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The Odyssey [Abridged] by Homer  - an excerpt

The Odyssey [Abridged]


Book One

Athena Visits Ithaca

Muse, speak to me now of that resourceful man

who wandered far and wide after ravaging

the sacred citadel of Troy. He came to see

many people’s cities, where he learned their customs,

while on the sea his spirit suffered many torments,

as he fought to save his life and lead his comrades home.

But though he wanted to, he could not rescue them—

they all died from their own stupidity, the fools.

They feasted on the cattle of Hyperion,

god of the sun—that’s why he snatched away their chance                                       10

of getting home someday. So now, daughter of Zeus,

tell us his story, starting anywhere you wish.1


The other warriors, all those who had escaped

being utterly destroyed, were now back safely home,

facing no more dangers from battle or the sea.

But Odysseus, who longed to get back to his wife

and reach his home, was being held in a hollow cave

by that mighty nymph Calypso, noble goddess,

who wished to make Odysseus her husband.

But as the seasons came and went, the year arrived                                                     20

in which, according to what gods had once ordained,

he was to get back to Ithaca, his home—

not that he would be free from troubles even there,

among his family. The gods pitied Odysseus,

all except Poseidon, who kept up his anger

against godlike Odysseus and did not relent

until he reached his native land.


                                    But at that moment,

Poseidon was among the Ethiopians,

a long way off. But other gods had gathered

in the great hall of Olympian Zeus. Among them all,                                             30

the father of gods and men was first to speak.

In his heart he was remembering royal Aegisthus,

whom Orestes, Agamemnon’s famous son,

had killed. With him in mind, Zeus addressed the gods:


“It’s disgraceful how these humans blame the gods.

They say their tribulations come from us,

when they themselves, through their own foolishness,

bring hardships which are not decreed by fate.

Now there’s Aegisthus, who took for himself

the wife of Agamemnon, Atreus’ son,                                                         40

and then murdered him, once the man came home.

None of that was set by Fate. Aegisthus knew

his acts would bring about his total ruin.

So he has paid for everything in full.”2

Athena, goddess with the gleaming eyes, answered Zeus:


“Son of Cronos and father to us all,

you who rule on high, yes indeed, Aegisthus

now lies dead, something he well deserved.

May any other man who does what he did

also be destroyed! But my heart is torn                                                     50

for skillful Odysseus, ill-fated man,

who has had to suffer such misfortune

for so many years, a long way from friends.

He’s on an island, surrounded by the sea,

the one that forms the ocean’s navel stone.


In the forests of that island lives a goddess,

who stops the sad, unlucky man from leaving.

But Odysseus yearns to see even the smoke

rising from his native land and longs

for death. And yet, Olympian Zeus, your heart                                         60

does not respond to him. Did not Odysseus

offer you delightful sacrifices

on Troy’s far-reaching plain beside the ships?

Why then, Zeus, are you so angry with him?”

Cloud-gatherer Zeus then answered her and said:


                                                “My child,

How could I forget godlike Odysseus,

pre-eminent among all mortal men

for his intelligence and offerings

to the immortal gods, who hold wide heaven?

But Earthshaker Poseidon is a stubborn god,                                             70

constantly enraged about the Cyclops,

the one whose eye Odysseus destroyed,

godlike Polyphemus, the mightiest

of all the Cyclopes. Thoosa bore him,

the nymph, a daughter of that Phorcys

who commands the restless seas. Poseidon,

down in those hollow caves, had sex with her.

That’s the reason Earthshaker Poseidon

makes Odysseus wander from his country.

Still, he has no plans to kill him. But come,                                                 80

let’s all of us consider his return,

so he can journey back to Ithaca.

Poseidon’s anger will relent. He can’t

fight the immortal gods all by himself,

not with all of us opposing him.”3

Goddess Athena with the gleaming eyes replied to Zeus:


“Son of Cronos and father to us all,

ruling high above, let’s send Hermes,

killer of Argus, as our messenger,

over to the island of Ogygia,                                                                         90

so he can quickly tell that fair-haired nymph

our firm decision—that brave Odysseus

will now leave and complete his voyage home.4

I’ll go to Ithaca and urge his son

to be more active, put courage in his heart,

so he will call those long-haired Achaeans

to assembly, and there address the suitors,

who keep on slaughtering his flocks of sheep

and shambling bent-horned cattle.5 I’ll send him

on a trip to Sparta and sandy Pylos,                                                             100

to learn about his father’s voyage home—

he may hear of it somewhere—and to gain

a worthy reputation among men.”

Athena spoke. Then she tied those lovely sandals

on her feet, the immortal, golden sandals

which carry her as fast as stormy blasts of wind

across the ocean seas and endless tracts of land.

She raced down from the peak of Mount Olympus,

sped across to Ithaca, and then just stood there,

at Odysseus’ outer gate before the palace,                                                             110

on the threshold, gripping the bronze spear in her fist.

She looked like Mentes, a foreigner, the chief

who ruled the Taphians. There she met the suitors,

those arrogant men, who were enjoying themselves

playing checkers right outside the door, sitting down

on hides of cattle.


God-like Telemachus

observed Athena first, well before the others.

He moved up near Athena, then spoke to her—

his words had wings:


“Welcome to you stranger.

You must enjoy our hospitality.                                                                   120

Then, after you have had some food to eat,

you can tell us what you need.”

                                                            Saying this,

Telemachus led Pallas Athena into his home.

He brought Athena in and sat her in a chair,

a beautifully crafted work. Under it

he rolled out a linen mat and then arranged

a foot stool for her feet. Beside her he drew up

a lovely decorated chair for him to sit in.

A female servant carried in a fine gold jug

and poured water out into a silver basin,                                                                 130

so they could wash their hands. Beside them she set down

a polished table. Then the worthy housekeeper

brought in the bread and set it down before them.

Next, she laid out a wide variety of food,

drawing freely on supplies she had in store.

A carver sliced up many different cuts of meat

and served them. He set out goblets made of gold,

as a herald went back and forth pouring their wine.


Then, one after another, the proud suitors came.

They sat down on reclining seats and high-backed chairs.                                 140

Heralds poured water out for them to wash their hands,

and women servants piled some baskets full of bread,

while young lads filled their bowls up to the brim with drink.

The suitors reached out with their hands to grab

the tasty food prepared and placed in front of them.


When each and every man had satisfied his need

for food and drink, their hearts craved something more—

dancing and song—the finest joys of dinner feasts.


A herald gave a splendid lyre to Phemius,

so he was forced to sing in front of all the suitors.                                                 150

On the strings he plucked the prelude to a lovely song.

But then Telemachus, leaning his head over

close to Athena, so no one else could listen,

murmured to her:


“Dear stranger, my guest,

These men here, they spend all their time like this,

with songs and music—it’s so easy for them,

because they gorge themselves on what belongs

to someone else, and with impunity,

a man whose white bones now may well be lying

on the mainland somewhere, rotting in the rain,                                         160

or in the sea, being tossed around by waves.

If they saw him return to Ithaca,

they’d all be praying they had swifter feet

rather than more wealth in gold or clothes.

But by now some evil fate has killed him,

and for us there is no consolation,

not even if some earth-bound mortal man

should say that he will come. But tell me,

and speak candidly—Who are your people?

What city do you come from?”

                                                                            Then Athena,                                     170

goddess with the gleaming eyes, answered Telemachus:


“To you I will indeed speak openly.

I can tell you that my name is Mentes,

son of the wise Anchialus, and king

of the oar-loving Taphians. My ship

is berthed some distance from the city.

But come, speak openly and tell me this—

What is this feast? Who are these crowds of men?

Why do you need this? Is it a wedding?

Or a drinking party? It seems clear enough                                                 180

this is no meal where each man brings his share.

It strikes me that these men are acting here

in an insulting, overbearing way,

while dining in your home.”

                                                            Noble Telemachus

then said to Athena in reply:



since you’ve questioned me about the matter,

I’ll tell you. Our house was once well on its way

to being rich and famous—at that time

Odysseus was alive among his people.

But now the gods with their malicious plans                                             190

have changed all that completely. They make sure

Odysseus stays where nobody can see him—

they’ve not done this to anyone before.

But it’s not him alone who makes me sad

and cry out in distress. For now the gods

have brought me other grievous troubles.

All the best young men who rule the islands,

Dulichium and wooded Zacynthus,

and Same, as well as those who lord it here

in rocky Ithaca—they are all now                                                                200

wooing my mother and ravaging my house.

She won’t turn down a marriage she detests

but can’t bring herself to make the final choice.

Meanwhile, these men are feasting on my home

and soon will be the death of me as well.”

This made Pallas Athena angry—she said to him:


“It’s bad Odysseus has wandered off

when you need him here so much! He could lay

his hands upon these shameless suitors.

Listen now to what I’m going to tell you.                                                 210

Tomorrow you must call Achaea’s warriors

to an assembly and address them all,

appealing to the gods as witnesses.

Tell the suitors to return to their own homes.

As for your mother, if her heart is set

on getting married, then let her return

to where her father lives, for he’s a man

of power with great capabilities.

He’ll organize the marriage and arrange

the wedding gifts, as many as befit                                                             220

a well-loved daughter. Now, as for yourself,

if you’ll listen, I have some wise advice.

Set off in search of news about your father,

who’s been gone so long. Some living mortal

may tell you something, or you may hear

a voice from Zeus, which often brings men news.

Sail first to Pylos—speak to noble Nestor.

After you’ve been there, proceed to Sparta

and fair-haired Menelaus, the last one

of all bronze-clad Achaeans to get home.                                                 230

You must not keep on acting like a child—

the time has come when you’re too old for that.”

Prudent Telemachus then answered her:


“Stranger, you’ve been speaking as a friend,

thinking as a father would for his own son—

and what you’ve said I never will forget.

But come now, though you’re eager to be off,

stay here a while. Once you’ve had a bath

and your fond heart is fully satisfied,

then go back to your ship with your spirit                                                 240

full of joy, carrying a costly present,

something really beautiful, which will be

my gift to you, an heirloom of the sort

dear guest-friends give to those who are their friends.”

Goddess Athena with the gleaming eyes then said to him:


“Since I’m eager to depart, don’t keep me here

a moment longer. And whatever gift

your heart suggests you give me as a friend,

present it to me when I come back here,

and pick me something truly beautiful.                                                       250

It will earn you something worthy in return.”

This said, Athena with the gleaming eyes departed,

flying off like some wild sea bird. In his heart she put

courage and strength. She made him recall his father,

even more so than before. In his mind, Telemachus

pictured her, and his heart was full of wonder.

He thought she was a god. So he moved away.

And then the noble youth rejoined the suitors.

Celebrated Phemius was performing for them,

as they sat in silence, listening. He was singing                                                     260

of the return of the Achaeans, that bitter trip

Athena made them take when they sailed home from Troy.


In her upper room, the daughter of Icarius,

wise Penelope, heard the man’s inspired song.

She came down the towering staircase from her room,

but not alone—two female servants followed her.

Once beautiful Penelope reached the suitors,

she stayed beside the door post in the well-built room,

with a small bright veil across her face. On either side

her two attendants stood. With tears streaming down,                                         270

Penelope addressed the famous singer:



you know all sorts of other ways to charm

an audience, actions of the gods and men

which singers celebrate. As you sit here,

sing one of those, while these men drink their wine

in silence. Don’t keep up that painful song,

which always breaks the heart here in my chest,

for, more than anyone, I am weighed down

with ceaseless grief which I cannot forget.

I always remember with such yearning                                                       280

my husband’s face, a man whose fame has spread

far and wide through Greece and central Argos.”

Sensible Telemachus answered her and said:


“Mother, why begrudge the faithful singer

delighting us in any way his mind

may prompts him to? One can’t blame the singers.

It seems to me it’s Zeus’ fault. He hands out

to toiling men, each and every one of them,

whatever he desires. There’s nothing wrong

with this man’s singing of the evil fate                                                       290

of the Danaans, for men praise the most

the song which they have heard most recently.

Your heart and spirit should endure his song.

Go up to your rooms and keep busy there

with your own work, the spindle and the loom.

Tell your servants to perform their duties.

Talking is a man’s concern, every man’s,

but especially mine, since in this house

I’m the one in charge.”

                                Astonished at his words,

Penelope went back to her own chambers,                                                             300

setting in her heart the prudent words her son had said.

With her attendant women she climbed the stairs

up to her rooms and there wept for Odysseus,

her dear husband, until bright-eyed Athena

cast sweet sleep on her eyelids.


                                        In the shadowy halls

the suitors started to create an uproar,

each man shouting out his hope to lie beside her.

Then shrewd Telemachus began his speech to them:


“You suitors of my mother, who all have

such insolent arrogance, let us for now                                                     310

enjoy our banquet, but no more shouting,

for it’s grand to listen to a singer

as fine as this one—his voice is like a god’s.

But in the morning let us all assemble,

sit down for a meeting, so I can speak

and tell you firmly to depart my home.

Make yourself some different meals which eat up

your own possessions, moving house to house.

But if you think it’s preferable and better

for one man’s livelihood to be consumed                                                  320

without paying anything, I’ll call upon

the immortal gods to see if Zeus

will bring about an act of retribution.

And if you are destroyed inside my home,

you will not be avenged.”

                                                            Telemachus finished.

They all bit their lips, astonished that he’d spoken out

so boldly. Then, Antinous, son of Eupeithes,



“Telemachus, the gods themselves,

it seems, are teaching you to be a braggart

and give rash speeches. I do hope that Zeus,                                           330

son of Cronos, does not make you king

of this sea island Ithaca, even though

it is your father’s legacy to you.”

                                        At that point, the suitors

switched to dancing and to singing lovely songs.

They amused themselves until dark evening came.

Then each man went to his own house to sleep.


Telemachus moved up to where his room was built

high in the splendid courtyard, with a spacious view,

his mind much preoccupied on his way to bed.


Accompanying him, quick-minded Eurycleia                                                         340

held two flaming torches. She was Ops’s daughter.

Of all the female household slaves she was the one

who loved him most, for she had nursed him as a child.

He opened the doors of the well-constructed room,

sat on the bed, and pulled off his soft tunic,

handed it to the wise old woman, who smoothed it out,

and folded it, then hung the tunic on a peg

beside the corded bedstead. Then she left the room,

pulling the door shut by its silver handle.

Telemachus lay there all night long, wrapped up                                                   350

in sheep’s wool, his mind thinking of the journey

which Athena had earlier proposed to him.














1The Muses, divine patrons of the arts, are daughters of Zeus, the most powerful god on Olympus.









2Aegisthus, as part of a scheme to avenge a terrible act of Agamemnon’s father againsthis father, seduced Agamemnon’s wife, Clytaemnestra, while Agamemnon was leading the Achaean army at Troy, and when Agamemnon returned victorious, the two lovers killed him and took control of Argos. Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, who was away at the time of the murder, returned to Argos in disguise and avenged his father by killing Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. This famous story is referred to a number of times in the Odyssey. Agamemnon’s shade provides some details of the killing in Book Eleven.

































3A cyclops, as we find out later in the poem, is a huge, one-eyed cannibal monster living in the wilderness. Poseidon, Zeus’ divine brother, is god of the sea (hence, he is often called “Encircler of the Earth”). He is also called Earthshaker because he rules over earthquakes.






4Cronos is Zeus’ father, whom Zeus fought against and imprisoned deep in the earth.Hermes, divine son of Zeus, killed the monster Argus, whom Zeus’ wife and sister, Hera, had told to guard the goddess Io, in order to prevent her getting into sexual mischief with Zeus.





5The suitors are the rich, young aristocratic men of Ithaca and the neighbouring islandswho are seeking to marry Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, in the belief that Odysseus is dead.



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