Jump to Content

Main Text

pg 409book 23. Husband and Wife Book 23

  • 1The old woman went into the upper chamber, laughing loudly,
  • 2to tell her mistress that her dear husband was within the house.
  • 3Her knees were nimble, and her feet were swift beneath her.
  • 4    She stood over the head of Penelope and said: "Wake up,
  • 5Penelope, my child, so that you might see with your own eyes
  • 6that which you have hoped for every day! Odysseus has come
  • 7and reached his home, though returning late. He has killed
  • 8the proud suitors who plundered his house and ate his animals
  • 9and threatened his child with violence."
  • Then the judicious Penelope
  • 10answered her: "My dear nurse, the gods have made you mad,
  • 11for they can easily remove one's wits even if you are highly sensible,
  • 12even as they can put the simple-minded on the road to understanding.
  • 13It is they who have harmed your wits, although you were of sound
  • 14mind before. They have struck you. Before you were temperate
  • 15in your heart. And why do you mock me, who have a heart full
  • 16of sorrow, by telling me this wild tale and rousing me from a sweet
  • 17sleep that has covered over and bound my eyes? For I have never
  • 18slept better than this, ever since Odysseus went off to see that
  • 19cursed Ilion, a place not to be named.
  • "But come, go back downstairs
  • 20to the women's quarters. If any other of the women who attend
  • 21me had come to me and told me this story and waked me up
  • 22from sleep, I would quickly have sent her back with much
  • 23ill-feeling to the women's quarters. But in this you shall profit
  • 24from your old age."
  • Then the dear nurse Eurykleia answered her:
  • 25"I do not mock you, my child, but truly Odysseus has come
  • 26and arrived at his home just as I say—the stranger whom everyone
  • 27despised in his halls. Telemachos knew long ago that he was
  • 28in the house, but in his wisdom he hid his father's purpose until
  • 29Odysseus could take revenge on the violence of the haughty men."
  • pg 41030    So Eurykleia spoke, and Penelope was thrilled, and she leaped
  • 31from the bed and embraced the old lady, and she poured down tears
  • 32from her eyelids and spoke words that went like arrows: "But come,
  • 33tell me truly, dear nurse, if he has really come home, as you say, how
  • 34he was able to put his hands on the shameless suitors, being alone
  • 35when they were always inside in a crowd?"
  • The dear nurse Eurykleia
  • 36then answered: "I didn't see it, and I do not know—only I heard
  • 37a groaning of them as they died. We women were sitting
  • 38in the innermost part of our well-built chambers, terrified,
  • 39and the well-fitting doors shut us in until your son Telemachos
  • 40called me to come forth from the women's quarters. For his father
  • 41had ordered him to summon me. Then I found Odysseus standing
  • 42in the midst of the corpses of the dead. They lay around him,
  • 43covering the hard-packed ground, and they lay on top of one another.
  • 44It would warm your heart to see it! Now they are all gathered
  • 45together near the gates to the court, and your husband is cleansing
  • 46the beautiful house with sulfur, and he has kindled a great fire.
  • 47Odysseus ordered me to fetch you. Do follow along, so that the two
  • 48of you can enter into joy, for you have suffered many evils.
  • 49Now at last has your longtime hope come to pass. Your husband
  • 50has come home alive, he has found you and his son in the halls.
  • 51As for the suitors who did him dirt, he has taken vengeance
  • 52on them, one and all, in his house."
  • The judicious Penelope answered her:
  • 53"Dear nurse, do not boast loudly over them, laughing. You know
  • 54how welcome Odysseus would appear to everyone in the halls,
  • 55and especially to me and my son, whom the two of us bore.
  • 56But this story cannot be true as you tell it. Perhaps one of the gods
  • 57killed the bold suitors, paying them back for their infuriating
  • 58violence and their evil deeds. They would not respect anyone
  • 59of men who walk on the earth, neither good nor bad, whoever
  • 60should come to them. Therefore they have suffered evil for their
  • 61folly . . . but Odysseus has lost his homecoming, far away from
  • 62the land of Achaea, and he himself has perished."
  • The dear nurse
  • 63Eurykleia then answered her: "My child, what a word has escaped
  • 64the barrier of your teeth! That your husband, who is inside the house
  • 65beside the hearth, would never come home! Your mind is always
  • 66unbelieving! But come and I will tell you another clear sign—
  • 67the scar that once a boar etched in with his white tusk—I recognized

pg 411

 
FIGURE 23.1 Melian relief with Penelope and Eurykleia. The mourning Penelope sits in a traditional pose with her hand to her forehead and her legs crossed. Her head is veiled. Here she stares gloomily downwards, seated on a padded stool beneath which is a basket for yarn, while the ancient Eurykleia, her head veiled, her fist clenched, tries to persuade her that her husband has returned. The purpose of these terracotta reliefs, found in different parts of the Roman world, is unclear. Roman Relief, first century ad.

 

FIGURE 23.1 Melian relief with Penelope and Eurykleia. The mourning Penelope sits in a traditional pose with her hand to her forehead and her legs crossed. Her head is veiled. Here she stares gloomily downwards, seated on a padded stool beneath which is a basket for yarn, while the ancient Eurykleia, her head veiled, her fist clenched, tries to persuade her that her husband has returned. The purpose of these terracotta reliefs, found in different parts of the Roman world, is unclear. Roman Relief, first century ad.

  • pg 41268it when I was washing him. I wanted to tell you, but he laid
  • 69his hands on my mouth and in the great wisdom of his heart
  • 70would not let me speak. But come! I will put my life at stake
  • 71if I am deceiving you, so that you can kill me with a pitiable death!"
  • 72    Then the judicious Penelope answered her: "Dear nurse, it is
  • 73hard for you to understand the counsel of the gods who last forever,
  • 74no matter how wise you may be. But all the same, let us go to
  • 75my son, so that I can see the dead suitors, and see who killed them."
  • 76    So speaking, she descended from the upper chamber. And her mind
  • 77rushed this way and that, whether she should interrogate her husband
  • 78from a distance, or whether she should stand beside him and kiss
  • 79his head and take hold of his hands. And when Penelope went into
  • 80the chamber and crossed the stone threshold, she took her seat
  • 81opposite Odysseus in the glare of the fire against the farther wall.
  • 82He sat down against a tall pillar, looking down, waiting to see
  • 83if his excellent wife would say something when she saw him with
  • 84her own eyes.
  • She sat in silence for a long time, and amazement came
  • 85upon her heart. Now she would look in full gaze at his face, now she
  • 86would fail to recognize him because of the foul clothing that he wore.
  • 87    Telemachos reproached his mother and spoke and called her out:
  • 88"Mother of mine—cruel mother! With an unfeeling heart! Why do
  • 89you stay apart from my father and not sit by his side and exchange
  • 90words with him and converse? No other woman would so harden
  • 91her heart and stand apart from her husband who after suffering many
  • 92pains came on the twentieth year again to the land of his fathers.
  • 93Your heart is always harder than a stone!"
  • Then the judicious Penelope
  • 94answered him: "My child, the heart in my breast is amazed,
  • 95and I cannot say a word, neither to ask a question nor to look him
  • 96in the face. If this truly is Odysseus, and he has come home,
  • 97surely we will know each other even better. For we have special
  • 98signs that we two alone know, kept secret from others."
  • 99    So he spoke, and the much-enduring good Odysseus smiled,°
  • 100and quickly he spoke to Telemachos words that went like arrows:
  • 101"Well, Telemachos, let your mother put me to the test in the halls.
  • pg 413102Then she will soon know all the better. For now, she scorns me
  • 103because I am filthy. I have evil clothes about my flesh, and she does
  • 104not think that I am he. But as far as we ourselves are concerned,
  • 105let us consider what will be the best course. If someone kills
  • 106one man in the land, even one who has few supporters left behind,
  • 107he still flees, leaving his family and the land of his fathers.
  • 108But we have killed the cream of the city, those who were the best
  • 109young men in Ithaca. I think we should think about this."
  • 110    The shrewd Telemachos said in reply: "You yourself should
  • 111look to this, dear father. For they say that your counsel is the best
  • 112among men and that not any other of mortal men could contend with you.
  • 113As for ourselves, we will follow you eagerly, and I don't think
  • 114that we will be lacking in bravery, as far as our strength permits."
  • 115    Then the resourceful Odysseus said in reply: "I will tell you
  • 116what seems to me to be the best plan. First of all, wash yourselves
  • 117off and put on clean shirts, and order the female slaves in the halls
  • 118to put on clean clothes too. Then have the divine singer with his
  • 119clear-toned lyre lead a merry dance for us, so that someone coming
  • 120along and hearing the sound will think that a wedding feast
  • 121is going on, either someone going along the road or someone
  • 122who lives nearby. I don't want news of the death of the suitors
  • 123to get out through the broad city before we ourselves can go out
  • 124to our well-wooded farm.° There we can take thought about
  • 125what advantage the Olympian places in our hands."
  • So he spoke,
  • 126and they heard and obeyed him. First they washed themselves
  • 127and put on clean shirts that the women provided. Then the divine
  • 128singer took up his hollow lyre and roused in them the desire
  • 129for sweet song and the noble dance. The great hall resounded
  • 130all about the feet of the men and women with beautiful waists
  • 131as they danced. And thus someone who heard the hoopla from
  • 132outside the house would say: "Looks like someone has married
  • 133the much-courted lady—cruel woman! She did not have the daring
  • 134to preserve the great house of her wedded husband to the end,
  • 135until he returned."
  • Thus would one say when they did not know what
  • 136had happened. Then Eurynomê, the housekeeper, bathed great-hearted
  • pg 414137Odysseus in his house and anointed him with olive oil, and she threw
  • 138around him a cloak and a shirt. Then Athena poured out abundant
  • 139beauty, making him taller to see and more robust. And from
  • 140his head she made locks to curl down like the hyacinth flower.
  • 141As when a man overlays silver with gold, a man whom Hephaistos
  • 142and Pallas Athena have taught every kind of craft, and he fashions
  • 143lovely works—even so did Athena pour out grace on Odysseus' head
  • 144and shoulders.
  • He emerged from the bath like in appearance to
  • 145the deathless ones. He sat back down in the chair from which he had
  • 146arisen, directly opposite his wife, and he said to her: "You are
  • 147a strange woman! To you beyond all women those who live
  • 148in Olympos have given a heart that cannot be softened. For no other
  • 149woman would dare to stand apart from her husband, who after
  • 150suffering many sorrows came to her in the twentieth year in the land
  • 151of his fathers. But come, nurse, prepare a bed for me so that I can get
  • 152some rest. Her heart—it is like iron!"
  • The judicious Penelope then spoke
  • 153to him: "Well, you are a strange man. I am not acting proudly,
  • 154nor do I make light of you, nor am I so amazed,° but I know well
  • 155that you looked the same then, when you left Ithaca, traveling in your
  • 156long-oared ship. But come, make up the stout bedstead for him,
  • 157Eurykleia, and put it outside the well-built chamber that Odysseus
  • 158himself built. Set up the stout bedstead there and put bedding on it,
  • 159fleeces and cloaks and bright blankets."
  • So she spoke, putting her husband
  • 160to the test. But Odysseus, bursting with anger, spoke to his sensible
  • 161wife: "Woman—truly you have uttered a grievous word! Who has
  • 162moved my bed elsewhere? That would be hard to do even for one
  • 163highly skilled, unless some god should come down himself
  • 164and easily will it to be in another place. But no living man, no matter
  • 165how young and strong, could easily have moved it, for a great
  • 166sign is built into the decorated bed. I made it, and no one else.
  • 167    "There was a bush of long-leafed olive growing inside my
  • 168compound, flourishing and vigorous. It had the thickness of a column.
  • 169I built my chamber around the olive, working on it until it was done,
  • 170making the walls of close-set stones, and I fitted a roof overhead,
  • pg 415171and I installed joined doors, close-fitting. Then I cut off the leafy
  • 172branches of the long-leafed olive and, trimming the trunk up
  • 173from the root, I skillfully polished it with a bronze adze.
  • 174I made it straight to the line, thus making the bedpost.
  • 175I bored it all with the augur.° Beginning from this I worked
  • 176everything smooth until it was done, inlaying it with gold
  • 177and silver and ivory. And I stretched ox-hide cords, stained red.
  • 178    "Thus I tell to you a sign. But I do not know at all, woman,
  • 179whether my bedstead is still in place, or whether someone
  • 180has cut from beneath the trunk of the olive and set the bedstead
  • 181someplace else."
  • So he spoke, and he loosened her knees
  • 182and melted her heart, for she recognized the sure signs that
  • 183Odysseus had told her. Weeping, she ran straight toward him
  • 184and threw her arms around the neck of Odysseus and she kissed
  • 185his head and said: "Don't be angry with me, O Odysseus,
  • 186for in all other things you were the wisest of men. It is the gods
  • 187who gave us this sorrow, who didn't want us to enjoy our youth
  • 188together and come to the threshold of old age. So do not be angry
  • 189with me for this, nor resent me, because I did not welcome you
  • 190when I first saw you. Always the heart in my breast was filled
  • 191with shivering that someone should come and deceive me
  • 192with his words. For there are many who devise evil things.
  • 193    "No, not even Argive Helen, the daughter of Zeus, would have
  • 194lain in love with a man from another people if she had known
  • 195that the warlike sons of the Achaeans would bring her home again
  • 196to the dear land of her fathers. It must be some god that prompted her
  • 197to that shameful act. For she did realize in her mind the dread
  • 198blindness° from which, at the first, the sorrow came to us too.
  • 199    "But now, because you have told the clear signs of our bed,
  • 200which no other mortal but one has seen—you and I and our
  • 201attendant, the daughter of Aktor,° whom my father gave me
  • 202at the time I came here, who guarded the doors of our strong bridal
  • 203chamber. So you have persuaded me, though I am hard of heart."
  • pg 416204    So she spoke, and she stirred in Odysseus still more
  • 205the urge to weep, and he cried, holding his beloved wife in his arms,
  • 206she who was true of heart. As welcome as the land appears
  • 207to swimmers, whose well-built ship Poseidon has smashed on the sea
  • 208as it was driven on by wind and rough waves—few escape
  • 209the gray sea by swimming to the mainland, and a thick crust of brine
  • 210has formed around their flesh, and gladly have they gone forth
  • 211onto the land, fleeing evil—even so was her husband welcome
  • 212to Penelope as she looked upon him, and she would not let loose
  • 213her white arms from his neck.
  • And Dawn with her fingers of rose
  • 214would have appeared as they still lamented if flashing-eyed Athena
  • 215did not have another thought. She held back the night at the end
  • 216of its course so that it was long, and she stayed golden-throned
  • 217Dawn at the streams of Ocean, and she would not allow Dawn
  • 218to yoke her swift horses Lampos and Phaëthon,° which are the colts
  • 219that draw her car, that bring light to men.
  • And then the resourceful
  • 220Odysseus addressed his wife: "Wife, we have not yet come
  • 221to the end of our trials. There is still measureless labor ahead of us,
  • 222long and hard, that I must see through to the end. For thus did
  • 223the breath-soul of Tiresias prophesy to me on that day when
  • 224I went down into the house of Hades to learn of the homecoming
  • 225for my companions and myself. But come, let us go to our bed,
  • 226woman, so we might take pleasure in sweet sleep."
  • The judicious
  • 227Penelope then answered him: "We can go to bed any time you
  • 228want, for the gods have brought it about that you have come back
  • 229to your well-built house and the land of your fathers. But because
  • 230you have thought of this, and a god has put it into your heart—
  • 231come, tell me what is this trial. In time to come, as I think,
  • 232I will learn of it. To know it at once is not a worse thing."
  • 233    The resourceful Odysseus then said in reply: "Strange woman!
  • 234Why do you insist that I talk of such things? Alright, I will tell you,
  • 235and I will hide nothing. You won't be happy about it, nor am I
  • 236myself happy about it.
  • pg 417"Tiresias advised me to go forth through
  • 237the many cities of men, holding in my hands a well-fitted oar,
  • 238until I come to people who do not know what the sea is,
  • 239nor do they eat food mixed with salt, nor do they know of ships
  • 240with painted red cheeks, nor of well-fitted oars that are the wings
  • 241of ships. He gave this very clear sign to me, and I will not
  • 242conceal it. When another traveler, coming upon me, should say
  • 243that I have a winnowing-fan on my strong shoulder, then
  • 244he ordered that I fix the oar in the earth and perform holy sacrifices
  • 245to King Poseidon—a ram and a bull and a boar that mates
  • 246with sows—then go home and perform holy sacrifices
  • 247to the deathless gods who inhabit the broad sky, to all of them,
  • 248one after the other.
  • "And Tiresias said that a gentle death would
  • 249come to me from the sea,° which will kill me when I am
  • 250overcome in a vigorous old age. And around me all the people
  • 251will be prosperous. Tiresias said that all this would come to pass."
  • 252    The judicious Penelope then answered him: "If the gods
  • 253are going to bring about a better old age, there is hope that
  • 254you will find an escape from evil."
  • Thus they spoke such things
  • 255to one another. In the meanwhile Eurynomê and Eurykleia
  • 256prepared the bed of soft covers by the light of blazing torches.
  • 257When they had busily made the stout bed, the old nurse went
  • 258back to her chamber to lie down, and Eurynomê, the lady
  • 259of the bedchamber, led Odysseus and Penelope on their way
  • 260to the bed, holding a torch in her hands. After she had led them
  • 261to the bedchamber, she withdrew. The couple gladly came to the place
  • 262of their ancient marriage bed.
  • In the meanwhile, Telemachos
  • 263and the cow herder and the pig herder stopped their feet
  • 264from the dance, and they stopped the women, and they themselves
  • 265went to bed in the shadowy halls.
  • pg 418But when Odysseus and Penelope
  • 266had had their fill of the joy of love-making, they entertained
  • 267one another by telling tales to one another. She, a goddess
  • 268among women, told of all the things she endured in the halls,
  • 269beholding the destructive crowd of the suitors who on her account
  • 270butchered many animals, both cattle and fat sheep, and a huge
  • 271amount of wine was drawn from the jars. And Odysseus recounted
  • 272all the agonies that he had brought on men, and all the labor that
  • 273he himself in sorrow had to endure. She took pleasure in hearing him,
  • 274nor did sleep fall on her eyelids before he had told her all.
  • 275    He began by telling her how he overcame the Kikones,
  • 276then came to the rich land of the Lotus Eaters. And all that
  • 277Cyclops did, and how he took revenge for his strong companions
  • 278whom Cyclops ate, whom Cyclops did not pity. And how he came
  • 279to the island of Aiolos, who received him openly and sent them
  • 280on their way. But it was not his fate to come to the dear land
  • 281of his fathers just yet, for a storm wind snatched him up and carried
  • 282Odysseus on the fishy sea, groaning deeply.
  • And how he came
  • 283to Telepylos, the town of the Laestrygonians, who destroyed his ships
  • 284and killed his companions who wore fancy shin guards, one and all.
  • 285Odysseus alone escaped in his black ship. And he told about the trickery
  • 286and craftiness of Kirkê, and how he came in his benched ship
  • 287to the dank house of Hades to make inquiry of the breath-soul
  • 288of Theban Tiresias, and he saw all his comrades and his mother,
  • 289she who gave him birth and raised him when he was small.
  • 290    And how he heard the voices of the Sirens, who sing without
  • 291cease, and how he came to the Planktai° and dread Charybdis
  • 292and Skylla, from whom no other men ever escaped unharmed.
  • 293And how his companions killed the cattle of Helios and how Zeus
  • 294who thunders on high hit his swift ship with a fiery thunderbolt,
  • 295and his noble companions died every one. Only he alone escaped
  • 296the black fates.
  • And how he arrived to the island of Ogygia
  • 297and the nymph Kalypso, who kept him in her hollow caves,
  • 298and wanted him to be her husband, and nourished him and said
  • pg 419299that she would make him immortal and ageless for all his days.
  • 300But she did not persuade the spirit in his breast.
  • Then he came
  • 301to the Phaeacians, as he suffered terribly, who heartily honored him
  • 302as if he were a god, and sent him on his way in a black ship
  • 303to the land of his fathers, after giving him a mass of bronze
  • 304and gold and fine cloth.
  • This was the last thing he said before
  • 305sweet sleep, the looser of care, settled upon him, loosening
  • 306the cares of his heart. But flashing-eyed Athena had another thought.
  • 307When she judged that Odysseus had taken sufficient pleasure
  • 308from mingling with his wife, and from sleep itself, she immediately
  • 309roused from Ocean early-born golden-throned Dawn, who brings
  • 310light to men.
  • Odysseus arose from his soft bed and he gave a command
  • 311to his wife: "Woman, surely we have had our fill of trials, both of us,
  • 312you here and me crying about my troublesome homecoming. But Zeus
  • 313and the other gods bound me with sorrows far away from the land
  • 314of my fathers, although I was eager to return. Because we have
  • 315both come to the marriage bed that we both wanted so much,
  • 316I want you now to take care of the possessions that are in the house.
  • 317As for the flocks that the proud suitors have wasted, I shall restore
  • 318them through raids, and the Achaeans will give some,° until they
  • 319fill up all my pens. But now I must go to my well-wooded farm,
  • 320to see my noble father, who grieves bitterly for me. To you, woman,
  • 321I give this charge, though you are in any event a sensible woman.
  • 322Right away, at the time of the rising sun, a report about the suitors
  • 323I killed will get out. You go up to your upper chamber with your
  • 324attendants and wait there. Look on no man and ask no questions."
  • 325    He spoke and put on his beautiful armor around his
  • 326shoulder, and he roused Telemachos and the cow herder and
  • 327the pig herder, and he pressed them all to take up war gear
  • 328in their hands. They obeyed him and armed themselves
  • 329in bronze. And they opened the gates and went out. Odysseus
  • 330was in the lead. Already the sun shone on the earth, but Athena
  • 331covered them in night and led them swiftly forth from the city.

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
99 smiled: The only time in the Odyssey where Odysseus smiles.
Editor’s Note
124 well-wooded farm: He means the farm of his father, Laërtes, mentioned several times before, where, in fact, he goes.
Editor’s Note
154 so amazed: Amazed, perhaps, at his transformation, meaning that she should recognize him now that he looks like he did when he left her, but still she holds back. But her reply is obscure.
Editor’s Note
175 with the augur: To drill holes for the oxhide thongs that create the mattress, that he mentions in line 177.
Editor’s Note
198 . . . dread blindness: The Greek word is the untranslatable atê, which refers to the act of divine intervention, the delusion thus caused, and the disaster that follows.
Editor’s Note
201 daughter of Aktor: Not mentioned elsewhere; perhaps Eurynomê is meant.
Editor’s Note
218 Lampos and Phaëthon: "light" and "shining," speaking names reminiscent of the nymphs who looked after Helios' cattle on Thrinakia (Book 12), Phaëthousa and Lampetiê.
Editor’s Note
249 from the sea: It is not clear whether this means "away from the sea," inland, or whether it means as the result of something "coming from the sea." Taking the second interpretation, later tradition reported that Odysseus' son Telegonos (by Kirkê, of whom Homer has no knowledge) mistakenly killed him with a spear tipped with a stingray barb "from the sea," but this is hardly a "gentle" death.
Editor’s Note
291 Planktai: The "clashing (rocks)," a danger that threatened Jason, which Odysseus does not actually encounter, but that Kirkê tells him about (Book 12).
Editor’s Note
318 give some: He means those peoples under his direct control: Responsibility for allowing the suitors to behave as they did implies responsibility for making good the damage.
logo-footer Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved. Access is brought to you by Log out