The Odyssey – Homer



When Dawn’s pink fingers peeped shyly on the eastern sky 

And politely plucked the eyelids of Telemachus,

Odysseus’s son blinked sleep from his eyes, and

Rose and quickly dressed, transferring the shoulder strap of his sharp sword across his broad chest, and

p. 68

And as his voice lifted in prayer, Athene, now in the guise of Mentor, spoke to him with winged words. “Telemachus, I said that you would prove to be neither a fool nor a coward in the future if you assumed your father’s mantle and put your words to deeds as did he many times. Your journey will not be a waste if you follow his lead. This I promise you! But if you beat your chest and wail how badly you’ve been treated, why, then you are not the son of Odysseus and Penelope, and your plans will scatter like dust motes in the air. Few sons are mirrored images of their fathers—most are worse, a few better. Pay no attention to the word bandy of the posturing, preening fools whose pompous words are but saltwater gargle! Ignore them!


The sun fell and sable shadows slid through every street. Athene stocked the good ship and moored it in a dark part of the harbor, leaving it swinging by a stern anchor. Then she waited in the shadows of a tavern while the men she had selected gathered quietly around her. She filled their hearts with a quiet fire. 


Words may be temporal at best and often lost in air, but gods hear them—especially when they have little toadies willing to carry snippets to their ears. 


Odysseus never gave their fathers a harsh word when these suitors were children and never took anything from them. And where are those fathers now? Skulking in the shadows, hoping to benefit from the spoils of their sons. It’s easy to see that good acts are often forgotten when greed rears its ugly head. 



“I will not tell you this. Whether he lives or dies is of no consequence at this time. These would be only empty words that escape into air.”


Odysseus, the man of many masquerades, looked lovingly at her, skillfully masking his feelings. “Calypso, don’t be angry at what I’m about to say. Please understand that you are far more beautiful than my Penelope, and your lovemaking, well, that is more skillful than any mortal woman could ever achieve. Your youth will last forever, while Penelope and other mortal women will grow lined and gray. A man would be a fool to want something other than what you offer. But that is what I am: a man. I was meant to be a man and to have a woman for a wife, not to become one of the Immortals. That is my destiny. If I am to find my fate at the bottom of the wine-dark sea, that is what I must do. I have seen many terrible things, and this has hardened my heart so much that now, to keep from becoming a bitter and vexed man, I must follow my destiny. I have fought wars and seen much bitterness. If another disaster is to come my way, let it come. That is only one more thing I must suffer to reach my home. 


Athene smiled as she saw her words reflected in the beauty of the young girl’s face and, leaving the bedside, rose up to Olympus where the gods have made their eternal homes, free from shaking winds, drenching rains, and freezing snows, set in serene skies where a sun-white radiance plays over all. There, the gods and goddesses spend their days in happy pleasure.


She walked to her dress and shrugged into it, then crossed to the virgins hiding from them. She laughed. “Come out from your hiding. Why do you act so silly in front of a naked man? You have seen men like this before. Did you think he was one of the Cyclops who used to prey upon our people? This is not a man who comes from the Underworld or the water world, and I don’t think he wishes to ravish and rape you. On the contrary, I think he is truly manly, wise, and true in his dealings with people.” She turned and looked back at Odysseus, her lips pursing thoughtfully. “Indeed, I think his soul is too rich to sink to such decadence that he would act lewd or take advantage of women, and I do not think he will try to take advantage of our people who are dear to the gods. He does appear to be pious. 



Soon they reached the court and here Athene said, “Here we are. I have brought you to the house that you sought. Inside, you will find the king and princes, the favorites of Zeus, feasting cheerfully among themselves. Do not be afraid of them. The bolder a man is, the more he wins. And you,” she said saucily with a wink, “appear to be as bold as a bull in a field of heifers in season. Now, the first person you will meet is the queen. Her name is Arete and her ancestors were the same as Alcinous the king’s.”


Yet neither could own my soul or my love for all of their bribes and offers—yes, even immortality, the gift of the gods to a few mortals. This, too, I declined, preferring the sweetness of my own country’s earth to the hallowed halls of heaven. Mark my words well: There is nothing grander than the land of our birth.”

p. 183

“We came at last to the island of Aeaea, where the fair-haired, dreadful, but eloquent witch-whore Circe reigned. Ah, me! Had we only known! Yet, yet”—he smiled into his beard; his eyes took on the shining of fond memories—”there are always a bit of good times mixed in with the bad and so it was here. Circe, you may not know and if you do I apologize for taking your time, is the sister Aeetes, and both are the children of Helios of the Sun and Oceanus’s daughter Perse.


Odysseus grabbed his wine and drained it thirstily, then sighed and shook his head, saying, “You have no idea, my lords, the horror of seeing that blood-ringed mouth and knowing the fate that awaits us. How many times have we said in jest that we wanted to know what lies before us after we shuffle from our mortal ways to our immortal paths? But I tell you this: I have learned that it is the now that is important to the soul, not later. No, despite what our priests and philosophers maintain with their pithy prattlings, wasted moments here with disdainful dismissal of our days will be regretted later. 



“Ah, me!” he sighed. “It’s a terrible thing to have the truth shown to a man who has lived by his wits for so long. And that was not the end of our troubles, either, as the gods were not finished casting lots concerning our fate. Damn poor game, that is, when man isn’t given a fling of the coup for himself, but man isn’t, and it is up to us to make the best of whatever comes our way.” He paused. “The trouble is that man will make the best of it, and the gods will deliberately push another block in his way, forcing him down another path. There’s the rub of the whole thing I tell you! The gods become like little children playing with frogs in a puddle, poking us one way or the other, meddling in our affairs, yet when we try to meddle in theirs we get slapped arse over pins for our trouble. Where’s the fairness in that, I ask you?”


Here, I cannot make a choice for you—as a mortal, that is what you must determine for yourself. Life is full of choices, and although you may think the gods meddle too much in your life, there are still some things that we cannot alter. But that is milk and gall now! You are impatient, I know. That is the case with the mortals who are in a hurry to get on with their lives.”


“But after we sacked Troy and I carried my spoils aboard my ship and we set sail for home after a god scattered our fleet over the broad sea, I do not remember you being around me. Nor do I remember you stepping in to save me during the troubles that followed. Uh-uh. It seems to me that I was forced to wander around the world, trying to find my way home until the gods tired of playing cat-and-mouse with me. I suspect that day was in the land of milk and honey owned by the Phaeacians when you gave me comfort and guided me to their city. Now I beg you, in the name of your father—I find it hard to believe that I am in sunny Ithaca with this mist and fog roiling around me—tell me: Am I really home?”



Eumaeus hawked and sapt and cleared his throat. “Well, my friend. My story is something else and a tale you might enjoy. Sit back. Have a cup of wine against the long night. There’s no need for an early bed, but if one here desires a bit of sleep—although too much sleep dulls the wits, you know—then he can go and have a lie-down.


My blood fairly boils at the indignations they have heaped upon you. Beggarman I may be, but there is a man beneath these rags, and clothes do not make a noble soul. 


She stood in the shade of the arbor and smiled at Odysseus. But Telemachus did not see her for it is not given to everyone to see the gods all the time even though they may be standing right at a person’s shoulder. Only Odysseus and the dogs saw her, and the dogs ran whimpering from her to hide on the other side of the farm. 


Hold your anger if they insult me in your house. Oh, it probably would be all right if you would please them to take mercy upon an old man. Now that I think of it, that would help put their minds at ease, you begging for a beggar. They would think less of you, and when a person thinks less of you than you are, why, then you have the upper hand. They won’t listen to you—arrogant men usually don’t—but we know one thing that they don’t: Their judgment day is near at hand. 


“So. Let’s see. Suppose you go in first while I step about and put my wits in order. Don’t worry about them throwing anything at me. Occupational hazard, you know. I’m quite good at dodging stones and bones when they come my way. I’ve lived a life on enough waves and battlefields not to mind a bruise now and then. Ah, well, there’s no matter! A man’s belly drives him on, you know. A terrible thing that! Causes a man no account of trouble. Even to fitting out great ships with good stout planks and fighting men to man them to ride the barren seas! And why? Hunger, my good man! Hunger! The wolf’s hunger to feast upon his enemies!”


Odysseus took the bread and meat from his hands and said, “Thank you master for his kind generosity. Zeus will smile favorably upon him for this, I’m certain! And thank you for your words. But it is an even hungrier beggar who steps away from the possibility of a few coins. Gods help those who help themselves!”


And the thought of having my feet washed by one of these outspoken wenches is not pleasing to me. No, leave me in peace unless there is an old and faithful servant in this house whose soul has suffered like yours and mine. That woman may touch my feet, no other.”


Then Athene made a soft glow form over him, straightened him and made his shoulders square and brushed his locks to curl and hang from his head like hyacinth petals in bloom. She worked carefully, as carefully as Hephaestus with the secrets of his art to inlay silver with delicate filigrees of gold. He stepped out of the bathing room looking every inch the god and went across the room to sit beside his patient wife. 

Don Juan, canto IV, 77:

High barrows without marble or a name,

A vast, untilled and mountain-skirted plain,

And Ida in the distance, still the same,

And old Scamander (if’tis he) remain:

The situation seems still formed for fame—

A hundred thousand men might fight again

With ease; but where I sought for Ilion’s walls,

The quiet sheep feeds, and the tortoise crawls.

. . . I’ve stood upon Achilles’ tomb,

And heard Troy doubted; time will doubt of Rome.

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