Translation of: The Odyssey of Homer: Book I

A poem by William Cowper


In a council of the Gods, Minerva calls their attention to Ulysses, still a wanderer. They resolve to grant him a safe return to Ithaca. Minerva descends to encourage Telemachus, and in the form of Mentes directs him in what manner to proceed. Throughout this book the extravagance and profligacy of the suitors are occasionally suggested.

Muse make the man thy theme, for shrewdness famed
And genius versatile, who far and wide
A Wand'rer, after Ilium overthrown,
Discover'd various cities, and the mind
And manners learn'd of men, in lands remote.
He num'rous woes on Ocean toss'd, endured,
Anxious to save himself, and to conduct
His followers to their home; yet all his care
Preserved them not; they perish'd self-destroy'd
By their own fault; infatuate! who devoured
The oxen of the all-o'erseeing Sun,
And, punish'd for that crime, return'd no more.
Daughter divine of Jove, these things record,
As it may please thee, even in our ears.
The rest, all those who had perdition 'scaped
By war or on the Deep, dwelt now at home;
Him only, of his country and his wife
Alike desirous, in her hollow grots
Calypso, Goddess beautiful, detained
Wooing him to her arms. But when, at length,
(Many a long year elapsed) the year arrived
Of his return (by the decree of heav'n)
To Ithaca, not even then had he,
Although surrounded by his people, reach'd
The period of his suff'rings and his toils.
Yet all the Gods, with pity moved, beheld
His woes, save Neptune; He alone with wrath
Unceasing and implacable pursued
Godlike Ulysses to his native shores.
But Neptune, now, the Æthiopians fought,
(The Æthiopians, utmost of mankind,
These Eastward situate, those toward the West)
Call'd to an hecatomb of bulls and lambs.
There sitting, pleas'd he banqueted; the Gods
In Jove's abode, meantime, assembled all,
'Midst whom the Sire of heav'n and earth began.
For he recall'd to mind Ægisthus slain
By Agamemnon's celebrated son
Orestes, and retracing in his thought
That dread event, the Immortals thus address'd.
Alas! how prone are human-kind to blame
The Pow'rs of Heav'n! From us, they say, proceed
The ills which they endure, yet more than Fate
Herself inflicts, by their own crimes incur.
So now Ægisthus, by no force constrained
Of Destiny, Atrides' wedded wife
Took to himself, and him at his return
Slew, not unwarn'd of his own dreadful end
By us: for we commanded Hermes down
The watchful Argicide, who bade him fear
Alike, to slay the King, or woo the Queen.
For that Atrides' son Orestes, soon
As grown mature, and eager to assume
His sway imperial, should avenge the deed.
So Hermes spake, but his advice moved not
Ægisthus, on whose head the whole arrear
Of vengeance heap'd, at last, hath therefore fall'n.
Whom answer'd then Pallas cærulean-eyed.
Oh Jove, Saturnian Sire, o'er all supreme!
And well he merited the death he found;
So perish all, who shall, like him, offend.
But with a bosom anguish-rent I view
Ulysses, hapless Chief! who from his friends
Remote, affliction hath long time endured
In yonder wood-land isle, the central boss
Of Ocean. That retreat a Goddess holds,
Daughter of sapient Atlas, who the abyss
Knows to its bottom, and the pillars high
Himself upbears which sep'rate earth from heav'n.
His daughter, there, the sorrowing Chief detains,
And ever with smooth speech insidious seeks
To wean his heart from Ithaca; meantime
Ulysses, happy might he but behold
The smoke ascending from his native land,
Death covets. Canst thou not, Olympian Jove!
At last relent? Hath not Ulysses oft
With victims slain amid Achaia's fleet
Thee gratified, while yet at Troy he fought?
How hath he then so deep incensed thee, Jove?
To whom, the cloud-assembler God replied.
What word hath pass'd thy lips, Daughter belov'd?
Can I forget Ulysses? Him forget
So noble, who in wisdom all mankind
Excels, and who hath sacrific'd so oft
To us whose dwelling is the boundless heav'n?
Earth-circling Neptune--He it is whose wrath
Pursues him ceaseless for the Cyclops' sake
Polypheme, strongest of the giant race,
Whom of his eye Ulysses hath deprived.
For Him, Thoösa bore, Nymph of the sea
From Phorcys sprung, by Ocean's mighty pow'r
Impregnated in caverns of the Deep.
E'er since that day, the Shaker of the shores,
Although he slay him not, yet devious drives
Ulysses from his native isle afar.
Yet come--in full assembly his return
Contrive we now, both means and prosp'rous end;
So Neptune shall his wrath remit, whose pow'r
In contest with the force of all the Gods
Exerted single, can but strive in vain.
To whom Minerva, Goddess azure-eyed.
Oh Jupiter! above all Kings enthroned!
If the Immortals ever-blest ordain
That wise Ulysses to his home return,
Dispatch we then Hermes the Argicide,
Our messenger, hence to Ogygia's isle,
Who shall inform Calypso, nymph divine,
Of this our fixt resolve, that to his home
Ulysses, toil-enduring Chief, repair.
Myself will hence to Ithaca, meantime,
His son to animate, and with new force
Inspire, that (the Achaians all convened
In council,) he may, instant, bid depart
The suitors from his home, who, day by day,
His num'rous flocks and fatted herds consume.
And I will send him thence to Sparta forth,
And into sandy Pylus, there to hear
(If hear he may) some tidings of his Sire,
And to procure himself a glorious name.
This said, her golden sandals to her feet
She bound, ambrosial, which o'er all the earth
And o'er the moist flood waft her fleet as air,
Then, seizing her strong spear pointed with brass,
In length and bulk, and weight a matchless beam,
With which the Jove-born Goddess levels ranks
Of Heroes, against whom her anger burns,
From the Olympian summit down she flew,
And on the threshold of Ulysses' hall
In Ithaca, and within his vestibule
Apparent stood; there, grasping her bright spear,
Mentes[1] she seem'd, the hospitable Chief
Of Taphos' isle--she found the haughty throng
The suitors; they before the palace gate
With iv'ry cubes sported, on num'rous hides
Reclined of oxen which themselves had slain.
The heralds and the busy menials there
Minister'd to them; these their mantling cups
With water slaked; with bibulous sponges those
Made clean the tables, set the banquet on,
And portioned out to each his plenteous share.
Long ere the rest Telemachus himself
Mark'd her, for sad amid them all he sat,
Pourtraying in deep thought contemplative
His noble Sire, and questioning if yet
Perchance the Hero might return to chase
From all his palace that imperious herd,
To his own honour lord of his own home.
Amid them musing thus, sudden he saw
The Goddess, and sprang forth, for he abhorr'd
To see a guest's admittance long delay'd;
Approaching eager, her right hand he seized,
The brazen spear took from her, and in words
With welcome wing'd Minerva thus address'd.
Stranger, all hail! to share our cordial love
Thou com'st; the banquet finish'd, thou shalt next
Inform me wherefore thou hast here arrived.
So saying, toward the spacious hall he moved,
Follow'd by Pallas, and, arriving soon
Beneath the lofty roof, placed her bright spear
Within a pillar's cavity, long time
The armoury where many a spear had stood,
Bright weapons of his own illustrious Sire.
Then, leading her toward a footstool'd throne
Magnificent, which first he overspread
With linen, there he seated her, apart
From that rude throng, and for himself disposed
A throne of various colours at her side,
Lest, stunn'd with clamour of the lawless band,
The new-arrived should loth perchance to eat,
And that more free he might the stranger's ear
With questions of his absent Sire address,
And now a maiden charg'd with golden ew'r,
And with an argent laver, pouring first
Pure water on their hands, supplied them, next,
With a resplendent table, which the chaste
Directress of the stores furnish'd with bread
And dainties, remnants of the last regale.
Then, in his turn, the sewer[2] with sav'ry meats,
Dish after dish, served them, of various kinds,
And golden cups beside the chargers placed,
Which the attendant herald fill'd with wine.
Ere long, in rush'd the suitors, and the thrones
And couches occupied, on all whose hands
The heralds pour'd pure water; then the maids
Attended them with bread in baskets heap'd,
And eager they assail'd the ready feast.
At length, when neither thirst nor hunger more
They felt unsatisfied, to new delights
Their thoughts they turn'd, to song and sprightly dance,
Enlivening sequel of the banquet's joys.
An herald, then, to Phemius' hand consign'd
His beauteous lyre; he through constraint regaled
The suitors with his song, and while the chords
He struck in prelude to his pleasant strains,
Telemachus his head inclining nigh
To Pallas' ear, lest others should his words
Witness, the blue-eyed Goddess thus bespake.
My inmate and my friend! far from my lips
Be ev'ry word that might displease thine ear!
The song--the harp,--what can they less than charm
These wantons? who the bread unpurchased eat
Of one whose bones on yonder continent
Lie mould'ring, drench'd by all the show'rs of heaven,
Or roll at random in the billowy deep.
Ah! could they see him once to his own isle
Restored, both gold and raiment they would wish
Far less, and nimbleness of foot instead.
But He, alas! hath by a wretched fate,
Past question perish'd, and what news soe'er
We hear of his return, kindles no hope
In us, convinced that he returns no more.
But answer undissembling; tell me true;
Who art thou? whence? where stands thy city? where
Thy father's mansion? In what kind of ship
Cam'st thou? Why steer'd the mariners their course
To Ithaca, and of what land are they?
For that on foot thou found'st us not, is sure.
This also tell me, hast thou now arrived
New to our isle, or wast thou heretofore
My father's guest? Since many to our house
Resorted in those happier days, for he
Drew pow'rful to himself the hearts of all.
Then Pallas thus, Goddess cærulean-eyed.
I will with all simplicity of truth
Thy questions satisfy. Behold in me
Mentes, the offspring of a Chief renown'd
In war, Anchialus; and I rule, myself,
An island race, the Taphians oar-expert.
With ship and mariners I now arrive,
Seeking a people of another tongue
Athwart the gloomy flood, in quest of brass
For which I barter steel, ploughing the waves
To Temesa. My ship beneath the woods
Of Neïus, at yonder field that skirts
Your city, in the haven Rhethrus rides.
We are hereditary guests; our Sires
Were friends long since; as, when thou seest him next,
The Hero old Laertes will avouch,
Of whom, I learn, that he frequents no more
The city now, but in sequester'd scenes
Dwells sorrowful, and by an antient dame
With food and drink supplied oft as he feels
Refreshment needful to him, while he creeps
Between the rows of his luxuriant vines.
But I have come drawn hither by report,
Which spake thy Sire arrived, though still it seems
The adverse Gods his homeward course retard.
For not yet breathless lies the noble Chief,
But in some island of the boundless flood
Resides a prisoner, by barbarous force
Of some rude race detained reluctant there.
And I will now foreshow thee what the Gods
Teach me, and what, though neither augur skill'd
Nor prophet, I yet trust shall come to pass.
He shall not, henceforth, live an exile long
From his own shores, no, not although in bands
Of iron held, but will ere long contrive
His own return; for in expedients, framed
With wond'rous ingenuity, he abounds.
But tell me true; art thou, in stature such,
Son of himself Ulysses? for thy face
And eyes bright-sparkling, strongly indicate
Ulysses in thee. Frequent have we both
Conversed together thus, thy Sire and I,
Ere yet he went to Troy, the mark to which
So many Princes of Achaia steer'd.
Him since I saw not, nor Ulysses me.
To whom Telemachus, discrete, replied.
Stranger! I tell thee true; my mother's voice
Affirms me his, but since no mortal knows
His derivation, I affirm it not.
Would I had been son of some happier Sire,
Ordain'd in calm possession of his own
To reach the verge of life. But now, report
Proclaims me his, whom I of all mankind
Unhappiest deem.--Thy question is resolved.
Then answer thus Pallas blue-eyed return'd.
From no ignoble race, in future days,
The Gods shall prove thee sprung, whom so endow'd
With ev'ry grace Penelope hath borne.
But tell me true. What festival is this?
This throng--whence are they? wherefore hast thou need
Of such a multitude? Behold I here
A banquet, or a nuptial? for these
Meet not by contribution[3] to regale,
With such brutality and din they hold
Their riotous banquet! a wise man and good
Arriving, now, among them, at the sight
Of such enormities would much be wroth.
To whom replied Telemachus discrete.
Since, stranger! thou hast ask'd, learn also this.
While yet Ulysses, with his people dwelt,
His presence warranted the hope that here
Virtue should dwell and opulence; but heav'n
Hath cast for us, at length, a diff'rent lot,
And he is lost, as never man before.
For I should less lament even his death,
Had he among his friends at Ilium fall'n,
Or in the arms of his companions died,
Troy's siege accomplish'd. Then his tomb the Greeks
Of ev'ry tribe had built, and for his son,
He had immortal glory atchieved; but now,
By harpies torn inglorious, beyond reach
Of eye or ear he lies; and hath to me
Grief only, and unceasing sighs bequeath'd.
Nor mourn I for his sake alone; the Gods
Have plann'd for me still many a woe beside;
For all the rulers of the neighbour isles,
Samos, Dulichium, and the forest-crown'd
Zacynthus, others also, rulers here
In craggy Ithaca, my mother seek
In marriage, and my household stores consume.
But neither she those nuptial rites abhorr'd,
Refuses absolute, nor yet consents
To end them; they my patrimony waste
Meantime, and will not long spare even me.
To whom, with deep commiseration pang'd,
Pallas replied. Alas! great need hast thou
Of thy long absent father to avenge
These num'rous wrongs; for could he now appear
There, at yon portal, arm'd with helmet, shield,
And grasping his two spears, such as when first
I saw him drinking joyous at our board,
From Ilus son of Mermeris, who dwelt
In distant Ephyre, just then return'd,
(For thither also had Ulysses gone
In his swift bark, seeking some pois'nous drug
Wherewith to taint his brazen arrows keen,
Which drug through fear of the eternal Gods
Ilus refused him, and my father free
Gave to him, for he loved him past belief)
Could now, Ulysses, clad in arms as then,
Mix with these suitors, short his date of life
To each, and bitter should his nuptials prove.
But these events, whether he shall return
To take just vengeance under his own roof,
Or whether not, lie all in the Gods lap.
Meantime I counsel thee, thyself to think
By what means likeliest thou shalt expel
These from thy doors. Now mark me: close attend.
To-morrow, summoning the Grecian Chiefs
To council, speak to them, and call the Gods
To witness that solemnity. Bid go
The suitors hence, each to his own abode.
Thy mother--if her purpose be resolved
On marriage, let her to the house return
Of her own potent father, who, himself,
Shall furnish forth her matrimonial rites,
And ample dow'r, such as it well becomes
A darling daughter to receive, bestow.
But hear me now; thyself I thus advise.
The prime of all thy ships preparing, mann'd
With twenty rowers, voyage hence to seek
Intelligence of thy long-absent Sire.
Some mortal may inform thee, or a word,[4]
Perchance, by Jove directed (safest source
Of notice to mankind) may reach thine ear.
First voyaging to Pylus, there enquire
Of noble Nestor; thence to Sparta tend,
To question Menelaus amber-hair'd,
Latest arrived of all the host of Greece.
There should'st thou learn that still thy father lives,
And hope of his return, although
Distress'd, thou wilt be patient yet a year.
But should'st thou there hear tidings that he breathes
No longer, to thy native isle return'd,
First heap his tomb; then with such pomp perform
His funeral rites as his great name demands,
And make thy mother's spousals, next, thy care.
These duties satisfied, delib'rate last
Whether thou shalt these troublers of thy house
By stratagem, or by assault, destroy.
For thou art now no child, nor longer may'st
Sport like one. Hast thou not the proud report
Heard, how Orestes hath renown acquired
With all mankind, his father's murtherer
Ægisthus slaying, the deceiver base
Who slaughter'd Agamemnon? Oh my friend!
(For with delight thy vig'rous growth I view,
And just proportion) be thou also bold,
And merit praise from ages yet to come.
But I will to my vessel now repair,
And to my mariners, whom, absent long,
I may perchance have troubled. Weigh thou well
My counsel; let not my advice be lost.
To whom Telemachus discrete replied.
Stranger! thy words bespeak thee much my friend,
Who, as a father teaches his own son,
Hast taught me, and I never will forget.
But, though in haste thy voyage to pursue,
Yet stay, that in the bath refreshing first
Thy limbs now weary, thou may'st sprightlier seek
Thy gallant bark, charged with some noble gift
Of finish'd workmanship, which thou shalt keep
As my memorial ever; such a boon
As men confer on guests whom much they love.
Then Pallas thus, Goddess cærulean-eyed.
Retard me not, for go I must; the gift
Which liberal thou desirest to bestow,
Give me at my return, that I may bear
The treasure home; and, in exchange, thyself
Expect some gift equivalent from me.
She spake, and as with eagle-wings upborne,
Vanish'd incontinent, but him inspired
With daring fortitude, and on his heart
Dearer remembrance of his Sire impress'd
Than ever. Conscious of the wond'rous change,
Amazed he stood, and, in his secret thought
Revolving all, believed his guest a God.
The youthful Hero to the suitors then
Repair'd; they silent, listen'd to the song
Of the illustrious Bard: he the return
Deplorable of the Achaian host
From Ilium by command of Pallas, sang.
Penelope, Icarius' daughter, mark'd
Meantime the song celestial, where she sat
In the superior palace; down she came,
By all the num'rous steps of her abode;
Not sole, for two fair handmaids follow'd her.
She then, divinest of her sex, arrived
In presence of that lawless throng, beneath
The portal of her stately mansion stood,
Between her maidens, with her lucid veil
Her lovely features mantling. There, profuse
She wept, and thus the sacred bard bespake.
Phemius! for many a sorrow-soothing strain
Thou know'st beside, such as exploits record
Of Gods and men, the poet's frequent theme;
Give them of those a song, and let themselves
Their wine drink noiseless; but this mournful strain
Break off, unfriendly to my bosom's peace,
And which of all hearts nearest touches mine,
With such regret my dearest Lord I mourn,
Rememb'ring still an husband praised from side
To side, and in the very heart of Greece.
Then answer thus Telemachus return'd.
My mother! wherefore should it give thee pain
If the delightful bard that theme pursue
To which he feels his mind impell'd? the bard
Blame not, but rather Jove, who, as he wills,
Materials for poetic art supplies.
No fault is his, if the disastrous fate
He sing of the Achaians, for the song
Wins ever from the hearers most applause
That has been least in use. Of all who fought
At Troy, Ulysses hath not lost, alone,
His day of glad return; but many a Chief
Hath perish'd also. Seek thou then again
Thy own apartment, spindle ply and loom,
And task thy maidens; management belongs
To men of joys convivial, and of men
Especially to me, chief ruler here.
She heard astonish'd; and the prudent speech
Reposing of her son deep in her heart,
Again with her attendant maidens sought
Her upper chamber. There arrived, she wept
Her lost Ulysses, till Minerva bathed
Her weary lids in dewy sleep profound.
Then echoed through the palace dark-bedimm'd
With evening shades the suitors boist'rous roar,
For each the royal bed burn'd to partake,
Whom thus Telemachus discrete address'd.
All ye my mother's suitors, though addict
To contumacious wrangling fierce, suspend
Your clamour, for a course to me it seems
More decent far, when such a bard as this,
Godlike, for sweetness, sings, to hear his song.
To-morrow meet we in full council all,
That I may plainly warn you to depart
From this our mansion. Seek ye where 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,[5]
Bite to the roots; but know that I will cry
Ceaseless to the eternal Gods, in hope
That Jove, for retribution of the wrong,
Shall doom you, where ye have intruded, there
To bleed, and of your blood ask no account.[5]
He ended, and each gnaw'd his lip, aghast
At his undaunted hardiness of speech.
Then thus Antinoüs spake, Eupithes' son.
Telemachus! the Gods, methinks, themselves
Teach thee sublimity, and to pronounce
Thy matter fearless. Ah forbid it, Jove!
That one so eloquent should with the weight
Of kingly cares in Ithaca be charged,
A realm, by claim hereditary, thine.
Then prudent thus Telemachus replied.
Although my speech Antinoüs may, perchance,
Provoke thee, know that I am not averse
From kingly cares, if Jove appoint me such.
Seems it to thee a burthen to be fear'd
By men above all others? trust me, no,
There is no ill in royalty; the man
So station'd, waits not long ere he obtain
Riches and honour. But I grant that Kings
Of the Achaians may no few be found
In sea-girt Ithaca both young and old,
Of whom since great Ulysses is no more,
Reign whoso may; but King, myself, I am
In my own house, and over all my own
Domestics, by Ulysses gained for me.
To whom Eurymachus replied, the son
Of Polybus. What Grecian Chief shall reign
In sea-girt Ithaca, must be referr'd
To the Gods' will, Telemachus! meantime
Thou hast unquestionable right to keep
Thy own, and to command in thy own house.
May never that man on her shores arrive,
While an inhabitant shall yet be left
In Ithaca, who shall by violence wrest
Thine from thee. But permit me, noble Sir!
To ask thee of thy guest. Whence came the man?
What country claims him? Where are to be found
His kindred and his patrimonial fields?
Brings he glad tidings of thy Sire's approach
Homeward? or came he to receive a debt
Due to himself? How swift he disappear'd!
Nor opportunity to know him gave
To those who wish'd it; for his face and air
Him speak not of Plebeian birth obscure.
Whom answered thus Telemachus discrete.
Eurymachus! my father comes no more.
I can no longer now tidings believe,
If such arrive; nor he'd I more the song
Of sooth-sayers whom my mother may consult.
But this my guest hath known in other days
My father, and he came from Taphos, son
Of brave Anchialus, Mentes by name,
And Chief of the sea-practis'd Taphian race.
So spake Telemachus, but in his heart
Knew well his guest a Goddess from the skies.
Then they to dance and heart-enlivening song
Turn'd joyous, waiting the approach of eve,
And dusky evening found them joyous still.
Then each, to his own house retiring, sought
Needful repose. Meantime Telemachus
To his own lofty chamber, built in view
Of the wide hall, retired; but with a heart
In various musings occupied intense.
Sage Euryclea, bearing in each hand
A torch, preceded him; her sire was Ops,
Pisenor's son, and, in her early prime,
At his own cost Laertes made her his,
Paying with twenty beeves her purchase-price,
Nor in less honour than his spotless wife
He held her ever, but his consort's wrath
Fearing, at no time call'd her to his bed.
She bore the torches, and with truer heart
Loved him than any of the female train,
For she had nurs'd him in his infant years.
He open'd his broad chamber-valves, and sat
On his couch-side: then putting off his vest
Of softest texture, placed it in the hands
Of the attendant dame discrete, who first
Folding it with exactest care, beside
His bed suspended it, and, going forth,
Drew by its silver ring the portal close,
And fasten'd it with bolt and brace secure.
There lay Telemachus, on finest wool
Reposed, contemplating all night his course
Prescribed by Pallas to the Pylian shore.

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