Classical Texts Library >> Homer, Odyssey >> Book 18




Athena & Telemachus
Penelope & the Suitors


Departure of Telemachus


Nestor's Tale: The Returns


Menelaus' Tale: The Returns


Odysseus & Calypso
Raft of Odysseus


Odysseus & Naucicaa


Odysseus & Arete


Games & Feast of the Phaeacians


Odysseus' Tale: Lotus-Eaters & Cyclops


Odysseus' Tale: Aeolus, Laestrygones & Circe


Odysseus' Tale: The Underworld


Odysseus' Tale: Sirens, Scylla & Helius


Return to Ithaca


Odysseus & Eumaeus


Return of Telemachus
Odyseus & Eumaeus


Odysseus & Telemachus


Odysseus the Beggar


Odysseus the Beggar


Odysseus & Penelope


Contest of the Suitors


Contest of the Suitors


Slaying of the Suitors


Odysseus & Penelope


Ghosts of the Dead
Odysseus & Laertes


[1] Now there came up a public beggar who was wont to beg through the town of Ithaca, and was known for his greedy belly, eating and drinking without end. No strength had he nor might, but in bulk was big indeed to look upon. Arnaeus was his name, for this name his honored mother had given him at his birth; but Irus all the young men called him, because he used to run on errands when anyone bade him. He came now, and was for driving Odysseus from his own house; and he began to revile him, and spoke winged words: “Give way, old man, from the doorway, lest soon thou be even dragged out by the foot. Dost thou not see that all men are winking at me, and bidding me drag thee? Yet for myself, I am ashamed to do it. Nay, up with thee, lest our quarrel even come to blows.”

[14] Then with an angry glance from beneath his brows Odysseus of many wiles answered him: “Good fellow, I harm thee not in deed or word, nor do I begrudge that any man should give thee, though the portion he took up were a large one. This threshold will hold us both, and thou hast no need to be jealous for the goods of other folk. Thou seemest to me to be a vagrant, even as I am; and as for happy fortune, it is the gods that are like to give us that. But with thy fists do not provoke me overmuch, lest thou anger me, and, old man though I am, I befoul thy breast and lips with blood. So should I have the greater peace tomorrow, for I deem not that thou shalt return a second time to the hall of Odysseus, son of Laertes.”

[25] Then, waxing wroth, the vagrant Irus said to him: “Now see how glibly the filthy wretch talks, like an old kitchen-wife. But I will devise evil for him, smiting him left and right, and will scatter on the ground all the teeth from his jaws, as though he were a swine wasting the corn. Gird thyself now, that these men, too, may all know our fighting. But how couldst thou fight with a younger man?”

[31] Thus on the polished threshold before the lofty doors they stirred one another's rage right heartily. And the strong and mighty Antinous heard the two, and, breaking into a merry laugh, he spoke among the wooers: “Friends, never before has such a thing come to pass, that a god has brought sport like this to this house. Yon stranger and Irus are provoking one another to blows. Come, let us quickly set them on.”

[40] So he spoke, and they all sprang up laughing and gathered about the tattered beggars. And Antinous, son of Eupeithes, spoke among them, and said: “Hear me, ye proud wooers, that I may say somewhat. Here at the fire are goats' paunches lying, which we set there for supper, when we had filled them with fat and blood. Now whichever of the two wins and proves himself the better man, let him rise and choose for himself which one of these he will. And furthermore he shall always feast with us, nor will we suffer any other beggar to join our company and beg of us.”

[50] So spoke Antinous, and his word was pleasing to them. Then with crafty mind Odysseus of many wiles spoke among them: “Friends, in no wise may an old man that is overcome with woe fight with a younger. Howbeit my belly, that worker of evil, urges me on, that I may be overcome by his blows. But come now, do you all swear to me a mighty oath, to the end that no man, doing a favour to Irus, may deal me a foul blow with heavy hand, and so by violence subdue me to this fellow.”

[58] So he spoke, and they all gave the oath not to smite him, even as he bade. But when they had sworn and made an end of the oath, among them spoke again the strong and mighty Telemachus: “Stranger, if thy heart and thy proud spirit bid thee beat off this fellow, then fear not thou any man of all the Achaeans, for whoso strikes thee shall have to fight with more than thou. Thy host am I, and the princes assent hereto, Antinous and Eurymachus, men of prudence both.”

[66] So he spoke, and they all praised his words. But Odysseus girded his rags about his loins and showed his thighs, comely and great, and his broad shoulders came to view, and his chest and mighty arms. And Athena drew nigh and made greater the limbs of the shepherd of the people. Then all the wooers marvelled exceedingly, and thus would one speak with a glance at his neighbor: “Right soon shall Irus, un-Irused, have a bane of his own bringing, such a thigh does yon old man show from beneath his rags.”

[75] So they spoke, and the mind of Irus was miserably shaken; yet even so the serving men girded him, and led him out perforce all filled with dread, and his flesh trembled on his limbs. Then Antinous rated him and spoke, and addressed him: “Better were it now, thou braggart, that thou wert not living, nor hadst ever been born, if thou quailest and art so terribly afraid of this fellow—a man that is old and overcome by the woe that has come upon him. But I will speak out to thee, and this word shall verily be brought to pass. If this fellow conquers thee and proves the better man, I will fling thee into a black ship and send thee to the mainland to King Echetus, the maimer of all men, who will cut off thy nose and ears with the pitiless bronze, and will draw forth thy vitals and give them raw to dogs to rend.”

[88] So he spoke, and thereat yet greater trembling seized the other's limbs, and they led him into the ring and both men put up their hands. Then the much-enduring, goodly Odysseus was divided in mind whether he should strike him so that life should leave him even there as he fell, or whether he should deal him a light blow and stretch him on the earth. And, as he pondered, this seemed to him the better course, to deal him a light blow, that the Achaeans might not take note of him. Then verily, when they had put up their hands, Irus let drive at the right shoulder, but Odysseus smote him on the neck beneath the ear and crushed in the bones, and straightway the red blood ran forth from his mouth, and down he fell in the dust with a moan, and he gnashed his teeth, kicking the ground with his feet. But the lordly wooers raised their hands, and were like to die with laughter. Then Odysseus seized him by the foot, and dragged him forth through the doorway until he came to the court and the gates of the portico. And he set him down and leaned him against the wall of the court, and thrust his staff into his hand and spoke, and addressed him with winged words: “Sit there now, and scare off swine and dogs, and do not thou be lord of strangers and beggars, miserable that thou art, lest haply thou meet with some worse thing to profit withal.”

[108] He spoke, and flung about his shoulders his miserable wallet, full of holes, and slung by a twisted cord. Then back to the threshold he went and sat down; and the wooers went within, laughing merrily, and they greeted him, saying: “May Zeus grant thee, stranger, and the other immortal gods what thou desirest most, and the dearest wish of thy heart, seeing that thou hast made this insatiate fellow to cease from begging in the land. For soon shall we take him to the mainland to King Echetus, the maimer of all men.”

[117] So they spoke, and goodly Odysseus was glad at the word of omen. And Antinous set before him the great paunch, filled with fat and blood, and Amphinomus took up two loaves from the basket and set them before him, and pledged him in a cup of gold, and said: “Hail, Sir stranger; may happy fortune be thine in time to come, though now thou art the thrall of many sorrows.”

[124] Then Odysseus of many wiles answered him, and said: “Amphinomus, verily thou seemest to me to be a man of prudence; and such a man, too, was thy father, for I have heard of his fair fame, that Nisus of Dulichium was a brave man and a wealthy. From him, they say, thou art sprung, and thou seemest a man soft of speech. Wherefore I will tell thee, and do thou give heed and hearken. Nothing feebler does earth nurture than man, of all things that on earth are breathing and moving. For he thinks that he will never suffer evil in time to come, so long as the gods give him prosperity and his knees are quick; but when again the blessed gods decree him sorrow, this too he bears in sore despite with steadfast heart; for the spirit of men upon the earth is even such as the day which the father of gods and men brings upon them. For I, too, was once like to be prosperous among men, but many deeds of wantonness I wrought, yielding to my might and my strength, and trusting in my father and my brethren. Wherefore let no man soever be lawless at any time, but let him keep in silence whatever gifts the gods give. Aye, for I see the wooers devising wantonness, wasting the wealth and dishonoring the wife of a man who, I tell thee, will not long be away from his friends and his native land; nay, he is very near. But may some god lead thee forth hence to thy home, and mayest thou not meet him when he comes home to his dear native land. For not without bloodshed, methinks, will the wooers and he part one from the other when once he comes beneath his roof.”

[151] So he spoke, and pouring a libation, drank of the honey-sweet wine, and then gave back the cup into the hands of the marshaller of the people. But Amphinomus went through the hall with a heavy heart, bowing his head; for his spirit boded bane. Yet even so he did not escape his fate, but him, too, did Athena set in bonds so that he might be slain outright at the hands of Telemachus and by his spear. So he sat down again on the chair from which he had risen. Then the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, put it in the heart of the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, to show herself to the wooers, that she might set their hearts a-flutter and win greater honor from her husband and her son than heretofore. Then she laughed a meaningless laugh and spoke, and addressed the nurse: “Eurynome, my heart longs, though it has never longed before, to show myself to the wooers, hateful though they are. Also I would say a word to my son that will be for his profit, namely, that he should not consort ever with the overweening wooers, who speak him fair but have evil plans thereafter.”

[169] Then the housewife, Eurynome, spoke to her and said: “Aye, verily, child, all this hast thou spoken aright. Go, then, reveal thy word to thy son and hide it not; but first wash thy body and anoint thy face, and go not as thou art with both cheeks stained with tears. Go, for it is ill to grieve ever without ceasing. For now, behold, thy son is of such an age, and it has been thy dearest prayer to the immortals to see him a bearded man.”

[178] Then wise Penelope answered her again: “Eurynome, beguile me not thus in thy love to wash my body and anoint me with oil. All beauty of mine have the gods, that hold Olympus, destroyed since the day when my lord departed in the hollow ships. But bid Autonoe and Hippodameia come to me, that they may stand by my side in the hall. Alone I will not go among men, for I am ashamed.”

[185] So she spoke, and the old woman went forth through the chamber to bear tidings to the women, and bid them come. Then again the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, took other counsel. On the daughter of Icarius she shed sweet sleep, and she leaned back and slept there on her couch, and all her joints were relaxed. And meanwhile the fair goddess was giving her immortal gifts, that the Achaeans might marvel at her. With balm she first made fair her beautiful face, with balm ambrosial, such as that wherewith Cytherea, of the fair crown, anoints herself when she goes into the lovely dance of the Graces; and she made her taller, too, and statelier to behold, and made her whiter than new-sawn ivory. Now when she had done this the fair goddess departed, and the white-armed handmaids came forth from the chamber and drew near with sound of talking. Then sweet sleep released Penelope, and she rubbed her cheeks with her hands, and said: “Ah, in my utter wretchedness soft slumber enfolded me. Would that pure Artemis would even now give so soft a death, that I might no more waste my life away with sorrow at heart, longing for the manifold excellence of my dear husband, for that he was pre-eminent among the Achaeans.”

[206] So saying, she went down from the bright upper chamber, not alone, for two handmaids attended her. Now when the fair lady reached the wooers she stood by the doorpost of the well-built hall, holding before her face her shining veil; and a faithful handmaid stood on either side of her. Straightway then the knees of the wooers were loosened and their hearts enchanted with love, and they all prayed, each that he might lie by her side. But she spoke to Telemachus, her dear son: “Telemachus, thy mind and thy thoughts are no longer steadfast as heretofore. When thou wast but a child thou wast wont to revolve in thy mind thoughts more cunning; but now that thou art grown and hast reached the bounds of manhood, and wouldest be called a rich man's son by one who looked only to thy stature and thy comeliness, being himself a stranger from afar, thy mind and thy thoughts are no longer right as before. What a thing is this that has been done in these halls, that thou hast suffered yon stranger to be so maltreated! How now, if the stranger, while sitting thus in our house, should come to some harm through grievous mishandling? On thee, then, would fall shame and disgrace among men.”

[226] Then wise Telemachus answered her: “My mother, in this matter I take it not ill that thou art filled with anger. Yet of myself I know in my heart and understand each thing, the good and the evil, whereas heretofore I was but a child. But I am not able to plan all things wisely, for these men here thwart my will, keeping by me, one on this side and one on that, with evil purpose, and I have none to help me. Howbeit, I can tell thee, this battle between the stranger and Irus fell not out according to the mind of the wooers, but the stranger proved the better man. I would, O father Zeus, and Athena, and Apollo, that even now the wooers were thus subdued in our halls, and were hanging their heads, some in the court and some within the hall, and that each man's limbs were loosened, even as Irus now sits yonder by the gate of the court, hanging his head like a drunken man, and cannot stand erect upon his feet, or go home to whatsoever place he is wont to go, because his limbs are loosened.”

[244] Thus they spoke to one another. But Eurymachus addressed Penelope, and said: “Daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, if all the Achaeans throughout Iasian Argos could see thee, even more wooers would be feasting in your halls from to-morrow on, for thou excellest all women in comeliness and stature, and in the wise heart within thee.”

[250] Then wise Penelope answered him: “Eurymachus, all excellence of mine, both of beauty and of form, the immortals destroyed on the day when the Argives embarked for Ilios, and with them went my husband Odysseus. If he might but come and watch over this life of mine, [greater would be my fame and fairer. But now I am in sorrow, so many woes has some god brought upon me. Verily, when he went forth and left his native land, he clasped my right hand by the wrist, and said: `Wife, I deem not that the well-greaved Achaeans will all return from Troy safe and unscathed, for the Trojans, men say, are men of war, hurlers of the spear, and drawers of the bow, and drivers of swift horses, such as most quickly decide the great strife of equal war. Therefore I know not whether the god will bring me back, or whether I shall be cut off there in the land of Troy: so have thou charge of all things here. Be mindful of my father and my mother in the halls even as thou art now, or yet more, while I am far away. But when thou shalt see my son a bearded man, wed whom thou wilt, and leave thy house.’ So he spoke, and now all this is being brought to pass. The night shall come when a hateful marriage shall fall to the lot of me accursed, whose happiness Zeus has taken away. But herein has bitter grief come upon my heart and soul, for such as yours was never the way of wooers heretofore. They who are fain to woo a lady of worth and the daughter of a rich man and vie with one another, these bring of themselves cattle and goodly flocks, a banquet for the friends of the bride, and give to her glorious gifts; but they do not devour the livelihood of another without atonement.”

[281] So she spoke, and the much-enduring, goodly Odysseus was glad, because she drew from them gifts, and beguiled their souls with gentle words, but her mind was set on other things. Then Antinous, son of Eupeithes, spoke to her again, and said: “Daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, as for gifts, if any man of the Achaeans is minded to bring them hither, do thou take them; for it is not well to refuse a gift. But for us, we will go neither to our lands nor elsewhither, until thou weddest him whosoever is best of the Achaeans.”

[290] So spoke Antinous, and his word was pleasing to them, and each man sent forth a herald to bring his gifts. For Antinous he brought a large and beautiful robe, richly broidered, and in it were golden brooches, twelve in all, fitted with curved clasps. And a chain did another straightway bring to Eurymachus, one cunningly wrought of gold, strung with amber beads, bright as the sun. A pair of earrings his squires brought to Eurydamas, with three clustering drops, and great grace shone therefrom. And out of the house of lord Peisander, son of Polyctor, his squire brought a necklace, a jewel exceeding fair. So of the Achaeans one brought one fair gift and one another. But she thereafter, the fair lady, went up to her upper chamber, and her handmaids bare for her the beautiful gifts. But the wooers turned to dance and gladsome song, and made them merry, and waited for evening to come on. And as they made merry dark evening came upon them. Presently they set up three braziers in the hall to give them light, and round about them placed dry faggots, long since seasoned and hard, and newly split with the axe; and in the spaces between they set torches; and in turn the handmaids of Odysseus, of the steadfast heart, kindled the flame. Then Zeus-born Odysseus, of many wiles, himself spoke among the maids, and said: “Maidens of Odysseus, that has long been gone, go to the chambers where your honored queen abides, and twist the yarn by her side, and make glad her heart, as you sit in the chamber, or card the wool with your hands; but I will give light to all these men. For if they wish to wait for fair-throned Dawn, they shall in no wise outdo me. I am one that can endure much.”

[320] So he spoke, and the maids broke into a laugh, and glanced at one another. And fair-cheeked Melantho rated him shamefully, Melantho, whom Dolius begot, but whom Penelope had reared and cherished as her own child, and gave her playthings to her heart's desire. Yet even so she had at heart no sorrow for Penelope, but she loved Eurymachus and was wont to lie with him. She then rated Odysseus with reviling words: “Wretched stranger, thou art but a crack-brained fellow, unwilling to go to a smithy to sleep, or to a common lodge, but pratest here continually, unabashed in the company of many lords, and hast no fear at heart. Surely wine has mastered thy wits, or else thy mind is ever thus, that thou dost babble idly. Art thou beside thyself because thou hast beaten that vagrant Irus? Beware, lest presently another better than Irus shall rise up against thee to beat thee about the head with heavy hands, and befoul thee with streams of blood, and send thee forth from the house.”

[337] Then with an angry glance from beneath his brows Odysseus of many wiles answered her: “Presently shall I go yonder, thou shameless thing, and tell Telemachus, since thou speakest thus, that on the spot he may cut thee limb from limb.”

[340] So he spoke, and with his words scattered the women, who fled through the hall, and the limbs of each were loosened beneath her in terror, for they thought that he spoke truth. But Odysseus took his stand by the burning braziers to give light, and looked upon all the men. Yet other things was the heart within him pondering--things that were not to be unfulfilled. But Athena would in no wise suffer the proud wooers to abstain from bitter outrage, that pain might sink yet deeper into the heart of Odysseus, son of Laertes. So among them Eurymachus, son of Polybus, began to speak, jeering at Odysseus, and making mirth for his companions: “Hear me, wooers of the glorious queen, that I may say what the heart in my breast bids me. Not without the will of the gods has this man come to the palace of Odysseus; in any case there is a glare of torches from him—from his head, for there is no hair on it, no, not a trace.”

[356] Therewith he called to Odysseus, sacker of cities: “Stranger, wouldest thou have a mind to serve for hire, if I should take thee into service on an outlying farm—thy pay shall be assured thee—gathering stones for walls, and planting tall trees? There would I provide thee with food the year through, and clothe thee with raiment and give thee sandals for thy feet. But since thou hast learned only deeds of evil, thou wilt not care to busy thyself with work, but art minded rather to go skulking through the land, that thou mayest have wherewith to feed thy insatiate belly.”

[365] Then Odysseus of many wiles answered him, and said: “Eurymachus, I would that we two might have a match in working in the season of spring, when the long days come, at mowing the grass, I with a curved scythe in my hands and thou with another like it, and that the grass might be in plenty that so we might test our work, fasting till late evening. Or I would again that there were oxen to drive—the best there are, tawny and large, both well fed with grass, of like age and like power to bear the yoke, tireless in strength—and that there were a field of four acres, and the soil should yield before the plough: then shouldest thou see me, whether or no I could cut a straight furrow to the end. Or I would again that this day the son of Cronos might bring war upon us from whence he would, and I had a shield and two spears and a helmet all of bronze, that fitted well my temples: then shouldest thou see me mingling amid the foremost fighters, and wouldest not prate, taunting me with this belly of mine. But right insolent art thou, and thy heart is cruel, and forsooth thou thinkest thyself to be some great man and mighty, because thou consortest with few men and weak. If but Odysseus might return, and come to his native land, soon would yonder doors, right wide though they are, prove all too narrow for thee in thy flight out through the doorway.”

[387] So he spoke, and Eurymachus waxed the more wroth at heart, and with an angry glance from beneath his brows spoke to him winged words: “Wretch, presently will I work thee evil, that thou pratest thus, unabashed in the presence of many lords, and hast no fear at heart. Surely wine has mastered thy wits, or else thy mind is ever thus, that thou dost babble idly. Art thou beside thyself because thou hast beaten that vagrant Irus?”

[394] So saying, he seized a footstool, but Odysseus sat down at the knees of Amphinomus of Dulichium, in fear of Eurymachus. And so Eurymachus struck a cup-bearer on the right hand, and the wine-jug fell to the ground with a clang, and the bearer groaned, and fell backwards in the dust. Then the wooers broke into uproar throughout the shadowy halls, and thus would one man speak with a glance at his neighbor: “Would that yon stranger had perished elsewhere on his wanderings or ever he came hither; then should he never have brought among us all this tumult. But now we are brawling about beggars, nor shall there be any joy in our rich feast, since worse things prevail.”

[405] Then among them spoke the strong and mighty Telemachus: “Strange sirs, ye are mad, and no longer hide that ye have eaten and drunk; some god surely is moving you. Nay, now that you have well feasted, go to your homes and take your rest, when your spirits bid you. Yet do I drive no man forth.”

[410] So he spoke, and they all bit their lips, and marvelled at Telemachus, that he spoke boldly. But Amphinomus spoke, and addressed them—he was son of the noble prince Nisus, son of Aretias: “Friends, no man in answer to what has been fairly spoken would wax wroth and make reply with wrangling words. Abuse not any more this stranger nor any one of the slaves that are in the house of divine Odysseus. Nay, come, let the bearer pour drops for libation in the cups, that we may pour libations, and go home to take our rest. As for this stranger, let us leave him in the halls of Odysseus to be cared for by Telemachus; for to his house has he come.”

[422] So said he, and the words that he spoke were pleasing to all. Then a bowl was mixed for them by the lord Mulius, a herald from Dulichium, who was squire to Amphinomus. And he served out to all, coming up to each in turn; and they made libations to the blessed gods, and drank the honey-sweet wine. Then when they had made libations and had drunk to their heart's content, they went their way, each man to his own house, to take their rest.