James 4-5

Chapter 4 1 Whence opponents and whence fights among you? From there? From your pleasures that campaign among your limbs? 2 You yearn but you do not have, you kill and you are jealous and you are not able to obtain, you fight and battle but you do not have due to not asking. 3 You ask and you do not receive because you ask badly, so that you might spend on your pleasures. 4 Adulteresses, do you not know that love of the world is hatred of god? For if one wishes to be beloved of the world, he is put down as a hated enemy of god. 5 Or do you think that the scripture speaks in vain: that he yearns with envy for the spirit which dwells within you, 6 but he grants greater grace? On which account it says:

God sets himself against the arrogant,
To the humble he grants grace.

7 Therefore, be subject to god, set yourself against the slanderer, and he will flee from you, 8 draw near to god and he draws near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your heart, ye double-souled. 9 Endure hardship and lament and weep. Let your laughter turn into grief and joy to sorrow. 10 Be humble in the face of the lord and he will exalt you.

11 Do not speak against each other, brethren. He who speaks against his brother and he who judges his brother speaks against the law, and judges the law; and if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but rather a judge of it. 12 There is one law-giver and judge, who has the power to save and to destroy; who are you, who judges his neighbour?

13 Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will march to that city and we will spend a year there, and we will trade and we will make a profit? 14 Not any of you know what sort of tomorrow your life is; for you are a mist, manifesting briefly, and then done away with. 15 Instead, you are to say: if the lord wishes it, we also will live and we will do this or that. 16 But now, you brag in you pretensions; every boast of this sort is wickedness. 17 He who knows, therefore, to do good and does not do it, this is a sin for him.

Chapter Five

1 Come now, wealthy men, cry, ululating over the hardships that come upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten, 3 your gold and silver has rusted and the venom of these things will be as a witness to you and it will eat your flesh like fire. You hoarded away to the very last days. 4 Behold, the wage of the workers who reaped your lands, he who was defrauded wails on your account, and the cries of those who reaped have reached the ears of the lord of hosts. 5 You fared sumptuously upon the earth and you lived in indulgence, and you fattened your hearts in the day of slaughter, 6 you condemned, you killed the righteous man, he did not set himself against you.

7 Be therefore of long sufferance, brothers, until the arrival of the lord. Behold, the farmer welcomes the prized fruit of the earth, suffering long for it until it receives the early rains and the late. 8 Be you also of long sufferance, make fast your hearts, because the presence of the lord draws near. 9 Do not groan, brethren, against each other, so that you may not be judged: behold, the judge stands before the gates. 10 Take the warning, brethren, of the affliction and of the long-sufferance, with respect to the prophets, who spoke in the name of the lord. 11 Behold, we bless the endurers: you have heard the endurance of Job, and you know the ends of the lord, because the lord is much-pitying and merciful.

12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear oaths, not by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor any other oath: let your yea be yea and your no no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

13 Who among you is afflicted? Let him offer prayers. Who is joyful? Let him sing hymns. 14 Who among you is feeble? Let him summon the elders of the assembly, and let them offer prayers for him, anointing him with oil in the name of the lord, 15 and the vow of faith will save the sick, and the lord raises him: and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven by the lord. 16 Confess to each other, therefore, your sins and pray for each other so that you might be healed. The entreaty of the righteous, if it is employed, is very powerful. 17 Elijah was a man similarly afflicted as us, and with prayers offered he offered prayers that it not rain, and rain did not fall upon the earth for three years and six months: 18 and again he offered prayers and the heaven gave rain, and the earth sprouted her fruit.

19 My brothers, if someone among you strays from the truth, and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brought the sinner back from his erroneous path will save his soul from death and he covers a multitude of sins.

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Two Letters to the Diaspora

Jeremiah 29 [36]: 1-32

1 And these are the words of the book which Jeremiah sent out from Jerusalem to the elders of the captivity and to the priests and to the false prophets, a letter to Babylon in captivity and to the whole host 2 after the departure of Jechonias the king and the queen and the eunuchs and the entirety of the free and the captive and the craftsman from Jerusalem 3 by the hand of Eleasan, son of Saphan, and Gamarios son of Chelkios, whom Sedekiasm king of Judah sent to the king of Babylon in Babylon saying, thus said the god of Israel to the captivity which I deported from Jerusalem: 5 Build houses and dwell in them and grow orchards and eat the fruit of them 6 and take wives and give birth to sons and daughters and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands and be multiplied and not diminished, 7 and seek peace in the land to which I have deported you, and in that place pray for them to the lord, because in the peace of that land there will be peace for you. 8 For thus said the lord: Let not the false prophets who are among you persuade you, and let not your seers persuade you and do not heed your dreams which you dream, 9 because they prophesy unjust things for you against my name and I did not send them. 10  For thus said the lord: When you are nearly completed seventy years in Babylon, I will number you and I will impose my words upon you of recalling your host to this place: 11 and I will calculate a calculation of peace for you, and of giving you these things, not evils. 12  And pray to me and I will heed you; 13 And seek me out and you will find me because you will seek me in your whole heart, 14 and I will be manifest to you – because you said, “The lord has placed prophets for us in Babylon,” 21 thus said the lord concerning Achiab and concerning Sedekias, Behold, I give them into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will smite them before your eyes 22 and they will receive from them a curse in the entire captivity in Judah in Babylon, saying, “May the lord make you as he made Sedekian and Achiab, whom the king of Babylon fried in fire,” 23 by which they made lawless conduct in Israel and they adulterated the wives of their fellow citizens and they pronounced word in my name which I did not prescribe for them and I am witness says the lord.

24 And he says to Samaias the Nelamite, 25 “I did not send you by my name,” and to Sophonias the son of Mahasaios, “Tell the priest: 26 The lord gave you into the priesthood instead of the priest Jodae to become a commander in the house of the lord for every person who prophecies and for every man who divines, and you will give him to the guard-house and to the trap-door. 27 And now, for what reason did you revile together Jeremiah from Anathoth who prophesied to you? 28 Was he not sent to you in Babylon for this purpose, saying, It is far away; build houses and dwell in them, and plant orchards and eat their fruit?

29 And Sophonias read the book into the ears of Jeremiah, 30 and the word of the lord came to Jeremiah, saying, 31 Send to the captivity saying, Thus said the lord concerning Samaias the Nelamite: Since Samaias prophesied to you and I did not send him and he made you to be persuaded by injustices, 32 because of this, thus said the lord, Behold, I will reflect upon Samaias and upon his tribe and there will not be a person among them in your midst to see the good things, that which I will make for you they will not see.

2 Maccabees 1:1-9

1 For the brethren, those Jews throughout the captivity, greetings, the brethren, the Jews in Jerusalem, those in the land of Judea, good peace; 2 and may god do good for you and may he remember his covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, his faithful servants; 3 and may he give you courage in everything to worship him and to do his will with great courage and with a willing spirit; 4 and may he reveal our courage in his law and in his command and may he make peace 5 and may he heed your entreaties and may he reconcile with you and may he not abandon you at a wretched time.

6 And presently here we are offering prayers on your behalf. 7 During the reign of Demetrius, in the one hundred sixty-ninth year, we Jews wrote to you in the oppression and in the peak coming upon us in those years after which Jason revolted and those with him from the holy land and from the kingdom 8 and they burned the gates and shed innocent blood; and we beseeched the lord and we were heard and we brought in a sacrifice and the finest flour and lighted the lamps and set out the loaves. 9 And now so that you might lead the days of the tabernacles of the month of Chaseleus during the one hundred eighty eighth year.

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James 3:1-18

1 Do not many become teachers, my brothers, understanding that we will receive a great judgement. 2 For we all stumble many times. If someone does not stumble in the word, he is a perfected man, able to keep the whole body in check. 3 And if of horses we cast the bridle into their mouths for them to be obedient to us, we also lead their whole body. 4 Behold also the ships, being so great and driven by harsh winds, it is nonetheless led by the smallest rudder where ever the impulse of the steersman wishes: 5 so too the tongue is a small appendage but boasts greatly. Behold how much fire kindles so much wood: 6 the tongue is also fire, a world of unrighteousness, the tongue is appointed among our appendages, defiling the whole body, burning up the wheel of creation and itself burned up by Gehenna. 7 For the all kinds of beasts and flying creatures, creeping things and sea-creatures is tamed and has been tamed by human nature: 8 but the tongue of man no one is able to tame: a fickle evil full of deadly poison. 9 In it we praise the lord and father, and in it we curse men who have been made in the likeness of god: 10 from the same mouth come blessings and curses. My brothers, things ought not be thus. 11 Surely a spring does not gush from the same opening, both sweet and bitter? 12 My brothers, would a fig tree make olives, or a vine figs? Or sweet water make salt?

13 Who is wise and knowledgeable among you? Let him show his works by noble conduct in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 If you hold bitter rivalry and conniving ambition in your heart, do not exult in it or be deceptive with respect to the truth. 15 This wisdom is not come down from above, but rather it is earthly, animalistic, demonic. 16 For where rivalry and conniving ambition are, there too upheaval and every sorry affair. 17 Wisdom from above is, first of all, sacred and then, peaceful, fair, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unambiguous, and unfeigned. 18 And in peace the fruit of righteousness is sown for those who make peace.

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James 2: 1-26

1 My brothers, do not hold the faith of our lord of glory, Jesus Christ, in partialities.1 2 For if a gold-fingered man2 enters your synagogue in radiant clothing, and a beggar enters in filthy clothing, 3 and you attend the one wearing radiant clothing and say: “Kindly rest yourself down here,” and to the beggar say, “Stand there, or rest under my footstool,” 4 do you not equivocate among yourselves and become judges of base consideration?

5 Listen, my beloved brothers: does god not choose beggars with respect to the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him? 6 But you dishonour the beggar. Do wealthy men not oppress you and drag you to court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the good name invoked over you?

8 If, indeed, you fulfil the royal law, as it is written: “You will love your neighbour as yourself,” then you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you labour at sin, shamed by the law as a transgressor. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but blunders in one, has become guilty of everything. 11 For he who says: “Do not commit adultery,” says also, “Do not murder,” and if you do not commit adultery but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

12 Thusly speak and thusly do like men about to be judged according to the law of liberty. 13 For judgement is merciless for the man who does not enact mercy; and mercy exults over judgement.

14 What is the profit, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but has not works? Might faith not save him? 15 If a brother or a sister find themselves naked and lacking their daily bread 16 and one from among you says to them: “Go forth in peace, be warmed and fed,” but do not give them the necessities of the body, what is the profit? 17 Likewise faith, if it has not works, is dead by itself.

18 But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you faith from my works. You have faith that god is one, you do well; but even the demons have faith and they tremble.

20 Are you willing to understand, you empty-handed man, that faith without works is idle? 21 Was not our father Abraham justified by works when he carried his son Isaac up to the sacrificial altar? 22 You see that faith works together with his deeds and by works, faith is consummated, 23 and scripture is fulfilled, saying: “Abraham had faith in god, and it is reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he is called beloved of god. 24 You see that by works a person is justified and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not even Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she harboured the messengers and sent them off by another way? 26 For just as the body without spirit is dead, so too faith without works is dead.

1. There is a real problem with the Greek in 2:1. A more literal translation of the Greek might be, My brothers, do not in partialities hold the faith of our lord, of Jesus Christ, of glory. No one really knows what to do with that of glory at the end. I’ve made a decision about how to handle it, but there’s no guarantee that it’s the right one, and many other proposals have been made over the years. Some scholars have proposed that the words of Jesus Christ are an interpolation. This actually does solve the problem, and you end up with a phrase, the lord of glory that occurs plenty of times in the Old Testament. Another, less difficult concern is the prepositional phrase I’ve translated as in partialities. The Greek word here is pretty rare. I think it occurs only in one of the Pauline epistles, in a different form in Acts of the Apostles, and in Clement. The meaning I’ve chosen seems fine; it matches well with the following discussion, but other translators have handled it differently. Do take a look a different translations of the Bible and see how they’ve dealt with James 2:1 (I recommend http://www.biblegateway.com if you don’t have a few different translations on the shelf). Young’s Literal Translation, the King James Version, and New International Version all handle the verse in distinctly different ways.
2. I’ve translated the Greek here, ἀνὴρ χρυσοδακτύλιος, very literally. It refers, obviously, to a wealthy man with many gold rings on his finger. This word χρυσοδακτύλιος was sometimes used to refer to Romans of the equestrian class, who wore an insignia ring denoting their station. Some scholars have used this as evidence that the author of this epistle was writing from Rome, but it’s not an especially strong argument.

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James 1: 1-27

I’ve started a class that examines the epistle of James, so there will be a series of translations related to that. I’m not sure if the entire letter will be assigned (it’s short and the Greek is not difficult) but here is the first part.

1 James, slave of god and lord Jesus Christ to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora, greetings.

2 Believe eveything a joy, my brothers, whenever you encounter manifold trials, 3 knowing that the test of your faith wins endurance; 4 and let endurance bear the perfected work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 And if any of you is lacking wisdom, ask it from god, who gives unequivocally to all and does not cast reproach, and it shall be given by him. 6 Ask in faith, doubting nothing, for he who doubts is like the wave of the sea, driven by the wind and blown about; 7 let not that person believe that he will receive anything from the lord, 8 the double-souled man, disorderly in all his ways.

9 Let him boast, the brother humbled in his summit, 10 and the wealthy man in his humiliation, since like the bloom of the pasturage he will be passed unnoticed. 11 For the sun has risen with the summer heat and has parched the pasturage and the bloom has been cast out of it, and the beauty of its face has been destroyed; so too the wealthy man in his journeys will wither away.

12 Blessed is the man who faces a trial, because he becomes esteemed and will receive the crown of life, which was promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one who suffers trials say, “I am tested by god.” For god is incapable of being tested by evils, and he himself tests no one. 14 But each man is tested by his own yearning, he is drawn out and baited; 15 Thereafter, his yearning, seizing him, gives birth to sin, and sin, once accomplished, brings forth death.

16 Do not go astray, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, come down from the father of lights,1 with whom there is no variation or shadow of change 18 Willingly, he brought us forth by the word of truth, for us to be the first fruits of his creations.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers. Let every man be swift to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of god.

21 On which account, by holding back all the filth and surplus of vice, welcome with gentleness the innate word, which has the power to save your souls. 22 Become doers of the word and not mere hearers who mislead themselves with false reasoning. 23 For if someone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who perceives the face of his origin in a mirror; 24 for he perceived himself and had departed and immediately forgot where he was.

25 But he who has peered at the fulfilled law of freedom and has stood fast, becoming not a hearer of forgetfulness, but rather a doer of the deed, he will be blessed in his composition. 26 If someone seems to be religious, yet does not rein his tongue but rather cheats his heart, his religious worship is empty. 27 The religious worship that is spotless and undefiled with the god and father is this: to watch over for the orphans and widows in their oppression, to keep himself unblemished by the world.

1. The Greek word used here for light is φώς, which also means man. The double meaning is probably intentional, but light fits better with the light/shadow pairing of this verse.

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Homer’s Odyssey, Book XII: Selections

Ulysses_and_the_Sirens_by_H.J._DraperThey arrive back at Circe’s island and bury Elpenor. Circe finds out from Odysseus what exactly Teiresias’ prophecy was, and then warns him of major dangers ahead of him on his journey home.

“You will reach first the Sirens, who enchant
All men, whoever comes to them.
For whoever in ignorance draws near and hears the voice
Of the Sirens, for him no wife and infant children
Stand by, nor are they gladdened by his homeward journey,
But rather, the Sirens enchant him with their sweet-toned song
To lie in the meadow, among bones in a great heap,
From rotted men, their skins shrivelled away.
But row past, and stop up the ears of your companions,
Kneading honey-sweet bees-wax, so that no one may hear
Of the others; but if you wish to hear them yourself,
Let them tie you in your swift ship, your hands and feet,
Upright in the mast-housing, and the rope ends fastened to the mast itself,
So that rejoicing, you may hear the voice of the Sirens.
And if you beg your companions, and order them to untie you,
Let them bind you further in even more bonds.

“And when your companions drive past them,
At that point I will no longer thereafter counsel you from beginning to end.
Your journey is certain go one of two ways, but you yourself must
Deliberate according to your own heart: but I will tell to you of both ways.
For one, between overhanging cliffs, against them
The great swells of darkly-guised Amphitrite1 dash, roaring;
The blessed gods call them the Planctae.
This place, no winged creature passes, not even pigeons,
The timorous things, which bring ambrosia to father Zeus,
But even from them, the smooth rock always takes,
But the father sends another to make up their number.
This place, no ship of men has ever escaped in any way, any that approach,
But the swells of the sea and hurricanes of destructive fire bear
The planks of ships and the bodies of men, smashed together.
One sea-faring ship alone sailed past,
The Argo, cared for by all, which sailed from Aeëtes.2
And the sea would have thrown even that against the mighty rocks,
Except that Hera sent it past, since Jason was loved.

“For the other, two look-out points approach the broad sky,
On pointed peaks, clouds gather round them,
Dark and blue; they never draw back, nor does the clear sky ever
Hold the peak of that place, neither in the Summer, nor in the Fall.3
And no mortal man could climb or even set foot upon it,
Not even if had he twenty hands and feet:
For the rock is smooth, seemingly polished.
In the middle of the lookout, there is a misty cave,
Turned toward the nether darkness, to Erebus, to this very place you
Will steer your hollow ship, resplendent Odysseus.
And not even a vigorous man from a hollow ship
Shooting arrows with his bow could reach inside the vaulted cave.
Within dwells Scylla, baying terribly.
Her voice is as that of a new-born puppy,
But nevertheless she is an evil monster, and no one
Who sees her would rejoice, not even if a god faces her.
She has twenty feet, all pendulous,
And six necks, very long, on each
A disfigured head, and within, teeth in three rows,
Close-packed and crowded, full of black death.
Her middle she sinks down into the hollow cave,
Her heads she puts forth outside that terrible pit,
There, she fishes, searching round her lookout,
For dolphins and dog-fish, in hope to perchance take some larger
Sea-creature, which howling Amphitrite herds in multitude.
This place, no sailor ever yet boasts unscathed
To have fled past with his ship; with each head she takes
A man, snatching him away from his dark-prowed ship.

“You will see the second lookout is lower to the ground, Odysseus.
It is close to the other, you could reach across them with a bow shot.
At this place there is a mighty fig tree, lush with leaves.
Under this place, divine Charybdis sucks down black water.
For thrice each day she sends it up, and thrice she sucks it down
The dread water, and may you not happen to be there when she sucks it down;
For no one could rescue you from that evil, not even the Earth-shaker.
But quickly approaching close to the lookout of Scylla,
Row your ship past her, since verily, it is much better
To long for six companions in your ship than all of them at once.

1. Amphitrite: A sea goddess and wife of Poseidon.
2. Aeëtes: son of Helius and Perse, brother of Circe, owner of the golden fleece taken by the Argonauts.
3. The word I’m translating as Fall is ὀπώρα (opora). Literally, it refers to the end of summer, between the end of July and the beginning of September. But it was a time of harvest in Greece and later became associated with Autumn.

At dawn Odysseus rouses his men and they sail off. Circe sends them a favouring wind, and he tells his crew that the dangerous Sirens are ahead, and he must be lashed to the mast so that he can hear their song, and they must add more ropes is he asks them to release him.

Thus I spoke to the companions, telling them each thing.
Meanwhile the well-wrought ship swiftly reached
The island of the Sirens, for a propitious wind drove it onward.
Immediately thereupon the wind ceased and a calm
Came on, a stillness, and some deity lulled the waves.
The companions, raising the sails of the ship, furled them
And put them away in the hollow ship, and at the oars
They sat and churned the water white with the polished pines.
And I, with my sharp bronze I cut into little pieces
A great wheel of bees-wax, and I pressed it with my strong hands.
The bees-wax quickly melted, since my great strength compelled it,
And the rays of Lord Helios, son of Hyperion.
One after another I stopped up the ears of all the companions.
And they tied me in my ship, my hands and feet together,
Upright in the mast-housing, and the rope ends fastened to the mast itself.
And sitting, they beat the grey sea with their oars.
But once we were as far away as a man can be heard by shouting,
Fleetly chasing, the sea-swift ship did not escape their attention,
Being urged near, they prepared a sweet-toned song:

“Come here, come, much-praised Odysseus, great glory of the Achaeans,
Bring your ship to land, so that you may hear the two of us, our voice,
For no one yet has sailed past this place in his dark ship,
At least not before he heard the melodious voice from our lips,
But he departs rejoicing, and has greater understanding.
For we know everything, whatsoever in far-reaching Troy
The Argives and Trojans suffered by the will of the gods,
And we know whatsoever happened on the all-nourishing earth.”

Thus they sang, sending forth their lovely voices, and my heart
Desired to hear them, and I ordered my companions to free me,
Nodding with my brow, but they fell to rowing.
And straightaway Perimedes and Eurylochus stood,
And they bound me in more bonds, squeezed me tight.
But once they indeed sailed past them, and no more thereafter
Did we hear the voice of the Sirens, nor their song,
My faithful companions took out the bees-wax
With which I had stopped up their ears, and they loosed me from the bonds.

But when we left behind the island, immediately thereafter
I saw smoke and a great wave, and I heard a thudding.
The oars flew from the hands of the frightened men,
They boomed down on the stream; the ship was held
There, since their hands no longer pressed the pointed oars.
And I went through the ship encouraging the companions
With honeyed words, standing by each man:
“My friends, indeed we are no longer in any way ignorant of misfortune,
Surely no greater evil here follows than when the Cyclops
Penned us in his hollow cave with his mighty strength.
But even there, by my excellence, counsel, and intelligence,
We escaped, and certainly I think we will remember this, too.
But now, come, just as I would say it, let us all be obedient.
You, sitting in the rowing benches beat the deep
Surf of the sea with your oars, in hope that Zeus somewhere
Should grant that we flee from and avoid this destruction.
And you, pilot, I enjoin you thus: and cast it
In your heart, since you control the rudder of the hollow ship.
From that smoke and those waves, drive away
The ship, and make for that lookout, lest unknown to you,
Setting out thither you should cast us into harm’s way.”

Thus I spoke, and they were soon persuaded by my words.
But I did not yet speak of Scylla, intractable problem,
Lest, being frightened in any way, they should desist
From rowing, and they would shut themselves close up within.
Then indeed, the grievous command of Circe
I did forget, since she did not in any way bid me to arm myself,
But I got into my splendid harness, and two spears,
Long, I took in my hands, and I stepped onto the deck of the ship’s
Prow; for there I expected the first sight of
Rock-dwelling Scylla, who brought disaster to my companions.
But I was not in any way able to perceive her, I wearied my eyes
Searching everything along the distant rock.

We sailed up the strait, grieving.
Scylla was within one, and in the other, divine Charybdis,
Horribly sucking up the briny water of the sea.
And then she would vomit it out, like a kettle in a hot fire
Roiled up, boils violently, and the sea-foam on high
Falls upon the look-outs on both sides;
But when she again sucks down the briny water of the sea,
She reveals everything roiled within, and all around the rock
Howls terribly, she shows the earth beneath,
Gleaming dark with sand. And fresh fear seized them.
And we—we looked toward her, fearing destruction,
And meanwhile, Scylla from her hollow cave grabbed six
Companions; they who were best in strength and arms.
And looking to the swift ship and at after my companions
I perceived the hands and feet already above
Of those men taken aloft. They cried out calling me
By name, and then for the last time, lamenting their doom.
Like when a fisherman on a jutting crag, with his long, long rod,
Casting food as bait for small fish,
He sends forth into the sea the horn of the field-dwelling ox,
Then catching one he throws it out, writhing,
Thus were they taken, writhing, to the rock,
And there within its entrance, she devoured the screaming men,
Reaching out their hands to me in dreadful throes.
With my own eyes I saw the most pitiable fate
Of all, for as long as I toiled, seeking passages of the sea.

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Homer’s Odyssey, Book XI: Selections

Johann_Heinrich_Füssli_063On the advice of Circe, Odysseus has travelled to Hades to ask the spirit of the seer, Teiresias, how he might find his way back to Ithaca. He has dug a trough and poured into it milk, honey, barley, and sheep’s blood. The dead come to drink it, but as instructed, he allows only those he wishes to question to drink.

Up came the spirit of my mother, she had died,
Anticleia, daughter of great-hearted Autolycus,
She was living when I left her to go to sacred Troy.
I wept when I saw her, and felt pity in my heart;
But even so I did not permit her to be first, though grieving thick,
To come near the blood, not until I questioned Teiresias.

Up came the spirit of Teiresias of Thebes,
Holding his golden sceptre, he recognized me and said:
“Laertes-son, seed of Zeus, wily Odysseus,
At it again, you poor man. Why, pray tell, have you left behind the light of the sun,
why have you come, so as to look upon the dead and this joyless place?
But withdraw from the trough, hold off your sharp blade
From the blood, so that I may drink and I may speak to you unerring.”

Thus he spoke, and I withdrew my silver-studded sword,
I thrust it firmly in its sheathe. And after he drank the black blood,
Only then did the blameless prophet speak to me these words:
“You seek your homecoming, honey-sweet, illustrious Odysseus;
But a god shall make hardship for you. For I do not think you shall
Escape notice of the earth-shaker, who has laid away rancour in his heart,
Angered that you utterly blinded his own son.
But even so you may certainly still reach it, though you will suffer misfortunes,
If you are willing to restrain your passion, and that of your companions,
When first you draw your well-wrought ships near
The island of Thrinacia, in flight away from the violet-like sea,
You will find the grazing cattle and fat sheep
Of Helios, who oversees all and overhears everything.
These, if you permit them to remain unharmed, and are mindful of your homecoming,
You may certainly still come to Ithaca, though you will suffer misfortunes;
But if you do harm, then I calculate destruction for you,
And for your ship and companions. Even if you yourself avoid it,
You come in a bad way and late, after all your companions have perished,
On the ship of another man; you will meet with calamities in your home,
Arrogant men, who are consuming your livelihood
They court your godlike bedmate and give her bride-gifts.
But when you come, you shall surely repay the violent acts, at least of those men:
And the suitors in your halls, after
You kill them, whether by trickery or openly with your sharp copper,
Go then henceforth, taking a well-balanced oar,
Until you reach those who know not the sea,
Men who do not even eat food mixed with salt;
Nor even do they know red-cheeked ships,1
Nor well-balanced oars, which become wings for ships.
I shall tell you quite clearly a sign, nor shall it escape your notice:
Another wayfarer, falling in with you, when
He says you have a winnowing-fan on your glistening shoulder,
And then after you stick your well-handled oars in the earth,
After you make fine sacrifices to Lord Poseidon,
A young ram, and a bull, and a boar that mounts sows,
Go home and make sacrifices of a hecatomb2
To the undying gods, who occupy the wide sky,
To absolutely all of them in order. And for you yourself, death far from the sea
Shall come, of a very gentle kind, which strikes you
Worn out by a rich old age. The people around you
Will be blessed. To you I speak things without error.

1. A common epithet of ships. The bows were painted red.
2. A hecatomb is an offering of one hundred oxen.

Odysseus asks Teiresias how the soul of his mother can recognize that he is her son. The prophet tells him that any ghost which he allows to drink blood will speak to him and tell him the truth. Teiresias then goes back to the house of Hades.

And I remained there, steadfast, until my mother came
Upon and drank the cloudy-dark blood. She recognized me immediately,
And wailing, she addressed me with winged words:
“My son, how is it that you have come beneath the murky gloom,
Though you live? For it is difficult for the living to look upon these things.
For between there are mighty rivers and terrible flows,
Foremost the Ocean, which is not in any possible to traverse
If you are on foot, if one does not have a well-wrought ship.
Do you now, wandering from Troy, come to this place
With your ship and companions, after so long? Have you not yet gone
To Ithaca nor looked upon your wife in your halls?

Thus she spoke, and replying, I said to her:
“Dear mother, need has led me down to Hades’ realm,
To consult with the soul of Teiresias of Thebes.
For I have not yet come near Achaean land nor yet upon our
Soil have I stepped, but I endlessly wander, bearing sorrow,
From when I followed divine Agamenon at the very first,
To Ilios, rich in horses, so that I might fight Trojans.
But come, tell me this and say it straight:
What doom of death overtook you, that brings long woe?
Was it a long sickness, or did Artemis, shooter of arrows,
Slay you, attacking you with her gentle missiles?
And tell me of my father and my son, whom I left behind,
Whether my prize is still with those men, or already someone
Else of men holds it, and they say that I am no longer to return.
And tell me the plan and intent of my courted bed-mate,
Whether she remains with my son and guards everything steadfast,
Or she has already married one of the Achaeans, whoever is best.”

Thus I spoke and immediately my revered mother replied:
“Yes indeed, that woman at least, with her enduring heart, remains
In your halls; and for her, ever woeful,
The days and nights waste away while she sheds tears.
No one yet holds your fair prize, but without hindrance
Telemachus inhabits your domains and in equal measure at feasts
Is feasted, those which are fitting for a law-giving man to give heed;
For everyone invites him. But your father stays in one place,
In the country, and he does not go down to the city; nor are there for his bed,
Mattresses, or shining cloaks and blankets,
But during the winter he sleeps in the house where the bondsmen do,
In the ash near the fire, and he clothes his flesh in poor garments ;
And when the summer comes, and fruitful harvest,
All over along the slopes of the vineyard orchard,
A low bed of fallen leaves is strewn.
He lies there grieving, nurturing a great sorrow in his heart,
Yearning for your homecoming; he has come to a difficult old age.
For I too perished thus, and met my fate:
Neither in the halls did the keen-sighted one, the arrow-shooter
Slay me, attacking me with her gentle missiles,
Nor did any sickness come upon me, which often
By a loathsome consumption of the limbs destroys the spirit.
But rather, yearning for you and your counsels, radiant Odysseus,
And your kindliness robbed my honey-sweet spirit.”

Thus she spoke, and I wished, feeling anxiety in my heart,
To clasp the spirit of my mother, who had passed away.
Thrice I sprung forward, my heart urged me to take hold
Thrice from my hands, like a shadow or even a dream,
She flitted. I felt strongly a keen pain fill my heart,
And uttering winged words, I spoke to her:
“My dear mother, why do you not stay for me, since I am eager to hold you,
So that even in the house of Hades, by casting our arms around a loved one,
We might both have the enjoyment of chilly grief?
Or did glorious Persephone urge on a phantom
To me, so that lamenting, I might weep even more?”

Thus I spoke, and my revered mother immediately replied:
“Oh woe, my child, ill-fated above all men,
Persephone, daughter of Zeus, does not in any way cheat you,
But this is the way of mortals, whenever someone dies.
For no longer does sinew hold flesh and bone,
But rather the mighty strength of the burning flame
Consumes them, when first the spirit leaves behind the white bones,
And the soul, like a dream that flies away, flies about.
But do yearn earnestly lightward, quick as can be; and all these things
Do know, so that you may afterward tell your wife.”

Odysseus goes on to relate how Persephone sent a series of famous heroines for him to question, so that he could learn their stories. At this point his hosts, the Phaeacians, praise his eloquence, promise to send him splendid gifts and an escort home and urge him to tell more of his story. Odysseus moves on to his encounter with the ghost of Agamemnon.

Up came to me the spirit of Agamemnon son of Atreus,
Grieving, and around him others gathered, as many as with him
As in the house of Aegisthus had died and met their fate.
And that man recognized me immediately, after he drank the black blood;
He, at least, called out with a clear voice, letting fall an abundant flow of tears,
Spreading out his hands to me, with earnest desire to clasp me;
But no longer his was the steadfast strength and vigour
Which there formerly was in his limber arms.
And I wept to see him and felt pity in my heart,
And giving voice to winged words, I addressed him:
“Noblest Atreus-son, Agamemnon, lord of men,
What doom of death overtook you, that brings long woe?
Did Poseidon overtake you in your ships
Urging on the unenviable breath of troublesome winds?
Or did implacable men work mischief against you on dry land,
When you were intercepting cattle, or fine flocks of rams,
Or fighting over a city or women?”

Thus I spoke, and replying immediately, he said to me:
“Seed of Zeus, Laertes-son, wily Odysseus,
No, Poseidon did not overtake me in my ship
By urging on the unenviable breath of troublesome winds,
Nor did implacable men work mischief against me on dry land,
But rather Aegisthus fashioned my fate and death
And with my accursed bed-mate he killed me after he summoned me to his home,
And feasted me, as someone might kill an ox at the manger.
Thus I died a most pitiable death; And my other companions around
Were killed without pause, like white-tusked boars
For a sumptuous feast; a wedding, or potluck, or the private banquet
Of wealthy men of great power.
You have been present at murder of many men,
Of men killed singly and in cruel combat;
But had you seen that one in particular you would have lamented in your heart,
How around wine vessels and the crowded tables
We laid in our hall, all the ground steeped in our blood.
And I heard the most-pitiable voice of the daughter of Priam,
Of Cassandra, whom scheming Clytemnestra killed
Beside me. And I, on the earth, raising my arms,
I cast them, though dying, for a sword; and the bitch
Turned away from me and did not venture, though I went to the house of Hades,
To close my eyes with her hands and shut my mouth.
Thus there is nothing more dread or more craven than a woman,
Who casts deeds of this sort in her mind;
Just as indeed that woman contrived this unseemly deed,
Who prepared a murder for her wedded husband. And here I, at least, considered myself
Well-pleased, since to my children and to my bondsmen
I came home. But she, having known eminent bane,
Poured out shame after shame for those who will exist hereafter,
For females, for wives, even she who would be upright.”

Thus he spoke, and I replied to him, saying:
“Oh woe, thundering Zeus has indeed the offspring of Atreus especially
Hated, terribly, through womanly plans
From the start: for the sake of Helen, many have perished,
And for you Clytemnestra prepared a trap from afar when you went.”

Thus I spoke, and he replied to me immediately, saying:
“Now, therefore, never be kind, not even you to your wife,
Nor tell her the whole story, which you know well,
But say one thing, and the other is to be hidden.
But at least for you, Odysseus, there will not be murder, at least not from your wife;
For by her mind, she knows exceedingly well wisdom and good counsel,
She, the daughter of Icarius, very wise Penelope.
We left her behind, a young bride,
To go to war; and she had a child, still on her breast,
The gentle thing, who doubtless now, at least, sits among a number of men,
The blessed man; for surely his beloved father will see when he comes,
And that man will embrace his father, which is meet and right.
But my bedfellow, not even to have my fill of my own son
With my eyes, did she permit; before that, she struck me and him.
But I will tell you something else, and cast it into your mind:
Secretly, not openly, to your beloved ancestral soil
Do steer your ship, since nothing is any longer trustworthy for women.
But come, tell me this and say it straight,
If you have heard from my child, since he doubtless still lives,
Either somewhere in Orchomenus, or in sandy Pylos,
Or somewhere with Menelaus, in far-reaching Sparta.
For noble Orestes does not yet lie dead upon the earth.”

Thus he spoke, and I replied to him, saying:
“Son of Atreus, why do you say these things to me? I do not know in any way,
Whether he lives or has died; and it is evil to speak empty words.”

For our part thus, exchanging hated words,
We stood, mourning, shedding one fat tear after another.
Up came the spirit of Peleus-son, Achilles,
And that of Patrocles, and of blameless Antilochus,
And of Ajax, whose form and frame was best
Above all other Danaeans, after the blameless son of Peleus.
The swift-footed descendent of Aceaus recognized me,
And with a lament he spoke winged words to me:
“Seed of Zeus, Laertes-son, wily Odysseus,
Foolish man! How, pray tell, will you yet plot some greater deed?
How did you venture to come down to Hades, where the dead
Dwell insensate, the phantoms of weary mortals?”

Thus he spoke, and I replied to him, saying:
O Achilles, son of Peleus, by far the bravest of the Achaeans,
I came for need of Teiresias, in hope that he might tell me
A plan, so that I might reach craggy Ithaca.
For I have not yet come near Achaean lands, nor yet upon my
Soil set foot, but I ever have misfortunes. But as for you, Achilles,
No man before was so very blessed, nor any after.
For while you lived we Argives paid you honour equal
To the gods, and in turn you have great power among the dead,
Now that you are here. Do not therefore be grieved in any way that you died, Achilles.”

This I spoke and he immediately replied, saying:
“Do not speak lightly of death to me, glorious Odysseus.
I would prefer to be attached to the soil, a serf to another,
In the house of a man without portion, who has no great livelihood,
Than rule over all the wasting dead.
But come, tell me word of my noble son,
Tell me whether he was in the front rank in the war, or even if not.
Tell me of blameless Peleus, if you have learned anything,
If he yet has honour among the many Myrmidons,
Or if they dishonour him throughout Hellas, and at Phthia
Because old age grips his hands and feet tight.
For I am not there to be his helper beneath the rays of the sun,
Of the sort I once was in renowned Troy,
I struck the finest army, fighting for the Argives.
And if, such as this, I could come to the house of my father for just a short time,
I would make hateful to any man my might and invincible hands,
Who constrained and barred that man from honour.”

Thus he spoke, and I replied to him, saying:
“I have not learned anything of the blameless Peleus,
But of your son, at least, beloved Neoptolemus,
I shall speak the whole truth, as you bid me:
For I myself, upon my even, hollow ship,
I brought him from Scyros, to the well-grieved Achaeans.
Indeed whenever we considered our plans about the city, Troy,
He always spoke first, and words did not fail him.
Godlike Nestor and I alone excelled him.
And whenever we did battle with bronze on the Trojan plain,
He did not remain in a crowd of men or among a throng,
But rather he was far ahead, his might yielding to no man,
And he struck many men in the dread strife.
I could not tell you nor could I name everyone,
He struck so many warriors, defending the Argives,
But he killed such as the son of Telephus with his bronze,
The hero Eurypylus, and many companions around him
Of the tribe of Ketioi died for the sake of the prizes of women.
I thought him the most handsome after divine Memnon.
And when we went down into the horse which Epeius built,
We who were best of the Argives, and everything fell to me,
Both the open the crowded hiding place and close it,
The others within, leaders and counselors of the Danaeans,
Wiped away tears, and the legs beneath each man trembled.
But that man, with my own eyes, I never saw in any way
His handsome countenance turn pale, or from his cheeks
Wiping tears; and that man, at least, beseeched a great deal
To be permitted to exit the horse, and he gripped the hilt of his sword,
And his bronze-laden spears, eagerly desiring evils for the Trojans.
But after we consigned the city of Priam to sheer destruction,
He boarded the ship bearing his portion and a fine gift of honour
Unscathed, neither harmed by bronze sword
Nor wounded in the melee, as often
Happens in war: for Ares raged pell-mell.”

Thus I spoke, and the soul of the swift-footed seed of Aeacus
Roamed over the king’s-spear lily meadow, taking long strides,
Joyful that I was saying his son was glorious.

And other souls of the dead, of those who passed away,
Stood aggrieved, each asking after their cares.
Only the soul of Ajax, son of Telamon,
Stood away, aloof, angered on account of a victory,
Which I won over him, in pleading my case aboard the ships,
Over the arms of Achilles: his revered mother awarded it.
The sons of Trojans gave judgment, and Pallas Athena.
Would that I had not won in such a contest:
On account of this, the earth covers over such a man,
Ajax, who concerning form and concerning deeds had been well-wrought
Above the other Danaeans, after the blameless son of Peleus.
And I addressed him with honeyed words:
“Ajax, child of blameless Telemon, will you not,
Not even dead, forget your bile on account of the arms,
The accursed things? The gods set them as calamities for the Argives,
For such as you, a tower, was lost to us; for you the Achaeans
Equal to the head of Achilles, son of Peleus,
Were distressed by your passing for ever. But no one else
Is to blame, but that Zeus the army of Danaean spearmen
So terribly hated, he set your fate upon you.
But come hither, lord, so that you may hear our word and speech;
Subdue your rage and your headstrong heart.”

Thus I spoke, and he made no reply, but went toward other
Souls of the dead, those who passed away, into Erebus.
There, he might have spoken nevertheless, though angered, or I to him.
But a passion came into my very breast
To see the souls of others who had passed away.

Odysseus sees Minos (the judge of the dead), various sinners being punished and the wraith of Heracles, before leaving for fear that Persephone may send him the awful head of the Gorgon. He and his men sail off across the Ocean.

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