National Epics
By Kate Milner Rabb

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Public Domain Books

Selections From the Odyssey


Ulysses, having been directed by Nausicaa, reached the gate of the city, and was there met by Pallas in the guise of a maiden with an urn, who instructed him how to approach the king and queen. He passed through the town, wrapped in a cloud by Pallas, and paused on the threshold of AlcinoŁs’s palace.

            For on every side beneath
  The lofty roof of that magnanimous king
  A glory shone as of the sun or moon.
  There from the threshold, on each side, were walls
  Of brass that led towards the inner rooms,
  With blue steel cornices. The doors within
  The massive building were of gold, and posts
  Of silver on the brazen threshold stood,
  And silver was the lintel, and above
  Its architrave was gold; and on each side
  Stood gold and silver mastiffs, the rare work
  Of Vulcan’s practised skill, placed there to guard
  The house of great AlcinoŁs, and endowed
  With deathless life, that knows no touch of age.
  Along the walls within, on either side,
  And from the threshold to the inner rooms,
  Were firmly planted thrones on which were laid
  Delicate mantles, woven by the hands
  Of women. The Phśacian princes here
  Were seated; here they ate and drank, and held
  Perpetual banquet. Slender forms of boys
  In gold upon the shapely altars stood,
  With blazing torches in their hands to light
  At eve the palace guests; while fifty maids
  Waited within the halls, where some in querns
  Ground small the yellow grain; some wove the web
  Or twirled the spindle, sitting, with a quick
  Light motion, like the aspen’s glancing leaves.
  The well-wrought tissues glistened as with oil.
  As far as the Phśacian race excel
  In guiding their swift galleys o’er the deep,
  So far the women in their woven work
  Surpass all others. Pallas gives them skill
  In handiwork and beautiful design.
  Without the palace-court and near the gate,
  A spacious garden of four acres lay.
  A hedge enclosed it round, and lofty trees
  Flourished in generous growth within,–the pear
  And the pomegranate, and the apple-tree
  With its fair fruitage, and the luscious fig
  And olive always green. The fruit they bear
  Falls not, nor ever fails in winter time
  Nor summer, but is yielded all the year.
  The ever-blowing west-wind causes some
  To swell and some to ripen; pear succeeds
  To pear; to apple, apple, grape to grape,
  Fig ripens after fig. A fruitful field
  Of vines was planted near; in part it lay
  Open and basking in the sun, which dried
  The soil, and here men gathered in the grapes,
  And there they trod the wine-press. Farther on
  Were grapes unripened yet, which just had cast
  The flower, and others still which just began
  To redden. At the garden’s furthest bound
  Were beds of many plants that all the year
  Bore flowers. There gushed two fountains: one of them
  Ran wandering through the field; the other flowed
  Beneath the threshold to the palace-court,
  And all the people filled their vessels there.
  Such were the blessings which the gracious gods
  Bestowed on King AlcinoŁs and his house.
           Bryant’s Translation, Book VII.

Penelope, weary of the importunities of the suitors, determined to end the contest by giving them the bow of Ulysses and allowing the one who could successfully send the arrow through the steel rings to become her husband. Having announced her intention, she ascended the stairs to the treasure chamber, where the bow was kept.

  Now when the glorious lady reached the room,
  And stood upon the threshold, wrought of oak
  And polished by the workman’s cunning hand,
  Who stretched the line upon it, and set up
  Its posts, and hung its shining doors, she loosed
  With a quick touch the thong that held the ring,
  Put in the key, and with a careful aim
  Struck back the sounding bolts. As when a bull
  Roars in the field, such sound the beautiful doors,
  Struck with the key, gave forth, and instantly
  They opened to her. Up the lofty floor
  She stepped, where stood the coffer that contained
  The perfumed garments. Reaching forth her hand,
  The queen took down the bow, that hung within
  Its shining case, and sat her down, and laid
  The case upon her knees, and, drawing forth
  The monarch’s bow, she wept aloud. As soon
  As that new gush of tears had ceased to fall,
  Back to the hall she went, and that proud throng
  Of suitors, bearing in her hand the bow
  Unstrung, and quiver, where the arrows lay
  Many and deadly. Her attendant maids
  Brought also down a coffer, where were laid
  Much brass and steel, provided by the king
  For games like these. The glorious lady then,
  In presence of the suitors, stood beside
  The columns that upheld the stately roof.
  She held a lustrous veil before her cheeks,
  And while on either side of her a maid
  Stood modestly, bespake the suitors thus:–

  “Hear, noble suitors! ye who throng these halls,
  And eat and drink from day to day, while long
  My husband has been gone; your sole excuse
  For all this lawlessness the claim ye make
  That I become a bride. Come then, for now
  A contest is proposed. I bring to you
  The mighty bow that great Ulysses bore.
  Whoe’er among you he may be whose hand
  Shall bend this bow, and send through these twelve rings
  An arrow, him I follow hence, and leave
  This beautiful abode of my young years,
  With all its plenty,–though its memory,
  I think, will haunt me even in my dreams.”

  She spake, and bade the master of the swine,
  The good Eumaeus, place the bow and rings
  Of hoary steel before the suitor train.
  In tears he bore the bow and laid it down.
  The herdsman also wept to see again
  His master’s bow.


  He (Telemachus) spake and, rising, from his shoulders took
  The purple cloak, and laid the trenchant sword
  Aside; and first he placed the rings of steel
  In order, opening for them in the ground
  A long trench by a line, and stamping close
  The earth around them. All admired the skill
  With which he ranged them, never having seen
  The game before. And then he took his place
  Upon the threshold, and essayed the bow;
  And thrice he made the attempt, and thrice gave o’er,
  Yet hoping still to draw the cord, and send
  An arrow through the rings. He would have drawn
  The bow at the fourth trial, but a nod
  Given by his father caused him to forbear,
  Though eager for the attempt.


         ... And then Eupeithes’ son,
  AntinoŁs, to the crowd of suitors said:–

  “Rise one by one, my friends, from right to left.
  Begin where he begins who pours the wine."
  So spake AntinoŁs, and the rest approved.
  Then rose Leiodes, son of Oenops, first.
  He was their seer, and always had his seat
  Beside the ample bowl. From deeds of wrong
  He shrank with hatred, and was sore incensed
  Against the suitors all. He took the bow
  And shaft, and, going to the threshold, stood
  And tried the bow, yet bent it not; it galled
  His hands, for they were soft, and all unused
  To such a task.

          ... The swineherd went
  Forward along the hall, and, drawing near
  The wise Ulysses, gave into his hands
  The bow.


          ... but when the wary chief
  Had poised and shrewdly scanned the mighty bow,
  Then, as a singer, skilled to play the harp,
  Stretches with ease on its new fastenings
  A string, the twisted entrails of a sheep,
  Made fast at either end, so easily
  Ulysses bent that mighty bow. He took
  And drew the cord with his right hand; it twanged
  With a clear sound as when a swallow screams.
  The suitors were dismayed, and all grew pale.
  Jove in loud thunder gave a sign from heaven.
  The much-enduring chief, Ulysses, heard
  With joy the friendly omen, which the son
  Of crafty Saturn sent him. He took up
  A winged arrow, that before him lay
  Upon a table drawn; the others still
  Were in the quiver’s womb; the Greeks were yet
  To feel them. This he set with care against
  The middle of the bow, and toward him drew
  The cord and arrow-notch, just where he sat,
  And aiming opposite, let fly the shaft.
  He missed no ring of all; from first to last
  The brass-tipped arrow threaded every one.
  Then to Telemachus Ulysses said:–

  “Telemachus, the stranger sitting here
  Hath not disgraced thee. I have neither missed
  The rings, nor found it hard to bend the bow;
  Nor has my manly strength decayed, as these
  Who seek to bring me to contempt pretend;
  And now the hour is come when we prepare
  A supper for the Achaians, while the day
  Yet lasts, and after supper the delights
  Of song and harp, which nobly grace a feast.”

  He spake, and nodded to Telemachus,
  His well-beloved son, who girded on
  His trenchant sword, and took in hand his spear,
  And, armed with glittering brass for battle, came
  And took his station by his father’s seat.

  Then did Ulysses cast his rags aside,
  And, leaping to the threshold, took his stand
  On its broad space, with bow and quiver filled
  With arrows. At his feet the hero poured
  The winged shafts, and to the suitors called:–

  “That difficult strife is ended. Now I take
  Another mark, which no man yet has hit.
  Now I shall see if I attain my aim,
  And, by the aid of Phoebus, win renown.”

  He spake; and, turning, at AntinoŁs aimed
  The bitter shaft–AntinoŁs, who just then
  Had grasped a beautiful two-eared cup of gold,
  About to drink the wine. He little thought
  Of wounds and death; for who, when banqueting
  Among his fellows, could suspect that one
  Alone against so many men would dare,
  However bold, to plan his death, and bring
  On him the doom of fate? Ulysses struck
  The suitor with the arrow at the throat.
  The point came through the tender neck behind,
  Sideways he sank to earth; his hand let fall
  The cup; the dark blood in a thick warm stream
  Gushed from the nostrils of the smitten man.
  He spurned the table with his feet, and spilled
  The viands; bread and roasted meats were flung
  To lie polluted on the floor. Then rose
  The suitors in a tumult, when they saw
  The fallen man; from all their seats they rose
  Throughout the hall, and to the massive walls
  Looked eagerly; there hung no buckler there,
  No sturdy lance for them to wield. They called
  Then to Ulysses with indignant words:–

  “Stranger! in evil hour hast thou presumed
  To aim at men; and thou shalt henceforth bear
  Part in no other contest. Even now
  Is thy destruction close to thee. Thy hand
  Hath slain the noblest youth in Ithaca.
  The vultures shall devour thy flesh for this.”

  So each one said; they deemed he had not slain
  The suitor wittingly; nor did they see,
  Blind that they were, the doom which in that hour
  Was closing round them all. Then with a frown
  The wise Ulysses looked on them, and said:–

  “Dogs! ye had thought I never would come back
  From Ilium’s coast, and therefore ye devoured
  My substance here, and offered violence
  To my maid-servants, and pursued my wife
  As lovers, while I lived. Ye dreaded not
  The gods who dwell in the great heaven, nor feared
  Vengeance hereafter from the hands of men;
  And now destruction overhangs you all.”

  He spake, and all were pale with fear, and each
  Looked round for some escape from death.

Bryant’s Translation, Books XXI., XXII.


Preface  •  The R‚m‚yana  •  The Story of the R‚m‚yana  •  Selections From the R‚m‚yana  •  The Story of the Mah‚-Bh‚rata  •  Selections From the Mah‚-Bh‚rata  •  The Iliad  •  The Story of the Iliad  •  Selections From the Iliad  •  The Story of the Odyssey  •  Selections From the Odyssey  •  The Kalevala  •  The Story of the Kalevala  •  Selections From the Kalevala  •  Selection From the Aeneid  •  Beowulf  •  The Story of Beowulf  •  Selection From Beowulf  •  Selections From the Nibelungen Lied  •  The Story of the Song of Roland  •  Selections From the Song of Roland  •  The Story of the Shah-Nameh  •  Selections From the Shah-Nameh  •  The Story of the Poem of the Cid  •  Selections From the Poem of the Cid  •  The Divine Comedy - The Hell  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Hell  •  The Divine Comedy - The Purgatory  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Purgatory  •  The Divine Comedy - The Paradise  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Paradise  •  Selections From the Divine Comedy - Count Ugolino  •  Selection From the Orlando Furioso  •  The Lusiad  •  The Story of the Lusiad  •  Selections From the Lusiad  •  The Jerusalem Delivered  •  The Story of the Jerusalem Delivered  •  Selection From the Jerusalem Delivered  •  The Story of Paradise Lost  •  Selections From Paradise Lost  •  Apostrophe to Light  •  The Story of Paradise Regained  •  Selection From Paradise Regained