Translation of: The Odyssey of Homer: Book XVI

A poem by William Cowper


Telemachus dispatches Eumæus to the city to inform Penelope of his safe return from Pylus; during his absence, Ulysses makes himself known to his son. The suitors, having watched for Telemachus in vain, arrive again at Ithaca.

It was the hour of dawn, when in the cot
Kindling fresh fire, Ulysses and his friend
Noble Eumæus dress'd their morning fare,
And sent the herdsmen with the swine abroad.
Seeing Telemachus, the watchful dogs
Bark'd not, but fawn'd around him. At that sight,
And at the sound of feet which now approach'd,
Ulysses in wing'd accents thus remark'd.
Eumæus! certain, either friend of thine
Is nigh at hand, or one whom well thou know'st;
Thy dogs bark not, but fawn on his approach
Obsequious, and the sound of feet I hear.
Scarce had he ceased, when his own son himself
Stood in the vestibule. Upsprang at once
Eumæus wonder-struck, and from his hand
Let fall the cups with which he was employ'd
Mingling rich wine; to his young Lord he ran,
His forehead kiss'd, kiss'd his bright-beaming eyes
And both his hands, weeping profuse the while,
As when a father folds in his embrace
Arrived from foreign lands in the tenth year
His darling son, the offspring of his age,
His only one, for whom he long hath mourn'd,
So kiss'd the noble peasant o'er and o'er
Godlike Telemachus, as from death escaped,
And in wing'd accents plaintive thus began.
Light of my eyes, thou com'st; it is thyself,
Sweetest Telemachus! I had no hope
To see thee more, once told that o'er the Deep
Thou hadst departed for the Pylian coast.
Enter, my precious son; that I may sooth
My soul with sight of thee from far arrived,
For seldom thou thy feeders and thy farm
Visitest, in the city custom'd much
To make abode, that thou may'st witness there
The manners of those hungry suitors proud.
To whom Telemachus, discrete, replied.
It will be so. There is great need, my friend!
But here, for thy sake, have I now arrived,
That I may look on thee, and from thy lips
Learn if my mother still reside at home,
Or have become spouse of some other Chief,
Leaving untenanted Ulysses' bed
To be by noisome spiders webb'd around.
To whom the master swine-herd in return.
Not so, she, patient still as ever, dwells
Beneath thy roof, but all her cheerless days
Despairing wastes, and all her nights in tears.
So saying, Eumæus at his hand received
His brazen lance, and o'er the step of stone
Enter'd Telemachus, to whom his sire
Relinquish'd, soon as he appear'd, his seat,
But him Telemachus forbidding, said--
Guest, keep thy seat; our cottage will afford
Some other, which Eumæus will provide.
He ceased, and he, returning at the word,
Reposed again; then good Eumæus spread
Green twigs beneath, which, cover'd with a fleece,
Supplied Ulysses' offspring with a seat.
He, next, disposed his dishes on the board
With relicts charged of yesterday; with bread,
Alert, he heap'd the baskets; with rich wine
His ivy cup replenish'd; and a seat
Took opposite to his illustrious Lord
Ulysses. They toward the plenteous feast
Stretch'd forth their hands, (and hunger now and thirst
Both satisfied) Telemachus, his speech
Addressing to their gen'rous host, began.
Whence is this guest, my father? How convey'd
Came he to Ithaca? What country boast
The mariners with whom he here arrived?
For, that on foot he found us not, is sure.
To whom Eumæus, thou didst thus reply.
I will with truth answer thee, O my son!
He boasts him sprung from ancestry renown'd
In spacious Crete, and hath the cities seen
Of various lands, by fate ordain'd to roam.
Ev'n now, from a Thesprotian ship escaped,
He reach'd my cottage--but he is thy own;
I yield him to thee; treat him as thou wilt;
He is thy suppliant, and depends on thee.
Then thus, Telemachus, discrete, replied.
Thy words, Eumæus, pain my very soul.
For what security can I afford
To any in my house? myself am young,
Nor yet of strength sufficient to repel
An offer'd insult, and my mother's mind
In doubtful balance hangs, if, still with me
An inmate, she shall manage my concerns,
Attentive only to her absent Lord
And her own good report, or shall espouse
The noblest of her wooers, and the best
Entitled by the splendour of his gifts.
But I will give him, since I find him lodg'd
A guest beneath thy roof, tunic and cloak,
Sword double-edged, and sandals for his feet,
With convoy to the country of his choice.
Still, if it please thee, keep him here thy guest,
And I will send him raiment, with supplies
Of all sorts, lest he burthen thee and thine.
But where the suitors come, there shall not he
With my consent, nor stand exposed to pride
And petulance like theirs, lest by some sneer
They wound him, and through him, wound also me;
For little is it that the boldest can
Against so many; numbers will prevail.
Him answer'd then Ulysses toil-inured.
Oh amiable and good! since even I
Am free to answer thee, I will avow
My heart within me torn by what I hear
Of those injurious suitors, who the house
Infest of one noble as thou appear'st.
But say--submittest thou to their controul
Willingly, or because the people, sway'd
By some response oracular, incline
Against thee? Thou hast brothers, it may chance,
Slow to assist thee--for a brother's aid
Is of importance in whatever cause.
For oh that I had youth as I have will,
Or that renown'd Ulysses were my sire,
Or that himself might wander home again.
Whereof hope yet remains! then might I lose
My head, that moment, by an alien's hand,
If I would fail, ent'ring Ulysses' gate,
To be the bane and mischief of them all.
But if alone to multitudes opposed
I should perchance be foiled; nobler it were
With my own people, under my own roof
To perish, than to witness evermore
Their unexampled deeds, guests shoved aside,
Maidens dragg'd forcibly from room to room,
Casks emptied of their rich contents, and them
Indulging glutt'nous appetite day by day
Enormous, without measure, without end.
To whom, Telemachus, discrete, replied.
Stranger! thy questions shall from me receive
True answer. Enmity or hatred none
Subsists the people and myself between,
Nor have I brothers to accuse, whose aid
Is of importance in whatever cause,
For Jove hath from of old with single heirs
Our house supplied; Arcesias none begat
Except Laertes, and Laertes none
Except Ulysses, and Ulysses me
Left here his only one, and unenjoy'd.
Thence comes it that our palace swarms with foes;
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 destroy me also soon,
As I expect, but heav'n disposes all.
Eumæus! haste, my father! bear with speed
News to Penelope that I am safe,
And have arrived from Pylus; I will wait
Till thou return; and well beware that none
Hear thee beside, for I have many foes.
To whom Eumæus, thou didst thus reply.
It is enough. I understand. Thou speak'st
To one intelligent. But say beside,
Shall I not also, as I go, inform
Distress'd Laertes? who while yet he mourn'd
Ulysses only, could o'ersee the works,
And dieted among his menials oft
As hunger prompted him, but now, they say,
Since thy departure to the Pylian shore,
He neither eats as he was wont, nor drinks,
Nor oversees his hinds, but sighing sits
And weeping, wasted even to the bone.
Him then Telemachus answer'd discrete.
Hard though it be, yet to his tears and sighs
Him leave we now. We cannot what we would.
For, were the ordering of all events
Referr'd to our own choice, our first desire
Should be to see my father's glad return.
But once thy tidings told, wander not thou
In quest of Him, but hither speed again.
Rather request my mother that she send
Her household's governess without delay
Privately to him; she shall best inform
The ancient King that I have safe arrived.
He said, and urged him forth, who binding on
His sandals, to the city bent his way.
Nor went Eumæus from his home unmark'd
By Pallas, who in semblance of a fair
Damsel, accomplish'd in domestic arts,
Approaching to the cottage' entrance, stood
Opposite, by Ulysses plain discern'd,
But to his son invisible; for the Gods
Appear not manifest alike to all.
The mastiffs saw her also, and with tone
Querulous hid themselves, yet bark'd they not.
She beckon'd him abroad. Ulysses saw
The sign, and, issuing through the outer court,
Approach'd her, whom the Goddess thus bespake.
Laertes' progeny, for wiles renown'd!
Disclose thyself to thy own son, that, death
Concerting and destruction to your foes,
Ye may the royal city seek, nor long
Shall ye my presence there desire in vain,
For I am ardent to begin the fight.
Minerva spake, and with her rod of gold
Touch'd him; his mantle, first, and vest she made
Pure as new-blanch'd; dilating, next, his form,
She gave dimensions ampler to his limbs;
Swarthy again his manly hue became,
Round his full face, and black his bushy chin.
The change perform'd, Minerva disappear'd,
And the illustrious Hero turn'd again
Into the cottage; wonder at that sight
Seiz'd on Telemachus; askance he look'd,
Awe-struck, not unsuspicious of a God,
And in wing'd accents eager thus began.
Thou art no longer, whom I lately saw,
Nor are thy cloaths, nor is thy port the same.
Thou art a God, I know, and dwell'st in heav'n.
Oh, smile on us, that we may yield thee rites
Acceptable, and present thee golden gifts
Elaborate; ah spare us, Pow'r divine!
To whom Ulysses, Hero toil-inured.
I am no God. Why deem'st thou me divine?
I am thy father, for whose sake thou lead'st
A life of woe, by violence oppress'd.
So saying, he kiss'd his son, while from his cheeks
Tears trickled, tears till then, perforce restrained.
Telemachus, (for he believed him not
His father yet) thus, wond'ring, spake again.
My father, said'st thou? no. Thou art not He,
But some Divinity beguiles my soul
With mock'ries to afflict me still the more;
For never mortal man could so have wrought
By his own pow'r; some interposing God
Alone could render thee both young and old,
For old thou wast of late, and foully clad,
But wear'st the semblance, now, of those in heav'n!
To whom Ulysses, ever-wise, replied.
Telemachus! it is not well, my son!
That thou should'st greet thy father with a face
Of wild astonishment, and stand aghast.
Ulysses, save myself, none comes, be sure.
Such as thou seest, after ten thousand woes
Which I have borne, I visit once again
My native country in the twentieth year.
This wonder Athenæan Pallas wrought,
She cloath'd me even with what form she would,
For so she can. Now poor I seem and old,
Now young again, and clad in fresh attire.
The Gods who dwell in yonder heav'n, with ease
Dignify or debase a mortal man.
So saying, he sat. Then threw Telemachus
His arms around his father's neck, and wept.
Desire intense of lamentation seized
On both; soft murmurs utt'ring, each indulged
His grief, more frequent wailing than the bird,
(Eagle, or hook-nail'd vulture) from whose nest
Some swain hath stol'n her yet unfeather'd young.
So from their eyelids they big drops distill'd
Of tend'rest grief, nor had the setting sun
Cessation of their weeping seen, had not
Telemachus his father thus address'd.
What ship convey'd thee to thy native shore,
My father! and what country boast the crew?
For, that on foot thou not arriv'dst, is sure.
Then thus divine Ulysses toil-inured.
My son! I will explicit all relate.
Conducted by Phæacia's maritime sons
I came, a race accustom'd to convey
Strangers who visit them across the Deep.
Me, o'er the billows in a rapid bark
Borne sleeping, on the shores of Ithaca
They lay'd; rich gifts they gave me also, brass,
Gold in full bags, and beautiful attire,
Which, warn'd from heav'n, I have in caves conceal'd.
By Pallas prompted, hither I repair'd
That we might plan the slaughter of our foes,
Whose numbers tell me now, that I may know
How pow'rful, certainly, and who they are,
And consultation with my dauntless heart
May hold, if we be able to contend
Ourselves with all, or must have aid beside.
Then, answer thus his son, discrete, return'd.
My father! thy renown hath ever rung
In thy son's ears, and by report thy force
In arms, and wisdom I have oft been told.
But terribly thou speak'st; amazement-fixt
I hear; can two a multitude oppose,
And valiant warriors all? for neither ten
Are they, nor twenty, but more num'rous far.
Learn, now, their numbers. Fifty youths and two
Came from Dulichium; they are chosen men,
And six attendants follow in their train;
From Samos twenty youths and four arrive,
Zacynthus also of Achaia's sons
Sends twenty more, and our own island adds,
Herself, her twelve chief rulers; Medon, too,
Is there the herald, and the bard divine,
With other two, intendants of the board.
Should we within the palace, we alone,
Assail them all, I fear lest thy revenge
Unpleasant to thyself and deadly prove,
Frustrating thy return. But recollect--
Think, if thou canst, on whose confed'rate arm
Strenuous on our behalf we may rely.
To him replied his patient father bold.
I will inform thee. Mark. Weigh well my words.
Will Pallas and the everlasting Sire
Alone suffice? or need we other aids?
Then answer thus Telemachus return'd.
Good friends indeed are they whom thou hast named,
Though throned above the clouds; for their controul
Is universal both in earth and heav'n.
To whom Ulysses, toil-worn Chief renown'd.
Not long will they from battle stand aloof,
When once, within my palace, in the strength
Of Mars, to sharp decision we shall urge
The suitors. But thyself at early dawn
Our mansion seek, that thou may'st mingle there
With that imperious throng; me in due time
Eumæus to the city shall conduct,
In form a miserable beggar old.
But should they with dishonourable scorn
Insult me, thou unmov'd my wrongs endure,
And should they even drag me by the feet
Abroad, or smite me with the spear, thy wrath
Refraining, gently counsel them to cease
From such extravagance; but well I know
That cease they will not, for their hour is come.
And mark me well; treasure what now I say
Deep in thy soul. When Pallas shall, herself,
Suggest the measure, then, shaking my brows,
I will admonish thee; thou, at the sign,
Remove what arms soever in the hall
Remain, and in the upper palace safe
Dispose them; should the suitors, missing them,
Perchance interrogate thee, then reply
Gently--I have removed them from the smoke;
For they appear no more the arms which erst
Ulysses, going hence to Ilium, left,
But smirch'd and sullied by the breath of fire.
This weightier reason (thou shalt also say)
Jove taught me; lest, intoxicate with wine,
Ye should assault each other in your brawls,
Shaming both feast and courtship; for the view
Itself of arms incites to their abuse.
Yet leave two faulchions for ourselves alone,
Two spears, two bucklers, which with sudden force
Impetuous we will seize, and Jove all-wise
Their valour shall, and Pallas, steal away.
This word store also in remembrance deep--
If mine in truth thou art, and of my blood,
Then, of Ulysses to his home returned
Let none hear news from thee, no, not my sire
Laertes, nor Eumæus, nor of all
The menials any, or ev'n Penelope,
That thou and I, alone, may search the drift
Of our domestic women, and may prove
Our serving-men, who honours and reveres
And who contemns us both, but chiefly thee
So gracious and so worthy to be loved.
Him then thus answer'd his illustrious son.
Trust me, my father! thou shalt soon be taught
That I am not of drowsy mind obtuse.
But this I think not likely to avail
Or thee or me; ponder it yet again;
For tedious were the task, farm after farm
To visit of those servants, proving each,
And the proud suitors merciless devour
Meantime thy substance, nor abstain from aught.
Learn, if thou wilt, (and I that course myself
Advise) who slights thee of the female train,
And who is guiltless; but I would not try
From house to house the men, far better proved
Hereafter, if in truth by signs from heav'n
Inform'd, thou hast been taught the will of Jove.
Thus they conferr'd. The gallant bark, meantime,
Reach'd Ithaca, which from the Pylian shore
Had brought Telemachus with all his band.
Within the many-fathom'd port arrived
His lusty followers haled her far aground,
Then carried thence their arms, but to the house
Of Clytius the illustrious gifts convey'd.
Next to the royal mansion they dispatch'd
An herald charg'd with tidings to the Queen,
That her Telemachus had reach'd the cot
Of good Eumæus, and the bark had sent
Home to the city; lest the matchless dame
Should still deplore the absence of her son.
They, then, the herald and the swine-herd, each
Bearing like message to his mistress, met,
And at the palace of the godlike Chief
Arriving, compass'd by the female throng
Inquisitive, the herald thus began.
Thy son, O Queen! is safe; ev'n now return'd.
Then, drawing nigh to her, Eumæus told
His message also from her son received,
And, his commission punctually discharged,
Leaving the palace, sought his home again.
Grief seized and anguish, at those tidings, all
The suitors; issuing forth, on the outside
Of the high wall they sat, before the gate,
When Polybus' son, Eurymachus, began.
My friends! his arduous task, this voyage, deem'd
By us impossible, in our despight
Telemachus hath atchieved. Haste! launch we forth
A sable bark, our best, which let us man
With mariners expert, who, rowing forth
Swiftly, shall summon our companions home.
Scarce had he said, when turning where he sat,
Amphinomus beheld a bark arrived
Just then in port; he saw them furling sail,
And seated with their oars in hand; he laugh'd
Through pleasure at that sight, and thus he spake.
Our message may be spared. Lo! they arrive.
Either some God inform'd them, or they saw,
Themselves, the vessel of Telemachus
Too swiftly passing to be reach'd by theirs.
He spake; they, rising, hasted to the shore.
Alert they drew the sable bark aground,
And by his servant each his arms dispatch'd
To his own home. Then, all, to council those
Assembling, neither elder of the land
Nor youth allow'd to join them, and the rest
Eupithes' son, Antinoüs, thus bespake.
Ah! how the Gods have rescued him! all day
Perch'd on the airy mountain-top, our spies
Successive watch'd; and, when the sun declined,
We never slept on shore, but all night long
Till sacred dawn arose, plow'd the abyss,
Hoping Telemachus, that we might seize
And slay him, whom some Deity hath led,
In our despight, safe to his home again.
But frame we yet again means to destroy
Telemachus; ah--let not Him escape!
For end of this our task, while he survives,
None shall be found, such prudence he displays
And wisdom, neither are the people now
Unanimous our friends as heretofore.
Come, then--prevent him, ere he call the Greeks
To council; for he will not long delay,
But will be angry, doubtless, and will tell
Amid them all, how we in vain devised
His death, a deed which they will scarce applaud,
But will, perhaps, punish and drive us forth
From our own country to a distant land.--
Prevent him, therefore, quickly; in the field
Slay him, or on the road; so shall his wealth
And his possessions on ourselves devolve
Which we will share equally, but his house
Shall be the Queen's, and his whom she shall wed.
Yet, if not so inclined, ye rather chuse
That he should live and occupy entire
His patrimony, then, no longer, here
Assembled, let us revel at his cost,
But let us all with spousal gifts produced
From our respective treasures, woo the Queen,
Leaving her in full freedom to espouse
Who proffers most, and whom the fates ordain.
He ceased; the assembly silent sat and mute.
Then rose Amphinomus amid them all,
Offspring renown'd of Nisus, son, himself,
Of King Aretias. He had thither led
The suitor train who from the pleasant isle
Corn-clad of green Dulichium had arrived,
And by his speech pleased far beyond them all
Penelope, for he was just and wise,
And thus, well-counselling the rest, began.
Not I, my friends! far be the thought from me
To slay Telemachus! it were a deed
Momentous, terrible, to slay a prince.
First, therefore, let us counsel ask of heav'n,
And if Jove's oracle that course approve,
I will encourage you, and will myself
Be active in his death; but if the Gods
Forbid it, then, by my advice, forbear.
So spake Amphinomus, whom all approved.
Arising then, into Ulysses' house
They went, where each his splendid seat resumed.
A novel purpose occupied, meantime,
Penelope; she purposed to appear
Before her suitors, whose design to slay
Telemachus she had from Medon learn'd,
The herald, for his ear had caught the sound.
Toward the hall with her attendant train
She moved, and when, most graceful of her sex,
Where sat the suitors she arrived, between
The columns standing of the stately dome,
And covering with her white veil's lucid folds
Her features, to Antinoüs thus she spake.
Antinoüs, proud, contentious, evermore
To mischief prone! the people deem thee wise
Past thy compeers, and in all grace of speech
Pre-eminent, but such wast never thou.
Inhuman! why is it thy dark design
To slay Telemachus? and why with scorn
Rejectest thou the suppliant's pray'r,[72] which Jove
Himself hath witness'd? Plots please not the Gods.
Know'st not that thy own father refuge found
Here, when he fled before the people's wrath
Whom he had irritated by a wrong
Which, with a band of Taphian robbers joined,
He offer'd to the Thesprots, our allies?
They would have torn his heart, and would have laid
All his delights and his possessions waste,
But my Ulysses slaked the furious heat
Of their revenge, whom thou requitest now
Wasting his goods, soliciting his wife,
Slaying his son, and filling me with woe.
But cease, I charge thee, and bid cease the rest.
To whom the son of Polybus replied,
Eurymachus.--Icarius' daughter wise!
Take courage, fair Penelope, and chace
These fears unreasonable from thy mind!
The man lives not, nor shall, who while I live,
And faculty of sight retain, shall harm
Telemachus, thy son. For thus I say,
And thus will I perform; his blood shall stream
A sable current from my lance's point
That moment; for the city-waster Chief
Ulysses, oft, me placing on his knees,
Hath fill'd my infant grasp with sav'ry food,
And giv'n me ruddy wine. I, therefore, hold
Telemachus of all men most my friend,
Nor hath he death to fear from hand of ours.
Yet, if the Gods shall doom him, die he must.
So he encouraged her, who yet, himself,
Plotted his death. She, re-ascending, sought
Her stately chamber, and, arriving there,
Deplored with tears her long-regretted Lord
Till Athenæan Pallas azure-eyed
Dews of soft slumber o'er her lids diffused.
And now, at even-tide, Eumæus reach'd
Ulysses and his son. A yearling swine
Just slain they skilfully for food prepared,
When Pallas, drawing nigh, smote with her wand
Ulysses, at the stroke rend'ring him old,
And his apparel sordid as before,
Lest, knowing him, the swain at once should seek
Penelope, and let the secret forth.
Then foremost him Telemachus address'd.
Noble Eumæus! thou art come; what news
Bring'st from the city? Have the warrior band
Of suitors, hopeless of their ambush, reach'd
The port again, or wait they still for me?
To whom Eumæus, thou didst thus reply.
No time for such enquiry, nor to range,
Curious, the streets had I, but anxious wish'd
To make my message known, and to return.
But, as it chanced, a nimble herald sent
From thy companions, met me on the way,
Who reach'd thy mother first. Yet this I know,
For this I saw. Passing above the town
Where they have piled a way-side hill of stones
To Mercury, I beheld a gallant bark
Ent'ring the port; a bark she was of ours,
The crew were num'rous, and I mark'd her deep-
Laden with shields and spears of double edge.
Theirs I conjectured her, and could no more.
He spake, and by Eumæus unperceived,
Telemachus his father eyed and smiled.
Their task accomplish'd, and the table spread,
They ate, nor any his due portion miss'd,
And hunger, now, and thirst both sated, all
To rest repair'd, and took the gift of sleep.

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