Homer’s Odyssey Book I

Telemachus and Mentes (Spoiler alert: it's Athene)

Telemachus and Mentes (Spoiler alert: it’s Athene)

Tell me of a man, o Muse, a resourceful man, who was very much
Driven about, after he sacked the sacred city of Troy;
Of many men, he saw their city and knew their mind,
And he, at least, suffered upon the sea many pains against his heart,
Striving for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
But he did not thus safeguard his companions, although he was eager;
For they by their own recklessness destroyed themselves,
Foolish men, who upon the cattle of Helios on High
Did feed; and he took from them their day of homecoming.
Of these things, from some point, goddess daughter of Zeus, tell us as well.

Thereupon all others, as many as fled the sheer destruction,
Were home, having escaped both war and sea,
And he alone, though he longed for both his homecoming and his wife,
A nymph, the lady Calypso detained him, worthiest of the goddesses,
In hollow caves, anxious for him to be her husband.
But when the year finally came, the annual cycles going round,
In which the gods spun the thread of his fate to proceed homeward
To Ithaca, though not even there was he freed of struggles,
And among those who were his friends. And all the gods pitied him
Apart from Poseidon; he continued to be enraged
At godlike Odysseus before he reached his own soil.
But now Poseidon quested after the far-off Ethiopians,
The Ethiopians, the furthest of men, who are divided in two,
Some at the setting of he on High, the others at his rising,
He left to accept a great sacrifice of bulls and rams.
Hither he was satiated, sitting beside the god’s portion; but the others
Were all together in the palace of Zeus Olympias.
To them the father of men and gods was beginning a speech;
He brought to mind, in accordance with his heart, blameless Aegisthus,
Whom, indeed, renowned Orestes Agamemnon-son killed;
Making mention of him, he addressed the undying;
“Look at this! To think that mortals cast blame on gods.
For they say that misfortunes are from us; but they also themselves
By their own recklessness bear hardships beyond their allotment,
Just as even now, Aegisthus, beyond his portion, married
The wedded wife of Atreides, whom he killed upon his return home,
Although aware of sheer destruction; since we told him in advance,
Sending Hermes, sharp-eyed Argus-slayer,
Neither to kill him nor to court his wife;
For there will be vengeance from Orestes of Atreides,
When he reaches manhood and longs for his land.
Thus spoke Hermes, but he did not the mind of Aegisthus
Persuade, though he counselled the good; and now he pays the whole price all at once.”

The goddess answered him then, shining-eyed Athene:
“Father mine, son of Cronus, highest of rulers,
Quite surely that man, at least, lies in befitting destruction;
Likewise may whoever else who does such things be destroyed.
But for me, my heart is divided in two for skilled Odysseus,
Ill-fated, who indeed has long suffered miseries away from his family
On a sea-girt island, where lies the navel of the sea.
A forested island, and on it the goddess inhabits her palace,
The daughter of mischievous Atlas, who knows
Of all the sea its depths, and he bears, too, the tall
Pillars, which hold between heaven and earth.
His daughter detains the wretched man, who laments,
And ever with wheedling, conciliatory words
She beguiles, so that he might forget Ithaca; but Odysseus,
Eager even to observe the rising smoke
Of his land, longs to die. But, then, your heart
Does not much regard a friend, Olympian. Or was not Odysseus,
With the ships of the Argives pleasing, making sacrifices
In far-reaching Troy? Why, indeed, are you so angry at him, Zeus?”

Zeus cloud-gatherer, making reply, addressed her:
“My child, what a speech that escapes the fence of your teeth!
How, then, would I fail to note divine Odysseus,
Who of mortals excels in mind, and gives excess sacrifices
To the undying gods, they who hold the spacious sky?
But earth-encircling Poseidon ever unceasingly
Has been angered on behalf of the Cyclops, whose eye was blinded,
God-like Polyphemus, whose might is greatest
Of all the Cyclopes; The nymph, Thousa, gave birth to him,
Daughter of Phorcys, a ruler of the barren sea,
After she had intercourse with Poseidon in a hollow cave.
For this Poseidon earth-shaker did Odysseus
Not in any way kill, but drove him from the soil of his father.
But come, let all of us here deliberate concerning
His homecoming, so that he may come; and Poseidon will yield
His wrath; for he will not at all be able, against all
The undying, to contend alone against the will of gods.”

And then the shining-eyed goddess, Athene, answered him:
“Father mine, son of Cronus, highest of rulers,
If indeed this is now favoured by the blessed gods,
That ingenious Odysseus return to his home,
Then Hermes, your minister, Argus-slayer,
Let us spur him on to the island, Ogygia, so that he may most swiftly
Tell our unerring counsel to the fair-haired nymph,
The homecoming of stout-hearted Odysseus, that he might return.
And I shall go to Ithaca, so that I might better
Urge on his son, and put a passion in his mind,
Summoning the long-haired Achaean heads to the agora,
To speak out against all the suitors, who ever his
Fatted sheep do slaughter, and his lumbering, curve-horned cattle.
And I shall send him to Sparta and to sandy Pylos,
To enquire into the homecoming of his beloved father, if he might hear of it somewhere,
And so that he might have a noble repute among men.”

Having thus spoken, she bound upon her feet fine sandals,
Golden, divine, that carry her both on the flowing water
And on the boundless earth as a blast of wind.
And she took her sturdy lance, sharpened keen with copper,
Heavy, mighty, strong, with which she subdues the ranks of men,
Of heroes, against whomever the daughter of mighty sire bears anger.
She went down from Olympus, shooting out from the peaks,
And she stands in the house of Odysseus of Ithaca, at the front-door
Of the threshold of the courtyard; she held her copper lance in her palm,
Appearing like a foreign guest, like the leader of the Taphians, Mentes.
She found the arrogant suitors. They thereupon
Turned their hearts to gaming stones in front of the doors,
Seated upon the hides of cattle, which they themselves had killed:
And they had heralds, and busy attendants,
Some who mixed wine and water in mixing bowls,
Others in turn who, with porous sponges, washed
The tables and set them out, and others divvied out much meat.

Godlike Telemachus was first by far to see her,
For he was sitting amidst the suitors, his own heart grieved,
Keeping his noble father in mind, if coming from somewhere
He should make a route of the suitors here, throughout the palace,
And he might have payment and over his possessions be master.
He was thinking of this, sitting amongst the suitors, when he saw Athene.
He went straight to the gate of the courtyard, feeling indignation in his heart
That a guest stood so long at the door; and standing near,
He took her right hand and received her copper lance,
And he addressed her, speaking feathered words:
“Welcome, my guest, among us you will be loved; and once
You have partaken of a meal, you will tell of any need you have.”

Speaking thus, he led her, and Pallas Athene followed.
And when they were well within the lofty hall,
He placed the lance he carried to the tall support
Of the well-crafted spear-rack within, where the many
Other spears of stout-hearted Odysseus were placed,
And leading her to a chair he made her to sit, spreading a cloth under her,
Fine and curiously wrought; and there was a stool underneath for her feet.
He placed a finely-wrought divan alongside, apart from the other
Suitors, lest his guest, vexed by the din,
Be not sated by his meal, being amidst inconsiderate men,
And so that he might question him concerning his departed father.

An attendant bearing clean water in a washing bowl, fine, golden,
Poured it over his hands, over a silver basin,
To wash his hands; she arranged a polished table alongside.
An honored housekeeper bearing bread, placed it before him,
She placed also a great variety of food, pleasing him with what was available;
A meat carver who fetched a platter of meat of all kinds
Set it before him, he brought golden cups to them,
And a herald visited them often, pouring wine.

To them came the macho suitors. And then they
Sat themselves, one after the other, on chairs and divans.
For them, heralds poured water over their hands,
Bondswomen piled up bread in bread-baskets alongside,
And young boys filled vessels to the brim with drink.
And they stretched their hands to what was set before them, at the ready for good cheer.
But when they were rid of their desire for food and drink,
The suitors, who had in mind care for other things,
Sport and dance; for these were the accompaniment of a meal.
And a herald put a fine cithara in the hands
Of Phemius, who sang for the suitors under compulsion.
Indeed, playing the lyre, he started to sing a fine song,
And Telemachus spoke to shining-eyed Athene,
Holding his head close, so that others might not hear:

“My dear guest, in truth will you be offended at me if I should speak to you?
These things concern these sorts of men, the cithara and song.
It’s easy, since they consume the livelihood of another without compensation,
That of a man whose shining bones rot somewhere in the rain
Either lying on land, or a wave rolls them in the sea.
If they were to see that man come home to Ithaca,
They all would pray to be swifter of foot
Than richer in gold and raiment.
But as it is, since he has been destroyed, a wicked fate, and for us there is no
Warmth, even if someone of earth-dwelling men
should say that he comes; the day of his homecoming is gone.
But come, tell me this and speak it straight:
What family are you from? What city and parents are yours?
And you have come on a ship of some kind; How did sailors
Bring you to Ithaca? Who did they boast to be?
For, indeed, I do not believe that you came here on foot.
And orate to me the real, so that I might know well,
Whether you are new among us, or you are a guest
Of my father’s, since many other men arrived at our
House, when that man still walked among the living.”

And in reply, shining-eyed Athene said to him:
“So then, I shall address this to you with especial accuracy.
I boast to be Mentes, of skilled Anchialus
The son, and I am the ruler of the oar-loving Taphians.
And presently I have thus come down here by ship with my companions,
sailing upon the wine-dark sea to people of other tongues,
To Temesa after copper, and I bring gleaming iron.
And my ship sits upon the shore of a far-off city,
In Reithron harbour, beneath forested Neius.
We declare each other to be guests of our fathers
From the beginning, if indeed you were to go and ask the old man,
The warrior Laertes, who they say no longer comes
To the city, but rather suffers woes upon a distant shore
With his old handmaiden, who sets before him
Food and drink, whenever toil seizes him in his limbs,
the broken man crawling up the swell of the vine-bearing orchard.
And now I came; for indeed they said he was among his own people,
your father; but now the gods strike him from his course.
For godlike Odysseus does not lie dead on the ground somewhere,
But rather doubtless living still, he is held back by the wide sea,
On a sea-girt island, and grievous men hold him,
Savages, who somehow restrain him, unwilling.
But now I will foretell to you, as in my heart
The Undying cast it, and as I know it will be fulfilled,
Although I am neither at all a seer, nor do I know it clearly from birds of omen.
Not much longer indeed from the beloved earth of his father
Shall he be, not even if iron bonds hold him;
He devises how he might return home, since he is resourceful.
But come, tell me this and speak it straight,
If a one such as you is indeed the son of this man, Odysseus.
With respect to your head and beautiful eyes, you do seem strikingly alike
To that man, since we often met with each other,
Before he embarked for Troy, where indeed the others,
The best men of the Argives went in hollow ship;
From that point neither have I seen Odysseus nor he me.”

Astute Telemachus, in turn, said to him in reply:
“Indeed I too shall address you, my guest, with especial accuracy.
My mother tells me that I am his, but I
Do not know; for no one, I suppose, recognizes his parentage himself.
As indeed I, at least, would that I were the son of some fortunate
man, whom old age had overtaken when he had charge of his wealth.
But as it is, he who if the most ill-fated of mortal beings,
of this man, they say I am born, since you ask me this.”

The shining-eyed goddess Athene said to him in return:
“The gods did not set an undistinguished heritage for you
Hereafter, since Penelope gave birth to such as you.
But come, tell me this and say it straight:
What feast, what throng is this? What is your need?
A banquet or wedding? Since this, at least, is no potluck.
For these insolent men seem to me to partake
Inconsiderately throughout the palace. Any man would be offended
To see so much insult, at least any sensible man who should come among them.”

Astute Telemachus in turn said to her:
“My guest, since you fastened to me and asked after these things,
This house was once destined to be wealthy and blameless,
So long as that man was yet among his own;
But now, the gods will differently, contriving misfortunes,
Who put that man unseen, above all other
Men, since I would not even mourn thus for him for having died,
If among his companions he was overcome in the land of the Trojans,
Or in the arms of his family, after he wound up the war.
For him all the Achaeans would have made a tomb,
And moreover, they would have carried back great renown for his child.
But as it is, the Hurricanes have fed on him ignominiously;
He departed unseen, unsung, and to me he has bequeathed
Grief and sorrow; nor in any way, mourning do I lament that man
Alone, since now, for me, the gods have wrought other, foul misfortunes.
For, as many nobles as rule over the islands,
Doulicheum and Same and wooded Zacynthus,
And as many lords there are throughout rocky Ithaca,
That’s how many court my mother, and consume our house.
And she, neither refuses hated marriage nor is she able
To make an end of it; Indeed, by eating, they lay waste
To my house; soon they will destroy it, and me as well.”

And Pallas Athena, full of wrath, addressed him:
“Shocking! Indeed for departed Odysseus, you have great
Need, who would strike his fists against the shameless suitors.
For if he now came home and at his front gates
Stood, bearing his helmet and shield and a pair of spears,
If he were as much the man as I understood him to be in former times,
Drinking and making merry in our house,
Returned from Ephyra, from the house of Ilus, son of Mermesus;
For Odysseus departed also for that place upon his swift ship
Seeking a man-slaying drug, so that he might have it
To anoint his bronze-tipped arrows; but Ilus did not to him
Give it, since he stood in awe of the gods, eternal beings,
But my father gave it to him; for he held him strangely dear.
Being such a man, Odysseus would join battle with the suitors;
And they would all be quick to die and bitterly wedded.
But, indeed, these things lie in the lap of the gods,
Whether, returning home, he will exact payment, or not,
In his halls; and I urge you to consider
How you would drive out the suitors from the halls.
Come now, take note and pay heed to my words:
Tomorrow, after you call the Achaean warriors into the agora,
To them all say this, and let the gods be there as witnesses.
Bid the suitors to be dispersed to their own places,
And your mother, if her heart is stirred to be married,
Let her go back to the hall of your greatly capable father;
And they will prepare a wedding and get together wedding gifts,
A great many, too, as many as is befitting to go with a beloved child.
And you yourself, I shall advise you shrewdly, if you will obey:
After you have equipped a ship for twenty rowers, your best one,
Go to enquire after your long departed father,
If anyone of mortal men would tell you, or you hear a rumour
From Zeus, which most often bears report to people.
Go first to Pylos and speak to noble Nestor,
Then Sparta-ward to fair-haired Menelaus;
For he came last of the bronze-clad Achaeans.
If, then, you hear of the life of your father and his homecoming,
Or, although you will be wearied, you should yet endure a year;
But if you hear that he has died, and he is no more,
After you come home thereafter, to the beloved soil of your father
Construct a burial mound for his body, and bury him with due honours, with funeral gifts,
A great many, as many as are befitting, and give your mother to a husband.
And when you finish that and accomplish it,
Consider then in accordance with your heart and mind
How the suitors in your halls you might
Slay whether by trickery or openly; for there is no need for you
To cling to childishness, since you are no longer so young.
Or have you not heard what fame noble Orestes acquired
Among all people, when he killed the father-killer,
Wily Aegisthus, who killed his famous father?
And you, dear friend, I see that you are especially good and mighty,
Be brave, so that any of the next generation may speak well of you.
But I shall now return to my swift ship
And my companions, who are doubtless vexed to wait so long;
Let it be your own concern, and heed my words.”

And again wise Telemachus spoke in reply to her:
“My guest, you have spoken with understanding on things dear to me,
Like a father to a son, nor shall I soon forget them.
But come, tarry a while, though eager for your journey,
So that after you have bathed and your heart has taken pleasure
You may go to your ship bearing gifts, rejoicing in your heart,
A prized thing, very fine, it will be a keepsake for you
From me, just as beloved hosts give to their guests.”

And then the shining-eyed goddess Athene replied to him:
“Do not keep me any longer now, since I do indeed long to be on my way.
The gift which your very heart bids you to give to me,
Give to me when I return again to carry homeward,
And you can choose one especially fine; it will be worthy of one in return for you.”

Having spoken thus, shining-eyed Athene then departed,
And she flew out, upward like a bird; and in his heart
She placed passion and courage, and she made him think of his father
More still than before. And turning it over in his mind,
He was amazed to the depths of his heart; for he knew her to be a god.
And straightaway that god-like hero went ‘round the suitors.
To them sang a renowned bard, and they in silence
Sat idle, listening; he sang of the Achaeans, their homecoming,
Pitiable, which Pallas Athene ordained from Troy.

From an upper room she perceived in her mind the lay of the singer,
The daughter of Icarius, sagacious Penelope.
She descended the lofty stair of her house,
Not alone, but two attendants followed along with her.
And when she reached the suitors, divine among women,
And she stood by the pillar of the thick-built hall,
With a shining head-dress against her cheeks;
A trusted attendant stood by her on either side.
Then, though she wept, she addressed the godlike bard:
Phemius, indeed you know many other spells of mortals,
The deeds of men and gods both, which bards celebrate;
Sing one of these while you sit beside those who silently
Drink their wine; cease this song
So mournful, which ever the very heart within my breast
Do distress, since inconsolable sorrow much assails me.
For I desire a such a head, always remembering
A man, whose fame is wide throughout Hellas and middle Argus.”

And astute Telemachus addressed her in reply:
“My dear mother, why do you begrudge the loyal bard
To entertain in whatever way his mind inspires him? For the bards are not
Responsible, but Zeus somewhere is responsible, who gives
To enterprising men however he wishes to each.
There is no retribution for this man to sing of the evil fate of the Danaans;
For people extol this song more
Which is the newest that floats around the listeners.
Let your heart and mind venture to listen;
For not only Odysseus lost his day of homecoming
At Troy, but many other men perishedk.
But go to your chambers and attend to your own tasks,
The loom and distaff, and bid your attendants
To ply their work; counsel will be the concern for men
All of them, especially for myself; for power is his in the household.”

And she went back to her chamber astonished;
For she took the astute speech of her son to heart.
Going up to the upper parts with her women, her attendants,
She lamented then for Odysseus, her beloved husband until sweet
Sleep upon her eyelids shining-eyed Athene did cast.

The suitors made a loud din throughout the shadowy hall;
They all prayed to lie beside her in the marriage-bed.
To them astute Telemachus began this speech:
“Suitors of my mother, who are so wantonly insolent,
Let us now take pleasure in feasting, and let there not be
A clamour, since it is a fine thing to listen to a singer
Of the sort that this man here is, like the gods, his voice.
And at dawn let us all go to the Assembly and take our
Seats, so that I might make a speech for you without concern for consequences,
To send you out from my halls, and you, prepare other feasts,
Consuming your own wealth, taking turns from house to house.
But if this seems to you to be better and more agreeable,
That the livelihood of one man be destroyed unavenged,
Then do ravage; but I shall call upon the gods who live eternal,
And may Zeus at some point grant that your deeds be avenged.;
That you be destroyed, unavenged, from within my house.”

Thus he spoke, and they all bit their lips with their teeth,
Amazed at Telemachus, who addressed them so boldly.

And Antinous, son of Eupeithes, spoke to him in reply:
“Telemachus, either the gods themselves much instruct you
To be a braggart and address us so boldly;
May the son of Cronus not make you a king in sea-girt
Ithaca, which is your patrimony by birth.”

And astute Telemachus in turn addressed him in reply:
“Antinous, even if you feel jealous of me that I would speak,
I too would wish to win this, at least if Zeus should grant it.
Or would you say this is the worst thing to have been accomplished among men?
For it is no evil thing to be a king; all of a sudden one’s house
Becomes wealthy and oneself more honoured.
But indeed there are other kings of the Achaeans,
Many in sea-girt Ithaca, new ones and those of old,
And any of them would have this, when noble Odysseus died;
But I shall be master of my own household
And its servants, which noble Odysseus won for me as booty.”

Then in turn Eurymachus, child of Polybus, said in response:
“Telemachus, in truth this lies in the lap of the gods,
Whoever will be king of the Achaeans in sea-girt Ithaca;
May you yourself keep your wealth and be master in your own household.
May that man not come who would by force against your will
Bereave you of your possessions while Ithaca exists.
But I wish, Sir, to ask about your guest,
Where this man is from, what land he professes to be from,
Where the arable land of his father and kin lies;
Was he bearing any tidings the goings of your father,
Or did he come here chasing after duties of his own?
How quickly he sprang up to depart, and did not stay behind
To get to know us; for he did not seem like someone wicked on the face.”

And astute Telemachus in turn addressed him in reply:
“Eurymachus, in truth the homecoming of my father has been destroyed;
Nor do I any longer trust tidings, wherever they might come from,
Nor do I pay attention to prophecy, which my mother
Inquires after, having summoned an oracle-messenger to the hall.
This man, my guest, a friend the family, is from Taphus,
He professes to be Mentes, of battle-tested Anchialus
The son, and he is lord over the oar-loving Taphians.”

Thus spoke Telemachus though he knew in his heart it was an undying god.
And they to the dance and the charming song
Turning their attention, took their pleasure, they stayed for evening to come.
And to those taking their pleasure the black night came;
Then they went each to their chamber to lie down.
And Telemachus, where an inner chamber of the very beautiful hall,
Was built on high, in a conspicuous spot,
There he went to bed, many things on his mind worrying him.
Beside him, Eurycleia, daughter of Ops of Peisenor,
Trusty and knowing, bore a burning torch for him,
Whom Laertes once purchased with his wealth,
When she was yet in her prime, he gave twenty oxen worth,
He valued her equal to his loyal bedmate in his halls.
But he did not once couple in her bed, and he avoided the wrath of his wife;
She bore a burning torch beside him, and she especially
Of the captured slave-women1 was fond of him, she had raised him when he was little.
He opened the door of the well-built inner chamber,
He sat in the bed and took off his soft chiton;
And tossed it into the hands of the shrewd old woman.
She folded and shaped the chiton,
Hung it from a peg beside the inlaid bedstead,
And she got up and went from the inner chamber, pulled the door with the handle
Of silver, and extended the bolt with its strap.
And there for the whole night, alone, covered with choicest wool,
He turned over in his mind the path that Athene had advised.

1. This translates δμωή (dmoa), a female slave taken in war, — then, generally, a female slave, serving-woman. I translated it earlier as bondswoman, but here I decided to go with the former definition because of the recent mention that Odysseus had won the riches and servants of the household as spoils of battle.

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