Classical Texts Library >> Homer, Odyssey >> Book 23




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] Then the old dame went up to the upper chamber, laughing aloud, to tell her mistress that her dear husband was in the house. Her knees moved nimbly, but her feet trotted along beneath her; and she stood above her lady's head, and spoke to her, and said: “Awake, Penelope, dear child, that with thine own eyes thou mayest see what thou desirest all thy days. Odysseus is here, and has come home, late though his coming has been, and has slain the proud wooers who vexed his house, and devoured his substance, and oppressed his son.”

[10] Then wise Penelope answered her: “Dear nurse, the gods have made thee mad, they who can make foolish even one who is full wise, and set the simple-minded in the paths of understanding; it is they that have marred thy wits, though heretofore thou wast sound of mind. Why dost thou mock me, who have a heart full of sorrow, to tell me this wild tale, and dost rouse me out of slumber, the sweet slumber that bound me and enfolded my eyelids? For never yet have I slept so sound since the day when Odysseus went forth to see evil Ilios that should not be named. Nay come now, go down and back to the women's hall, for if any other of the women that are mine had come and told me this, and had roused me out of sleep, straightway would I have sent her back in sorry wise to return again to the hall, but to thee old age shall bring this profit.”

[25] Then the dear nurse Eurycleia answered her: “I mock thee not, dear child, but in very truth Odysseus is here, and has come home, even as I tell thee. He is that stranger to whom all men did dishonor in the halls. But Telemachus long ago knew that he was here, yet in his prudence he hid the purpose of his father, till he should take vengeance on the violence of overweening men.”

[31] So she spoke, and Penelope was glad, and she leapt from her bed and flung her arms about the old woman and let the tears fall from her eyelids; and she spoke, and addressed her with winged words: “Come now, dear nurse, I pray thee tell me truly, if verily he has come home, as thou sayest, how he put forth his hands upon the shameless wooers, all alone as he was, while they remained always in a body in the house.”

[39] Then the dear nurse Eurycleia answered her: “I saw not, I asked not; only I heard the groaning of men that were being slain. As for us women, we sat terror-stricken in the innermost part of our well-built chambers, and the close-fitting doors shut us in, until the hour when thy son Telemachus called me from the hall, for his father had sent him forth to call me. Then I found Odysseus standing among the bodies of the slain, and they, stretched all around him on the hard floor, lay one upon the other; the sight would have warmed thy heart with cheer. And now the bodies are all gathered together at the gates of the court, but he is purging the fair house with sulphur, and has kindled a great fire, and sent me forth to call thee. Nay, come with me, that the hearts of you two may enter into joy, for you have suffered many woes. But now at length has this thy long desire been fulfilled: he has come himself, alive to his own hearth, and he has found both thee and his son in the halls; while as for those, even the wooers, who wrought him evil, on them has he taken vengeance one and all in his house.”

[58] Then wise Penelope answered her: “Dear nurse, boast not yet loudly over them with laughter. Thou knowest how welcome the sight of him in the halls would be to all, but above all to me and to his son, born of us two. But this is no true tale, as thou tellest it; nay, some one of the immortals has slain the lordly wooers in wrath at their grievous insolence and their evil deeds. For they honored no one among men upon the earth, were he evil or good, whosoever came among them; therefore it is through their own wanton folly that they have suffered evil. But Odysseus far away has lost his return to the land of Achaea, and is lost himself.”

[69] Then the dear nurse Eurycleia answered her: “My child, what a word has escaped the barrier of thy teeth, in that thou saidst that thy husband, who even now is here, at his own hearth, would never more return! Thy heart is ever unbelieving. Nay come, I will tell thee a manifest sign besides, even the scar of the wound which long ago the boar dealt him with his white tusk. This I marked while I washed his feet, and was fain to tell it to thee as well, but he laid his hand upon my mouth, and in the great wisdom of his heart would not suffer me to speak. So come with me; but I will set my very life at stake that, if I deceive thee, thou shouldest slay me by a most pitiful death.”

[80] Then wise Penelope answered her: “Dear nurse, it is hard for thee to comprehend the counsels of the gods that are forever, how wise soever thou art. Nevertheless let us go to my son, that I may see the wooers dead and him that slew them.”

[85] So saying, she went down from the upper chamber, and much her heart pondered whether she should stand aloof and question her dear husband, or whether she should go up to him, and clasp and kiss his head and hands. But when she had come in and had passed over the stone threshold, she sat down opposite Odysseus in the light of the fire beside the further wall; but he was sitting by a tall pillar, looking down, and waiting to see whether his noble wife would say aught to him, when her eyes beheld him. Howbeit she sat long in silence, and amazement came upon her soul; and now with her eyes she would look full upon his face, and now again she would fail to know him, for that he had upon him mean raiment. But Telemachus rebuked her, and spoke, and addressed her: “My mother, cruel mother, that hast an unyielding heart, why dost thou thus hold aloof from my father, and dost not sit by his side and ask and question him? No other woman would harden her heart as thou dost, and stand aloof from her husband, who after many grievous toils had come back to her in the twentieth year to his native land: but thy heart is ever harder than stone.”

[104] Then wise Penelope answered him:  “My child, the heart in my breast is lost in wonder, and I have no power to speak at all, nor to ask a question, nor to look him in the face. But if in very truth he is Odysseus, and has come home, we two shall surely know one another more certainly; for we have signs which we two alone know, signs hidden from others.”

[111] So she spoke, and the much-enduring, goodly Odysseus smiled, and straightway spoke to Telemachus winged words: “Telemachus, suffer now thy mother to test me in the halls; presently shall she win more certain knowledge. But now because I am foul, and am clad about my body in mean clothing, she scorns me, and will not yet admit that I am he. But for us, let us take thought how all may be the very best. For whoso has slain but one man in a land, even though it be a man that leaves not many behind to avenge him, he goes into exile, and leaves his kindred and his native land; but we have slain those who were the very stay of the city, far the noblest of the youths of Ithaca. Of this I bid thee take thought.”

[123] Then wise Telemachus answered him: “Do thou thyself look to this, dear father; for thy counsel, they say, is the best among men, nor could any other of mortal men vie with thee. As for us, we will follow with thee eagerly, nor methinks shall we be wanting in valor, so far as we have strength.”

[129] Then Odysseus of many wiles answered him and said: “Then will I tell thee what seems to me to be the best way. First bathe yourselves, and put on your tunics, and bid the handmaids in the halls to take their raiment. But let the divine minstrel with his clear-toned lyre in hand be our leader in the gladsome dance, that any man who hears the sound from without, whether a passer-by or one of those who dwell around, may say that it is a wedding feast; and so the rumor of the slaying of the wooers shall not be spread abroad throughout the city before we go forth to our well-wooded farm. There shall we afterwards devise whatever advantage the Olympian may vouchsafe us.”

[141] So he spoke, and they all readily hearkened and obeyed. First they bathed and put on their tunics, and the women arrayed themselves, and the divine minstrel took the hollow lyre and aroused in them the desire of sweet song and goodly dance. So the great hall resounded all about with the tread of dancing men and of fair-girdled women; and thus would one speak who heard the noise from without the house: “Aye, verily some one has wedded the queen wooed of many. Cruel she was, nor had she the heart to keep the great house of her wedded husband to the end, even till he should come.”

[152] So they would say, but they knew not how these things were. Meanwhile the housewife Eurynome bathed the great-hearted Odysseus in his house, and anointed him with oil, and cast about him a fair cloak and a tunic; and over his head Athena shed abundant beauty, making him taller to look upon and mightier, and from his head she made locks to flow in curls like the hyacinth flower. And as when a man overlays silver with gold, a cunning workman whom Hephaestus and Pallas Athena have taught all manner of craft, and full of grace is the work he produces, even so the goddess shed grace on his head and shoulders, and forth from the bath he came, in form like unto the immortals. Then he sat down again on the chair from which he had risen, opposite his wife; and he spoke to her and said: “Strange lady! to thee beyond all women have the dwellers on Olympus given a heart that cannot be softened. No other woman would harden her heart as thou dost, and stand aloof from her husband who after many grievous toils had come to her in the twentieth year to his native land. Nay come, nurse, strew me a couch, that all alone I may lay me down, for verily the heart in her breast is of iron.”

[173] Then wise Penelope answered him: “Strange sir, I am neither in any wise proud, nor do I scorn thee, nor yet am I too greatly amazed, but right well do I know what manner of man thou wast, when thou wentest forth from Ithaca on thy long-oared ship. Yet come, Eurycleia, strew for him the stout bedstead outside the well-built bridal chamber which he made himself. Thither do ye bring for him the stout bedstead, and cast upon it bedding, fleeces and cloaks and bright coverlets.”

[181] So she spoke, and made trial of her husband. But Odysseus, in a burst of anger, spoke to his true-hearted wife, and said: “Woman, truly this is a bitter word that thou hast spoken. Who has set my bed elsewhere? Hard would it be for one, though never so skilled, unless a god himself should come and easily by his will set it in another place. But of men there is no mortal that lives, be he never so young and strong, who could easily pry it from its place, for a great token is wrought in the fashioned bed, and it was I that built it and none other. A bush of long-leafed olive was growing within the court, strong and vigorous, and girth it was like a pillar. Round about this I built my chamber, till I had finished it, with close-set stones, and I roofed it over well, and added to it jointed doors, close-fitting. Thereafter I cut away the leafy branches of the long-leafed olive, and, trimming the trunk from the root, I smoothed it around with the adze well and cunningly, and made it straight to the line, thus fashioning the bed-post; and I bored it all with the augur. Beginning with this I hewed out my bed, till I had finished it, inlaying it with gold and silver and ivory, and I stretched on it a thong of ox-hide, bright with purple. Thus do I declare to thee this token; but I know not, woman, whether my bedstead is still fast in its place, or whether by now some man has cut from beneath the olive stump, and set the bedstead elsewhere.”

[205] So he spoke, and her knees were loosened where she sat, and her heart melted, as she knew the sure tokens which Odysseus told her. Then with a burst of tears she ran straight toward him, and flung her arms about the neck of Odysseus, and kissed his head, and spoke, saying: “Be not vexed with me, Odysseus, for in all else thou wast ever the wisest of men. It is the gods that gave us sorrow, the gods who begrudged that we two should remain with each other and enjoy our youth, and come to the threshold of old age. But be not now wroth with me for this, nor full of indignation, because at the first, when I saw thee, I did not thus give thee welcome. For always the heart in my breast was full of dread, lest some man should come and beguile me with his words; for there are many that plan devices of evil. Nay, even Argive Helen, daughter of Zeus, would not have lain in love with a man of another folk, had she known that the warlike sons of the Achaeans were to bring her home again to her dear native land. Yet verily in her case a god prompted her to work a shameful deed; nor until then did she lay up in her mind the thought of that folly, the grievous folly from which at the first sorrow came upon us too. But now, since thou hast told the clear tokens of our bed, which no mortal beside has ever seen save thee and me alone and one single handmaid, the daughter of Actor, whom my father gave me or ever I came hither, even her who kept the doors of our strong bridal chamber, lo, thou dost convince my heart, unbending as it is.”

[231] So she spoke, and in his heart aroused yet more the desire for lamentation; and he wept, holding in his arms his dear and true-hearted wife. And welcome as is the sight of land to men that swim, whose well-built ship Poseidon has smitten on the sea as it was driven on by the wind and the swollen wave, and but few have made their escape from the gray sea to the shore by swimming, and thickly are their bodies crusted with brine, and gladly have they set foot on the land and escaped from their evil case; even so welcome to her was her husband, as she gazed upon him,  and from his neck she could in no wise let her white arms go. And now would the rosy-fingered Dawn have arisen upon their weeping, had not the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, taken other counsel. The long night she held back at the end of its course, and likewise stayed the golden-throned Dawn at the streams of Oceanus, and would not suffer her to yoke her swift-footed horses that bring light to men, Lampus and Phaethon, who are the colts that bear the Dawn. Then to his wife said Odysseus of many wiles: “Wife, we have not yet come to the end of all our trials, but still hereafter there is to be measureless toil, long and hard, which I must fulfil to the end; for so did the spirit of Teiresias foretell to me on the day when I went down into the house of Hades to enquire concerning the return of my comrades and myself. But come, wife, let us to bed, that lulled now by sweet slumber we may take our joy of rest.”

[256] Then wise Penelope answered him: “Thy bed shall be ready for thee whensoever thy heart shall desire it, since the gods have indeed caused thee to come back to thy well-built house and thy native land. But since thou hast bethought thee of this, and a god has put it into thy heart, come, tell me of this trial, for in time to come, methinks, I shall learn of it, and to know it at once is no whit worse.”

[263] And Odysseus of many wiles answered her, and said: “Strange lady! why dost thou now so urgently bid me tell thee? Yet I will declare it, and will hide nothing. Verily thy heart shall have no joy of it, even as I myself have none; for Teiresias bade me go forth to full many cities of men, bearing a shapely oar in my hands, till I should come to men that know naught of the sea, and eat not of food mingled with salt; aye, and they know naught of ships with purple cheeks, or of shapely oars that serve as wings to ships. And he told me this sign, right manifest; nor will I hide it from thee. When another wayfarer, on meeting me, should say that I had a winnowing fan on my stout shoulder, then he bade me fix my oar in the earth, and make goodly offerings to lord Poseidon—a ram and a bull and a boar, that mates with sows—and depart for my home, and offer sacred hecatombs to the immortal gods, who hold broad heaven, to each one in due order. And death shall come to me myself far from the sea, a death so gentle, that shall lay me low, when I am overcome with sleek old age, and my people shall dwell in prosperity around me. All this, he said, should I see fulfilled.”

[285] Then wise Penelope answered him: “If verily the gods are to bring about for thee a happier old age, there is hope then that thou wilt find an escape from evil.”

[288] Thus they spoke to one another; and meanwhile Eurynome and the nurse made ready the bed [290] of soft coverlets by the light of blazing torches. But when they had busily spread the stout-built bedstead, the old nurse went back to her chamber to lie down, and Eurynome, the maiden of the bedchamber, led them on their way to the couch with a torch in her hands; and when she had led them to the bridal chamber, she went back. And they then gladly came to the place of the couch that was theirs of old. But Telemachus and the neatherd and the swineherd stayed their feet from dancing, and stayed the women, and themselves lay down to sleep throughout the shadowy halls. But when the two had had their fill of the joy of love, they took delight in tales, speaking each to the other. She, the fair lady, told of all that she had endured in the halls, looking upon the destructive throng of the wooers, who for her sake slew many beasts, cattle and goodly sheep; and great store of wine was drawn from the jars. But Zeus-born Odysseus recounted all the woes that he had brought on men, and all the toil that in his sorrow he had himself endured, and she was glad to listen, nor did sweet sleep fall upon her eyelids, till he had told all the tale.

[310] He began by telling how at the first he overcame the Cicones, and then came to the rich land of the Lotus-eaters, and all that the Cyclops wrought, and how he made him pay the price for his mighty comrades, whom the Cyclops had eaten, and had shown no pity. Then how he came to Aeolus, who received him with a ready heart, and sent him on his way; but it was not yet his fate to come to his dear native land, nay, the storm-wind caught him up again, and bore him over the teeming deep, groaning heavily. Next how he came to Telepylus of the Laestrygonians, who destroyed his ships and his well-greaved comrades one and all, and Odysseus alone escaped in his black ship. Then he told of all the wiles and craftiness of Circe, and how in his benched ship he had gone to the dank house of Hades to consult the spirit of Theban Teiresias, and had seen all his comrades and the mother who bore him and nursed him, when a child. And how he heard the voice of the Sirens, who sing unceasingly, and had come to the Wandering Rocks, and to dread Charybdis, and to Scylla, from whom never yet had men escaped unscathed. Then how his comrades slew the kine of Helios, and how Zeus, who thunders on high, smote his swift ship with a flaming thunderbolt, and his goodly comrades perished all together, while he alone escaped the evil fates. And how he came to the isle Ogygia and to the nymph Calypso, who kept him there in her hollow caves, yearning that he should be her husband, and tended him, and said that she would make him immortal and ageless all his days; yet she could never persuade the heart in his breast. Then how he came after many toils to the Phaeacians, who heartily showed him all honor, as if he were a god, and sent him in a ship to his dear native land, after giving him stores of bronze and gold and raiment. This was the end of the tale he told, when sweet sleep, that loosens the limbs of men, leapt upon him, loosening the cares of his heart.

[344] Then again the goddess, flashing-eyed Athena, took other counsel. When she judged that the heart of Odysseus had had its fill of dalliance with his wife and of sleep, straightway she roused from Oceanus golden-throned Dawn to bring light to men; and Odysseus rose from his soft couch, and gave charge to his wife, saying: “Wife, by now have we had our fill of many trials, thou and I, thou here, mourning over my troublous journey home, while as for me, Zeus and the other gods bound me fast in sorrows far from my native land, all eager as I was to return. But now that we have both come to the couch of our desire, do thou care for the wealth that I have within the halls; as for the flocks which the insolent wooers have wasted, I shall myself get me many as booty, and others will the Achaeans give, until they fill all my folds; but I verily will go to my well-wooded farm to see my noble father, who for my sake is sore distressed, and on thee, wife, do I lay this charge, wise though thou art. Straightway at the rising of the sun will report go abroad concerning the wooers whom I slew in the halls. Therefore go thou up to thy upper chamber with thy handmaids, and abide there. Look thou on no man, nor ask a question.”

[366] He spoke, and girt about his shoulders his beautiful armour, and roused Telemachus and the neatherd and the swineherd, and bade them all take weapons of war in their hands. They did not disobey, but clad themselves in bronze, and opened the doors, and went forth, and Odysseus led the way. By now there was light over the earth, but Athena hid them in night, and swiftly led them forth from the city.