Reading Activity 1: The Odyssey

The Odyssey

Unit 7: Reading Activity

The Odyssey

Directions: For the Reading Activity answer the following questions completely in a word processing document then attach and submit by clicking on the “Unit 7: Reading Activity” link above.

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Remember to follow these guidelines:

  1. Provide evidence from the text. Be specific!
  2. Give reasoning for your response with a few sentences of commentary.
  3. Proofread for spelling and grammar errors.
  4. Answer ALL parts of the question.

The Odyssey

Book V

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  1. Who is Hermes, and what is his mission?
  2. What can Hermes do with his wand?
  3. Who is holding Odysseus captive?
  4. What is Calypso’s reaction to having to let Odysseus go?
  5. What is the main problem Odysseus faces while traveling by sea?
  6. What happens to Odysseus at the end of Book 5?

Book X

  1. Who is the god of wind and what favor does he do for Odysseus and his men?
  2. What stupid mistake do some of the men make on the ship and how do even more men die after the bag accident?
  3. What does Circe do to some of Odysseus’s men?
  4. How does Odysseus get her to release his men?
  5. What instructions does Circe give Odysseus?


  1. How does Penelopeia test Odysseus?
  2. Why does she test him?
  3. Describe the one last task that Tieresias told Odysseus to complete. What will be his reward for this task?
  4. After Odysseus tells Penelopeia about all his adventures, he sets off again. What does he go to do? What does he tell Penelopeia to do?

“Prologue and Epilogue from The Odyssey”

  1. Who is the speaker’s “main man“?
  2. What is the speaker’s attitude toward this “main man”?
  3. What type of music does the speaker sing?
  4. Considering the loneliness, death, and defeat that occur in Homer’s Odyssey, why is the speaker’s musical style appropriate?
  5. How is Penelope described in the Epilogue?
  6. What seems to be the speaker’s attitude toward Penelope?
  7. Overall, which elements from Homer’s Odyssey seem most interesting to Walcott?
  8. Which details suggest that the poet felt a responsibility to show respect for Homer’s Odyssey?
  9. Do you think Billy Blue feels responsible for sharing Odysseus’ story? Why or why not?

“There is a Longing”

  1. What does Chief Dan George say is his community’s longing?
  2. What is his greatest fear?
  3. What training will the new warriors have to endure?
  4. Why does Chief Dan George believe that this training is necessary?
  5. In what way is Chief Dan George different from the “olden” chiefs?
  6. What does the chief mean when he refers to fighting a war with “tongue and speech”?
  7. Do you think the chief’s goal of achieving success through education and skills is the best means for improving his people’s lives? Explain.
  8. Chief Dan George talks about fighting his people’s war with “tongue and speech.” Can someone who fights only with such weapons be a hero?

“Glory and Hope”

  1. What does Nelson Mandela say is “newborn” in his country?
  2. What emotion does the word “newborn” add to his remarks?
  3. Into what “covenant” does Mandela say the South African people are now entering?
  4. Which ideas in the speech are especially important for safeguarding the human rights of all people throughout today’s world?
  5. What do the words “glory” and “hope” mean?
  6. How does the title of the speech connect with the ideas that Mandela conveys?
  7. Basing your answer on Mandela’s speech, what do you think was the new leader’s greatest challenge? Explain.
  8. Based on what you know about Nelson Mandela from his speech, would you call him a hero? Explain.

Mandela’s Address: ‘Glory and Hope’

Published: May 11, 1994

Following is a transcript of Nelson Mandela’s speech here today at his inauguration as President of South Africa, as recorded by The Associated Press:

Your majesties, your royal highnesses, distinguished guests, comrades and friends:

Today, all of us do, by our presence here, and by our celebrations in other parts of our country and the world, confer glory and hope to newborn liberty.

Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.

Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all. A Sense of Renewal

All this we owe both to ourselves and to the peoples of the world who are so well represented here today.

To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld.

Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change.

We are moved by a sense of joy and exhilaration when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom.

That spiritual and physical oneness we all share with this common homeland explains the depth of the pain we all carried in our hearts as we saw our country tear itself apart in terrible conflict, and as we saw it spurned, outlawed and isolated by the peoples of the world, precisely because it has become the universal base of the pernicious ideology and practice of racism and racial oppression. Guests Are Thanked

We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil.

We thank all our distinguished international guests for having come to take possession with the people of our country of what is, after all, a common victory for justice, for peace, for human dignity.

We trust that you will continue to stand by us as we tackle the challenges of building peace, prosperity, nonsexism, nonracialism and democracy.

We deeply appreciate the role that the masses of our people and their democratic, religious, women, youth, business, traditional and other leaders have played to bring about this conclusion. Not least among them is my Second Deputy President, the Honorable F. W. de Klerk. A Pledge of Liberation

We would also like to pay tribute to our security forces, in all their ranks, for the distinguished role they have played in securing our first democratic elections and the transition to democracy, from bloodthirsty forces which still refuse to see the light.

The time for the healing of the wounds has come.

The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.

The time to build is upon us.

We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.

We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace. Issue of Amnesty

We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity — a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.

As a token of its commitment to the renewal of our country, the new Interim Government of National Unity will, as a matter of urgency, address the issue of amnesty for various categories of our people who are currently serving terms of imprisonment.

We dedicate this day to all the heroes and heroines in this country and the rest of the world who sacrificed in many ways and surrendered their lives so that we could be free.

Their dreams have become reality. Freedom is their reward.

We are both humbled and elevated by the honor and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first President of a united, democratic, nonracial and nonsexist South Africa, to lead our country out of the valley of darkness.

We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom.

We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success.

We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.

Let there be justice for all.

Let there be peace for all.

Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.

Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.

Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.

The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!

Let freedom reign. God bless Africa!

The Odyssey Book Summaries

Directions: Read the summaries of each book in the epic. For the designated reading selections, you will read that book on your own and answer the questions provided within the course. Book I: What Went On in the House of Odysseus Athena appeals to Zeus for permission to help Odysseus reach home. Odysseus’s home in Ithaca is overrun with suitors who are trying to win Penelopeia’s hand. With the help of Athena disguised as Mentes, Telemachus finds the courage to confront the suitors. Book II: How the Council Met in the Market-place of Ithaca; and What Came of It In a town meeting, Telemachos announces his intentions to locate his father and rid his house of the suitors. He is met with ridicule and doubt, especially from Antinoos who confronts Telemachos twice. Athena helps Telemachos prepare for his journey, and he sets sail in secret that night. Book III: What Happened in Sandy Pylos Following Athena’s advice, Telemachos visits King Nestor of Pylos to get information about his father. Athena accompanies him disguised as an old family friend, Mentor. Nestor tells Telemachos stories about Odysseus. Telemachos continues his search on horseback with Nestor’s son Megapenthes. Book IV: What Happened in Lacedaimon Telemachos and Megapenthes arrive at and are welcomed into the home of Menelaos and Helen. Menelaos tells Telemachos of his travels with Odysseus and that Odysseus is trapped on an island by Calypso. Meanwhile, Antinoos has learned that Telemachos has embarked on his journey and plots with the other suitors to kill him upon his return to Ithaca. Penelopeia learns of Telemachos’s leaving and is upset. Book V: Hermes Is Sent to Calypso’s Island; Odysseus Makes a Raft and Is Carried to the Coast of Scheria Read this book from the provided readings within the course. Book VI: How Odysseus Appealed to Nausicaa, and She Brought Him to Her Father’s House Athena appears in Nausicaa’s dream, telling her to go to the river and wash clothes. Nausicaa and her maids meet Odysseus at the river, and all but Nausicaa are frightened of him because of his appearance. He begs her to help him and she agrees. He bathes and follows Nausicaa’s instructions for asking her parents for assistance. Book VII: What Happened to Odysseus in the Palace of Alcinoos Odysseus arrives at the palace of Alcinoos and Arete and begs for their help in getting him home. They feed him, ask about his situation, and agree to give him the help he needs.

Book VIII: How They Held Games and Sports in Phaiacia The next day Alcinoos sends the boys of the town to construct a ship for Odysseus’s voyage and gathers the men for a day of entertainment for Odysseus. Demodocos sings of famous men, including Odysseus. When Alcinoos sees Odysseus crying during the minstrel’s story, he commences the games and dancing to keep his guest happy. At dinner, Odysseus again weeps when Demodocos sings about the Trojan War. At this point, Alcinoos finally demands to know who Odysseus is. Book IX: How Odysseus Visited the Lotus-Eaters and the Cyclops Odysseus tells Alcinoos who he is and what things have happened to him since he left Troy. He tells of his adventures in Ismaros, in the land of the Lotus-Eaters, and in the land of the Cyclopians. He describes the Cyclopians as “violent and lawless” (102), and he and his men run into trouble with one of the Cyclopians. Men are killed and Poseidon’s vendetta against Odysseus begins. Book X: The Island of the Winds; the Land of the Midnight Sun; Circe Read this book from the provided readings within the course. Book XI: How Odysseus Visited the Kingdom of the Dead Odysseus follows Circe’s instructions. In Hades, he first sees a dead shipmate, Elpenor, then his mother, Anticleia, then Tieresias. Tieresias tells him what will happen to him next, including a warning about the cattle of Helios and how to reconcile with Poseidon. He then gets to talk with his mother, and she answers many questions for him. At this point, Odysseus tries to conclude his storytelling, but Alcinoos begs him to continue. Odysseus says only that he met the souls of many who passed away, then he left Hades. Book XII: The Singing Sirens, and the Terrors of Scylla and Charybdis Odysseus tells of their return to Aiaia to bury Elpenor and of Circe’s warning of the dangers to come: the Sirens, Scylla, Charybdis, and Helios’s cattle. The men make it through the perils of the sea, as predicted. On land, when they run out of provisions, they eat Helios’s cattle even though Odysseus made them promise not to. At sea, all except Odysseus are killed as punishment. Odysseus is adrift for nine days before landing on the island of Ogygia, Calypso’s home. Alcinoos and the other listeners are now up-to-date on the travels of Odysseus. Book XIII: How Odysseus Came to Ithaca Odysseus is done telling his story. King Alcinoos gives Odysseus a ship with a crew and supplies, and the townspeople all give him gifts. The crew delivers Odysseus to Ithaca and returns home. Poseidon, who is mad that anyone would make Odysseus’s travels by sea so easy, turns the ship and crew into stone as they return to their harbor. Odysseus does not believe he is home until Athena convinces him. She disguises him as an old beggar and sends to him to his faithful pigkeeper.

Book XIV: Odysseus and the Swineherd Athena goes to Lacedaimon to bring Telemachos home. Odysseus goes to the swineherd Eumaios’ house. Odysseus is made welcome and is pleased to see how faithful Eumaios has been during his absence. Book XV: How Telemachos Sailed Back to Ithaca Athena finds Telemachos at the mansion of Menelaos and instructs him to return home. Odysseus learns from Eumaios about his (Odysseus’s) parents and how Eumaios was bought by Laertes when he was a child. Telemachos lands safely back in Ithaca and, by Athena’s instructions, goes straight to Eumaios. Book XVI: How Telemachos Met His Father Athena instructs Odysseus to reveal his identity to Telemachos and to plan their revenge on the suitors. Eumaios tells Penelopeia that Telemachos has returned safely to Ithaca. When the suitors, led by Antinoos, learn that their plan to kill Telemachos has failed, they plot to kill him another way. Book XVII: How Odysseus Returned to His Own Home Telemachos returns home, accompanied by Theoclymenos. Eumaios brings the disguised Odysseus to his home where the suitors are entertaining themselves as usual. Odysseus is recognized only by Argos, his old hunting dog, who dies after hearing his master’ s voice one last time. Odysseus tests the suitors by begging for food from each one. Penelopeia tells Eumaios to bring the beggar to her; she wants to know if he has any news about Odysseus. Book XVIII: How Odysseus Fought the Sturdy Beggar Odysseus fights with another beggar, Iros, who is used to being the only beggar at the castle. Penelopeia decides to address the suitors, saying she will choose a husband according to who brings her the best gift. Odysseus recognizes this as a trick on the suitors. Odysseus is further antagonized by Melantho, a maid, and Eurymachos. Book XIX: How the Old Nurse Knew Her Master The women are shut up in their rooms, and Odysseus and Telemachos hide all the weapons in a storeroom. Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, goes to see Penelopeia. He convinces her that he did meet Odysseus and that he has heard also that Odysseus is on his way home. Penelopeia is grateful and orders Eurycleia to bathe and clothe the beggar. Eurycleia recognizes Odysseus by a scar on his leg, but he swears her to secrecy. Penelopeia, discouraged, decides to go ahead and marry whomever can meet the challenge that she will put forth to the suitors: to string Odysseus’s bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe-heads in a row. Book XX: How God Sent Omens of the Wrath to Come It is a new day and Telemachos receives the beggar (Odysseus) into his house. The beggar is ridiculed by many, but he remains calm. Philoitios proves himself a faithful and kind servant.

Book XXI: The Contest with the Great Bow Penelopeia issues her challenge to the suitors, but none of the men can bend the bow to string it. Odysseus finds a chance to confide in Philoitios and Eumaios and to include them in his plans for revenge. Odysseus easily strings the bow and shoots an arrow through the twelve axe- heads. Eumaios tells the women to lock themselves in the bedrooms, and Telemachos and Odysseus arm themselves against the suitors. Book XXII: The Battle in the Hall Immediately Odysseus reveals himself and kills Antinoos with an arrow. Eurymachos tries to convince Odysseus that Antinoos is to blame for everything and that he shouldn’t kill the other suitors. Odysseus gives them a chance to run away, but they choose to fight, led by Eurymachos. Odysseus, Telemachos, and the two servants kill everyone except Phemios and Medon. Odysseus asks Eurycleia to identify the maids who have been unfaithful and bring them to him. He makes them clean up the blood and dead bodies in the hall and then Telemachos hangs them. Melanthios is cut up and fed to the dogs. The maids and servants come and celebrate the return of Odysseus. Book XXIII: How Odysseus Found His Wife Again Read this book from the provided readings within the course. Book XXIV: How Odysseus Found His Old Father and How the Story Ended The souls of the dead men pass to Hades, led by Hermes. Odysseus goes to see Laertes, pretending to be someone else at first, but then he reveals his identity. Laertes asks for proof that he is Odysseus. He tells about the scar on his leg and spending time in his father’s orchard. Relatives of the suitors, led by Eupeithes, Antinoos’ father, come to battle Odysseus. Odysseus kills Eupeithes, then Athena stops the battle and makes peace between the two sides.

Book V Odysseus—Nymph and Shipwreck As Dawn rose up from bed by her lordly mate Tithonus, bringing light to immortal gods and mortal men, the gods sat down in council, circling Zeus the thunder king whose power rules the world. Athena began, recalling Odysseus to their thoughts, the goddess deeply moved by the man’s long ordeal, held captive still in the nymph Calypso’s house: “Father Zeus—you other happy gods who never die— never let any sceptered king be kind and gentle now, not with all his heart, or set his mind on justice— no, let him be cruel and always practice outrage. Think: not one of the people whom he ruled remembers Odysseus now, that godlike man, and kindly as a father to his children.

Now he’s left to pine on an island, racked with grief in the nymph Calypso’s house—she holds him there by force. He has no way to voyage home to his own native land, no trim ships in reach, no crew to ply the oars and send him scudding over the sea’s broad back. And now his dear son … they plot to kill the boy on his way back home. Yes, he has sailed off for news of his father, to holy Pylos first, then out to the sunny hills of Lacedaemon.”

“My child,” Zeus who marshals the thunderheads replied,

“what nonsense you let slip through your teeth. Come now, wasn’t the plan your own? You conceived it yourself: Odysseus shall return and pay the traitors back. Telemachus? Sail him home with all your skill— the power is yours, no doubt— home to his native country all unharmed while the suitors limp to port, defeated, baffled men.”

With those words, Zeus turned to his own son Hermes.

“You are our messenger, Hermes, sent on all our missions. Announce to the nymph with lovely braids our fixed decree: Odysseus journeys home—the exile must return. But not in the convoy of the gods or mortal men. No, on a lashed, makeshift raft and wrung with pains, on the twentieth day he will make his landfall, fertile Scheria, the land of Phaeacians, close kin to the gods themselves, who with all their hearts will prize him like a god and send him off in a ship to his own beloved land, giving him bronze and hoards of gold and robes— more plunder than he could ever have won from Troy if Odysseus had returned intact with his fair share. So his destiny ordains. He shall see his loved ones, reach his high-roofed house, his native land at last.”

So Zeus decreed and the giant-killing guide obeyed at once. Quickly under his feet he fastened the supple sandals, ever-glowing gold, that wing him over the waves and boundless earth with the rush of gusting winds. He seized the wand that enchants the eyes of men whenever Hermes wants, or wakes us up from sleep. That wand in his grip, the powerful giant-killer, swooping down from Pieria, down the high clear air, plunged to the sea and skimmed the waves like a tern that down the deadly gulfs of the barren salt swells glides and dives for fish, dipping its beating wings in bursts of spray— so Hermes skimmed the crests on endless crests. But once he gained that island worlds apart, up from the deep-blue sea he climbed to dry land and strode on till he reached the spacious cave where the nymph with lovely braids had made her home, and he found her there inside …

A great fire blazed on the hearth and the smell of cedar cleanly split and sweetwood burning bright wafted a cloud of fragrance down the island. Deep inside she sang, the goddess Calypso, lifting her breathtaking voice as she glided back and forth before her loom, her golden shuttle weaving. Thick, luxuriant woods grew round the cave, alders and black poplars, pungent cypress too, and there birds roosted, folding their long wings, owls and hawks and the spread-beaked ravens of the sea, black skimmers who make their living off the waves. And round the mouth of the cavern trailed a vine laden with clusters, bursting with ripe grapes. Four springs in a row, bubbling clear and cold, running side-by-side, took channels left and right. Soft meadows spreading round were starred with violets, lush with beds of parsley. Why, even a deathless god who came upon that place would gaze in wonder, heart entranced with pleasure. Hermes the guide, the mighty giant-killer, stood there, spellbound …

But once he’d had his fill of marveling at it all he briskly entered the deep vaulted cavern. Calypso, lustrous goddess, knew him at once, as soon as she saw his features face-to-face. Immortals are never strangers to each other, no matter how distant one may make her home. But as for great Odysseus— Hermes could not find him within the cave. Off he sat on a headland, weeping there as always, wrenching his heart with sobs and groans and anguish, gazing out over the barren sea through blinding tears. But Calypso, lustrous goddess, questioned Hermes, seating him on a glistening, polished chair. “God of the golden wand, why have you come? A beloved, honored friend, but it’s been so long, your visits much too rare. Tell me what’s on your mind. I’m eager to do it, whatever I can do … whatever can be done.”

And the goddess drew a table up beside him, heaped with ambrosia, mixed him deep-red nectar. Hermes the guide and giant-killer ate and drank. Once he had dined and fortified himself with food he launched right in, replying to her questions: “As one god to another, you ask me why I’ve come. I’ll tell you the whole story, mince no words— your wish is my command. It was Zeus who made me come, no choice of mine. Who would willingly roam across a salty waste so vast, so endless? Think: no city of men in sight, and not a soul to offer the gods a sacrifice and burn the fattest victims. But there is no way, you know, for another god to thwart the will of storming Zeus and make it come to nothing. Zeus claims you keep beside you a most unlucky man, most harried of all who fought for Priam’s Troy nine years, sacking the city in the tenth, and then set sail for home.

But voyaging back they outraged Queen Athena who loosed the gales and pounding seas against them. There all the rest of his loyal shipmates died but the wind drove him on, the current bore him here. Now Zeus commands you to send him off with all good speed: it is not his fate to die here, far from his own people. Destiny still ordains that he shall see his loved ones, reach his high-roofed house, his native land at last.”

But lustrous Calypso shuddered at those words and burst into a flight of indignation. “Hard-hearted you are, you gods! You unrivaled lords of jealousy— scandalized when goddesses sleep with mortals, openly, even when one has made the man her husband. So when Dawn with her rose-red fingers took Orion, you gods in your everlasting ease were horrified till chaste Artemis throned in gold attacked him, out on Delos, shot him to death with gentle shafts. And so when Demeter the graceful one with lovely braids gave way to her passion and made love with Iasion, bedding down in a furrow plowed three times— Zeus got wind of it soon enough, I’d say, and blasted the man to death with flashing bolts. So now at last, you gods, you train your spite on me for keeping a mortal man beside me. The man I saved, riding astride his keel-board, all alone, when Zeus with one hurl of a white-hot bolt had crushed his racing warship down the wine-dark sea. There all the rest of his loyal shipmates died but the wind drove him on, the current bore him here. And I welcomed him warmly, cherished him, even vowed to make the man immortal, ageless, all his days … But since there is no way for another god to thwart the will of storming Zeus and make it come to nothing, let the man go—if the Almighty insists, commands— and destroy himself on the barren salt sea! I’ll send him off, but not with any escort. I have no ships in reach, no crew to ply the oars and send him scudding over the sea’s broad back.

But I will gladly advise him—I’ll hide nothing— so he can reach his native country all unharmed.”

And the guide and giant-killer reinforced her words: “Release him at once, just so. Steer clear of the rage of Zeus! Or down the years he’ll fume and make your life a hell.”

With that the powerful giant-killer sped away.

The queenly nymph sought out the great Odysseus— the commands of Zeus still ringing in her ears— and found him there on the headland, sitting, still, weeping, his eyes never dry, his sweet life flowing away with the tears he wept for his foiled journey home, since the nymph no longer pleased. In the nights, true, he’d sleep with her in the arching cave—he had no choice— unwilling lover alongside lover all too willing … But all his days he’d sit on the rocks and beaches, wrenching his heart with sobs and groans and anguish, gazing out over the barren sea through blinding tears. So coming up to him now, the lustrous goddess ventured, “No need, my unlucky one, to grieve here any longer, no, don’t waste your life away. Now I am willing, heart and soul, to send you off at last. Come, take bronze tools, cut your lengthy timbers, make them into a broad-beamed raft and top it off with a half-deck high enough to sweep you free and clear on the misty seas. And I myself will stock her with food and water, ruddy wine to your taste—all to stave off hunger— give you clothing, send you a stiff following wind so you can reach your native country all unharmed. If only the gods are willing. They rule the vaulting skies. They’re stronger than I to plan and drive things home.”

Long-enduring Odysseus shuddered at that

and broke out in a sharp flight of protest. “Passage home? Never. Surely you’re plotting something else, goddess, urging me—in a raft—

to cross the ocean’s mighty gulfs. So vast, so full of danger not even deep-sea ships can make it through, swift as they are and buoyed up by the winds of Zeus himself. I won’t set foot on a raft until you show good faith, until you consent to swear, goddess, a binding oath you’ll never plot some new intrigue to harm me!”

He was so intense the lustrous goddess smiled, stroked him with her hand, savored his name arid chided, “Ah what a wicked man you are, and never at a loss. What a thing to imagine, what a thing to say! Earth be my witness now, the vaulting Sky above and the dark cascading waters of the Styx—I swear by the greatest, grimmest oath that binds the happy gods; I will never plot some new intrigue to harm you- Never. All I have in mind and devise for you are the very plans I’d fashion for myself if I were in your straits. My every impulse bends to what is right. Not iron, trust me, the heart within my breast. I am all compassion.”

And lustrous Calypso quickly led the way

as he followed in the footsteps of the goddess. They reached the arching cavern, man and god as one, and Odysseus took the seat that Hermes just left, while the nymph set out before him every kind of food and drink that mortal men will take. Calypso sat down face-to-face with the king and the women served her nectar and ambrosia. They reached out for the good things that lay at hand and when they’d had their fill of food and drink the lustrous one took up a new approach. “So then, royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, man of exploits, still eager to leave at once and hurry back to your own home, your beloved native land? Good luck to you, even so. Farewell! But if you only knew, down deep, what pains are fated to fill your cup before you reach that shore,

you’d stay right here, preside in our house with me and be immortal. Much as you long to see your wife, the one you pine for all your days … and yet I just might claim to be nothing less than she, neither in face nor figure. Hardly right, is it, for mortal woman to rival immortal goddess? How, in build? in beauty?”

“Ah great goddess,” worldly Odysseus answered, “don’t be angry with me, please. All that you say is true, how well I know. Look at my wise Penelope. She falls far short of you, your beauty, stature. She is mortal after all and you, you never age or die … Nevertheless I long—I pine, all my days— to travel home and see the dawn of my return. And if a god will wreck me yet again on the wine-dark sea, I can bear that too, with a spirit tempered to endure. Much have I suffered, labored long and hard by now in the waves and wars. Add this to the total— bring the trial on!”

Even as he spoke the sun set and the darkness swept the earth. And now, withdrawing into the cavern’s deep recesses, long in each other’s arms they lost themselves in love.

When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more

Odysseus quickly dressed himself in cloak and shirt while the nymph slipped on a loose, glistening robe, filmy, a joy to the eye, and round her waist she ran a brocaded golden belt and over her head a scarf to shield her brow, then turned to plan the great man’s voyage home. She gave him a heavy bronze ax that fit his grip, both blades well-honed, with a fine olive haft lashed firm to its head. She gave him a polished smoothing-adze as well and then she led the way to the island’s outer edge where trees grew tall, alders, black poplars and firs that shot sky-high,

seasoned, drying for years, ideal for easy floating. Once she’d shown her guest where the tall timber stood, Calypso the lustrous goddess headed home again. He set to cutting trunks—the work was done in no time. Twenty in all he felled, he trimmed them clean with his ax and split them deftly, trued them straight to the line. Meanwhile the radiant goddess brought him drills— he bored through all his planks and wedged them snugly, knocking them home together, locked with pegs and bolts. Broad in the beam and bottom flat as a merchantman when a master shipwright turns out her hull, so broad the craft Odysseus made himself. Working away at speed he put up half-decks pinned to close-set ribs and a sweep of gunwales rounded off the sides. He fashioned the mast next and sank its yard in deep and added a steering-oar to hold her right on course, then he fenced her stem to stern with twigs and wicker, bulwark against the sea-surge, floored with heaps of brush. And lustrous Calypso came again, now with bolts of cloth to make the sail, and he finished that off too, expertly. Braces, sheets and brails—he rigged all fast on board, then eased her down with levers into the sunlit sea.

That was the fourth day and all his work was done. On the fifth, the lovely goddess launched him from her island, once she had bathed and decked him out in fragrant clothes. And Calypso stowed two skins aboard—dark wine in one, the larger one held water—added a sack of rations, filled with her choicest meats to build his strength, and summoned a wind to bear him onward, fair and warm. The wind lifting his spirits high, royal Odysseus spread sail—gripping the tiller, seated astern— and now the master mariner steered his craft, sleep never closing his eyes, forever scanning the stars, the Pleiades and the Plowman late to set and the Great Bear that mankind also calls the Wagon: she wheels on her axis always fixed, watching the Hunter,

and she alone is denied a plunge in the Ocean’s baths. Hers were the stars the lustrous goddess told him to keep hard to port as he cut across the sea. And seventeen days he sailed, making headway well; on the eighteenth, shadowy mountains slowly loomed … the Phaeacians’ island reaching toward him now, over the misty breakers, rising like a shield.

But now Poseidon, god of the earthquake, saw him— just returning home from his Ethiopian friends, from miles away on the Solymi mountain-range he spied Odysseus sailing down the sea and it made his fury boil even more. He shook his head and rumbled to himself, “Outrageous! Look how the gods have changed their minds about Odysseus—while I was off with my Ethiopians. Just look at him there, nearing Phaeacia’s shores where he’s fated to escape his noose of pain that’s held him until now. Still my hopes ride high— I’ll give that man his swamping fill of trouble!”

With that he rammed the clouds together—both hands

clutching his trident—churned the waves into chaos, whipping all the gales from every quarter, shrouding over in thunderheads the earth and sea at once—and night swept down from the sky— East and South Winds clashed and the raging West and North, sprung from the heavens, roiled heaving breakers up— and Odysseus’ knees quaked, his spirit too; numb with fear he spoke to his own great heart: “Wretched man—what becomes of me now, at last? I fear the nymph foretold it all too well— on the high seas, she said, before I can reach my native land I’ll fill my cup of pain! And now, look, it all comes to pass. What monstrous clouds— King Zeus crowning the whole wide heaven black— churning the seas in chaos, gales blasting, raging around my head from every quarter— my death-plunge in a flash, it’s certain now!

Three, four times blessed, my friends-in-arms who died on the plains of Troy those years ago, serving the sons of Atreus to the end. Would to god I’d died there too and met my fate that day the Trojans, swarms of them, hurled at me with bronze spears, fighting over the corpse of proud Achilles! A hero’s funeral then, my glory spread by comrades— now what a wretched death I’m doomed to die!”

At that a massive wave came crashing down on his head, a terrific onslaught spinning his craft round and round— he was thrown clear of the decks—

the steering-oar wrenched from his grasp—

and in one lightning attack the brawling galewinds struck full-force, snapping the mast mid-shaft and hurling the sail and sailyard far across the sea. He went under a good long while, no fast way out, no struggling up from under the giant wave’s assault, his clothing dragged him down—divine Calypso’s gifts— but at last he fought his way to the surface spewing bitter brine, streams of it pouring down his head. But half-drowned as he was, he’d not forget his craft— he lunged after her through the breakers, laying hold and huddling amidships, fled the stroke of death. Pell-mell the rollers tossed her along down-current, wild as the North Wind tossing thistle along the fields at high harvest—dry stalks clutching each other tightly— so the galewinds tumbled her down the sea, this way, that way, now the South Wind flinging her over to North to sport with, now the East Wind giving her up to West to harry on and on.

But someone saw him—Cadmus’ daughter with lovely ankles,

Ino, a mortal woman once with human voice and called Leucothea now she lives in the sea’s salt depths, esteemed by all the gods as she deserves. She pitied Odysseus, tossed, tormented so— she broke from the waves like a shearwater on the wing,

lit on the wreck and asked him kindly, “Ah poor man, why is the god of earthquakes so dead set against you? Strewing your way with such a crop of troubles! But he can’t destroy you, not for all his anger. Just do as I say. You seem no fool to me. Strip off those clothes and leave your craft for the winds to hurl, and swim for it now, you must, strike out with your arms for landfall there, Phaeacian land where destined safety waits. Here, take this scarf, tie it around your waist—it is immortal. Nothing to fear now, neither pain nor death. But once you grasp the mainland with your hands untie it quickly, throw it into the wine-dark sea, far from the shore, but you, you turn your head away!”

With that the goddess handed him the scarf and slipped back in the heavy breaking seas like a shearwater once again— and a dark heaving billow closed above her. But battle-weary Odysseus weighed two courses, deeply torn, probing his fighting spirit: “Oh no— I fear another immortal weaves a snare to trap me, urging me to abandon ship! I won’t. Not yet. That shore’s too far away— I glimpsed it myself—where she says refuge waits. No, here’s what I’ll do, it’s what seems best to me. As long as the timbers cling and joints stand fast, I’ll hold out aboard her and take a whipping— once the breakers smash my craft to pieces, then I’ll swim—no better plan for now.”

But just as great Odysseus thrashed things out,

Poseidon god of the earthquake launched a colossal wave, terrible, murderous, arching over him, pounding down on him, hard as a windstorm blasting piles of dry parched chaff, scattering flying husks—so the long planks of his boat were scattered far and wide. But Odysseus leapt aboard

one timber and riding it like a plunging racehorse stripped away his clothes, divine Calypso’s gifts, and quickly tying the scarf around his waist he dove headfirst in the sea, stretched his arms and stroked for life itself. But again the mighty god of earthquakes spied him, shook his head and grumbled deep in his spirit, “Go, go, after all you’ve suffered—rove your miles of sea— till you fall in the arms of people loved by Zeus. Even so I can hardly think you’ll find your punishments too light!”

With that threat he lashed his team with their long flowing manes, gaining Aegae port where his famous palace stands.

But Zeus’s daughter Athena countered him at once.

The rest of the winds she stopped right in their tracks, commanding them all to hush now, go to sleep. All but the boisterous North—she whipped him up and the goddess beat the breakers flat before Odysseus, dear to Zeus, so he could reach the Phaeacians, mingle with men who love their long oars and escape his death at last.

Yes, but now, adrift on the heaving swells two nights, two days— quite lost—again and again the man foresaw his death. Then when Dawn with her lovely locks brought on the third day, the wind fell in an instant, all glazed to a dead calm, and Odysseus, scanning sharply, raised high by a groundswell, looked up and saw it—landfall, just ahead. Joy … warm as the joy that children feel when they see their father’s life dawn again, one who’s lain on a sickbed racked with torment, wasting away, slowly, under some angry power’s onslaught— then what joy when the gods deliver him from his pains! So warm, Odysseus’ joy when he saw that shore, those trees, as he swam on, anxious to plant his feet on solid ground again.

But just offshore, as far as a man’s shout can carry, he caught the boom of a heavy surf on jagged reefs— roaring breakers crashing down on an ironbound coast, exploding in fury—

the whole sea shrouded— sheets of spray—

no harbors to hold ships, no roadstead where they’d ride, nothing but jutting headlands, riptooth reefs, cliffs. Odysseus’ knees quaked and the heart inside him sank; he spoke to his fighting spirit, desperate: “Worse and worse! Now that Zeus has granted a glimpse of land beyond my hopes, now I’ve crossed this waste of water, the end in sight, there’s no way out of the boiling surf—I see no way! Rugged reefs offshore, around them breakers roaring, above them a smooth rock face, rising steeply, look, and the surge too deep inshore, no spot to stand on my own two legs and battle free of death. If I clamber out, some big comber will hoist me, dash me against that cliff—my struggles all a waste! If I keep on swimming down the coast, trying to find a seabeach shelving against the waves, a sheltered cove— I dread it—another gale will snatch me up and haul me back to the fish-infested sea, retching in despair. Or a dark power will loose some monster at me, rearing out of the waves—one of the thousands Amphitrite’s breakers teem with. Well I know the famous god of earthquakes hates my very name!”

Just as that fear went churning through his mind

a tremendous roller swept him toward the rocky coast where he’d have been flayed alive, his bones crushed, if the bright-eyed goddess Pallas had not inspired him now. He lunged for a reef, he seized it with both hands and clung for dear life, groaning until the giant wave surged past and so he escaped its force, but the breaker’s backwash charged into him full fury and hurled him out to sea. Like pebbles stuck in the suckers of some octopus dragged from its lair—so strips of skin torn

from his clawing hands stuck to the rock face. A heavy sea covered him over, then and there unlucky Odysseus would have met his death— against the will of Fate— but the bright-eyed one inspired him yet again. Fighting out from the breakers pounding toward the coast, out of danger he swam on, scanning the land, trying to find a seabeach shelving against the waves, a sheltered cove, and stroking hard he came abreast of a river’s mouth, running calmly, the perfect spot, he thought … free of rocks, with a windbreak from the gales. As the current flowed he felt the river’s god and prayed to him in spirit: “Hear me, lord, whoever you are, I’ve come to you, the answer to all my prayers— rescue me from the sea, the Sea-lord’s curse! Even immortal gods will show a man respect, whatever wanderer seeks their help—like me— I throw myself on your mercy, on your current now— I have suffered greatly. Pity me, lord, your suppliant cries for help!”

So the man prayed and the god stemmed his current, held his surge at once and smoothing out the swells before Odysseus now, drew him safe to shore at the river’s mouth. His knees buckled, massive arms fell limp, the sea had beaten down his striving heart. His whole body swollen, brine aplenty gushing out of his mouth and nostrils—breathless, speechless, there he lay, with only a little strength left in him, deathly waves of exhaustion overwhelmed him now … But once he regained his breath and rallied back to life, at last he loosed the goddess’ scarf from his body, dropped it into the river flowing out to sea and a swift current bore it far downstream and suddenly Ino caught it in her hands. Struggling up from the banks, he flung himself in the deep reeds, he kissed the good green earth and addressed his fighting spirit, desperate still:

“Man of misery, what next? Is this the end? If I wait out a long tense night by the banks, I fear the sharp frost and the soaking dew together will do me in—I’m bone-weary, about to breathe my last, and a cold wind blows from a river on toward morning. But what if I climb that slope, go for the dark woods and bed down in the thick brush? What if I’m spared the chill, fatigue, and a sweet sleep comes my way? I fear wild beasts will drag me off as quarry.”

But this was the better course, it struck him now. He set out for the woods and not far from the water found a grove with a clearing all around and crawled beneath two bushy olives sprung from the same root, one olive wild, the other well-bred stock. No sodden gusty winds could ever pierce them, nor could the sun’s sharp rays invade their depths, nor could a downpour drench them through and through, so dense they grew together, tangling side-by-side. Odysseus crept beneath them, scraping up at once a good wide bed for himself with both hands. A fine litter of dead leaves had drifted in, enough to cover two men over, even three, in the wildest kind of winter known to man. Long-enduring great Odysseus, overjoyed at the sight, bedded down in the midst and heaped the leaves around him. As a man will bury his glowing brand in black ashes, off on a lonely farmstead, no neighbors near, to keep a spark alive—no need to kindle fire from somewhere else—so great Odysseus buried himself in leaves and Athena showered sleep upon his eyes … sleep in a swift wave delivering him from all his pains and labors, blessed sleep that sealed his eyes at last.

Book X The Bewitching Queen of Aeaea “We reached the Aeolian island next, the home of Aeolus, Hippotas’ son, beloved by the gods who never die— a great floating island it was, and round it all huge ramparts rise of indestructible bronze and sheer rock cliffs shoot up from sea to sky. The king had sired twelve children within his halls, six daughters and six sons in the lusty prime of youth, so he gave his daughters as wives to his six sons. Seated beside their dear father and doting mother, with delicacies aplenty spread before them, they feast on forever … All day long the halls breathe the savor of roasted meats and echo round to the low moan of blowing pipes, and all night long, each one by his faithful mate, they sleep under soft-piled rugs on corded bedsteads.

To this city of theirs we came, their splendid palace, and Aeolus hosted me one entire month, he pressed me for news of Troy and the Argive ships and how we sailed for home, and I told him the whole long story, first to last. And then, when I begged him to send me on my way, he denied me nothing, he went about my passage. He gave me a sack, the skin of a full-grown ox, binding inside the winds that howl from every quarter, for Zeus had made that king the master of all the winds, with power to calm them down or rouse them as he pleased. Aeolus stowed the sack inside my holds, lashed so fast with a burnished silver cord not even a slight puff could slip past that knot. Yet he set the West Wind free to blow us on our way and waft our squadron home. But his plan was bound to fail, yes, our own reckless folly swept us on to ruin …

Nine whole days we sailed, nine nights, nonstop. On the tenth our own land hove into sight at last— we were so close we could see men tending fires. But now an enticing sleep came on me, bone-weary from working the vessel’s sheet myself, no letup, never trusting the ropes to any other mate, the faster to journey back to native land. But the crews began to mutter among themselves, sure I was hauling troves of gold and silver home, the gifts of open-hearted Aeolus, Hippotas’ son. ‘The old story!’ One man glanced at another, grumbling. ‘Look at our captain’s luck—so loved by the world, so prized at every landfall, every port of call.’

‘Heaps of lovely plunder he hauls home from Troy,

while we who went through slogging just as hard, we go home empty-handed.’

‘Now this Aeolus loads him down with treasure. Favoritism, friend to friend!’

‘Hurry, let’s see what loot is in that sack, how much gold and silver. Break it open—now!’

A fatal plan, but it won my shipmates over. They loosed the sack and all the winds burst out and a sudden squall struck and swept us back to sea, wailing, in tears, far from our own native land. And I woke up with a start, my spirit churning— should I leap over the side and drown at once or grin and bear it, stay among the living? I bore it all, held firm, hiding my face, clinging tight to the decks while heavy squalls blasted our squadron back again to Aeolus’ island, shipmates groaning hard.

We disembarked on the coast, drew water there

and crewmen snatched a meal by the swift ships. Once we’d had our fill of food and drink I took a shipmate along with me, a herald too, and approached King Aeolus’ famous halls and here we found him feasting beside his wife and many children. Reaching the doorposts at the threshold, down we sat but our hosts, amazed to see us, only shouted questions: ‘Back again, Odysseus—why? Some blustering god attacked you? Surely we launched you well, we sped you on your way to your own land and house, or any place you pleased.’

So they taunted, and I replied in deep despair,

‘A mutinous crew undid me—that and a cruel sleep. Set it to rights, my friends. You have the power!’

So I pleaded—gentle, humble appeals—

but our hosts turned silent, hushed … and the father broke forth with an ultimatum: ‘Away from my island—fast—most cursed man alive! It’s a crime to host a man or speed him on his way when the blessed deathless gods despise him so. Crawling back like this—

it proves the immortals hate you! Out—get out!’

Groan as I did, his curses drove me from his halls and from there we pulled away with heavy hearts, with the crews’ spirit broken under the oars’ labor, thanks to our own folly … no favoring wind in sight.

Six whole days we rowed, six nights, nonstop.

On the seventh day we raised the Laestrygonian land, Telepylus heights where the craggy fort of Lamus rises. Where shepherd calls to shepherd as one drives in his flocks and the other drives his out and he calls back in answer, where a man who never sleeps could rake in double wages, one for herding cattle, one for pasturing fleecy sheep, the nightfall and the sunrise march so close together. We entered a fine harbor there, all walled around by a great unbroken sweep of sky-scraping cliff and two steep headlands, fronting each other, close around the mouth so the passage in is cramped. Here the rest of my rolling squadron steered, right into the gaping cove and moored tightly, prow by prow. Never a swell there, big or small; a milk-white calm spreads all around the place. But I alone anchored my black ship outside, well clear of the harbor’s jaws I tied her fast to a cliff side with a cable. I scaled its rock face to a lookout on its crest but glimpsed no trace of the work of man or beast from there; all I spied was a plume of smoke, drifting off the land. So I sent some crew ahead to learn who lived there— men like us perhaps, who live on bread? Two good mates I chose and a third to run the news. They disembarked and set out on a beaten trail the wagons used for hauling timber down to town from the mountain heights above … and before the walls they met a girl, drawing water, Antiphates’ strapping daughter—king of the Laestrygonians.

She’d come down to a clear running spring, Artacia, where the local people came to fill their pails. My shipmates clustered round her, asking questions: who was king of the realm? who ruled the natives here? She waved at once to her father’s high-roofed halls. They entered the sumptuous palace, found his wife inside— a woman huge as a mountain crag who filled them all with horror. Straightaway she summoned royal Antiphates from assembly, her husband, who prepared my crew a barbarous welcome. Snatching one of my men, he tore him up for dinner— the other two sprang free and reached the ships. But the king let loose a howling through the town that brought tremendous Laestrygonians swarming up from every side—hundreds, not like men, like Giants’ Down from the cliffs they flung great rocks a man could hardly hoist and a ghastly shattering din rose up from all the ships— men in their death-cries, hulls smashed to splinters— They speared the crews like fish and whisked them home to make their grisly meal. But while they killed them off in the harbor depths I pulled the sword from beside my hip and hacked away at the ropes that moored my blue-prowed ship of war and shouted rapid orders at my shipmates: ‘Put your backs in the oars—now row or die!’ In terror of death they ripped the swells—all as one— and what a joy as we darted out toward open sea, clear of those beetling cliffs … my ship alone. But the rest went down en masse. Our squadron sank.

From there we sailed on, glad to escape our death yet sick at heart for the dear companions we had lost. We reached the Aeaean island next, the home of Circe the nymph with lovely braids, an awesome power too who can speak with human voice, the true sister of murderous-minded Aeetes. Both were bred by the Sun who lights our lives; their mother was Perse, a child the Ocean bore. We brought our ship to port without a sound

as a god eased her into a harbor safe and snug, and for two days and two nights we lay by there, eating our hearts out, bent with pain and bone-tired. When Dawn with her lovely locks brought on the third day, at last I took my spear and my sharp sword again, rushed up from the ship to find a lookout point, hoping to glimpse some sign of human labor, catch some human voices … I scaled a commanding crag and, scanning hard, I could just make out some smoke from Circe’s halls, drifting up from the broad terrain through brush and woods. Mulling it over, I thought I’d scout the ground— that fire aglow in the smoke, I saw it, true, but soon enough this seemed the better plan: I’d go back to shore and the swift ship first, feed the men, then send them out for scouting. I was well on my way down, nearing our ship when a god took pity on me, wandering all alone; he sent me a big stag with high branching antlers, right across my path—the sun’s heat forced him down from his forest range to drink at a river’s banks— just bounding out of the timber when I hit him square in the backbone, halfway down the spine and my bronze spear went punching clean through— he dropped in the dust, groaning, gasping out his breath. Treading on him, I wrenched my bronze spear from the wound, left it there on the ground, and snapping off some twigs and creepers, twisted a rope about a fathom long, I braided it tight, hand over hand, then lashed the four hocks of that magnificent beast. Loaded round my neck I lugged him toward the ship, trudging, propped on my spear—no way to sling him over a shoulder, steadying him with one free arm— the kill was so immense! I flung him down by the hull and roused the men, going up to them all with a word to lift their spirits: ‘Listen to me, my comrades, brothers in hardship— we won’t go down to the House of Death, not yet,

not till our day arrives. Up with you, look, there’s still some meat and drink in our good ship. Put our minds on food—why die of hunger here?’

My hardy urging brought them round at once. Heads came up from cloaks and there by the barren sea they gazed at the stag, their eyes wide—my noble trophy. But once they’d looked their fill and warmed their hearts, they washed their hands and prepared a splendid meal. Now all day long till the sun went down we sat and feasted on sides of meat and seasoned wine. Then when the sun had set and night came on we lay down and slept at the water’s shelving edge. When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more I called a muster quickly, informing all the crew, ‘Listen to me, my comrades, brothers in hardship, we can’t tell east from west, the dawn from the dusk, nor where the sun that lights our lives goes under earth nor where it rises. We must think of a plan at once, some cunning stroke. I doubt there’s one still left. I scaled a commanding crag and from that height surveyed an entire island ringed like a crown by endless wastes of sea. But the land itself lies low, and I did see smoke drifting up from its heart through thick brush and woods.’

My message broke their spirit as they recalled

the gruesome work of the Laestrygonian king Antiphates and the hearty cannibal Cyclops thirsting for our blood. They burst into cries, wailing, streaming live tears that gained us nothing—what good can come of grief?

And so, numbering off my band of men-at-arms

into two platoons, I assigned them each a leader: I took one and lord Eurylochus the other. We quickly shook lots in a bronze helmet— the lot of brave Eurylochus leapt out first. So he moved off with his two and twenty comrades,

weeping, leaving us behind in tears as well … Deep in the wooded glens they came on Circe’s palace built of dressed stone on a cleared rise of land. Mountain wolves and lions were roaming round the grounds— she’d bewitched them herself, she gave them magic drugs. But they wouldn’t attack my men; they just came pawing up around them, fawning, swishing their long tails— eager as hounds that fawn around their master, coming home from a feast, who always brings back scraps to calm them down. So they came nuzzling round my men—lions, wolves with big powerful claws—and the men cringed in fear at sight of those strange, ferocious beasts … But still they paused at her doors, the nymph with lovely braids, Circe—and deep inside they heard her singing, lifting her spellbinding voice as she glided back and forth at her great immortal loom, her enchanting web a shimmering glory only goddesses can weave. Polites, captain of armies, took command, the closest, most devoted man I had: ‘Friends, there’s someone inside, plying a great loom, and how she sings—enthralling! The whole house is echoing to her song. Goddess or woman—let’s call out to her now!’

So he urged and the men called out and hailed her. She opened her gleaming doors at once and stepped forth, inviting them all in, and in they went, all innocence. Only Eurylochus stayed behind—he sensed a trap … She ushered them in to sit on high-backed chairs, then she mixed them a potion—cheese, barley and pale honey mulled in Pramnian wine— but into the brew she stirred her wicked drugs to wipe from their memories any thought of home. Once they’d drained the bowls she filled, suddenly she struck with her wand, drove them into her pigsties, all of them bristling into swine—with grunts, snouts—even their bodies, yes, and only

the men’s minds stayed steadfast as before. So off they went to their pens, sobbing, squealing as Circe flung them acorns, cornel nuts and mast, common fodder for hogs that root and roll in mud.

Back Eurylochus ran to our swift black ship to tell the disaster our poor friends had faced. But try as he might, he couldn’t get a word out. Numbing sorrow had stunned the man to silence— tears welled in his eyes, his heart possessed by grief. We assailed him with questions—all at our wits’ end— till at last he could recount the fate our friends had met: ‘Off we went through the brush, captain, as you commanded. Deep in the wooded glens we came on Circe’s palace built of dressed stone on a cleared rise of land. Someone inside was plying a great loom, and how she sang—in a high clear voice! Goddess or woman—we called out and hailed her … She opened her gleaming doors at once and stepped forth, inviting us all in, and in we went, all innocence. But I stayed behind—I sensed a trap. Suddenly all vanished—blotted out—not one face showed again, though I sat there keeping watch a good long time.’

At that report I slung the hefty bronze blade

of my silver-studded sword around my shoulder, slung my bow on too and told our comrade, ‘Lead me back by the same way that you came.’ But he flung both arms around my knees and pleaded, begging me with his tears and winging words: ‘Don’t force me back there, captain, king— leave me here on the spot. You will never return yourself, I swear, you’ll never bring back a single man alive. Quick, cut and run with the rest of us here— we can still escape the fatal day!’

But I shot back, ‘Eurylochus, stay right here, eating, drinking, safe by the black ship. I must be off. Necessity drives me on.’

Leaving the ship and shore, I headed inland, clambering up through hushed, entrancing glades until, as I was nearing the halls of Circe skilled in spells, approaching her palace—Hermes god of the golden wand crossed my path, and he looked for all the world like a young man sporting his first beard, just in the prime and warm pride of youth, and grasped me by the hand and asked me kindly, ‘Where are you going now, my unlucky friend— trekking over the hills alone in unfamiliar country? And your men are all in there, in Circe’s palace, cooped like swine, hock by jowl in the sties. Have you come to set them free? Well, I warn you, you won’t get home yourself, you’ll stay right there, trapped with all the rest. But wait, I can save you, free you from that great danger. Look, here is a potent drug. Take it to Circe’s halls— its power alone will shield you from the fatal day. Let me tell you of all the witch’s subtle craft … She’ll mix you a potion, lace the brew with drugs but she’ll be powerless to bewitch you, even so— this magic herb I give will fight her spells. Now here’s your plan of action, step by step. The moment Circe strikes with her long thin wand, you draw your sharp sword sheathed at your hip and rush her fast as if to run her through! She’ll cower in fear and coax you to her bed— but don’t refuse the goddess’ bed, not then, not if she’s to release your friends and treat you well yourself. But have her swear the binding oath of the blessed gods she’ll never plot some new intrigue to harm you, once you lie there naked— never unman you, strip away your courage!’

With that the giant-killer handed over the magic herb,

pulling it from the earth, and Hermes showed me all its name and nature. Its root is black and its flower white as milk and the gods call it moly. Dangerous for a mortal man to pluck from the soil but not for deathless gods. All lies within their power.

Now Hermes went his way to the steep heights of Olympus, over the island’s woods while I, just approaching the halls of Circe, my heart a heaving storm at every step, paused at her doors, the nymph with lovely braids— I stood and shouted to her there. She heard my voice, she opened the gleaming doors at once and stepped forth, inviting me in, and in I went, all anguish now … She led me in to sit on a silver-studded chair, ornately carved, with a stool to rest my feet. In a golden bowl she mixed a potion for me to drink, stirring her poison in, her heart aswirl with evil. And then she passed it on, I drank it down but it never worked its spell— she struck with her wand and ‘Now,’ she cried, ‘off to your sty, you swine, and wallow with your friends!’ But I, I drew my sharp sword sheathed at my hip and rushed her fast as if to run her through— She screamed, slid under my blade, hugged my knees with a flood of warm tears and a burst of winging words: ‘Who are you? where are you from? your city? your parents? I’m wonderstruck—you drank my drugs, you’re not bewitched! Never has any other man withstood my potion, never, once it’s past his lips and he has drunk it down. You have a mind in you no magic can enchant! You must be Odysseus, man of twists and turns— Hermes the giant-killer, god of the golden wand, he always said you’d come, homeward bound from Troy in your swift black ship. Come, sheathe your sword, let’s go to bed together, mount my bed and mix in the magic work of love— we’ll breed deep trust between us.’

So she enticed but I fought back, still wary. ‘Circe, Circe, how dare you tell me to treat you with any warmth? You who turned my men to swine in your own house and now you hold me here as well—teeming with treachery you lure me to your room to mount your bed, so once I lie there naked you’ll unman me, strip away my courage! Mount your bed? Not for all the world. Not until you consent to swear, goddess, a binding oath you’ll never plot some new intrigue to harm me!’

Straightaway she began to swear the oath that I required—never, she’d never do me harm—and when she’d finished, then, at last, I mounted Circe’s gorgeous bed …

At the same time her handmaids bustled through the halls,

four in all who perform the goddess’ household tasks: nymphs, daughters born of the springs and groves and the sacred rivers running down to open sea. One draped the chairs with fine crimson covers over the seats she’d spread with linen cloths below. A second drew up silver tables before the chairs and laid out golden trays to hold the bread. A third mulled heady, heart-warming wine in a silver bowl and set out golden cups. A fourth brought water and lit a blazing fire beneath a massive cauldron. The water heated soon, and once it reached the boil in the glowing bronze she eased me into a tub and bathed me from the cauldron, mixing the hot and cold to suit my taste, showering head and shoulders down until she’d washed away the spirit-numbing exhaustion from my body. The bathing finished, rubbing me sleek with oil, throwing warm fleece and a shirt around my shoulders, she led me in to sit on a silver-studded chair, ornately carved, with a stool to rest my feet. A maid brought water soon in a graceful golden pitcher

and over a silver basin tipped it out so I might rinse my hands, then pulled a gleaming table to my side. A staid housekeeper brought on bread to serve me, appetizers aplenty too, lavish with her bounty. She pressed me to eat. I had no taste for food. I just sat there, mind wandering, far away … lost in grim forebodings.

As soon as Circe saw me, huddled, not touching my food, immersed in sorrow, she sidled near with a coaxing, winged word: ‘Odysseus, why just sit there, struck dumb, eating your heart out, not touching food or drink? Suspect me of still more treachery? Nothing to fear. Haven’t I just sworn my solemn, binding oath?’

So she asked, but I protested, ‘Circe—

how could any man in his right mind endure the taste of food and drink before he’d freed his comrades-in-arms and looked them in the eyes? If you, you really want me to eat and drink, set them free, all my beloved comrades— let me feast my eyes.’

So I demanded. Circe strode on through the halls and out, her wand held high in hand and, flinging open the pens, drove forth my men, who looked like full-grown swine. Facing her, there they stood as she went along the ranks, anointing them one by one with some new magic oil— and look, the bristles grown by the first wicked drug that Circe gave them slipped away from their limbs and they turned men again: younger than ever, taller by far, more handsome to the eye, and yes, they knew me at once and each man grasped my hands and a painful longing for tears overcame us all, a terrible sobbing echoed through the house … The goddess herself was moved and, standing by me, warmly urged me on—a lustrous goddess now:

‘Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, tried and true, go at once to your ship at the water’s edge, haul her straight up on the shore first and stow your cargo and running gear in caves, then back you come and bring your trusty crew.’

Her urging won my stubborn spirit over. Down I went to the swift ship at the water’s edge, and there on the decks I found my loyal crew consumed with grief and weeping live warm tears. But now, as calves in stalls when cows come home, droves of them herded back from field to farmyard once they’ve grazed their fill—as all their young calves come frisking out to meet them, bucking out of their pens, lowing nonstop, jostling, rushing round their mothers— so my shipmates there at the sight of my return came pressing round me now, streaming tears, so deeply moved in their hearts they felt as if they’d made it back to their own land, their city, Ithaca’s rocky soil where they were bred and reared. And through their tears their words went winging home: ‘You’re back again, my king! How thrilled we are— as if we’d reached our country, Ithaca, at last! But come, tell us about the fate our comrades met.’

Still I replied with a timely word of comfort:

‘Let’s haul our ship straight up on the shore first and stow our cargo and running gear in caves. Then hurry, all of you, come along with me to see our friends in the magic halls of Circe, eating and drinking—the feast flows on forever.’

So I said and they jumped to do my bidding.

Only Eurylochus tried to hold my shipmates back, his mutinous outburst aimed at one and all: ‘Poor fools, where are we running now? Why are we tempting fate?— why stumble blindly down to Circe’s halls?

She’ll turn us all into pigs or wolves or lions made to guard that palace of hers—by force, I tell you— just as the Cyclops trapped our comrades in his lair with hotheaded Odysseus right beside them all— thanks to this man’s rashness they died too!’

So he declared and I had half a mind to draw the sharp sword from beside my hip and slice his head off, tumbling down in the dust, close kin that he was. But comrades checked me, each man trying to calm me, left and right: ‘Captain, we’ll leave him here if you command, just where he is, to sit and guard the ship. Lead us on to the magic halls of Circe.’

With that, up from the ship and shore they headed inland. Nor did Eurylochus malinger by the hull; he straggled behind the rest, dreading the sharp blast of my rebuke.

All the while Circe had bathed my other comrades in her palace, caring and kindly, rubbed them sleek with oil and decked them out in fleecy cloaks and shirts. We found them all together, feasting in her halls. Once we had recognized each other, gazing face-to-face, we all broke down and wept—and the house resounded now and Circe the lustrous one came toward me, pleading, ‘Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, man of action, no more tears now, calm these tides of sorrow. Well I know what pains you bore on the swarming sea, what punishment you endured from hostile men on land. But come now, eat your food and drink your wine till the same courage fills your chests, now as then, when you first set sail from native land, from rocky Ithaca! Now you are burnt-out husks, your spirits haggard, sere, always brooding over your wanderings long and hard, your hearts never lifting with any joy— you’ve suffered far too much.’

So she enticed and won our battle-hardened spirits over. And there we sat at ease, day in, day out, till a year had run its course, feasting on sides of meat and drafts of heady wine … But then, when the year was through and the seasons wheeled by and the months waned and the long days came round again, my loyal comrades took me aside and prodded, ‘Captain, this is madness! High time you thought of your own home at last, if it really is your fate to make it back alive and reach your well-built house and native land.’

Their urging brought my stubborn spirit round. So all that day till the sun went down we sat and feasted on sides of meat and heady wine. Then when the sun had set and night came on the men lay down to sleep in the shadowed halls but I went up to that luxurious bed of Circe’s, hugged her by the knees and the goddess heard my winging supplication: ‘Circe, now make good a promise you gave me once— it’s time to help me home. My heart longs to be home, my comrades’ hearts as well. They wear me down, pleading with me whenever you’re away.’

So I pressed and the lustrous goddess answered me in turn: ‘Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, old campaigner, stay on no more in my house against your will. But first another journey calls. You must travel down to the House of Death and the awesome one, Persephone, there to consult the ghost of Tiresias, seer of Thebes, the great blind prophet whose mind remains unshaken. Even in death—Persephone has given him wisdom, everlasting vision to him and him alone … the rest of the dead are empty, flitting shades.’

So she said and crushed the heart inside me. I knelt in her bed and wept. I’d no desire to go on living and see the rising light of day. But once I’d had my fill of tears and writhing there, at last I found the words to venture, ‘Circe, Circe, who can pilot us on that journey? Who has ever reached the House of Death in a black ship?’

The lustrous goddess answered, never pausing, ‘Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, born for exploits, let no lack of a pilot at the helm concern you, no, just step your mast and spread your white sail wide— sit back and the North Wind will speed you on your way. But once your vessel has cut across the Ocean River you will raise a desolate coast and Persephone’s Grove, her tall black poplars, willows whose fruit dies young. Beach your vessel hard by the Ocean’s churning shore and make your own way down to the moldering House of Death. And there into Acheron, the Flood of Grief, two rivers flow, the torrent River of Fire, the wailing River of Tears that branches off from Styx, the Stream of Hate, and a stark crag looms where the two rivers thunder down and meet. Once there, go forward, hero. Do as I say now. Dig a trench of about a forearm’s depth and length and around it pour libations out to all the dead— first with milk and honey, and then with mellow wine, then water third and last, and sprinkle glistening barley over it all, and vow again and again to all the dead, to the drifting, listless spirits of their ghosts, that once you return to Ithaca you will slaughter a barren heifer in your halls, the best you have, and load a pyre with treasures—and to Tiresias, alone, apart, you will offer a sleek black ram, the pride of all your herds. And once your prayers have invoked the nations of the dead in their dim glory, slaughter a ram and black ewe, turning both their heads toward Erebus, but turn your head away, looking toward the Ocean River. Suddenly then the countless shades

of the dead and gone will surge around you there. But order your men at once to flay the sheep that lie before you, killed by your ruthless blade, and burn them both, and then say prayers to the gods, to the almighty god of death and dread Persephone. But you—draw your sharp sword from beside your hip, sit down on alert there, and never let the ghosts of the shambling, shiftless dead come near that blood till you have questioned Tiresias yourself. Soon, soon the great seer will appear before you, captain of armies: he will tell you the way to go, the stages of your voyage, how you can cross the swarming sea and reach home at last.’

And with those words Dawn rose on her golden throne and Circe dressed me quickly in sea-cloak and shirt while the queen slipped on a loose, glistening robe, filmy, a joy to the eye, and round her waist she ran a brocaded golden belt and over her head a scarf to shield her brow. And I strode on through the halls to stir my men, hovering over each with a winning word: ‘Up now! No more lazing away in sleep, we must set sail— Queen Circe has shown the way.’

I brought them round, my hardy friends-in-arms, but not even from there could I get them safely off without a loss … There was a man, Elpenor, the youngest in our ranks, none too brave in battle, none too sound in mind. He’d strayed from his mates in Circe’s magic halls and keen for the cool night air, sodden with wine he’d bedded down on her roofs. But roused by the shouts and tread of marching men, he leapt up with a start at dawn but still so dazed he forgot to climb back down again by the long ladder— headfirst from the roof he plunged, his neck snapped from the backbone, his soul flew down to Death.

Once on our way, I gave the men their orders: ‘You think we are headed home, our own dear land? Well, Circe sets us a rather different course … down to the House of Death and the awesome one, Persephone, there to consult the ghost of Tiresias, seer of Thebes.’

So I said, and it broke my shipmates’ hearts. They sank down on the ground, moaning, tore their hair. But it gained us nothing—what good can come of grief?

Back to the swift ship at the water’s edge we went,

our spirits deep in anguish, faces wet with tears. But Circe got to the dark hull before us, tethered a ram and black ewe close by— slipping past unseen. Who can glimpse a god who wants to be invisible gliding here and there?”

Book XXIII The Great Rooted Bed Up to the rooms the old nurse clambered, chuckling all the way, to tell the queen her husband was here now, home at last. Her knees bustling, feet shuffling over each other, till hovering at her mistress’ head she spoke: “Penelope—child—wake up and see for yourself, with your own eyes, all you dreamed of, all your days! He’s here—Odysseus—he’s come home, at long last! He’s killed the suitors, swaggering young brutes who plagued his house, wolfed his cattle down, rode roughshod over his son!”

“Dear old nurse,” wary Penelope replied, “the gods have made you mad. They have that power, putting lunacy into the clearest head around

or setting a half-wit on the path to sense. They’ve unhinged you, and you were once so sane. Why do you mock me?—haven’t I wept enough?— telling such wild stories, interrupting my sleep, sweet sleep that held me, sealed my eyes just now. Not once have I slept so soundly since the day Odysseus sailed away to see that cursed city … Destroy, I call it—I hate to say its name! Now down you go. Back to your own quarters. If any other woman of mine had come to me, rousing me out of sleep with such a tale, I’d have her bundled back to her room in pain. It’s only your old gray head that spares you that!”

“Never”—the fond old nurse kept pressing on— “dear child, I’d never mock you! No, it’s all true, he’s here—Odysseus—he’s come home, just as I tell you! He’s the stranger they all manhandled in the hall. Telemachus knew he was here, for days and days, but he knew enough to hide his father’s plans so he could pay those vipers back in kind!”

Penelope’s heart burst in joy, she leapt from bed,

her eyes streaming tears, she hugged the old nurse and cried out with an eager, winging word, “Please, dear one, give me the whole story. If he’s really home again, just as you tell me, how did he get those shameless suitors in his clutches?— single-handed, braving an army always camped inside.”

“I have no idea,” the devoted nurse replied.

“I didn’t see it, I didn’t ask—all I heard was the choking groans of men cut down in blood. We crouched in terror—a dark nook of our quarters— all of us locked tight behind those snug doors till your boy Telemachus came and called me out— his father rushed him there to do just that. Then I found Odysseus in the thick of slaughtered corpses;

there he stood and all around him, over the beaten floor, the bodies sprawled in heaps, lying one on another … How it would have thrilled your heart to see him— splattered with bloody filth, a lion with his kill! And now they’re all stacked at the courtyard gates— he’s lit a roaring fire, he’s purifying the house with cleansing fumes and he’s sent me here to bring you back to him. Follow me down! So now, after all the years of grief, you two can embark, loving hearts, along the road to joy. Look, your dreams, put off so long, come true at last— he’s back alive, home at his hearth, and found you, found his son still here. And all those suitors who did him wrong, he’s paid them back, he has, right in his own house!”

“Hush, dear woman,” guarded Penelope cautioned her at once. “Don’t laugh, don’t cry in triumph—not yet. You know how welcome the sight of him would be to all in the house, and to me most of all and the son we bore together. But the story can’t be true, not as you tell it, no, it must be a god who’s killed our brazen friends— up in arms at their outrage, heartbreaking crimes. They’d no regard for any man on earth— good or bad—who chanced to come their way. So, thanks to their reckless work they die their deaths. Odysseus? Far from Achaea now, he’s lost all hope of coming home … he’s lost and gone himself.”

“Child,” the devoted old nurse protested,

“what nonsense you let slip through your teeth. Here’s your husband, warming his hands at his own hearth, here—and you, you say he’ll never come home again, always the soul of trust! All right, this too— I’ll give you a sign, a proof that’s plain as day. That scar, made years ago by a boar’s white tusk— I spotted the scar myself, when I washed his feet,

and I tried to tell you, ah, but he, the crafty rascal, clamped his hand on my mouth—I couldn’t say a word. Follow me down now. I’ll stake my life on it: if I am lying to you— kill me with a thousand knives of pain!”

“Dear old nurse,” composed Penelope responded, “deep as you are, my friend, you’ll find it hard to plumb the plans of the everlasting gods. All the same, let’s go and join my son so I can see the suitors lying dead and see … the one who killed them.”

With that thought Penelope started down from her lofty room, her heart in turmoil, torn … should she keep her distance, probe her husband? Or rush up to the man at once and kiss his head and cling to both his hands? As soon as she stepped across the stone threshold, slipping in, she took a seat at the closest wall and radiant in the firelight, faced Odysseus now. There he sat, leaning against the great central column, eyes fixed on the ground, waiting, poised for whatever words his hardy wife might say when she caught sight of him. A long while she sat in silence … numbing wonder filled her heart as her eyes explored his face. One moment he seemed … Odysseus, to the life— the next, no, he was not the man she knew, a huddled mass of rags was all she saw.

“Oh mother,” Telemachus reproached her,

“cruel mother, you with your hard heart! Why do you spurn my father so—why don’t you sit beside him, engage him, ask him questions? What other wife could have a spirit so unbending? Holding back from her husband, home at last for her after bearing twenty years of brutal struggle— your heart was always harder than a rock!”

“My child,”

Penelope, well-aware, explained, “I’m stunned with wonder, powerless. Cannot speak to him, ask him questions, look him in the eyes … But if he is truly Odysseus, home at last, make no mistake: we two will know each other, even better— we two have secret signs, known to us both but hidden from the world.”

Odysseus, long-enduring, broke into a smile and turned to his son with pointed, winging words: “Leave your mother here in the hall to test me as she will. She soon will know me better. Now because I am filthy, wear such grimy rags, she spurns me—your mother still can’t bring herself to believe I am her husband.

But you and I, put heads together. What’s our best defense? When someone kills a lone man in the realm who leaves behind him no great band of avengers, still the killer flees, goodbye to kin and country. But we brought down the best of the island’s princes, the pillars of Ithaca. Weigh it well, I urge you.”

“Look to it all yourself now, father,” his son

deferred at once. “You are the best on earth, they say, when it comes to mapping tactics. No one, no mortal man, can touch you there. But we’re behind you, hearts intent on battle, nor do I think you’ll find us short on courage, long as our strength will last.”

“Then here’s our plan,” the master of tactics said. “I think it’s best. First go and wash, and pull fresh tunics on, and tell the maids in the hall to dress well too. And let the inspired bard take up his ringing lyre and lead off for us all a dance so full of heart that whoever hears the strains outside the gates— a passerby on the road, a neighbor round about—

will think it’s a wedding-feast that’s under way. No news of the suitors’ death must spread through town till we have slipped away to our own estates, our orchard green with trees. There we’ll see what winning strategy Zeus will hand us then.”

They hung on his words and moved to orders smartly. First they washed and pulled fresh tunics on, the women arrayed themselves—the inspired bard struck up his resounding lyre and stirred in all a desire for dance and song, the lovely lilting beat, till the great house echoed round to the measured tread of dancing men in motion, women sashed and lithe. And whoever heard the strains outside would say, “A miracle—someone’s married the queen at last!”

“One of her hundred suitors.”

“That callous woman, too faithless to keep her lord and master’s house to the bitter end—”

“Till he came sailing home.”

So they’d say, blind to what had happened: the great-hearted Odysseus was home again at last. The maid Eurynome bathed him, rubbed him down with oil and drew around him a royal cape and choice tunic too. And Athena crowned the man with beauty, head to foot, made him taller to all eyes, his build more massive, yes, and down from his brow the great goddess ran his curls like thick hyacinth clusters full of blooms. As a master craftsman washes gold over beaten silver—a man the god of fire and Queen Athena trained in every fine technique— and finishes of his latest effort, handsome work … so she lavished splendor over his head and shoulders now. He stepped from his bath, glistening like a god, and back he went to the seat that he had left and facing his wife, declared,

“Strange woman! So hard—the gods of Olympus made you harder than any other woman in the world! What other wife could have a spirit so unbending? Holding back from her husband, home at last for her after bearing twenty years of brutal struggle. Come, nurse, make me a bed, I’ll sleep alone. She has a heart of iron in her breast.”

“Strange man,” wary Penelope said. “I’m not so proud, so scornful, nor am I overwhelmed by your quick change … You look—how well I know—the way he looked, setting sail from Ithaca years ago aboard the long-oared ship.

Come, Eurycleia, move the sturdy bedstead out of our bridal chamber— that room the master built with his own hands. Take it out now, sturdy bed that it is, and spread it deep with fleece, blankets and lustrous throws to keep him warm.”

Putting her husband to the proof—but Odysseus

blazed up in fury, lashing out at his loyal wife: “Woman—your words, they cut me to the core! Who could move my bed? Impossible task, even for some skilled craftsman—unless a god came down in person, quick to lend a hand, lifted it out with ease and moved it elsewhere. Not a man on earth, not even at peak strength, would find it easy to prise it up and shift it, no, a great sign, a hallmark lies in its construction. I know, I built it myself—no one else … There was a branching olive-tree inside our court, grown to its full prime, the bole like a column, thickset. Around it I built my bedroom, finished off the walls with good tight stonework, roofed it over soundly and added doors, hung well and snugly wedged. Then I lopped the leafy crown of the olive, clean-cutting the stump bare from roots up,

planing it round with a bronze smoothing-adze— I had the skill—I shaped it plumb to the line to make my bedpost, bored the holes it needed with an auger. Working from there I built my bed, start to finish, I gave it ivory inlays, gold and silver fittings, wove the straps across it, oxhide gleaming red. There’s our secret sign, I tell you, our life story! Does the bed, my lady, still stand planted firm?— I don’t know—or has someone chopped away that olive-trunk and hauled our bedstead off?”

Living proof— Penelope felt her knees go slack, her heart surrender, recognizing the strong clear signs Odysseus offered. She dissolved in tears, rushed to Odysseus, flung her arms around his neck and kissed his head and cried out, “Odysseus—don’t flare up at me now, not you, always the most understanding man alive! The gods, it was the gods who sent us sorrow— they grudged us both a life in each other’s arms from the heady zest of youth to the stoop of old age. But don’t fault me, angry with me now because I failed, at the first glimpse, to greet you, hold you, so … In my heart of hearts I always cringed with fear some fraud might come, beguile me with his talk; the world is full of the sort, cunning ones who plot their own dark ends. Remember Helen of Argos, Zeus’s daughter— would she have sported so in a stranger’s bed if she had dreamed that Achaea’s sons were doomed to fight and die to bring her home again? Some god spurred her to do her shameless work. Not till then did her mind conceive that madness, blinding madness that caused her anguish, ours as well. But now, since you have revealed such overwhelming proof— the secret sign of our bed, which no one’s ever seen but you and I and a single handmaid, Actoris, the servant my father gave me when I came,

who kept the doors of our room you built so well … you’ve conquered my heart, my hard heart, at last!”

The more she spoke, the more a deep desire for tears welled up inside his breast—he wept as he held the wife he loved, the soul of loyalty, in his arms at last. Joy, warm as the joy that shipwrecked sailors feel when they catch sight of land—Poseidon has struck their well-rigged ship on the open sea with gale winds and crushing walls of waves, and only a few escape, swimming, struggling out of the frothing surf to reach the shore, their bodies crusted with salt but buoyed up with joy as they plant their feet on solid ground again, spared a deadly fate. So joyous now to her the sight of her husband, vivid in her gaze, that her white arms, embracing his neck would never for a moment let him go … Dawn with her rose-red fingers might have shone upon their tears, if with her glinting eyes Athena had not thought of one more thing. She held back the night, and night lingered long at the western edge of the earth, while in the east she reined in Dawn of the golden throne at Ocean’s banks, commanding her not to yoke the windswift team that brings men light, Blaze and Aurora, the young colts that race the Morning on. Yet now Odysseus, seasoned veteran, said to his wife, “Dear woman … we have still not reached the end of all our trials. One more labor lies in store— boundless, laden with danger, great and long, and I must brave it out from start to finish. So the ghost of Tiresias prophesied to me, the day that I went down to the House of Death to learn our best route home, my comrades’ and my own. But come, let’s go to bed, dear woman—at long last delight in sleep, delight in each other, come!”

“If it’s bed you want,” reserved Penelope replied, “it’s bed you’ll have, whenever the spirit moves, now that the gods have brought you home again to native land, your grand and gracious house. But since you’ve alluded to it, since a god has put it in your mind, please, tell me about this trial still to come. I’m bound to learn of it later, I am sure— what’s the harm if I hear of it tonight?”

“Still so strange,” Odysseus, the old master of stories, answered. “Why again, why force me to tell you all? Well, tell I shall. I’ll hide nothing now. But little joy it will bring you, I’m afraid, as little joy for me.

The prophet said that I must rove through towns on towns of men, that I must carry a well-planed oar until I come to a people who know nothing of the sea, whose food is never seasoned with salt, strangers all to ships with their crimson prows and long slim oars, wings that make ships fly. And here is my sign, he told me, clear, so clear I cannot miss it, and I will share it with you now … When another traveler falls in with me and calls that weight across my shoulder a fan to winnow grain, then, he told me, I must plant my oar in the earth and sacrifice fine beasts to the lord god of the sea, Poseidon—a ram, a bull and a ramping wild boar— then journey home and render noble offerings up to the deathless gods who rule the vaulting skies, to all the gods in order. And at last my own death will steal upon me … a gentle, painless death, far from the sea it comes to take me down, borne down with the years in ripe old age with all my people here in blessed peace around me. All this, the prophet said, will come to pass.”

“And so,” Penelope said, in her great wisdom, “if the gods will really grant a happier old age, there’s hope that we’ll escape our trials at last.”

So husband and wife confided in each other, while nurse and Eurynome, under the flaring brands, were making up the bed with coverings deep and soft. And working briskly, soon as they’d made it snug, back to her room the old nurse went to sleep as Eurynome, their attendant, torch in hand, lighted the royal couple’s way to bed and, leading them to their chamber, slipped away. Rejoicing in each other, they returned to their bed, the old familiar place they loved so well.

Now Telemachus, the cowherd and the swineherd

rested their dancing feet and had the women do the same, and across the shadowed hall the men lay down to sleep.

But the royal couple, once they’d reveled in all

the longed-for joys of love, reveled in each other’s stories, the radiant woman telling of all she’d borne at home, watching them there, the infernal crowd of suitors slaughtering herds of cattle and good fat sheep— while keen to win her hand— draining the broached vats dry of vintage wine. And great Odysseus told his wife of all the pains he had dealt out to other men and all the hardships he’d endured himself—his story first to last— and she listened on, enchanted … Sleep never sealed her eyes till all was told.

He launched in with how he fought the Cicones down,

then how he came to the Lotus-eaters’ lush green land. Then all the crimes of the Cyclops and how he paid him back for the gallant men the monster ate without a qualm— then how he visited Aeolus, who gave him a hero’s welcome then he sent him off, but the homeward run was not his fate, not yet—some sudden squalls snatched him away once more

and drove him over the swarming sea, groaning in despair. Then how he moored at Telepylus, where Laestrygonians wrecked his fleet and killed his men-at-arms. He told her of Circe’s cunning magic wiles and how he voyaged down in his long benched ship to the moldering House of Death, to consult Tiresias, ghostly seer of Thebes, and he saw old comrades there and he saw his mother, who bore and reared him as a child. He told how he caught the Sirens’ voices throbbing in the wind and how he had scudded past the Clashing Rocks, past grim Charybdis, past Scylla—whom no rover had ever coasted by, home free— and how his shipmates slaughtered the cattle of the Sun and Zeus the king of thunder split his racing ship with a reeking bolt and killed his hardy comrades, all his fighting men at a stroke, but he alone escaped their death at sea. He told how he reached Ogygia’s shores and the nymph Calypso held him back, deep in her arching caverns, craving him for a husband— cherished him, vowed to make him immortal, ageless, all his days, yes, but she never won the heart inside him, never … then how he reached the Phaeacians—heavy sailing there— who with all their hearts had prized him like a god and sent him off in a ship to his own beloved land, giving him bronze and hoards of gold and robes … and that was the last he told her, just as sleep overcame him … sleep loosing his limbs, slipping the toils of anguish from his mind.

Athena, her eyes afire, had fresh plans. Once she thought he’d had his heart’s content of love and sleep at his wife’s side, straightaway she roused young Dawn from Ocean’s banks to her golden throne to bring men light and roused Odysseus too, who rose from his soft bed and advised his wife in parting, “Dear woman, we both have had our fill of trials. You in our house, weeping over my journey home, fraught with storms and torment, true, and I, pinned down in pain by Zeus and other gods,

for all my desire, blocked from reaching home. But now that we’ve arrived at our bed together— the reunion that we yearned for all those years— look after the things still left me in our house. But as for the flocks those strutting suitors plundered, much I’ll recoup myself, making many raids; the rest our fellow-Ithacans will supply till all my folds are full of sheep again. But now I must be off to the upland farm, our orchard green with trees, to see my father, good old man weighed down with so much grief for me. And you, dear woman, sensible as you are, I would advise you, still … quick as the rising sun the news will spread of the suitors that I killed inside the house. So climb to your lofty chamber with your women. Sit tight there. See no one. Question no one.”

He strapped his burnished armor round his shoulders, roused Telemachus, the cowherd and the swineherd, and told them to take up weapons honed for battle. They snapped to commands, harnessed up in bronze, opened the doors and strode out, Odysseus in the lead. By now the daylight covered the land, but Pallas, shrouding them all in darkness, quickly led the four men out of town.

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