T h e G o d d e s s
A t h e n a
i n H o m e r ' s
O d y s s e y ( 1 )
 Then the Goddess, bright-eyed
 -Father of us all, you son
of Cronus, high above all lords, yes, truly that man lies low in a destruction
that is his due; so, too, may any other also be destroyed who does such
But my heart is torn for wise
Ulysses, unfortunate man, who far from his friends has long been suffering
afflictions  in a sea-encircled island, where is the navel of the sea.
It's a wooded island, and there
resides a Goddess, daughter of Atlas of baneful mind, who knows the depths
of every sea, and himself holds the tall pillars which keep earth and heaven
 It is his daughter who keeps
back that wretched, sorrowing man; and ever with soft and wheedling words
she charms him that he may forget Ithaca.
But Ulysses, in his longing to
see were it but the smoke leaping up from his own land, wishes to die.
Yet your  heart do not regard
it, Olympian. Did not Ulysses beside the ships of the Argives offer you
sacrifice without limitation of supply or effort in the broad land of Troy?
For what reason then did you conceive
such wrath against him, O Zeus.
Then Zeus, the cloud-gatherer, answered
her and said:
-My child, what a word has escaped
the barrier of your teeth?
 How should I, then, forget
godlike Ulysses, who is beyond all mortals in wisdom, and beyond all has
paid sacrifice to the immortal Gods, who hold broad heaven?
No, it is Poseidon, the earth-enfolder,
who is ever filled with stubborn wrath because of the Cyclops, whom Ulysses
blinded of his eye--  even the godlike Polyphemus, whose might is greatest
among all the Cyclopes; and the nymph Thoosa bore him, daughter of Phorcys
who rules over the unresting sea; for in the excavated caves she lay with
From that time forth Poseidon,
the earth-shaker,  does not indeed slay Ulysses, but makes him a wanderer
from his native land.
But come, let us who are here
all take thought of his return, that he may come home; and Poseidon will
let go his anger, for he will in no wise be able, against all the immortal
Gods and in their despite, to contend alone.
 Then the Goddess, bright-eyed
-Father of us all, you son of
Cronus, high above all lords, if indeed this is now well pleasing to the
blessed Gods, that the wise Ulysses should return to his own home, let
us send forth Hermes, the messenger, Argeiphontes,  to the island Ogygia,
that with all speed he may declare to the fair-tressed nymph our fixed
decision, even the return of Ulysses of the constant heart, that he may
But, as for me, I will go to Ithaca,
that I may the more arouse his son, and set courage in his heart  to
call to an assembly the long-haired Achaeans, and speak out his word to
all the suitors, who are ever slaying his thronging sheep and his well-fed
cows of shambling gait.
And I will guide him to Sparta
and to sandy Pylos, to seek news of the return of his dear father, if unfortunately
he may hear of it,  that good report may be his among men.
So she spoke, and bound under her
feet her beautiful sandals, immortal, golden, which were accustomed to
bear her both over the waters of the sea and over the boundless land swift
as the blasts of the wind.
And she took her mighty spear, tipped
with sharp bronze,  heavy and large and strong, with which she vanquishes
the ranks of men--of warriors, with whom she is wroth, she, the daughter
of the mighty sire.
Then she went rapidly down from the
heights of Olympus, and took her stand in the land of Ithaca at the outer
gate of Ulysses, on the threshold of the court.
In her hand she held the spear of
bronze,  and she was in the likeness of a stranger, Mentes, the leader
of the Taphians. There she found the proud suitors.
Her the godlike Telemachus was far
the first to see, for he was sitting among the suitors, sad at heart, 
seeing in thought his noble father, should he perchance come from somewhere
and make a dispersion of the suitors in the palace, and himself win honor
and rule over his own house.
As he thought of these things, sitting
among the suitors, he saw Athena, and he went
straight to the outer door; for in his heart he counted it shame 
that a stranger should stand long at the gates.
So, drawing near, he clasped her
right hand, and took from her the spear of bronze; and he spoke, and addressed
her with winged words:
-Hail, stranger; in our house
you shall find entertainment and then, when you has tasted food, you shall
tell of what you has need.
 So saying, he led the way, and
And when they were within the imposing
height house, he bore the spear and set it against a tall pillar in a polished
spear-rack, where were set many spears besides, even those of Ulysses of
the constant heart.
he led and seated on a chair, spreading a linen cloth beneath--a beautiful
chair, richly-worked, and below was a footstool for the feet.
Beside it he placed for himself an
inlaid seat, apart from the others, the suitors, for fear that the stranger,
vexed by their distracting noise, should regard with disgust the meal,
seeing that he was in the company of arrogant men;  and also that
he might ask him about his father that was gone.
But Telemachus spoke to bright-eyed
holding his head close, that the others might not hear:
-Dear stranger, will you be angry
with me for the word that I shall say?
These men care for things like
these, the lyre and song,  full easily, seeing that without expiation
they devour the livelihood of another, of a man whose white bones, it may
be, rot in the rain as they lie upon the mainland, or the wave rolls them
in the sea.
Were they to see him returned
to Ithaca, they would all pray to be quicker of foot,  rather than
richer in gold and in clothing.
But now he has thus perished by
an evil fate, nor for us is there any comfort, no, not though any one of
men upon the earth should say that he will come; gone is the day of his
But come, tell me this, and declare
it truly.  Who are you among men, and from what place ? Where is your
city and where your parents? On what manner of ship did you come, and how
did sailors bring you to Ithaca? Who did they declare themselves to be?
For in no manner, it seems to me , did you come to this place on foot.
And tell me this also truly, that
I may know full well,  whether this is the first coming to this place,
or whether you are indeed a friend of my father's house. For many were
the men who came to our house as strangers, since he, too, had gone to
and fro among men.
Then the Goddess, bright-eyed Athena,
-Therefore of a truth will I frankly
tell you all.
 I declare that I am Mentes,
the son of wise Anchialus, and I am lord over the oar-loving Taphians.
And now have I put in here, as you see, with ship and crew, while sailing
over the wine-dark sea to men of strange speech, on my way to Temese for
copper; and I bear with me shining iron.  My ship lies over there
beside the fields away from the city, in the harbor of Rheithron, under
Friends of one another do we declare
ourselves to be, even as our fathers were, friends from of old. Or rather,
if you will, go and ask the old warrior Laertes, who, they say,  comes
no more to the city, but afar in the fields suffers bitter griefs attended
by an aged woman as his servant, who sets before him food and drink, after
weariness has laid hold of his limbs, as he creeps along the slope of his
And now am I come, for of a truth
men said that he,  your father, was among his people; but look, the
Gods are frustrating him of his return.
For not yet has goodly Ulysses
perished on the earth, but still, I think, he lives and is held back on
the broad sea in a sea-encircled island, and cruel men keep him, a savage
folk, that constrain him, chance severe against his will.
 Or rather, I will now prophesy
to you, as the immortals put it in my heart, and as I think it shall be
brought to pass, though I am in no wise a diviner, nor one versed in the
signs of birds.
Not much longer shall he be absent
from his dear native land, no, not though bonds of iron hold him. 
He will manage a way to return, for he is a man of many devices.
But come, tell me this and declare
it truly, whether indeed, tall as you are, you are the son of Ulysses himself.
Wondrously like his are your head and beautiful eyes; for full often did
we consort with one another  before he embarked for the land of Troy,
where others, too, the bravest of the Argives, went in their excavated
ships. But since that day neither have I seen Ulysses, nor he me.
Then the Goddess, bright-eyed
-Surely, then, no nameless lineage
have the Gods appointed for you in time to come, seeing that Penelope bore
you such as you are.
But come, tell me this and declare
it truly.  What feast, what crowd is this? What need has you of it?
Is it a drinking session, or a wedding feast? For this plainly is no meal
to which each brings his portion, with such outrage and arrogance do they
seem to me to be feasting in your living room. Angered would a man be at
seeing all these shameful acts, any man of sense who should come among
Then, moved to anger, Pallas
Athena spoke to him:
-Out on it! You have of a truth
severe need of Ulysses that is gone, that he might put forth his hands
upon the shameless suitors.
 Would that he might come
now and take his stand at the outer gate of the house, with helmet and
shield and two spears, such a man as he was when I first saw him in our
house drinking and making merry, on his way back from Ephyre, from the
house of Ilus, son of Mermerus.
 For towards that place,
too, went Ulysses in his quick ship in search of a deadly drug, that he
might have with to smear his bronze-tipped arrows; yet Ilus gave it not
to him, for he stood in wonder of the Gods that are forever; but my father
gave it, for he held him strangely dear.
 Would, I say, that in such
strength Ulysses might come among the suitors; then should they all find
quick destruction and bitterness in their suit.
Yet these things really lie on
the knees of the Gods, whether he shall return and wreak vengeance in his
living room, or whether he shall not; but for yourself, I order you take
thought  how you may force forth the suitors from the living room.
Come now, give ear, and listen
attentively to my words. Tomorrow call to an assembly the Achaean lords,
and speak out your word to all, and let the Gods be your witnesses.
As for the suitors, order them
to disperse, each to his own;  and for your mother, if her heart orders
her marry, let her go back to the living room of her mighty father, and
there they will prepare a wedding feast, and make ready the gifts full
many--yes, all that should follow after a well-loved daughter. And to yourself
will I give wise counsel, if you will listen attentively.
Then the Goddess, bright-eyed
 -Stop me now no longer,
when I am eager to be gone, and whatever gift your heart orders you give
me, give it when I come back, to bear to my home, choosing a right beautiful
one; it shall bring you its worth in return.
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©1999 Roy George