The first sources are excerpts from the Iliad. This epic poem, probably composed by different authors during a long period of time, was written down for the first time in the 8th century BCE. is written in a particular poetic meter: dactylic hexameters. Any poetry from ancient Greece and Rome that is written in dactylic hexameter is called epic poetry.
The Iliad (Ἰλιάς) tells the story of a few weeks in the final year of the siege of Troy, a city in modern-day Turkey, by a coalition of Greek (Achaean) kingdoms. The war started when a Trojan prince, Paris, ran away with Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world and wife of king Menelaos; the scorned husband and all his allies marched against Troy and conquered it after a ten-year long siege. These passages show several moments during the siege concerning two of the main characters: Achilles refusing to go back to the fight; Hector’s conversation with his wife and son; and the final duel, the climax of the poem, in which Achilles slays Hector.
The other sources are excerpt from the Odyssey, the second epic poem attributed to Homer and composed probably at the same time as the Iliad. The Odyssey (Ὀδύσσεια) tells the story of the last part of Odysseus’ ten-year-long journey to return home after the Trojan War. While he is lost at sea, or fighting monsters, or sleeping with goddesses, his wife Penelope and his young son Telemachos face a threat at home: suitors from neighbouring islands have occupied the royal palace and will not leave until the queen chooses a new husband, as Odysseus is regarded as dead. In these passages we will hear Odysseus tell his own story and describe some of the most famous moments of his journey: the escape from the cave of Polyphemus, and the encounter with his deceased mother in the land of the dead.
Because of the originally oral nature of these poems, you will notice that there is quite a bit of repetition. You will also notice that characters in the poem have epithets (short descriptors) in front of their names, such as “white-armed Hera”. The repetition and the epithets helped people to remember their lines when they were reciting the epic poems (just like the rhyming couplets at the ends of scenes in the plays of Shakespeare).
BkVI:369-439 Hector speaks with Andromache
With this, Hector of the gleaming helm departed for his fine house, but failed to find white-armed Andromache at home. She had gone with her son and a fair companion, to the battlements, where she stood in tears and sorrow. Failing to find his peerless wife, Hector stood at the threshold and spoke to her servants: ‘Tell me, you maids, where is white-armed Andromache? Is she visiting one of my sisters, or my noble brothers’ fair wives, or has she gone to Athene’s shrine, where the rest of Troy’s noble women seek to influence the dread goddess?’
‘Hector,’ a busy housemaid replied, ‘if you wish to know the truth, she has done none of those things, but hearing our men were hard pressed, and the Greeks had won a great victory, she rushed to the battlements, in great distress, and the nurse followed carrying your son.’
At this, Hector sped from the house and retraced his path through the broad streets. When, after crossing the city, he reached the Scaean Gate by which he intended to leave, his wife came running to meet him. Richly-dowered, Andromache was the daughter of brave Eëtion, who lived in Thebe below wooded Placus, and ruled the Cilicians. Now she ran to her bronze-clad husband, and the nurse was with her, holding a little boy in her arms, a baby son, Hector’s bright star. Hector called him Scamandrius, but the rest Astyanax, since, to them, Hector alone protected Ilium. Hector smiled, and gazed at his son in silence, but Andromache crept weeping to his side, and clasped his hand, saying: ‘Husband, this courage of yours dooms you. You show no pity for your little son or your wretched wife, whom you’ll soon make a widow. The Achaeans must soon join arms against you, and destroy you. If I lose you I were better dead, for should you meet your fate, there will be no more joy for me only sorrow. I have no royal father or mother. Achilles killed my noble father when he sacked Cicilian Thebe, that many-peopled city with its high gates. But he shrank from despoiling Eëtion though he slew him, sending him to the pyre in his ornate armour, and heaping a mound above him, round which the mountain-nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, planted elm trees. And seven brothers of mine, swift-footed mighty Achilles sent to Hades, all on a day, killing them there among their shambling-gaited cattle and white fleecy sheep. My mother, queen below wooded Placus, he dragged here with the rest of his spoils, but freed her for a princely ransom, only for Artemis of the bow to slay her in her father’s house. Hector you are parent, brother, husband to me. Take pity on me now, and stay here on the battlements, don’t make your son an orphan your wife a widow. Station your men above the fig-tree there, where the wall’s most easily scaled, and the city lies then wide open. Thrice their best men led by the two Aiantes, great Idomeneus, the Atreidae, and brave Diomedes, have tested the wall there. Someone skilled in divining has told them, or maybe their own experience urges them to try.’
BkVI:440-493 Hector takes leave of his wife and son
‘Lady,’ said Hector of the gleaming helm, ‘I too am concerned, but if I hid from the fighting like a coward, I would be shamed before all the Trojans and their wives in their trailing robes. Nor is it my instinct, since I have striven ever to excel always in the vanguard of the battle, seeking to win great glory for my father and myself. And deep in my heart I know the day is coming when sacred Ilium will fall, Priam, and his people of the ashen spear. But the thought of the sad fate to come, not even Hecabe’s or Priam’s, nor my many noble brothers’ who will bite the dust at the hands of their foes, not even that sorrow moves me as does the thought of your grief when some bronze-clad Greek drags you away weeping, robbing you of your freedom. Perhaps in Argos you’ll toil at the loom at some other woman’s whim, or bear water all unwillingly from some spring, Messeïs or Hypereia, bowed down by the yoke of necessity. Seeing your tears, they will say: ‘There goes the wife of Hector, foremost of all the horse-taming Trojans, when the battle raged at Troy.’ And you will sorrow afresh at those words, lacking a man like me to save you from bondage. May I be dead, and the earth piled above me, before I hear your cries as they drag you away.’
With this, glorious Hector held out his arms to take his son, but the child, alarmed at sight of his father, shrank back with a cry on his fair nurse’s breast, fearing the helmet’s bronze and the horsehair crest nodding darkly at him. His father and mother smiled, and glorious Hector doffed the shining helmet at once and laid it on the ground. Then he kissed his beloved son, dandled him in his arms, and prayed aloud: ‘Zeus, and all you gods, grant that this boy like me may be foremost among the Trojans, as mighty in strength, and a powerful leader of Ilium. And some day may they say of him, as he returns from war, “He’s a better man than his father”, and may he bear home the blood-stained armour of those he has slain, so his mother’s heart may rejoice.’
With this he placed the child in his dear wife’s arms, and she took him to her fragrant breast, smiling through her tears. Her husband was touched with pity at this, and stroked her with his hand, saying: ‘Andromache, dear wife, don’t grieve for me too deeply yet. None will send me to Hades before my time: though no man, noble or humble, once born can escape his fate. Go home, and attend to your tasks, the loom and spindle, and see the maids work hard. War is a man’s concern, the business of every man in Ilium, and mine above all.’
BkIX:162-221 The embassy to Achilles
Nestor, the Gerenian horseman, replied: ‘Agamemnon, king of men, most glorious son of Atreus: the gifts you offer prince Achilles are fine indeed. Let us send a swift deputation now to his hut. Let those I choose, be ready. Phoenix, beloved of Zeus, shall take the lead, followed by mighty Ajax and noble Odysseus: the heralds Odius and Eurybates shall go with them. But first bring water for our hands and call for holy silence, so we may pray to Zeus, the son of Cronos, and beseech his pity.’
All there were satisfied with his words. Heralds came to pour water over their hands, while squires, tipping the first few drops into each cup for libation, filled brimming bowls of wine for them all. When they had poured libations and sated their thirst, the envoys left Agamemnon’s hut, Gerenian Nestor gazing at each, though at Odysseus mainly, while issuing copious instructions on how to sway Peleus’ peerless son.
So Ajax and Odysseus walked beside the echoing sea, with many a heartfelt prayer to the god, who surrounds the land and shakes it, that softening the proud heart of Aeacus’ grandson might prove an easy task. And reaching the Myrmidons’ huts and ships, they found him delighting in the clear-toned lyre, playing a finely ornamented instrument bridged with silver, part of the spoils when he razed Eetion’s city. He was singing with joy of the deeds of mighty warriors, while Patroclus, seated opposite, heard his song through in silence. The two envoys arrived, Odysseus leading, and Achilles leapt to his feet in surprise, lyre in hand, while Patroclus too quitted his seat when he saw them. Achilles greeted them, saying: ‘Welcome, dear friends indeed – your coming here speaks of some great need – angry I may be, but you two Greeks I love more than most.’
With this, noble Achilles led them to his hut and seated them on chairs with purple coverings, then turned to Patroclus, saying: ‘Bring a larger bowl, son of Menoetius, mix a stronger drink, and give them both wine, these men I love dearly, who are here now under my roof.’
Patroclus hastened to obey his dear comrade. He set out a great wooden board in the firelight, laying out a sheep’s carcass and a goat’s, and the chine of a great hog, rich with fat. Automedon held them, while Achilles jointed them, then cut and spitted the joints. Meanwhile godlike Patroclus stoked the fire. When it burnt down, and the flames retreated, he raked the embers, and set the spits above them resting on andirons, after sprinkling the meat with sacred salt. When it was roasted, he heaped it on platters, Patroclus bringing bread set it out on the table in fine baskets, while Achilles served each portion. Then he took a seat by the wall, opposite godlike Odysseus, and asked Patroclus, his friend, to sacrifice to the gods. Then, when burnt offerings had been thrown into the fire, they helped themselves to the good things set before them.
Bk IX:222-306 The offer to Achilles
When they were sated, Ajax let Phoenix know, and noble Odysseus seeing his nod, filled his cup with wine and drank to Achilles: ‘Your health, Achilles, there’s plenty of good food for us here to warm our hearts, as much as in Agamemnon’s hut. But feasting is not what occupies us, ward of Zeus, since we foresee sorrow and feel great fear. I doubt we can save the benched ships from destruction, unless you arm yourself with your great valour. The brave Trojans and their famed allies are bivouacked close to the ships and wall, around their many fires, and say they are strong enough to swoop on our black ships. And Zeus, Son of Cronos, shows them good omens, with lightning on the right, while Hector exulting in his strength, and filled with frenzy, fears neither man nor god, but trusts in that same Zeus, and rages wildly. He prays for the swift coming of bright dawn, so he can hew the ships’ ensigns from their tall sterns, and consume their hulls with fire, smoking us out, and slaughtering all the Greeks beside them. My mind is full of fear, lest the gods fulfil his threat, and we are fated to die at Troy far from the horse-pastures of Argos.
But up, if you will, even now, and save the sons of Achaea, whose strength the Trojan war-noise saps. Or regret it ever after, since harm once done can never be retrieved. Before too late, think how to ward this evil from the Greeks. Good friend, did not Peleus, your father, warn you, on the day he sent you from Phthia to join Agamemnon: “Athene and Hera will empower you, my son, if they so wish. You, set a curb on your proud spirit, a gentle heart is best; avoid the quarrels that sow mischief, and the Greeks both young and old will honour you the more.” Did he not say those words that you forget? Even now it is not too late to quell this bitter anger. Should you relent Agamemnon offers you noble gifts. Listen and I will say what Agamemnon promises: seven tripods, unmarked by the flames; ten talents of gold; twenty gleaming cauldrons, and twelve strong horses, prize-winners for their speed. A man with the wealth they have won for him would not lack gold and riches. And he will give seven women, skilled in fine needle-craft, whom he chose as spoil for their surpassing beauty, on the day when Achilles took Lesbos. And one shall be her whom he took from you, that daughter of Briseus. He shall give you his solemn oath that he never took her to bed, never slept with her, as men are wont, great prince, to do with women. All these things shall straight away be yours; and if the gods grant we sack this great city of Priam, enter when we Greeks divide the spoils, and load your ship with gold and bronze, and pick the twenty loveliest women after Argive Helen. And if we return to Achaean Argos, finest of lands, you shall be a son to him, and he’ll honour you like his dear son Orestes, who is reared there among its riches. Three daughters he has too, in his noble palace, Chrysothemis, Laodice, and Iphianassa. You shall lead whichever you wish to Peleus’ house, without bride-price, and he will add a dowry, greater than any man yet gave with a daughter. Seven well-populated cities you shall have; Cardamyle, Enope, and grassy Hire; holy Pherae and Antheia with its deep meadows; lovely Aepeia, and vine-rich Pedasus. They are all near the sea, on his far border with sandy Pylos, and the men there own great flocks and herds. They will honour you with gifts like a god, acknowledging your sceptre, and will ensure your plans prosper.
He will do all this for you, if you lay aside your anger. But if your hatred of him and his gifts is too great, yet take pity at least on the army of weary Greeks, who will honour you like a god, for the great glory you must surely win in their eyes. You could kill Hector now, as he came upon you in his wild rage: he claims there is none like him among we Danaans who sailed here.’
BkIX:307-429 Achilles’ answer
Then fleet-footed Achilles gave his answer: ‘Odysseus of the nimble wits, royal son of Laertes, I will tell you straight out how I feel, and how things must be, to save you sitting there beside me, dealing in endless talk. Hateful as Hades’ Gate, to me, is the man who thinks one thing and says another. So here is my decision. Neither Agamemnon nor any other Greek will change my mind, for it seems there is no gratitude for ceaseless battle with our enemies. He who fights his best and he who stays away earn the same reward, the coward and the brave man win like honour, death comes alike to the idler and to him who toils. No profit to me from my sufferings, endlessly risking my life in war. I am like the bird that brings every morsel she finds to her unfledged chicks, and goes hungry herself. I watched through many a sleepless night, and fought through many a blood-stained day, battling warriors for the sake of their women. Twelve island cities I captured by sea, and eleven throughout Troy’s fertile land, and took much fine treasure from each. All I gave to this Agamemnon, son of Atreus. He stayed behind by his swift ships, yet kept the lion’s share and gave out some tiny portion. What he gave as prizes to princes and generals they hold still, yet he takes mine from me alone of all the Greeks, he steals my woman, my heart’s darling. He can lie by her side and take his pleasure. Yet why do the Argives war with Troy? Why did Atreides gather an army and bring it here? Was it not because of fair-haired Helen? Are the sons of Atreus the only men on earth who love their women? Every sane and decent man loves his own and cherishes her, as I loved her with all my heart, though but a captive of my spear. Since he stole the prize from my hands, and cheats me, let him not try to win me now with his offers; he’ll not sway me, I know him too well.
Let him look to you, Odysseus, and the rest, if he wants to save the fleet from a fiery death. In my absence I see he has done much, built a wall and dug a fine broad stake-filled trench, yet still he can’t keep out man-killing Hector. As long as I fought with the Achaeans, Hector stayed close to the wall, not far from the Scaean Gate and the oak tree. He waited to fight me there in single combat, and barely escaped alive. But now, I do not wish to do battle with noble Hector. Tomorrow I sacrifice to Zeus and the other gods, then load and launch my ships. At break of dawn, if it interests you, you will see my fleet sail the teeming Hellespont, my crews straining at the oars. Then if the mighty Earth-shaker grants me a fair voyage, in three days I will reach Phthia’s deep soil. I left great wealth behind on this ill-starred voyage, I will take back even more, gold, and red bronze, grey iron and fair women, all that was mine by lot, all except my prize that Agamemnon, son of Atreus, stole in his arrogance.
Tell him openly all that I say, so the rest can take umbrage when he tries to cheat some other Greek, shameless as he is. Yet not shameless enough to look me in the face! I shall neither help by my advice or effort, so utterly has he cheated me and wronged me. He will not fool me with his words again, So much for him. Let him go swiftly to perdition, since Zeus the counsellor robs him of his wits.
As for his gifts they are hateful in my eyes, and not worth a hair. Even if he gave ten or twenty times what he has, and raised levies elsewhere, though it were all the wealth that flows to Orchomenus, or Egyptian Thebes, where the very houses are filled with treasure, and two hundred warriors with horse and chariot sally out from its hundred gates, not if he gave me as many gifts as the grains of sand or motes of dust, could he persuade me. First he must pay me fully in kind for this shame that stings my heart.
BkXXII:188-246 Athene incites Hector to fight
Meanwhile Achilles chased Hector relentlessly, and he could no more escape than a fawn, that a hound starts from a mountain covert. Chased through glade and valley it may cower for a while in some thicket, but the dog tracks it down, running strongly till he gains his quarry. So Achilles chased Hector. Every time Hector made a break for the Dardanian Gate hoping to gain the shelter of the solid walls, where the defenders might protect him with their missiles, Achilles would head him off towards the plain, himself keeping the inner track by the walls. Yet, as in a dream where our pursuer cannot catch us nor we escape, Achilles could not overtake Hector, nor could Hector shake him off. Still, could Hector have eluded fate so long, had not Apollo, for the last and final time, come to strengthen him and speed him, and had not Achilles signalled to his men not to loose their deadly missiles at the man, lest he himself might be cheated of the glory? Yet when they reached The Springs for the fourth time, the Father raised his golden scales, and set the deaths of Achilles and horse-taming Hector in the balance, and lifted it on high. Down sank Hector’s lot towards Hades, and Phoebus Apollo left his side, while bright-eyed Athene came to Achilles and standing close, spoke winged words: ‘Glorious Achilles, beloved of Zeus, now you and I will kill Hector, and bring the Greeks great glory. Warlike he may be, but he’ll not escape us, even if Apollo, the Far-Striker, grovels before aegis-bearing Father Zeus. Stop now and catch your breath. I will go and incite him to fight you face to face.’
He, delighted, at once obeyed her words, halted and stood there leaning on his bronze-tipped ash spear, while she appeared to noble Hector in the form of Deiphobus, that tireless speaker: ‘Dear brother, swift Achilles pressed you hard there, chasing you round the city at a pace, but here let us make a stand together, and defend ourselves.’
Great Hector of the gleaming helm, replied: ‘Deiphobus, of all my brothers born to Hecabe and Priam, you are by far the dearest, and now I’ll honour you in my mind even more, since you, while the others stay within and watch, have come to find me outside the wall.’
‘Dear brother,’ said bright-eyed Athene, in disguise, ‘our parents and friends in turn begged me not to come here, so terrified are they of Achilles, but I was tormented by anxiety. Let’s attack him head on, not spare our spears, and find out if he’ll kill us and carry our blood-stained armour to the hollow ships, or be conquered by our blades.’
BkXXII:247-366 The death of Hector
Athene deceived Hector with her words and her disguise, and led him on till he and Achilles met. Hector of the gleaming helm spoke first: ‘I will not run from you, as before, son of Peleus. My heart failed me as I waited for your attack, and three times round Priam’s city we ran, but now my heart tells me to stand and face you, to kill or be killed. Come let us swear an oath before the gods, for they are the best witnesses of such things. If Zeus lets me kill you and survive, then when I’ve stripped you of your glorious armour I’ll not mistreat your corpse, I’ll return your body to your people, if you will do the same for me.’
Swift-footed Achilles glared at him in reply: ‘Curse you, Hector, and don’t talk of oaths to me. Lions and men make no compacts, nor are wolves and lambs in sympathy: they are opposed, to the end. You and I are beyond friendship: nor will there be peace between us till one or the other dies and sates Ares, lord of the ox-hide shield, with his blood. Summon up your reserves of courage, be a spearman now and a warrior brave. There is no escape from me, and soon Athene will bring you down with my spear. Now pay the price for all my grief, for all my friends you’ve slaughtered with your blade.’
So saying he raised his long-shadowed spear and hurled it. But glorious Hector kept an eye on it and, crouching, dodged so the shaft flew above him, and the point buried itself in the ground behind. Yet Pallas Athene snatched it up and returned it to Achilles, too swiftly for Prince Hector to see. And Hector spoke to Peleus’ peerless son: ‘It seems you missed, godlike Achilles, despite your certainty that Zeus has doomed me. It was mere glibness of speech, mere verbal cunning, trying to unnerve me with fright, to make me lose strength and courage. You’ll get no chance to pierce my back as I flee, so, if the gods allow you, drive it through my chest as I attack, dodge my bronze spear if you can. I pray it lodges deep in your flesh! If you were dead, our greatest bane, war would be easy for us Trojans.’
So saying, he raised and hurled his long-shadowed spear, striking Achilles’ shield square on, though the spear simply rebounded. Hector was angered by his vain attempt with the swift shaft, and stood there in dismay, lacking a second missile. He called aloud to Deiphobus of the White Shield, calling for his long spear, but he was nowhere to be found, and Hector realised the deceit: ‘Ah, so the gods have lured me to my death. I thought Deiphobus was by my side, but he is still in the city, Athene fooled me. An evil fate’s upon me, Death is no longer far away, and him there is no escaping. Zeus, and his son, the Far-Striker, decided all this long ago, they who were once eager to defend me, and destiny now overtakes me. But let me not die without a fight, without true glory, without some deed that men unborn may hear.’
With this, he drew the sharp blade at his side, a powerful long-sword, and gathering his limbs together swooped like a high-soaring eagle that falls to earth from the dark clouds to seize a sick lamb or a cowering hare. So Hector swooped, brandishing his keen blade. Achilles ran to meet him heart filled with savage power, covering his chest with his great, skilfully worked shield, while above his gleaming helm with its four ridges waved the golden plumes Hephaestus placed thickly at its crest. Bright as the Evening Star that floats among the midnight constellations, set there the loveliest jewel in the sky, gleamed the tip of Achilles sharp spear brandished in his right hand, as he sought to work evil on noble Hector, searching for the likeliest place to land a blow on his fair flesh.
Now, the fine bronze armour he stripped from mighty Patroclus when he killed him covered all Hector’s flesh except for one opening at the throat, where the collarbones knit neck and shoulders, and violent death may come most swiftly. There, as Hector charged at him, noble Achilles aimed his ash spear, and drove its heavy bronze blade clean through the tender neck, though without cutting the windpipe or robbing Hector of the power of speech. Hector fell in the dust and Achilles shouted out in triumph: ‘While you were despoiling Patroclus, no doubt, in your folly, you thought yourself quite safe, Hector, and forgot all about me in my absence. Far from him, by the hollow ships, was a mightier man, who should have been his helper but stayed behind, and that was I, who now have brought you low. The dogs and carrion birds will tear apart your flesh, but him the Achaeans will bury.’
Then Hector of the gleaming helm replied, in a feeble voice: ‘At your feet I beg, by your parents, by your own life, don’t let the dogs devour my flesh by the hollow ships. Accept the ransom my royal father and mother will offer, stores of gold and bronze, and let them carry my body home, so the Trojans and their wives may grant me in death my portion of fire.’
But fleet-footed Achilles glared at him in answer: ‘Don’t speak of my parents, dog. I wish the fury and the pain in me could drive me to carve and eat you raw for what you did, as surely as this is true: no living man will keep the dogs from gnawing at your skull, not if men weighed out twenty, thirty times your worth in ransom, and promised even more, not though Dardanian Priam bid them give your weight in gold, not even then will your royal mother lay you on a bier to grieve for you, the son she bore, rather shall dogs, and carrion birds, devour you utterly.’
Then Hector of the gleaming helm spoke at the point of death: ‘I know you truly now, and see your fate, nor was it mine to sway you. The heart in your breast is iron indeed. But think, lest the gods, remembering me, turn their wrath on you, that day by the Scaean Gate when, brave as you are, Paris kills you, with Apollo’s help.’
Death enfolded him, as he uttered these words, and, wailing its lot, his spirit fled from the body down to Hades, leaving youth and manhood behind. A corpse it was that noble Achilles addressed: ‘Lie there then in death, and I will face my own, whenever Zeus and the other deathless gods decide.’
BkXXII:367-404 Achilles drags Hector’s corpse in the dust
With this, Achilles drew his bronze-tipped spear from the corpse and laid it down, and as he began to strip the blood-stained armour from Hector’s shoulders he was joined by others of the Greeks, who ran to gaze at Hector’s size and wondrous form. Yet all who approached struck the body a blow, and turning to a comrade, one said: ‘See, Hector’s easier to deal with now than when he set the ships ablaze.’ With that, he wounded the corpse.
When noble Achilles, the great runner, had stripped away the armour, he rose and made a speech to the Achaeans: ‘Friends, leaders, princes of the Argives, now the gods have let us kill this man, who harmed us more than all the rest together, let us make an armed reconnaissance of the city, while we see what the Trojans have in mind, whether they’ll abandon the city now their champion has fallen, or whether they’ll fight on, though Hector is no more. But why think of that? There is another corpse, unwept, unburied lying by the ships, that of Patroclus, my dear friend, whom I shall not forget as long as I walk the earth among the living. And though in the House of Hades men may forget their dead, even there I shall remember him. So, you sons of Achaea, raise the song of triumph, and drag this corpse back to the ships. We have won great glory, and killed the noble Hector, whom the Trojans prayed to like a god, in Troy.’
So saying, he found a way to defile the fallen prince. He pierced the tendons of both feet behind from heel to ankle, and through them threaded ox-hide thongs, tying them to his chariot, leaving the corpse’s head to trail along the ground. Then lifting the glorious armour aboard, he mounted and touched the horses with his whip, and they eagerly leapt forward. Dragged behind, Hector’s corpse raised a cloud of dust, while his outspread hair flowed, black, on either side. That head, once so fine, trailed in the dirt, now Zeus allowed his enemies to mutilate his corpse on his own native soil.
BkIX:105-151 Odysseus tells his tale: The Land of the Cyclopes
‘From there we sailed with heavy hearts, and came to the land of the Cyclopes, a lawless, aggressive people, who never lift their hands to plant or plough, but rely on the immortal gods. Wheat, barley, and vines with their richly clustered grapes, grow there without ploughing or sowing, and rain from Zeus makes them flourish. The Cyclopes have no council meetings, no code of law, but live in echoing caves on the mountain slopes, and each man lays down the law to his wives and children, and disregards his neighbours.
A fertile island lies slantwise outside the Cyclopes’ harbour, well wooded and neither close to nor far from shore. Countless wild goats inhabit it, since there is nothing to stop them, no hunters to suffer the hardship of beating a path through its woods, or to roam its mountaintops. There are no flocks, and no ploughed fields: but always unsown, and untilled it is free of mankind and nurtures only bleating goats. The Cyclopes have no vessels with crimson-painted prows, no shipwrights to build sound boats with oars, to meet their need and let them travel to other men’s cities, as other races visit each other over the sea in ships, no craftsmen that is who might also have turned it into a fine colony. For this island is by no means poor, but would carry any crop in due season. There are rich well-watered meadows there, along the shore of the grey sea, where vines would never fail. There is level land for the plough with soil so rich they could reap a dense harvest in season. And there’s a safe harbour where there’s no need for moorings, neither anchor stones nor hawsers: you can beach your ship and wait till the wind is fair and the spirit moves you to sail.
Now, at the head of the harbour a stream of bright water flows out from a cave ringed by poplars. We entered, and some god must have guided us through the murky night, since it was too dark to see, a mist shrouded the ships, and the moon covered with cloud gave not a gleam of light. No one could see the land, or the long breakers striking the beach, until we had run our oared ships aground. Once they were beached we lowered sail and went on shore, then we lay down where we were to sleep, and waited for the light of dawn.’
BkIX:152-192 Odysseus tells his tale: The Cyclops’ Cave
‘As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, we explored the island, marvelling at what we saw. The Nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, disturbed the mountain goats, driving them towards my hungry comrades. Quickly we brought our curved bows and long spears from the ships, and splitting three ways began to hunt them, and the god soon gave us a fine enough kill. Nine goats were given to each of the twelve ships in my command, and there were ten left for me.
So all day long till the sun set we sat and feasted on copious meat and mellow wine, since each of the crews had drawn off a large supply in jars when we took the Cicones’ sacred citadel, and some of the red was left. Looking across to the land of the neighbouring Cyclopes, we could see smoke and hear their voices, and the sound of their sheep and goats. Sun set and darkness fell, and we settled to our rest on the shore.
As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, I gathered my men together, saying: “The rest of you loyal friends stay here, while I and my crew take ship and try and find out who these men are, whether they are cruel, savage and lawless, or good to strangers, and in their hearts fear the gods.”
With this I went aboard and ordered my crew to follow and loose the cables. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars. When we had reached the nearby shore, we saw a deep cave overhung with laurels at the cliff’s edge close to the sea. Large herds of sheep and goats were penned there at night, and round it was a raised yard walled by deep-set stones, tall pines and high-crowned oaks. There a giant spent the night, one that grazed his herds far off, alone, and keeping clear of others, lived in lawless solitude. He was born a monster and a wonder, not like any ordinary human, but like some wooded peak of the high mountains, that stands there isolated to our gaze.’
BkIX:193-255 Odysseus tells his tale: Polyphemus returns
‘Then I ordered the rest of my loyal friends to stay there and guard the ship, while I selected the twelve best men and went forward. I took with me a goatskin filled with dark sweet wine that Maron, son of Euanthes, priest of Apollo guardian god of Ismarus, had given me, because out of respect we protected him, his wife and child. He offered me splendid gifts, seven talents of well-wrought gold, and a silver mixing-bowl: and wine, twelve jars in all, sweet unmixed wine, a divine draught. None of his serving-men and maids knew of this store, only he and his loyal wife, and one housekeeper. When they drank that honeyed red wine, he would pour a full cup into twenty of water, and the bouquet that rose from the mixing bowl was wonderfully sweet: in truth no one could hold back. I filled a large goatskin with the wine, and took it along, with some food in a bag, since my instincts told me the giant would come at us quickly, a savage being with huge strength, knowing nothing of right or law.
Soon we came to the cave, and found him absent, he was grazing his well-fed flocks in the fields. So we went inside and marvelled at its contents. There were baskets full of cheeses, and pens crowded with lambs and kids, each flock with its firstlings, later ones, and newborn separated. The pails and bowls for milking, all solidly made, were swimming with whey. At first my men begged me to take some cheeses and go, then to drive the lambs and kids from the pens down to the swift ship and set sail. But I would not listen, though it would have been best, wishing to see the giant himself, and test his hospitality. When he did appear he proved no joy to my men.
So we lit a fire and made an offering, and helped ourselves to the cheese, and sat in the cave eating, waiting for him to return, shepherding his flocks. He arrived bearing a huge weight of dry wood to burn at suppertime, and he flung it down inside the cave with a crash. Gripped by terror we shrank back into a deep corner. He drove his well-fed flocks into the wide cave, the ones he milked, leaving the rams and he-goats outside in the broad courtyard. Then he lifted his door, a huge stone, and set it in place. Twenty-two four-wheeled wagons could not have carried it, yet such was the great rocky mass he used for a door. Then he sat and milked the ewes, and bleating goats in order, putting her young to each. Next he curdled half of the white milk, and stored the whey in wicker baskets, leaving the rest in pails for him to drink for his supper. When he had busied himself at his tasks, and kindled a fire, he suddenly saw us, and said: “Strangers, who are you? Where do you sail from over the sea-roads? Are you on business, or do you roam at random, like pirates who chance their lives to bring evil to others?”’
BkIX:256-306 Odysseus tells his tale: Trapped
‘Our spirits fell at his words, in terror at his loud voice and monstrous size. Nevertheless I answered him, saying; “We are Achaeans, returning from Troy, driven over the ocean depths by every wind that blows. Heading for home we were forced to take another route, a different course, as Zeus, I suppose, intended. We are followers of Agamemnon, Atreus’ son, whose fame spreads widest on earth, so great was that city he sacked and host he slew. But we, for our part, come as suppliant to your knees, hoping for hospitality, and the kindness that is due to strangers. Good sir, do not refuse us: respect the gods. We are suppliants and Zeus protects visitors and suppliants, Zeus the god of guests, who follows the steps of sacred travellers.”
His answer was devoid of pity. “Stranger, you are a foreigner or a fool, telling me to fear and revere the gods, since the Cyclopes care nothing for aegis-bearing Zeus: we are greater than they. I would spare neither you nor your friends, to evade Zeus’ anger, but only as my own heart prompted.
But tell me, now, where you moored your fine ship, when you landed. Was it somewhere nearby, or further off? I’d like to know.”
His words were designed to fool me, but failed. I was too wise for that, and answered him with cunning words: “Poseidon, Earth-Shaker, smashed my ship to pieces, wrecking her on the rocks that edge your island, driving her close to the headland so the wind threw her onshore. But I and my men here escaped destruction.”
Devoid of pity, he was silent in response, but leaping up laid hands on my crew. Two he seized and dashed to the ground like whelps, and their brains ran out and stained the earth. He tore them limb from limb for his supper, eating the flesh and entrails, bone and marrow, like a mountain lion, leaving nothing. Helplessly we watched these cruel acts, raising our hands to heaven and weeping. When the Cyclops had filled his huge stomach with human flesh, and had drunk pure milk, he lay down in the cave, stretched out among his flocks. Then I formed a courageous plan to steal up to him, draw my sharp sword, and feeling for the place where the midriff supports the liver, stab him there. But the next thought checked me. Trapped in the cave we would certainly die, since we’d have no way to move the great stone from the wide entrance. So, sighing, we waited for bright day.’
BkIX:307-359 Odysseus tells his tale: Offering the Cyclops wine
‘As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, Cyclops relit the fire. Then he milked the ewes, and bleating goats in order, putting her young to each. When he had busied himself at his tasks, he again seized two of my men and began to eat them. When he had finished he drove his well-fed flocks from the cave, effortlessly lifting the huge door stone, and replacing it again like the cap on a quiver. Then whistling loudly he turned his flocks out on to the mountain slopes, leaving me with murder in my heart searching for a way to take vengeance on him, if Athene would grant me inspiration. The best plan seemed to be this:
The Cyclops’ huge club, a trunk of green olive wood he had cut to take with him as soon as it was seasoned, lay next to a sheep pen. It was so large and thick that it looked to us like the mast of a twenty-oared black ship, a broad-beamed merchant vessel that sails the deep ocean. Approaching it, I cut off a six-foot length, gave it to my men and told them to smooth the wood. Then standing by it I sharpened the end to a point, and hardened the point in the blazing fire, after which I hid it carefully in a one of the heaps of dung that lay around the cave. I ordered the men to cast lots as to which of them should dare to help me raise the stake and twist it into the Cyclops’ eye when sweet sleep took him. The lot fell on the very ones I would have chosen, four of them, with myself making a fifth.
He returned at evening, shepherding his well-fed flocks. He herded them swiftly, every one, into the deep cave, leaving none in the broad yard, commanded to do so by a god, or because of some premonition. Then he lifted the huge door stone and set it in place, and sat down to milk the ewes and bleating goats in order, putting her young to each. But when he had busied himself at his tasks, he again seized two of my men and began to eat them. That was when I went up to him, holding an ivy-wood bowl full of dark wine, and said: “Here, Cyclops, have some wine to follow your meal of human flesh, so you can taste the sort of drink we carried in our ship. I was bringing the drink to you as a gift, hoping you might pity me and help me on my homeward path: but your savagery is past bearing. Cruel man, why would anyone on earth ever visit you again, when you behave so badly?”
At this, he took the cup and drained it, and found the sweet drink so delightful he asked for another draught: “Give me more, freely, then quickly tell me your name so I may give you a guest gift, one that will please you. Among us Cyclopes the fertile earth produces rich grape clusters, and Zeus’ rain swells them: but this is a taste from a stream of ambrosia and nectar.”’
BkIX:360-412 Odysseus tells his tale: Blinding the Cyclops
‘As he finished speaking I handed him the bright wine. Three times I poured and gave it to him, and three times, foolishly, he drained it. When the wine had fuddled his wits I tried him with subtle words: “Cyclops, you asked my name, and I will tell it: give me afterwards a guest gift as you promised. My name is Nobody. Nobody, my father, mother, and friends call me.”
Those were my words, and this his cruel answer: “Then, my gift is this. I will eat Nobody last of all his company, and all the others before him”.
As he spoke, he reeled and toppled over on his back, his thick neck twisted to one side, and all-conquering sleep overpowered him. In his drunken slumber he vomited wine and pieces of human flesh. Then I thrust the stake into the depth of the ashes to heat it, and inspired my men with encouraging words, so none would hang back from fear. When the olivewood stake was glowing hot, and ready to catch fire despite its greenness, I drew it from the coals, then my men stood round me, and a god breathed courage into us. They held the sharpened olivewood stake, and thrust it into his eye, while I threw my weight on the end, and twisted it round and round, as a man bores the timbers of a ship with a drill that others twirl lower down with a strap held at both ends, and so keep the drill continuously moving. We took the red-hot stake and twisted it round and round like that in his eye, and the blood poured out despite the heat. His lids and brows were scorched by flame from the burning eyeball, and its roots crackled with fire. As a great axe or adze causes a vast hissing when the smith dips it in cool water to temper it, strengthening the iron, so his eye hissed against the olivewood stake. Then he screamed, terribly, and the rock echoed. Seized by terror we shrank back, as he wrenched the stake, wet with blood, from his eye. He flung it away in frenzy, and called to the Cyclopes, his neighbours who lived in caves on the windy heights. They heard his cry, and crowding in from every side they stood by the cave mouth and asked what was wrong: “Polyphemus, what terrible pain is this that makes you call through deathless night, and wake us? Is a mortal stealing your flocks, or trying to kill you by violence or treachery?”
Out of the cave came mighty Polyphemus’ voice: “Nobody, my friends, is trying to kill me by violence or treachery.”
To this they replied with winged words: “If you are alone, and nobody does you violence, it’s an inescapable sickness that comes from Zeus (Links to an external site.): pray to the Lord Poseidon (Links to an external site.), our father.”
BkIX:413-479 Odysseus tells his tale: Escape
‘Off they went, while I laughed to myself at how the name and the clever scheme had deceived him. Meanwhile the Cyclops, groaning and in pain, groped around and laboured to lift the stone from the door. Then he sat in the entrance, arms outstretched, to catch anyone stealing past among his sheep. That was how foolish he must have thought I was. I considered the best way of escaping, and saving myself, and my men from death. I dreamed up all sorts of tricks and schemes, as a man will in a life or death matter: it was an evil situation. This was the plan that seemed best. The rams were fat with thick fleeces, fine large beasts with deep black wool. These I silently tied together in threes, with twists of willow on which that lawless monster, Polyphemus, slept. The middle one was to carry one of my men, with the other two on either side to protect him. So there was a man to every three sheep. As for me I took the pick of the flock, and curled below his shaggy belly, gripped his back and lay there face upwards, patiently gripping his fine fleece tight in my hands. Then, sighing, we waited for the light.
As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, the males rushed out to graze, while the un-milked females udders bursting bleated in the pens. Their master, tormented by agonies of pain, felt the backs of the sheep as they passed him, but foolishly failed to see my men tied under the rams’ bellies. My ram went last, burdened by the weight of his fleece, and me and my teeming thoughts. And as he felt its back, mighty Polyphemus spoke to him:
“My fine ram, why leave the cave like this last of the flock? You have never lagged behind before, always the first to step out proudly and graze on the tender grass shoots, always first to reach the flowing river, and first to show your wish to return at evening to the fold. Today you are last of all. You must surely be grieving over your master’s eye, blinded by an evil man and his wicked friends, when my wits were fuddled with wine: Nobody, I say, has not yet escaped death. If you only had senses like me, and the power of speech to tell me where he hides himself from my anger, then I’d strike him down, his brains would be sprinkled all over the floor of the cave, and my heart would be eased of the pain that nothing, Nobody, has brought me.”
With this he drove the ram away from him out of doors, and I loosed myself when the ram was a little way from the cave, then untied my men. Swiftly, keeping an eye behind us, we shepherded those long-limbed sheep, rich and fat, down to the ship. And a welcome sight, indeed, to our dear friends were we, escapees from death, though they wept and sighed for the others we lost. I would not let them weep though, but stopped them all with a nod and a frown. I told them to haul the host of fine-fleeced sheep on board and put to sea. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars. When we were almost out of earshot, I shouted to the Cyclops, mocking him: “It seems he was not such a weakling, then, Cyclops, that man whose friends you meant to tear apart and eat in your echoing cave. Stubborn brute not shrinking from murdering your guests in your own house, your evil deeds were bound for sure to fall on your own head. Zeus and the other gods have had their revenge on you.”’
BkXI:150-224 Odysseus tells his tale: The Spirit of Anticleia
‘With this the ghost of Lord Teiresias, its prophecy complete, drew back to the House of Hades. But I remained, undaunted, till my mother approached and drank the black blood. Then she knew me, and in sorrow spoke to me with winged words: “My son, how do you come, living, to the gloomy dark? It is difficult for those alive to find these realms, since there are great rivers and dreadful waters between us: not least Ocean that no man can cross except in a well-made ship. Do you only now come from Troy, after long wandering with your ship and crew? Have you not been to Ithaca yet, not seen your wife and home?”
To this I replied: “Mother, necessity brought me to Hades’ House, to hear the ghost of Theban Teiresias, and his prophecy. No, I have not yet neared Achaea’s shores, not set foot in my own country, but have wandered constantly, burdened with trouble, from the day I left for Ilium, the city famous for horses, with noble Agamemnon, to fight the Trojans. But tell me now, in truth, what pitiless fate overtook you? Was it a wasting disease, or did Artemis of the Bow attack you with her gentle arrows, and kill you? And what of my father and son I left behind? Does my realm still rest with them, or has some other man possessed it, saying I will no longer return? And tell me of my wife, her thoughts and intentions. Is she still with her son, and all safe? Or has whoever is best among the Achaeans wedded her?”
So I spoke, and my revered mother swiftly replied: “Truly, that loyal heart still lives in your palace, and in weeping the days and night pass sadly for her. No man has taken your noble realm, as yet, and Telemachus holds the land unchallenged, feasting at the banquets of his peers, at least those it is fitting for a maker of laws to share, since all men invite him. But your father lives alone in the fields, not travelling to the city, and owns no bed with bright rugs and cloaks for bedding, but sleeps where serfs sleep, in the ashes by the hearth all winter through, and wears only simple clothes. When summer comes and mellow autumn, then you will find his humble beds of fallen leaves, scattered here and there on the vineyard’s slopes. There he lies, burdened with age, grieving, nursing great sadness in his heart, longing for your return. So too fate brought me to the grave. It was not the clear-sighted Goddess of the Bow who slew me in the palace with gentle arrows, nor did I die of some disease, one of those that often steals the body’s strength, and wastes us wretchedly. No, what robbed me of my life and its honeyed sweetness was yearning for you, my glorious Odysseus, for your kindness and your counsels.”
So she spoke, and I wondered how I might embrace my dead mother’s ghost. Three times my will urged me to clasp her, and I started towards her, three times she escaped my arms like a shadow or a dream. And the pain seemed deeper in my heart. Then I spoke to her with winged words: “Mother, since I wish it why do you not let me embrace you, so that even in Hades’ House we might clasp our arms around each other and sate ourselves with chill lament? Are you a mere phantom royal Persephone has sent, to make me groan and grieve the more?
My revered mother replied quickly: “Oh, my child, most unfortunate of men, Persephone, Zeus’ daughter, does not deceive you: this is the way it is with mortals after death. The sinews no longer bind flesh and bone, the fierce heat of the blazing pyre consumes them, and the spirit flees from our white bones, a ghost that flutters and goes like a dream. Hasten to the light, with all speed: remember these things, to speak to your wife of them.”’