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1-10) Fagles Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy. Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds, many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea, fighting to save his life and bringing his comrades home. But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove— the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all, the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return. Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus, start from where you will—sing for our time too.
Mitchell Sing to me, Muse, of the man of many resources who was driven astray and forced to wander the earth after he plundered Troy. He passed through the cities of many people and learned how they lived and thought, and he suffered many great hardships on the high seas, trying to save his own life and bring his companions safely back to their land. But despite his efforts he could not rescue them, fools that they were—their own recklessness brought disaster upon them all; they killed and devoured Hypérion‘s sacred oxen, so the sun god blotted them out and they never went home. Goddess, daughter of Zeus, begin wherever you wish to, and tell the story again, for us.
Fitzgerald Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy. He saw the townlands and learned the minds of many distant men, and weathered many bitter nights and days in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only to save his life, to bring his shipmates home. But not by will nor valor could he save them, for their own recklessness destroyed them all children and fools, they killed and feasted on the cattle of Lord Helios, the Sun, and he who moves all day through heaven took from their eyes the dawn of their return. Of these adventures, Muse, daughter of Zeus, tell us in our time, lift the great song again.
Calypso’s Last Night with Odysseus (5.200-227) Mitchell ―Noble son of Laértes, subtle Odysseus, are you really going to leave me now and return to your own dear country? Well, I wish you the best. Yet if you had any idea of all the hardships you will have to endure before you can ever reach home, you would stay with me here and let me make you immortal, however you long for that wife of yours, whom you think of day in and day out. But I am not any less attractive than she is, surely, in face or figure; and indeed it would be unimaginable for a mere woman to come even close to a goddess in beauty.‖ And Odysseus, the great tactician, answered her, ―Goddess, don‘t be angry. I know it as well as you do— that Penelope isn‘t as tall as you or as lovely. And yes, she is only a woman, while you are immortal and will never grow old. I know that. Yet even so, I can‘t help longing for home. And if some god does wreck me during the voyage, I will endure it; my heart knows how to endure great hardships. Before now I have suffered many, both on the sea and in war, and if I must suffer another hardship, so be it.‖ As they were speaking, the sun set and darkness came on. And they moved further into the cave, and they made love with great pleasure, and then they slept in each other‘s arms.
Fagles ―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 her, 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. Fitzgerald ―Son of Laërtês, versatile Odysseus, after these years with me, you still desire your old home? Even so, I wish you well. If you could see it all, before you go— all the adversity you face at sea— you would stay here, and guard this house, and be immortal—though you wanted her forever,
that bride for whom you pine each day. Can I be less desirable than she is? Less interesting? Less beautiful? Can mortals compare with goddesses in grace and form?‖ To this the strategist Odysseus answered: ―My lady goddess, there is no cause for anger. My quiet Penelope—how well I know— would seem a shade before your majesty, death and old age being unknown to you, while she must die. Yet, it is true, each day I long for home, long for the sight of home. If any god has marked me out again for shipwreck, my tough heart can undergo it. What hardship have I not long since endured at sea, in battle! Let the trial come.‖ Now as he spoke the sun set, dusk drew on, and they retired, this pair, to the inner cave to revel and rest softly, side by side.
Athena Speaks to Nausicaa (6.36-46) Fagles ―…So come, the first thing in the morning press your kingly father to harness the mules and wagon for you, all to carry your sashes, dresses, glossy spreads for your bed. It‘s so much nicer for you to ride than go on foot. The washing-pools are just too far from town.‖ With that the bright-eyed goddess sped away to Olympus, where, they say, the gods‘ eternal mansion stands unmoved, never rocked by galewinds, never drenched by rains, nor do the drifting snows assail it, no, the clear air stretches away without a cloud, and a great radiance plays across that world where the blithe gods live all their days in bliss. There Athena went, once the bright-eyed one had urged the princess on.
Mitchell ―…But ask your father to bring out the mule cart at dawn and harness the mules, so you can take all your washing down to the river—the linen, dresses, and cloaks. It would be much better for you to ride than to walk, since the washing troughs are such a long way from the city.‖ With these words Athena left her and went to Olympus, which is, men say, the eternal home of the gods. It is never shaken by winds or besieged by rain or chilled by snow, but a cloudless sky spreads above it, and around it always a radiance fills the air. There the immortals spend their long days in pleasure, and that is where, after speaking, Athena flew.
Fitzgerald ―…Go beg thy sovereign father, even at dawn, to have the mule cart and the mules brought round to take thy body-linen, gowns and mantles. Thou shouldst ride, for it becomes thee more, the washing pools are found so far from home.‖ On this word she departed, grey-eyed Athena, to where the gods have their eternal dwelling— as men say—in the fastness of Olympos. Never a tremor of wind, or a splash of rain, no errant snowflake comes to stain that heaven. so calm, so vaporless, the world of light. Here, where the gay gods live their days of pleasure, the grey-eyed one withdrew, leaving the princess.
Nausicaa and her handmaids do the laundry (6.85-109) Mitchell They came at last to the banks of the beautiful stream, where the washing troughs were always filled with clear water welling up through them, to clean all dirt from the clothes. Here they unyoked the mules from the cart and sent them along the stream to graze on the beds of sweet clover, then lifted the clothes from the cart and carried them down into the water, and each girl began to tread, making a game to see who could finish first. And when they had washed off the dirt and the clothes were spotless, they spread them neatly along the shore, where the sea lapped at the land and washed all the pebbles clean. And after a swim, they smoothed their bodies with oil and had their lunch on the bank of the eddying river and waited there for the clothes to dry in the sun. And when they had finished the meal, they took off their head scarves, and they played a ball game, tossing the ball and dancing in a circle, while Nausicäa led them in song. As when Ártemis races down from a high mountain, the top of Täýgetus or of Erimánthus, filled with the joy of hunting boars and swift deer, and the nymphs of the countryside join in the chase, and Leto exults to see her beloved daughter, who stands magnificent, head and shoulders above the rest and outshining them all, though all of them shine with beauty: just so did the princess stand out among her handmaids.
Fagles Once they reached the banks of the river flowing strong where the pools would never fail, with plenty of water cool and clear, bubbling up and rushing through to scour the darkest stains—they loosed the mules, out from under the wagon yoke, and chased them down the river‘s rippling banks to graze on luscious clover. Down from the cradle they lifted clothes by the armload, plunged them into the dark pools and stamped them down in the hollows, one girl racing the next to finish first
until they‘d scoured and rinsed off all the grime, then they spread them out in a line along the beach where the surf had washed a pebbly scree ashore. And once they‘d bathed and smoothed their skin with oil , they took their picnic, sitting along the river‘s banks and waiting for all the clothes to dry in the hot noon sun. Now fed to their hearts‘ content, the princess and her retinue threw their veils to the wind, struck up a game of ball. White-armed Nausicaa led their singing, dancing beat… as lithe as Artemis with her arrows striding down from a high peak—Taygetus‘ towering ridge or Erymanthus— thrilled to race with the wild boar or bounding deer, and nymphs of the hills race with her, daughters of Zeus whose shield is storm and thunder, ranging the hills in sport, and Leto‘s heart exults as head and shoulders over the rest her daughter rises, unmistakable—she outshines them all, though all are lovely. So Nausicaa shone among her maids, a virgin, still unwed. Fitzgerald By the lower river where the wagon came were washing pools, with water all year flowing in limpid spillways that no grime withstood. The girls unhitched the mules, and sent them down along the eddying stream to crop sweet grass. Then sliding out the cart‘s tail board, they took armloads of clothing to the dusky water, and trod them in the pits, making a race of it. All being drubbed, all blemish rinsed away, they spread them, piece by piece, along the beach whose pebbles had been laundered by the sea; then took a dip themselves, and, all anointed with golden oil, ate lunch beside the river while the bright burning sun dried out their linen. Princess and maids delighted in that feast; then, putting off their veils, they ran and passed a ball to a rhythmic beat, Nausikaa flashing first with her white arms. So Artemis goes flying after her arrows flown down some tremendous valley-side— Taÿgetos, Erymanthos— chasing the mountain goats or ghosting deer, with nymphs of the wild places flanking her; and Lêto‘s heart delights to see them running, for, taller by a head than nymphs can be, the goddess shows more stately, all being beautiful. So one could tell the princess from the maids.
Odysseus Encounters the Sirens (12.173-94)
―Now with a sharp sword I sliced an ample wheel of beeswax down into pieces, kneaded them in my two strong hands and the wax soon grew soft, worked by my strength and Helios‘ burning rays, the sun at high noon, and I stopped the ears of my comrades one by one. They bound me hand and foot in the tight ship – erect at the mast-block, lashed by ropes to the mast – and rowed and churned the whitecaps stroke on stroke. We were just offshore as far as a man‘s shout can carry, scudding close, when the Sirens sensed at once a ship was racing past and burst into their high, thrilling song: ‗Come closer, famous Odysseus – Achaea‘s pride and glory – moor your ship on our coast so you can hear our song! Never has a sailor passed our shores in his black craft until he has heard the honeyed voices pouring from our lips, and once he hears to his heart‘s content sails on, a wiser man. We know all the pains that the Greeks and Trojans once endured on the spreading plain of Troy when the gods willed it so— all that comes to pass on the fertile earth, we know it all!‘ So they sent their ravishing voices out across the air and the heart inside me throbbed to listen longer. I signaled the crew with frowns to set me free – they flung themselves at the oars and rowed on harder.
Mitchell ―I took a large wheel of wax and cut off a piece, then kneaded it in my hands; the wax quickly softened from the force of the kneading, and one after another I sealed the ears of my comrades. They stood me upright against the ship‘s mast, and they bound my hands and my feet and tied the ends of the rope to the mast itself, then sat back down and struck the gray sea with their oars. ―When we had come close enough to the land for a shout to be heard, the two Sirens saw that a ship was approaching, and at once they began to sing their enchanting music: ‗Come, Odysseus, great glory of the Achaeans, draw up your ship with us now; oh, stop here and listen. No sailor has ever rowed past this shore without hearing the honey-sweet voice from our lips, and all those who stop are thrilled with delight and go away wiser men. We know all the sorrow that Argives and Trojans endured on the wide plain of Troy, when the will of the gods ordained it, and we know all that comes to pass on the bountiful earth.‘
I carved a massive cake of beeswax into bits and rolled them in my hands until they softened— no long task, for a burning heat came down ―This was the song they sang with their beautiful voices, from Hêlios, lord of high noon. Going forward and my heart longed to hear it. I signaled the men with my eyebrows I carried wax along the line, and laid it to untie me at once. But they leaned on their oars and rowed on.‖ thick on their ears. They tied me up. Then, plumb amidships, back to the mast, lashed to the mast, and took themselves again to rowing. Soon, as we came smartly within hailing distance, the two Seirênês, noting our fast ship off their point, made ready, and they sang: This way, oh turn your bows, Akhaia’s glory, As all the world allows— Moor and be merry.
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Sweet coupled airs we sing. No lonely seafarer Holds clear of entering Our green mirror. Pleased by each purling note Like honey twining From her throat and my throat, Who lies a-pining? Sea rovers here take joy Voyaging onward, As from our song of Troy
Greybeard and rower-boy Goeth more learnèd. All feats on that great field In the long warfare, Dark days the bright gods willed, Wounds you bore there, Argos’ old soldiery On Troy beach teeming, Charmed out of time we see. No life on earth can be Hid from our dreaming. The lovely voices in ardor appealing over the water made me crave to listen, and I tried to say ‗Untie me!‘ to the crew, jerking my brows; but they bent steady to the oars.
Fagles Now Scylla snatched six men from our hollow ship, the toughest, strongest hands I had, and glancing backward over the decks, searching for my crew I could see their hands and feet already hoisted, flailing, high, higher, over my head, look— wailing down at me, comrades riven in agony, shrieking out my name for one last time! Just as an angler poised on a jutting rock flings his treacherous bait in the offshore swell, whips his long rod—hook sheathed in an oxhorn lure— and whisks up little fish he flips on the beach-break, writhing, gasping out their lives…so now they writhed, gasping as Scylla swung them up her cliff and there at her cavern‘s mouth she bolted them down raw— screaming out, flinging their arms toward me, lost in that mortal struggle… Of all the pitiful things I‘ve had to witness, suffering, searching out the pathways of the sea, this wrenched my heart the most. Fitzgerald Then Skylla made her strike, whisking six of my best men from the ship. I happened to glance aft at ship and oarsmen and caught sight of their arms and legs, dangling high overhead. Voices came down to me in anguish, calling my name for the last time. A man surfcasting on a point of rock for bass or mackerel, whipping his long rod to drop the sinker and the bait far out, will hook a fish and rip it from the surface to dangle wriggling through the air; so these were borne aloft in spasms toward the cliff. She ate them as they shrieked there, in her den, in the dire grapple, reaching still for me— and deathly pity ran me through at that sight—far the worst I ever suffered questing the passes of the strange sea.
Mitchell At that very moment Scylla rushed out and snatched six of my comrades—beautiful, strong young men. I looked up and saw their arms and legs thrashing above me, and they shouted to me and called out my name for the last time. And as a fisherman stands on a jutting rock and casts the bait with his rod, and the bronze hook sinks into the water, sheathed in an ox-horn tube, and he catches a fish and reels it in quickly and flings it, writhing, onto the shore: just so were my comrades, writhing, pulled up toward the cliffs, and at the cave entrance she ate them, screaming and stretching their hands out toward me in their hideous final agony. That was the most sickening thing I ever saw on my travels.
Odysseus Sails Home (13.76-92)
Mitchell Then he himself went aboard and lay down in silence, and the crew took their seats along the ship by the oarlocks and untied the mooring cable from the pierced stone. And as soon as they leaned back and churned up the sea with their oar blades, a profound sleep fell on his eyelids, sweet and unbroken, the image of death. As when a team of four stallions leap forward together, feeling the lash of the whip and lifting their hoofs high to finish the race in an instant: just so did the stern of the ship leap high and plunge, and the dark blue waves surged thunderously in her wake as she steadily hurried along. Not even a falcon, the fastest of winged creatures, could have kept up, so lightly did she run on and cut through the waves, bearing a man whose wisdom was like the gods‘ wisdom, who in the past had suffered many great hardships as he passed through the wars of men and the cruel sea. But now he was sleeping peacefully, free from all troubles.
Fagles And last, Odysseus climbed aboard himself and down he lay, all quiet as crewmen sat to the oarlocks, each in line. They slipped the cable free of the drilled stone post and soon as they swung back and the blades tossed up the spray an irresistible sleep fell deeply on his eyes, the sweetest, soundest oblivion, still as the sleep of death itself… And the ship like a four-horse team careering down the plain, all breaking as one with the whiplash cracking smartly, leaping with hoofs high to run the course in no time— so the stern hove high and plunged with the seething rollers crashing dark in her wake as on she surged unwavering, never flagging, no, not even a darting hawk, the quickest thing on wings, could keep her pace as on she ran, cutting the swells at top speed, bearing a man equipped with the gods‘ own wisdom, one who had suffered twenty years of torment, sick at heart, cleaving his way through wars of men and pounding waves at sea but now he slept in peace, the memory of his struggles laid to rest. Fitzgerald Now he himself embarked, lay down, lay still, while oarsmen took their places at the rowlocks all in order. They untied their hawser, passing it through a drilled stone ring; then bent forward at the oars and caught the sea as one man, stroking. Slumber, soft and deep like the still sleep of death, weighed on his eyes as the ship hove seaward. How a four horse team whipped into a run on a straightaway consumes the road, surging and surging over it! So ran that craft and showed her heels to the swell, her bow wave riding after, and her wake on the purple night-sea foaming. Hour by hour she held her pace; not even a falcon wheeling downwind, swiftest bird, could stay abreast of her in that most arrowy flight through open water, with her great passenger—godlike in counsel, he that in twenty years had borne such blows in his deep heart, breaking through ranks in war and waves on the bitter sea. This night at last he slept serene, his long-tried mind at rest.
Athena praises Odysseus’s cunning (13.287-296) Fagles Goddess Athena, gray eyes gleaming, broke into a smile and stroked him with her hand, and now she appeared a woman, beautiful, tall and skilled at weaving lovely things. Her words went flying straight at Odysseus: ―Any man—any god who met you—would have to be some champion lying cheat to get past you for all-round craft and guile! You terrible man, foxy, ingenious, never tired of twists and tricks— so, not even here, on native soil, would you give up those wily tales that warm the cockles of your heart! Come, enough of this for now…‖ Fitzgerald At this the grey-eyed goddess Athena smiled, and gave him a caress, her looks being changed now, so she seemed a woman, tall and beautiful and no doubt skilled at weaving splendid things. She answered briskly: ―Whoever gets around you must be sharp and guileful as a snake: even a god might bow to you in ways of dissimulation. You! You chameleon! Bottomless bag of tricks! Here in your own country would you not give your stratagems a rest or stop spellbinding for an instant? You play a part as if it were your own tough skin. No more of this, though…‖
Mitchell Athena smiled and patted his hand. She had changed her form, and she now appeared as a woman, tall and beautiful and intelligent, and she said, ―Cunning, subtle, and tricky beyond all bounds would a man have to be who hoped to outwit you. Even a god couldn‘t do it. Swindler, daredevil, cheat, king of the liars, remorseless in your deceptions— even in your own country you are unwilling to drop the tricks and tales that you love from the bottom of your treacherous heart. But no more of this for now…‖
Melanthius the goatherd insults Odysseus (17.217-232)
―Look!‖—he sneered—―one scum nosing another scum along, dirt finds dirt by the will of god—it never fails! Wretched pig-boy, where do you find your filthy swine, this sickening beggar who licks pots at feasts? Hanging round the doorposts, rubbing his back, savaging after scraps, no hero‘s swords and cauldrons, not for him. Hand him over to me—I‘ll teach him to work on a farm, muck out my stalls, pitch feed to the young goats; why to drink will put some muscle on his hams! Oh no, he‘s learned his lazy ways too well, he‘s got no itch to stick to good hard work, he‘d rather go scrounging round the countryside, begging for crusts to stuff his greedy gut! Let me tell you—so help me it‘s the truth— if he sets foot in King Odysseus‘ royal palace, salvos of footstools flung at his head by all the lords will crack his ribs as he runs the line of fire through the house!‖ Fitzgerald ―Here comes one scurvy type leading another! God pairs them off together, every time. Swineherd, where are you taking your new pig, that stinking beggar there, licker of pots? How many doorposts has he rubbed his back on whining for garbage, where a noble guest would rate a cauldron or a sword? Hand him over to me, I‘ll make a farm hand of him, a stall scraper, a fodder carrier! Whey for drink will put good muscle on his shank! No chance: he learned his dodges long ago— no honest sweat. He‘d rather tramp the country begging, to keep his hoggish belly full. Well, I can tell you this for sure: in King Odysseus‘ hall, if he goes there, footstools will fly around his head—good shots from strong hands. Back and side, his ribs will catch it
Mitchell ―Look what we have here: garbage walking with garbage. Like attracts like, eh, beggars? Where in the world are you taking this filthy pig of yours, swineherd? And what a revolting, hairless wonder he is! A fellow who will get on all fours to lick the plates at our table. I know the type: he will wallow in any mud and scarf up anything, begging for scraps that are only fit to be thrown away. He could never imagine receiving a sword or a cauldron, which any decent guest would be given. But why don‘t you hand him to me? I would use him to clean my pens and sweep out the goat shit and haul fodder, and in return I would sometimes give him a cup of whey to bulk out those scrawny thighs. But obviously he is lazy and wouldn‘t think of doing a good day‘s work; he would much rather go groveling through the town and whining for food to fill his bottomless pit of a belly. Well, mark my words, for I am sure this is going to happen: If he goes to the palace, there will be more than one footstool hurled at him, and his ribs will be sore for months.‖
on the way out!‖
Odysseus Strings the Bow (21.404-11) Fagles Odysseus, mastermind in action, once he'd handled the great bow and scanned every inch, then, like an expert singer skilled at lyre and song— who strains a string to a new peg with ease, making the pliant sheep-gut fast at either end— so with his virtuoso ease Odysseus strung his mighty bow. Quickly his right hand plucked the string to test its pitch and under his touch it sang out clear and sharp as a swallow's cry.
Mitchell As they were speaking, Odysseus examined the bow thoroughly, and just as a poet well-skilled in playing the lyre will easily stretch a new string around a peg, tying the twisted sheep-gut at both its ends: so effortlessly did Odysseus string the great bow. And with his right hand he plucked the string as a test, and it sang out under his touch with a sound as beautiful as the voice of a swallow.
Fitzgerald But the man skilled in all ways of contending, satisfied by the great bow‘s look and heft, like a musician, like a harper, when with quiet hand upon his instrument he draws between his thumb and forefinger a sweet new string upon a peg: so effortlessly Odysseus in one motion strung the bow. Then slid his right hand down the cord and plucked it, so the taut gut vibrating hummed and sang a swallow‘s note.
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