrinacia’s isle, his bark
And all his lov’d companions in the Deep,
For Jove was adverse to him, and the Sun,
Whose beeves his followers slew. They perish’d all
Amid the billowy flood; but Him, the keel
Bestriding of his bark, the waves at length
Cast forth on the Phæacian’s land, a race
Allied to heav’n, who rev’renced like a God
Thy husband, honour’d him with num’rous gifts,
And willing were to have convey’d him home.
Ulysses, therefore, had attained long since
His native shore, but that he deem’d it best
To travel far, that he might still amass
More wealth; so much Ulysses all mankind
Excels in policy, and hath no peer.
This information from Thesprotia’s King
I gain’d, from Phidon; to myself he swore,
Libation off’ring under his own roof,
That both the bark was launch’d, and the stout crew
Prepared, that should conduct him to his home.
But me he first dismiss’d; for, as it chanced,
A ship lay there of the Thesprotians, bound
To corn-enrich’d Dulichium. All the wealth
He shew’d me by the Chief amass’d, a store
To feed the house of yet another Prince
To the tenth generation; so immense
His treasures were within that palace lodg’d.
Himself he said was to Dodona gone,
Counsel to ask from the oracular oaks
Sublime of Jove, how safest he might seek,
After long exile thence, his native land,
If openly were best, or in disguise.
Thus, therefore, he is safe, and at his home
Well-nigh arrived, nor shall his country long
Want him. I swear it with a solemn oath.
First Jove be witness, King and Lord of all!
Next these domestic Gods of the renown’d
Ulysses, in whose royal house I sit,
That thou shalt see my saying all fulfill’d.
Ulysses shall this self-same year return,
This self-same month, ere yet the next begin.
Him answer’d then Penelope discrete.
Grant heav’n, my guest, that this good word of thine
Fail not! then, soon shalt thou such bounty share
And friendship at my hands, that, at first sight,
Whoe’er shall meet thee shall pronounce thee blest.
But ah! my soul forebodes how it will prove;
Neither Ulysses will return, nor thou
Receive safe conduct hence; for we have here
None, such as once Ulysses was, to rule
His household with authority, and to send
With honourable convoy to his home
The worthy guest, or to regale him here.
Give him the bath, my maidens; spread his couch
With linen soft, with fleecy gaberdines[1]
And rugs of splendid hue, that he may lie
Waiting, well-warm’d, the golden morn’s return.
Attend him also at the peep of day
With bath and unction, that, his seat resumed
Here in the palace, he may be prepared
For breakfast with Telemachus; and woe
To him who shall presume to incommode
Or cause him pain; that man shall be cashier’d
Hence instant, burn his anger as it may.
For how, my honour’d inmate! shalt thou learn
That I in wisdom œconomic aught
Pass other women, if unbathed, unoiled,
Ill-clad, thou sojourn here? man’s life is short,
Whoso is cruel, and to cruel arts
Addict, on him all men, while yet he lives,
Call plagues and curses down, and after death
Scorn and proverbial mock’ries hunt his name.
But men, humane themselves, and giv’n by choice
To offices humane, from land to land
Are rumour’d honourably by their guests,
And ev’ry tongue is busy in their praise.
Her answer’d then, Ulysses, ever-wise.
Consort revered of Laertiades!
Warm gaberdines and rugs of splendid hue
To me have odious been, since first the sight
Of Crete’s snow-mantled mountain-tops I lost,
Sweeping the billows with extended oars.
No; I will pass, as I am wont to pass
The sleepless night; for on a sordid couch
Outstretch’d, full many a night have I reposed
Till golden-charioted Aurora dawn’d.
Nor me the foot-bath pleases more; my foot
Shall none of all thy ministring maidens touch,
Unless there be some ancient matron grave
Among them, who hath pangs of heart endured
Num’rous, and keen as I have felt myself;
Her I refuse not. She may touch my feet.
Him answer’d then prudent Penelope.
Dear guest! for of all trav’llers here arrived
From distant regions, I have none received
Discrete as thou, or whom I more have lov’d,
So just thy matter is, and with such grace
Express’d. I have an ancient maiden grave,
The nurse who at my hapless husband’s birth
Receiv’d him in her arms, and with kind care
Maternal rear’d him; she shall wash thy feet,
Although decrepid. Euryclea, rise!
Wash one coeval with thy Lord; for such
The feet and hands, it may be, are become
Of my Ulysses now; since man beset
With sorrow once, soon wrinkled grows and old.
She said, then Euryclea with both hands
Cov’ring her face, in tepid tears profuse
Dissolved, and thus in mournful strains began.
Alas! my son, trouble for thy dear sake
Distracts me. Jove surely of all mankind
Thee hated most, though ever in thy heart
Devoutly giv’n; for never mortal man
So many thighs of fatted victims burn’d,
And chosen hecatombs produced as thou
To Jove the Thund’rer, him entreating still
That he would grant thee a serene old age,
And to instruct, thyself, thy glorious son.
Yet thus the God requites thee, cutting off
All hope of thy return—oh ancient sir!
Him too, perchance, where’er he sits a guest
Beneath some foreign roof, the women taunt,
As all these shameless ones have taunted thee,
Fearing whose mock’ry thou forbidd’st their hands
This office, which Icarius’ daughter wise
To me enjoins, and which I, glad perform.
Yes, I will wash thy feet; both for her sake
And for thy own,—for sight of thee hath raised
A tempest in my mind. Hear now the cause!
Full many a guest forlorn we entertain,
But never any have I seen, whose size,
The fashion of whose foot and pitch of voice,
Such likeness of Ulysses show’d, as thine.
To whom Ulysses, ever-shrewd, replied.
Such close similitude, O ancient dame!
As thou observ’st between thy Lord and me,
All, who have seen us both, have ever found.
He said; then taking the resplendent vase
Allotted always to that use, she first
Infused cold water largely, then, the warm.
Ulysses (for beside the hearth he sat)
Turn’d quick his face into the shade, alarm’d
Lest, handling him, she should at once remark
His scar, and all his stratagem unveil.
She then, approaching, minister’d the bath
To her own King, and at first touch discern’d
That token, by a bright-tusk’d boar of old
Impress’d, what time he to Parnassus went
To visit there Autolycus and his sons,
His mother’s noble sire, who all mankind
In furtive arts and fraudful oaths excell’d.[2]
For such endowments he by gift receiv’d
From Hermes’ self, to whom the thighs of kids
He offer’d and of lambs, and, in return,
The watchful Hermes never left his side.
Autolycus arriving in the isle
Of pleasant Ithaca, the new-born son
Of his own daughter found, whom on his knees
At close of supper Euryclea placed,
And thus the royal visitant address’d.
Thyself, Autolycus! devise a name
For thy own daughter’s son, by num’rous pray’rs
Of thine and fervent, from the Gods obtained.
Then answer thus Autolycus return’d.
My daughter and my daughter’s spouse! the name
Which I shall give your boy, that let him bear.
Since after provocation and offence
To numbers giv’n of either sex, I come,
Call him Ulysses;[3] and when, grown mature,
He shall Parnassus visit, the abode
Magnificent in which his mother dwelt,
And where my treasures lie, from my own stores
I will enrich and send him joyful home.
Ulysses, therefore, that he might obtain
Those princely gifts, went thither. Him arrived,
With right-hand gratulation and with words
Of welcome kind, Autolycus received,
Nor less his offspring; but the mother most
Of his own mother clung around his neck,
Amphithea; she with many a fervent kiss
His forehead press’d, and his bright-beaming eyes.
Then bade Autolycus his noble sons
Set forth a banquet. They, at his command,
Led in a fatted ox of the fifth year,
Which slaying first, they spread him carved abroad,
Then scored his flesh, transfixed it with the spits,
And roasting all with culinary skill
Exact, gave each his portion. Thus they sat
Feasting all day, and till the sun declined,
But when the sun declined, and darkness fell,
Each sought his couch, and took the gift of sleep.
Then, soon as day-spring’s daughter rosy-palm’d
Aurora look’d abroad, forth went the hounds,
And, with the hounds Ulysses, and the youths,
Sons of Autolycus, to chase the boar.
Arrived at the Parnassian mount, they climb’d
His bushy sides, and to his airy heights
Ere long attain’d. It was the pleasant hour
When from the gently-swelling flood profound
The sun, emerging, first smote on the fields.
The hunters reach’d the valley; foremost ran,
Questing, the hounds; behind them, swift, the sons
Came of Autolycus, with whom advanced
The illustrious Prince Ulysses, pressing close
The hounds, and brandishing his massy spear.
There, hid in thickest shades, lay an huge boar.
That covert neither rough winds blowing moist
Could penetrate, nor could the noon-day sun
Smite through it, or fast-falling show’rs pervade,
So thick it was, and underneath the ground
With litter of dry foliage strew’d profuse.
Hunters and dogs approaching him, his ear
The sound of feet perceived; upridging high
His bristly back and glaring fire, he sprang
Forth from the shrubs, and in defiance stood
Near and right opposite. Ulysses, first,
Rush’d on him, elevating his long spear
Ardent to wound him; but, preventing quick
His foe, the boar gash’d him above the knee.
Much flesh, assailing him oblique, he tore
With his rude tusk, but to the Hero’s bone
Pierced not; Ulysses his right shoulder reach’d;
And with a deadly thrust impell’d the point
Of his bright spear through him and far beyond.
Loud yell’d the boar, sank in the dust, and died.
Around Ulysses, then, the busy sons
Throng’d of Autolycus; expert they braced
The wound of the illustrious hunter bold,
With incantation staunched the sable blood,
And sought in haste their father’s house again,
Whence, heal’d and gratified with splendid gifts
They sent him soon rejoicing to his home,
Themselves rejoicing also. Glad their son
His parents saw again, and of the scar
Enquired, where giv’n, and how? He told them all,
How to Parnassus with his friends he went,
Sons of Autolycus to hunt, and how
A boar had gash’d him with his iv’ry tusk.
That scar, while chafing him with open palms,
The matron knew; she left his foot to fall;
Down dropp’d his leg into the vase; the brass
Rang, and o’ertilted by the sudden shock,
Poured forth the water, flooding wide the floor.
Her spirit joy at once and sorrow seized;
Tears fill’d her eyes; her intercepted voice
Died in her throat; but to Ulysses’ beard
Her hand advancing, thus, at length, she spake.
Thou art himself, Ulysses. Oh my son!
Dear to me, and my master as thou art,
I knew thee not, till I had touch’d the scar.
She said, and to Penelope her eyes
Directed, all impatient to declare
Her own Ulysses even then at home.
But she, nor eye nor ear for aught that pass’d
Had then, her fixt attention so entire
Minerva had engaged. Then, darting forth
His arms, the Hero with his right-hand close
Compress’d her throat, and nearer to himself
Drawing her with his left, thus caution’d her.
Why would’st thou ruin me? Thou gav’st me milk
Thyself from thy own breast. See me return’d
After long suff’rings, in the twentieth year,
To my own land. But since (some God the thought
Suggesting to thee) thou hast learn’d the truth,
Silence! lest others learn it from thy lips.
For this I say, nor shall the threat be vain;
If God vouchsafe to me to overcome
The haughty suitors, when I shall inflict
Death on the other women of my house,
Although my nurse, thyself shalt also die.
Him answer’d Euryclea then, discrete.
My son! oh how could so severe a word
Escape thy lips? my fortitude of mind
Thou know’st, and even now shalt prove me firm
As iron, secret as the stubborn rock.
But hear and mark me well. Should’st thou prevail,
Assisted by a Pow’r divine, to slay
The haughty suitors, I will then, myself,
Give thee to know of all the female train
Who have dishonour’d thee, and who respect.
To whom Ulysses, ever-wise, replied.
My nurse, it were superfluous; spare thy tongue
That needless task. I can distinguish well
Myself, between them, and shall know them all;
But hold thy peace. Hush! leave it with the Gods.
So he; then went the ancient matron forth,
That she might serve him with a second bath,
For the whole first was spilt. Thus, laved at length,
And smooth’d with oil, Ulysses nearer pull’d
His seat toward the glowing hearth to enjoy
More warmth, and drew his tatters o’er the scar.
Then, prudent, thus Penelope began.
One question, stranger, I shall yet propound,
Though brief, for soon the hour of soft repose
Grateful to all, and even to the sad
Whom gentle sleep forsakes not, will arrive.
But heav’n to me immeasurable woe
Assigns,—whose sole delight is to consume
My days in sighs, while here retired I sit,
Watching my maidens’ labours and my own;
But (night return’d, and all to bed retired)
I press mine also, yet with deep regret
And anguish lacerated, even there.
As when at spring’s first entrance, her sweet song
The azure-crested nightingale renews,
Daughter of Pandarus; within the grove’s
Thick foliage perch’d, she pours her echoing voice
Now deep, now clear, still varying the strain
With which she mourns her Itylus, her son
By royal Zethus, whom she, erring, slew,[4]
So also I, by soul-distressing doubts
Toss’d ever, muse if I shall here remain
A faithful guardian of my son’s affairs,
My husband’s bed respecting, and not less
My own fair fame, or whether I shall him
Of all my suitors follow to his home
Who noblest seems, and offers richest dow’r.
My son while he was infant yet, and own’d
An infant’s mind, could never give consent
That I should wed and leave him; but at length,
Since he hath reached the stature of a man,
He wishes my departure hence, the waste
Viewing indignant by the suitors made.
But I have dream’d. Hear, and expound my dream.
My geese are twenty, which within my walls
I feed with sodden wheat; they serve to amuse
Sometimes my sorrow. From the mountains came
An eagle, huge, hook-beak’d, brake all their necks,
And slew them; scatter’d on the palace-floor
They lay, and he soar’d swift into the skies.
Dream only as it was, I wept aloud,
Till all my maidens, gather’d by my voice,
Arriving, found me weeping still, and still
Complaining, that the eagle had at once
Slain all my geese. But, to the palace-roof
Stooping again, he sat, and with a voice
Of human sound, forbad my tears, and said—
Courage! O daughter of the far-renown’d
Icarius! no vain dream thou hast beheld,
But, in thy sleep, a truth. The slaughter’d geese
Denote thy suitors. I who have appear’d
An eagle in thy sight, am yet indeed
Thy husband, who have now, at last, return’d,
Death, horrid death designing for them all.
He said; then waking at the voice, I cast
An anxious look around, and saw my geese
Beside their tray, all feeding as before.
Her then Ulysses answer’d, ever-wise.
O Queen! it is not possible to miss
Thy dream’s plain import, since Ulysses’ self
Hath told thee the event; thy suitors all
Must perish; not one suitor shall escape.
To whom Penelope discrete replied.
Dreams are inexplicable, O my guest!
And oft-times mere delusions that receive
No just accomplishment. There are two gates
Through which the fleeting phantoms pass; of horn
Is one, and one of ivory.[5] Such dreams
As through the thin-leaf’d iv’ry portal come
Sooth, but perform not, utt’ring empty sounds;
But such as through the polish’d horn escape,
If, haply seen by any mortal eye,
Prove faithful witnesses, and are fulfill’d.
But through those gates my wond’rous dream, I think,
Came not; thrice welcome were it else to me
And to my son. Now mark my words; attend.
This is the hated morn that from the house
Removes me of Ulysses. I shall fix,
This day, the rings for trial to them all
Of archership; Ulysses’ custom was
To plant twelve spikes, all regular arranged[6]
Like galley-props, and crested with a ring,
Then standing far remote, true in his aim
He with his whizzing shaft would thrid them all.
This is the contest in which now I mean
To prove the suitors; him, who with most ease
Shall bend the bow, and shoot through all the rings,
I follow, this dear mansion of my youth
Leaving, so fair, so fill’d with ev’ry good,
Though still to love it even in my dreams.
Her answer’d then Ulysses, ever-wise.
Consort revered of Laertiades!
Postpone not this contention, but appoint
Forthwith the trial; for Ulysses here
Will sure arrive, ere they, (his polish’d bow
Long tamp’ring) shall prevail to stretch the nerve,
And speed the arrow through the iron rings.
To whom Penelope replied discrete.
Would’st thou with thy sweet converse, O my guest!
Here sooth me still, sleep ne’er should influence
These eyes the while; but always to resist
Sleep’s pow’r is not for man, to whom the Gods
Each circumstance of his condition here
Fix universally. Myself will seek
My own apartment at the palace-top,
And there will lay me down on my sad couch,
For such it hath been, and with tears of mine
Ceaseless bedew’d, e’er since Ulysses went
To that bad city, never to be named.
There will I sleep; but sleep thou here below,
Either, thyself, preparing on the ground
Thy couch, or on a couch by these prepared.
So saying, she to her splendid chamber thence
Retired, not sole, but by her female train
Attended; there arrived, she wept her spouse,
Her lov’d Ulysses, till Minerva dropp’d
The balm of slumber on her weary lids.

  1. A gaberdine is a shaggy cloak of coarse but warm materials. Such always make part of Homer’s bed-furniture.
  2. Homer’s morals seem to allow to a good man dissimulation, and even an ambiguous oath, should they be necessary to save him from a villain. Thus in Book XX. Telemachus swears by Zeus, that he does not hinder his mother from marrying whom she pleases of the wooers, though at the same time he is plotting their destruction with his father. F.
  3. In the Greek ὈΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ from the verb ὀδυσσω—Irascor, I am angry.
  4. She intended to slay the son of her husband’s brother Amphion, incited to it by the envy of his wife, who had six children, while herself had only two, but through mistake she slew her own son Itylus, and for her punishment was transformed by Jupiter into a nightingale.
  5. The difference of the two substances may perhaps serve to account for the preference given in this case to the gate of horn; horn being transparent, and as such emblematical of truth, while ivory, from its whiteness, promises light, but is, in fact, opaque. F.
  6. The translation here is somewhat pleonastic for the sake of perspicuity; the original is clear in itself, but not to us who have no such practice. Twelve stakes were fixt in the earth, each having a ring at the top; the order in which they stood was so exact, that an arrow sent with an even hand through the first ring, would pass them all.


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