Homer: The Odyssey

Book XV

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved

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BkXV:1-55 Athene visits Telemachus

Meanwhile Pallas Athene sped to broad Lacedaemon to remind great-hearted Odysseus’ noble son that it was time to head for home, and to hurry his departure. She found Telemachus and Peisistratus, Nestor’s noble son, in their beds in the porch of great Menelaus’ palace. Nestor’s son was fast asleep, but sweet sleep eluded Telemachus, kept awake by anxious thoughts of his father, all that eternal night. Bright-eyed Athene stood by his bed, and spoke to him, saying: ‘Telemachus, it’s wrong to linger here far from home, leaving your wealth behind, with your house full of insolent men, lest they divide your goods and devour them, and your voyage proves worthless. Rouse Menelaus of the loud war-cry to send you on your way, instead, if you hope to find your peerless mother still in the palace. Her father and brothers are urging her to marry Eurymachus: he courts her with more and better gifts than the other Suitors. And have a care she doesn’t take a share of your wealth, despite your wishes. You know how women think: they want to add to a new husband’s glory, forgetting a faithful former partner once he’s dead, and no longer asking after their children by him. Go home, and put the best of your women servants in charge of your possessions, until the gods send you a worthy bride.

And here’s another thing for you to consider. The leading Suitors lie in wait for you, in the strait between Ithaca and rocky Samos, ready to kill you before you reach your native island. I think the earth will cover those who waste your wealth long before that day comes, but keep your fine ship far from the strait, and sail by night as well as by day, and that divine power that guards and protects you will send a following breeze. Land at the first place you can on Ithaca, then send the ship and crew round to the harbour, but you yourself must find the swineherd who guards your pigs. He is well disposed towards you. Spend the night there, and send him to the city to tell wise Penelope you are back safely from Pylos.’

With this she left for the heights of Olympus, while Telemachus woke Nestor’s son from his sweet sleep with a nudge of his foot, and said: ‘Wake now, Peisistratus, son of Nestor, and harness your well-shod horses to the chariot, so we can be on our way.’

Peisitratus, waking, answered: ‘Telemachus, however eager you are we can’t drive in pitch darkness: dawn is not far off. Wait till Menelaus, the heroic spearman, Atreus’ son, can bring his gifts and put them aboard the chariot, and send us on our way then with a kind farewell. A guest should always remember a host who shows him kindness.’

BkXV:56-119 Gifts from Menelaus

Soon golden-throned Dawn appeared, and Menelaus of the loud war-cry rose from where he slept, beside Helen of the lovely tresses, and approached them. When Odysseus’ brave son, the hero, saw him he swiftly dressed in his shining tunic, flung a great cloak over his sturdy shoulders, and went to greet him, saying: ‘Menelaus, leader of men, son of Atreus, favoured of Zeus, send me on my way home, I am eager to return.’

And Menelaus of the loud war-cry said: ‘Telemachus, I’d never keep you here if you wish to leave, quite the opposite. I blame any host who yields or resists too much: moderation in all things. It’s as bad to hurry off a departing guest as to hold back one who’s anxious to go. One should give a warm welcome to the newcomer, and say a fond farewell to the man who’s leaving. Nevertheless, there’s time for me to load your chariot with fine gifts while you watch, and for me to have the servants find you a meal in the hall from all the plenty there. There’s a double benefit in a traveller feeding before he drives off into the wide open spaces, honour and glory to me, sustenance to you. If you want to see Hellas and central Argos, fine, I’ll travel with you, harness my horses and lead you to all the cities of men. They’ll not send us away empty-handed. They’ll give us some gift at least to take away, a solid bronze tripod or cauldron, a pair of mules, or a golden cup.’

‘Menelaus, leader of men, son of Atreus, favoured of Zeus’, wise Telemachus replied, ‘I would rather go straight home, since I left no one in charge back there, and in seeking my godlike father I fear I may lose my own life, or some of my house’s valued treasures.’

When Menelaus of the loud war-cry heard this, he asked his wife to have her servants prepare a meal in the hall from the plenty there. Eteoneus, Boethous’ son, who lived nearby and was fresh from his bed, arrived at that moment, and Menelaus asked him to light a fire, and roast some meat. He heard and obeyed, while Menelaus went off to his scented treasure room, taking Helen and Megapenthes with him. When they reached the store-house Menelaus chose a two-handled cup, and told his son Megapenthes to take a silver mixing-bowl, while Helen went to the chests holding richly-embroidered robes she had made herself. That most beautiful of women lifted out and carried off the largest and most beautifully worked of all. It had lain beneath the rest, and now glittered like a star. Then they walked back through the palace to Telemachus, and yellow-haired Menelaus spoke to him:

‘Telemachus, may Zeus the Thunderer, Hera’s husband, grant you the homecoming you desire. The finest most precious of all the treasures in my store is the one I will give to you. This sweetly-made mixing bowl is solid silver rimmed with gold, and Hephaestus was its creator. Phaedimus the hero, the Sidonian King, gave it to me when his house sheltered me as I journeyed home, and now I give it to you.’

BkXV:120-182 Telemachus leaves Sparta

With this the heroic son of Atreus held out the two-handled cup to Telemachus, while mighty Megapenthes brought the silver mixing-bowl and placed it before him. Then Helen approached holding the robe, and addressed him: ‘Dear child, I too give you a gift to remember Helen by, made by her own hands, for your bride to wear when the longed-for wedding day arrives. Let your dear mother keep it by her in the palace until then. As for yourself I wish you a joyful return to your own home and country.’ Then she placed it in his hands, and he received it with pleasure.

Peisistratus, the hero, stowed the gifts in a chest inside the chariot, examining them admiringly. Then yellow-haired Menelaus led the way to the house, and they sat down on stools and chairs. A maid brought water in a fine golden jug so they could rinse their hands, pouring it over their hands into a silver basin. Then she brought a gleaming table, and the loyal housekeeper set bread and dishes of meat before them, giving freely of her stores. Eteoneus carved, and served the portions, and Megapenthes poured the wine. And they helped themselves to the meal. But once they had quenched hunger and thirst, Telemachus and Peisistratus harnessed the horses and mounting their inlaid chariot drove through the gate with its echoing portico.

The son of Atreus, yellow-haired Menelaus, followed, carrying a golden cup of honeyed wine in his right hand, so they could pour a final libation. Standing beside the horses he pledged them, saying: ‘Farewell, youngsters, and greet Nestor, the shepherd of his people, for me. He was like a father to me when we Achaeans fought on the plains of Troy.’

‘Rest assured we will do so, as soon as we arrive, favoured of Zeus.’ said courteous Telemachus. ‘If only Odysseus were there at home in Ithaca too, and I returning to tell him of all the kindness I’ve met with at your hands while I was here, and of the many fine gifts I carry.’

As he was speaking an eagle flew over them to their right, gripping a large white goose in its talons, a tame bird snatched from the yard. Behind it men and women ran shouting, but the eagle still approached them and veered to the right in front of the horses, gladdening the hearts of those who saw it, and raising their spirits. Peisistratus, Nestor’s son, spoke first: ‘Menelaus, leader of men, favoured of Zeus, do you think the god sends this omen for you or for us?’ At this Menelaus took thought as to how the sign should be interpreted, but Helen of the long robe pre-empted his words, saying: ‘Listen and I will prophesy at the gods’ prompting and as I am certain it will come to be. As the eagle flew from the mountain where he was born among his kin, and seized the goose bred for the table, so Odysseus will return to his house after much effort and wandering and take revenge: maybe he is there even now planning disaster for the Suitors.’

‘May Zeus the Thunderer, Hera’s husband, make it so,’ replied wise Telemachus, ‘and then when I’m there I’ll pray to you as a goddess.’

BkXV:183-221 Return to Pylos

With this, Telemachus flicked his whip at the horses. They flew swiftly and eagerly through the town towards the plain, and all day long they strained at the yoke across their necks.

Now the sun dipped and the roads grew dark. And they came again to Pherae, to Diocles’ house, Ortilochus’ son whom Alpheius bore. There they passed the night, and he welcomed them, as strangers should be welcomed.

As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, they harnessed the horses, mounted the ornate chariot, and drove past the echoing portico out of the gate. Then Telemachus flicked the team with his whip to start them, and the willing pair flew onwards. Soon they reached the high citadel of Pylos, and turning to Peisistratus, he said: ‘Because of our father’s friendship we are friends, and we are of like age, and moreover this journey has united our hearts. Will you make me a promise, and execute it just as I say? Favoured of Zeus, don’t drive on past my ship, but drop me off there, lest your father keeps me there at the palace against my will, keen to display his hospitality, when I need to head for home.’

Peisistratus asked himself if he could fulfil such a promise in all good conscience. After reflection, it seemed the right thing to do. So he turned the horses towards the swift ship and the shore, and there he unloaded Menelaus’ fine gifts of clothing and gold, and stowed them in the vessel’s stern. Then he urged Telemachus on, with winged words: ‘Hurry and climb aboard, and have your crew embark as well, before I reach home and tell my father. I know in my heart and head that his spirit is such he will try to stop you leaving, and he’ll come himself to ask you to the palace, and I don’t think he’ll go back alone. Either way, he’ll be furious.’

Then he turned his long-maned horses towards the city of Pylos, and soon reached the palace, while Telemachus stirred his companions, and gave them his orders: ‘Board the ship, and clear the tackle, so we can be under way.’ They quickly obeyed and leapt on board, then sat to the oars.

BkXV:222-270 Theoclymenus the Seer

While Telemachus stood on shore, by the stern, busy praying and sacrificing to Athene, a stranger from a distant land approached, who was fleeing Argos after killing a man. He was a seer, a descendant of that Melampus who once lived in Pylos, the land of sheep.

Melampus was rich, with a fine house, but had to flee to a foreign country, to escape great Neleus, lord of men, who seized his wealth while Melampus was forcefully held in the palace at Phylace. He suffered all this grief and pain, and the terrible blindness of spirit that the avenging Furies brought him, because of Neleus’ daughter, Pero. Nevertheless he won free of fate, and drove Iphicles’ cattle back to Pylos. Then he took vengeance on godlike Neleus for all his cruelty, and saw the girl married to his brother. As for himself, he went to another country, Argos the land of horses, where he was destined to live and rule a host of Argives.

There he married and built a high-roofed hall, and had two strong sons, Antiphates and Mantius. Oicles was Antiphates’ son, and the great military leader Amphiaraus in turn was his, whom aegis-bearing Zeus and Apollo loved in every way. Even so he failed to make old bones, dying at Thebes, because of his wife’s greed. Alcmaeon and Amphilochus were his sons.

Mantius for his part was father of Polypheides and Cleitus. Golden-throned Dawn won by his beauty carried of Cleitus to live with the immortals, while Apollo made noble Polypheides his prophet, the greatest of all after Amphiaraus died. He quarrelled with his father and went to Hyperesia to live, where he prophesied to all.

It was Theoclymenus, his son, who now found Telemachus pouring libations in prayer by the swift black ship. He addressed Telemachus with winged words: ‘Friend, since I find you making sacrifice, I beg you by the god you pray to, and by those offerings, and by your own life and those of your comrades, to answer my questions truly, without concealment. Who are you, and where do you come from? Which city is yours, and who are your parents?’

And courteously Telemachus answered: ‘Well, stranger, I will give you an honest reply. I am from Ithaca, the son of Odysseus, as once was perhaps, for now he has surely met with some sad fate. Still, I launched a black ship with my friends and came here seeking news of my long-absent father.’

BkXV:271-300 Telemachus sails for home

‘I too,’ said noble Theoclymenus,’ I too have left my native place, because I killed a relative of mine. Argos, the horse country, is full of his kith and kin, and they have power in Achaea. I fled to avoid death’s dark fate at their hands: it seems it’s my destiny to be a wanderer among men. But I beg you: since they are on my trail, take me aboard your ship so they can’t kill me.’

‘If you want to sail with us, I won’t say no,’ wise Telemachus replied, ‘come with us and accept what hospitality we can offer.’ With this he took Theoclymenus’ bronze spear from him, and stowed it on deck, then they went aboard and he took his seat in the stern with Theoclymenus beside him, and the crew cast off the hawsers. Telemachus ordered his men to the tackle and they quickly obeyed, raising the pine mast and stepping it in its socket, making fast the forestays, then hoisting the white sail by its twisted ox-hide ropes. Bright-eyed Athene it was who sent them a following wind that gusted through the sky, so the ship would be quick to complete her journey over the brine. On they sailed by Crouni, and past Chalcis of the lovely streams.

The sun dipped, and the waves grew dark. The ship reached Pheae driven by a wind from Zeus, and on past glorious Elis, where the Epeians rule. Telemachus set a course from there for the nearby islands, wondering whether he would escape ambush or be killed.

BkXV:301-350 Odysseus wishes to leave for town

Meanwhile Odysseus and the good swineherd were eating their supper in the hut, with the other men. When they had quenched their hunger and thirst, Odysseus sounded out Eumaeus, to see if he would extend his generous hospitality and ask him to stay on at the farm, or whether he would send him on to town. ‘Eumaeus, and the rest of you, listen a moment. I think in the morning I’ll go off to town to beg, so as not to burden you all. Give me your best advice now, and a guide I can trust to show me the way. Once there I must wander about by myself, and hope they’ll give me water and a crust of bread. I could go to noble Odysseus’ house, and take wise Penelope my news, mingling with that crowd of insolent Suitors, and see if they’ll spare me dinner, since they don’t go short of good things. I could serve them too in any way they wish, for I’ll have you know, and mark this well, by the grace of Hermes the Messenger, who lends fame and accomplishment to a man’s work, no one else can compete with me in splitting firewood, setting a proper fire, roasting and carving meat or pouring wine, all those acts by which lesser men serve the high-born.’

Eumaeus, the swineherd, you were taken aback at this. ‘Stranger, what put such a thought in your mind? You must be keen to die, if you really intend to join that crowd of Suitors, whose waywardness and violence echo to the heavens. Men like you are not the ones that serve them, they employ youngsters in smart tunics and cloaks, faces and hair gleaming with oil, to wait at their shining tables laden with bread and meat and cups of wine. No one is bothered by your presence here: I am certainly not: so stay. When Odysseus’ noble son arrives he will give you a tunic and cloak to wear and send you on to whatever place you wish.’

Then noble long-suffering Odysseus answered: ‘Eumaeus, may you be as dear to Father Zeus as you are to me, since you have saved me from wandering on in pain and hardship. Nothing is worse for men than homelessness, and when suffering and sorrow overtake them in their wanderings, they will try anything on behalf of an empty stomach. But since you bid me stay, and wait for your young master, tell me about godlike Odysseus’ parents, whom he left behind in the fullness of their years. Are they still living, under the sun, or are they dead in Hades’ House?’

BkXV:351-402 Eumaeus tells of Odysseus’ parents

‘Stranger, ‘Eumaeus replied, ‘I will tell you plainly. Laertes lives, but prays endlessly for life to leave his body. He mourns his lost son deeply, and his wife, that wise lady, whose death hurt him most and aged him prematurely. She died a wretched death, grieving for her noble son, a death I would wish on no kind friend of mine living here. I always delighted in asking after her while she was still alive, despite her sadness, because she raised me alongside noble Ctimene her youngest daughter. The mother brought me up with her, and treated me as scarcely inferior to her own children. When we both reached youth’s sweet prime they sent her to Same to be wed, and earned countless marriage gifts, while the lady gave me a fine tunic and cloak, and sandals for my feet, and sent me to the fields, though in her heart she loved me no less. All that is done with now, though the blessed gods crown my labour with success. It provides me with meat and drink, and the means to welcome honoured strangers. But a plague of arrogant men has descended on my mistress’ house, and prevents me receiving a single pleasant word or a kindness from her, though servants long to talk face to face with the mistress, and eat and drink and hear the news, and carry off some small gift to the farm, all the things that warm a servant’s heart.’

‘Eumaeus, you must have been very young when you were separated from your far-off parents and your own land,’ Odysseus replied. ‘Tell me, in truth, was it a city of broad streets that men sacked, where you honoured father and mother lived, or did raiders catch you tending the sheep and cattle alone, and carry you off in their ship to be sold to this master of yours for a good price?’

‘Stranger,’ the master swineherd answered, ‘since you ask, well, enjoy your cup of wine and listen quietly to my tale. The nights are longer than even a god could tell. There is a time to sleep, and a time to delight in hearing a story. No need for you to sleep before you are ready: too much sleep can even weary us. As for you others, if anyone has a mind to rest, let him do so outside, and breakfast at dawn, and follow our master’s swine, but we two will eat and drink here in the hut, and savour each other’s memories of trouble and sadness, since a man who has suffered deeply and travelled far relishes even his sufferings in after days. Let me tell you, then, the answers to your questions.’

BkXV:403-492 Eumaeus’s story.

‘There’s an island called Syrie, you may have heard of, beyond Ortygia, where the sun turns in its course. It is sparsely populated, yet a fine land, rich in flocks and herds, yielding plenty of wine and wheat. Famine is unknown there, and the people are free of the dreadful sicknesses that plague wretched mortals. As the generations of men grow old, Apollo of the Silver Bow visits their cities, with Artemis beside him, and strikes and slays them with gentle arrows. There are two cities, dividing the island between them, and my father, Ctesius, son of Ormenus, a godlike man, was king of both.

Sea-faring Phoenicians came to trade there, greedy rogues bringing a cargo of trinkets in their black ship. A Phoenician woman lived in my father’s house, tall and handsome and skilled in fine handiwork. The cunning Phoenicians seduced her. One lay with her by the hollow ship where she was washing clothes: such love beguiles the minds even of virtuous women. He asked who she was and where she came from, and she pointed to my father’s high-roofed house, saying: “I am from Sidon, rich in bronze, the daughter of wealthy Arybas. But Taphian raiders caught me as I came from the fields, brought me here and sold me into that man’s household, he paying a fine price.”

The man who had lain with her secretly said: “Do you wish to go home with us, and see your parents and their high-roofed house again? They are still living, truly, and counted among the wealthy.”

“I might,” the woman said, “if you sailors would swear on oath to take me home in safety.” They all pledged to do as she asked, and when they had sworn their oath, the woman cautioned them: “Don’t any of you speak to me if you meet me at the well or in the street. Be silent, lest someone go the palace and tell the old king. If he suspects he will bind me tight and plan your deaths. Keep my words in mind, instead, and go off and barter your goods. Then, when your ship’s cargo is loaded, send a message quickly to me at the palace, and I will bring whatever gold is to hand. And I’ll gladly add something else to pay for my passage. I am nurse to a child of my master’s there in the house, a clever child who accompanies me everywhere. I’ll bring him on board, and he’ll fetch a great price in any foreign city where you land.” With these words she returned to the palace.

They stayed in the country a whole year, and acquired a ship’s full of cargo in trade. When the hollow ship was loaded, ready for sailing, they sent a messenger to the woman to tell her the news. The man was an expert in deceit, and he came to my father’s house bringing a necklace strung with gold and amber beads. While my dear mother and her maids examined and handled it, haggling over the price, he nodded silently to the woman. After his signal to her, he slipped away to the hollow ship, while she took me by the hand and led me from the house. In the portico she came across tables and drinking cups set out for those who attended on my father. They had gone to the council meeting in the debating hall, so she hid three of the goblets among her clothes, and took them with her, and I followed in all innocence.

The sun dipped and the streets grew dark. We hurried down to the fine harbour, where the Phoenicians’ swift vessel waited. They embarked, taking us on board as well, and sailed away over the sea, on a favourable wind from Zeus. Six days and nights we journeyed on, but when Zeus the son of Cronos brought the seventh day, Artemis the Archeress struck the woman who fell with a thud like a sea-bird into the hold. They tossed her overboard to feed the seals and fishes, and I was left heart-sick and alone. Then the wind and waves carried them here to Ithaca, where Laertes’ wealth purchased me. That’s how I came to set eyes on this land.’

Odysseus, scion of Zeus, said then: ‘Eumaeus, you have stirred my heart deeply with all this sad tale of trouble. Yet in your case, surely, Zeus has dealt you good with evil, since you reached the house of a generous man after all your suffering, who is kind enough to provide you with food and drink, so that you live well, while I have wandered through all the cities of men to reach this place.’

BkXV:493-557 Telemachus lands on Ithaca

They talked together and then lay down to sleep for a while, though not for long since Dawn, of the lovely throne, approached. Meanwhile Telemachus was drawing near to the shore, and his crew were striking the sail. They swiftly dropped the mast, and rowed the ship to her anchorage. Then loosing the mooring stones they made the hawsers fast, and leapt on shore. There they prepared a meal and mixed the glowing wine, and when they had quenched hunger and thirst, wise Telemachus spoke first, and issued his orders. ‘Row the black ship to the city harbour, while I visit the herdsmen in the fields, and I will join you this evening when I’ve inspected my estate. Tomorrow morning I’ll set before you a sumptuous feast with meat and sweet wine, to thank you for your journey.’

‘Dear boy, where am I to go?’ said godlike Theoclymenus. ‘Of those who reign in rocky Ithaca, whose house shall I visit? Or should I go straight to your and your mother’s house?’

Wise Telemachus replied: ‘At another time I’d invite you home as a matter of course. There’s no lack of hospitality towards strangers here. But it would be worse for you, since I shall be absent and my mother will avoid you, for she seldom shows herself to the Suitors in the hall, and works at her loom apart, in her room upstairs. But there is someone else whose house you can go to, Eurymachus, the noble son of wise Polybus. In Ithaca men consider him a god. He is the best of them: keenest to marry my mother and inherit Odysseus’ power. But Olympian Zeus, the sky-dweller, alone knows whether he’ll bring a judgement or a wedding day.’

Even as he spoke a bird flew past on his right. It was a hawk, Apollo’s swift messenger, holding a dove in its talons, plucking the feathers that fluttered to earth half way between Telemachus and the ship. Theoclymenus drew him apart from his crew, and grasped his hand, saying: ‘Surely that bird flew past on the right at a god’s command. I knew when I saw him he was a bird of good omen. None are of more royal descent than you in Ithaca: you and your line will hold power forever.’

‘Stranger, may that prove so,’ wise Telemachus replied. ‘Then you shall have many a gift and act of kindness from me, so that any man who meets you will call you blessed.’

Then he turned to Peiraeus, a loyal friend, saying: ‘Peiraeus, Clytius’ son, who journeyed with me to Pylos, and have always been a most faithful friend to me, welcome this stranger to your house, I beg you, and show him honour and kindness till I come.’

‘Telemachus,’ that great spearman Peiraeus answered, ‘I shall entertain him however long you delay and he won’t lack for the hospitality due to strangers.’ With this he went aboard, and told his friends to embark and then cast off. They climbed on deck, and the oarsmen took their seats. Then they loosed the cables, thrust her off, and rowed for the city as Telemachus, divine Odysseus’ loyal son, had ordered. But he had already fastened fine sandals on his feet, and taken his strong sharp bronze-tipped spear from the deck. Now, striding quickly, his feet carried him towards the farm where the worthy swineherd, loyal to his masters, slept among a host of swine.