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 ( 14 )
Then Ulysses of many wiles answered
her, and said:
-Honored wife of Ulysses, son
of Laertes, no longer now do you put off this contest in your living rooms;
 for, I tell you, Ulysses of many wiles will be here, before these
men, handling this polished bow, shall have strung it, and shot an arrow
through the iron.
Then wise Penelope answered him:
-If you could but wish, stranger,
to sit here in my living rooms  and give me joy, sleep should never
be shed over my eyelids. But it is in no wise possible that men should
forever be sleepless, for the immortals have appointed a proper time for
each thing upon the earth, the giver of grain. But I truly will go to my
upper chamber  and lay me on my bed, which has become for me a bed
of wailings, ever bedewed with my tears, since the day when Ulysses went
to see evil Ilios, that should never be named. There will I lay me down,
but do you lie down here in the living room, when you has strewn bedding
on the floor; or let the maids set a bedstead for you.
 So saying, she went up to her
bright upper chamber, not alone, for with her went her handmaids as well.
And when she had gone up to her upper chamber with her handmaids, she then
bewailed Ulysses, her dear husband, until bright-eyed Athena
cast sweet sleep upon her eyelids.
But the goodly Ulysses lay down to
sleep in the fore-hall of the house. On the ground he spread an undressed
ox-hide and above it many fleeces of sheep, which the Achaeans were accustomed
to slay, and Eurynome threw over him a cloak, when he had laid him down.
 There Ulysses, pondering in his heart evil for the suitors, lay sleepless.
And the women came forth from the
living room, those that had before been accustomed to lie with the suitors,
making laughter and merriment among themselves. But the heart was stirred
in his breast,  and much he debated in mind and heart, whether he should
rush after them and deal death to each, or suffer them to lie with the
insolent suitors for the last and latest time; and his heart growled within
him. And as a bitch stands over her tender whelps  growling, when she
sees a man she does not know, and is eager to fight, so his heart growled
within him in his wrath at their evil deeds; but he smote his breast, and
rebuked his heart, saying:
-Endure, my heart; a worse thing
even than this did you once endure on that day when the Cyclops, unrestrained
in daring, devoured my  mighty comrades; but you did endure until craft
got you forth from the cave where you thought to die.
So he spoke, chiding the heart in
his breast, and his heart remained bound within him to endure steadfastly;
but he himself lay tossing this way and that.  And as when a man before
a great blazing fire turns swiftly this way and that a paunch full of fat
and blood, and is very eager to have it roasted quickly, so Ulysses tossed
from side to side, pondering how he might put forth his hands upon the
shameless suitors,  one man as he was against so many.
came down from heaven and drew near to him in the likeness of a woman,
and she stood above his head, and spoke to him, and said:
-Why now again are you wakeful,
ill-fated above all men? Look, this is your house, and here within is your
wife  and your child, such a man, it seems to me, as anyone might pray
to have for his son.
And Ulysses of many wiles answered
her, and said:
-Yes, Goddess, all this has you
spoken rightly. But the heart in my breast is pondering somewhat upon this,
how I may put forth my hands upon the shameless suitors,  all alone
as I am, while they remain always in a body in the house.
And furthermore this other and
harder thing I ponder in my mind: even if I were to slay them by the will
of Zeus and of yourself, where then should I find escape from bane? Of
this I ask you take thought.
Then the Goddess, bright-eyed
- Obstinate one, many a man
puts his trust even in a weaker friend than I am, one that is mortal, and
knows not such wisdom as mine; but I am a God, that guard you to the end
in all your toils.
And I will tell you openly; if
fifty troops of mortal men  should stand about us, eager to slay us
in battle, even their cattle and goodly sheep should you drive off.
Nay, let sleep now come over you.
There is weariness also in keeping wakeful watch the whole night through;
and even now shall you come forth from out your perils.
So she spoke, and shed sleep upon
his eyelids,  but herself, the fair Goddess, went back to Olympus.
Now while sleep seized him, loosening
the cares of his heart, sleep that loosens the limbs of men, his true-hearted
wife awoke, and wept, as she sat upon her soft bed. But when her heart
had had its fill of weeping,  to Artemis first of all the fair lady
made her prayer:
-Artemis, mighty Goddess, daughter
of Zeus, would that now you would fix your arrow in my breast and take
away my life even in this hour; or that a storm-wind might catch me up
and bear me hence over the murky ways,  and cast me forth at the mouth
of backward-flowing Oceanus, even as on a time storm-winds bore away the
daughters of Pandareus.
Their parents the Gods had slain,
and they were left orphans in the living rooms, and fair Aphrodite tended
them with cheese, and sweet honey, and pleasant wine,  and Here gave
them beauty and wisdom above all women, and chaste Artemis gave them stature,
and Athena taught them skill in famous handiwork.
But while beautiful Aphrodite
was going to high Olympus to ask for the maidens the accomplishment of
gladsome marriage --  going to Zeus who hurls the thunderbolt, for
well he knows all things, both the happiness and the misfortune of mortal
men -- meanwhile the spirits of the storm snatched away the maidens and
gave them to the hateful Erinyes to deal with.
Would that even so those who have
dwellings on Olympus would blot me from sight,  or that fair-tressed
Artemis would smite me, so that with Ulysses before my mind I might even
pass beneath the hateful earth, and never gladden in any wise the heart
of a baser man.
Yet when a man weeps by day with
a heart sore distressed,  but at night sleep holds him, this brings
with it an evil that may well be borne -- for sleep makes one forget all
things, the good and the evil, when once it envelops the eyelids -- but
upon me a God sends evil dreams as well.
For this night again there lay
by my side one like him, even such as he was when he went forth with the
host, and my heart  was glad, for I deemed it was no dream, but the
truth at last.
Meanwhile the heralds were leading
through the city the holy hecatomb of the Gods, and the long-haired Achaeans
gathered together beneath a shady grove of Apollo, the archer-God.
But when they had roasted the outer
flesh and drawn it off the spits,  they divided the portions and feasted
a glorious feast. And by Ulysses those who served set a portion equal to
that which they received themselves, for so Telemachus commanded, the dear
son of divine Ulysses.
But the proud suitors Athena
would in no wise suffer to abstain from bitter outrage, that pain might
sink yet deeper into the heart of Ulysses, son of Laertes.
 So spoke Telemachus, but among
the suitors Pallas Athena roused unquenchable
laughter, and turned their wits away.
And now they laughed with alien lips,
and all bedabbled with blood was the flesh they ate, and their eyes were
filled with tears and their spirits set on wailing.
But the Goddess, bright-eyed Athena,
put it into the heart of the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, to set
before the suitors in the living rooms of Ulysses the bow and the gray
iron, to be a contest and the beginning of death.
 She climbed the high stairway
to her chamber, and took the bent key in her strong hand -- a goodly key
of bronze, and on it was a handle of ivory. And she went her way with her
handmaidens to a store-room, far remote, where lay the treasures of her
lord,  bronze and gold and iron, wrought with toil.
And there lay the back-bent bow and
the quiver that held the arrows, and many arrows were in it, fraught with
groanings -- gifts which a friend of Ulysses had given him when he met
him once in Lacedaemon, even Iphitus, son of Eurytus, a man like unto the
Then wise Telemachus answered her:
-My mother, as for the bow, no
man of the Achaeans  has a better right than I to give or to deny
it to whomsoever I will -- no, not all those who lord it in rocky Ithaca,
or in the islands towards horse-pasturing Elis.
No man among these shall thwart
me against my will, even though I should wish to give this bow outright
to the stranger to bear away with him.
 But do you go your chamber,
and busy yourself with your own tasks, the loom and the distaff, and ask
your handmaids ply their tasks.
The bow shall be for men, for
all, but most of all for me; since mine is the authority in the house.
She then, seized with wonder, went
back to her chamber,  for she laid to heart the wise saying of her
Up to her upper chamber she went
with her handmaids, and then bewailed Ulysses, her dear husband, until
bright-eyed Athena cast sweet sleep upon
Forth they went to the store-room,
unseen of him who was within.  He truly was seeking for armor in the
innermost part of the store-room, and the two lay in wait, standing on
either side of the door-posts.
And when Melanthius, the goatherd,
was about to pass over the threshold, bearing in one hand a goodly helm,
and in the other a broad old shield, flecked with rust --  the shield
of lord Laertes, which he was accustomed to bear in his youth, but now
it was laid by, and the seams of its straps were loosened -- then the two
sprang upon him and seized him.
They dragged him in by the hair,
and flung him down on the ground in sore terror, and bound his feet and
hands with galling bonds,  binding them firmly behind his back, as
the son of Laertes bade them, the much enduring, goodly Ulysses; and they
made fast to his body a twisted rope, and hoisted him up the tall pillar,
till they brought him near the roof-beams. Then did you mock him, swineherd
Eumaeus, and say:
 -Now truly, Melanthius,
shall you watch the whole night through, lying on a soft bed, as befits
you, nor shall you fail to mark the early Dawn, golden-throned, as she
comes forth from the streams of Oceanus, at the hour when you are accustomed
to drive your she-goats for the suitors, to prepare a feast in the living
 So he was left there, stretched
in the direful bond, but the two put on their armor, and closed the bright
door, and went to Ulysses, the wise and crafty-minded.
There they stood, breathing fury,
those on the threshold but four, while those within the living room were
many and brave.
 Then Athena,
daughter of Zeus, drew near them, like unto Mentor in form and voice, and
Ulysses saw her, and was glad; and he spoke, saying:
-Mentor, ward off ruin, and remember
me, your dear comrade, who often befriended you. You are of like age with
 So he spoke, deeming that it
was Athena, the rouser of hosts.
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©1999 Roy George