The Odyssey of Homer (Cowper)/Book XI
Arriving on the shore, and launching, first,
Our bark into the sacred Deep, we set
Our mast and sails, and stow’d secure on board
The ram and ewe, then, weeping, and with hearts
Sad and disconsolate, embark’d ourselves.
And now, melodious Circe, nymph divine,
Sent after us a canvas-stretching breeze,
Pleasant companion of our course, and we
(The decks and benches clear’d) untoiling sat,
While managed gales sped swift the bark along.
All day, with sails distended, e’er the Deep
She flew, and when the sun, at length, declined,
And twilight dim had shadow’d all the ways,
Approach’d the bourn of Ocean’s vast profound.
The city, there, of the Cimmerians stands
With clouds and darkness veil’d, on whom the sun
Deigns not to look with his beam-darting eye,
Or when he climbs the starry arch, or when
Earthward he slopes again his west’ring wheels,40
But sad night canopies the woeful race.
We haled the bark aground, and, landing there
The ram and sable ewe, journey’d beside
The Deep, till we arrived where Circe bade.
Here, Perimedes’ son Eurylochus
Held fast the destined sacrifice, while I
Scoop’d with my sword the soil, op’ning a trench
Ell-broad on ev’ry side, then pour’d around
Libation consecrate to all the dead,
First, milk with honey mixt, then luscious wine,
Then water, sprinkling, last, meal over all.
This done, adoring the unreal forms
And shadows of the dead, I vow’d to slay,
(Return’d to Ithaca) in my own abode,
An heifer barren yet, fairest and best
Of all my herds, and to enrich the pile
With delicacies, such as please the shades.
But, in peculiar, to the Theban seer
I vow’d a sable ram, largest and best
Of all my flocks. When thus I had implored
With vows and pray’r, the nations of the dead,
Piercing the victims next, I turn’d them both
To bleed into the trench; then swarming came
From Erebus the shades of the deceased,
Brides, youths unwedded, seniors long with woe
Oppress’d, and tender girls yet new to grief.
Came also many a warrior by the spear
In battle pierced, with armour gore-distain’d,
And all the multitude around the foss
Stalk’d shrieking dreadful; me pale horror seized.
I next, importunate, my people urged,
Flaying the victims which myself had slain,
To burn them, and to supplicate in pray’r
Illustrious Pluto and dread Proserpine.
Then down I sat, and with drawn faulchion chased
The ghosts, nor suffer’d them to approach the blood,
Till with Tiresias I should first confer.
The spirit, first, of my companion came,
Elpenor; for no burial honours yet
Had he received, but we had left his corse
In Circe’s palace, tombless, undeplored,
Ourselves by pressure urged of other cares.
Touch’d with compassion seeing him, I wept,
And in wing’d accents brief him thus bespake.
Elpenor! how cam’st thou into the realms
Of darkness? Hast thou, though on foot, so far
Outstripp’d my speed, who in my bark arrived?
So I, to whom with tears he thus replied.
Laertes’ noble son, for wiles renown’d!
Fool’d by some dæmon and the intemp’rate bowl,
I perish’d in the house of Circe; there
The deep-descending steps heedless I miss’d,
And fell precipitated from the roof.
With neck-bone broken from the vertebræ
Outstretch’d I lay; my spirit sought the shades.
But now, by those whom thou hast left at home,
By thy Penelope, and by thy fire,
The gentle nourisher of thy infant growth,
And by thy only son Telemachus
I make my suit to thee. For, sure, I know
That from the house of Pluto safe return’d,
Thou shalt ere long thy gallant vessel moor
At the Ææan isle. Ah! there arrived
Remember me. Leave me not undeplored
Nor uninhumed, lest, for my sake, the Gods
In vengeance visit thee; but with my arms
(What arms soe’er I left) burn me, and raise
A kind memorial of me on the coast,
Heap’d high with earth; that an unhappy man
May yet enjoy an unforgotten name.
Thus do at my request, and on my hill
Funereal, plant the oar with which I row’d,
While yet I lived a mariner of thine.
He spake, to whom thus answer I return’d.
Poor youth! I will perform thy whole desire.
Thus we, there sitting, doleful converse held,
With outstretch’d faulchion, I, guarding the blood,
And my companion’s shadowy semblance sad
Meantime discoursing me on various themes.
The soul of my departed mother, next,
Of Anticleia came, daughter of brave
Autolycus; whom, when I sought the shores
Of Ilium, I had living left at home.
Seeing her, with compassion touch’d, I wept,
Yet even her, (although it pain’d my soul)
Forbad, relentless, to approach the blood,
Till with Tiresias I should first confer.
Then came the spirit of the Theban seer
Himself, his golden sceptre in his hand,
Who knew me, and, enquiring, thus began.
Why, hapless Chief! leaving the cheerful day,
Arriv’st thou to behold the dead, and this
Unpleasant land? but, from the trench awhile
Receding, turn thy faulchion keen away,
That I may drink the blood, and tell thee truth.
He spake; I thence receding, deep infix’d
My sword bright-studded in the sheath again.
The noble prophet then, approaching, drank
The blood, and, satisfied, address’d me thus.
Thou seek’st a pleasant voyage home again,
Renown’d Ulysses! but a God will make
That voyage difficult; for, as I judge,
Thou wilt not pass by Neptune unperceiv’d,
Whose anger follows thee, for that thou hast
Deprived his son Cyclops of his eye.
At length, however, after num’rous woes
Endur’d, thou may’st attain thy native isle,
If thy own appetite thou wilt controul
And theirs who follow thee, what time thy bark
Well-built, shall at Thrinacia’s shore arrive,41
Escaped from perils of the gloomy Deep.
There shall ye find grazing the flocks and herds
Of the all-seeing and all-hearing Sun,
Which, if attentive to thy safe return,
Thou leave unharm’d, though after num’rous woes,
Ye may at length arrive in Ithaca.
But if thou violate them, I denounce
Destruction on thy ship and all thy band,
And though thyself escape, late shalt thou reach
Thy home and hard-bested,42 in a strange bark,
All thy companions lost; trouble beside
Awaits thee there, for thou shalt find within
Proud suitors of thy noble wife, who waste
Thy substance, and with promis’d spousal gifts
Ceaseless solicit her to wed; yet well
Shalt thou avenge all their injurious deeds.
That once perform’d, and ev’ry suitor slain
Either by stratagem, or face to face,
In thy own palace, bearing, as thou go’st,
A shapely oar, journey, till thou hast found
A people who the sea know not, nor eat
Food salted; they trim galley crimson prow’d
Have ne’er beheld, nor yet smooth-shaven oar,
With which the vessel wing’d scuds o’er the waves.
Well thou shalt know them; this shall be the sign—
When thou shalt meet a trav’ler, who shall name
The oar on thy broad shoulder borne, a van,43
There, deep infixing it within the soil,
Worship the King of Ocean with a bull,
A ram, and a lascivious boar, then seek
Thy home again, and sacrifice at home
An hecatomb to the Immortal Gods,
Adoring each duly, and in his course.
So shalt thou die in peace a gentle death,
Remote from Ocean; it shall find thee late,
In soft serenity of age, the Chief
Of a blest people.—I have told thee truth.
He spake, to whom I answer thus return’d.
Tiresias! thou, I doubt not, hast reveal’d
The ordinance of heav’n. But tell me, Seer!
And truly. I behold my mother’s shade;
Silent she sits beside the blood, nor word
Nor even look vouchsafes to her own son.
How shall she learn, prophet, that I am her’s?
So I, to whom Tiresias quick replied.
The course is easy. Learn it, taught by me.
What shade soe’er, by leave of thee obtain’d,
Shall taste the blood, that shade will tell thee truth;
The rest, prohibited, will all retire.
When thus the spirit of the royal Seer
Had his prophetic mind reveal’d, again
He enter’d Pluto’s gates; but I unmoved
Still waited till my mother’s shade approach’d;
She drank the blood, then knew me, and in words
Wing’d with affection, plaintive, thus began.
My son! how hast thou enter’d, still alive,
This darksome region? Difficult it is
For living man to view the realms of death.
Broad rivers roll, and awful floods between,
But chief, the Ocean, which to pass on foot,
Or without ship, impossible is found.
Hast thou, long wand’ring in thy voyage home
From Ilium, with thy ship and crew arrived,
Ithaca and thy consort yet unseen?
She spake, to whom this answer I return’d.
My mother! me necessity constrain’d
To Pluto’s dwelling, anxious to consult
Theban Tiresias; for I have not yet
Approach’d Achaia, nor have touch’d the shore
Of Ithaca, but suff’ring ceaseless woe
Have roam’d, since first in Agamemnon’s train
I went to combat with the sons of Troy.
But speak, my mother, and the truth alone;
What stroke of fate slew thee? Fell’st thou a prey
To some slow malady? or by the shafts
Of gentle Dian suddenly subdued?
Speak to me also of my ancient Sire,
And of Telemachus, whom I left at home;
Possess I still unalienate and safe
My property, or hath some happier Chief
Admittance free into my fortunes gain’d,
No hope subsisting more of my return?
The mind and purpose of my wedded wife
Declare thou also. Dwells she with our son
Faithful to my domestic interests,
Or is she wedded to some Chief of Greece?
I ceas’d, when thus the venerable shade.
Not so; she faithful still and patient dwells
Thy roof beneath; but all her days and nights
Devoting sad to anguish and to tears.
Thy fortunes still are thine; Telemachus
Cultivates, undisturb’d, thy land, and sits
At many a noble banquet, such as well
Beseems the splendour of his princely state,
For all invite him; at his farm retired
Thy father dwells, nor to the city comes,
For aught; nor bed, nor furniture of bed,
Furr’d cloaks or splendid arras he enjoys,
But, with his servile hinds all winter sleeps
In ashes and in dust at the hearth-side,
Coarsely attired; again, when summer comes,
Or genial autumn, on the fallen leaves
In any nook, not curious where, he finds
There, stretch’d forlorn, nourishing grief, he weeps
Thy lot, enfeebled now by num’rous years.
So perish’d I; such fate I also found;
Me, neither the right-aiming arch’ress struck,
Diana, with her gentle shafts, nor me
Distemper slew, my limbs by slow degrees
But sure, bereaving of their little life,
But long regret, tender solicitude,
And recollection of thy kindness past,
These, my Ulysses! fatal proved to me.
She said; I, ardent wish’d to clasp the shade
Of my departed mother; thrice I sprang
Toward her, by desire impetuous urged,
And thrice she flitted from between my arms,
Light as a passing shadow or a dream.
Then, pierced by keener grief, in accents wing’d
With filial earnestness I thus replied.
My mother, why elud’st thou my attempt
To clasp thee, that ev’n here, in Pluto’s realm,
We might to full satiety indulge
Our grief, enfolded in each other’s arms?
Hath Proserpine, alas! only dispatch’d
A shadow to me, to augment my woe?
Then, instant, thus the venerable form.
Ah, son! thou most afflicted of mankind!
On thee, Jove’s daughter, Proserpine, obtrudes
No airy semblance vain; but such the state
And nature is of mortals once deceased.
For they nor muscle have, nor flesh, nor bone;
All those (the spirit from the body once
Divorced) the violence of fire consumes,
And, like a dream, the soul flies swift away.
But haste thou back to light, and, taught thyself
These sacred truths, hereafter teach thy spouse.
Thus mutual we conferr’d. Then, thither came,
Encouraged forth by royal Proserpine,
Shades female num’rous, all who consorts, erst,
Or daughters were of mighty Chiefs renown’d.
About the sable blood frequent they swarm’d.
But I, consid’ring sat, how I might each
Interrogate, and thus resolv’d. My sword
Forth drawing from beside my sturdy thigh,
Firm I prohibited the ghosts to drink
The blood together; they successive came;
Each told her own distress; I question’d all.
There, first, the high-born Tyro I beheld;
She claim’d Salmoneus as her sire, and wife
Was once of Cretheus, son of Æolus.
Enamour’d of Enipeus, stream divine,
Loveliest of all that water earth, beside
His limpid current she was wont to stray,
When Ocean’s God, (Enipeus’ form assumed)
Within the eddy-whirling river’s mouth
Embraced her; there, while the o’er-arching flood,
Uplifted mountainous, conceal’d the God
And his fair human bride, her virgin zone
He loos’d, and o’er her eyes sweet sleep diffused.
His am’rous purpose satisfied, he grasp’d
Her hand, affectionate, and thus he said.
Rejoice in this my love, and when the year
Shall tend to consummation of its course,
Thou shalt produce illustrious twins, for love
Immortal never is unfruitful love.
Rear them with all a mother’s care; meantime,
Hence to thy home. Be silent. Name it not.
For I am Neptune, Shaker of the shores.
So saying, he plunged into the billowy Deep.
She pregnant grown, Pelias and Neleus bore,
Both, valiant ministers of mighty Jove.
In wide-spread Iäolchus Pelias dwelt,
Of num’rous flocks possess’d; but his abode
Amid the sands of Pylus Neleus chose.
To Cretheus wedded next, the lovely nymph
Yet other sons, Æson and Pheres bore,
And Amythaon of equestrian fame.
I, next, the daughter of Asopus saw,
Antiope; she gloried to have known
Th’ embrace of Jove himself, to whom she brought
A double progeny, Amphion named
And Zethus; they the seven-gated Thebes
Founded and girded with strong tow’rs, because,
Though puissant Heroes both, in spacious Thebes
Unfenced by tow’rs, they could not dwell secure.
Alcmena, next, wife of Amphitryon
I saw; she in the arms of sov’reign Jove
The lion-hearted Hercules conceiv’d,
And, after, bore to Creon brave in fight
His daughter Megara, by the noble son
Unconquer’d of Amphitryon espoused.
The beauteous Epicaste44 saw I then,
Mother of Oedipus, who guilt incurr’d
Prodigious, wedded, unintentional,
To her own son; his father first he slew,
Then wedded her, which soon the Gods divulged.
He, under vengeance of offended heav’n,
In pleasant Thebes dwelt miserable, King
Of the Cadmean race; she to the gates
Of Ades brazen-barr’d despairing went,
Self-strangled by a cord fasten’d aloft
To her own palace-roof, and woes bequeath’d
(Such as the Fury sisters execute
Innumerable) to her guilty son.
There also saw I Chloris, loveliest fair,
Whom Neleus woo’d and won with spousal gifts
Inestimable, by her beauty charm’d
She youngest daughter was of Iasus’ son,
Amphion, in old time a sov’reign prince
In Minuëian Orchomenus,
And King of Pylus. Three illustrious sons
She bore to Neleus, Nestor, Chromius,
And Periclymenus the wide-renown’d,
And, last, produced a wonder of the earth,
Pero, by ev’ry neighbour prince around
In marriage sought; but Neleus her on none
Deign’d to bestow, save only on the Chief
Who should from Phylace drive off the beeves
(Broad-fronted, and with jealous care secured)
Of valiant Iphicles. One undertook
That task alone, a prophet high in fame,
Melampus; but the Fates fast bound him there
In rig’rous bonds by rustic hands imposed.
At length (the year, with all its months and days
Concluded, and the new-born year begun)
Illustrious Iphicles releas’d the seer,
Grateful for all the oracles resolved,45
Till then obscure. So stood the will of Jove.
Next, Leda, wife of Tyndarus I saw,
Who bore to Tyndarus a noble pair,
Castor the bold, and Pollux cestus-famed.
They pris’ners in the fertile womb of earth,
Though living, dwell, and even there from Jove
High priv’lege gain; alternate they revive
And die, and dignity partake divine.
The comfort of Aloëus, next, I view’d,
Iphimedeia; she th’ embrace profess’d
Of Neptune to have shared, to whom she bore
Two sons; short-lived they were, but godlike both,
Otus and Ephialtes far-renown’d.
Orion sole except, all-bounteous Earth
Ne’er nourish’d forms for beauty or for size
To be admired as theirs; in his ninth year
Each measur’d, broad, nine cubits, and the height
Was found nine ells of each. Against the Gods
Themselves they threaten’d war, and to excite
The din of battle in the realms above.
To the Olympian summit they essay’d
To heave up Ossa, and to Ossa’s crown
Branch-waving Pelion; so to climb the heav’ns.
Nor had they failed, maturer grown in might,
To accomplish that emprize, but them the son46
Of radiant-hair’d Latona and of Jove
Slew both, ere yet the down of blooming youth
Thick-sprung, their cheeks or chins had tufted o’er.
Phædra I also there, and Procris saw,
And Ariadne for her beauty praised,
Whose sire was all-wise Minos. Theseus her
From Crete toward the fruitful region bore
Of sacred Athens, but enjoy’d not there,
For, first, she perish’d by Diana’s shafts
In Dia, Bacchus witnessing her crime.47
Mæra and Clymene I saw beside,
And odious Eriphyle, who received
The price in gold of her own husband’s life.
But all the wives of Heroes whom I saw,
And all their daughters can I not relate;
Night, first, would fail; and even now the hour
Calls me to rest either on board my bark,
Or here; meantime, I in yourselves confide,
And in the Gods to shape my conduct home.
He ceased; the whole assembly silent sat,
Charm’d into ecstacy by his discourse
Throughout the twilight hall, till, at the last,
Areta iv’ry arm’d them thus bespake.
Phæacians! how appears he in your eyes
This stranger, graceful as he is in port,
In stature noble, and in mind discrete?
My guest he is, but ye all share with me
That honour; him dismiss not, therefore, hence
With haste, nor from such indigence withhold
Supplies gratuitous; for ye are rich,
And by kind heav’n with rare possessions blest.
The Hero, next, Echeneus spake, a Chief
Now ancient, eldest of Phæacia’s sons.
Your prudent Queen, my friends, speaks not beside
Her proper scope, but as beseems her well.
Her voice obey; yet the effect of all
Must on Alcinoüs himself depend.
To whom Alcinoüs, thus, the King, replied.
I ratify the word. So shall be done,
As surely as myself shall live supreme
O’er all Phæacia’s maritime domain.
Then let the guest, though anxious to depart,
Wait till the morrow, that I may complete
The whole donation. His safe conduct home
Shall be the gen’ral care, but mine in Chief,
To whom dominion o’er the rest belongs.
Him answer’d, then, Ulysses ever-wise.
Alcinoüs! Prince! exalted high o’er all
Phæacia’s sons! should ye solicit, kind,
My stay throughout the year, preparing still
My conduct home, and with illustrious gifts
Enriching me the while, ev’n that request
Should please me well; the wealthier I return’d,
The happier my condition; welcome more
And more respectable I should appear
In ev’ry eye to Ithaca restored.
To whom Alcinoüs answer thus return’d.
Ulysses! viewing thee, no fears we feel
Lest thou, at length, some false pretender prove,
Or subtle hypocrite, of whom no few
Disseminated o’er its face the earth
Sustains, adepts in fiction, and who frame
Fables, where fables could be least surmised.
Thy phrase well turn’d, and thy ingenuous mind
Proclaim thee diff’rent far, who hast in strains
Musical as a poet’s voice, the woes
Rehears’d of all thy Greecians, and thy own.
But say, and tell me true. Beheld’st thou there
None of thy followers to the walls of Troy
Slain in that warfare? Lo! the night is long—
A night of utmost length; nor yet the hour
Invites to sleep. Tell me thy wond’rous deeds,
For I could watch till sacred dawn, could’st thou
So long endure to tell me of thy toils.
Then thus Ulysses, ever-wise, replied.
Alcinoüs! high exalted over all
Phæacia’s sons! the time suffices yet
For converse both and sleep, and if thou wish
To hear still more, I shall not spare to unfold
More pitiable woes than these, sustain’d
By my companions, in the end destroy’d;
Who, saved from perils of disast’rous war
At Ilium, perish’d yet in their return,
Victims of a pernicious woman’s crime.48
Now, when chaste Proserpine had wide dispers’d
Those female shades, the spirit sore distress’d
Of Agamemnon, Atreus’ son, appear’d;
Encircled by a throng, he came; by all
Who with himself beneath Ægisthus’ roof
Their fate fulfill’d, perishing by the sword.
He drank the blood, and knew me; shrill he wail’d
And querulous; tears trickling bathed his cheeks,
And with spread palms, through ardour of desire
He sought to enfold me fast, but vigour none,
Or force, as erst, his agile limbs inform’d.
I, pity-moved, wept at the sight, and him,
In accents wing’d by friendship, thus address’d.
Ah glorious son of Atreus, King of men!
What hand inflicted the all-numbing stroke
Of death on thee? Say, didst thou perish sunk
By howling tempests irresistible
Which Neptune raised, or on dry land by force
Of hostile multitudes, while cutting off
Beeves from the herd, or driving flocks away,
Or fighting for Achaia’s daughters, shut
Within some city’s bulwarks close besieged?
I ceased, when Agamemnon thus replied.
Ulysses, noble Chief, Laertes’ son
For wisdom famed! I neither perish’d sunk
By howling tempests irresistible
Which Neptune raised, nor on dry land received
From hostile multitudes the fatal blow,
But me Ægisthus slew; my woeful death
Confed’rate with my own pernicious wife
He plotted, with a show of love sincere
Bidding me to his board, where as the ox
Is slaughter’d at his crib, he slaughter’d me.
Such was my dreadful death; carnage ensued
Continual of my friends slain all around,
Num’rous as boars bright-tusk’d at nuptial feast,
Or feast convivial of some wealthy Chief.
Thou hast already witness’d many a field
With warriors overspread, slain one by one,
But that dire scene had most thy pity moved,
For we, with brimming beakers at our side,
And underneath full tables bleeding lay.
Blood floated all the pavement. Then the cries
Of Priam’s daughter sounded in my ears
Most pitiable of all. Cassandra’s cries,
Whom Clytemnestra close beside me slew.
Expiring as I lay, I yet essay’d
To grasp my faulchion, but the trayt’ress quick
Withdrew herself, nor would vouchsafe to close
My languid eyes, or prop my drooping chin
Ev’n in the moment when I sought the shades.
So that the thing breathes not, ruthless and fell
As woman once resolv’d on such a deed
Detestable, as my base wife contrived,
The murther of the husband of her youth.
I thought to have return’d welcome to all,
To my own children and domestic train;
But she, past measure profligate, hath poured
Shame on herself, on women yet unborn,
And even on the virtuous of her sex.
He ceas’d, to whom, thus, answer I return’d.
Gods! how severely hath the thund’rer plagued
The house of Atreus even from the first,
By female counsels! we for Helen’s sake
Have num’rous died, and Clytemnestra framed,
While thou wast far remote, this snare for thee!
So I, to whom Atrides thus replied.
Thou, therefore, be not pliant overmuch
To woman; trust her not with all thy mind,
But half disclose to her, and half conceal.
Yet, from thy consort’s hand no bloody death,
My friend, hast thou to fear; for passing wise
Icarius’ daughter is, far other thoughts,
Intelligent, and other plans, to frame.
Her, going to the wars we left a bride
New-wedded, and thy boy hung at her breast,
Who, man himself, consorts ere now with men
A prosp’rous youth; his father, safe restored
To his own Ithaca, shall see him soon,
And he shall clasp his father in his arms
As nature bids; but me, my cruel one
Indulged not with the dear delight to gaze
On my Orestes, for she slew me first.
But listen; treasure what I now impart.49
Steer secret to thy native isle; avoid
Notice; for woman merits trust no more.
Now tell me truth. Hear ye in whose abode
My son resides? dwells he in Pylus, say,
Or in Orchomenos, or else beneath
My brother’s roof in Sparta’s wide domain?
For my Orestes is not yet a shade.
So he, to whom I answer thus return’d.
Atrides, ask not me. Whether he live,
Or have already died, I nothing know;
Mere words are vanity, and better spared.
Thus we discoursing mutual stood, and tears
Shedding disconsolate. The shade, meantime,
Came of Achilles, Peleus’ mighty son;
Patroclus also, and Antilochus
Appear’d, with Ajax, for proportion just
And stature tall, (Pelides sole except)
Distinguish’d above all Achaia’s sons.
The soul of swift Æacides at once
Knew me, and in wing’d accents thus began.
Brave Laertiades, for wiles renown’d!
What mightier enterprise than all the past
Hath made thee here a guest? rash as thou art!
How hast thou dared to penetrate the gloom
Of Ades, dwelling of the shadowy dead,
Semblances only of what once they were?
He spake, to whom I, answ’ring, thus replied.
O Peleus’ son! Achilles! bravest far
Of all Achaia’s race! I here arrived
Seeking Tiresias, from his lips to learn,
Perchance, how I might safe regain the coast
Of craggy Ithaca; for tempest-toss’d
Perpetual, I have neither yet approach’d
Achaia’s shore, or landed on my own.
But as for thee, Achilles! never man
Hath known felicity like thine, or shall,
Whom living we all honour’d as a God,
And who maintain’st, here resident, supreme
Controul among the dead; indulge not then,
Achilles, causeless grief that thou hast died.
I ceased, and answer thus instant received.
Renown’d Ulysses! think not death a theme
Of consolation; I had rather live
The servile hind for hire, and eat the bread
Of some man scantily himself sustain’d,
Than sov’reign empire hold o’er all the shades.
But come—speak to me of my noble boy;
Proceeds he, as he promis’d, brave in arms,
Or shuns he war? Say also, hast thou heard
Of royal Peleus? shares he still respect
Among his num’rous Myrmidons, or scorn
In Hellas and in Phthia, for that age
Predominates in his enfeebled limbs?
For help is none in me; the glorious sun
No longer sees me such, as when in aid
Of the Achaians I o’erspread the field
Of spacious Troy with all their bravest slain.
Oh might I, vigorous as then, repair50
For one short moment to my father’s house,
They all should tremble; I would shew an arm,
Such as should daunt the fiercest who presumes
To injure him, or to despise his age.
Achilles spake, to whom I thus replied.
Of noble Peleus have I nothing heard;
But I will tell thee, as thou bidd’st, the truth
Unfeign’d of Neoptolemus thy son;
For him, myself, on board my hollow bark
From Scyros to Achaia’s host convey’d.
Oft as in council under Ilium’s walls
We met, he ever foremost was in speech,
Nor spake erroneous; Nestor and myself
Except, no Greecian could with him compare.
Oft, too, as we with battle hemm’d around
Troy’s bulwarks, from among the mingled crowd
Thy son sprang foremost into martial act,
Inferior in heroic worth to none.
Beneath him num’rous fell the sons of Troy
In dreadful fight, nor have I pow’r to name
Distinctly all, who by his glorious arm
Exerted in the cause of Greece, expired.
Yet will I name Eurypylus, the son
Of Telephus, an Hero whom his sword
Of life bereaved, and all around him strew’d
The plain with his Cetean warriors, won
To Ilium’s side by bribes to women giv’n.51
Save noble Memnon only, I beheld
No Chief at Ilium beautiful as he.
Again, when we within the horse of wood
Framed by Epeüs sat, an ambush chos’n
Of all the bravest Greeks, and I in trust
Was placed to open or to keep fast-closed
The hollow fraud; then, ev’ry Chieftain there
And Senator of Greece wiped from his cheeks
The tears, and tremors felt in ev’ry limb;
But never saw I changed to terror’s hue
His ruddy cheek, no tears wiped he away,
But oft he press’d me to go forth, his suit
With pray’rs enforcing, griping hard his hilt
And his brass-burthen’d spear, and dire revenge
Denouncing, ardent, on the race of Troy.
At length, when we had sack’d the lofty town
Of Priam, laden with abundant spoils
He safe embark’d, neither by spear or shaft
Aught hurt, or in close fight by faulchion’s edge,
As oft in war befalls, where wounds are dealt
Promiscuous at the will of fiery Mars.
So I; then striding large, the spirit thence
Withdrew of swift Æacides, along
The hoary mead pacing,52 with joy elate
That I had blazon’d bright his son’s renown.
The other souls of men by death dismiss’d
Stood mournful by, sad uttering each his woes;
The soul alone I saw standing remote
Of Telamonian Ajax, still incensed
That in our public contest for the arms
Worn by Achilles, and by Thetis thrown
Into dispute, my claim had strongest proved,
Troy and Minerva judges of the cause.
Disastrous victory! which I could wish
Not to have won, since for that armour’s sake
The earth hath cover’d Ajax, in his form
And martial deeds superior far to all
The Greecians, Peleus’ matchless son except.
I, seeking to appease him, thus began.
O Ajax, son of glorious Telamon!
Canst thou remember, even after death,
Thy wrath against me, kindled for the sake
Of those pernicious arms? arms which the Gods
Ordain’d of such dire consequence to Greece,
Which caused thy death, our bulwark! Thee we mourn
With grief perpetual, nor the death lament
Of Peleus’ son, Achilles, more than thine.
Yet none is blameable; Jove evermore
With bitt’rest hate pursued Achaia’s host,
And he ordain’d thy death. Hero! approach,
That thou may’st hear the words with which I seek
To sooth thee; let thy long displeasure cease!
Quell all resentment in thy gen’rous breast!
I spake; nought answer’d he, but sullen join’d
His fellow-ghosts; yet, angry as he was,
I had prevail’d even on him to speak,
Or had, at least, accosted him again,
But that my bosom teem’d with strong desire
Urgent, to see yet others of the dead.
There saw I Minos, offspring famed of Jove;
His golden sceptre in his hand, he sat
Judge of the dead; they, pleading each in turn,
His cause, some stood, some sat, filling the house
Whose spacious folding-gates are never closed.
Orion next, huge ghost, engaged my view,
Droves urging o’er the grassy mead, of beasts
Which he had slain, himself, on the wild hills,
With strong club arm’d of ever-during brass.
There also Tityus on the ground I saw
Extended, offspring of the glorious earth;
Nine acres he o’erspread, and, at his side
Station’d, two vultures on his liver prey’d,
Scooping his entrails; nor sufficed his hands
To fray them thence; for he had sought to force
Latona, illustrious concubine of Jove,
What time the Goddess journey’d o’er the rocks
Of Pytho into pleasant Panopeus.
Next, suff’ring grievous torments, I beheld
Tantalus; in a pool he stood, his chin
Wash’d by the wave; thirst-parch’d he seem’d, but found
Nought to assuage his thirst; for when he bow’d
His hoary head, ardent to quaff, the flood
Vanish’d absorb’d, and, at his feet, adust
The soil appear’d, dried, instant, by the Gods.
Tall trees, fruit-laden, with inflected heads
Stoop’d to him, pomegranates, apples bright,
The luscious fig, and unctuous olive smooth;
Which when with sudden grasp he would have seized,
Winds hurl’d them high into the dusky clouds.
There, too, the hard-task’d Sisyphus I saw,
Thrusting before him, strenuous, a vast rock.53
With hands and feet struggling, he shoved the stone
Up to a hill-top; but the steep well-nigh
Vanquish’d, by some great force repulsed,54 the mass
Rush’d again, obstinate, down to the plain.
Again, stretch’d prone, severe he toiled, the sweat
Bathed all his weary limbs, and his head reek’d.
The might of Hercules I, next, survey’d;
His semblance; for himself their banquet shares
With the Immortal Gods, and in his arms
Enfolds neat-footed Hebe, daughter fair
Of Jove, and of his golden-sandal’d spouse.
Around him, clamorous as birds, the dead
Swarm’d turbulent; he, gloomy-brow’d as night,
With uncased bow and arrow on the string
Peer’d terrible from side to side, as one
Ever in act to shoot; a dreadful belt
He bore athwart his bosom, thong’d with gold.
There, broider’d shone many a stupendous form,
Bears, wild boars, lions with fire-flashing eyes,
Fierce combats, battles, bloodshed, homicide.
The artist, author of that belt, none such
Before, produced, or after. Me his eye
No sooner mark’d, than knowing me, in words
By sorrow quick suggested, he began.
Laertes’ noble son, for wiles renown’d!
Ah, hapless Hero! thou art, doubtless, charged,
Thou also, with some arduous labour, such
As in the realms of day I once endured.
Son was I of Saturnian Jove, yet woes
Immense sustain’d, subjected to a King
Inferior far to me, whose harsh commands
Enjoin’d me many a terrible exploit.
He even bade me on a time lead hence
The dog, that task believing above all
Impracticable; yet from Ades him
I dragg’d reluctant into light, by aid
Of Hermes, and of Pallas azure-eyed.
So saying, he penetrated deep again
The abode of Pluto; but I still unmoved
There stood expecting, curious, other shades
To see of Heroes in old time deceased.
And now, more ancient worthies still, and whom
I wish’d, I had beheld, Pirithoüs
And Theseus, glorious progeny of Gods,
But nations, first, numberless of the dead
Came shrieking hideous; me pale horror seized,
Lest awful Proserpine should thither send
The Gorgon-head from Ades, sight abhorr’d!
I, therefore, hasting to the vessel, bade
My crew embark, and cast the hawsers loose.
They, quick embarking, on the benches sat.
Down the Oceanus55 the current bore
My galley, winning, at the first, her way
With oars, then, wafted by propitious gales.
- ^ Milton.
- ^ The shore of Scilly commonly called Trinacria, but Euphonicè by Homer, Thrinacia.
- ^ The expression is used by Milton, and signifies—Beset with many difficulties.
- ^ Mistaking the oar for a corn-van. A sure indication of his ignorance of maritime concerns.
- ^ By the Tragedians called—Jocasta.
- ^ Iphicles had been informed by the Oracles that he should have no children till instructed by a prophet how to obtain them; a service which Melampus had the good fortune to render him.
- ^ Apollo.
- ^ Bacchus accused her to Diana of having lain with Theseus in his temple, and the Goddess punished her with death.
- ^ Probably meaning Helen.
- ^ This is surely one of the most natural strokes to be found in any Poet. Convinced, for a moment, by the virtues of Penelope, he mentioned her with respect; but recollecting himself suddenly, involves even her in his general ill opinion of the sex, begotten in him by the crimes of Clytemnestra.
- ^ Another most beautiful stroke of nature. Ere yet Ulysses has had opportunity to answer, the very thought that Peleus may possibly be insulted, fires him, and he takes the whole for granted. Thus is the impetuous character of Achilles sustained to the last moment!
- ^ —Priam is said to have influenced by gifts the wife and mother of Eurypylus, to persuade him to the assistance of Troy, he being himself unwilling to engage. The passage through defect of history has long been dark, and commentators have adapted different senses to it, all conjectural. The Ceteans are said to have been a people of Mysia, of which Eurypylus was King.
- ^ —Asphodel was planted on the graves and around the tombs of the deceased, and hence the supposition that the Stygian plain was clothed with asphodel. F.
- ^ must have this sense interpreted by what follows. To attempt to make the English numbers expressive as the Greek is a labour like that of Sisyphus. The Translator has done what he could.
- ^ It is now, perhaps, impossible to ascertain with precision what Homer meant by the word , which he uses only here, and in the next book, where it is the name of Scylla’s dam.— —is also of very doubtful explication.
- ^ The two first lines of the following book seem to ascertain the true meaning of the conclusion of this, and to prove sufficiently that by here Homer could not possibly intend any other than a river. In those lines he tells us in the plainest terms that the ship left the stream of the river Oceanus, and arrived in the open sea. Diodorus Siculus informs us that had been a name anciently given to the Nile. See Clarke.