Homer: The Odyssey

Book III

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

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BkIII:1-50 Telemachus and Athene reach Pylos

And now the sun sprang from the eastern waters into the brazen firmament, bringing light to the deathless ones, and to mortal men on earth the giver of grain, and they reached Pylos, Neleus’ well-ordered city. Here on the shore the people were sacrificing black bulls to the dark-tressed Earth-Shaker, Poseidon. Nine companies of five hundred men sat there, each with nine bulls prepared for the sacrifice. They were tasting the innards, and burning the thigh-pieces to the god, as the travellers headed straight for shore, brailed up and furled their sail, moored the ship and disembarked. Athene led the way, and Telemachus followed, but first bright-eyed Athene, the goddess, spoke to him:

‘Telemachus, you have no need for diffidence here. You have sailed the sea for this, to search for news of your father, what earth covers him, and what fate he met with. Go straight to Nestor, now, to the tamer of horses: let us find what wisdom he keeps in his heart. Beg him yourself to speak the honest truth. He is truly wise and will not utter a lie.’

Wise Telemachus replied: ‘Mentor, how can I go and greet him? I am inexperienced in the subtleties of speech: more than that, a young man is shy of questioning his elders.’

Then the bright-eyed goddess, Athene, answered him: ‘Telemachus, part your own mind will devise, and heaven will prompt the rest. You were not born or reared, I think, without divine favour.’

With that, Pallas Athene quickly led the way, and he followed in the goddess’ footsteps. So they reached the gathering, the companies of the men of Pylos. There sat Nestor with his sons, and round them his people preparing the feast, skewering meat on spits, and roasting it. But when they saw the strangers, they crowded round them, clasped their hands in welcome, begging them to be seated. Nestor’s son, Peisistratus, was first to approach and took them both by the hand, and made them sit on soft fleeces spread on the sand, beside his father, and brother, Thrasymedes, so they could feast. Having done so, he served them inner portions, poured wine in a golden cup, and drinking her health, spoke to Pallas Athene, the aegis-bearing daughter of Zeus:

‘Stranger, pray to the lord Poseidon whose feast you have chanced on here. And when you have poured libations and prayed, as is right, pass your friend the cup of honeyed wine so he may pour. I expect he too prays to the deathless ones: since all men need the gods. But as he is the younger, and of my own age, I will first give the golden cup to you.’

BkIII:51-101 Telemachus declares himself to Nestor

He placed the cup of sweet wine in her hand, as he spoke, and Pallas Athene was delighted by his wisdom and politeness, in giving the golden beaker first to her: and at once she made a heartfelt prayer to the Lord Poseidon:

‘Hear me, Poseidon, Earth-Bearer: do not begrudge fulfilment of what we ask, and answer our prayer. Firstly, grant fame to Nestor and his sons. Then, graciously repay all the men of Pylos for this sumptuous offering. Then, grant that Telemachus and I accomplish the task that brought us here in our swift black ship, and let us reach home again.’

So she prayed and fulfilled it all herself. Next, she handed Telemachus the fine two-handled cup, and Odysseus’ steadfast son repeated her prayer. After roasting the outer flesh and removing it from the spits, they divided the portions and ate of the rich feast. And when they had sated their appetite for food and drink, the horseman, Gerenian Nestor, spoke:

‘Now that our visitors have eaten well, it is fitting to question the strangers and ask them who they are. Friends, who are you? Where do you sail from over the sea-roads? Are you on business, or do you roam at random, like pirates who chance their lives to bring evil to others?’

Then wise Telemachus plucked up courage to answer, inspired by Athene, so as to ask about his lost father, and retain the respect of his men:

‘Nestor, son of Neleus, great glory of the Achaeans, you ask where we come from, and I will tell you. We are from Ithaca, below Mount Neion: and what I speak of is private business. I come in hopes of hearing some rumour of my father, steadfast Odysseus, who, they say, fought at your side, and sacked the city of Troy. For we have heard of every man who met a sad end, among those who fought the Trojans, but as for Odysseus, the Son of Cronos allows even his death to go unreported, and no one can say for certain where he died, whether conquered by enemies on land, or at sea among Amphitrite’s waves. So I come to clasp your knees, and ask you to speak if you can, and will, of his sad death, a death you may have seen yourself, or heard tell of from other travellers: for he was a man whom his mother bore to sorrow beyond all men. And do not speak soothing words out of concern for me, or pity, but tell me, in truth, what news you have. If ever my father, good Odysseus, promised you word or action and fulfilled it, on that field of Troy where Achaeans suffered, I beg you, remember it now: tell me the whole truth.

BkIII:102-147 Nestor’s return: the Atrides quarrel

The horseman, Nestor of Gerenia, answered him: ‘Friend, you bring to mind the pain we suffered there, we sons of Achaea, great in courage: all that suffering of ours aboard ship, sailing the misty deep after plunder wherever Achilles led, and all our battles around King Priam’s mighty city, where the best of us died. There lies Ajax, beloved of Ares: there lie Achilles and Patroclus, equal to the gods in counsel. There lies my own dear son, Antilochus, strong and faultless, swift of foot, and great in battle. Who among mortal men could tell all the evils we suffered? If you remained here five or six years, and heard of the troubles the noble Achaeans endured there you would be weary before the end, and go home. For nine years we were busy planning their destruction with all known stratagems, but Zeus, the son of Cronos, made it hard to achieve. No man there dared to compete in counsel with Odysseus, your father if you are truly his son, since noble Odysseus was supreme in all known stratagems. I wonder as I gaze at you: your speech is exactly his, and one would hardly expect a younger man to speak so. Throughout those years, Odysseus and I never spoke on opposite sides, in council or assembly, but with one mind advised the Argives, wisely and shrewdly, how to achieve success. But when we had sacked Priam’s high citadel, and sailed away, and a god had scattered the fleet, then Zeus planned a grievous journey for the Argives, because some had behaved incautiously and unjustly. Many came to a dark fate, through the fierce anger of the bright-eyed goddess, daughter of a mighty father, stirring a quarrel between Atreus’ two sons. Hastily and informally, they called the Achaeans to an assembly at sunset, and because of it the sons of Achaea arrived sodden with wine. Then they spoke, and explained why they had gathered the host. Menelaus suggested they made their return over the wide sea the priority, but this displeased Agamemnon, who wished to delay them there, and to offer holy sacrifice to appease Athene’s deadly anger, not knowing foolishly that she would not listen, since the will of the everlasting gods cannot be swiftly altered. So the two of them stood there, exchanging harsh words, until the bronze-greaved Achaeans, divided in opinion, broke up in almighty uproar.’

BkIII:148-200 Nestor’s return: the journey

‘That night we rested, each side nursing harsh thoughts against the other, for Zeus was preparing a deadly blow. In the morning half of us launched our ships on the glittering sea, stowing away our goods, loading the captive women in their low-necked robes. Half of the army held back, supporting Agamemnon, Atreus’s son, the shepherd of the flock, while the rest of us embarked, then gathered way.

The ships sailed swiftly, for a god had smoothed the sea that nurtures monsters. Making Tenedos, and desirous of reaching home, we sacrificed to the immortals, but Zeus, that recalcitrant deity, did not wish us to return yet, and stirred another bitter quarrel. At that point one squadron, under the wise and cunning Lord Odysseus, who once more favoured Agamemnon, Atreus’ son, swung their curved prows about, and turned back. I, with a massed fleet of ships following me, sailed on, knowing the god intended trouble. Diomedes, Tydeus’ son, beloved of Ares, likewise drove his crews onward, and behind us sailed yellow-haired Menelaus. He caught us at Lesbos as we argued whether to head out west from rugged Chios, towards the island of Psyria, keeping it to larboard, or to sail south, landward of Chios, past Mimas’ windy promontories. We asked the god for a sign, and the god made it clear we should cut across open sea, westward to Euboea, to escape from trouble most quickly. A fierce wind blew, and the ships ran swiftly over the teeming deep, and that night put in to Geraestus. There we laid many a bull’s thigh on Poseidon’s altar, to give thanks for our crossing. On the fourth day from then Diomedes, Tydeus’ son, tamer of horses, and all his company, beached their fine ships at Argos, but I sailed on for Pylos, and the wind never dropped from the moment the god first made it blow.

So, dear boy, I reached home without news of the others, knowing nothing of which Achaeans were saved, and which were lost. But you have a right to all the news I have heard as I sit here in my palace, and I will keep nothing back. They say that the Myrmidons returned safely, those fierce spearmen that Achilles once led, and Philoctetes returned too, Poias’ brilliant son. And Idomeneus brought those of his troops who escaped the war back to Crete, and none were lost at sea. As for that son of Atreus, Agamemnon, you will have heard, far off though you were, of his homecoming, and of how Aegisthus plotted his sad end. Yet he too paid a terrible price, showing how good it is that a man leaves a son behind to take vengeance on his murderer. For Orestes took vengeance on his father’s killer, crafty Aegisthus, for all his treachery. You too, friend, a fine tall man as I see, take courage, so that many a man of generations yet to be born shall praise you.’

The homecoming of Agamemnon

‘The homecoming of Agamemnon’

BkIII:201-252 Telemachus asks about Agamemnon’s death

Wise Telemachus replied: ‘Nestor, son of Neleus, great glory of the Achaeans, his son indeed took vengeance, and the Achaeans will noise his fame abroad, so that generations yet to be born will hear. Would that the gods would grant me such power, that I might exact a like revenge on the Suitors for their heavy sins, and the wilful wrongs they perpetrate against me. But the gods weave no such joys for me, or my father: I must simply endure.’

Nestor, the Gerenian charioteer, replied: ‘Friend, your words remind me: they say a crowd of Suitors courting your mother commit evils in your palace against you. Tell me, do you submit to this willingly, or is it that the people of Ithaca have turned against you, spurred on by the voice of some god? Who knows whether Odysseus may not return one day, alone or with an Achaean host, and take vengeance on them for their violence? If only bright-eyed Athene would choose to love you, as she once cherished noble Odysseus on the Trojan fields where we Achaeans suffered. I have never seen a god show love so openly, as Pallas Athene showed to him, standing there by his side. If she delighted in loving you like that, and cared deeply for you, then the whole crowd of them could forget about marriage.’

Wise Telemachus answered him: ‘Venerable Lord, I doubt that what you say could ever be. You speak of something too wonderful. There is no hope of it, even if the gods so willed it.’

Then the goddess, bright-eyed Athene, spoke to him: ‘Telemachus, what are you saying? A god who wills it can easily bring a man safely home, from however far away. I would rather endure great suffering, myself, before I reached home, than be killed at my own hearth later, as Agamemnon was killed by the cunning of Aegisthus, and his own wife. But still the gods themselves cannot keep death, the common fate, from a man they love, when the deadly hand of merciless destiny fells him.’

Mentor,’ said wise Telemachus, ‘let us be silent now about these grievous things. He can no longer return: on the contrary the deathless ones have brought death’s dark fate to him. But there is another question I would ask of Nestor, since he above all understands wisdom and judgement: men say he has been king for three lives of men, and he seems to me one of the immortals. Nestor, son of Neleus, tell me truly how that great king, Agamemnon, son of Atreus, was killed? Where was Menelaus, then? How did crafty Aegisthus plan to kill the king, a man far stronger than himself? Was Menelaus not home in Achaean Argos, but roaming abroad, that Aegisthus had the courage to commit the murder?

BkIII:253-312 Menelaus’ wanderings, Orestes’ revenge

Nestor, the Gerenian charioteer, replied: ‘I will tell you truly, my child, as you ask. You can guess yourself how it would have ended if yellow-haired Menelaus, Atreus’ son, returning from Troy, had found Aegisthus alive in the palace. None would even have heaped a burial mound for him: dogs and birds would have torn his flesh on the plain, far outside the city, and no woman of Achaea would have mourned him, because of his monstrous crime. We played our part at Troy completing our many tasks, but he idled in that haven of Argos, the horse-pasture, seducing Agamemnon’s wife with his chatter. At first the noble Clytaemnestra, in her wisdom, shunned the base act: and besides she had a minstrel with her to whom Agamemnon had given strict orders to guard his wife, when he left for Troy. But when the gods at last destined that Agamemnon should be destroyed, Aegisthus took the minstrel to a desert isle, and left him there as a gift for the birds of prey: and as he wished, and she wished, led her to his own house. And he burned great heaps of thigh-pieces on the gods’ holy altar, and hung up rich offerings of fine fabrics, and gold, when he had accomplished that dreadful murder, which in his heart he had never thought could succeed.

For Agamemnon and I had sailed, in friendship, together from Troy: but when we came to sacred Sunium, the cape south of Athens, Phoebus Apollo killed Menelaus’ helmsman with a painless arrow, while his hands gripped the tiller of the speeding craft. And Phrontis, son of Onetor, had been first among men at steering a ship when the storm winds blew. So, though Menelaus was anxious to sail on, he waited to bury his friend, and offered the funeral rites. Then when he got away in his hollow ships, over the wine-dark sea, and ran downwind to Malea’s steep headland, Zeus of the far-reaching voice destined a troubled course for him, and engulfed him in a roaring gale, swelling the waves to the height of mountains. Then he split the fleet apart, carrying some ships to Crete and the Cydonian lands on the River Iardanus. There is a sheer cliff, falling to the sea, in the misty waves on the borders of Gortyn, where the southwest winds drive great breakers against the western headland near Phaestus, and a slender reef stems their flow. Reaching it, the waves smashed the ships against the rocks, and the men barely escaped destruction.

However, wind and wave had carried five of the blue-prowed vessels to Egypt. So Menelaus cruised there with his ships among men of foreign tongue, gathering goods and gold. Meanwhile Aegisthus plotted his tragic action at home, murdering Agamemnon, and then controlling his people. He ruled gold-rich Mycenae for seven years, but the eighth brought Orestes his doom from Athens, come to slay his father’s murderer, crafty Aegisthus, in revenge. And when he had slain him, he called the Argives to a funeral feast, over the bodies of his vile mother and cowardly Aegisthus: and on that very day Menelaus of the loud war cry returned, bringing rich treasure, all that his ships could carry.’

BkIII:313-355 Nestor advises Telemachus to see Menelaus

‘So do not wander far from home, yourself, my friend, leaving your wealth behind, and insolent men in your palace, for fear they share out your riches and consume them, making your journey worthless. I urge you to visit Menelaus, since he returned later from those distant parts, that region from which one might fear never to return, being driven by storms into the wide sea that birds cross only twice a year, so vast it is, and dangerous. Go with your ship and crew, or if you prefer the land here is a chariot and team, and my sons are at your service, that can guide you to lovely Lacedaemon, where yellow-haired Menelaus lives. Ask for the truth from his lips, yourself. He, being wise, will not deceive you.’

As Nestor ceased, the sun dipped and darkness fell. Then the goddess, bright-eyed Athene spoke to them: ‘Venerable Lord, you have said truly. But come, cut up the tongues, and mix the wine, so that we may pour the libations to Poseidon and the other gods, then think of sleep. It is time, since the light fades into darkness, and we should not sit too long at the gods’ feast, but go to our beds.’

So the daughter of Zeus spoke, and they paid attention to her words. Squires poured water over their hands, while young men filled the brimming bowls, and after sprinkling a few drops into the wine-cups, as a libation, handed them round. Then they placed the tongues in the fire, and rising to their feet poured libations on them. But when they had offered the wine and drunk deep themselves, Athene and godlike Telemachus were ready to return to their hollow ship. Nestor, though detained them, saying:

‘May Zeus and the other immortals forbid this, that you should leave me and go to your swift ship, as if I were a beggar in rags, who lacks soft cloaks and blankets in plenty on which his guests might sleep. I have both, and the steadfast son of Odysseus shall not sleep on his ship’s deck while I am alive, or sons survive me here, to welcome strangers who reach my door.’

BkIII:356-403 Athene departs, and Nestor prays to her

Bright-eyed Athene said: ‘You have spoken well, my Lord, and Telemachus should stay: that will be best. But while he follows you, and shall sleep in your palace, I will go to the black ship to explain, and to reassure our crew. For I am the oldest among them: they are youths, friends of like age to the great-hearted Telemachus they follow. I will sleep there, by the black ship’s hull, tonight. And in the morning I will head for the great-hearted Cauconians, who owe me a heavy and long-standing debt. Then, since this young man is your guest, send him on his way, by chariot, with your son beside him, and let his horses be the strongest and swiftest you have.’

So the goddess spoke, bright-eyed Athene, and flew off in the form of a sea eagle: and all were amazed at the sight. The old man marvelled when he saw, and clasping Telemachus’ hand he said: ‘Friend, you will prove neither a fool nor a coward since the gods go with you to guide you, and you so young. For this was none other of the gods that live on Olympus but the lady of Lake Tritonis, the glorious virgin daughter of Zeus, who granted your noble father honour too among Argives. Queen, be gracious to me, and let them speak well of me and my sons, and the wife I revere: and in return I will offer a wide-browed yearling heifer, not yet broken to the plough. I will gild her horns and sacrifice her to you.’

He prayed, and Pallas Athene heard. Then the horseman, Gerenian Nestor, with his sons, and sons-in-law, led the way to his lovely home. And, reaching the king’s fine palace, they seated themselves in rows on the chairs and stools: and the old man mixed them a sweet bowl of wine, from a sealed jar the housekeeper opened, now, in its eleventh year. Mixing a bowl of the vintage, the old man poured libations, and prayed intently to Athene, the daughter of Zeus, who wears the aegis.

After pouring libations, and drinking their fill, they each went off to rest, while Nestor, the horseman of Gerenia, arranged for the steadfast son of divine Odysseus to sleep on a wooden bed in the echoing portico, with Peisistratus, of the ash spear, leader of men, and the only unmarried son left in the palace, beside him. But Nestor himself slept in the innermost room of the tall building, and with him his lady wife for love and comfort.

BkIII:404-463 Nestor’s sacrifice to Athene

As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, Nestor the Gerenian horseman rose from his bed: went out, and seated himself on the smooth stone bench, white and gleaming as though with oil, that stood in front of the high doors. Neleus had once sat there, as wise as a god in counsel, but he had long since been felled by fate and gone down to Hades’ Halls. Now Gerenian Nestor sat there in his turn, a Warden of the Achaeans, with the sceptre in his hand. His sons gathered round him, as they came from their rooms, Echephron and Stratius, Perseus, Aretus, and godlike Thrasymedes. The warrior Peisistratus made a sixth, and they seated godlike Telemachus beside him. Nestor, the Gerenian horseman, spoke first:

My dear sons, be quick to do my will, so that I can propitiate Athene above all, who came openly in person to the god’s rich feast. Let one of you go to the meadow for a heifer, and let the cowherd drive her swiftly: let another go to great-hearted Telemachus’ black ship and bring his friends, all but two: and let a third call Laerces the goldsmith here to tip the heifer’s horns with gold. The rest of you stay here, and tell the women to prepare a feast in the palace, and seats, and firewood, and fresh water.’

They set about their tasks, as ordered. The heifer arrived from the meadow, and great-hearted Telemachus’ crew from the fine swift ship: the smith brought bronze tools in his hands, anvil, hammer and well-wrought tongs, the instruments of his gold-working craft: and Athene too arrived to witness the sacrifice. Then old Nestor the charioteer gave the smith gold to gild the heifer’s horns, so the goddess would delight in the offering. Then Stratius and noble Echephron led the heifer by the horns, and Aretus came from the palace bringing water in a flowered bowl for them to wash with, and a basket of barley meal, in his other hand. Thrasymedes, stalwart in fighting, stood there, gripping a sharp axe to strike the heifer, and Perseus held the dish for the blood. Then old Nestor the charioteer opened the rites by washing his hands and scattering barley grains, and prayed intently to Athene, cutting hair from the victim’s head as a first offering, and throwing it into the flames.

When they had prayed, and scattered the barley grains, Thrasymedes, Nestor’s high-spirited son, approached and struck the blow. The axe severed the sinews of the heifer’s neck, and crippled her strength, and the women raised the ritual cry, all the daughters, and daughters-in-law, and Nestor’s honoured wife, Eurydice, Clymenus’ eldest daughter. Then the men raised the heifer’s head from the trampled earth, and held it while Peisistratus, that leader of men, slit its throat. When the black blood had flowed, and life had left its body, they dismembered the carcass, cut out the thigh pieces accordingly, wrapped them in layers of fat, and covered them with raw meat. Then the old king burned them on the fire, and poured glowing wine over them, while the young men waited beside him, five-pronged forks in hand. When the thigh pieces were burned, then they tasted the inner parts, carving the rest, skewering and roasting it, holding the sharpened skewers in their hands.

BkIII:464-497 Telemachus departs

Then lovely Polycaste, Nestor’s youngest daughter, bathed Telemachus. And when she had bathed him and rubbed him with oil, and dressed him in tunic and fine cloak, he emerged from the baths like an immortal, and seated himself by Nestor, the people’s shepherd.

When they had roasted the outer flesh and stripped it from the skewers, they sat down to eat, with squires in attendance to fill their wine-cups. After they had sated themselves with food and drink, Nestor, the Gerenian horseman was first to speak: ‘Now, my sons, harness horses with flowing manes to Telemachus’ chariot, so he may start his journey.’

He spoke, and they eagerly heard and obeyed: rapidly harnessing swift horses to the chariot. The housekeeper stocked it with bread and wine, and delicacies, such as kings eat whom Zeus favours. Then Telemachus mounted the fine chariot, and Peisistratus, leader of men, Nestor’s son, climbed up beside him and grasped the reins in his hands. He flicked the team with his whip to start them, and the willing pair took to the plain, and left the high city of Pylos behind them. And all day long they strained at the yoke across their necks.

Now the sun dipped and the roads grew dark. And they came 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 Peistratus flicked the team with his whip to start them, and the willing pair flew onwards. So they came to plains of wheat, and pushed on towards journey’s end, drawn by their fleeting horses. And the sun dipped down and all the roads grew dark.