Translation of: The Odyssey of Homer: Book XXII

A poem by William Cowper

ARGUMENT

Ulysses, with some little assistance from Telemachus, Eumæus and Philoetius, slays all the suitors, and twelve of the female servants who had allowed themselves an illicit intercourse with them, are hanged. Melanthius also is punished with miserable mutilation.


Then, girding up his rags, Ulysses sprang
With bow and full-charged quiver to the door;
Loose on the broad stone at his feet he pour'd
His arrows, and the suitors, thus, bespake.
This prize, though difficult, hath been atchieved.
Now for another mark which never man
Struck yet, but I will strike it if I may,
And if Apollo make that glory mine.
He said, and at Antinoüs aimed direct
A bitter shaft; he, purposing to drink,
Both hands advanced toward the golden cup
Twin-ear'd, nor aught suspected death so nigh.
For who, at the full banquet, could suspect
That any single guest, however brave,
Should plan his death, and execute the blow?
Yet him Ulysses with an arrow pierced
Full in the throat, and through his neck behind
Started the glitt'ring point. Aslant he droop'd;
Down fell the goblet, through his nostrils flew
The spouted blood, and spurning with his foot
The board, he spread his viands in the dust.
Confusion, when they saw Antinoüs fall'n,
Seized all the suitors; from the thrones they sprang,
Flew ev'ry way, and on all sides explored
The palace-walls, but neither sturdy lance
As erst, nor buckler could they there discern,
Then, furious, to Ulysses thus they spake.
Thy arrow, stranger, was ill-aimed; a man
Is no just mark. Thou never shalt dispute
Prize more. Inevitable death is thine.
For thou hast slain a Prince noblest of all
In Ithaca, and shalt be vultures' food.
Various their judgments were, but none believed
That he had slain him wittingly, nor saw
Th' infatuate men fate hov'ring o'er them all.
Then thus Ulysses, louring dark, replied.
O dogs! not fearing aught my safe return
From Ilium, ye have shorn my substance close,
Lain with my women forcibly, and sought,
While yet I lived, to make my consort yours,
Heedless of the inhabitants of heav'n
Alike, and of the just revenge of man.
But death is on the wing; death for you all.
He said; their cheeks all faded at the sound,
And each with sharpen'd eyes search'd ev'ry nook
For an escape from his impending doom,
Till thus, alone, Eurymachus replied.
If thou indeed art he, the mighty Chief
Of Ithaca return'd, thou hast rehears'd
With truth the crimes committed by the Greeks
Frequent, both in thy house and in thy field.
But he, already, who was cause of all,
Lies slain, Antinoüs; he thy palace fill'd
With outrage, not solicitous so much
To win the fair Penelope, but thoughts
Far diff'rent framing, which Saturnian Jove
Hath baffled all; to rule, himself, supreme
In noble Ithaca, when he had kill'd
By an insidious stratagem thy son.
But he is slain. Now therefore, spare thy own,
Thy people; public reparation due
Shall sure be thine, and to appease thy wrath
For all the waste that, eating, drinking here
We have committed, we will yield thee, each,
Full twenty beeves, gold paying thee beside
And brass, till joy shall fill thee at the sight,
However just thine anger was before.
To whom Ulysses, frowning stern, replied,
Eurymachus, would ye contribute each
His whole inheritance, and other sums
Still add beside, ye should not, even so,
These hands of mine bribe to abstain from blood,
Till ev'ry suitor suffer for his wrong.
Ye have your choice. Fight with me, or escape
(Whoever may) the terrours of his fate,
But ye all perish, if my thought be true.
He ended, they with trembling knees and hearts
All heard, whom thus Eurymachus address'd.
To your defence, my friends! for respite none
Will he to his victorious hands afford,
But, arm'd with bow and quiver, will dispatch
Shafts from the door till he have slain us all.
Therefore to arms--draw each his sword--oppose
The tables to his shafts, and all at once
Rush on him; that, dislodging him at least
From portal and from threshold, we may give
The city on all sides a loud alarm,
So shall this archer soon have shot his last.
Thus saying, he drew his brazen faulchion keen
Of double edge, and with a dreadful cry
Sprang on him; but Ulysses with a shaft
In that same moment through his bosom driv'n
Transfix'd his liver, and down dropp'd his sword.
He, staggering around his table, fell
Convolv'd in agonies, and overturn'd
Both food and wine; his forehead smote the floor;
Woe fill'd his heart, and spurning with his heels
His vacant seat, he shook it till he died.
Then, with his faulchion drawn, Amphinomus
Advanced to drive Ulysses from the door,
And fierce was his assault; but, from behind,
Telemachus between his shoulders fix'd
A brazen lance, and urged it through his breast.
Full on his front, with hideous sound, he fell.
Leaving the weapon planted in his spine
Back flew Telemachus, lest, had he stood
Drawing it forth, some enemy, perchance,
Should either pierce him with a sudden thrust
Oblique, or hew him with a downright edge.
Swift, therefore, to his father's side he ran,
Whom reaching, in wing'd accents thus he said.
My father! I will now bring thee a shield,
An helmet, and two spears; I will enclose
Myself in armour also, and will give
Both to the herdsmen and Eumæus arms
Expedient now, and needful for us all.
To whom Ulysses, ever-wise, replied.
Run; fetch them, while I yet have arrows left,
Lest, single, I be justled from the door.
He said, and, at his word, forth went the Prince,
Seeking the chamber where he had secured
The armour. Thence he took four shields, eight spears,
With four hair-crested helmets, charged with which
He hasted to his father's side again,
And, arming first himself, furnish'd with arms
His two attendants. Then, all clad alike
In splendid brass, beside the dauntless Chief
Ulysses, his auxiliars firm they stood.
He, while a single arrow unemploy'd
Lay at his foot, right-aiming, ever pierced
Some suitor through, and heaps on heaps they fell.
But when his arrows fail'd the royal Chief,
His bow reclining at the portal's side
Against the palace-wall, he slung, himself,
A four-fold buckler on his arm, he fix'd
A casque whose crest wav'd awful o'er his brows
On his illustrious head, and fill'd his gripe
With two stout spears, well-headed both, with brass.
There was a certain postern in the wall[103]
At the gate-side, the customary pass
Into a narrow street, but barr'd secure.
Ulysses bade his faithful swine-herd watch
That egress, station'd near it, for it own'd
One sole approach; then Agelaüs loud
Exhorting all the suitors, thus exclaim'd.
Oh friends, will none, ascending to the door
Of yonder postern, summon to our aid
The populace, and spread a wide alarm?
So shall this archer soon have shot his last.
To whom the keeper of the goats replied
Melanthius. Agelaüs! Prince renown'd!
That may not be. The postern and the gate[104]
Neighbour too near each other, and to force
The narrow egress were a vain attempt;
One valiant man might thence repulse us all.
But come--myself will furnish you with arms
Fetch'd from above; for there, as I suppose,
(And not elsewhere) Ulysses and his son
Have hidden them, and there they shall be found.
So spake Melanthius, and, ascending, sought
Ulysses' chambers through the winding stairs
And gall'ries of the house. Twelve bucklers thence
He took, as many spears, and helmets bright
As many, shagg'd with hair, then swift return'd
And gave them to his friends. Trembled the heart
Of brave Ulysses, and his knees, at sight
Of his opposers putting armour on,
And shaking each his spear; arduous indeed
Now seem'd his task, and in wing'd accents brief
Thus to his son Telemachus he spake.
Either some woman of our train contrives
Hard battle for us, furnishing with arms
The suitors, or Melanthius arms them all.
Him answer'd then Telemachus discrete.
Father, this fault was mine, and be it charged
On none beside; I left the chamber-door
Unbarr'd, which, more attentive than myself,
Their spy perceived. But haste, Eumæus, shut
The chamber-door, observing well, the while,
If any women of our train have done
This deed, or whether, as I more suspect,
Melanthius, Dolius' son, have giv'n them arms.
Thus mutual they conferr'd; meantime, again
Melanthius to the chamber flew in quest
Of other arms. Eumæus, as he went,
Mark'd him, and to Ulysses' thus he spake.
Laertes' noble son, for wiles renown'd!
Behold, the traytor, whom ourselves supposed,
Seeks yet again the chamber! Tell me plain,
Shall I, should I superior prove in force,
Slay him, or shall I drag him thence to thee,
That he may suffer at thy hands the doom
Due to his treasons perpetrated oft
Against thee, here, even in thy own house?
Then answer thus Ulysses shrewd return'd.
I, with Telemachus, will here immew
The lordly suitors close, rage as they may.
Ye two, the while, bind fast Melanthius' hands
And feet behind his back, then cast him bound
Into the chamber, and (the door secured)
Pass underneath his arms a double chain,
And by a pillar's top weigh him aloft
Till he approach the rafters, there to endure,
Living long time, the mis'ries he hath earned.
He spake; they prompt obey'd; together both
They sought the chamber, whom the wretch within
Heard not, exploring ev'ry nook for arms.
They watching stood the door, from which, at length,
Forth came Melanthius, bearing in one hand
A casque, and in the other a broad shield
Time-worn and chapp'd with drought, which in his youth
Warlike Laertes had been wont to bear.
Long time neglected it had lain, till age
Had loosed the sutures of its bands. At once
Both, springing on him, seized and drew him in
Forcibly by his locks, then cast him down
Prone on the pavement, trembling at his fate.
With painful stricture of the cord his hands
They bound and feet together at his back,
As their illustrious master had enjoined,
Then weigh'd him with a double chain aloft
By a tall pillar to the palace-roof,
And thus, deriding him, Eumæus spake.
Now, good Melanthius, on that fleecy bed
Reclined, as well befits thee, thou wilt watch
All night, nor when the golden dawn forsakes
The ocean stream, will she escape thine eye,
But thou wilt duly to the palace drive
The fattest goats, a banquet for thy friends.
So saying, he left him in his dreadful sling.
Then, arming both, and barring fast the door,
They sought brave Laertiades again.
And now, courageous at the portal stood
Those four, by numbers in the interior house
Opposed of adversaries fierce in arms,
When Pallas, in the form and with the voice
Approach'd of Mentor, whom Laertes' son
Beheld, and joyful at the sight, exclaim'd.
Help, Mentor! help--now recollect a friend
And benefactor, born when thou wast born.
So he, not unsuspicious that he saw
Pallas, the heroine of heav'n. Meantime
The suitors fill'd with menaces the dome,
And Agelaüs, first, Damastor's son,
In accents harsh rebuked the Goddess thus.
Beware, oh Mentor! that he lure thee not
To oppose the suitors and to aid himself,
For thus will we. Ulysses and his son
Both slain, in vengeance of thy purpos'd deeds
Against us, we will slay thee next, and thou
With thy own head shalt satisfy the wrong.
Your force thus quell'd in battle, all thy wealth
Whether in house or field, mingled with his,
We will confiscate, neither will we leave
Or son of thine, or daughter in thy house
Alive, nor shall thy virtuous consort more
Within the walls of Ithaca be seen.
He ended, and his words with wrath inflamed
Minerva's heart the more; incensed, she turn'd
Towards Ulysses, whom she thus reproved.
Thou neither own'st the courage nor the force,
Ulysses, now, which nine whole years thou showd'st
At Ilium, waging battle obstinate
For high-born Helen, and in horrid fight
Destroying multitudes, till thy advice
At last lay'd Priam's bulwark'd city low.
Why, in possession of thy proper home
And substance, mourn'st thou want of pow'r t'oppose
The suitors? Stand beside me, mark my deeds,
And thou shalt own Mentor Alcimides
A valiant friend, and mindful of thy love.
She spake; nor made she victory as yet
Entire his own, proving the valour, first,
Both of the sire and of his glorious son,
But, springing in a swallow's form aloft,
Perch'd on a rafter of the splendid roof.
Then, Agelaüs animated loud
The suitors, whom Eurynomus also roused,
Amphimedon, and Demoptolemus,
And Polyctorides, Pisander named,
And Polybus the brave; for noblest far
Of all the suitor-chiefs who now survived
And fought for life were these. The bow had quell'd
And shafts, in quick succession sent, the rest.
Then Agelaüs, thus, harangued them all.
We soon shall tame, O friends, this warrior's might,
Whom Mentor, after all his airy vaunts
Hath left, and at the portal now remain
Themselves alone. Dismiss not therefore, all,
Your spears together, but with six alone
Assail them first; Jove willing, we shall pierce
Ulysses, and subduing him, shall slay
With ease the rest; their force is safely scorn'd.
He ceas'd; and, as he bade, six hurl'd the spear
Together; but Minerva gave them all
A devious flight; one struck a column, one
The planks of the broad portal, and a third[105]
Flung right his ashen beam pond'rous with brass
Against the wall. Then (ev'ry suitor's spear
Eluded) thus Ulysses gave the word--
Now friends! I counsel you that ye dismiss
Your spears at them, who, not content with past
Enormities, thirst also for our blood.
He said, and with unerring aim, all threw
Their glitt'ring spears. Ulysses on the ground
Stretch'd Demoptolemus; Euryades
Fell by Telemachus; the swine-herd slew
Elatus; and the keeper of the beeves
Pisander; in one moment all alike
Lay grinding with their teeth the dusty floor.
Back flew the suitors to the farthest wall,
On whom those valiant four advancing, each
Recover'd, quick, his weapon from the dead.
Then hurl'd the desp'rate suitors yet again
Their glitt'ring spears, but Pallas gave to each
A frustrate course; one struck a column, one
The planks of the broad portal, and a third
Flung full his ashen beam against the wall.
Yet pierced Amphimedon the Prince's wrist,
But slightly, a skin-wound, and o'er his shield
Ctesippus reach'd the shoulder of the good
Eumæus, but his glancing weapon swift
O'erflew the mark, and fell. And now the four,
Ulysses, dauntless Hero, and his friends
All hurl'd their spears together in return,
Himself Ulysses, city-waster Chief,
Wounded Eurydamas; Ulysses' son
Amphimedon; the swine-herd Polybus;
And in his breast the keeper of the beeves
Ctesippus, glorying over whom, he cried.
Oh son of Polytherses! whose delight
Hath been to taunt and jeer, never again
Boast foolishly, but to the Gods commit
Thy tongue, since they are mightier far than thou.
Take this--a compensation for thy pledge
Of hospitality, the huge ox-hoof,
Which while he roam'd the palace, begging alms,
Ulysses at thy bounteous hand received.
So gloried he; then, grasping still his spear,
Ulysses pierced Damastor's son, and, next,
Telemachus, enforcing his long beam
Sheer through his bowels and his back, transpierced
Leiocritus, he prostrate smote the floor.
Then, Pallas from the lofty roof held forth
Her host-confounding Ægis o'er their heads,
With'ring their souls with fear. They through the hall
Fled, scatter'd as an herd, which rapid-wing'd
The gad-fly dissipates, infester fell
Of beeves, when vernal suns shine hot and long.
But, as when bow-beak'd vultures crooked-claw'd[106]
Stoop from the mountains on the smaller fowl;
Terrified at the toils that spread the plain
The flocks take wing, they, darting from above,
Strike, seize, and slay, resistance or escape
Is none, the fowler's heart leaps with delight,
So they, pursuing through the spacious hall
The suitors, smote them on all sides, their heads
Sounded beneath the sword, with hideous groans
The palace rang, and the floor foamed with blood.
Then flew Leiodes to Ulysses' knees,
Which clasping, in wing'd accents thus he cried.
I clasp thy knees, Ulysses! oh respect
My suit, and spare me! Never have I word
Injurious spoken, or injurious deed
Attempted 'gainst the women of thy house,
But others, so transgressing, oft forbad.
Yet they abstain'd not, and a dreadful fate
Due to their wickedness have, therefore, found.
But I, their soothsayer alone, must fall,
Though unoffending; such is the return
By mortals made for benefits received!
To whom Ulysses, louring dark, replied.
Is that thy boast? Hast thou indeed for these
The seer's high office fill'd? Then, doubtless, oft
Thy pray'r hath been that distant far might prove
The day delectable of my return,
And that my consort might thy own become
To bear thee children; wherefore thee I doom
To a dire death which thou shalt not avoid.
So saying, he caught the faulchion from the floor
Which Agelaüs had let fall, and smote
Leiodes, while he kneel'd, athwart his neck
So suddenly, that ere his tongue had ceased
To plead for life, his head was in the dust.
But Phemius, son of Terpius, bard divine,
Who, through compulsion, with his song regaled
The suitors, a like dreadful death escaped.
Fast by the postern, harp in hand, he stood,
Doubtful if, issuing, he should take his seat
Beside the altar of Hercæan Jove,[107]
Where oft Ulysses offer'd, and his sire,
Fat thighs of beeves, or whether he should haste,
An earnest suppliant, to embrace his knees.
That course, at length, most pleased him; then, between
The beaker and an argent-studded throne
He grounded his sweet lyre, and seizing fast
The Hero's knees, him, suppliant, thus address'd.
I clasp thy knees, Ulysses! oh respect
My suit, and spare me. Thou shalt not escape
Regret thyself hereafter, if thou slay
Me, charmer of the woes of Gods and men.
Self-taught am I, and treasure in my mind
Themes of all argument from heav'n inspired,
And I can sing to thee as to a God.
Ah, then, behead me not. Put ev'n the wish
Far from thee! for thy own beloved son
Can witness, that not drawn by choice, or driv'n
By stress of want, resorting to thine house
I have regaled these revellers so oft,
But under force of mightier far than I.
So he; whose words soon as the sacred might
Heard of Telemachus, approaching quick
His father, thus, humane, he interposed.
Hold, harm not with the vengeful faulchion's edge
This blameless man; and we will also spare
Medon the herald, who hath ever been
A watchful guardian of my boyish years,
Unless Philoetius have already slain him,
Or else Eumæus, or thyself, perchance,
Unconscious, in the tumult of our foes.
He spake, whom Medon hearing (for he lay
Beneath a throne, and in a new-stript hide
Enfolded, trembling with the dread of death)
Sprang from his hiding-place, and casting off
The skin, flew to Telemachus, embraced
His knees, and in wing'd accents thus exclaim'd.
Prince! I am here--oh, pity me! repress
Thine own, and pacify thy father's wrath,
That he destroy not me, through fierce revenge
Of their iniquities who have consumed
His wealth, and, in their folly scorn'd his son.
To whom Ulysses, ever-wise, replied,
Smiling complacent. Fear not; my own son
Hath pleaded for thee. Therefore (taught thyself
That truth) teach others the superior worth
Of benefits with injuries compared.
But go ye forth, thou and the sacred bard,
That ye may sit distant in yonder court
From all this carnage, while I give command,
Myself, concerning it, to those within.
He ceas'd; they going forth, took each his seat
Beside Jove's altar, but with careful looks
Suspicious, dreading without cease the sword.
Meantime Ulysses search'd his hall, in quest
Of living foes, if any still survived
Unpunish'd; but he found them all alike
Welt'ring in dust and blood; num'rous they lay
Like fishes when they strew the sinuous shore
Of Ocean, from the grey gulph drawn aground
In nets of many a mesh; they on the sands
Lie spread, athirst for the salt wave, till hot
The gazing sun dries all their life away;
So lay the suitors heap'd, and thus at length
The prudent Chief gave order to his son.
Telemachus! bid Euryclea come
Quickly, the nurse, to whom I would impart
The purpose which now occupies me most.
He said; obedient to his sire, the Prince
Smote on the door, and summon'd loud the nurse.
Arise thou ancient governess of all
Our female menials, and come forth; attend
My father; he hath somewhat for thine ear.
So he; nor flew his words useless away,
For, throwing wide the portal, forth she came,
And, by Telemachus conducted, found
Ere long Ulysses amid all the slain,
With blood defiled and dust; dread he appear'd
As from the pastur'd ox newly-devoured
The lion stalking back; his ample chest
With gory drops and his broad cheeks are hung,
Tremendous spectacle! such seem'd the Chief,
Blood-stain'd all over. She, the carnage spread
On all sides seeing, and the pools of blood,
Felt impulse forcible to publish loud
That wond'rous triumph; but her Lord repress'd
The shout of rapture ere it burst abroad,
And in wing'd accents thus his will enforced.
Silent exult, O ancient matron dear!
Shout not, be still. Unholy is the voice
Of loud thanksgiving over slaughter'd men.
Their own atrocious deeds and the Gods' will
Have slain all these; for whether noble guest
Arrived or base, they scoff'd at all alike,
And for their wickedness have, therefore, died.
But say; of my domestic women, who
Have scorn'd me, and whom find'st thou innocent?
To whom good Euryclea thus replied.
My son! I will declare the truth; thou keep'st
Female domestics fifty in thy house,
Whom we have made intelligent to comb
The fleece, and to perform whatever task.
Of these, twice six have overpass'd the bounds
Of modesty, respecting neither me,
Nor yet the Queen; and thy own son, adult
So lately, no permission had from her
To regulate the women of her train.
But I am gone, I fly with what hath pass'd
To the Queen's ear, who nought suspects, so sound
She sleeps, by some divinity composed.
Then answer, thus, Ulysses wise returned.
Hush, and disturb her not. Go. Summon first
Those wantons, who have long deserved to die.
He ceas'd; then issued forth the ancient dame
To summon those bad women, and, meantime,
Calling his son, Philoetius, and Eumæus,
Ulysses in wing'd accents thus began.
Bestir ye, and remove the dead; command
Those women also to your help; then cleanse
With bibulous sponges and with water all
The seats and tables; when ye shall have thus
Set all in order, lead those women forth,
And in the centre of the spacious court,
Between the scull'ry and the outer-wall
Smite them with your broad faulchions till they lose
In death the mem'ry of their secret loves
Indulged with wretches lawless as themselves.
He ended, and the damsels came at once
All forth, lamenting, and with tepid tears
Show'ring the ground; with mutual labour, first,
Bearing the bodies forth into the court,
They lodged them in the portico; meantime
Ulysses, stern, enjoin'd them haste, and, urged
By sad necessity, they bore all out.
With sponges and with water, next, they cleansed
The thrones and tables, while Telemachus
Beesom'd the floor, Eumæus in that work
Aiding him and the keeper of the beeves,
And those twelve damsels bearing forth the soil.
Thus, order giv'n to all within, they, next,
Led forth the women, whom they shut between
The scull'ry and the outer-wall in close
Durance, from which no pris'ner could escape,
And thus Telemachus discrete began.
An honourable death is not for these
By my advice, who have so often heap'd
Reproach on mine and on my mother's head,
And held lewd commerce with the suitor-train.
He said, and noosing a strong galley-rope
To an huge column, led the cord around
The spacious dome, suspended so aloft
That none with quiv'ring feet might reach the floor.
As when a flight of doves ent'ring the copse,
Or broad-wing'd thrushes, strike against the net
Within, ill rest, entangled, there they find,
So they, suspended by the neck, expired
All in one line together. Death abhorr'd!
With restless feet awhile they beat the air,
Then ceas'd. And now through vestibule and hall
They led Melanthius forth. With ruthless steel
They pared away his ears and nose, pluck'd forth
His parts of shame, destin'd to feed the dogs,
And, still indignant, lopp'd his hands and feet.
Then, laving each his feet and hands, they sought
Again Ulysses; all their work was done,
And thus the Chief to Euryclea spake.
Bring blast-averting sulphur, nurse, bring fire!
That I may fumigate my walls; then bid
Penelope with her attendants down,
And summon all the women of her train.
But Euryclea, thus, his nurse, replied.
My son! thou hast well said; yet will I first
Serve thee with vest and mantle. Stand not here
In thy own palace cloath'd with tatters foul
And beggarly--she will abhor the sight.
Then answer thus Ulysses wise return'd.
Not so. Bring fire for fumigation first.
He said; nor Euryclea his lov'd nurse
Longer delay'd, but sulphur brought and fire,
When he with purifying steams, himself,
Visited ev'ry part, the banquet-room,
The vestibule, the court. Ranging meantime
His house magnificent, the matron call'd
The women to attend their Lord in haste,
And they attended, bearing each a torch.
Then gather'd they around him all, sincere
Welcoming his return; with close embrace
Enfolding him, each kiss'd his brows, and each
His shoulders, and his hands lock'd fast in hers.
He, irresistible the impulse felt
To sigh and weep, well recognizing all.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Translation of: The Odyssey of Homer: Book XXII' by William Cowper

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy