Book XI

The visit to the dead.

THEN, WHEN WE had got down to the sea shore we drew our ship into the water and got her mast and sails into her; we also put the sheep on board and took our places, weeping and in great distress of mind. Circe, that great and cunning goddess, sent us a fair wind that blew dead aft and staid steadily with us keeping our sails all the time well filled; so we did whatever wanted doing to the ship's gear and let her go as the wind and helmsman headed her. All day long her sails were full as she held her course over the sea, but when the sun went down and darkness was over all the earth, we got into the deep waters of the river Oceanus, where lie the land and city of the Cimmerians who live enshrouded in mist and darkness which the rays of the sun never pierce neither at his rising nor as he goes down again out of the heavens, but the poor wretches live in one long melancholy night. When we got there we beached the ship, took the sheep out of her, and went along by the waters of Oceanus till we came to the place of which Circe had told us.

“Here Perimedes and Eurylochus held the victims, while I drew my sword and dug the trench a cubit each way. I made a drink-offering to all the dead, first with honey and milk, then with wine, and thirdly with water, and I sprinkled white barley meal over the whole, praying earnestly to the poor feckless ghosts, and promising them that when I got back to Ithaca I would sacrifice a barren heifer for them, the best I had, and would load the pyre with good things. I also particularly promised that Teiresias should have a black sheep to himself, the best in all my flocks. When I had prayed sufficiently to the dead, I cut the throats of the two sheep and let the blood run into the trench, whereon the ghosts came trooping up from Erebus—brides, young bachelors, old men worn out with toil, maids who had been crossed in love, and brave men who had been killed in battle, with their armor still smirched with blood; they came from every quarter and flitted round the trench with a strange kind of screaming sound that made me turn pale with fear. When I saw them coming I told the men to be quick and flay the carcasses of the two dead sheep and make burnt offerings of them, and at the same time to repeat prayers to Hades and to Persephone; but I sat where I was with my sword drawn and would not let the poor feckless ghosts come near the blood till Teiresias should have answered my questions.

“The first ghost that came was that of my comrade Elpenor, for he had not yet been laid beneath the earth. We had left his body unwept for and unburied in Circe's house, for we had had too much else to do. I was very sorry for him, and cried when I saw him: ‘Elpenor,’ said I, ‘how did you come down here into this gloom and darkness? You have got here on foot quicker than I have with my ship.’

“ ‘Sir,’ he answered with a groan, ‘it was all bad luck, and my own unspeakable drunkenness. I was lying asleep on the top of Circe's house, and never thought of coming down again by the great staircase but fell right off the roof and broke my neck, so my soul came down to the house of Hades. And now I beseech you by all those whom you have left behind you, though they are not here, by your wife, by the father who brought you up when you were a child, and by Telemachus who is the one hope of your house, do what I shall now ask you. I know that when you leave this limbo you will again hold your ship for the Aeaean island. Do not go thence leaving me unmourned and unburied behind you, or I may bring heaven's anger upon you; but burn me with whatever armor I have, build a barrow for me on the sea shore, that may tell people in days to come what a poor unlucky fellow I was, and plant over my grave the oar I used to row with when I was yet alive and with my messmates.’ And I said, ‘My poor fellow, I will do all that you have asked of me.’

“Thus, then, did we sit and hold sad talk with one another, I on the one side of the trench with my sword held over the blood, and the ghost of my comrade saying all this to me from the other side. Then came the ghost of my dead mother Anticlea, daughter to Autolycus. I had left her alive when I set out for Troy and was moved to tears when I saw her, but even so, for all my sorrow I would not let her come near the blood till I had asked my questions of Teiresias.

“Then came also the ghost of Theban Teiresias, with his golden sceptre in his hand. He knew me and said, ‘Odysseus, noble son of Laertes, why, poor man, have you left the light of day and come down to visit the dead in this sad place? Stand back from the trench and withdraw your sword that I may drink of the blood and answer your questions truly.’

“So I drew back, and sheathed my sword, and when he had drank of the blood he began with his prophecy.

“ ‘You want to know,’ said he, 'about your return home, but heaven will make this hard for you. I do not think that you will escape the eye of Poseidon, who still nurses his bitter grudge against you for having blinded his son. Still, after much suffering you may get home if you can restrain yourself and your companions when your ship reaches the Thrinacian island, where you will find the sheep and cattle belonging to the sun, who sees and gives ear to everything. If you leave these flocks unharmed and think of nothing but of getting home, you may yet after much hardship reach Ithaca; but if you harm them, then I forewarn you of the destruction both of your ship and of your men. Even though you may yourself escape, you will return in bad plight after losing all your men, in another man's ship, and you will find trouble in your house, which will be overrun by high-handed people, who are devouring your substance under the pretext of paying court and making presents to your wife.

“ ‘When you get home you will take your revenge on these suitors; and after you have killed them by force or fraud in your own house, you must take a well made oar and carry it on and on, till you come to a country where the people have never heard of the sea and do not even mix salt with their food, nor do they know anything about ships, and oars that are as the wings of a ship. I will give you this certain token which cannot escape your notice. A wayfarer will meet you and will say it must be a winnowing shovel that you have got upon your shoulder; on this you must fix the oar in the ground and sacrifice a ram, a bull, and a boar to Poseidon. Then go home and offer hecatombs to all the gods in heaven one after the other. As for yourself, death shall come to you from the sea, and your life shall ebb away very gently when you are full of years and peace of mind, and your people shall bless you. All that I have said will come true.’

“ ‘This,’ I answered, ‘must be as it may please heaven, but tell me and tell me and tell me true, I see my poor mother's ghost close by us; she is sitting by the blood without saying a word, and though I am her own son she does not remember me and speak to me; tell me, Sir, how I can make her know me.’

“ ‘That,’ said he, ‘I can soon do. Any ghost that you let taste of the blood will talk with you like a reasonable being, but if you do not let them have any blood they will go away again.’

“On this the ghost of Teiresias went back to the house of Hades, for his prophecyings had now been spoken, but I sat still where I was until my mother came up and tasted the blood. Then she knew me at once and spoke fondly to me, saying, ‘My son, how did you come down to this abode of darkness while you are still alive? It is a hard thing for the living to see these places, for between us and them there are great and terrible waters, and there is Oceanus, which no man can cross on foot, but he must have a good ship to take him. Are you all this time trying to find your way home from Troy, and have you never yet got back to Ithaca nor seen your wife in your own house?’

“ ‘Mother,’ said I, ‘I was forced to come here to consult the ghost of the Theban prophet Teiresias. I have never yet been near the Achaean land nor set foot on my native country, and I have had nothing but one long series of misfortunes from the very first day that I set out with Agamemnon for Ilius, the land of noble steeds, to fight the Trojans. But tell me, and tell me true, in what way did you die? Did you have a long illness, or did heaven vouchsafe you a gentle easy passage to eternity? Tell me also about my father, and the son whom I left behind me, is my property still in their hands, or has someone else got hold of it, who thinks that I shall not return to claim it? Tell me again what my wife intends doing, and in what mind she is; does she live with my son and guard my estate securely, or has she made the best match she could and married again?’

“My mother answered, ‘Your wife still remains in your house, but she is in great distress of mind and spends her whole time in tears both night and day. No one as yet has got possession of your fine property, and Telemachus still holds your lands undisturbed. He has to entertain largely, as of course he must, considering his position as a magistrate, and how everyone invites him; your father remains at his old place in the country and never goes near the town. He has no comfortable bed nor bedding; in the winter he sleeps on the floor in front of the fire with the men and goes about all in rags, but in summer, when the warm weather comes on again, he lies out in the vineyard on a bed of vine leaves thrown any how upon the ground. He grieves continually about your never having come home, and suffers more and more as he grows older. As for my own end it was in this wise: heaven did not take me swiftly and painlessly in my own house, nor was I attacked by any illness such as those that generally wear people out and kill them, but my longing to know what you were doing and the force of my affection for you—this it was that was the death of me.’

“Then I tried to find some way of embracing my poor mother's ghost. Thrice I sprang towards her and tried to clasp her in my arms, but each time she flitted from my embrace as it were a dream or phantom, and being touched to the quick I said to her, ‘Mother, why do you not stay still when I would embrace you? If we could throw our arms around one another we might find sad comfort in the sharing of our sorrows even in the house of Hades; does Persephone want to lay a still further load of grief upon me by mocking me with a phantom only?’

“‘My son,’ she answered, ‘most ill-fated of all mankind, it is not Persephone that is beguiling you, but all people are like this when they are dead. The sinews no longer hold the flesh and bones together; these perish in the fierceness of consuming fire as soon as life has left the body, and the soul flits away as though it were a dream. Now, however, go back to the light of day as soon as you can, and note all these things that you may tell them to your wife hereafter.’

“Thus did we converse, and soon Persephone sent up the ghosts of the wives and daughters of all the most famous men. They gathered in crowds about the blood, and I considered how I might question them severally. In the end I deemed that it would be best to draw the keen blade that hung by my sturdy thigh, and keep them from all drinking the blood at once. So they came up one after the other, and each one as I questioned her told me her race and lineage.

“The first I saw was Tyro. She was daughter of Salmoneus and wife of Cretheus the son of Aeolus. She fell in love with the river Enipeus who is much the most beautiful river in the whole world. Once when she was taking a walk by his side as usual, Poseidon, disguised as her lover, lay with her at the mouth of the river, and a huge blue wave arched itself like a mountain over them to hide both woman and god, whereon he loosed her virgin girdle and laid her in a deep slumber. When the god had accomplished the deed of love, he took her hand in his own and said, ‘Tyro, rejoice in all good will; the embraces of the gods are not fruitless, and you will have fine twins about this time twelve months. Take great care of them. I am Poseidon, so now go home, but hold your tongue and do not tell anyone.’

“Then he dived under the sea, and she in due course bore Pelias and Neleus, who both of them served Zeus with all their might. Pelias was a great breeder of sheep and lived in Iolcus, but the other lived in Pylos. The rest of her children were by Cretheus, namely, Aeson, Pheres, and Amythaon, who was a mighty warrior and charioteer.

“Next to her I saw Antiope, daughter to Asopus, who could boast of having slept in the arms of even Zeus himself, and who bore him two sons Amphion and Zethus. These founded Thebes with its seven gates, and built a wall all round it; for strong though they were they could not hold Thebes till they had walled it.

“Then I saw Alcmena, the wife of Amphitryon, who also bore to Zeus indomitable Heracles; and Megara who was daughter to great King Creon, and married the redoubtable son of Amphitryon.

“I also saw fair Epicaste mother of king Oedipus whose awful lot it was to marry her own son without suspecting it. He married her after having killed his father, but the gods proclaimed the whole story to the world; whereon he remained king of Thebes, in great grief for the spite the gods had borne him; but Epicaste went to the house of the mighty jailor Hades, having hanged herself for grief, and the avenging spirits haunted him as for an outraged mother—to his ruing bitterly thereafter.

“Then I saw Chloris, whom Neleus married for her beauty, having given priceless presents for her. She was youngest daughter to Amphion son of Iasus and king of Minyan Orchomenus, and was Queen in Pylos. She bore Nestor, Chromius, and Periclymenus, and she also bore that marvelously lovely woman Pero, who was wooed by all the country round; but Neleus would only give her to him who should raid the cattle of Iphicles from the grazing grounds of Phylace, and this was a hard task. The only man who would undertake to raid them was a certain excellent seer, but the will of heaven was against him, for the rangers of the cattle caught him and put him in prison; nevertheless when a full year had passed and the same season came round again, Iphicles set him at liberty, after he had expounded all the oracles of heaven. Thus, then, was the will of Zeus accomplished.

“And I saw Leda the wife of Tyndarus, who bore him two famous sons, Castor breaker of horses, and Pollux the mighty boxer. Both these heroes are lying under the earth, though they are still alive, for by a special dispensation of Zeus, they die and come to life again, each one of them every other day throughout all time, and they have the rank of gods.

“After her I saw Iphimedeia wife of Aloeus who boasted the embrace of Poseidon. She bore two sons Otus and Ephialtes, but both were short lived. They were the finest children that were ever born in this world, and the best looking, Orion only excepted; for at nine years old they were nine fathoms high, and measured nine cubits round the chest. They threatened to make war with the gods in Olympus, and tried to set Mount Ossa on the top of Mount Olympus, and Mount Pelion on the top of Ossa, that they might scale heaven itself, and they would have done it too if they had been grown up, but Apollo, son of Leto, killed both of them, before they had got so much as a sign of hair upon their cheeks or chin.

“Then I saw Phaedra, and Procris, and fair Ariadne daughter of the magician Minos, whom Theseus was carrying off from Crete to Athens, but he did not enjoy her, for before he could do so Artemis killed her in the island of Dia on account of what Dionysus had said against her.

“I also saw Maera and Clymene and hateful Eriphyle, who sold her own husband for gold. But it would take me all night if I were to name every single one of the wives and daughters of heroes whom I saw, and it is time for me to go to bed, either on board ship with my crew, or here. As for my escort, heaven and yourselves will see to it.”

Here he ended, and the guests sat all of them enthralled and speechless throughout the covered cloister. Then Arete said to them:—

“What do you think of this man, O Phaeacians? Is he not tall and good looking, and is he not clever? True, he is my own guest, but all of you share in the distinction. Do not be in a hurry to send him away, nor niggardly in the presents you make to one who is in such great need, for heaven has blessed all of you with great abundance.”

Then spoke the aged hero Echeneus who was one of the oldest men among them, “My friends,” said he, “what our august queen has just said to us is both reasonable and to the purpose, therefore be persuaded by it; but the decision whether in word or deed rests ultimately with King Alcinous.”

“The thing shall be done,” exclaimed Alcinous, “as surely as I still live and reign over the Phaeacians. Our guest is indeed very anxious to get home, still we must persuade him to remain with us until to-morrow, by which time I shall be able to get together the whole sum that I mean to give him. As regards his escort it will be a matter for you all, and mine above all others as the chief person among you.”

And Odysseus answered, “King Alcinous, if you were to bid me to stay here for a whole twelve months, and then speed me on my way, loaded with your noble gifts, I should obey you gladly and it would redound greatly to my advantage, for I should return fuller-handed to my own people, and should thus be more respected and beloved by all who see me when I get back to Ithaca.”

“Odysseus,” replied Alcinous, “not one of us who sees you has any idea that you are a charlatan or a swindler. I know there are many people going about who tell such plausible stories that it is very hard to see through them, but there is a style about your language which assures me of your good disposition. Moreover you have told the story of your own misfortunes, and those of the Argives, as though you were a practiced bard; but tell me, and tell me true, whether you saw any of the mighty heroes who went to Troy at the same time with yourself, and perished there. The evenings are still at their longest, and it is not yet bed time—go on, therefore, with your divine story, for I could stay here listening till tomorrow morning, so long as you will continue to tell us of your adventures.”

“Alcinous,” answered Odysseus, “there is a time for making speeches, and a time for going to bed; nevertheless, since you so desire, I will not refrain from telling you the still sadder tale of those of my comrades who did not fall fighting with the Trojans, but perished on their return, through the treachery of a wicked woman.

“When Persephone had dismissed the female ghosts in all directions, the ghost of Agamemnon son of Atreus came sadly up to me, surrounded by those who had perished with him in the house of Aegisthus. As soon as he had tasted the blood, he knew me, and weeping bitterly stretched out his arms towards me to embrace me; but he had no strength nor substance any more, and I too wept and pitied him as I beheld him. ‘How did you come by your death,’ said I, ‘King Agamemnon? Did Poseidon raise his winds and waves against you when you were at sea, or did your enemies make an end of you on the main land when you were cattle-lifting or sheep-stealing, or while they were fighting in defense of their wives and city?’

“‘Odysseus,’ he answered, ‘noble son of Laertes, I was not lost at sea in any storm of Poseidon's raising, nor did my foes despatch me upon the mainland, but Aegisthus and my wicked wife were the death of me between them. He asked me to his house, feasted me, and then butchered me most miserably as though I were a fat beast in a slaughter house, while all around me my comrades were slain like sheep or pigs for the wedding breakfast, or picnic, or gorgeous banquet of some great nobleman. You must have seen numbers of men killed either in a general engagement, or in single combat, but you never saw anything so truly pitiable as the way in which we fell in that cloister, with the mixing bowl and the loaded tables lying all about, and the ground reeking with our blood. I heard Priam's daughter Cassandra scream as Clytemnestra killed her close beside me. I lay dying upon the earth with the sword in my body, and raised my hands to kill the slut of a murderess, but she slipped away from me; she would not even close my lips nor my eyes when I was dying, for there is nothing in this world so cruel and so shameless as a woman when she has fallen into such guilt as hers was. Fancy murdering her own husband! I thought I was going to be welcomed home by my children and my servants, but her abominable crime has brought disgrace on herself and all women who shall come after—even on the good ones.’

“And I said, ‘In truth Zeus has hated the house of Atreus from first to last in the matter of their women's counsels. See how many of us fell for Helen's sake, and now it seems that Clytemnestra hatched mischief against you too during your absence.’

“‘Be sure, therefore,’ continued Agamemnon, ‘and not be too friendly even with your own wife. Do not tell her all that you know perfectly well yourself. Tell her a part only, and keep your own counsel about the rest. Not that your wife, Odysseus, is likely to murder you, for Penelope is a very admirable woman, and has an excellent nature. We left her a young bride with an infant at her breast when we set out for Troy. This child no doubt is now grown up happily to man's estate, and he and his father will have a joyful meeting and embrace one another as it is right they should do, whereas my wicked wife did not even allow me the happiness of looking upon my son, but killed me ere I could do so. Furthermore I say—and lay my saying to your heart—do not tell people when you are bringing your ship to Ithaca, but steal a march upon them, for after all this there is no trusting women. But now tell me, and tell me true, can you give me any news of my son Orestes? Is he in Orchomenus, or at Pylos, or is he at Sparta with Menelaus—for I presume that he is still living.’

“And I said, ‘Agamemnon, why do you ask me? I do not know whether your son is alive or dead, and it is not right to talk when one does not know.’

“As we two sat weeping and talking thus sadly with one another the ghost of Achilles came up to us with Patroclus, Antilochus, and Ajax who was the finest and godliest man of all the Danaans after the son of Peleus. The fleet descendant of Aeacus knew me and spoke piteously, saying, ‘Odysseus, noble son of Laertes, what deed of daring will you undertake next, that you venture down to the house of Hades among us silly dead, who are but the ghosts of them that can labor no more?’

“And I said, ‘Achilles, son of Peleus, foremost champion of the Achaeans, I came to consult Teiresias, and see if he could advise me about my return home to Ithaca, for I have never yet been able to get near the Achaean land, nor to set foot in my own country, but have been in trouble all the time. As for you, Achilles, no one was ever yet so fortunate as you have been, nor ever will be, for you were adored by all us Argives as long as you were alive, and now that you are here you are a great prince among the dead. Do not, therefore, take it so much to heart even if you are dead.’

“‘Say not a word,’ he answered, ‘in death's favor; I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man's house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead. But give me news about my son; is he gone to the wars and will he be a great soldier, or is this not so? Tell me also if you have heard anything about my father Peleus—does he still rule among the Myrmidons, or do they show him no respect throughout Hellas and Phthia now that he is old and his limbs fail him? Could I but stand by his side, in the light of day, with the same strength that I had when I killed the bravest of our foes upon the plain of Troy—could I but be as I then was and go even for a short time to my father's house, anyone who tried to do him violence or supersede him would soon rue it.’

“‘I have heard nothing,’ I answered, ‘of Peleus, but I can tell you all about your son Neoptolemus, for I took him in my own ship from Scyros with the Achaeans. In our councils of war before Troy he was always first to speak, and his judgement was unerring. Nestor and I were the only two who could surpass him; and when it came to fighting on the plain of Troy, he would never remain with the body of his men, but would dash on far in front, foremost of them all in valor. Many a man did he kill in battle—I cannot name every single one of those whom he slew while fighting on the side of the Argives, but will only say how he killed that valiant hero Eurypylus son of Telephus, who was the handsomest man I ever saw except Memnon; many others also of the Ceteians fell around him by reason of a woman's bribes. Moreover, when all the bravest of the Argives went inside the horse that Epeus had made, and it was left to me to settle when we should either open the door of our ambuscade, or close it, though all the other leaders and chief men among the Danaans were drying their eyes and quaking in every limb, I never once saw him turn pale nor wipe a tear from his cheek; he was all the time urging me to break out from the horse—grasping the handle of his sword and his bronze-shod spear, and breathing fury against the foe. Yet when we had sacked the city of Priam he got his handsome share of the prize money and went on board (such is the fortune of war) without a wound upon him, neither from a thrown spear nor in close combat, for the rage of Ares is a matter of great chance.’

“When I had told him this, the ghost of Achilles strode off across a meadow full of asphodel, exulting over what I had said concerning the prowess of his son.

“The ghosts of other dead men stood near me and told me each his own melancholy tale; but that of Ajax son of Telamon alone held aloof—still angry with me for having won the cause in our dispute about the armor of Achilles. Thetis had offered it as a prize, but the Trojan prisoners and Athena were the judges. Would that I had never gained the day in such a contest, for it cost the life of Ajax, who was foremost of all the Danaans after the son of Peleus, alike in stature and prowess.

“When I saw him I tried to pacify him and said, ‘Ajax, will you not forget and forgive even in death, but must the judgement about that hateful armor still rankle with you? It cost us Argives dear enough to lose such a tower of strength as you were to us. We mourned you as much as we mourned Achilles son of Peleus himself, nor can the blame be laid on anything but on the spite which Zeus bore against the Danaans, for it was this that made him counsel your destruction—come hither, therefore, bring your proud spirit into subjection, and hear what I can tell you.’

“He would not answer, but turned away to Erebus and to the other ghosts; nevertheless, I should have made him talk to me in spite of his being so angry, or I should have gone on talking to him, only that there were still others among the dead whom I desired to see.

“Then I saw Minos son of Zeus with his golden sceptre in his hand sitting in judgement on the dead, and the ghosts were gathered sitting and standing round him in the spacious house of Hades, to learn his sentences upon them.

“After him I saw huge Orion in a meadow full of asphodel driving the ghosts of the wild beasts that he had killed upon the mountains, and he had a great bronze club in his hand, unbreakable for ever and ever.

“And I saw Tityus son of Gaia stretched upon the plain and covering some nine acres of ground. Two vultures on either side of him were digging their beaks into his liver, and he kept on trying to beat them off with his hands, but could not; for he had violated Zeus' mistress Leto as she was going through Panopeus on her way to Pytho.

“I saw also the dreadful fate of Tantalus, who stood in a lake that reached his chin; he was dying to quench his thirst, but could never reach the water, for whenever the poor creature stooped to drink, it dried up and vanished, so that there was nothing but dry ground—parched by the spite of heaven. There were tall trees, moreover, that shed their fruit over his head—pears, pomegranates, apples, sweet figs and juicy olives, but whenever the poor creature stretched out his hand to take some, the wind tossed the branches back again to the clouds.

“And I saw Sisyphus at his endless task raising his prodigious stone with both his hands. With hands and feet he tried to roll it up to the top of the hill, but always, just before he could roll it over on to the other side, its weight would be too much for him, and the pitiless stone would come thundering down again on to the plain. Then he would begin trying to push it up hill again, and the sweat ran off him and the steam rose after him.

“After him I saw mighty Heracles, but it was his phantom only, for he is feasting ever with the immortal gods, and has lovely Hebe to wife, who is daughter of Zeus and Hera. The ghosts were screaming round him like scared birds flying everywhere. He looked black as night with his bare bow in his hands and his arrow on the string, glaring around as though ever on the point of taking aim. About his breast there was a wondrous golden belt adorned in the most marvelous fashion with bears, wild boars, and lions with gleaming eyes; there was also war, battle, and death. The man who made that belt, do what he might, would never be able to make another like it. Heracles knew me at once when he saw me, and spoke piteously, saying, ‘My poor Odysseus, noble son of Laertes, are you too leading the same sorry kind of life that I did when I was above ground? I was son of Zeus, but I went through an infinity of suffering, for I became bondsman to one who was far beneath me—a low fellow who set me all manner of labors. He once sent me here to fetch the hell-hound—for he did not think he could find anything harder for me than this, but I got the hound out of Hades and brought him to him, for Hermes and Athena helped me.’

“On this Heracles went down again into the house of Hades, but I stayed where I was in case some other of the mighty dead should come to me. And I should have seen still other of them that are gone before, whom I would have liked to see—Theseus and Pirithous—glorious children of the gods, but so many thousands of ghosts came round me and uttered such appalling cries, that I was panic stricken lest Persephone should send up from the house of Hades the head of that awful monster Gorgon. On this I hastened back to my ship and ordered my men to go on board at once and loose the hawsers; so they embarked and took their places, whereon the ship went down the stream of the river Oceanus. We had to row at first, but presently a fair wind sprang up.

Footnotes

  1. A Gorgon was a female monster from ancient Greek mythology, typically depicted as one of three sisters with hair made of snakes. It's unclear to which Gorgon Odysseus is referring here, but most likely he means Medusa, the most famous Gorgon, who could turn men to stone with a single glance.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. A reference to Eurystheus, king of the Tyrins. After being driven mad by Hera, Hercules consulted the Oracle of Delphi, who advised him to serve Eurystheus for twelve years in exchange for immortality. His Twelve Labours were assigned to him in this time and included slaying the Nemean Lion, killing the Hydra, and stealing the Mares of Diomedes.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. A common punishment in ancient Greece, the most common recipient of which was Prometheus, a Titan, said to have created mankind. Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus to give to the humans, which resulted in this punishment. Remember that Prometheus is an immortal and thus regenerates his liver every time it's eaten, thus prolonging his punishment for all eternity.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Ajax and Odysseus are both proud men with good reason never to bend their principles or allow themselves to be dishonored. Many of their problems stem from this pride, and one of the central themes of *The Odyssey* is the difficulty of controlling that pride and preventing further disaster.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Thetis, wife of Peleus and mother to Achilles. Thetis was a Nereid, or daughter of the ancient sea god Nereus, and according to some scholars was one of the first deities worshipped in ancient Greece. As mother, she would've retained rights over all of Achilles' possessions after he was killed.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The chaotic nature of war is reflected in the Greek view of Ares, whose short temper and frequent fits of rage make his dealings with both fate and warriors inconsistent. Neoptolemus wouldn't necessarily have had the blessing of Ares, but he would've been much indebted to the god in any case.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. In *The Iliad*, there were two characters with the name Eurypylus: one who fought with the Achaeans on the side of the Greeks and one who fought with the Trojans for King Priam. It's unclear whether the two ever met in battle.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Memnon, an Ethiopian king, son of Tithonus, who was cursed to live forever and continue to age. Memnon came to the aid of the Trojans during the war and led his men in battle until he was killed by Achilles, who was avenging the death of his great friend, Patroclus.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Homer draws a parallel between Peleus and Laertes, Odysseus' father, who has been described multiple times as old and feeble. Taken together, these two examples suggest that the ancient Greeks didn't revere their elderly and were prone to disrespecting and usurping kings in their old age.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Hellas meaning Greece and Phthia meaning the southern region of the kingdom of Thessaly. The word Hellenistic derives from the word Hellas and refers to anything from ancient Greece or pertaining to their customs and philosophies.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. In ancient Greek tradition, one retained one's social status even in death, and being a great warrior in life meant being revered in the afterlife. It should be noted, however, that Achilles isn't in the Elysian fields, and that his experience of death might not be very pleasant.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. That is, Achilles. Aeacus was said to be the king of the island Aegina and the father of Peleus, who sired Achilles. Thus, Aeacus is Achilles' grandfather, and Achilles is his descendant, known as being particularly fleet of foot and skilled in battle.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Antilochus, the son of Nestor, and another friend of Achilles to be cut down during the Trojan War. Antilochus was one of the many suitors of Helen before she married Menelaus, necessitating that he fight in the Trojan war, where he sacrificed himself to save his father.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Patroclus, son of Menoetius, and best friend to Achilles. In *The Iliad*, he convinced Achilles to let him lead the Myrmidons in battle, driving the Trojans away from the Greek ships and killing the Trojan warrior Sarpedon before being killed by Hector, a Trojan prince.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Agamemnon's own personal experiences fuel his suspicions, which will later contribute to Odysseus's caution when he returns to Ithaca. It should be noted, however, that the suitors are the ones Odysseus can't trust, and they are without exception male.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. In ancient Greece, it was tradition to close the lips and eyes of the dead and to place a coin over them to pay Charon, the ferryman on the River Styx, who conveyed them from the land of the living to the land of the dead. Without this payment, Charon might be less inclined to perform this service, and the spirits of the dead would remain waiting forever.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. In order to fund his return journey home, Agamemnon would've necessarily had to steal some cattle and sheep in order to feed his men. He would've sometimes justified this by sacking the cities from which he stole, thus making the cattle the spoils of war instead of the product of thievery, which was not well looked upon in Greek society.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. Alcinous here refers to Odysseus' facility with speech, for which he was well-renowned in both *The Iliad* and *The Odyssey*. In ancient Greece, the ability to speak with such style was considered a quality of the upper class, and thus Alcinous is also making a comment about Odysseus' social status.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. A merchant or fraudster who makes disingenuous claims about his skills, abilities, and wares with the intent of misleading or swindling his customers and the general public. As a noble with a purple mantle, Alcinous would have no reason to believe Odysseus was a charlatan, except for his reticence to reveal his identity earlier.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. Redound, meaning to reverberate or echo, or more rarely result or have consequence. Likely, this is an alternate spelling of the more common word "resound," which also means to echo or reverberate. The translator may also be trying to make a verbal pun to the word "renown," meaning great fame and esteem.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. Niggardly, or being like a niggard, someone who's mean, parsimonious, and stingy. Arete is urging the men to give Odysseus lavish presents as a reward for his heroism (a plea that reinforces Alcinous' previous order for them to each give him cloaks, shirts, and gold).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  22. Dionysus, the god of wine, madness, fertility, and ecstasy. His lavish and extravagant parties gave rise to the term Dionysian, a concept of irrationality and chaos that stands in contrast to the Apollonian, a philosophical concept derived from Apollo, the god of rationality and reason. Thus it's possible that what Dionysus said about Procris wasn't true, because he may just have been trying to create chaos.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  23. Procris, the daughter of Erechtheus, the king of Athens. Procris suspects that her husband Cephalus has been having an affair, and when a servant tells her that Cephalus has called on Nephele (a cloud nymph), Procris follows them into a thicket, where Cephalus kills her with an arrow, thinking that she's a wild animal.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  24. Sons of Iphimedia, wife of Aloeus, from whom they draw their name, the Aloadae. In one story, they managed to trap Ares in a bronze jar for thirteen months (a lunar year). Had their stepmother not told Hermes of this the god of war might never have been freed.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  25. Orion, a giant hunter immortalized in the constellation Orion. In some stories, Orion threatened to kill all the beasts of the earth while on a hunting trip with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, but Gaia objected and sent a scorpion to kill him. Zeus then honored Orion by placing him in the stars.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  26. Leda, queen of Sparta, mother of both Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. According to legend, Zeus fell into Leda's arms in the guise of a swan to escape the talons of an eagle, and Zeus later forced himself on her, resulting in either the births of Castor, Pollux, Helen, or Clytemnestra (textual accounts differ).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. Homer never directly names this seer, but he's commonly believed to be Melampous, a famed soothsayer and healer from Pylos who was held captive for a year in the house of Phylakos. When his prison collapsed, he was asked to cure Phylakos' wife Iphiklos of infertility, upon which he was given the cattle he tried to steal and allowed to take Pero to wed his brother.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  28. Castor and Pollux, son of Leda, queen of Sparta, who was raped by Zeus after he took the form of a swan. In many pieces of literature, they're known as the Dioskuri, and are often listed as brothers of both Helen, wife of Menelaus, and Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  29. Epicaste, unbeknownst to her, married her son Oedipus and made him king of Thebes. Oedipus had been abandoned after birth and wasn't raised by Epicaste, who had no way of recognizing her son when he was grown. This story is recounted more fully in Sophocles' iconic play, *Oedipus Rex*.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  30. Megara, wife of Heracles, mother of his sons, whom he slaughtered in a fit of madness induced by Hera. After his madness was cured, he fled to the Oracle of Delphi, leaving Megara behind as he attempted to repent for the murder of his children.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  31. Thebes, one of the most important of the Greek city-states, was known both for its seven gates, which made the city near impenetrable, and for its propensity to cause trouble, including the war known as the Seven Against Thebes, which was immortalized in the play of the same name by Aeschylus.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  32. Antiope, the daughter of the river god Asopus, in later sources thought to be the mother of the nocturnal king Nycteus of Thebes. In her youth she was said to be very beautiful, and Zeus, seeing this, transformed himself into a satyr (a man with horse-like features) and forced himself on Antiope.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  33. Twins Pelias and Neleus were abandoned on a mountain by Tyro, who was upset with Poseidon for disguising himself as Enipeus. The twins were raised by a stranger but later returned to kill Tyro's stepmother. Pelias, the more power-hungry of the two, banished his brother and Tyro's other children and made himself king of Thessaly.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  34. Persephone, the queen of the underworld, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Hades abducted Persephone, then tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds so that even when her mother did secure her release she would have to spent part of every year in the underworld.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  35. Anticlea means this both literally and figuratively. It's difficult to reach Erebus, because it's so far from the mainland, but it's also difficult for Odysseus to see it, as a man whom we're led to believe has many years ahead of him.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  36. Polysyndeton, or the unnecessary repetition of words and phrases, is a common literary device in Greek tragedies. The purpose is to slow the rhythm of the reading and emphasize each word or phrase. Here, Odysseus stresses that he wants Tiresias to tell him the whole truth, however long or difficult it might be.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  37. Remember that Tiresias has presented Odysseus with two options: he can either take the easy way or the hard way. It's impossible for him to do both, suggesting that what Tiresias actually refers to here is the second, longer option of Odysseus fighting his way home after a very long journey.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  38. Moderation in indulging one's tastes and desires is one of the central Greek virtues. If Odysseus' men can withstand hunger, Tiresias says, they will make it home safely. This also foreshadows events in Book XII, in which Odysseus "restrains" himself while listening to the song of the Sirens.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  39. Remember that the sun, in a previous chapter, spied on Ares and Aphrodite for Hephaestus and informed him of his wife's infidelity. Make sure to differentiate between Apollo, the god of the sun, and the sun itself, Helios, a divine entity with its own powers and agendas.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  40. This is the home island of Helios (also, Apollo), the sun god. In Book I of The Odyssey, Homer told us that Odysseus' men had slaughtered Apollo's cattle and been punished, so we know even before Tiresias completes his prophecy that this is true and will come to pass shortly.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  41. In the afterlife, ancient Greeks were said to walk between the realms, moving between life and death in supernatural ways that defied the laws of physics. Thus Elpenor was able to make a long journey in a matter of hours or days.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  42. It was considered a great dishonor to leave a corpse unmourned or unburied in ancient Greece, and the fact that Odysseus did so further underscores the danger of the situation he and his men faced with Circe. Had there been time, they would've buried their comrade, but they had to get out of there as quickly as possible.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  43. Erebus, a region of the underworld, the first stop for the dead before they move on to Hades. The word "erebus" literally means darkness, and the place Erebus has been depicted as a shadowy realm, a sort of in-between place where the light of day and the darkness of death merge.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  44. In modern parlance, *feckless* means to be shiftless or irresponsible, but its original definition was to be timid, weak, or helpless. Some of these spirits, the *psykhai* (or people who haven't been properly cremated) are able to harm the living, but helpless to do anything about their situation.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  45. A unit of measurement. In modern times, a cubit generally refers to the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger, but in ancient Greece it was understood to be eighteen to twenty-two inches long.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  46. Also known as the world-ocean, Oceanus was a giant river said to encircle the entire world. This river was personified by a deity of the same name, Oceanus, often depicted as a man with a great beard and the lower body of a serpent.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  47. Nowhere else in Homeric literature is a soul in Hades described as being split between a "phantom" (presumably, a spirit) and a living being. Hercules, because he was a demigod (son of Zeus) and lived a brave life, was rewarded after death by eternal life with the gods on Olympus. The Greeks' conception of death doesn't generally allow for this, but appears to have made an exception for Hercules.

    — Stephen Holliday
  48. One of Hercules's labors was to bring the three-headed hell-hound Cerberus from Hades to the upper world. This was a particularly dangerous labor because most people who traveled to Hades never returned. That he risked this journey and returned successfully shows what a great hero Hercules really was.

    — Stephen Holliday
  49. Sisyphus, king of Corinth, led a life of greed and cruelty. In one story, Hades was sent to chain Sisyphus up, but was himself chained by the king, making it impossible for anyone to die while Hades was thus restrained. As a punishment for his many sins, Sisyphus was doomed to forever push a rock up a hill and let it roll back down again.

    — Stephen Holliday
  50. Tantalus, a son of Zeus, divulged the secrets Zeus disclosed to him to mankind, thus resulting in the punishment of unquenchable thirst and constant torment. Our modern word *tantalize*, which means to tempt someone with an unobtainable goal, derives from the Tantalus myth.

    — Stephen Holliday
  51. When Achilles was killed at Troy, Odysseus was awarded his armor. Ajax, who felt he was more deserving of the armor, was briefly driven mad over this by Athena and started killing sheep, thinking they were his fellow soldiers. Realizing what he'd done, he committed suicide in shame, and now holds a grudge against Odysseus.

    — Stephen Holliday
  52. The implication is that some of the Greek warriors inside the Trojan Horse were so fearful that they were crying. Though the Trojan Horse was of course a brilliant and successful plan, it nevertheless posed a great deal of risk, because it thrust the Greeks into the heart of the city, surrounded by enemies. They could've easily been surrounded and slaughtered.

    — Stephen Holliday
  53. This refers to Astyoche, Queen of the Mysians, who was bribed by King Priam to let her son, Eurypylos, fight in the Trojan War. Other Mysians, also called Ceteians, joined Eurypylos and were killed in the fighting, their deaths becoming less heroic as a result of their being the product of a bribe.

    — Stephen Holliday
  54. Scyros is an island in the southern Aegean Sea where Achilles' son was being raised. When Achilles was killed, Odysseus went to Scyros and took Neoptolemos to Troy, where he became a respected warrior in his own right. Achilles' death happened in the middle of the war, meaning Odysseus would've had to leave and return to bring his son to Troy.

    — Stephen Holliday
  55. A reference to Ajax the Telemonian (or, the Greater), second only to Achilles as a Greek warrior. There are two Ajaxes in *The Iliad*: Ajax the Greater, mentioned here, and Ajax the Lesser, also known as the Locrian Ajax. The two were not related.

    — Stephen Holliday
  56. Agamemnon means here that because he has not seen the spirit of his son, Orestes, in Hades, he can assume Orestes is still among the living. At this point in the timeline, Orestes has yet to avenge his father's death, and Clytemnestra and Aegisthus have yet to make the trip to Hades.

    — Stephen Holliday
  57. This is a theme carried over from the* Iliad*: that so many Greek warriors have died as a result of Helen's weakness (the implication being that the war was not worth the sacrifice). In ancient Greece, to lose a wife in this way would've been a serious blow to a man's honor, which was sometimes but not necessarily a good cause for war.

    — Stephen Holliday
  58. King Priam of Troy's daughter, captured by Agamemnon during the fall of Troy. Cassandra was supposed to be very beautiful and was pursued by the god Apollo, who, after she rejected his advances, punished her by giving her the gift of prophecy but condemning her to never be believed.

    — Stephen Holliday
  59. That is, Circe, who detained Odysseus and his crew for a year and convinced Odysseus to visit the underworld in order to get some insight into the continuation of his voyage back to Ithaca. If not for her, many of his men would still be alive and wouldn't have been turned into pigs.

    — Stephen Holliday
  60. Aegisthus and Clytemnestra commit several cardinal Greek sins in this episode: they kill their lawful king, they destroy a marriage, and they kill a guest while they are hosting the victims, thereby violating the principles of *xenia* (hospitality). It would be difficult to violate so many strong beliefs in one episode.

    — Stephen Holliday
  61. Aegisthus and Clytemnestra conspired to kill Agamemnon on his return from Troy. It's believed that Clytemnestra was more disposed to killing her husband because she never forgave him for sacrificing their daughter, Iphigenia, in order to assure good winds for the Greek ships on the way to Troy.

    — Stephen Holliday
  62. This refers to the Greek's belief that the dead in Hades are drawn to the blood of the living, their only connection with their former lives. Once they drink the blood, they're restored in some part to their former selves, with the ability to access their memories of and speak with the living.

    — Stephen Holliday
  63. Recall that King Alcinous has previously offered a boat and crew to take Odysseus to Ithaca, but has not specifically ordered any one person to take charge. At this point, Odysseus has lost his original ships and crew and must depend on the kindness of strangers to get him home, making this statement a cause of some concern.

    — Stephen Holliday
  64. Artemis killed Maera, one of here servants, for her lack of chastity. Clymene is Iphiclus' mother and queen of Phylace. Eriphyle, wife of Amphiarus, was bribed by Polyneices, son of Oedipus, to convince Amphiarus to join the Seven Against Thebes. Amphiarus died trying to escape after the battle.

    — Stephen Holliday
  65. Ariadne helped Theseus escape from the Labyrinth, thereby betraying her father, King Minos of Crete. Theseus then abandoned her on the island of Dia as punishment. It is unclear, however, what Dionysus might have said against her in this passage.

    — Stephen Holliday
  66. Phaedra, the wife of Theseus, commits suicide from shame because she loves her stepson, Hippolytus (or, more likely, to revenge herself on him for rejecting her advances by falsely charging that Hippolytus raped her). Theseus then prays to Poseidon for vengeance against his son, and Poseidon sends a sea monster who scares the horses pulling Hippolytus' chariot, throwing him out and killing him.

    — Stephen Holliday
  67. A reference to the legend that whenever Castor is fatally wounded in an attack, his brother Pollux, who may or may not be the son of Zeus, shares his immortality with Castor so that each is able to live half the time in the underworld and the other half on Mt. Olympus.

    — Stephen Holliday
  68. Tyro, wife to Poseidon and then Cretheus. With Poseidon, she's the great grandmother of Nestor, an important figure in both *The Iliad* and *The Odyssey, *and with Cretheus, she's the great grandmother of Jason, leader of the Argonauts, whose exploits become a model for the sea-voyage motif in Homer and elsewhere.

    — Stephen Holliday
  69. An interesting (and accurate) description of how most spirits live in the underworld: they have no body, no substance, and they spend their time wandering aimlessly about in a dream state or revery, seeking some association with the living so they can feel alive again.

    — Stephen Holliday
  70. Because Anticlea is not a prophet, she cannot know the exact situation in Ithaca with respect to Telemachus or Penelope, so Odysseus receives a general description of their condition but not a precise one. Thus he doesn't know much of the suitors or the state of his lands.

    — Stephen Holliday
  71. A winnowing shovel (basically, a wooden paddle with a shovel-like end) is used to throw wheat up into a very light wind; the air then separates the heavier wheat from the lighter chaff. Today, when we use the word *winnow*, we are describing separating the good from the bad or the useful from the useless.

    — Stephen Holliday
  72. What follows (instructions to Odysseus about how to satisfy Poseidon) seems like an odd interpolation because it takes us past the end of *The Odyssey*'s narrative. *The Iliad*, which predicts the death of Achilles and the fall of Troy, is similar in that the narrative ends before these events actually take place.

    — Stephen Holliday
  73. Teiresias, who had lived as a woman for seven years, received his powers of prophecy in an unusual way. When asked by Hera (Juno) whether men or women enjoyed the act of love more, Teiresias answered that women enjoy sex nine times more than men. Angered, Hera blinded Teiresias, but to compensate him for the loss of sight, Zeus (Jove) gave him the gift of prophecy.

    — Stephen Holliday
  74. It's unclear how Elpenor could even know that Telemachus is still alive. Telemachus had just been born when Odysseus and his men left for Troy, and there has been no intervening news from Ithaca. Homer clearly wants to bring Telemachus back into the narrative after several books' absence.

    — Stephen Holliday
  75. Because blood represents life, it holds an attraction for these spirits who left life in an "unfinished" (uncremated) state and are eternally in a state of confusion and unhappiness. These unhappy spirits must taste blood to give them enough "life" to speak to Odysseus.

    — Stephen Holliday
  76. In ancient Greece, maids or young women who had been jilted by their lovers often escaped this disgrace by committing suicide. Since this was considered an unnatural act, their spirits were uneasy in the afterlife and were sent to Erebus rather than the Elysian fields.

    — Stephen Holliday
  77. Although the exact geographic location of the Cimmerians is unknown, in later times, Greeks associated Cimmeria with what is now the Crimea (far to the north). The important point is that the land is always shrouded in darkness, consistent with its being on the way to the underworld.

    — Stephen Holliday
  78. Wind that blows directly from the rear of the ship, propelling it as fast as it can possible go into the unknown. Homer characterizes this as a great act of cruelty on Circe's part and one that no doubt arises from Odysseus' rejection of her as a lover.

    — Stephen Holliday
  79. Odysseus and his crew are distressed because, except in rare cases, going into the underworld is a one-way trip. Aside from the unknown, they are exposing themselves to ghosts who, because they envy the living, are looking for ways to trap the living in Hades.

    — Stephen Holliday