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The Odyssey

by Homer
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes

Vase of c475BCE illustrating Odysseus and the sirens. (British Museum)
(Greece, c600BCE)

The tales of the Iliad, telling of the Trojan wars, and the Odyssey, about Odysseus' (Ulysses to the Romans) long journey home from them, were treated as definitive sources of moral instruction by the Ancient Greeks, though it remains unclear who, if anyone, their supposed author 'Homer' was.
Based on the 1616 translation by George Chapman, of which the 19thcent. poet John Keats wrote the poem "On first looking into Chapman's Homer". Abridged: JH/GH

The Odyssey

YEARS after taking part with the Achaean Greeks in the great war against Troy, which saw the death of the warrior-heroes Hector and Patroclus, Ulysses had come not to his home in Ithaca. Therefore many suitors came to woo his wife Penelope, devouring his substance with riotous living, sorely grieving her heart and that of their young son, Telemachus. But the nymph Calypso had held Ulysses for seven years an unwilling guest in the island of Ogygia. Now the gods were minded to bring home the man...


The Deities sit; The Man retired;
The Ulyssean wit; By Pallas fired.

That wandered wondrous far, when he the town
Of sacred Troy had sacked and shivered down;
The cities of a world of nations
With all their manners, minds and, fashions
He saw and knew; at sea felt many woes,
Much care sustained to save from overthrows
Himself and friends in their retreat for home;
But so their fates he could not overcome.

Then came Pallas Athene to Telemachus and bade him take ship that he might get tidings of his sire. And he spake words of reproach to the company of suitors. To whom...

Antinous only in this sort replied:
'High spoken, and of spirit unpacified,
How have you shamed us in this speech of yours!
Will you brand us for an offence not ours?
Your mother, first in craft, is first in cause.
Three years are past, and near the fourth now draws,
Since first she mocked the peers Achian;
All she made hope, and promised every man.'

The suitors suffered Telemachus to depart, though they repented after; and he came with Athene, in disguise of Mentor, to Nestor at Pylos. and thence to Menelaus at Sparta, who told him how he had laid hold on Proteus, the seer, and learnt from him first of the slaying of his own brother Agamemnon; and, secondly, concerning Ulysses

Laertes' son; whom I beheld
In nymph Calypso's palace, who compelled
His stay with her, and since he could not see
His country earth, he mourned incessantly.

Laden with rich gifts, Telemachus set out on his return home, while the suitors sought to way-lay him. And, meantime, Calypso, warned by Hermes, let Ulysses depart from Ogygia on a raft. Which, being overwhelmed by storms, he yet made shore on the isle of Phaeacia; where, finding shelter, he fell asleep. But Pallas visited the Princess Nausicaa in a dream.

Straight rose the lovely morn, that up did raise
Fair-veiled Nausicaa, whose dream her praise
To admiration took.

She went with her maidens, with raiment for cleansing, to the river, where, having washed the garments,

They bathed themselves, and all with glittering oil
Smoothed their white skins, refreshing then their toil
With pleasant dinner. Then Nausicaa,
With other virgins did at stool-ball
Their shoulder-reaching head-tires laying by.
Nausicaa, with the wrists of ivory,
The liking stroke struck, singing first a song,
As custom ordered, and, amidst the throng.
Nausicaa, whom never husband tamed,
Above them all in all the beauties flamed.
The queen now for the upstroke, struck the ball
Quite wide off th' other maids, and made it fall
Amidst the whirlpools. At which, out shrieked all,
And with the shriek did wise Ulysses wake; .
Who, hearing maidish voices, from the brake
Put hasty head out; and his sight did press
The eyes of soft-haired virgins ... .
Horrid was His rough appearance to them; the hard pass
He had at sea struck by him. All in flight
The virgins scattered, frighted with this sight.
All but Nausicaa fled; but she fast stood;
Pallas had put a boldness in her breast,
And in her fair limbs tender fear compress'd.
And still she stood him, as resolved to know
What man he was, or out of what should grow
His strange repair to them. Then thus spake he:
'Let me beseech, O queen, this truth of thee,
Are you of mortal or the deified race?
If of the gods, that th' ample heavens embrace.
I can resemble you to none above
So near as Cynthia, chaste-born birth of Jove.
If sprung of humans that inhabit earth,
Thrice blest are both the authors of your birth;
But most blest he that hath the gift to engage
Your bright neck in the yoke of marriage.'

He prayed her then for some garment, and that she would show him the town. Then she, calling her maidens, they brought for him food and oil and raiment, and went apart while he should cleanse and array himself.

And Pallas wrought in him a grace full great
From head to shoulders, and ashore did seat
His goodly presence. As he sat apart,
Nausicaa's eyes struck wonder through her heart;
He showed to her till now not worth the note;
But now he seemed as he had godhead got.

Then, fearing the gossip of the market place, she bade him follow afoot with her maidens, giving him direction how he should find her father's palace, which entering,

'Address suit to my mother, that her mean
May make the day of your redition seen.
For if she once be won to wish you well,
Your hope may instantly your passport seal,
And thenceforth sure abide to see your friends,
Fair house, and all to which your heart contends,'

Nausicaa and her maidens went for ward, Ulysses following after a time; whom Pallas met, and told him of the King Alcinous and the Queen Arete. Then he, being wrapped in a cloud which she had set about him, entered unmarked; and, the cloud vanishing, embraced the knees of Arete in supplication, as one distressed by many labours. And they all received him graciously. Now, as they sat at meat, a bard sang of the fall of Troy; and Alcinous, the king, marked how Ulysses wept at the tale; and then Ulysses told them who he was, and of his adventures, on this wise:


After many wanderings, we came to the isle of the giant one-eyed Cyclops, and I, with twelve of my men, to his cave. He coming home bespake us.

'Ho! guests! What are ye! Whence sail ye these seas?
Traffic or rove ye, and, like thieves, oppress
Poor strange adventurers, exposing so
Your souls to danger, and your lives to woe?'
'Reverence the gods, thou greatest of all that live,
We suppliants are.' 'O thou fool,' answered he,
'To come so far, and to importune me
With any god's fear or observed love!
We Cyclops care not for your goat-fed Jove
Nor other blest ones; we are better far.
To Jove himself dare I bid open war.'

The Cyclop devoured two sailors, and slept. I slew him not sleeping-

For there we all had perished, since it past
Our powers to lift aside a log so vast
As barred all outscape.

At morn, he drove forth the flocks, but barred the entry again, having devoured two more of my comrades. But we made ready a great stake for thrusting out his one eye. And when he came home at night, driving in all his sheep,

Two of my soldiers more
At once he snatched up, and to supper went.
Then dared I words to him, and did present
A bowl of wine with these words: 'Cyclop! take
A bowl of wine.' 'Thy name, that I may make
A hospitable gift; for this rich wine
Fell from the river, that is mere divine,
Of nectar and ambrosia.' 'Cyclop, see,
My name is No-Man.' Cruel answered he.
'No-Man! I'll eat thee last of all thy friends.'
He slept; we took the spar, made keen before,
And plunged it in his eye. Then did he roar
In claps like thunder.

Other Cyclops gathered, to inquire who had harmed him; but he...

'by craft not might
No-Man hath given me death.' They then said right,
'If no man hurt thee, and thyself alone,
That which is done to thee by Jove is done.'
Then groaning up and down, he groping tried
To find the stone, which found, he put aside,
But in the door sat, feeling if he could,
As the sheep issued, on some man lay hold.

But we, ranging the sheep three abreast, were borne out under their bellies, and drove them in haste down to our ship; and having put out, I cried aloud:

'Cyclop! if any ask thee who imposed
Th' unsightly blemish that thine eye enclosed,
Say that Ulysses, old Laertes' son,
Whose seat is Ithaca, and who hath won
Surname of city-raxer, bored it out.'
At this he brayed so loud that round about
He drove affrighted echoes through the air
In burning fury; and the top he tare
From off a huge rock, and so right a throw
Made at our ship that just before the prow
It overflew and fell, missed mast and all
Exceeding little; but about the fall
So fierce a wave it raised that back it bore
Our ship, so far it almost touched the shore.

So we escaped; but the Cyclop stirred up against us the wrath of his father Neptune. Thereafter we came to the caves of Aeolus, lord of the winds, and then to the land of the giants called Laestrygones, whence there escaped but one ship of all our company.

Then to the isle of Aeaea we attained,
Where fair-haired, dreadful, eloquent Circe reigned.

Then I sent Eurylochus, and a company, to search the land.

These in a dale did Circe's house descry;
Before her gates hill-wolves and lions lie;
Which, with her virtuous drugs, so tame she made
That wolf nor lion would no man invade
With any violence, but all arose,
Their huge, long tails wagged, and in fawns would close,
As loving dogs. Amaz'd they stay'd at gate.
And heard within the goddess elevate
A voice divine, as at her web she wrought,
Subtle and glorious and past earthly thought.

She called them in, but Eurylochus, abiding without, saw her feast them, and then turn them with her wand into swine. From him hearing these things I hastened thither. But Hermes met me, and gave me of the herb Moly, to be a protection against her spells, and wise counsel withal. So when she had feasted me she touched me with her wand.

I drew my sword, and charged her, as I meant
To take her life. When out she cried, and bent
Beneath my sword her knees, embracing mine,
And full of tears, said, 'Who of what high line,
Art thou? Deep-souled Ulysses must thou be.'
Then I, 'O Circe, I indeed am he.
Dissolve the charms my friends' forced forms and enchain,
And show me here my honoured friends like men.'

Now she restored them and, knowing the will of the gods, made good cheer for us all, so that we abode with her for one year. Nor might we depart hence till I had made journey to the abode of Hades to get speech of Tiresias the Seer. Whereby I saw many shades of famous folk, past recounting. Thence returning Circe suffered us to be gone; with warnings of perils before us, and of how we should avoid them.

First to the Sirens. Whoso hears the call
Of any Siren, he will so despise
Both wife and children, for their sorceries,
That never home turns his affection's stream,
Nor they take joy in him nor he in them.
Next, monstrous Scylla. Six long necks look out
Of her rank shoulders; every neck doth let
A ghastly head out; every head, three set,
Thick thrust together, of abhorred teeth,
And every tooth stuck with a sable death;
Charybdis, too, whose horrid throat did draw
The brackish sea up. These we saw

And escaped only in part. Then came we to the island where are fed the Oxen of the Sun; and because my comrades would slay them, destruction came upon us. and I alone came alive to the isle of Calypso.


Now, when Ulysses had made an end, it pleased Alcinous and all the Phaeacians that they should speed him home with many rich gifts. So they set him in a ship, and bore him to Ithaca, and laid him on the shore, yet sleeping, with all the goodly gifts about him, and departed. But he, waking, wist not where he was till Pallas came to him. Who counselled him how he should deal with the Wooers, and disguised him as a man ancient and worn. Then Ulysses sought and found the faithful swine-herd Eumaeus, who made him welcome, not knowing who he was, and told him of the ill doing of the suitors. But Pallas went and brought back Telemachus from Sparta, evading the Wooers' ambush.

Out rushed amazed Eumaeus, and let go
The cup to earth, that he had laboured so,
Cleansed for the neat wine, did the prince surprise
Kissed his fair forehead, both his lovely eyes,
And wept for joy. They entering, from his seat
His father rose to him; who would not let
The old man remove, but drew him back, and prest
With earnest terms his sitting, saying, 'Guest,
Take here your seat again.'

Eumaeus departing, Pallas restored Ulysses to his own likeness, and he made himself known to Telemachus, and instructed him.

'Go thou for home, and troop up with the Wooers,
Thy will,- with theirs joined, power with their rude powers;
And after shall the herdsman guide to town
Mv steps, my person wholly overgrown
With all appearance of a poor old swain,
Heavy and wretched. If their high disdain
Of my vile presence makes them my desert
Affect with contumelies, let thy loved heart
Beat in fixed confines of thy bosom still,
And see me suffer, patient of their ill.
But when I give the sign, all th' arms that are
Aloft thy roof in some near room prepare-
Two swords, two darts, two shields, left for us twain.
But let none know Ulysses near again.'
But when air's rosy birth, the morn arose
Telemachus did for the town dispose
His early steps; went on with spritely pace,
And to the Wooers studied little grace ...
And now the king and herdsman from the field
Drew nigh the town; when in the yard there lay
A dog called Argus, which before his way
Assumed for Ilion, Ulysses bred,
Yet stood his pleasure then in little stead,
As being too young, but, growing to his grace,
Young men made choice of him for every chase,
Or of their wild goats, of their hares or harts;
But, his king gone, and he, now past his parts,
Lay all abjectly on the stable's store,
Before the ox-stall, and mule's stable-door,
To keep the clothes cast from the peasants' hands
While they laid compass on Ulysses' lands;
The dog, with ticks (unlook'd to) overgrown.
But by this dog no sooner seen but known
Was wise Ulysses; who new enter'd there.
Up went his dog's laid ears, and, coming near,
Up he himself rose, fawned, and wagged his stern,
Couch'd close his ears, and lay so; nor discern
Could ever more his dearly-loved lord again.
Ulysses saw it, nor had power t' abstain
From shedding tears; but (far-off seeing his swain)
His grief dissembled ... Then they entered in,
And left poor Argus dead; his lord's first sight
Since that time twenty years bereft his sight.

Telemachus welcomed the way-worn suppliant; the feasting Wooers, too, sent him portions of meat, save Antinous, who...

Rapt up a stool, with which he smit
The king's right shoulder, twixt his neck and it.
He stood him like a rock. Antinous' dart
Stirred not Ulysses, who in his great heart
Deep ills projected.

The very Wooers were wroth. Which clamour Penelope hearing, she sent for Eumaeus, and bade him summon the stranger to her; but he would not come till evening, by reason of the suitors, from whom he had discourteous treatment. Now Ulysses, coming to Penelope, did not discover himself, but told her false tales of his doings. Then she bade call the ancient nurse Euryclea, that she might wash the stranger's feet. But by a scar he came to be discovered by the aged dame. Her he charged with silence and to let no ear in all the court more know his being there. As for Penelope, she told him of her intent to promise herself to the man who could wield Ulysses' bow, knowing well that none had the strength and skill.

On the morrow came Penelope to the Wooers, bearing the bow of her lord.

Her maids on both sides stood; and thus she spake:
'Hear me, ye Wooers, that a pleasure take
To do me sorrow, and my house invade
To eat and drink, as if 'twere only made
To serve your rapines, striving who shall frame
Me for his wife. And since 'tis made a game,
I here propose divine Ulysses' bow
For that great master-piece, to which ye vow.
He that can draw it with least show to strive,
And through these twelve axe-heads an arrow drive,
Him will I follow, and this house forego'
Whereat the herd Eumaeus wept for woe.

Then Telemachus set up the axe-heads, and himself made vain essay, the more to tempt the Wooers. And while they after him strove all vainly, Ulysses went out and bespake Eumaeus and another herd, Philoetius.

I am your Lord; through many a sufferance tried
Arrived now here, whom twenty years have held
Forth from my home. Of all the company
Now serving here besides, not one but you
Mine ear hath witness willing to bestow
Their wishes of my life so long held dead.
The envious Wooers will by no means give
The offer of the bow and arrow leave
To come at me; spite then their pride, do thou,
My good Eumaeus, bring both shaft and bow
To my hand's proof; and charge the maids before
That instantly they shut in every door.
Do thou, Philoetius, keep their closure fast.'

Then Ulysses claiming to make trial of the bow, the Wooers would have denied him; but Penelope would not; whereas Telemachus made a vow that it was for himself and none other to decide, and the guest should make trial.

But when the wise Ulysses once had laid,
His fingers on it, and to proof survey
The still sound plight it held, as one of skill
In song. and of the harp. doth at his will,
In tuning of his instrument, extend
A string out with his pin, touch all, and lend
To every well-wreath'd string his perfect sound,
Strook all together; with such ease drew round
The king the bow. Then twang'd he up the string,
That as a swallow in the air doth sing,
So sharp the string sung when he gave it touch.
Once having bent and drawn it. Which so much
Amazed the Wooers, that their colours went
And came most grievously. And then Jove rent
The air with thunder; which at heart did cheer
The now-enough-sustaining traveller.
Then through the axes at the first hole flow
The steel-charged arrow. Straightway to him drew
His son in complete arms ... .
'Now for us There rests another mark more hard to hit,
And such as never man before hath smit;
Whose full point likewise my hands shall assay,
And try if Phoebus will give me his day.'
He said, and off his bitter arrow thrust
Right at Antinous, that struck him just
As he was lifting up the bowl, to show
That 'twixt the cup and lip much ill may grow.

Then the rest cried out upon him with threats, while they made vain search for weapons in the hall.

He, frowning, said, 'Dogs, see in me the man
Ye all held dead at Troy. My house it is
That thus ye spoil, and thus your luxuries
File with my women's rapes; in which ye woo
The wife of one that lives, and no thought show
Of man's fit fear, or gods', your present fame.
Or any fair sense of your future name;
And. therefore present and eternal death
Shall end your base life.'

Then the Wooers made at Ulysses and Telemachus, who smote down first Eurymachus and then Amphinomus. But way to the armoury having been left, the Wooers got arms by aid of a traitor; whom Eumaeus and Philoetius, smote, and then came to Ulysses and his son. Moreover. Pallas also came to their help; so that the Wooers, being routed-

Ulysses and his son the flyers chased
As when. with crooked beaks and seres, a cast
Of hill-bred eagles, cast off at some game,
That yet their strengths keep, but, put up in flame
The eagle stoops; from which, along the field
The poor fowls make wing this and that way yield
Their hard-flown pinions, then the clouds assay
For 'scape or shelter, their forlorn dismay
All spirit exhaling, all wings' strength to carry
Their bodies forth, and truss'd up, to the quarry
Their falconers ride in, and rejoice to see
Their hawks perform a flight so fervently;
So in their flight Ulysses with his heir
Did stoop and cuff the Wooers, that the air
Broke in vast sighs, whose heads they shot and cleft,
The pavement boiling with the souls they reft.

Now all the Wooers were slain, and they of the household that were their accomplices; and the chamber was purified. Then the servants hastened to report all these things to Penelope who could hardly accord credence until Ulysses made himself known to her by undeniable proofs.

Then first did tears ensue
Her rapt assurance; then she ran and spread
Her arms about his neck, kiss'd oft his head.
He wept for joy. t'enjoy a wife so fit
For his grave mind, that knew his depth of wit.

But as for the Wooers, Hermes gathered the souls of them together, and, as bats gibbering in a cavern rise. so came they forth gibbering and went down to the House of Hades.

Cyllenian Hermes with his golden rod.
The Wooers' souls, that yet retain'd abode
Amidst their bodies, call'd in dreadful rout
Forth to th' Infernals; who came murmuring out.
And as amids the desolate retreat
Of some vast cavern, made the sacred seat
Of austere spirits, bats with breasts and wings
Clasp fast the walls, and each to other clings,
But. swept off from their coverts, up they rise
And fly with murmurs in amazeful guise
About the cavern; so these, grumbling rose
And flocked together. Down before them goes
None-hurting Mercury to Hell's broad ways,
And straight to those straits where the ocean stays
His lofty current in calm deeps, they flew.
Then to the snowy rock they next withdrew,
And to the close of Phoebus' orient gates.
The nation then of dreams, and then the states
Of those souls' idols that the weary dead
Gave up in earth, which in a flow'ry mead
Had habitable situation.
And there they saw the soul of Thetis' son,
Of good Patroclus, brave Antilochus,
And Ajax, the supremely strenuous
Of all the Greek host next Peleion
All which assembled about Maia's son.

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