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The Odyssey: Book 2 Analysis

Author: poem of Homer Type: poem Views: 6

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  Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared,

Telemachus rose and dressed himself. He bound his sandals on to his

comely feet, girded his sword about his shoulder, and left his room

looking like an immortal god. He at once sent the criers round to call

the people in assembly, so they called them and the people gathered

thereon; then, when they were got together, he went to the place of

assembly spear in hand- not alone, for his two hounds went with him.

Minerva endowed him with a presence of such divine comeliness that all

marvelled at him as he went by, and when he took his place' in his

father's seat even the oldest councillors made way for him.

  Aegyptius, a man bent double with age, and of infinite experience,

the first to speak His son Antiphus had gone with Ulysses to Ilius,

land of noble steeds, but the savage Cyclops had killed him when

they were all shut up in the cave, and had cooked his last dinner

for him, He had three sons left, of whom two still worked on their

father's land, while the third, Eurynomus, was one of the suitors;

nevertheless their father could not get over the loss of Antiphus, and

was still weeping for him when he began his speech.

  "Men of Ithaca," he said, "hear my words. From the day Ulysses

left us there has been no meeting of our councillors until now; who

then can it be, whether old or young, that finds it so necessary to

convene us? Has he got wind of some host approaching, and does he wish

to warn us, or would he speak upon some other matter of public moment?

I am sure he is an excellent person, and I hope Jove will grant him

his heart's desire."

  Telemachus took this speech as of good omen and rose at once, for he

was bursting with what he had to say. He stood in the middle of the

assembly and the good herald Pisenor brought him his staff. Then,

turning to Aegyptius, "Sir," said he, "it is I, as you will shortly

learn, who have convened you, for it is I who am the most aggrieved. I

have not got wind of any host approaching about which I would warn

you, nor is there any matter of public moment on which I would

speak. My grieveance is purely personal, and turns on two great

misfortunes which have fallen upon my house. The first of these is the

loss of my excellent father, who was chief among all you here present,

and was like a father to every one of you; the second is much more

serious, and ere long will be the utter ruin of my estate. The sons of

all the chief men among you are pestering my mother to marry them

against her will. They are afraid to go to her father Icarius,

asking him to choose the one he likes best, and to provide marriage

gifts for his daughter, but day by day they keep hanging about my

father's house, sacrificing our oxen, sheep, and fat goats for their

banquets, and never giving so much as a thought to the quantity of

wine they drink. No estate can stand such recklessness; we have now no

Ulysses to ward off harm from our doors, and I cannot hold my own

against them. I shall never all my days be as good a man as he was,

still I would indeed defend myself if I had power to do so, for I

cannot stand such treatment any longer; my house is being disgraced

and ruined. Have respect, therefore, to your own consciences and to

public opinion. Fear, too, the wrath of heaven, lest the gods should

be displeased and turn upon you. I pray you by Jove and Themis, who is

the beginning and the end of councils, [do not] hold back, my friends,

and leave me singlehanded- unless it be that my brave father Ulysses

did some wrong to the Achaeans which you would now avenge on me, by

aiding and abetting these suitors. Moreover, if I am to be eaten out

of house and home at all, I had rather you did the eating

yourselves, for I could then take action against you to some

purpose, and serve you with notices from house to house till I got

paid in full, whereas now I have no remedy."

  With this Telemachus dashed his staff to the ground and burst into

tears. Every one was very sorry for him, but they all sat still and no

one ventured to make him an angry answer, save only Antinous, who

spoke thus:

  "Telemachus, insolent braggart that you are, how dare you try to

throw the blame upon us suitors? It is your mother's fault not ours,

for she is a very artful woman. This three years past, and close on

four, she has been driving us out of our minds, by encouraging each

one of us, and sending him messages without meaning one word of what

she says. And then there was that other trick she played us. She set

up a great tambour frame in her room, and began to work on an enormous

piece of fine needlework. 'Sweet hearts,' said she, 'Ulysses is indeed

dead, still do not press me to marry again immediately, wait- for I

would not have skill in needlework perish unrecorded- till I have

completed a pall for the hero Laertes, to be in readiness against

the time when death shall take him. He is very rich, and the women

of the place will talk if he is laid out without a pall.'

  "This was what she said, and we assented; whereon we could see her

working on her great web all day long, but at night she would unpick

the stitches again by torchlight. She fooled us in this way for

three years and we never found her out, but as time wore on and she

was now in her fourth year, one of her maids who knew what she was

doing told us, and we caught her in the act of undoing her work, so

she had to finish it whether she would or no. The suitors,

therefore, make you this answer, that both you and the Achaeans may

understand-'Send your mother away, and bid her marry the man of her

own and of her father's choice'; for I do not know what will happen if

she goes on plaguing us much longer with the airs she gives herself on

the score of the accomplishments Minerva has taught her, and because

she is so clever. We never yet heard of such a woman; we know all

about Tyro, Alcmena, Mycene, and the famous women of old, but they

were nothing to your mother, any one of them. It was not fair of her

to treat us in that way, and as long as she continues in the mind with

which heaven has now endowed her, so long shall we go on eating up

your estate; and I do not see why she should change, for she gets

all the honour and glory, and it is you who pay for it, not she.

Understand, then, that we will not go back to our lands, neither

here nor elsewhere, till she has made her choice and married some

one or other of us."

  Telemachus answered, "Antinous, how can I drive the mother who

bore me from my father's house? My father is abroad and we do not know

whether he is alive or dead. It will be hard on me if I have to pay

Icarius the large sum which I must give him if I insist on sending his

daughter back to him. Not only will he deal rigorously with me, but

heaven will also punish me; for my mother when she leaves the house

will calf on the Erinyes to avenge her; besides, it would not be a

creditable thing to do, and I will have nothing to say to it. If you

choose to take offence at this, leave the house and feast elsewhere at

one another's houses at your own cost turn and turn about. If, on

the other hand, you elect to persist in spunging upon one man,

heaven help me, but Jove shall reckon with you in full, and when you

fall in my father's house there shall be no man to avenge you."

  As he spoke Jove sent two eagles from the top of the mountain, and

they flew on and on with the wind, sailing side by side in their own

lordly flight. When they were right over the middle of the assembly

they wheeled and circled about, beating the air with their wings and

glaring death into the eyes of them that were below; then, fighting

fiercely and tearing at one another, they flew off towards the right

over the town. The people wondered as they saw them, and asked each

other what an this might be; whereon Halitherses, who was the best

prophet and reader of omens among them, spoke to them plainly and in

all honesty, saying:

  "Hear me, men of Ithaca, and I speak more particularly to the

suitors, for I see mischief brewing for them. Ulysses is not going

to be away much longer; indeed he is close at hand to deal out death

and destruction, not on them alone, but on many another of us who live

in Ithaca. Let us then be wise in time, and put a stop to this

wickedness before he comes. Let the suitors do so of their own accord;

it will be better for them, for I am not prophesying without due

knowledge; everything has happened to Ulysses as I foretold when the

Argives set out for Troy, and he with them. I said that after going

through much hardship and losing all his men he should come home again

in the twentieth year and that no one would know him; and now all this

is coming true."

  Eurymachus son of Polybus then said, "Go home, old man, and prophesy

to your own children, or it may be worse for them. I can read these

omens myself much better than you can; birds are always flying about

in the sunshine somewhere or other, but they seldom mean anything.

Ulysses has died in a far country, and it is a pity you are not dead

along with him, instead of prating here about omens and adding fuel to

the anger of Telemachus which is fierce enough as it is. I suppose you

think he will give you something for your family, but I tell you-

and it shall surely be- when an old man like you, who should know

better, talks a young one over till he becomes troublesome, in the

first place his young friend will only fare so much the worse- he will

take nothing by it, for the suitors will prevent this- and in the

next, we will lay a heavier fine, sir, upon yourself than you will

at all like paying, for it will bear hardly upon you. As for

Telemachus, I warn him in the presence of you all to send his mother

back to her father, who will find her a husband and provide her with

all the marriage gifts so dear a daughter may expect. Till we shall go

on harassing him with our suit; for we fear no man, and care neither

for him, with all his fine speeches, nor for any fortune-telling of

yours. You may preach as much as you please, but we shall only hate

you the more. We shall go back and continue to eat up Telemachus's

estate without paying him, till such time as his mother leaves off

tormenting us by keeping us day after day on the tiptoe of

expectation, each vying with the other in his suit for a prize of such

rare perfection. Besides we cannot go after the other women whom we

should marry in due course, but for the way in which she treats us."

  Then Telemachus said, "Eurymachus, and you other suitors, I shall

say no more, and entreat you no further, for the gods and the people

of Ithaca now know my story. Give me, then, a ship and a crew of

twenty men to take me hither and thither, and I will go to Sparta

and to Pylos in quest of my father who has so long been missing.

Some one may tell me something, or (and people often hear things in

this way) some heaven-sent message may direct me. If I can hear of him

as alive and on his way home I will put up with the waste you

suitors will make for yet another twelve months. If on the other

hand I hear of his death, I will return at once, celebrate his funeral

rites with all due pomp, build a barrow to his memory, and make my

mother marry again."

  With these words he sat down, and Mentor who had been a friend of

Ulysses, and had been left in charge of everything with full authority

over the servants, rose to speak. He, then, plainly and in all honesty

addressed them thus:

  "Hear me, men of Ithaca, I hope that you may never have a kind and

well-disposed ruler any more, nor one who will govern you equitably; I

hope that all your chiefs henceforward may be cruel and unjust, for

there is not one of you but has forgotten Ulysses, who ruled you as

though he were your father. I am not half so angry with the suitors,

for if they choose to do violence in the naughtiness of their

hearts, and wager their heads that Ulysses will not return, they can

take the high hand and eat up his estate, but as for you others I am

shocked at the way in which you all sit still without even trying to

stop such scandalous goings on-which you could do if you chose, for

you are many and they are few."

  Leiocritus, son of Evenor, answered him saying, "Mentor, what

folly is all this, that you should set the people to stay us? It is

a hard thing for one man to fight with many about his victuals. Even

though Ulysses himself were to set upon us while we are feasting in

his house, and do his best to oust us, his wife, who wants him back so

very badly, would have small cause for rejoicing, and his blood

would be upon his own head if he fought against such great odds. There

is no sense in what you have been saying. Now, therefore, do you

people go about your business, and let his father's old friends,

Mentor and Halitherses, speed this boy on his journey, if he goes at

all- which I do not think he will, for he is more likely to stay where

he is till some one comes and tells him something."

  On this he broke up the assembly, and every man went back to his own

abode, while the suitors returned to the house of Ulysses.

  Then Telemachus went all alone by the sea side, washed his hands

in the grey waves, and prayed to Minerva.

  "Hear me," he cried, "you god who visited me yesterday, and bade

me sail the seas in search of my father who has so long been

missing. I would obey you, but the Achaeans, and more particularly the

wicked suitors, are hindering me that I cannot do so."

  As he thus prayed, Minerva came close up to him in the likeness

and with the voice of Mentor. "Telemachus," said she, "if you are made

of the same stuff as your father you will be neither fool nor coward

henceforward, for Ulysses never broke his word nor left his work

half done. If, then, you take after him, your voyage will not be

fruitless, but unless you have the blood of Ulysses and of Penelope in

your veins I see no likelihood of your succeeding. Sons are seldom

as good men as their fathers; they are generally worse, not better;

still, as you are not going to be either fool or coward

henceforward, and are not entirely without some share of your father's

wise discernment, I look with hope upon your undertaking. But mind you

never make common cause with any of those foolish suitors, for they

have neither sense nor virtue, and give no thought to death and to the

doom that will shortly fall on one and all of them, so that they shall

perish on the same day. As for your voyage, it shall not be long

delayed; your father was such an old friend of mine that I will find

you a ship, and will come with you myself. Now, however, return

home, and go about among the suitors; begin getting provisions ready

for your voyage; see everything well stowed, the wine in jars, and the

barley meal, which is the staff of life, in leathern bags, while I

go round the town and beat up volunteers at once. There are many ships

in Ithaca both old and new; I will run my eye over them for you and

will choose the best; we will get her ready and will put out to sea

without delay."

  Thus spoke Minerva daughter of Jove, and Telemachus lost no time

in doing as the goddess told him. He went moodily and found the

suitors flaying goats and singeing pigs in the outer court. Antinous

came up to him at once and laughed as he took his hand in his own,

saying, "Telemachus, my fine fire-eater, bear no more ill blood

neither in word nor deed, but eat and drink with us as you used to do.

The Achaeans will find you in everything- a ship and a picked crew

to boot- so that you can set sail for Pylos at once and get news of

your noble father."

  "Antinous," answered Telemachus, "I cannot eat in peace, nor take

pleasure of any kind with such men as you are. Was it not enough

that you should waste so much good property of mine while I was yet

a boy? Now that I am older and know more about it, I am also stronger,

and whether here among this people, or by going to Pylos, I will do

you all the harm I can. I shall go, and my going will not be in vain

though, thanks to you suitors, I have neither ship nor crew of my own,

and must be passenger not captain."

  As he spoke he snatched his hand from that of Antinous. Meanwhile

the others went on getting dinner ready about the buildings, jeering

at him tauntingly as they did so.

  "Telemachus," said one youngster, "means to be the death of us; I

suppose he thinks he can bring friends to help him from Pylos, or

again from Sparta, where he seems bent on going. Or will he go to

Ephyra as well, for poison to put in our wine and kill us?"

  Another said, "Perhaps if Telemachus goes on board ship, he will

be like his father and perish far from his friends. In this case we

should have plenty to do, for we could then divide up his property

amongst us: as for the house we can let his mother and the man who

marries her have that."

  This was how they talked. But Telemachus went down into the lofty

and spacious store-room where his father's treasure of gold and bronze

lay heaped up upon the floor, and where the linen and spare clothes

were kept in open chests. Here, too, there was a store of fragrant

olive oil, while casks of old, well-ripened wine, unblended and fit

for a god to drink, were ranged against the wall in case Ulysses

should come home again after all. The room was closed with well-made

doors opening in the middle; moreover the faithful old house-keeper

Euryclea, daughter of Ops the son of Pisenor, was in charge of

everything both night and day. Telemachus called her to the store-room

and said:

  "Nurse, draw me off some of the best wine you have, after what you

are keeping for my father's own drinking, in case, poor man, he should

escape death, and find his way home again after all. Let me have

twelve jars, and see that they all have lids; also fill me some

well-sewn leathern bags with barley meal- about twenty measures in

all. Get these things put together at once, and say nothing about

it. I will take everything away this evening as soon as my mother

has gone upstairs for the night. I am going to Sparta and to Pylos

to see if I can hear anything about the return of my dear father.

  When Euryclea heard this she began to cry, and spoke fondly to

him, saying, "My dear child, what ever can have put such notion as

that into your head? Where in the world do you want to go to- you, who

are the one hope of the house? Your poor father is dead and gone in

some foreign country nobody knows where, and as soon as your back is

turned these wicked ones here will be scheming to get you put out of

the way, and will share all your possessions among themselves; stay

where you are among your own people, and do not go wandering and

worrying your life out on the barren ocean."

  "Fear not, nurse," answered Telemachus, "my scheme is not without

heaven's sanction; but swear that you will say nothing about all

this to my mother, till I have been away some ten or twelve days,

unless she hears of my having gone, and asks you; for I do not want

her to spoil her beauty by crying."

  The old woman swore most solemnly that she would not, and when she

had completed her oath, she began drawing off the wine into jars,

and getting the barley meal into the bags, while Telemachus went

back to the suitors.

  Then Minerva bethought her of another matter. She took his shape,

and went round the town to each one of the crew, telling them to

meet at the ship by sundown. She went also to Noemon son of

Phronius, and asked him to let her have a ship- which he was very

ready to do. When the sun had set and darkness was over all the

land, she got the ship into the water, put all the tackle on board her

that ships generally carry, and stationed her at the end of the

harbour. Presently the crew came up, and the goddess spoke

encouragingly to each of them.

  Furthermore she went to the house of Ulysses, and threw the

suitors into a deep slumber. She caused their drink to fuddle them,

and made them drop their cups from their hands, so that instead of

sitting over their wine, they went back into the town to sleep, with

their eyes heavy and full of drowsiness. Then she took the form and

voice of Mentor, and called Telemachus to come outside.

  "Telemachus," said she, "the men are on board and at their oars,

waiting for you to give your orders, so make haste and let us be off."

  On this she led the way, while Telemachus followed in her steps.

When they got to the ship they found the crew waiting by the water

side, and Telemachus said, "Now my men, help me to get the stores on

board; they are all put together in the cloister, and my mother does

not know anything about it, nor any of the maid servants except one."

  With these words he led the way and the others followed after.

When they had brought the things as he told them, Telemachus went on

board, Minerva going before him and taking her seat in the stern of

the vessel, while Telemachus sat beside her. Then the men loosed the

hawsers and took their places on the benches. Minerva sent them a fair

wind from the West, that whistled over the deep blue waves whereon

Telemachus told them to catch hold of the ropes and hoist sail, and

they did as he told them. They set the mast in its socket in the cross

plank, raised it, and made it fast with the forestays; then they

hoisted their white sails aloft with ropes of twisted ox hide. As

the sail bellied out with the wind, the ship flew through the deep

blue water, and the foam hissed against her bows as she sped onward.

Then they made all fast throughout the ship, filled the mixing-bowls

to the brim, and made drink offerings to the immortal gods that are

from everlasting, but more particularly to the grey-eyed daughter of


  Thus, then, the ship sped on her way through the watches of the

night from dark till dawn.

Translated by Samuel Butler


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