The Odyssey of Homer (Cowper)/Book XVIII

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BOOK XVIII

ARGUMENT

The beggar Irus arrives at the palace; a combat takes place between him and Ulysses, in which Irus is by one blow vanquished. Penelope appears to the suitors, and having reminded them of the presents which she had a right to expect from them, receives a gift from each. Eurymachus, provoked by a speech of Ulysses, flings a foot-stool at him, which knocks down the cup-bearer; a general tumult is the consequence, which continues, till by the advice of Telemachus, seconded by Amphinomus, the suitors retire to their respective homes.

Now came a public mendicant, a man
Accustom’d, seeking alms, to roam the streets
Of Ithaca; one never sated yet
With food or drink; yet muscle had he none,
Or strength of limb, though giant-built in show.
Arnæus was the name which at his birth
His mother gave him, but the youthful band
Of suitors, whom as messenger he served,
All named him Irus. He, arriving, sought
To drive Ulysses forth from his own home,
And in rough accents rude him thus rebuked.
  Forth from the porch, old man! lest by the foot
I drag thee quickly forth. Seest not how all
Wink on me, and by signs give me command
To drag thee hence? nor is it aught but shame
That checks me. Yet arise, lest soon with fists
Thou force me to adjust our diff’rence.
  To whom Ulysses, low’ring dark, replied.
Peace, fellow! neither word nor deed of mine
Wrongs thee, nor feel I envy at the boon,
However plentiful, which thou receiv’st.
The sill may hold us both; thou dost not well
To envy others; thou appear’st like me
A vagrant; plenty is the gift of heav’n.
But urge me not to trial of our fists,
Lest thou provoke me, and I stain with blood
Thy bosom and thy lips, old as I am.
So, my attendance should to-morrow prove
More tranquil here; for thou should’st leave, I judge,
Ulysses’ mansion, never to return.
  Then answer’d Irus, kindling with disdain.
Gods! with what volubility of speech
The table-hunter prates, like an old hag
Collied with chimney-smutch! but ah beware!
For I intend thee mischief, and to dash
With both hands ev’ry grinder from thy gums,
As men untooth a pig pilf’ring the corn.
Come—gird thee, that all here may view the strife—
But how wilt thou oppose one young as I?
  Thus on the threshold of the lofty gate
They, wrangling, chafed each other, whose dispute
The high-born youth Antinoüs mark’d; he laugh’d
Delighted, and the suitors thus address’d.
  Oh friends! no pastime ever yet occurr’d
Pleasant as this which, now, the Gods themselves
Afford us. Irus and the stranger brawl
As they would box. Haste—let us urge them on.
  He said; at once loud-laughing all arose;
The ill-clad disputants they round about
Encompass’d, and Antinoüs thus began.
  Attend ye noble suitors to my voice.
Two paunches lie of goats here on the fire,
Which fill’d with fat and blood we set apart
For supper; he who conquers, and in force
Superior proves, shall freely take the paunch
Which he prefers, and shall with us thenceforth
Feast always; neither will we here admit
Poor man beside to beg at our repasts.
  He spake, whom all approved; next, artful Chief
Ulysses thus, dissembling, them address’d.
  Princes! unequal is the strife between
A young man and an old with mis’ry worn;
But hunger, always counsellor of ill,
Me moves to fight, that many a bruise received,
I may be foil’d at last. Now swear ye all
A solemn oath, that none, for Irus’ sake
Shall, interposing, smite me with his fist
Clandestine, forcing me to yield the prize.
  He ceas’d, and, as he bade, all present swore
A solemn oath; then thus, amid them all
Standing, Telemachus majestic spake.
  Guest! if thy courage and thy manly mind
Prompt thee to banish this man hence, no force
Fear thou beside, for who smites thee, shall find
Yet other foes to cope with; I am here
In the host’s office, and the royal Chiefs
Eurymachus and Antinoüs, alike
Discrete, accord unanimous with me.
  He ceas’d, whom all approved. Then, with his rags
Ulysses braced for decency his loins
Around, but gave to view his brawny thighs
Proportion’d fair, and stripp’d his shoulders broad,
His chest and arms robust; while, at his side,
Dilating more the Hero’s limbs and more
Minerva stood; the assembly with fixt eyes
Astonish’d gazed on him, and, looking full
On his next friend, a suitor thus remark’d.
  Irus shall be in Irus found no more.
He hath pull’d evil on himself. What thewes
And what a haunch the senior’s tatters hid!
  So he—meantime in Irus’ heart arose
Horrible tumult; yet, his loins by force
Girding, the servants dragg’d him to the fight
Pale, and his flesh all quiv’ring as he came;
Whose terrors thus Antinoüs sharp rebuked.
  Now, wherefore liv’st, and why wast ever born
Thou mountain-mass of earth! if such dismay
Shake thee at thought of combat with a man
Ancient as he, and worn with many woes?
But mark, I threaten not in vain; should he
O’ercome thee, and in force superior prove,
To Echetus thou go’st; my sable bark
Shall waft thee to Epirus, where he reigns
Enemy of mankind; of nose and ears
He shall despoil thee with his ruthless steel,
And tearing by the roots the parts away79
That mark thy sex, shall cast them to the dogs.
  He said; His limbs new terrors at that sound
Shook under him; into the middle space
They led him, and each raised his hands on high.
Then doubtful stood Ulysses toil-inured,
Whether to strike him lifeless to the earth
At once, or fell him with a managed blow.
To smite with managed force at length he chose
As wisest, lest, betray’d by his own strength,
He should be known. With elevated fists
Both stood; him Irus on the shoulder struck,
But he his adversary on the neck
Pash’d close beneath his ear; he split the bones,
And blood in sable streams ran from his mouth.
With many an hideous yell he dropp’d, his teeth
Chatter’d, and with his heels he drumm’d the ground.
The wooers, at that sight, lifting their hands
In glad surprize, laugh’d all their breath away.
Then, through the vestibule, and right across
The court, Ulysses dragg’d him by the foot
Into the portico, where propping him
Against the wall, and giving him his staff,
In accents wing’d he bade him thus farewell.
  There seated now, dogs drive and swine away,
Nor claim (thyself so base) supreme controul
O’er other guests and mendicants, lest harm
Reach thee, hereafter, heavier still than this.
  So saying, his tatter’d wallet o’er his back
He threw suspended by its leathern twist,
And tow’rd the threshold turning, sat again,
They laughing ceaseless still, the palace-door
Re-enter’d, and him, courteous, thus bespake.
  Jove, and all Jove’s assessors in the skies
Vouchsafe thee, stranger, whatsoe’er it be,
Thy heart’s desire! who hast our ears reliev’d
From that insatiate beggar’s irksome tone.
Soon to Epirus he shall go dispatch’d
To Echetus the King, pest of mankind.
  So they, to whose propitious words the Chief
Listen’d delighted. Then Antinoüs placed
The paunch before him, and Amphinomus
Two loaves, selected from the rest; he fill’d
A goblet also, drank to him, and said,
  My father, hail! O stranger, be thy lot
Hereafter blest, though adverse now and hard!
  To whom Ulysses, ever-wise, replied.
To me, Amphinomus, endued thou seem’st
With much discretion, who art also son
Of such a sire, whose fair report I know,
Dulichian Nysus, opulent and good.
Fame speaks thee his, and thou appear’st a man
Judicious; hear me, therefore; mark me well.
Earth nourishes, of all that breathe or creep,
No creature weak as man; for while the Gods
Grant him prosperity and health, no fear
Hath he, or thought, that he shall ever mourn;
But when the Gods with evils unforeseen
Smite him, he bears them with a grudging mind;
For such as the complexion of his lot
By the appointment of the Sire of all,
Such is the colour of the mind of man.
I, too, have been familiar in my day
With wealth and ease, but I was then self-will’d,
And many wrong’d, embolden’d by the thought
Of my own father’s and my brethren’s pow’r.
Let no man, therefore, be unjust, but each
Use modestly what gift soe’er of heav’n.
So do not these. These ever bent I see
On deeds injurious, the possessions large
Consuming, and dishonouring the wife
Of one, who will not, as I judge, remain
Long absent from his home, but is, perchance,
Ev’n at the door. Thee, therefore, may the Gods
Steal hence in time! ah, meet not his return
To his own country! for they will not part,
(He and the suitors) without blood, I think,
If once he enter at these gates again!
  He ended, and, libation pouring, quaff’d
The generous juice, then in the prince’s hand
Replaced the cup; he, pensive, and his head
Inclining low, pass’d from him; for his heart
Forboded ill; yet ’scaped not even he,
But in the snare of Pallas caught, his life
To the heroic arm and spear resign’d
Of brave Telemachus. Reaching, at length,
The seat whence he had ris’n, he sat again.
  Minerva then, Goddess, cærulean-eyed,
Prompted Icarius’ daughter to appear
Before the suitors; so to expose the more
Their drift iniquitous, and that herself
More bright than ever in her husband’s eyes
Might shine, and in her son’s. Much mirth she feign’d,80
And, bursting into laughter, thus began.
  I wish, Eurynome! (who never felt
That wish till now) though I detest them all,
To appear before the suitors, in whose ears
I will admonish, for his good, my son,
Not to associate with that lawless crew
Too much, who speak him fair, but foul intend.
  Then answer thus Eurynome return’d.
My daughter! wisely hast thou said and well.
Go! bathe thee and anoint thy face, then give
To thy dear son such counsel as thou wilt
Without reserve; but shew not there thy cheeks
Sullied with tears, for profit none accrues
From grief like thine, that never knows a change.
And he is now bearded, and hath attained
That age which thou wast wont with warmest pray’r
To implore the Gods that he might live to see.
  Her answer’d then Penelope discrete.
Persuade not me, though studious of my good,
To bathe, Eurynome! or to anoint
My face with oil; for all my charms the Gods
Inhabitants of Olympus then destroy’d,
When he, embarking, left me. Go, command
Hippodamia and Autonöe
That they attend me to the hall, and wait
Beside me there; for decency forbids
That I should enter to the men, alone.
  She ceas’d, and through the house the ancient dame
Hasted to summon whom she had enjoin’d.
  But Pallas, Goddess of the azure eyes,
Diffused, meantime, the kindly dew of sleep
Around Icarius’ daughter; on her couch
Reclining, soon as she reclin’d, she dozed,
And yielded to soft slumber all her frame.
Then, that the suitors might admire her more,
The glorious Goddess cloath’d her, as she lay,
With beauty of the skies; her lovely face
She with ambrosia purified, with such
As Cytherea chaplet-crown’d employs
Herself, when in the eye-ensnaring dance
She joins the Graces; to a statelier height
Beneath her touch, and ampler size she grew,
And fairer than the elephantine bone
Fresh from the carver’s hand. These gifts conferr’d
Divine, the awful Deity retired.
And now, loud-prattling as they came, arrived
Her handmaids; sleep forsook her at the sound,
She wiped away a tear, and thus she said.
  Me gentle sleep, sad mourner as I am,
Hath here involved. O would that by a death
As gentle chaste Diana would herself
This moment set me free, that I might waste
My life no longer in heart-felt regret
Of a lamented husband’s various worth
And virtue, for in Greece no Peer had he!
  She said, and through her chambers’ stately door
Issuing, descended; neither went she sole,
But with those two fair menials of her train.
Arriving, most majestic of her sex,
In presence of the num’rous guests, beneath
The portal of the stately dome she stood
Between her maidens, with her lucid veil
Mantling her lovely cheeks. Then, ev’ry knee
Trembled, and ev’ry heart with am’rous heat
Dissolv’d, her charms all coveting alike,
While to Telemachus her son she spake.
  Telemachus! thou art no longer wise
As once thou wast, and even when a child.
For thriven as thou art, and at full size
Arrived of man, so fair proportion’d, too,
That ev’n a stranger, looking on thy growth
And beauty, would pronounce thee nobly born,
Yet is thy intellect still immature.
For what is this? why suffer’st thou a guest
To be abused in thy own palace? how?
Know’st not that if the stranger seated here
Endure vexation, the disgrace is thine?
  Her answer’d, then, Telemachus discrete.
I blame thee not, my mother, that thou feel’st
Thine anger moved; yet want I not a mind
Able to mark and to discern between
Evil and good, child as I lately was,
Although I find not promptitude of thought
Sufficient always, overaw’d and check’d
By such a multitude, all bent alike
On mischief, of whom none takes part with me.
But Irus and the stranger have not fought,
Urged by the suitors, and the stranger prov’d
Victorious; yes—heav’n knows how much I wish
That, (in the palace some, some in the court)
The suitors all sat vanquish’d, with their heads
Depending low, and with enfeebled limbs,
Even as that same Irus, while I speak,
With chin on bosom propp’d at the hall-gate
Sits drunkard-like, incapable to stand
Erect, or to regain his proper home.
  So they; and now addressing to the Queen
His speech, Eurymachus thus interposed.
  O daughter of Icarius! could all eyes
Throughout Iäsian Argos81 view thy charms,
Discrete Penelope! more suitors still
Assembling in thy courts would banquet here
From morn to eve; for thou surpassest far
In beauty, stature, worth, all womankind.
  To whom replied Penelope discrete.
The Gods, Eurymachus! reduced to nought
My virtue, beauty, stature, when the Greeks,
Whom my Ulysses follow’d, sail’d to Troy.
Could he, returning, my domestic charge
Himself intend, far better would my fame
Be so secured, and wider far diffused.
But I am wretched now, such storms the Gods
Of woe have sent me. When he left his home,
Clasping my wrist with his right hand, he said.
  My love! for I imagine not that all
The warrior Greeks shall safe from Troy return,
Since fame reports the Trojans brave in fight,
Skill’d in the spear, mighty to draw the bow,
And nimble vaulters to the backs of steeds
High-mettled, which to speediest issue bring
The dreadful struggle of all-wasting war—
I know not, therefore, whether heav’n intend
My safe return, or I must perish there.
But manage thou at home. Cherish, as now,
While I am absent, or more dearly still
My parents, and what time our son thou seest
Mature, then wed; wed even whom thou wilt,
And hence to a new home.—Such were his words,
All which shall full accomplishment ere long
Receive. The day is near, when hapless I,
Lost to all comfort by the will of Jove,
Must meet the nuptials that my soul abhors.
But this thought now afflicts me, and my mind
Continual haunts. Such was not heretofore
The suitors’ custom’d practice; all who chose
To engage in competition for a wife
Well-qualitied and well-endow’d, produced
From their own herds and fatted flocks a feast
For the bride’s friends, and splendid presents made,
But never ate as ye, at others’ cost.
  She ceased; then brave Ulysses toil-inured
Rejoiced that, soothing them, she sought to draw
From each some gift, although on other views,
And more important far, himself intent.
  Then thus Antinoüs, Eupithes’ son.
Icarius’ daughter wise! only accept
Such gifts as we shall bring, for gifts demand
That grace, nor can be decently refused;
But to our rural labours, or elsewhere
Depart not we, till first thy choice be made
Of the Achaian, chief in thy esteem.
  Antinoüs spake, whose answer all approved.
Then each dispatch’d his herald who should bring
His master’s gift. Antinoüs’ herald, first
A mantle of surpassing beauty brought,
Wide, various, with no fewer clasps adorn’d
Than twelve, all golden, and to ev’ry clasp
Was fitted opposite its eye exact.
Next, to Eurymachus his herald bore
A necklace of wrought gold, with amber rich
Bestudded, ev’ry bead bright as a sun.
Two servants for Eurydamas produced
Ear-pendants fashion’d with laborious art,
Broad, triple-gemm’d, of brilliant light profuse.
The herald of Polyctor’s son, the prince
Pisander, brought a collar to his Lord,
A sumptuous ornament. Each Greecian gave,
And each a gift dissimilar from all.
Then, loveliest of her sex, turning away,
She sought her chamber, whom her maidens fair
Attended, charged with those illustrious gifts.
Then turn’d, they all to dance and pleasant song
Joyous, expecting the approach of ev’n.
Ere long the dusky evening came, and them
Found sporting still. Then, placing in the hall
Three hearths that should illumine wide the house,
They compass’d them around with fuel-wood
Long-season’d and new-split, mingling the sticks
With torches. The attendant women watch’d
And fed those fires by turns, to whom, himself,
Their unknown Sov’reign thus his speech address’d.
  Ye maidens of the long-regretted Chief
Ulysses! to the inner-courts retire,
And to your virtuous Queen, that following there
Your sev’ral tasks, spinning and combing wool,
Ye may amuse her; I, meantime, for these
Will furnish light, and should they chuse to stay
Till golden morn appear, they shall not tire
My patience aught, for I can much endure.
  He said; they, titt’ring, on each other gazed.
But one, Melantho with the blooming cheeks,
Rebuked him rudely. Dolius was her sire,
But by Penelope she had been reared
With care maternal, and in infant years
Supplied with many a toy; yet even she
Felt not her mistress’ sorrows in her heart,
But, of Eurymachus enamour’d, oft
His lewd embraces met; she, with sharp speech
Reproachful, to Ulysses thus replied.
  Why—what a brainsick vagabond art thou!
Who neither wilt to the smith’s forge retire
For sleep, nor to the public portico,
But here remaining, with audacious prate
Disturb’st this num’rous company, restrain’d
By no respect or fear; either thou art
With wine intoxicated, or, perchance,
Art always fool, and therefore babblest now.
Say, art thou drunk with joy that thou hast foiled
The beggar Irus? Tremble, lest a man
Stronger than Irus suddenly arise,
Who on thy temples pelting thee with blows
Far heavier than his, shall drive thee hence
With many a bruise, and foul with thy own blood.
  To whom Ulysses, frowning stern, replied.
Snarler! Telemachus shall be inform’d
This moment of thy eloquent harangue,
That he may hew thee for it, limb from limb.
  So saying, he scared the women; back they flew
Into the house, but each with falt’ring knees
Through dread, for they believ’d his threats sincere.
He, then illumin’d by the triple blaze,
Watch’d close the lights, busy from hearth to hearth,
But in his soul, meantime, far other thoughts
Revolved, tremendous, not conceived in vain.
  Nor Pallas (that they might exasp’rate more
Laertes’ son) permitted to abstain
From heart-corroding bitterness of speech
Those suitors proud, of whom Eurymachus,
Offspring of Polybus, while thus he jeer’d
Ulysses, set the others in a roar.
  Hear me, ye suitors of the illustrious Queen!
I shall promulge my thought. This man, methinks,
Not unconducted by the Gods, hath reach’d
Ulysses’ mansion, for to me the light
Of yonder torches altogether seems
His own, an emanation from his head,
Which not the smallest growth of hair obscures.
  He ended; and the city-waster Chief
Himself accosted next. Art thou disposed
To serve me, friend! would I afford thee hire,
A labourer at my farm? thou shalt not want
Sufficient wages; thou may’st there collect
Stones for my fences, and may’st plant my oaks,
For which I would supply thee all the year
With food, and cloaths, and sandals for thy feet.
But thou hast learn’d less creditable arts,
Nor hast a will to work, preferring much
By beggary from others to extort
Wherewith to feed thy never-sated maw.
  Then answer, thus, Ulysses wise return’d.
Forbear, Eurymachus; for were we match’d
In work against each other, thou and I,
Mowing in spring-time, when the days are long,
I with my well-bent sickle in my hand,
Thou arm’d with one as keen, for trial sake
Of our ability to toil unfed
Till night, grass still sufficing for the proof.—
Or if, again, it were our task to drive
Yoked oxen of the noblest breed, sleek-hair’d,
Big-limb’d, both batten’d to the full with grass,
Their age and aptitude for work the same
Not soon to be fatigued, and were the field
In size four acres, with a glebe through which
The share might smoothly slide, then should’st thou see
How strait my furrow should be cut and true.—
Or should Saturnian Jove this day excite
Here, battle, or elsewhere, and were I arm’d
With two bright spears and with a shield, and bore
A brazen casque well-fitted to my brows,
Me, then, thou should’st perceive mingling in fight
Amid the foremost Chiefs, nor with the crime
Of idle beggary should’st upbraid me more.
But thou art much a railer, one whose heart
Pity moves not, and seem’st a mighty man
And valiant to thyself, only because
Thou herd’st with few, and those of little worth.
But should Ulysses come, at his own isle
Again arrived, wide as these portals are,
To thee, at once, too narrow they should seem
To shoot thee forth with speed enough abroad.
  He ceased—then tenfold indignation fired
Eurymachus; he furrow’d deep his brow
With frowns, and in wing’d accents thus replied.
  Wretch, I shall roughly handle thee anon,
Who thus with fluent prate presumptuous dar’st
Disturb this num’rous company, restrain’d
By no respect or fear. Either thou art
With wine intoxicated, or, perchance,
Art always fool, and therefore babblest now;
Or thou art frantic haply with delight
That thou hast foil’d yon vagabond obscure.
  So saying, he seized a stool; but to the knees
Ulysses flew of the Dulichian Prince
Amphinomus, and sat, fearing incensed
Eurymachus; he on his better hand
Smote full the cup-bearer; on the hall-floor
Loud rang the fallen beaker, and himself
Lay on his back clamouring in the dust.
Strait through the dusky hall tumult ensued
Among the suitors, of whom thus, a youth,
With eyes directed to the next, exclaim’d.
  Would that this rambling stranger had elsewhere
Perish’d, or ever he had here arrived,
Then no such uproar had he caused as this!
This doth the beggar; he it is for whom
We wrangle thus, and may despair of peace
Or pleasure more; now look for strife alone.
  Then in the midst Telemachus upstood
Majestic, and the suitors thus bespake.
Sirs! ye are mad, and can no longer eat
Or drink in peace; some dæmon troubles you.
But since ye all have feasted, to your homes
Go now, and, at your pleasure, to your beds;
Soonest were best, but I thrust no man hence.
  He ceased; they gnawing stood their lips, aghast
With wonder that Telemachus in his speech
Such boldness used. Then rose Amphinomus,
Brave son of Nisus offspring of the King
Aretus, and the assembly thus address’d.
  My friends! let none with contradiction thwart
And rude reply words rational and just;
Assault no more the stranger, nor of all
The servants of renown’d Ulysses here
Harm any. Come. Let the cup-bearer fill
To all, that due libation made, to rest
We may repair at home, leaving the Prince
To accommodate beneath his father’s roof
The stranger, for he is the Prince’s guest.
  He ended, whose advice none disapproved.
The Hero Mulius then, Dulichian-born,
And herald of Amphinomus, the cup
Filling, dispensed it, as he stood, to all;
They, pouring forth to the Immortals, quaff’d
The luscious bev’rage, and when each had made
Libation, and such measure as he would
Of wine had drunk, then all to rest retired.


  1. ^  Tradition says that Echetus, for a love-affair, condemned his daughter to lose her eyes, and to grind iron barley-grains, while her lover was doomed to suffer what Antinoüs threatens to Irus. F.
  2. ^  This seems the sort of laughter intended by the word Αχρειον.
  3. ^  From Iäsus, once King of Peloponnesus.