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A Poem by Homer : The Odyssey : Book Seven




The Odyssey: Book 7

Thus, then, did Ulysses wait and pray; but the girl drove on to
the town. When she reached her father’s house she drew up at the
gateway, and her brothers- comely as the gods- gathered round her,
took the mules out of the waggon, and carried the clothes into the
house, while she went to her own room, where an old servant,
Eurymedusa of Apeira, lit the fire for her. This old woman had been
brought by sea from Apeira, and had been chosen as a prize for
Alcinous because he was king over the Phaecians, and the people obeyed
him as though he were a god. She had been nurse to Nausicaa, and had
now lit the fire for her, and brought her supper for her into her
own room.
Presently Ulysses got up to go towards the town; and Minerva shed
a thick mist all round him to hide him in case any of the proud
Phaecians who met him should be rude to him, or ask him who he was.
Then, as he was just entering the town, she came towards him in the
likeness of a little girl carrying a pitcher. She stood right in front
of him, and Ulysses said:
“My dear, will you be so kind as to show me the house of king
Alcinous? I am an unfortunate foreigner in distress, and do not know
one in your town and country.”
Then Minerva said, “Yes, father stranger, I will show you the
house you want, for Alcinous lives quite close to my own father. I
will go before you and show the way, but say not a word as you go, and
do not look at any man, nor ask him questions; for the people here
cannot abide strangers, and do not like men who come from some other
place. They are a sea-faring folk, and sail the seas by the grace of
Neptune in ships that glide along like thought, or as a bird in the
On this she led the way, and Ulysses followed in her steps; but
not one of the Phaecians could see him as he passed through the city
in the midst of them; for the great goddess Minerva in her good will
towards him had hidden him in a thick cloud of darkness. He admired
their harbours, ships, places of assembly, and the lofty walls of
the city, which, with the palisade on top of them, were very striking,
and when they reached the king’s house Minerva said:
“This is the house, father stranger, which you would have me show
you. You will find a number of great people sitting at table, but do
not be afraid; go straight in, for the bolder a man is the more likely
he is to carry his point, even though he is a stranger. First find the
queen. Her name is Arete, and she comes of the same family as her
husband Alcinous. They both descend originally from Neptune, who was
father to Nausithous by Periboea, a woman of great beauty. Periboea
was the youngest daughter of Eurymedon, who at one time reigned over
the giants, but he ruined his ill-fated people and lost his own life
to boot.
“Neptune, however, lay with his daughter, and she had a son by
him, the great Nausithous, who reigned over the Phaecians.
Nausithous had two sons Rhexenor and Alcinous; Apollo killed the first
of them while he was still a bridegroom and without male issue; but he
left a daughter Arete, whom Alcinous married, and honours as no
other woman is honoured of all those that keep house along with
their husbands.
“Thus she both was, and still is, respected beyond measure by her
children, by Alcinous himself, and by the whole people, who look
upon her as a goddess, and greet her whenever she goes about the city,
for she is a thoroughly good woman both in head and heart, and when
any women are friends of hers, she will help their husbands also to
settle their disputes. If you can gain her good will, you may have
every hope of seeing your friends again, and getting safely back to
your home and country.”
Then Minerva left Scheria and went away over the sea. She went to
Marathon and to the spacious streets of Athens, where she entered
the abode of Erechtheus; but Ulysses went on to the house of Alcinous,
and he pondered much as he paused a while before reaching the
threshold of bronze, for the splendour of the palace was like that
of the sun or moon. The walls on either side were of bronze from end
to end, and the cornice was of blue enamel. The doors were gold, and
hung on pillars of silver that rose from a floor of bronze, while
the lintel was silver and the hook of the door was of gold.
On either side there stood gold and silver mastiffs which Vulcan,
with his consummate skill, had fashioned expressly to keep watch
over the palace of king Alcinous; so they were immortal and could
never grow old. Seats were ranged all along the wall, here and there
from one end to the other, with coverings of fine woven work which the
women of the house had made. Here the chief persons of the Phaecians
used to sit and eat and drink, for there was abundance at all seasons;
and there were golden figures of young men with lighted torches in
their hands, raised on pedestals, to give light by night to those
who were at table. There are fifty maid servants in the house, some of
whom are always grinding rich yellow grain at the mill, while others
work at the loom, or sit and spin, and their shuttles go, backwards
and forwards like the fluttering of aspen leaves, while the linen is
so closely woven that it will turn oil. As the Phaecians are the
best sailors in the world, so their women excel all others in weaving,
for Minerva has taught them all manner of useful arts, and they are
very intelligent.
Outside the gate of the outer court there is a large garden of about
four acres with a wall all round it. It is full of beautiful trees-
pears, pomegranates, and the most delicious apples. There are luscious
figs also, and olives in full growth. The fruits never rot nor fail
all the year round, neither winter nor summer, for the air is so
soft that a new crop ripens before the old has dropped. Pear grows
on pear, apple on apple, and fig on fig, and so also with the
grapes, for there is an excellent vineyard: on the level ground of a
part of this, the grapes are being made into raisins; in another
part they are being gathered; some are being trodden in the wine tubs,
others further on have shed their blossom and are beginning to show
fruit, others again are just changing colour. In the furthest part
of the ground there are beautifully arranged beds of flowers that
are in bloom all the year round. Two streams go through it, the one
turned in ducts throughout the whole garden, while the other is
carried under the ground of the outer court to the house itself, and
the town’s people draw water from it. Such, then, were the
splendours with which the gods had endowed the house of king Alcinous.
So here Ulysses stood for a while and looked about him, but when
he had looked long enough he crossed the threshold and went within the
precincts of the house. There he found all the chief people among
the Phaecians making their drink-offerings to Mercury, which they
always did the last thing before going away for the night. He went
straight through the court, still hidden by the cloak of darkness in
which Minerva had enveloped him, till he reached Arete and King
Alcinous; then he laid his hands upon the knees of the queen, and at
that moment the miraculous darkness fell away from him and he became
visible. Every one was speechless with surprise at seeing a man there,
but Ulysses began at once with his petition.
“Queen Arete,” he exclaimed, “daughter of great Rhexenor, in my
distress I humbly pray you, as also your husband and these your guests
(whom may heaven prosper with long life and happiness, and may they
leave their possessions to their children, and all the honours
conferred upon them by the state) to help me home to my own country as
soon as possible; for I have been long in trouble and away from my
Then he sat down on the hearth among the ashes and they all held
their peace, till presently the old hero Echeneus, who was an
excellent speaker and an elder among the Phaeacians, plainly and in
all honesty addressed them thus:
“Alcinous,” said he, “it is not creditable to you that a stranger
should be seen sitting among the ashes of your hearth; every one is
waiting to hear what you are about to say; tell him, then, to rise and
take a seat on a stool inlaid with silver, and bid your servants mix
some wine and water that we may make a drink-offering to Jove the lord
of thunder, who takes all well-disposed suppliants under his
protection; and let the housekeeper give him some supper, of
whatever there may be in the house.”
When Alcinous heard this he took Ulysses by the hand, raised him
from the hearth, and bade him take the seat of Laodamas, who had
been sitting beside him, and was his favourite son. A maid servant
then brought him water in a beautiful golden ewer and poured it into a
silver basin for him to wash his hands, and she drew a clean table
beside him; an upper servant brought him bread and offered him many
good things of what there was in the house, and Ulysses ate and drank.
Then Alcinous said to one of the servants, “Pontonous, mix a cup of
wine and hand it round that we may make drink-offerings to Jove the
lord of thunder, who is the protector of all well-disposed
Pontonous then mixed wine and water, and handed it round after
giving every man his drink-offering. When they had made their
offerings, and had drunk each as much as he was minded, Alcinous said:
“Aldermen and town councillors of the Phaeacians, hear my words. You
have had your supper, so now go home to bed. To-morrow morning I shall
invite a still larger number of aldermen, and will give a
sacrificial banquet in honour of our guest; we can then discuss the
question of his escort, and consider how we may at once send him
back rejoicing to his own country without trouble or inconvenience
to himself, no matter how distant it may be. We must see that he comes
to no harm while on his homeward journey, but when he is once at
home he will have to take the luck he was born with for better or
worse like other people. It is possible, however, that the stranger is
one of the immortals who has come down from heaven to visit us; but in
this case the gods are departing from their usual practice, for
hitherto they have made themselves perfectly clear to us when we
have been offering them hecatombs. They come and sit at our feasts
just like one of our selves, and if any solitary wayfarer happens to
stumble upon some one or other of them, they affect no concealment,
for we are as near of kin to the gods as the Cyclopes and the savage
giants are.”
Then Ulysses said: “Pray, Alcinous, do not take any such notion into
your head. I have nothing of the immortal about me, neither in body
nor mind, and most resemble those among you who are the most
afflicted. Indeed, were I to tell you all that heaven has seen fit
to lay upon me, you would say that I was still worse off than they
are. Nevertheless, let me sup in spite of sorrow, for an empty stomach
is a very importunate thing, and thrusts itself on a man’s notice no
matter how dire is his distress. I am in great trouble, yet it insists
that I shall eat and drink, bids me lay aside all memory of my sorrows
and dwell only on the due replenishing of itself. As for yourselves,
do as you propose, and at break of day set about helping me to get
home. I shall be content to die if I may first once more behold my
property, my bondsmen, and all the greatness of my house.”
Thus did he speak. Every one approved his saying, and agreed that he
should have his escort inasmuch as he had spoken reasonably. Then when
they had made their drink-offerings, and had drunk each as much as
he was minded they went home to bed every man in his own abode,
leaving Ulysses in the cloister with Arete and Alcinous while the
servants were taking the things away after supper. Arete was the first
to speak, for she recognized the shirt, cloak, and good clothes that
Ulysses was wearing, as the work of herself and of her maids; so she
said, “Stranger, before we go any further, there is a question I
should like to ask you. Who, and whence are you, and who gave you
those clothes? Did you not say you had come here from beyond the sea?”
And Ulysses answered, “It would be a long story Madam, were I to
relate in full the tale of my misfortunes, for the hand of heaven
has been laid heavy upon me; but as regards your question, there is an
island far away in the sea which is called ‘the Ogygian.’ Here
dwells the cunning and powerful goddess Calypso, daughter of Atlas.
She lives by herself far from all neighbours human or divine. Fortune,
however, me to her hearth all desolate and alone, for Jove struck my
ship with his thunderbolts, and broke it up in mid-ocean. My brave
comrades were drowned every man of them, but I stuck to the keel and
was carried hither and thither for the space of nine days, till at
last during the darkness of the tenth night the gods brought me to the
Ogygian island where the great goddess Calypso lives. She took me in
and treated me with the utmost kindness; indeed she wanted to make
me immortal that I might never grow old, but she could not persuade me
to let her do so.
“I stayed with Calypso seven years straight on end, and watered
the good clothes she gave me with my tears during the whole time;
but at last when the eighth year came round she bade me depart of
her own free will, either because Jove had told her she must, or
because she had changed her mind. She sent me from her island on a
raft, which she provisioned with abundance of bread and wine. Moreover
she gave me good stout clothing, and sent me a wind that blew both
warm and fair. Days seven and ten did I sail over the sea, and on
the eighteenth I caught sight of the first outlines of the mountains
upon your coast- and glad indeed was I to set eyes upon them.
Nevertheless there was still much trouble in store for me, for at this
point Neptune would let me go no further, and raised a great storm
against me; the sea was so terribly high that I could no longer keep
to my raft, which went to pieces under the fury of the gale, and I had
to swim for it, till wind and current brought me to your shores.
“There I tried to land, but could not, for it was a bad place and
the waves dashed me against the rocks, so I again took to the sea
and swam on till I came to a river that seemed the most likely landing
place, for there were no rocks and it was sheltered from the wind.
Here, then, I got out of the water and gathered my senses together
again. Night was coming on, so I left the river, and went into a
thicket, where I covered myself all over with leaves, and presently
heaven sent me off into a very deep sleep. Sick and sorry as I was I
slept among the leaves all night, and through the next day till
afternoon, when I woke as the sun was westering, and saw your
daughter’s maid servants playing upon the beach, and your daughter
among them looking like a goddess. I besought her aid, and she
proved to be of an excellent disposition, much more so than could be
expected from so young a person- for young people are apt to be
thoughtless. She gave me plenty of bread and wine, and when she had
had me washed in the river she also gave me the clothes in which you
see me. Now, therefore, though it has pained me to do so, I have
told you the whole truth.”
Then Alcinous said, “Stranger, it was very wrong of my daughter
not to bring you on at once to my house along with the maids, seeing
that she was the first person whose aid you asked.”
“Pray do not scold her,” replied Ulysses; “she is not to blame.
She did tell me to follow along with the maids, but I was ashamed
and afraid, for I thought you might perhaps be displeased if you saw
me. Every human being is sometimes a little suspicious and irritable.”
“Stranger,” replied Alcinous, “I am not the kind of man to get angry
about nothing; it is always better to be reasonable; but by Father
Jove, Minerva, and Apollo, now that I see what kind of person you are,
and how much you think as I do, I wish you would stay here, marry my
daughter, and become my son-in-law. If you will stay I will give you a
house and an estate, but no one (heaven forbid) shall keep you here
against your own wish, and that you may be sure of this I will
attend to-morrow to the matter of your escort. You can sleep during
the whole voyage if you like, and the men shall sail you over smooth
waters either to your own home, or wherever you please, even though it
be a long way further off than Euboea, which those of my people who
saw it when they took yellow-haired Rhadamanthus to see Tityus the son
of Gaia, tell me is the furthest of any place- and yet they did the
whole voyage in a single day without distressing themselves, and
came back again afterwards. You will thus see how much my ships
excel all others, and what magnificent oarsmen my sailors are.”
Then was Ulysses glad and prayed aloud saying, “Father Jove, grant
that Alcinous may do all as he has said, for so he will win an
imperishable name among mankind, and at the same time I shall return
to my country.”
Thus did they converse. Then Arete told her maids to set a bed in
the room that was in the gatehouse, and make it with good red rugs,
and to spread coverlets on the top of them with woollen cloaks for
Ulysses to wear. The maids thereon went out with torches in their
hands, and when they had made the bed they came up to Ulysses and
said, “Rise, sir stranger, and come with us for your bed is ready,”
and glad indeed was he to go to his rest.
So Ulysses slept in a bed placed in a room over the echoing gateway;
but Alcinous lay in the inner part of the house, with the queen his
wife by his side.

Translated by Samuel Butler





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