Translation by Ian Johnston

Book Twenty-Two
The Killing of the Suitors

[Odysseus stands in the doorway and shoots arrows at the suitors; he first kills Antinous; Eurymachus offers compensation for what the suitors have done; Odysseus kills him; Telemachus kills Amphinomus, then goes to fetch weapons from the storeroom; Melanthius reveals where the weapons are stored and gets some for the suitors; Eumaeus and Philoetius catch Melanthius and string him up to the rafters; Athena appears in the guise of Mentor to encourage Odysseus; Agelaus tries to rally the suitors; Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoetius keep killing suitors until Athena makes the suitors panic; Leiodes seeks mercy from Odysseus but is killed; Odysseus spares Phemius and Medon; Odysseus questions Eurycleia about the women servants who have dishonoured him; he gets them to haul the bodies outside and clean up the hall; Telemachus hangs all the unfaithful female slaves; Melanthius is cut up and castrated; Odysseus purifies the house and yard; Odysseus is reunited with the faithful women servants]

Then shrewd Odysseus stripped off his rags, grabbed up
the bow and quiver full of arrows, and sprang
over to the large doorway. He dumped swift arrows
right there at his feet and then addressed the suitors:

"This competition to decide the issue
is now over.  But there's another target—
one no man has ever struck—I'll find out
if I can hit it.  May Apollo grant
I get the glory."

                                                As Odysseus spoke, 
he aimed a bitter arrow straight at Antinous,                                     
who was just about to raise up to his lips
a fine double-handled goblet he was holding                                              
in his hands, so he could drink some wine.  In his heart
there was no thought of slaughter.  Among those feasting,
who would ever think in such a crowd of people, 
one man, even with truly outstanding strength,
would bring himself an evil death, his own black fate?
Odysseus took aim and hit him with an arrow
in the throat.  Its point passed through his tender neck.
He slumped onto his side, and, as he was hit,                                   
the cup fell from his hand.  A thick spurt of human blood
came flowing quickly from his nose.  Then, suddenly
he pushed the table from him with his foot, spilling                                   
food onto the floor—the bread and roasted meat
were ruined.  When the suitors saw Antinous fall,
they raised an uproar in the house, leaping from their seats,
scurrying in panic through the hall, looking round
everywhere along the well-constructed walls,
but there were no weapons anywhere, no strong spear
or shield for them to seize.  They began to shout,                         
yelling words of anger at Odysseus:

you'll pay for shooting arrows at this man.
For you there'll be no contests any more.
It's certain you'll be killed once and for all.

You've killed a man, by far the finest youth
in all of Ithaca.  And now the vultures                      
are going to eat you up right here."

                                                                    Each of them
shouted out some words like these.  They did not think
he'd killed the man on purpose.  In their foolishness,
they didn't realize they'd all become enmeshed                                  
in destruction's snare.  Shrewd Odysseus scowled at them
and gave his answer:

                                  "You dogs, because you thought
I'd not come back from Troy to my own home,
you've been ravaging my house, raping women,
and in your devious way wooing my wife,
while I was still alive, with no fear of the gods,
who hold wide heaven, or of any man                                   
who might take his revenge in days to come.
And now a fatal net has caught you all."

As Odysseus said these words, pale fear seized everyone.                    50
Each man looked around to see how he might flee
complete destruction.  Only Eurymachus spoke—
he answered him and said:

                           "If, in fact, it's true
that you're Odysseus of Ithaca,
back home again, you're right in what you say
about the actions of Achaeans here, 
their frequent reckless conduct in your home,
their many foolish actions in the fields.
But the man responsible for all these things
now lies dead—I mean Antinous, the one                                
who started all this business, not because                                        
he was all that eager to get married—
that's not what he desired.  No.  For he had
another plan in mind, which Cronos' son
did not bring to fulfillment. He wanted
to become the king of fertile Ithaca,
by ambushing your son and killing him.
Now he's been killed himself, as he deserved.
But you should spare your own people now.
Later on we'll collect throughout the land                                 
repayment for all we've had to eat and drink
inside your halls, and every man will bring
compensation on his own, in an amount
worth twenty oxen, paying you back in gold
and bronze until your heart is mollified.
Until that time, no one is blaming you
for being so angry."

                                    Shrewd Odysseus glared at him                          [60]
and then replied:

                                "Eurymachus, if you gave me
all the goods you got from your own fathers,
everything which you now own, and added                             
other assets you could obtain elsewhere,
not even then would I hold back my hands
from slaughter, not until the suitors pay
for all their arrogance.  Now, you've a choice—
to fight here face to face or, if any man
wishes to evade his death and lethal fate,
to run away.  But I don't think there's one
who will escape complete destruction."

Once Odysseus spoke, their knees and hearts went slack
right where they stood.  Then Eurymachus spoke once more,           
calling out to them:

                       "Friends, this man won't hold in check                     [70]
those all-conquering hands of his.  Instead,
now he's got the polished bow and quiver,
from that smooth threshold he'll just shoot at us
until he's killed us all.  So let's think now
about how we should fight.  Pull out your swords,
and set the tables up to block those arrows—
they bring on death so fast.  And then let's charge,
go at him all together in a group, 
so we can dislodge him from the threshold,                             100
clear the door, get down into the city,
and raise the alarm as swiftly as we can.
Then this man should soon take his final shot."

With these words, Eurymachus pulled out his sword,
a sharp two-edged blade of bronze, and then charged out         
straight at Odysseus, with a blood-curdling shout.
As he did so, lord Odysseus shot an arrow.
It struck him in the chest beside the nipple
and drove the swift shaft straight down into his liver.
Eurymachus' sword fell from his hand onto the ground.            
He bent double and then fell, writhing on the table,
knocking food and two-handled cups onto the floor.
His forehead kept hammering the earth, his heart
in agony, as both his feet kicked at the chair
and made it shake.  A mist fell over both his eyes.
Then Amphinomus went at glorious Odysseus,
charging straight for him.  He'd drawn out his sharp sword,          
to see if he would somehow yield the door to him.
But Telemachus moved in too quickly for him—
he threw a bronze-tipped spear and hit him from behind               
between the shoulders.  He drove it through his chest.
With a crash, Amphinomus fell, and
his forehead
struck hard against the ground.  Telemachus jumped back,
leaving his spear in Amphinomus, afraid that,
if he tried to pull out the long-shadowed spear,
some Achaean might attack and stab him with a sword
or strike him while he was stooping down.  And so
he quickly ran away and then moved across
to his dear father.  Standing close to him, he spoke—                 
his words had wings:

                              "Father, now I'll bring you                          130
a shield, two spears, and a bronze helmet,
one that fits your temples.  When I get back,
I'll arm myself and hand out other armour
to the swineherd and the keeper of the goats.
It's better if we fully arm ourselves."

Quick-witted Odysseus answered him and said:

"Get them here fast, while still I have arrows
to protect myself, in case they push me
from the doors, since I'm here by myself."

Odysseus spoke, and Telemachus obeyed                                          140
his dear father.  He went off to the storeroom
where their splendid weapons lay.   From the place
he took four shields, eight spears, and four bronze helmets          
with thick horsehair plumes.  He went out carrying these
and came back to his dear father very quickly.
First he armed himself with bronze around his body,
and the two servants did the same, putting on
the lovely armour.  Then they took their places
on either side of skilled and sly Odysseus,
who, as long as he had arrows to protect him,                   
kept on aiming at the suitors in his house,
shooting at them one by one.  As he hit them,
they fell down in heaps.  But once he'd used his arrows,
the king could shoot no more.  So he leaned the bow                    
against the doorpost of the well-constructed wall,
and let it stand beside the shining entrance way.
Then on his own he set across his shoulders
his four-layered shield, and on his powerful head
he placed a beautifully crafted helmet 
with horsehair nodding ominously on top.                        
Then he grabbed two heavy bronze-tipped spears.

In that well-constructed wall there was a side door,
and close to the upper level of the threshold
into the sturdy hall the entrance to a passage,
shut off with close-fitting doors.  So Odysseus
told the worthy swineherd to stand beside this door
and watch, for there was just one way of reaching it.*        
Then Agelaus spoke, calling all the suitors:

"Friends, can someone climb up to that side door
and tell the men to raise a quick alarm?                          
Then this man won't be shooting any more."

But Melanthius the goatherd answered him and said:

"It can't be done, divinely raised Agelaus.
The fine gate to the yard is awfully near,
and the passage entrance hard to get through.*
One man could block the way for everyone,
if he were brave.  But come, let me bring you
armour from the storeroom.  You can put it on.
It's in the house, I thinkthere's nowhere else                                [140]
Odysseus and his noble son could store                                   180
their weapons."

                                     Once goatherd Melanthius said this,
he climbed a flight of stairs inside the palace,
up to Odysseus' storerooms.  There he took twelve shields,
as many spears, as many helmets made of bronze
with bushy horsehair plumes.  Once he'd made it back,
carrying the weapons, as quickly as he could
he gave them to the suitors.  When Odysseus saw them
putting armour on and their hands brandishing 
long spears, his knees and his fond heart went slack.
His task appeared enormous.  He called out quickly                         190      [150]
to Telemachus—his words had wings:

it seems one of the women in the house
is stirring up a nasty fight against us,
or perhaps Melanthius might be the one."

 Shrewd Telemachus then said in reply:

"Father, I bear the blame for this myself.
It's no one else's fault.  I left it open

the close-fitting door of that storage room.
One of them has keener eyes than I do.  
Come, good Eumaeus, shut the storeroom door.                     
And try to learn if one of the women
has done this, or if it's Melanthius,
son of Dolius
—I suspect it's him."

While they were saying these things to one another,                                  [160]
Melanthius the goatherd went back once more
to carry more fine armour from the storeroom.
But the loyal swineherd saw him and spoke out,
saying a quick word to Odysseus, who was close by:

"Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes son,
raised from Zeus, there's that man again,                  
the wretch we think is visiting the storeroom.
Give me clear instructions—should I kill him,
if I prove the stronger man, or should I
bring him to you here—he can pay you back
for the many insolent acts he's done,
all those schemes he's thought up in your home."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered him and said:                                   [170]

"These proud suitors Telemachus and I
will keep penned up here inside the hall,
no matter how fiercely they may fight.                                      220
You two twist Melanthius' feet and arms
behind him, throw him in the storeroom,
then lash boards against his back. Tie the man
to a twisted rope and then hoist him up
the lofty pillar till he's near the beams.
Let him stay alive a while and suffer
in agonizing pain."

                                                As Odysseus said this,
they listened eagerly and then obeyed his words.
They moved off to the storeroom, without being seen
by the man inside.  He was, as it turned out, searching        
               230    [180]
for weapons in a corner of the room.  So then,
when Melanthius the goatherd was coming out
across the threshold, holding a lovely helmet
in one hand and in the other an old broad shield
covered in mould—one belonging to Laertes,
which he used to carry as a youthful warrior,
but which now was lying in storage, its seams
unraveling on the straps—the two men jumped out
and grabbed him.  The dragged him inside by the hair,
threw him on the ground—the man was terrified—                 
and tied his feet and hands with heart-wrenching bonds.
They lashed them tight behind his back, as Odysseus,                 
Laertes' royal son, who had endured so much,
had told them.  They fixed a twisted rope to him,
yanked him up the lofty pillar, and raised him
near the roof beams.  And then, swineherd Eumaeus,
you taunted him and said:

                                      "Now, Melanthius,
you can really keep watch all night long,
stretched out on a warm bed, as you deserve.
You won't miss the golden throne of early Dawn,                   
as she rises from the streams of Ocean—
the very hour you've been bringing goats here,
so the suitors can prepare their banquets
in these halls."

                                                   They left Melanthius there,                     [200]
tied up and hanging in bonds which would destroy him.
The two put on their armour, closed the shining door,
and made their way to wise and crafty Odysseus.
Filled with fighting spirit, they stood there, four of them
on the threshold, with many brave men in the hall.
Then Athena, Zeus' daughter, came up to them,                     
looking just like Mentor and with his voice, as well.
Odysseus saw her and rejoiced.  He cried:

help fight off disaster.  Remember me,  
your dear comrade.  I've done good things for you.
You're my companion, someone my own age."

Odysseus said this, thinking Mentor was, in fact,                                       [210]
Athena, who incites armed men to action.
From across the hall the suitors yelled:

don't let what Odysseus says convince you
to fight the suitors and to stand by him.                                   
For this is how it will end up, I think,
when our will prevails.  Once we've killed these men,
father and son, then you'll be slaughtered, too, 
for all the things you're keen to bring out
here in the hall.  You're going to pay for it
with your own head.  Once our swords have sliced
your strength from you, we'll mix your property,                  
all the things you have inside your home
and in the fields, with what Odysseus owns.
We won't allow your sons and daughters                           
to live within your house or your dear wife 
to move in Ithaca, not in the city."

After they said this, Athena in her heart
grew very angry, and she rebuked Odysseus
with heated words:

                                 "Odysseus, you no longer have
that firm spirit and force you once possessed
when for nine years you fought against the Trojans
over white-armed Helen, who was nobly born.
You never stopped.  You slaughtered many men
in fearful combat.  Through your stratagems                 
Priam's city of broad streets was taken.                                           
So how come now, when you've come home
among your own possessions, you're moaning
about acting bravely with these suitors?
Come on, my friend, stand here beside me, 
see what I do, so you can understand
the quality of Mentor, Alcimus' son,
when, surrounded by his enemies,
he repays men who've acted well for him."

Athena spoke.  But she did not give him the strength                        300
to win that fight decisively.  She was still testing
the power and resolution of Odysseus
and his splendid son. So she flew up to the roof
inside the smoky hall, and sat there, taking on                                           
the appearance of a swallow.

                                                 Meanwhile the suitors
were being stirred into action by Agelaus,
Damastor's son, by Eurynomus, Amphimedon,
Demoptolemus, Peisander, Polyctor's son,
and clever Polybus.  Among the suitors still alive
these were the finest men by far.  Odysseus' bow                      
and his swift arrows had destroyed the others.
Agelaus spoke to them, addressing everyone:

"Friends, this man's hands have been invincible,
but now they'll stop.  Mentor has moved away,
once he'd made some empty boast.  And now,
they're left alone before the outer gates.                            
So don't throw those long spears of yours at them,
not all at once.  Come, you six men throw first,
to see if Zeus will let us strike Odysseus
and win the glory.  Those others over there                  
will be no trouble after he's collapsed."

Agelaus spoke, and in their eagerness
to follow what he'd said, they all hurled their spears.  
But Athena made sure their spear throws missed the mark.
One man hit a door post in the well-built hall.  
Another struck the closely fitted door.  One ash spear,
weighted down with bronze, fell against the wall.
When they
'd escaped the suitor's spears, lord Odysseus,                            [260]
who'd been through so much, was the first to speak:

"Friends, now I'll give the word—let's hurl our spears            330
into that crowd of suitors trying to kill us,
adding to the harmful acts they did before."

Once Odysseus spoke, they all took steady aim,
then threw their pointed spears.  Odysseus struck down
Demoptolemus, Telemachus hit Euryades,
the swineherd struck Elatus, and the cattle herder
killed Peisander.  These men's teeth chewed up the earth,
all of them together.  The suitors then pulled back              
into the inner section of the hall.  The others
then rushed up to pull their spears out of the dead.                  
The suitors kept throwing spears with frantic haste,
but, though there were many, Athena made them miss.
One man struck the door post of the well-built hall.
Another hit the closely fitted door.  One ash spear,
weighted down with bronze, fell against the wall.
But Amphimedon did hit Telemachus' hand
a glancing blow across the wrist.  The bronze point
cut the surface of his skin.  And with his long spear
Ctessipus grazed Eumaeus' shoulder above his shield,
but the spear veered off and fell down on the ground.    
                    350     [280]
Then the group surrounding sly and shrewd Odysseus
once more threw sharp spears into the crowd of suitors
and once again Odysseus, sacker of cities,
hit a man
—Eurydamas, while Telemachus
struck Amphimedon, and swineherd Eumaeus

hit Polybus.  The cattle herder Philoetius
then struck Ctesippus in the chest and boasted
above the body, saying: 

                                     "Son of Polytherses,
you love to jeer
—but don't yield any more
to your stupidity and talk so big.                          
Leave that sort of talking to the gods,
for they are far more powerful than you.
This is your guest gift
—something to pay back                                [290]
the ox hoof you gave godlike Odysseus
back when he was begging in the house."

That's what the herder of the bent-horned cattle said.
Odysseus wounded Damastor's son at close range
with his long spear, and Telemachus injured
Leocritus, son of Evenor—he struck him
with his spear right in the groin and drove the bronze                       
straight through—so Leocritus fell on his face,
his whole forehead smashing down onto the ground.
Then Athena held up her man-destroying aegis
from high up in the roof.* The suitors' minds panicked,
and they fled through the hall, like a herd of cattle
when a stinging gadfly goads them to stampede,                        
in spring season, when the long days come.  Just as
the falcons with hooked talons and curved beaks
fly down from mountains, chasing birds and driving them
well below the clouds, as they swoop along the plain,                       
and then pounce and kill them, for there's no defence,
no flying away, while men get pleasure from the chase,
that's how Odysseus and his men pursued the suitors
and struck them down, one by one, throughout the hall.
As they smashed their heads in, dreadful groans arose,
and the whole floor was awash in blood.  

                                                              But then,                                       [310]
Leiodes ran out, grabbed Odysseus' knees,
and begged him—his words had wings:

I implore you at your knees
—respect me
and have pity.  I tell you I've never                                 
harmed a single woman in these halls
by saying or doing something reckless.
Instead I tried to stop the other suitors
when they did those things.  They didn't listen
or restrain their hands from acting badly.
So their own wickedness now brings about
their wretched fate.  Among them I'm a prophet
who has done no wrong, and yet I'll lie dead,
since there's no future thanks for one's good deeds."

Shrewd Odysseus glared at him and answered:                                           [320]

                                                      "If, in fact,                          400
you claim to be a prophet with these men,
no doubt here in these halls you've often prayed
that my goal of a sweet return would stay
remote from me, so my dear wife could go
away with you and bear your children.  
That's why you won't escape a bitter death."

As he said this, Odysseus picked up in his fist
a sword that lay near by
—Agelaus, when he was killed,
had let it fall onto the ground.  With this sword
Odysseus struck Leiodes right on the neck—                      
his head rolled in the dust as he was speaking.

And then the minstrel Phemius, son of Terpes,                                          [330]
who'd been compelled to sing before the suitors,
kept trying to get away from his own murky fate.
He stood holding his clear-toned lyre by the side door,
his mind divided
—should he slip out from the hall
and take a seat close to the altar of great Zeus,
god of the courtyard, where Laertes and Odysseus
had burned many thighs from sacrificial oxen,
or should he rush up to Odysseus' knee                                    
and beg him for his life.  As his mind thought it through,
the latter course of action seemed the better choice,
to clasp the knees of Laertes' son, Odysseus.
So he set the hollow lyre down on the ground,                     
between the mixing bowl and silver-studded chair,
rushed out in person to clasp Odysseus' knees,
and pleaded with him
—his words had wings:

"I implore you, Odysseus, show me respect
and pity.  There'll be sorrow for you later,
if you kill me, a minstrel, for I sing                           
to gods and men.  I am self taught.  The god
has planted in my heart all kinds of songs,
and I'm good enough to sing before you,
as to a god.  Don't be too eager then
to cut my throat.  Your dear son Telemachus                 
could tell you that it wasn't my desire
nor did I need to spend time at your house,
singing for the suitors at their banquets.
But their greater power and numbers
brought me here by force."

                                                 As Phemius said this,                         440
royal Telemachus heard him and spoke up,
calling to his father, who was close by:

"Hold on.  Don't let your sword injure this man.
He's innocent.  We should save Medon, too,
the herald, who always looked out for me
inside the house when I was still a child,
unless Philoetius has killed him,
or the swineherd, or he ran into you
as you were on the rampage in the hall."                 

Telemachus spoke.  Medon, whose mind was clever,                         450
heard him, for he was cowering underneath a chair,
his skin covered by a new-flayed ox-hide, trying
to escape his own black fate.  He quickly  jumped out
from beneath the chair, threw off the ox-hide,
rushed up to clasp Telemachus' knees, and begged

his words had wings:

                                               "Here I am, my friend.
Stop!  And tell your father to restrain himself,
in case, as he exults in his great power,
he slaughters me with that sharp bronze of his,
in his fury with the suitors, those men                             
who consumed his goods here in his own hall,                      
those fools who did not honour you at all."                

Resourceful Odysseus then smiled at him and said:

"Cheer up!  This man here has saved your life.
He's rescued you, so you know in your heart
and can tell someone else how doing good
is preferable by far to acting badly.
But move out of the hall and sit outside,
in the yard, some distance from the killing,
you and the minstrel with so many songs,                        
until I finish all I need to do in here."

After Odysseus spoke, the two men went away,
outside the hall, and sat down there, by the altar
of great Zeus, peering round in all directions,                          
always thinking they'd be killed.  

                                                        Odysseus, too,
looked round the house to check if anyone
was hiding there, still alive, trying to escape
his own dark fate.  But every man he looked at

and there were plenty
had fallen in blood and dust,
like fish which, in the meshes of a net, fishermen                   
have pulled from the gray sea up on the curving beach,
lying piled up on the sand, longing for sea waves,
while the bright sun takes away their life
—that's how
the suitors then were lying in heaps on one another.

Resourceful Odysseus then said to Telemachus:                                        [390]

"Telemachus, go and call the nurse in here,
Eurycleia, so I can speak to her.
Something's on my mind
—I want to tell her."

Once Odysseus spoke, Telemachus obeyed
what his dear father said.  He shook the door and called                   490
to Eurycleia, saying:*

                                "Get up, old woman,
born so long ago—the one in charge
of female servants in the palace.
Come out.  My father's calling for you.
He's got something he wants to say."

He spoke.  But Eurycleia's words could find no wings.
She opened up the door of the well-furnished hall
and came out.  Telemachus went first and led the way.                   
There she found Odysseus with the bodies of the dead,
spattered with blood and gore, like a lion moving off                 
from feeding on a farmyard ox, his whole chest
and both sides of his muzzle caked with blood,
a terrifying sight, that's how Odysseus looked,
with bloodstained feet and upper arms.  Eurycleia,
once she saw the bodies and huge amounts of blood,
was ready to cry out for joy now that she'd seen
such a mighty act.  But Odysseus held her back 
and checked her eagerness.  He spoke to her
—                                          [410]
his words had wings:

                                 "Old woman, you can rejoice
in your own heart
—but don't cry out aloud.                             510
Restrain yourself.
   For it's a sacrilege 
to boast above the bodies of the slain.
Divine fate and their own reckless acts
have killed these men, who failed to honour
any man on earth who came among them,
bad or good.  And so through their depravity
they've met an evil fate.  But come now,
tell me about the women in these halls,
the ones who disrespect me and the ones
who bear no blame."

                                            His dear nurse Eurycleia                         520
then answered him and said:

                                            "All right my child,                               [420]
I'll tell you the truth.  In these halls of yours,
there are fifty female servants, women
we have taught to carry out their work,
to comb out wool and bear their slavery.
Of these, twelve in all have gone along
without a sense of shame and no respect
for me or even for Penelope herself.
Telemachus has only just grown up,
and his mother hasn't let him yet control                      
our female servants.  But come, let's go now
to that bright upstairs room and tell your wife.  
Some god has made her sleep."

                                                   Resourceful Odysseus                             [430]
then answered her and said:

                                                  "Don't wake her up.
Not yet.  Those women who before all this
behaved so badly, tell them to come here."

Once he'd said this, the old woman went through the house
to tell the women the news and urge them to appear.
Odysseus then called Telemachus to him,
together with Eumaeus and Philoetius.                                               540
He spoke to them—his words had wings:

"Start carrying those corpses outside now,
and then take charge of the servant women.
Have these splendid chairs and tables cleaned,
wiped with porous sponges soaked in water.
Once you've put the entire house in order,                       
then take those servants from the well-built hall
to a spot outside between the round house
and the sturdy courtyard wall and kill them.
Slash them with long swords, until the life is gone          
from all of them, and they've forgotten
Aphrodite and how they loved the suitors
when they had sex with them in secret."

Odysseus spoke.  Then the crowd of women came,
wailing plaintively and shedding many tears.
First they gathered up the corpses of the dead
and laid them out underneath the portico,
leaning them against each other in the well-fenced yard.                
Odysseus himself gave them their instructions               
and hurried on the work.  The women were compelled             
to carry out the dead.  After that, they cleaned
the splendid chairs and tables, wiping them down
with water and porous sponges.  Telemachus,
along with Philoetius and Eumaeus,
with shovels scraped the floor inside the well-built hall,
and women took the dirt and threw it in the yard.
When they'd put the entire hall in order,
they led the women out of the sturdy house
to a place between the round house and fine wall
round the courtyard, herding them into a narrow space         
             570    [460]
where there was no way to escape. Shrewd Telemachus
began by speaking to the other two:

                                                          "I don't want
to take these women's lives with a clean death.
They've poured insults on my head, on my mother,
and were always sleeping with the suitors."

He spoke, then tied the cable of a dark-prowed ship
to a large pillar, threw one end above the round house,
then pulled it taut and high, so no woman's foot 
could reach the ground.  Just as doves or long-winged thrushes
charge into a snare set in a thicket, as they seek out                          
their roosting place, and find out they've been welcomed                          
by a dreadful bed, that's how those women held their heads
all in a row, with nooses fixed around their necks,
so they'd have a pitiful death.  For a little while
they twitched their feet, but that did not last long.

Then they brought Melanthius out through the doorway
into the yard.  With pitiless bronze they sliced away
his nose and ears, then ripped off his cock and balls
as raw meat for dogs to eat, and in their rage
hacked off his hands and feet.  After they'd done that,               
they washed their hands and feet and went inside the house,
back to Odysseus.  Their work was done.  But he                             
called out to Eurycleia, his dear nurse:

                                                    "Old woman,
bring sulphur here to purify the house.
And bring me fire so I can purge the hall.
Ask Penelope to come here with her slaves,
and get all the women in the house to come."

His dear nurse Eurycleia answered him:

                                                        "My child,
what you say is all well and good, but come,
I'll fetch you clothing, a cloak and tunic,                             
so you don't stand like this in your own hall
with nothing but rags on your wide shoulders.
That would the cause of some disgrace."

Resourceful Odysseus then answered her and said:                                    [490]

"But first make me a fire in the hall."

Dear nurse Eurycleia then followed what he'd said.
She brought fire and sulphur, so Odysseus
purged the house and yard completely.  Eurycleia
went back through Odysseus' splendid home to tell
the women what had happened and to order them                       
to reappear.  They came out holding torches,
then gathered round Odysseus, embracing him.
They clasped and kissed his head, his hands, and shoulders,
in loving welcome.  A sweet longing seized him                                        
to sigh and weep, for in his heart he knew them all.

Notes to Book Twenty-Two

* . . . reaching it: The architectural details here are somewhat confusing and, as Merry, Riddell and Monro mention in their Commentary on the Odyssey (1886), have been much discussed.  What seems clear is that the side door by the entrance way, which is slightly higher than the floor of the main hall, leads to a passage which could provide a means of escaping the house.  Hence Eumaeus is to guard it, so that none of the suitors can get away to raise the alarm. The following sketch (modified from Lorimer) may help.

This is the ground floor layout. Penelope’s rooms are upstairs. The main entrance is through the courtyard, forecourt, and main door. Odysseus is standing in the threshold, shooting his arrows at the suitors in the main hall. They have no clear way out of the room. The one escape from the main hall is indicated at A. A narrow passageway runs from A to B and thus provides an exit from the main hall into the forecourt. Odysseus stations Eumaeus at B to prevent this happening. There is another passageway reaching the courtyard at D. Melanthius uses the opening at A to access the storage rooms for the weapons (at C). The women are locked in a room beside the main hall (E). F is an outbuilding. This explains how both parties have access to the storerooms without having to confront each other and how Eumaeus can guard the passageway and also see Melanthius moving into the storage rooms. It also shows how, as Melanthius points out a few lines further on, the court yard is not a safe place so long as Odysseus has arrows left, since anyone making it out there would still be within bowshot of the threshold.  [Back to Text]

* . . . to get through: Agelaus wants someone to get through the side door by the entrance to the main hall, go out through passage into the yard, and raise the alarm.  Melanthius objects, saying that the passage leading from the side door, which is guarded by Eumaeus, is very narrow and the courtyard gate is still close enough for Odysseus to reach with an arrow from the main doorway. [Back to Text]

* . . . in the roof: The aegis is a divine shield which, when held up in battle, has the power of terrifying human beings and making them run away.  [Back to Text]

* . . . to Eurycleia, saying: The doorway here is the entrance to the women's quarters.  At the start of the slaughter Eurycleia had locked it to prevent any of the women coming into the great hall.  [Back to Text]

21 - 22 - 23

[This translation, which has been prepared by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC, Canada, is in the public domain and may be used by anyone, in whole or in part, for any purpose, without charge and without permission, provided the source is acknowledged.

Note that the numbers in square brackets refer to the lineation of the Greek text, the numbers without brackets refer to the lineation of the translated text.  Asterisks indicate links to explanatory endnotes provided by the translator.



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