Translation of: The Odyssey of Homer: Book II

A poem by William Cowper

ARGUMENT

Telemachus having convened an assembly of the Greecians, publicly calls on the Suitors to relinquish the house of Ulysses. During the continuance of the Council he has much to suffer from the petulance of the Suitors, from whom, having informed them of his design to undertake a voyage in hope to obtain news of Ulysses, he asks a ship, with all things necessary for the purpose. He is refused, but is afterwards furnished with what he wants by Minerva, in the form of Mentor. He embarks in the evening without the privity of his mother, and the Goddess sails with him.


Aurora, rosy daughter of the dawn,
Now ting'd the East, when habited again,
Uprose Ulysses' offspring from his bed.
Athwart his back his faulchion keen he flung,
His sandals bound to his unsullied feet,
And, godlike, issued from his chamber-door.
At once the clear-voic'd heralds he enjoin'd
To call the Greeks to council; they aloud
Gave forth the summons, and the throng began.
When all were gather'd, and the assembly full,
Himself, his hand arm'd with a brazen spear,
Went also; nor alone he went; his hounds
Fleet-footed follow'd him, a faithful pair.
O'er all his form Minerva largely shed
Majestic grace divine, and, as he went,
The whole admiring concourse gaz'd on him,
The seniors gave him place, and down he sat
On his paternal Throne. Then grave arose
The Hero, old Ægyptius; bow'd with age
Was he, and by experience deep-inform'd.
His son had with Ulysses, godlike Chief,
On board his fleet to steed-fam'd Ilium gone,
The warrior Antiphus, whom in his cave
The savage Cyclops slew, and on his flesh
At ev'ning made obscene his last regale.
Three sons he had beside, a suitor one,
Eurynomus; the other two, employ
Found constant managing their Sire's concerns.
Yet he forgat not, father as he was
Of these, his absent eldest, whom he mourn'd
Ceaseless, and thus his speech, weeping, began.
Hear me, ye men of Ithaca, my friends!
Nor council here nor session hath been held
Since great Ulysses left his native shore.
Who now convenes us? what especial need
Hath urged him, whether of our youth he be,
Or of our senators by age matured?
Have tidings reach'd him of our host's return,
Which here he would divulge? or brings he aught
Of public import on a diff'rent theme?
I deem him, whosoe'er he be, a man
Worthy to prosper, and may Jove vouchsafe
The full performance of his chief desire!
He ended, and Telemachus rejoiced
In that good omen. Ardent to begin,
He sat not long, but, moving to the midst,
Received the sceptre from Pisenor's hand,
His prudent herald, and addressing, next,
The hoary Chief Ægyptius, thus began.
Not far remote, as thou shalt soon thyself
Perceive, oh venerable Chief! he stands,
Who hath convened this council. I, am He.
I am in chief the suff'rer. Tidings none
Of the returning host I have received,
Which here I would divulge, nor bring I aught
Of public import on a different theme,
But my own trouble, on my own house fall'n,
And two-fold fall'n. One is, that I have lost
A noble father, who, as fathers rule
Benign their children, govern'd once yourselves;
The other, and the more alarming ill,
With ruin threatens my whole house, and all
My patrimony with immediate waste.
Suitors, (their children who in this our isle
Hold highest rank) importunate besiege
My mother, though desirous not to wed,
And rather than resort to her own Sire
Icarius, who might give his daughter dow'r,
And portion her to whom he most approves,
(A course which, only named, moves their disgust)
They chuse, assembling all within my gates
Daily to make my beeves, my sheep, my goats
Their banquet, and to drink without restraint
My wine; whence ruin threatens us and ours;
For I have no Ulysses to relieve
Me and my family from this abuse.
Ourselves are not sufficient; we, alas!
Too feeble should be found, and yet to learn
How best to use the little force we own;
Else, had I pow'r, I would, myself, redress
The evil; for it now surpasses far
All suff'rance, now they ravage uncontroul'd,
Nor show of decency vouchsafe me more.
Oh be ashamed[6] yourselves; blush at the thought
Of such reproach as ye shall sure incur
From all our neighbour states, and fear beside
The wrath of the Immortals, lest they call
Yourselves one day to a severe account.
I pray you by Olympian Jove, by her
Whose voice convenes all councils, and again
Dissolves them, Themis, that henceforth ye cease,
That ye permit me, oh my friends! to wear
My days in solitary grief away,
Unless Ulysses, my illustrious Sire,
Hath in his anger any Greecian wrong'd,
Whose wrongs ye purpose to avenge on me,
Inciting these to plague me. Better far
Were my condition, if yourselves consumed
My substance and my revenue; from you
I might obtain, perchance, righteous amends
Hereafter; you I might with vehement suit
O'ercome, from house to house pleading aloud
For recompense, till I at last prevail'd.
But now, with darts of anguish ye transfix
My inmost soul, and I have no redress.
He spake impassion'd, and to earth cast down
His sceptre, weeping. Pity at that sight
Seiz'd all the people; mute the assembly sat
Long time, none dared to greet Telemachus
With answer rough, till of them all, at last,
Antinoüs, sole arising, thus replied.
Telemachus, intemp'rate in harangue,
High-sounding orator! it is thy drift
To make us all odious; but the offence
Lies not with us the suitors; she alone
Thy mother, who in subtlety excels,
And deep-wrought subterfuge, deserves the blame.
It is already the third year, and soon
Shall be the fourth, since with delusive art
Practising on their minds, she hath deceived
The Greecians; message after message sent
Brings hope to each, by turns, and promise fair,
But she, meantime, far otherwise intends.
Her other arts exhausted all, she framed
This stratagem; a web of amplest size
And subtlest woof beginning, thus she spake.
Princes, my suitors! since the noble Chief
Ulysses is no more, press not as yet
My nuptials, wait till I shall finish, first,
A fun'ral robe (lest all my threads decay)
Which for the antient Hero I prepare,
Laertes, looking for the mournful hour
When fate shall snatch him to eternal rest;
Else I the censure dread of all my sex,
Should he, so wealthy, want at last a shroud.
So spake the Queen, and unsuspicious, we
With her request complied. Thenceforth, all day
She wove the ample web, and by the aid
Of torches ravell'd it again at night.
Three years by such contrivance she deceived
The Greecians; but when (three whole years elaps'd)
The fourth arriv'd, then, conscious of the fraud,
A damsel of her train told all the truth,
And her we found rav'ling the beauteous work.
Thus, through necessity she hath, at length,
Perform'd the task, and in her own despight.
Now therefore, for the information clear
Of thee thyself, and of the other Greeks,
We answer. Send thy mother hence, with charge
That him she wed on whom her father's choice
Shall fall, and whom she shall, herself, approve.
But if by long procrastination still
She persevere wearing our patience out,
Attentive only to display the gifts
By Pallas so profusely dealt to her,
Works of surpassing skill, ingenious thought,
And subtle shifts, such as no beauteous Greek
(For aught that we have heard) in antient times
E'er practised, Tyro, or Alcemena fair,
Or fair Mycene, of whom none in art
E'er match'd Penelope, although we yield
To this her last invention little praise,
Then know, that these her suitors will consume
So long thy patrimony and thy goods,
As she her present purpose shall indulge,
With which the Gods inspire her. Great renown
She to herself insures, but equal woe
And devastation of thy wealth to thee;
For neither to our proper works at home
Go we, of that be sure, nor yet elsewhere,
Till him she wed, to whom she most inclines.
Him prudent, then, answer'd Telemachus.
Antinoüs! it is not possible
That I should thrust her forth against her will,
Who both produced and reared me. Be he dead,
Or still alive, my Sire is far remote,
And should I, voluntary, hence dismiss
My mother to Icarius, I must much
Refund, which hardship were and loss to me.
So doing, I should also wrath incur
From my offended Sire, and from the Gods
Still more; for she, departing, would invoke
Erynnis to avenge her, and reproach
Beside would follow me from all mankind.
That word I, therefore, never will pronounce.
No, if ye judge your treatment at her hands
Injurious to you, go ye forth yourselves,
Forsake my mansion; seek where else ye may
Your feasts; consume your own; alternate feed
Each at the other's cost. But if it seem
Wisest in your account and best to eat
Voracious thus the patrimonial goods
Of one man, rend'ring no account of all,
Bite to the roots; but know that I will cry
Ceaseless to the eternal Gods, in hope
That Jove, in retribution of the wrong,
Shall doom you, where ye have intruded, there
To bleed, and of your blood ask no account.
So spake Telemachus, and while he spake,
The Thund'rer from a lofty mountain-top
Turn'd off two eagles; on the winds, awhile,
With outspread pinions ample side by side
They floated; but, ere long, hov'ring aloft,
Right o'er the midst of the assembled Chiefs
They wheel'd around, clang'd all their num'rous plumes,
And with a downward look eyeing the throng,
Death boded, ominous; then rending each
The other's face and neck, they sprang at once
Toward the right, and darted through the town.
Amazement universal, at that sight,
Seized the assembly, and with anxious thought
Each scann'd the future; amidst whom arose
The Hero Halitherses, antient Seer,
Offspring of Mastor; for in judgment he
Of portents augural, and in forecast
Unerring, his coevals all excell'd,
And prudent thus the multitude bespake.
Ye men of Ithaca, give ear! hear all!
Though chief my speech shall to the suitors look,
For, on their heads devolved, comes down the woe.
Ulysses shall not from his friends, henceforth,
Live absent long, but, hasting to his home,
Comes even now, and as he comes, designs
A bloody death for these, whose bitter woes
No few shall share, inhabitants with us
Of pleasant Ithaca; but let us frame
Effectual means maturely to suppress
Their violent deeds, or rather let themselves
Repentant cease; and soonest shall be best.
Not inexpert, but well-inform'd I speak
The future, and the accomplishment announce
Of all which when Ulysses with the Greeks
Embark'd for Troy, I to himself foretold.
I said that, after many woes, and loss
Of all his people, in the twentieth year,
Unknown to all, he should regain his home,
And my prediction shall be now fulfill'd.
Him, then, Eurymachus thus answer'd rough
The son of Polybus. Hence to thy house,
Thou hoary dotard! there, prophetic, teach
Thy children to escape woes else to come.
Birds num'rous flutter in the beams of day,
Not all predictive. Death, far hence remote
Hath found Ulysses, and I would to heav'n
That, where he died, thyself had perish'd too.
Thou hadst not then run o'er with prophecy
As now, nor provocation to the wrath
Giv'n of Telemachus, in hope to win,
Perchance, for thine some favour at his hands.
But I to _thee_ foretell, skilled as thou art
In legends old, (nor shall my threat be vain)
That if by artifice thou move to wrath
A younger than thyself, no matter whom,
Woe first the heavier on himself shall fall,
Nor shalt thou profit him by thy attempt,
And we will charge thee also with a mulct,
Which thou shalt pay with difficulty, and bear
The burthen of it with an aching heart.
As for Telemachus, I him advise,
Myself, and press the measure on his choice
Earnestly, that he send his mother hence
To her own father's house, who shall, himself,
Set forth her nuptial rites, and shall endow
His daughter sumptuously, and as he ought.
For this expensive wooing, as I judge,
Till then shall never cease; since we regard
No man--no--not Telemachus, although
In words exub'rant; neither fear we aught
Thy vain prognostics, venerable sir!
But only hate thee for their sake the more.
Waste will continue and disorder foul
Unremedied, so long as she shall hold
The suitors in suspense, for, day by day,
Our emulation goads us to the strife,
Nor shall we, going hence, seek to espouse
Each his own comfort suitable elsewhere.
To whom, discrete, Telemachus replied.
Eurymachus, and ye the suitor train
Illustrious, I have spoken: ye shall hear
No more this supplication urged by me.
The Gods, and all the Greeks, now know the truth.
But give me instantly a gallant bark
With twenty rowers, skill'd their course to win
To whatsoever haven; for I go
To sandy Pylus, and shall hasten thence
To Lacedemon, tidings to obtain
Of my long-absent Sire, or from the lips
Of man, or by a word from Jove vouchsafed
Himself, best source of notice to mankind.
If, there inform'd that still my father lives,
I hope conceive of his return, although
Distress'd, I shall be patient yet a year.
But should I learn, haply, that he survives
No longer, then, returning, I will raise
At home his tomb, will with such pomp perform
His fun'ral rites, as his great name demands,
And give my mother's hand to whom I may.
This said, he sat, and after him arose
Mentor, illustrious Ulysses' friend,
To whom, embarking thence, he had consign'd
All his concerns, that the old Chief might rule
His family, and keep the whole secure.
Arising, thus the senior, sage, began.
Hear me, ye Ithacans! be never King
Henceforth, benevolent, gracious, humane
Or righteous, but let every sceptred hand
Rule merciless, and deal in wrong alone,
Since none of all his people, whom he sway'd
With such paternal gentleness and love,
Remembers the divine Ulysses more!
That the imperious suitors thus should weave
The web of mischief and atrocious wrong,
I grudge not; since at hazard of their heads
They make Ulysses' property a prey,
Persuaded that the Hero comes no more.
But much the people move me; how ye sit
All mute, and though a multitude, yourselves,
Opposed to few, risque not a single word
To check the license of these bold intruders!
Then thus Liocritus, Evenor's son.
Injurious Mentor! headlong orator!
How dar'st thou move the populace against
The suitors? Trust me they should find it hard,
Numerous as they are, to cope with us,
A feast the prize. Or should the King himself
Of Ithaca, returning, undertake
T' expell the jovial suitors from his house,
Much as Penelope his absence mourns,
His presence should afford her little joy;
For fighting sole with many, he should meet
A dreadful death. Thou, therefore, speak'st amiss.
As for Telemachus, let Mentor him
And Halytherses furnish forth, the friends
Long valued of his Sire, with all dispatch;
Though him I judge far likelier to remain
Long-time contented an enquirer here,
Than to perform the voyage now proposed.
Thus saying, Liocritus dissolved in haste
The council, and the scattered concourse sought
Their sev'ral homes, while all the suitors flock'd
Thence to the palace of their absent King.
Meantime, Telemachus from all resort
Retiring, in the surf of the gray Deep
First laved his hands, then, thus to Pallas pray'd.
O Goddess! who wast yesterday a guest
Beneath my roof, and didst enjoin me then
A voyage o'er the sable Deep in quest
Of tidings of my long regretted Sire!
Which voyage, all in Ithaca, but most
The haughty suitors, obstinate impede,
Now hear my suit and gracious interpose!
Such pray'r he made; then Pallas, in the form,
And with the voice of Mentor, drawing nigh,
In accents wing'd, him kindly thus bespake.
Telemachus! thou shalt hereafter prove
Nor base, nor poor in talents. If, in truth,
Thou have received from heav'n thy father's force
Instill'd into thee, and resemblest him
In promptness both of action and of speech,
Thy voyage shall not useless be, or vain.
But if Penelope produced thee not
His son, I, then, hope not for good effect
Of this design which, ardent, thou pursuest.
Few sons their fathers equal; most appear
Degenerate; but we find, though rare, sometimes
A son superior even to his Sire.
And since thyself shalt neither base be found
Nor spiritless, nor altogether void
Of talents, such as grace thy royal Sire,
I therefore hope success of thy attempt.
Heed not the suitors' projects; neither wise
Are they, nor just, nor aught suspect the doom
Which now approaches them, and in one day
Shall overwhelm them all. No long suspense
Shall hold thy purposed enterprise in doubt,
Such help from me, of old thy father's friend,
Thou shalt receive, who with a bark well-oar'd
Will serve thee, and myself attend thee forth.
But haste, join thou the suitors, and provide,
In sep'rate vessels stow'd, all needful stores,
Wine in thy jars, and flour, the strength of man,
In skins close-seam'd. I will, meantime, select
Such as shall voluntary share thy toils.
In sea-girt Ithaca new ships and old
Abound, and I will chuse, myself, for thee
The prime of all, which without more delay
We will launch out into the spacious Deep.
Thus Pallas spake, daughter of Jove; nor long,
So greeted by the voice divine, remain'd
Telemachus, but to his palace went
Distress'd in heart. He found the suitors there
Goats slaying in the hall, and fatted swine
Roasting; when with a laugh Antinoüs flew
To meet him, fasten'd on his hand, and said,
Telemachus, in eloquence sublime,
And of a spirit not to be controul'd!
Give harbour in thy breast on no account
To after-grudge or enmity, but eat,
Far rather, cheerfully as heretofore,
And freely drink, committing all thy cares
To the Achaians, who shall furnish forth
A gallant ship and chosen crew for thee,
That thou may'st hence to Pylus with all speed,
Tidings to learn of thy illustrious Sire.
To whom Telemachus, discrete, replied.
Antinoüs! I have no heart to feast
With guests so insolent, nor can indulge
The pleasures of a mind at ease, with you.
Is't not enough, suitors, that ye have used
My noble patrimony as your own
While I was yet a child? now, grown mature,
And competent to understand the speech
Of my instructors, feeling, too, a mind
Within me conscious of augmented pow'rs,
I will attempt your ruin, be assured,
Whether at Pylus, or continuing here.
I go, indeed, (nor shall my voyage prove
Of which I speak, bootless or vain) I go
An humble passenger, who neither bark
Nor rowers have to boast my own, denied
That honour (so ye judg'd it best) by you.
He said, and from Antinoüs' hand his own
Drew sudden. Then their delicate repast
The busy suitors on all sides prepar'd,
Still taunting as they toil'd, and with sharp speech
Sarcastic wantoning, of whom a youth,
Arrogant as his fellows, thus began.
I see it plain, Telemachus intends
Our slaughter; either he will aids procure
From sandy Pylus, or will bring them arm'd
From Sparta; such is his tremendous drift.
Even to fruitful Ephyre, perchance,
He will proceed, seeking some baneful herb
Which cast into our cup, shall drug us all.
To whom some haughty suitor thus replied.
Who knows but that himself, wand'ring the sea
From all his friends and kindred far remote,
May perish like Ulysses? Whence to us
Should double toil ensue, on whom the charge
To parcel out his wealth would then devolve,
And to endow his mother with the house
For his abode whom she should chance to wed.
So sported they; but he, ascending sought
His father's lofty chamber, where his heaps
He kept of brass and gold, garments in chests,
And oils of fragrant scent, a copious store.
There many a cask with season'd nectar fill'd
The grape's pure juice divine, beside the wall
Stood orderly arranged, waiting the hour
(Should e'er such hour arrive) when, after woes
Num'rous, Ulysses should regain his home.
Secure that chamber was with folding doors
Of massy planks compact, and night and day,
Within it antient Euryclea dwelt,
Guardian discrete of all the treasures there,
Whom, thither call'd, Telemachus address'd.
Nurse! draw me forth sweet wine into my jars,
Delicious next to that which thou reserv'st
For our poor wand'rer; if escaping death
At last, divine Ulysses e'er return.
Fill twelve, and stop them close; pour also meal
Well mill'd (full twenty measures) into skins
Close-seam'd, and mention what thou dost to none.
Place them together; for at even-tide
I will convey them hence, soon as the Queen,
Retiring to her couch, shall seek repose.
For hence to Sparta will I take my course,
And sandy Pylus, tidings there to hear
(If hear I may) of my lov'd Sire's return.
He ceas'd, then wept his gentle nurse that sound
Hearing, and in wing'd accents thus replied.
My child! ah, wherefore hath a thought so rash
Possess'd thee? whither, only and belov'd,
Seek'st thou to ramble, travelling, alas!
To distant climes? Ulysses is no more;
Dead lies the Hero in some land unknown,
And thou no sooner shalt depart, than these
Will plot to slay thee, and divide thy wealth.
No, stay with us who love thee. Need is none
That thou should'st on the barren Deep distress
Encounter, roaming without hope or end.
Whom, prudent, thus answer'd Telemachus.
Take courage, nurse! for not without consent
Of the Immortals I have thus resolv'd.
But swear, that till eleven days be past,
Or twelve, or, till enquiry made, she learn
Herself my going, thou wilt not impart
Of this my purpose to my mother's ear,
Lest all her beauties fade by grief impair'd.
He ended, and the antient matron swore
Solemnly by the Gods; which done, she fill'd
With wine the vessels and the skins with meal,
And he, returning, join'd the throng below.
Then Pallas, Goddess azure-eyed, her thoughts
Elsewhere directing, all the city ranged
In semblance of Telemachus, each man
Exhorting, at the dusk of eve, to seek
The gallant ship, and from Noëmon, son
Renown'd of Phronius, ask'd, herself, a bark,
Which soon as ask'd, he promis'd to supply.
Now set the sun, and twilight dimm'd the ways,
When, drawing down his bark into the Deep,
He gave her all her furniture, oars, arms
And tackle, such as well-built galleys bear,
Then moor'd her in the bottom of the bay.
Meantime, his mariners in haste repair'd
Down to the shore, for Pallas urged them on.
And now on other purposes intent,
The Goddess sought the palace, where with dews
Of slumber drenching ev'ry suitor's eye,
She fool'd the drunkard multitude, and dash'd
The goblets from their idle hands away.
They through the city reeled, happy to leave
The dull carousal, when the slumb'rous weight
Oppressive on their eye-lids once had fall'n.
Next, Pallas azure-eyed in Mentor's form
And with the voice of Mentor, summoning
Telemachus abroad, him thus bespake.
Telemachus! already at their oars
Sit all thy fellow-voyagers, and wait
Thy coming; linger not, but haste away.
This said, Minerva led him thence, whom he
With nimble steps follow'd, and on the shore
Arrived, found all his mariners prepared,
Whom thus the princely voyager address'd.
Haste, my companions! bring we down the stores
Already sorted and set forth; but nought
My mother knows, or any of her train
Of this design, one matron sole except.
He spake, and led them; they, obedient, brought
All down, and, as Ulysses' son enjoin'd,
Within the gallant bark the charge bestow'd.
Then, led by Pallas, went the prince on board,
Where down they sat, the Goddess in the stern,
And at her side Telemachus. The crew
Cast loose the hawsers, and embarking, fill'd
The benches. Blue-eyed Pallas from the West
Call'd forth propitious breezes; fresh they curled
The sable Deep, and, sounding, swept the waves.
He loud-exhorting them, his people bade
Hand, brisk, the tackle; they, obedient, reared
The pine-tree mast, which in its socket deep
They lodg'd, then strain'd the cordage, and with thongs
Well-twisted, drew the shining sail aloft.
A land-breeze fill'd the canvas, and the flood
Roar'd as she went against the steady bark
That ran with even course her liquid way.
The rigging, thus, of all the galley set,
Their beakers crowning high with wine, they hail'd
The ever-living Gods, but above all
Minerva, daughter azure-eyed of Jove.
Thus, all night long the galley, and till dawn
Had brighten'd into day, cleaved swift the flood.

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