Home » Classical Catholic Library » Homer, Odyssey » Book XX

Book XX

An ample hide devine Ulysses spread.
And form’d of fleecy skins his humble bed
(The remnants of the spoil the suitor-crowd
In festival devour’d, and victims vow’d).
Then o’er the chief, Eurynome the chaste
With duteous care a downy carpet cast:
With dire revenge his thoughtful bosom glows,
And, ruminating wrath, he scorns repose.

As thus pavilion’d in the porch he lay,
Scenes of lewd loves his wakeful eyes survey,
Whilst to nocturnal joys impure repair,
With wanton glee, the prostituted fair.
His heart with rage this new dishonour stung,
Wavering his thoughts in dubious balance hung:
Or instant should he quench the guilty flame
With their own blood, and intercept the shame:
Or to their lust indulge a last embrace,
And let the peers consummate the disgrace
Round his swoln heart the murmurous fury rolls,
As o’er her young the mother-mastiff growls,
And bays the stranger groom: so wrath compress’d,
Recoiling, mutter’d thunder in his breast.
“Poor suffering heart! (he cried,) support the pain
Of wounded honour, and thy rage restrain.
Not fiercer woes thy fortitude could foil,
When the brave partners of thy ten years’ toil
Dire Polypheme devour’d; I then was freed
By patient prudence from the death decreed.”

Thus anchor’d safe on reason’s peaceful coast,
Tempests of wrath his soul no longer toss’d;
Restless his body rolls, to rage resign’d
As one who long with pale-eyed famine pined,
The savoury cates on glowing embers cast
Incessant turns, impatient for repast
Ulysses so, from side to side-devolved,
In self-debate the suitor’s doom resolved
When in the form of mortal nymph array’d,
From heaven descends the Jove-born martial maid;
And hovering o’er his head in view confess’d,
The goddess thus her favourite care address’d:

“O thou, of mortals most inured to woes!
Why roll those eyes unfriended of repose?
Beneath thy palace-roof forget thy care;
Bless’d in thy queen! bless’d in thy blooming heir!
Whom, to the gods when suppliant fathers bow
They name the standard of their dearest vow.”

“Just is thy kind reproach (the chief rejoin’d),
Deeds full of fate distract my various mind,
In contemplation wrapp’d. This hostile crew
What single arm hath prowess to subdue?
Or if, by Jove’s and thy auxiliar aid,
They’re doom’d to bleed; O say, celestial maid!
Where shall Ulysses shun, or how sustain
Nations embattled to revenge the slain?”

“Oh impotence of faith! (Minerva cries,)
If man on frail unknowing man relies,
Doubt you the gods? Lo, Pallas self descends,
Inspires thy counsels, and thy toils attends.
In me affianced, fortify thy breast,
Though myriads leagued thy rightful claim contest
My sure divinity shall bear the shield,
And edge thy sword to reap the glorious field.
Now, pay the debt to craving nature due,
Her faded powers with balmy rest renew.”
She ceased, ambrosial slumbers seal his eyes;
Her care dissolves in visionary joys
The goddess, pleased, regains her natal skies.

Not so the queen; the downy bands of sleep
By grief relax’d she waked again to weep:
A gloomy pause ensued of dumb despair;
Then thus her fate invoked, with fervent prayer

“Diana! speed thy deathful ebon dart,
And cure the pangs of this convulsive heart.
Snatch me, ye whirlwinds! far from human race,
Toss’d through the void illimitable space
Or if dismounted from the rapid cloud,
Me with his whelming wave let Ocean shroud!
So, Pandarus, thy hopes, three orphan fair;
Were doom’d to wander through the devious air;
Thyself untimely, and thy consort died,
But four celestials both your cares supplied.
Venus in tender delicacy rears
With honey, milk, and wine their infant years;
Imperial Juno to their youth assigned
A form majestic, and sagacious mind;
With shapely growth Diana graced their bloom;
And Pallas taught the texture of the loom.
But whilst, to learn their lots in nuptial love,
Bright Cytherea sought the bower of Jove
(The God supreme, to whose eternal eye
The registers of fate expanded lie;
Wing’d Harpies snatch the unguarded charge away,
And to the Furies bore a grateful prey.
Be such my lot! Or thou, Diana, speed
Thy shaft, and send me joyful to the dead;
To seek my lord among the warrior train,
Ere second vows my bridal faith profane.
When woes the waking sense alone assail,
Whilst Night extends her soft oblivious veil,
Of other wretches’ care the torture ends;
No truce the warfare of my heart suspends!
The night renews the day distracting theme,
And airy terrors sable every dream.
The last alone a kind illusion wrought,
And to my bed my loved Ulysses brought,
In manly bloom, and each majestic grace,
As when for Troy he left my fond embrace;
Such raptures in my beating bosom rise,
I deem it sure a vision of the skies.”

Thus, whilst Aurora mounts her purple throne,
In audible laments she breathes her moan;
The sounds assault Ulysses’ wakeful ear;
Misjudging of the cause, a sudden fear
Of his arrival known, the chief alarms;
He thinks the queen is rushing to his arms.
Upspringing from his couch, with active haste
The fleece and carpet in the dome he placed
(The hide, without, imbibed the morning air);
And thus the gods invoked with ardent prayer:

“Jove, and eternal thrones! with heaven to friend,
If the long series of my woes shall end;
Of human race now rising from repose,
Let one a blissful omen here disclose;
And, to confirm my faith, propitious Jove!
Vouchsafe the sanction of a sign above.”

Whilst lowly thus the chief adoring bows,
The pitying god his guardian aid avows.
Loud from a sapphire sky his thunder sounds;
With springing hope the hero’s heart rebounds.
Soon, with consummate joy to crown his prayer,
An omen’d voice invades his ravish’d ear.
Beneath a pile that close the dome adjoin’d,
Twelve female slaves the gift of Ceres grind;
Task’d for the royal board to bolt the bran
From the pure flour (the growth and strength of man)
Discharging to the day the labour due,
Now early to repose the rest withdrew;
One maid unequal to the task assign’d,
Still turn’d the toilsome mill with anxious mind;
And thus in bitterness of soul divined:

“Father of gods and men, whose thunders roll
O’er the cerulean vault, and shake the pole:
Whoe’er from Heaven has gain’d this rare ostent
(Of granted vows a certain signal sent),
In this blest moment of accepted prayer,
Piteous, regard a wretch consumed with care!
Instant, O Jove! confound the suitor-train,
For whom o’ertoil’d I grind the golden grain:
Far from this dome the lewd devourers cast,
And be this festival decreed their last!”

Big with their doom denounced in earth and sky,
Ulysses’ heart dilates with secret joy.
Meantime the menial train with unctious wood
Heap’d high the genial hearth, Vulcanian food:
When, early dress’d, advanced the royal heir;
With manly grasp he waved a martial spear;
A radiant sabre graced his purple zone,
And on his foot the golden sandal shone.
His steps impetuous to the portal press’d;
And Euryclea thus he there address’d:

“Say thou to whom my youth its nurture owes,
Was care for due refection and repose
Bestow’d the stranger-guest? Or waits he grieved,
His age not honour’d, nor his wants relieved?
Promiscuous grace on all the queen confers
(In woes bewilder’d, oft the wisest errs).
The wordy vagrant to the dole aspires,
And modest worth with noble scorn retires.”

She thus: “O cease that ever-honour’d name
To blemish now: it ill deserves your blame,
A bowl of generous wine sufficed the guest;
In vain the queen the night refection press’d;
Nor would he court repose in downy state,
Unbless’d, abandon’d to the rage of Fate!
A hide beneath the portico was spread,
And fleecy skins composed an humble bed;
A downy carpet cast with duteous care,
Secured him from the keen nocturnal air.”

His cornel javelin poised with regal port,
To the sage Greeks convened in Themis’ court,
Forth-issuing from the dome the prince repair’d;
Two dogs of chase, a lion-hearted guard,
Behind him sourly stalked. Without delay
The dame divides the labour of the day;
Thus urging to the toil the menial train;

“What marks of luxury the marble stain
Its wonted lustre let the floor regain;
The seats with purple clothe in order due;
And let the abstersive sponge the board renew;
Let some refresh the vase’s sullied mould;
Some bid the goblets boast their native gold;
Some to the spring, with each a jar, repair,
And copious waters pure for bathing bear;
Dispatch! for soon the suitors will essay
The lunar feast-rites to the god of day.”

She said: with duteous haste a bevy fair
Of twenty virgins to the spring repair;
With varied toils the rest adorn the dome.
Magnificent, and blithe, the suitors come.
Some wield the sounding axe; the dodder’d oaks
Divide, obedient to the forceful strokes.
Soon from the fount, with each a brimming urn
(Eumaeus in their train), the maids return.
Three porkers for the feast, all brawny-chined,
He brought; the choicest of the tusky-kind;
In lodgments first secure his care he viewed,
Then to the king this friendly speech renew’d:
“Now say sincere, my guest! the suitor-train
Still treat thy worth with lordly dull disdain;
Or speaks their deed a bounteous mind humane?”

“Some pitying god (Ulysses sad replied)
With vollied vengeance blast their towering pride!
No conscious blush, no sense of right, restrains
The tides of lust that swell the boiling veins;
From vice to vice their appetites are toss’d,
All cheaply sated at another’s cost!”

While thus the chief his woes indignant told,
Melanthius, master of the bearded fold,
The goodliest goats of all the royal herd
Spontaneous to the suitors’ feast preferr’d;
Two grooms assistant bore the victims bound;
With quavering cries the vaulted roofs resound;
And to the chief austere aloud began
The wretch unfriendly to the race of man:

“Here vagrant, still? offensive to my lords!
Blows have more energy than airy words;
These arguments I’ll use: nor conscious shame,
Nor threats, thy bold intrusion will reclaim.
On this high feast the meanest vulgar boast
A plenteous board! Hence! seek another host!”

Rejoinder to the churl the king disdain’d,
But shook his head, and rising wrath restrain’d.

From Cephanelia ’cross the surgy main
Philaetius late arrived, a faithful swain.
A steer ungrateful to the bull’s embrace.
And goats he brought, the pride of all their race;
Imported in a shallop not his own;
The dome re-echoed to the mingl’d moan.
Straight to the guardian of the bristly kind
He thus began, benevolent of mind:

“What guest is he, of such majestic air?
His lineage and paternal clime declare:
Dim through the eclipse of fate, the rays divine
Of sovereign state with faded splendour shine.
If monarchs by the gods are plunged in woe,
To what abyss are we foredoom’d to go!”
Then affable he thus the chief address’d,
Whilst with pathetic warmth his hand he press’d:

“Stranger, may fate a milder aspect show,
And spin thy future with a whiter clue!
O Jove! for ever death to human cries;
The tyrant, not the father of the skies!
Unpiteous of the race thy will began!
The fool of fate, thy manufacture, man,
With penury, contempt, repulse, and care,
The galling load of life is doom’d to bear.
Ulysses from his state a wanderer still,
Upbraids thy power, thy wisdom, or thy will!
O monarch ever dear!-O man of woe!
Fresh flow my tears, and shall for ever flow!
Like thee, poor stranger guest, denied his home,
Like thee: in rags obscene decreed to roam!
Or, haply perish’d on some distant coast,
In stygian gloom he glides, a pensive ghost!
Oh, grateful for the good his bounty gave,
I’ll grieve, till sorrow sink me to the grave!
His kind protecting hand my youth preferr’d,
The regent of his Cephalenian herd;
With vast increase beneath my care it spreads:
A stately breed! and blackens far the meads.
Constrain’d, the choicest beeves I thence import,
To cram these cormorants that crowd his court:
Who in partition seek his realm to share;
Nor human right nor wrath divine revere,
Since here resolved oppressive these reside,
Contending doubts my anxious heart divide:
Now to some foreign clime inclined to fly,
And with the royal herd protection buy;
Then, happier thoughts return the nodding scale,
Light mounts despair, alternate hopes prevail:
In opening prospects of ideal joy,
My king returns; the proud usurpers die.”

To whom the chief: “In thy capacious mind
Since daring zeal with cool debate is join’d,
Attend a deed already ripe in fate:
Attest, O Jove! the truth I now relate!
This sacred truth attest, each genial power,
Who bless the board, and guard this friendly bower!
Before thou quit the dome (nor long delay)
Thy wish produced in act, with pleased survey,
Thy wondering eyes shall view: his rightful reign
By arms avow’d Ulysses shall regain,
And to the shades devote the suitor-train.”

“O Jove supreme! (the raptured swain replies,)
With deeds consummate soon the promised joys!
These aged nerves, with new-born vigour strung,
In that blest cause should emulate the young.”
Assents Eumaeus to the prayer address’d;
And equal ardours fire his loyal breast.

Meantime the suitors urge the prince’s fate,
And deathful arts employ the dire debate:
When in his airy tour, the bird of Jove
Truss’d with his sinewy pounce a trembling dove;
Sinister to their hope! This omen eyed
Amphinomus, who thus presaging cried:

“The gods from force and fraud the prince defend;
O peers! the sanguinary scheme suspend:
Your future thought let sable fate employ;
And give the present hour to genial joy.”

From council straight the assenting peerage ceased,
And in the dome prepared the genial feast.
Disrobed, their vests apart in order lay,
Then all with speed succinct the victims slay:
With sheep and shaggy goats the porkers bled,
And the proud steer was on the marble spread.
With fire prepared, they deal the morsels round,
Wine, rosy-bright, the brimming goblets crown’d,
By sage Eumaeus borne; the purple tide
Melanthius from an ample jar supplied:
High canisters of bread Philaetius placed;
And eager all devour the rich repast.
Disposed apart, Ulysses shares the treat;
A trivet table, and ignobler seat,
The prince appoints; but to his sire assigns
The tasteful inwards, and nectareous wines.
“Partake, my guest (he cried), without control
The social feast, and drain the cheering bowl:
Dread not the railer’s laugh, nor ruffian’s rage;
No vulgar roof protects thy honour’d age;
This dome a refuge to thy wrongs shall be,
From my great sire too soon devolved to me!
Your violence and scorn, ye suitors, cease,
Lest arms avenge the violated peace.”

Awed by the prince, so haughty, brave, and young,
Rage gnaw’d the lip, amazement chain’d the tongue.
“Be patient, peers! (at length Antinous cries,)
The threats of vain imperious youth despise:
Would Jove permit the meditated blow,
That stream of eloquence should cease to flow.”

Without reply vouchsafed, Antinous ceased:
Meanwhile the pomp of festival increased:
By heralds rank’d; in marshall’d order move
The city tribes, to pleased Apollo’s grove:
Beneath the verdure of which awful shade,
The lunar hecatomb they grateful laid;
Partook the sacred feast, and ritual honours paid.
But the rich banquet, in the dome prepared
(An humble sideboard set) Ulysses shared.
Observant of the prince’s high behest,
His menial train attend the stranger-guest;
Whom Pallas with unpardoning fury fired,
By lordly pride and keen reproach inspired.
A Samian peer, more studious than the rest
Of vice, who teem’d with many a dead-born jest;
And urged, for title to a consort queen,
Unnumber’d acres arable and green
(Otesippus named); this lord Ulysses eyed,
And thus burst out the imposthumate with pride:

“The sentence I propose, ye peers, attend:
Since due regard must wait the prince’s friend,
Let each a token of esteem bestow:
This gift acquits the dear respect I owe;
With which he nobly may discharge his seat,
And pay the menials for a master’s treat.”

He said: and of the steer before him placed,
That sinewy fragment at Ulysses cast,
Where to the pastern-bone, by nerves combined,
The well-horn’d foot indissolubly join’d;
Which whizzing high, the wall unseemly sign’d.
The chief indignant grins a ghastly smile;
Revenge and scorn within his bosom boil:
When thus the prince with pious rage inflamed:
“Had not the inglorious wound thy malice aim’d
Fall’n guiltless of the mark, my certain spear
Had made thee buy the brutal triumph dear:
Nor should thy sire a queen his daughter boast;
The suitor, now, had vanish’d in a ghost:
No more, ye lewd compeers, with lawless power
Invade my dome, my herds and flocks devour:
For genuine worth, of age mature to know,
My grape shall redden, and my harvest grow
Or, if each other’s wrongs ye still support,
With rapes and riot to profane my court;
What single arm with numbers can contend?
On me let all your lifted swords descend,
And with my life such vile dishonours end.”

A long cessation of discourse ensued,
By gentler Agelaus thus renew’d:

“A just reproof, ye peers! your rage restrain
From the protected guest, and menial train:
And, prince! to stop the source of future ill,
Assent yourself, and gain the royal will.
Whilst hope prevail’d to see your sire restored,
Of right the queen refused a second lord:
But who so vain of faith, so blind to fate,
To think he still survives to claim the state?
Now press the sovereign dame with warm desire
To wed, as wealth or worth her choice inspire:
The lord selected to the nuptial joys
Far hence will lead the long-contested prize:
Whilst in paternal pomp with plenty bless’d,
You reign, of this imperial dome possess’d.”

Sage and serene Telemachus replies:
“By him at whose behest the thunder flies,
And by the name on earth I most revere,
By great Ulysses and his woes I swear!
(Who never must review his dear domain;
Enroll’d, perhaps, in Pluto’s dreary train),
Whene’er her choice the royal dame avows,
My bridal gifts shall load the future spouse:
But from this dome my parent queen to chase!
From me, ye gods! avert such dire disgrace.”

But Pallas clouds with intellectual gloom
The suitors’ souls, insensate of their doom!
A mirthful frenzy seized the fated crowd;
The roofs resound with causeless laughter loud;
Floating in gore, portentous to survey!
In each discolour’d vase the viands lay;
Then down each cheek the tears spontaneous flow
And sudden sighs precede approaching woe.
In vision wrapp’d, the Hyperesian seer
Uprose, and thus divined the vengeance near:

“O race to death devote! with Stygian shade
Each destin’d peer impending fates invade;
With tears your wan distorted cheeks are drown’d;
With sanguine drops the walls are rubied round:
Thick swarms the spacious hall with howling ghosts,
To people Orcus, and the burning coasts!
Nor gives the sun his golden orb to roll,
But universal night usurps the pole!”

Yet warn’d in vain, with laughter loud elate
The peers reproach the sure divine of Fate;
And thus Eurymachus: “The dotard’s mind
To every sense is lost, to reason blind;
Swift from the dome conduct the slave away;
Let him in open air behold the day.”

“Tax not (the heaven-illumined seer rejoin’d)
Of rage, or folly, my prophetic mind,
No clouds of error dim the ethereal rays,
Her equal power each faithful sense obeys.
Unguided hence my trembling steps I bend,
Far hence, before yon hovering deaths descend;
Lest the ripe harvest of revenge begun,
I share the doom ye suitors cannot shun.”

This said, to sage Piraeus sped the seer,
His honour’d host, a welcome inmate there.
O’er the protracted feast the suitors sit,
And aim to wound the prince with pointless wit:
Cries one, with scornful leer and mimic voice,
“Thy charity we praise, but not thy choice;
Why such profusion of indulgence shown
To this poor, timorous, toil-detesting drone?
That others feeds on planetary schemes,
And pays his host with hideous noon-day dreams.
But, prince! for once at least believe a friend;
To some Sicilian mart these courtiers send,
Where, if they yield their freight across the main,
Dear sell the slaves! demand no greater gain.”

Thus jovial they; but nought the prince replies;
Full on his sire he roll’d his ardent eyes:
Impatient straight to flesh his virgin-sword;
From the wise chief he waits the deathful word.
Nigh in her bright alcove, the pensive queen
To see the circle sate, of all unseen.
Sated at length they rise, and bid prepare
An eve-repast, with equal cost and care:
But vengeful Pallas, with preventing speed,
A feast proportion’d to their crimes decreed;
A feast of death, the feasters doom’d to bleed!




Penelope, to put an end to the solicitation of the suitors, proposes to
marry the person who shall first bend the bow of Ulysses, and shoot
through the ringlets. After their attempts have proved ineffectual,
Ulysses, taking Eumaeus and Philaetius apart, discovers himself to
them; then returning, desires leave to try his strength at the bow,
which, though refused with indignation by the suitors, Penelope and
Telemachus cause it to be delivered to his hands. He bends it
immediately, and shoots through all the rings. Jupiter at the same
instant thunders from heaven; Ulysses accepts the omen, and gives a
sign to Telemachus, who stands ready armed at his side.

And Pallas now, to raise the rivals’ fires,
With her own art Penelope inspires
Who now can bend Ulysses’ bow, and wing
The well-aim’d arrow through the distant ring,
Shall end the strife, and win the imperial dame:
But discord and black death await the game!

The prudent queen the lofty stair ascends:
At distance due a virgin-train attends;
A brazen key she held, the handle turn’d,
With steel and polish’d elephant adorn’d:
Swift to the inmost room she bent her way,
Where, safe reposed, the royal treasures lay:
There shone high heap’d the labour’d brass and ore,
And there the bow which great Ulysses bore;
And there the quiver, where now guiltless slept
Those winged deaths that many a matron wept.

This gift, long since when Sparta’s shore he trod,
On young Ulysses Iphitus bestowed:
Beneath Orsilochus’ roof they met;
One loss was private, one a public debt;
Messena’s state from Ithaca detains
Three hundred sheep, and all the shepherd swains;
And to the youthful prince to urge the laws,
The king and elders trust their common cause.
But Iphitus, employed on other cares,
Search’d the wide country for his wandering mares,
And mules, the strongest of the labouring kind;
Hapless to search; more hapless still to find!
For journeying on to Hercules, at length
That lawless wretch, that man of brutal strength,
Deaf to Heaven’s voice, the social rites transgress’d;
And for the beauteous mares destroy’d his guest.
He gave the bow; and on Ulysses’ part
Received a pointed sword, and missile dart:
Of luckless friendship on a foreign shore
Their first, last pledges! for they met no more.
The bow, bequeath’d by this unhappy hand,
Ulysses bore not from his native land;
Nor in the front of battle taught to bend,
But kept in dear memorial of his friend.

Now gently winding up the fair ascent,
By many an easy step the matron went;
Then o’er the pavement glides with grace divine
(With polish’d oak the level pavements shine);
The folding gates a dazzling light display’d,
With pomp of various architrave o’erlaid.
The bolt, obedient to the silken string,
Forsakes the staple as she pulls the ring;
The wards respondent to the key turn round;
The bars fall back; the flying valves resound;
Loud as a bull makes hill and valley ring,
So roar’d the lock when it released the spring.
She moves majestic through the wealthy room,
Where treasured garments cast a rich perfume;
There from the column where aloft it hung,
Reach’d in its splendid case, the bow unstrung;
Across her knees she laid the well-known bow,
And pensive sate, and tears began to flow.
To full satiety of grief she mourns,
Then silent to the joyous hall returns,
To the proud suitors bears in pensive state
The unbended bow, and arrows winged with fate.

Behind, her train the polish’d coffer brings,
Which held the alternate brass and silver rings.
Full in the portal the chaste queen appears,
And with her veil conceals the coming tears:
On either side awaits a virgin fair;
While thus the matron, with majestic air:

“Say you, when these forbidden walls inclose,
For whom my victims bleed, my vintage flows:
If these neglected, faded charms can move?
Or is it but a vain pretence, you love?
If I the prize, if me you seek to wife,
Hear the conditions, and commence the strife.
Who first Ulysses’ wondrous bow shall bend,
And through twelve ringlets the fleet arrow send;
Him will I follow, and forsake my home,
For him forsake this loved, this wealthy dome,
Long, long the scene of all my past delight,
And still to last, the vision of my night!”

Graceful she said, and bade Eumaeus show
The rival peers the ringlets and the bow.
From his full eyes the tears unbidden spring,
Touch’d at the dear memorials of his king.
Philaetius too relents, but secret shed
The tender drops. Antinous saw, and said:

“Hence to your fields, ye rustics! hence away,
Nor stain with grief the pleasures of the day;
Nor to the royal heart recall in vain
The sad remembrance of a perish’d man.
Enough her precious tears already flow—
Or share the feast with due respect; or go
To weep abroad, and leave to us the bow,
No vulgar task! Ill suits this courtly crew
That stubborn horn which brave Ulysses drew.
I well remember (for I gazed him o’er
While yet a child), what majesty he bore!
And still (all infant as I was) retain
The port, the strength, the grandeur of the man.”

He said, but in his soul fond joys arise,
And his proud hopes already win the prize.
To speed the flying shaft through every ring,
Wretch! is not thine: the arrows of the king
Shall end those hopes, and fate is on the wing!

Then thus Telemachus: “Some god I find
With pleasing frenzy has possess’d my mind;
When a loved mother threatens to depart,
Why with this ill-timed gladness leaps my heart?
Come then, ye suitors! and dispute a prize
Richer than all the Achaian state supplies,
Than all proud Argos, or Mycaena knows,
Than all our isles or continents inclose;
A woman matchless, and almost divine,
Fit for the praise of every tongue but mine.
No more excuses then, no more delay;
Haste to the trial—Lo! I lead the way.

“I too may try, and if this arm can wing
The feather’d arrow through the destined ring,
Then if no happier night the conquest boast,
I shall not sorrow for a mother lost;
But, bless’d in her, possess those arms alone,
Heir of my father’s strength, as well as throne.”

He spoke; then rising, his broad sword unbound,
And cast his purple garment on the ground.
A trench he open’d: in a line he placed.
The level axes, and the points made fast
(His perfect skill the wondering gazers eyed,
The game as yet unseen, as yet untried).
Then, with a manly pace, he took his stand:
And grasp’d the bow, and twang’d it in his hand.
Three times, with beating heart, he made essay:
Three times, unequal to the task, gave way;
A modest boldness on his cheek appear’d:
And thrice he hoped, and thrice again he fear’d.
The fourth had drawn it. The great sire with joy
Beheld, but with a sign forbade the boy.
His ardour straight the obedient prince suppress’d,
And, artful, thus the suitor-train address’d:

“O lay the cause on youth yet immature!
(For heaven forbid such weakness should endure!)
How shall this arm, unequal to the bow,
Retort an insult, or repel a foe?
But you! whom Heaven with better nerves has bless’d,
Accept the trial, and the prize contest.”

He cast the bow before him, and apart
Against the polish’d quiver propp’d the dart.
Resuming then his seat, Eupithes’ son,
The bold Antinous, to the rest begun:
“From where the goblet first begins to flow,
From right to left in order take the bow;
And prove your several strengths.” The princes heard
And first Leiodes, blameless priest’d, appear’d:
The eldest born of Oenops’ noble race,
Who next the goblet held his holy place:
He, only he, of all the suitor throng,
Their deeds detested, and abjured the wrong.
With tender hands the stubborn horn he strains,
The stubborn horn resisted all his pains!
Already in despair he gives it o’er:
“Take it who will (he cries), I strive no more,
What numerous deaths attend this fatal bow!
What souls and spirits shall it send below!
Better, indeed, to die, and fairly give
Nature her debt, than disappointed live,
With each new sun to some new hope a prey,
Yet still to-morrow falser than to-day.
How long in vain Penelope we sought!
This bow shall ease us of that idle thought,
And send us with some humbler wife to live,
Whom gold shall gain, or destiny shall give.”

Thus speaking, on the floor the bow he placed
(With rich inlay the various floor was graced):
At distance far the feather’d shaft he throws,
And to the seat returns from whence he rose.

To him Antinous thus with fury said:
“What words ill-omen’d from thy lips have fled?
Thy coward-function ever is in fear!
Those arms are dreadful which thou canst not bear,
Why should this bow be fatal to the brave?
Because the priest is born a peaceful slave.
Mark then what others can.” He ended there,
And bade Melanthius a vast pile prepare;
He gives it instant flame, then fast beside
Spreads o’er an ample board a bullock’s hide.
With melted lard they soak the weapon o’er,
Chafe every knot, and supple every pore.
Vain all their art, and all their strength as vain;
The bow inflexible resists their pain.
The force of great Eurymachus alone
And bold Antinous, yet untired, unknown:
Those only now remain’d; but those confess’d
Of all the train the mightiest and the best.

Then from the hall, and from the noisy crew,
The masters of the herd and flock withdrew.
The king observes them, he the hall forsakes,
And, past the limits of the court, o’ertakes.
Then thus with accent mild Ulysses spoke:
“Ye faithful guardians of the herd and flock!
Shall I the secret of my breast conceal,
Or (as my soul now dictates) shall I tell?
Say, should some favouring god restore again
The lost Ulysses to his native reign,
How beat your hearts? what aid would you afford
To the proud suitors, or your ancient lord?”

Philaetius thus: “O were thy word not vain!
Would mighty Jove restore that man again!
These aged sinews, with new vigour strung,
In his blest cause should emulate the young.”
With equal vows Eumaeus too implored
Each power above, with wishes for his lord.

He saw their secret souls, and thus began:
“Those vows the gods accord; behold the man!
Your own Ulysses! twice ten years detain’d
By woes and wanderings from this hapless land:
At length he comes; but comes despised, unknown,
And finding faithful you, and you alone.
All else have cast him from their very thought,
E’en in their wishes and their prayers forgot!
Hear then, my friends: If Jove this arm succeed,
And give yon impious revellers to bleed,
My care shall be to bless your future lives
With large possessions and with faithful wives;
Fast by my palace shall your domes ascend,
And each on young Telemachus attend,
And each be call’d his brother and my friend.
To give you firmer faith, now trust your eye;
Lo! the broad scar indented on my thigh,
When with Autolycus’ sons, of yore,
On Parnass’ top I chased the tusky boar.”
His ragged vest then drawn aside disclosed
The sign conspicuous, and the scar exposed:
Eager they view’d, with joy they stood amazed
With tearful eyes o’er all their master gazed:
Around his neck their longing arms they cast,
His head, his shoulders, and his knees embraced;
Tears followed tears; no word was in their power;
In solemn silence fell the kindly shower.
The king too weeps, the king too grasps their hands;
And moveless, as a marble fountain, stands.

Thus had their joy wept down the setting sun,
But first the wise man ceased, and thus begun:
“Enough—on other cares your thought employ,
For danger waits on all untimely joy.
Full many foes and fierce, observe us near;
Some may betray, and yonder walls may hear.
Re-enter then, not all at once, but stay
Some moments you, and let me lead the way.
To me, neglected as I am I know
The haughty suitors will deny the bow;
But thou, Eumaeus, as ’tis borne away,
Thy master’s weapon to his hand convey.
At every portal let some matron wait,
And each lock fast the well-compacted gate:
Close let them keep, whate’er invades their ear;
Though arms, or shouts, or dying groans they hear.
To thy strict charge, Philaetius, we consign
The court’s main gate: to guard that pass be thine.”

This said, he first return’d; the faithful swains
At distance follow, as their king ordains.
Before the flame Eurymachus now stands,
And turns the bow, and chafes it with his hands
Still the tough bow unmoved. The lofty man
Sigh’d from his mighty soul, and thus began:

“I mourn the common cause: for, oh, my friends,
On me, on all, what grief, what shame attends!
Not the lost nuptials can affect me more
(For Greece has beauteous dames on every shore),
But baffled thus! confess’d so far below
Ulysses’ strength, as not to bend his bow!
How shall all ages our attempt deride!
Our weakness scorn!” Antinous thus replied:

“Not so, Eurymachus: that no man draws
The wondrous bow, attend another cause.
Sacred to Phoebus is the solemn day,
Which thoughtless we in games would waste away:
Till the next dawn this ill-timed strife forego,
And here leave fixed the ringlets in a row.
Now bid the sewer approach, and let us join
In due libations, and in rites divine,
So end our night: before the day shall spring,
The choicest offerings let Melanthius bring:
Let then to Phoebus’ name the fatted thighs
Feed the rich smokes high curling to the skies.
So shall the patron of these arts bestow
(For his the gift) the skill to bend the bow.”

They heard well pleased: the ready heralds bring
The cleansing waters from the limpid spring:
The goblet high with rosy wine they crown’d,
In order circling to the peers around.
That rite complete, uprose the thoughtful man,
And thus his meditated scheme began:

“If what I ask your noble minds approve,
Ye peers and rivals in the royal love!
Chief, if it hurt not great Antinous’ ear
(Whose sage decision I with wonder hear),
And if Eurymachus the motion please:
Give Heaven this day and rest the bow in peace.
To-morrow let your arms dispute the prize,
And take it he, the favour’d of the skies!
But, since till then this trial you delay,
Trust it one moment to my hands to-day:
Fain would I prove, before your judging eyes,
What once I was, whom wretched you despise:
If yet this arm its ancient force retain;
Or if my woes (a long-continued train)
And wants and insults, make me less than man.”

Rage flash’d in lightning from the suitors’ eyes,
Yet mixed with terror at the bold emprise.
Antinous then: “O miserable guest!
Is common sense quite banish’d from thy breast?
Sufficed it not, within the palace placed,
To sit distinguish’d, with our presence graced,
Admitted here with princes to confer,
A man unknown, a needy wanderer?
To copious wine this insolence we owe,
And much thy betters wine can overthrow:
The great Eurytian when this frenzy stung,
Pirithous’ roofs with frantic riot rung;
Boundless the Centaur raged; till one and all
The heroes rose, and dragg’d him from the hall;
His nose they shorten’d, and his ears they slit,
And sent him sober’d home, with better wit.
Hence with long war the double race was cursed,
Fatal to all, but to the aggressor first.
Such fate I prophesy our guest attends,
If here this interdicted bow he bends:
Nor shall these walls such insolence contain:
The first fair wind transports him o’er the main,
Where Echetus to death the guilty brings
(The worst of mortals, e’en the worst of kings).
Better than that, if thou approve our cheer;
Cease the mad strife and share our bounty here.”

To this the queen her just dislike express’d:

“‘Tis impious, prince, to harm the stranger-guest,
Base to insult who bears a suppliant’s name,
And some respect Telemachus may claim.
What if the immortals on the man bestow
Sufficient strength to draw the mighty bow?
Shall I, a queen, by rival chiefs adored,
Accept a wandering stranger for my lord?
A hope so idle never touch’d his brain:
Then ease your bosoms of a fear so vain.
Far be he banish’d from this stately scene
Who wrongs his princess with a thought so mean.”

“O fair! and wisest of so fair a kind!
(Respectful thus Eurymachus rejoin’d,)
Moved by no weak surmise, but sense of shame,
We dread the all-arraigning voice of Fame:
We dread the censure of the meanest slave,
The weakest woman: all can wrong the brave.
‘Behold what wretches to the bed pretend
Of that brave chief whose bow they could not bend!
In came a beggar of the strolling crew,
And did what all those princes could not do.’
Thus will the common voice our deed defame,
And thus posterity upbraid our name.”

To whom the queen: “If fame engage your views,
Forbear those acts which infamy pursues;
Wrong and oppression no renown can raise;
Know, friend! that virtue is the path to praise.
The stature of our guest, his port, his face,
Speak him descended from no vulgar race.
To him the bow, as he desires, convey;
And to his hand if Phoebus give the day,
Hence, to reward his merit, be shall bear
A two-edged falchion and a shining spear,
Embroider’d sandals, a rich cloak and vest,
A safe conveyance to his port of rest.”

“O royal mother! ever-honour’d name!
Permit me (cries Telemachus) to claim
A son’s just right. No Grecian prince but I
Has power this bow to grant or to deny.
Of all that Ithaca’s rough hills contain,
And all wide Elis’ courser-breeding plain,
To me alone my father’s arms descend;
And mine alone they are, to give or lend.
Retire, O queen! thy household task resume,
Tend, with thy maids, the labours of thy loom;
The bow, the darts, and arms of chivalry,
These cares to man belong, and most to me.”

Mature beyond his years, the queen admired
His sage reply, and with her train retired;
There in her chamber as she sate apart,
Revolved his words, and placed them in her heart.
On her Ulysses then she fix’d her soul;
Down her fair cheek the tears abundant roll,
Till gentle Pallas, piteous of her cries,
In slumber closed her silver-streaming eyes.

Now through the press the bow Eumaeus bore,
And all was riot, noise, and wild uproar.
“Hold! lawless rustic! whither wilt thou go?
To whom, insensate, dost thou bear the bow?
Exiled for this to some sequester’d den,
Far from the sweet society of men,
To thy own dogs a prey thou shalt be made;
If Heaven and Phoebus lend the suitors aid.”
Thus they. Aghast he laid the weapon down,
But bold Telemachus thus urged him on:
“Proceed, false slave, and slight their empty words:
What! hopes the fool to please so many lords?
Young as I am, thy prince’s vengeful hand
Stretch’d forth in wrath shall drive thee from the land.
Oh! could the vigour of this arm as well
The oppressive suitors from my walls expel!
Then what a shoal of lawless men should go
To fill with tumult the dark courts below!”

The suitors with a scornful smile survey
The youth, indulging in the genial day.
Eumaeus, thus encouraged, hastes to bring
The strifeful bow and gives it to the king.
Old Euryclea calling them aside,
“Hear what Telemachus enjoins (he cried):
At every portal let some matron wait,
And each lock fast the well-compacted gate;
And if unusual sounds invade their ear,
If arms, or shouts, or dying groans they hear,
Let none to call or issue forth presume,
But close attend the labours of the loom.”

Her prompt obedience on his order waits;
Closed in an instant were the palace gates.
In the same moment forth Philaetius flies,
Secures the court, and with a cable ties
The utmost gate (the cable strongly wrought
Of Byblos’ reed, a ship from Egypt brought);
Then unperceived and silent at the board
His seat he takes, his eyes upon his lord.

And now his well-known bow the master bore,
Turn’d on all sides, and view’d it o’er and o’er;
Lest time or worms had done the weapon wrong,
Its owner absent, and untried so long.
While some deriding—“How he turns the bow!
Some other like it sure the man must know,
Or else would copy; or in bows he deals;
Perhaps he makes them, or perhaps he steals.”
“Heaven to this wretch (another cried) be kind!
And bless, in all to which he stands inclined.
With such good fortune as he now shall find.”

Heedless he heard them: but disdain’d reply;
The bow perusing with exactest eye.
Then, as some heavenly minstrel, taught to sing
High notes responsive to the trembling string,
To some new strain when he adapts the lyre,
Or the dumb lute refits with vocal wire,
Relaxes, strains, and draws them to and fro;
So the great master drew the mighty bow,
And drew with ease. One hand aloft display’d
The bending horns, and one the string essay’d.
From his essaying hand the string, let fly,
Twang’d short and sharp like the shrill swallow’s cry.
A general horror ran through all the race,
Sunk was each heart, and pale was every face,
Signs from above ensued: the unfolding sky
In lightning burst; Jove thunder’d from on high.
Fired at the call of heaven’s almighty Lord,
He snatch’d the shaft that glitter’d on the board
(Fast by, the rest lay sleeping in the sheath,
But soon to fly the messengers of death).

Now sitting as he was, the cord he drew,
Through every ringlet levelling his view:
Then notch’d the shaft, released, and gave it wing;
The whizzing arrow vanished from the string,
Sung on direct, and threaded every ring.
The solid gate its fury scarcely bounds;
Pierced through and through the solid gate resounds,
Then to the prince: “Nor have I wrought thee shame;
Nor err’d this hand unfaithful to its aim;
Nor prov’d the toil too hard; nor have I lost
That ancient vigour, once my pride and boast.
Ill I deserved these haughty peers’ disdain;
Now let them comfort their dejected train,
In sweet repast their present hour employ,
Nor wait till evening for the genial joy:
Then to the lute’s soft voice prolong the night;
Music, the banquet’s most refined delight.”

He said, then gave a nod; and at the word
Telemachus girds on his shining sword.
Fast by his father’s side he takes his stand:
The beamy javelin lightens in his hand.