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 ( 9 )
And many marveled at the sight of
the wise son of Laertes, for wonderful was the grace that Athena
shed upon his head and shoulders;  and she made him taller and sturdier
to behold, that he might be welcomed by all the Phaeacians, and win awe
and reverence, and might accomplish the many feats wherein the Phaeacians
made trial of Ulysses.
He [Ulysses] spoke, and, leaping up
with his cloak about him as it was, seized a discus larger than the rest
and thick, no little heavier than those with which the Phaeacians were
accustomed to contend one with another.
This with a whirl he sent from his
stout hand,  and the stone hummed as it flew; and down they crouched
to the earth, the Phaeacians of the long oars, men famed for their ships,
beneath the rush of the stone.
Past the marks of all it flew, speeding
lightly from his hand, and Athena, in the
likeness of a man, set the mark, and she spoke and addressed him:
 -Even a blind man, stranger,
could distinguish this mark, groping for it with his hands, for it is in
nowise confused with the throng of the others, but is far the first.
Be you of good cheer for this
bout at least: no one of the Phaeacians will reach this, or cast beyond
So he [Ulysses] spoke, and the herald
bore the portion and placed it in the hands of the lord Demodocus, and
he took it and was glad at heart. So they put forth their hands to the
good cheer lying ready before them.
 But when they had put from
them the desire of food and drink, then to Demodocus said Ulysses of many
-Demodocus, truly above all mortal
men do I praise you, whether it was the Muse, the daughter of Zeus, that
taught you, or Apollo; for well and truly do you sing of the fate of the
Achaeans,  all that they worked and suffered, and all the toils they
endured, as though unfortunately you had yourself been present, or had
heard the tale from another.
But come now, change your theme,
and sing of the building of the horse of wood, which Epeius made with Athena'shelp,
the horse which once Ulysses led up into the citadel as a thing of guile,
 when he had filled it with the men who sacked Ilios.
If you do indeed tell me this
tale rightly, I will declare to all mankind that the God [Apollo] has of
a ready heart granted you the gift of divine song.
And he [the minstrel] sang how the
sons of the Achaeans  poured forth from the horse [of wood] and, leaving
their hollow ambush, sacked the city [of Troy].
Of the others he sang how in divers
ways they wasted the lofty city, but of Ulysses, how he went like Ares
to the house of Deiphobus together with godlike Menelaus.
There it was, he said, that Ulysses
braved the most terrible fight  and in the end conquered by the aid
of great-hearted Athena.
As soon as early Dawn appeared,
the rosy-fingered, he rekindled the fire and milked his goodly flocks all
in turn, and beneath each dam placed her young.
 Then, when he had busily
performed his tasks, again he seized two men at once and made ready his
And when he had made his meal
he drove his fat flocks forth from the cave, easily moving away the great
door-stone; and then he put it in place again, as one might set the lid
upon a quiver. 
Then with loud whistling the Cyclops
turned his fat flocks toward the mountain, and I was left there, devising
evil in the deep of my heart, if in any way I might take vengeance on him,
and Athena grant me glory.
And other spirits of those dead
and gone stood sorrowing, and each asked of those dear to him.
Alone of them all the spirit of
Aias, son of Telamon, stood apart, still full of wrath for the victory
 that I [Ulysses] had won over him in the contest by the ships for
the arms of Achilles, whose honored mother had set them for a prize; and
the judges were the sons of the Trojans and Pallas
I would that I had never won in
the contest for such a prize, over so noble a head did the earth close
because of those arms,  even over Aias, who in comeliness and in deeds
of war was above all the other Achaeans, next to the peerless son of Peleus.
And after him I marked the mighty
Hercules -- his phantom; for he himself among the immortal Gods takes his
joy in the feast, and has to wife Hebe, of the fair ankles, daughter of
great Zeus and of Here, of the golden sandals.
 About him rose a clamor from
the dead, as of birds flying everywhere in terror; and he like dark night,
with his bow bare and with arrow on the string, glared about him terribly,
like one in act to shoot.
Awful was the belt about his breast,
 a baldric of gold, whereon wonderful things were fashioned, bears
and wild boars, and lions with sparkling eyes, and conflicts, and battles,
and murders, and slayings of men. May he never have designed, or hereafter
design such another, even he who stored up in his craft the device of that
 He in turn knew me when his
eyes beheld me, and weeping spoke to me winged words:
-Son of Laertes, sprung from Zeus, Ulysses of many
devices, ah, wretched man, do you, too, drag out an evil lot such as I
once bore beneath the rays of the sun?
 I was the son of Zeus, son
of Cronos, but I had affliction beyond measure; for to a man far worse
than I was I made subject, and he laid on me hard labours.
Yea, he once sent me towards this
place to fetch the dog of Hades, for he could devise for me no other task
mightier than this.
 The dog I carried off and
led forth from the house of Hades; and Hermes was my guide, and bright-eyed
Then they stepped forth from the benched
ship upon the land, and first they lifted Ulysses out of the hollow ship,
with the linen sheet and bright rug as they were, and laid him down on
the sand, still overpowered by sleep.
 And they lifted out the goods
which the lordly Phaeacians had given him, as he set out for home, through
the favor of great-hearted Athena.
These they set all together by the
trunk of the olive tree, out of the path, that unfortunately some traveler,
before Ulysses awoke, might come upon them and spoil them.  Then they
themselves returned home again.
 Thus they were praying to the
lord Poseidon, the leaders and counselors of the land of the Phaeacians,
as they stood about the altar, but Ulysses awoke out of his sleep in his
Yet he knew it not after his long
absence, for about him the Goddess had shed a mist,  equable Pallas
Athena, daughter of Zeus, that she might render him unknown, and
tell him all things, so that his wife might not know him, nor his townsfolk,
nor his friends, until the suitors had paid the full price of all their
Therefore all things seemed strange
to their lord,  the long paths, the bays offering safe anchorage,
the sheer cliffs, and the luxuriant trees.
Then, mournfully longing for his native
land,  he [Ulysses] paced by the shore of the loud-sounding sea, uttering
many a moan.
drew near him in the form of a young man, a herdsman of sheep, one most
delicate, as are the sons of princes.
In a double fold about her shoulders
she wore a well-wrought cloak,  and beneath her shining feet she had
sandals, and in her hands a spear.
Then Ulysses was glad at sight of
her, and came to meet her, and he spoke, and addressed her with winged
-Friend, since you are the first
to whom I have come in this land, hail to you, and may you meet me with
no evil mind.
 Nay, save this treasure,
and save me; for to you do I pray, as to a God, and am come to your dear
And tell me this also truly, that
I may know full well. What land, what people is this? What men dwell here?
Is it some clear-seen island, or a shore  of the deep-soiled mainland
that lies resting on the sea?
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©1999 Roy George