Homer: The Odyssey

Book VII

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

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BkVII:1-77 Athene leads Odysseus to the palace

So noble long-suffering Odysseus prayed there, while the pair of sturdy mules drew the girl to the city. When she had reached her father’s great palace, she halted the mules at the gate, and her brothers, godlike men, crowded round her. They unhitched the mules from the cart, and carried the clothing inside, while she went to her room. There her waiting-woman, Eurymedusa, an old Aperaean woman, lit a fire. Curved ships had brought her from Aperaea long ago, and she had been chosen from the spoils as a prize for Alcinous, king of all the Phaeacians, considered a god by the people. She had reared Nausicaa of the white arms in the palace, and now she lit the fire, and prepared supper in the room.

It was then Odysseus started for town, and Athene, showing her kindness, veiled him in dense mist, so that none of the brave Phaeacians meeting him, would challenge him, or ask who he was. And as he was about to enter the fine city, the goddess, bright-eyed Athene, met him, disguised as a young girl with a pitcher, and stopped in front of him. ‘My child,’ said noble Odysseus, ‘can you guide me to the house of him they call Alcinous, lord of this people? I come as a long-suffering stranger from far off, and I know none of the people of this land or its city.’

The goddess, bright-eyed Athene answered: ‘Sir stranger, I will show you the place you ask for, since Alcinous lives near my good father’s house. Only walk quietly, and I will lead the way: look at nobody and ask no questions, for these people are intolerant of strangers, and do not welcome people from abroad. Trusting to their fast ships, they cross the wide gulfs of sea, and Poseidon allows it: and these ships are as quick as a bird in flight, or a thought.’

With this, Pallas Athene promptly led the way, and he followed in the goddess’ footsteps. The Phaeacians, so proud of their ships, failed to see him as he crossed the city, since dread Athene prevented it, veiling him in a magic mist, because of her concern for him. And Odysseus marvelled at the harbour and the fine vessels, at the meeting place where the nobles gathered, and the long high walls topped with palisades, wonderful to see. When they reached the king’s fine palace, the goddess, bright-eyed Athene, said: ‘Here, sir stranger, is the house you asked me to show you. You will find the princes, favoured by Zeus, feasting there, but go in and have no fear. For a man is best to be bold, even a stranger from a foreign land. The first person you will approach in the palace hall is the queen: Arete is her name, of the same lineage as the king, Alcinous. Nausithous was founder, born of Earth-Shaker Poseidon and Periboea, loveliest of women, youngest daughter of valiant Eurymedon once king of the insolent Giants. He brought destruction on his reckless race, and was destroyed. But Poseidon lay with Periboea, and bore a son, valiant Nausithous, who ruled the Phaeacians, and Nausithous had two sons, Rhexenor and Alcinous. Rhexenor, who was married without a son, Apollo of the silver bow struck down in his hall, leaving a daughter, Arete. Alcinous married her, and honours her above all those women on earth who keep house at their husband’s command. Such is the heartfelt honour she ever enjoys from her children, and Alcinous, and the people, who think of her as a goddess, greeting her as she walks through the city. For she is no less wise, and settles the disputes of those she favours, men or women. If she looks kindly on you, there is hope you may see your friends again, and return to your vaulted hall in your own land.’

BkVII:78-132 The Palace of Alcinous

With this, bright-eyed Athene left lovely Scherie, and vanished over the barren sea. She reached Marathon, and the wide streets of Athens, and entered Erectheus’ palace, while Odysseus approached Alcinous’ glorious halls. He stood there reflecting, before crossing the bronze threshold, since the radiance of sun or moon shone over the vaulted halls of valiant Alcinous. The walls that ran from the entrance to the innermost room were topped with a frieze of blue enamelling. Gold doors fronted the well-built house, with silver doorposts set in the bronze sill. The lintel above was silver too, and the door-handle of gold. Gold and silver dogs stood either side, fashioned by Hephaestus with consummate skill, to guard valiant Alcinous’ palace. They were ageless and immortal. Inside, seats were fixed along the walls from the entrance to the innermost room, covered with cleverly woven fabrics worked by the women. There the Phaeacian princes would sit, eating and drinking, living lavishly. Golden statues of youths on solid pedestals stood there, with flaming torches in their hands, to light the banqueting hall by night.

And Alcinous had fifty housemaids, some of whom ground golden corn on the millstone, others wove fabric, or twisted the yarn, hands flickering like the leaves of a tall poplar, while the smooth bleaching olive oil dripped down. As the Phaeacian men are skilled at handling ships on the sea, so the women are clever workers at the loom, for Athene has given them knowledge of beautiful arts, and great application.

Beyond the courtyard, near to the doors, lies a large four-acre orchard, surrounded by a hedge. Tall, heavily laden trees grow there, pear, pomegranate and apple, rich in glossy fruit, sweet figs and dense olives. The fruit never rots or fails, winter or summer. It lasts all year, and the West Wind’s breath quickens some to life, and ripens others, pear on pear, apple on apple, cluster on cluster of grapes, and fig on fig. There is Alcinous’ fertile vineyard too, with a warm patch of level ground in one part set aside for drying the grapes, while the labourers gather and tread others, as the foremost rows of unripe grapes shed their blossom, and others become tinged with purple. Beyond the furthest row again are neat beds with every kind of plant, flowering all year round, and there are two springs in the orchard, one flowing through the whole garden, while the other runs the opposite way, under the courtyard sill, near where the people of the city draw their water, towards the great house. Such were the gods’ glorious gifts to Alcinous’ home.

BkVII:133-181 Odysseus speaks to Arete

Noble, long-suffering Odysseus stood and gazed around. When he had wondered deeply at it all, he crossed the palace threshold swiftly. There he found the Phaeacian leaders and counsellors pouring libations from their cups to keen-eyed Hermes, the slayer of Argus, to whom they would pour the last of the wine before retiring to rest. But noble long-suffering Odysseus traversed the hall, veiled in the dense mist Athene had shed around him, till he came to Arete and Alcinous the king. Odysseus clasped Arete’s knees, and the magic mist melted away, and all in the room were silenced at the sight of this man, and marvelled as they gazed. Then Odysseus made this prayer:

‘Arete, daughter of godlike Rhexenor, after many labours I come as a suppliant to your knees, at your husband’s feet and your guests’, and may the gods bring them happiness in life, and may each leave the wealth of these halls, and his honours from the people, to his children. But let me be returned quickly to my own land, for I have long suffered trouble far from my friends.’

With this he sat down in the hearth’s ashes, close to the fire, and all remained silent. At last one of the Phaeacian elders, noble Echeneus, eloquent and wise, spoke to them. Helpfully, he addressed the gathering, saying: ‘Come, Alcinous, it is not right and proper that a stranger should sit there in the ashes of the hearth, while we all hold back awaiting your lead. Raise the stranger to his feet, and seat him on a silver-embossed chair, and let the heralds mix the wine, so that we may pour libations to Zeus as well, who hurls the lightning and follows the footsteps of holy suppliants. And let the housekeeper feed him supper from her store.’

When royal Alcinous had listened, he clasped the wise and clever Odysseus by the hand, raised him from the hearth, and seated him on a shining chair, from which he moved his son, kindly Laodamas, his favourite, who sat beside him. A maid brought water to wash his hands in a fine gold pitcher, and poured it over a silver basin, and drew up a polished table beside him. And the well-respected housekeeper brought bread and set it before him, with many delicacies, giving freely of her store. So noble long-suffering Odysseus ate and drank. Then royal Alcinous spoke to his squire and said:

Pontonous, mix and serve the wine to everyone in the hall, so we can pour libations to Zeus who hurls the lightning, since he follows the footsteps of holy suppliants.’

BkVII:182-239 Arete questions Odysseus

At this, Pontonous mixed the honeyed wine, and poured the first drops into every cup. When they had poured their libations and drunk what they wished, Alcinous addressed the gathering, saying: ‘Leaders and Counsellors of the Phaeacians, listen while I speak what is in my heart. Now you have dined, go to your homes and rest, and in the morning we will call a wider assembly of elders, and entertain this stranger, and offer sacrifices to the gods. After that we can think about his quick and happy return, without pain or effort, to his native land, however far he may have come. And he shall not suffer accident or harm till he sets foot in his own country: though afterwards he must fulfil whatever thread of destiny the Dread Fates spun for him at birth. But if he is one of the immortals come down from heaven, then this is some new project of the gods, since they always appeared plainly to us before, after we had offered them rich sacrifice, and they sat and feasted among us. Even if one of us walking the road alone were to meet them, they used no disguise, since we are next of kin to them, like the Cyclopes and the wild tribe of Giants.’

Then resourceful Odysseus spoke to him, saying: ‘Do not imagine so, Alcinous, since I have neither the looks nor stature of the immortals who inhabit wide heaven, but those of mortal men. Whoever you know that bear the heaviest burden of suffering, I might compare myself to them in sorrow. Yes, and the tale of all the troubles that by the gods’ will I have endured, would be longer. But despite my grief, let me eat, since there is nothing more shameful than the wretched stomach that demands a man’s attention however deep his distress, or heavy his heart, and my heart is heavy now, yet my stomach goes on insisting I eat and drink, making me forget what I suffered, demanding its fill. Then at daybreak, indeed, hurry to return me to my native soil, wretched as I am, and after all my troubles. Then, let me die, having seen again my goods, my servants, my vaulted halls.’

He spoke, and they all praised his speech, and proposed to send the stranger on his journey home, since he had spoken well. When they had poured libations, and drunk their fill, each man went home to rest, while noble Odysseus was left behind in the hall, seated beside Arete and godlike Alcinous, as the maids cleared the dishes from the feast. Arete of the white arms was first to speak, since as soon as she saw his fine clothes she recognised them as ones she and her women had made. She spoke to him with winged words: ‘Stranger, I will be the first to ask who you are and where you are from. Who gave you those clothes? Did you not say you reached here wandering the sea?’

BkVII:240-297 Odysseus tells of his arrival

Resourceful Odysseus replied, saying: ‘My queen, it would be difficult to recount the story of my sufferings from start to end, since the gods in heaven have inflicted so many on me. But I will say this in answer to your question. There is an isle, Ogygia, far across the sea, where artful Calypso of the lovely tresses, the daughter of Atlas, lives, and neither gods nor mortals approach her, but Fate brought me alone to her in my misfortune, for Zeus had struck my ship with his bright lightning, and wrecked it far out on the wine-dark sea. There my loyal friends were drowned, but I grasped the keel of my curved ship, and drifted for nine days, till on the tenth night of darkness the gods washed me shore on Ogygia, where lives that dread goddess Calypso of the lovely tresses. She welcomed me to her home with kindness, fed me, and promised to make me ageless and immortal, but she never reached my heart. Seven whole years I stayed there, soaking the everlasting garments Calypso gave me with my tears. But when the eighth year came round, she urged me to go, because of some message from Zeus, or because her feelings had changed. She sent me off on a tight-bound raft, with a wealth of provisions, bread and glowing wine, and gave me everlasting garments to wear, and sent a following wind, warm and gentle.

So I sailed the sea for seventeen days, and on the eighteenth the shadowy mountains of your land appeared, and I was joyful, but ill fated, since I was still to be a friend of great suffering, that Poseidon Earth-Shaker brought me. He roused the winds against me, blocked my path, and raised huge waves, so the sea refused to leave me alone as I sat there groaning ceaselessly aboard my raft. Instead the storm wrecked it, and I reached here, swimming the great gulf till the wind and waves carried me to your shore. When I tried to gain the land, the breakers dashed me against a dangerous stretch of cliff, but I backed away, and swam till I came to a river mouth, where there was a likely place, free of rocks and sheltered from the wind. I staggered clear, and lay there, gasping for breath, while deathless night fell. Then I climbed from the bed of the heaven-fed river, and, gathering leaves around me, lay down to rest in a thicket. Then a god shed boundless sleep upon me. So I slept all night through, exhausted, among the leaves, through morning and till noon, and the sun began to set before sweet sleep released me. Then I saw your daughter’s maids playing on the sand, and she among them looking like a goddess. I made my prayer to her, and she was full of understanding, in a way you would not expect from one so young, since the young are ever thoughtless. She gave me plenty of bread and glowing wine, bathed me in the river, and gave me these clothes. This is the truth I tell, regardless of its pain.’

BkVII:298-347 Odysseus sleeps in the palace

Then Alcinous replied: ‘Indeed, Stranger, my daughter was at fault in this, that she failed to lead you to our house with her maids, though it was her to whom you first prayed.’

But shrewd Odysseus answered: ‘Lord, do not criticise your daughter, who is flawless, I beg you. She did ask me to follow her and her maids, but I refused out of shame and fear, thinking your mind might cloud with anger when you saw us, since the peoples of earth are quick to anger.’

‘My friend,’ Alcinous replied, ‘my character is not one to take offence without cause. In all things moderation is best. By Zeus, the Father, Athene and Apollo, given the sort of man you are, similar to myself, I wish you would wed my daughter, be my son, and stay. I would give you a house and wealth if you chose to remain here, but no Phaeacian would detain you against your will, may Father Zeus forbid. So you can be certain of beginning your homeward voyage, I appoint tomorrow as the day. While you sleep they will row you over calm seas, till you come to your own house and country, or wherever else you wish, even if it lies beyond Euboea. Those of our people who took yellow-haired Rhadamanthus to visit Tityus, son of Earth, saw that place and call it the world’s end. They sailed there, without effort, completed their task, and returned home the selfsame day. So you see for yourself that my ships are of the best, and my young men supreme at driving oars through the brine.’

At this, noble long-suffering Odysseus was pleased, and he raised his voice in prayer, saying: ‘Father Zeus, let Alcinous achieve all he has said. Then his fame will be inextinguishable on the fruitful earth, and I will reach my native shore.’

While they spoke, Arete of the white arms told her maids to place a bed in the portico, and cover it with fine purple blankets, with covers on top, and fleecy cloaks for warmth. Torch in hand, the maids went out of the hall. But when they had quickly covered the well-made bed, they came and called Odysseus saying: ‘Stranger, come and rest, your bed is made.’ The thought of sleep was welcome to him. And the noble long-suffering Odysseus lay there on the wooden bed in the echoing portico. But Alcinous himself slept in the innermost room of the tall building, and with him his lady wife for love and comfort.