Homeric Odyssey, Scroll xi

1 Then, when we had got down to the sea shore we drew our ship into the water and got her mast and sails into her; we also put the sheep on board and took our places, weeping and in great distress of mind. Circe, that great and cunning goddess, sent us a fair wind that blew dead aft and stayed steadily with us keeping our sails all the time well filled; so we did whatever wanted doing to the ship’s gear
10 and let her go as the wind and helmsman headed her. All day long her sails were full as she held her course over the sea, but when the sun went down and darkness was over all the earth, we got into the deep waters of the river Okeanos, where lie the district [dēmos] and city of the Cimmerians who live enshrouded in mist and darkness which the rays of the radiant sun never pierce neither at his rising nor as he goes down again out of the sky, but the poor wretches live in one long melancholy night.
20 When we got there we beached the ship, took the sheep out of her, and went along by the waters of Okeanos till we came to the place of which Circe had told us. “Here Perimedes and Eurylokhos held the victims, while I drew my sword and dug the trench a cubit each way. I made a drink-offering to all the dead, first with honey and milk, then with wine, and thirdly with water, and I sprinkled white barley meal over the whole, praying earnestly to the poor feckless spirits, and promising
30 them that when I got back to Ithaca I would sacrifice a barren heifer for them, the best I had, and would load the pyre with good things. I also particularly promised that Teiresias should have a black sheep to himself, the best in all my flocks. When I had prayed sufficiently to the dead, I cut the throats of the two sheep and let the blood run into the trench, whereon the spirits [psukhai] came trooping up from Erebos – brides, young bachelors, old men worn out with toil, maids who had been crossed in love,
40 and brave men who had been killed in battle, with their armor still smirched with blood; they came from every quarter and flitted round the trench with a strange kind of screaming sound that made me turn pale with fear. When I saw them coming I told the men to be quick and flay the carcasses of the two dead sheep and make burnt offerings of them, and at the same time to repeat prayers to Hadēs and to revered Persephone; but I sat where I was with my sword drawn and would not let the poor feckless
50 spirits come near the blood till Teiresias should have answered my questions. “The first spirit [psukhē] that came was that of my comrade Elpenor, for he had not yet been laid beneath the earth. We had left his body unwaked and unburied in Circe’s house, for other labor [ponos] was pressing us. I was very sorry for him, and cried when I saw him: ‘Elpenor,’ said I, ‘how did you come down here into this gloom and darkness? You have come here on foot quicker than I have with my ship.’
60 “‘Sir,’ he answered with a groan, ‘it was all bad luck of a superhuman force [daimōn], and my own unspeakable drunkenness. I was lying asleep on the top of Circe’s house, and never thought of coming down again by the great staircase, but fell right off the roof and broke my neck, so my spirit [psukhē] went down to the house of Hadēs. And now I beseech you by all those whom you have left behind you, though they are not here, by your wife, by the father who brought you up when you were a child, and by Telemakhos who is the one hope of your house, do what I shall now ask you. I know that when you leave this place
70 you will again hold your ship for the Aeaean island. Do not go thence leaving me unwaked and unburied behind you, or I may bring the gods’ anger upon you; but burn me with whatever armor I have,  heap up a tomb [sēma] for me [= Elpenor] at the shore of the gray sea, 76 wretched man that I am, so that even those who live in the future will learn about it. 77 Make this ritual act [teleîn] for me, and stick the oar on top of the tomb [tumbos] 78 – the oar that I used when I was rowing with my comrades [hetairoi].’ And I said,
80 ‘My poor man, I will do all that you have asked of me.’ “Thus, then, did we sit and hold sad talk with one another, I on the one side of the trench with my sword held over the blood, and the spirit of my comrade saying all this to me from the other side. Then came the spirit [psukhē] of my dead mother Antikleia, daughter to great-hearted Autolykos. I had left her alive when I set out for sacred Troy and was moved to tears when I saw her, but even so, for all my sorrow I would not let her come near the blood till I had asked my questions of Teiresias.
90 Then came also the spirit [psūkhē] of Theban Teiresias, 91 with a golden scepter in his hand. He recognized me and said, 92 “Odysseus, you who are descended from the gods, noble son of Laertes, 93 why, wretched man, have you left the light of day 94 and come down to see the dead in this place without any delights? Stand back from the trench and draw back your sharp sword 96 so that I may drink of the blood and tell you unmistakably true things.” 97 So he spoke, and I [= Odysseus] drew back, and sheathed my silver-studded sword, 98 putting it back into the scabbard, and then he [= Teiresias], after he had drunk the black blood, 99 began to address me with his words, faultless seer [mantis] that he was:
100 “It’s your homecoming [nostos] that you seek, a homecoming sweet as honey, O radiant Odysseus. 101 But the god will make this painful for you. I say that because I do not think 102 that the earth-shaking god [= Poseidon] will not take notice, who has lodged in his heart [thūmos] an anger [kotos] against you, 103 being angry that you blinded his dear son [= Polyphemus]. 104 Still, even so, after enduring many bad experiences, you all may get home if you are willing to restrain your own heart [thūmos] and the heart of your comrades [hetairoi] 106 when you pilot your well-built ship to 107 the island of Thrinacia, seeking refuge from the violet-colored sea, 108 and when you find the grazing cattle and the sturdy sheep 109 that belong to the god of the sun, Hēlios, who sees everything and hears everything.
110 If you leave these herds unharmed and think only about homecoming [nostos], 111 then you could still make it to Ithaca, arriving there after having endured many bad experiences. 112 But if you harm the herds, then I forewarn you of destruction 113 both for your ship and for your comrades [hetairoi], and, even if you may yourself escape, 114 you will return [neesthai] in a bad way, losing all your comrades [hetairoi], in someone else’s ship, not your own, and you will find painful things happening in your house, 116 I mean, you will find high-handed men there who are devouring your livelihood 117 while they are courting your godlike wife and offering wedding-presents to her. 118 But you will avenge the outrages committed by those men when you get home. 119 But after you kill the suitors in your own house,
120 killing them either by trickery or openly, by way of sharp bronze, 121 you must go on a journey then, taking with you a well-made oar, 122 until you come to a place where men do not know what the sea is 123 and do not even eat any food that is mixed with sea salt, 124 nor do they know anything about ships, which are painted purple on each side, and well-made oars that are like wings for ships. 126 And I will tell you a sign [sēma], a very clear one, which will not get lost in your thinking. 127 Whenever someone on the road encounters you 128 and says that it must be a winnowing shovel that you have on your radiant shoulder, 129 at that point you must stick into the ground the well-made oar
130 and sacrifice beautiful sacrifices to lord Poseidon 131 a ram, a bull, and a boar that mounts sows. 132 And then go home and offer sacred hecatombs 133 to the immortal gods who possess the vast expanses of the skies. 134 Sacrifice to them in proper order, one after the other. As for yourself, death shall come to you from the sea, a gentle death, that is how it will come, and this death will kill you 136 as you lose your strength in a prosperous old age. And the people all around [your corpse] 137 will be blessed [olbioi]. All the things I say are unmistakably true.” “‘This,’ I answered, ‘must be as it may please the gods,
140 but tell me and tell me true, I see my poor mother’s spirit [psukhē] close by us; she is sitting by the blood without saying a word, and though I am her own son she does not remember me and speak to me; tell me, Sir, how I can make her know me.’ “‘That,’ said he, ‘I can soon do. Any spirit that you let taste of the blood will talk with you like a reasonable being, but if you do not let them have any blood they will go away again.’
150 “Then the spirit [psukhē] of Teiresias went back to the house of Hadēs, for his prophecies had now been spoken, but I sat still where I was until my mother came up and tasted the blood. Then she knew me at once and spoke fondly to me, saying, ‘My son, how did you come down to this abode of darkness while you are still alive? It is a hard thing for the living to see these places, for between us and them there are great and terrifying waters, and there is Okeanos, which no man can cross on foot, but he must have a good ship to take him. Are you
160 all this time trying to find your way home from Troy, and have you never yet got back to Ithaca nor seen your wife in your own house?’ “‘Mother,’ said I, ‘I was forced to come here to consult the spirit [psukhē] of the Theban prophet Teiresias. I have never yet been near the Achaean land nor set foot on my native country, and I have had nothing but one long series of misfortunes from the very first day that I set out with Agamemnon for Ilion, the land of noble steeds, to fight the Trojans.
170 But tell me, and tell me true, in what way did you die? Did you have a long illness, or did the gods grant you a gentle easy passage to eternity? Tell me also about my father, and the son whom I left behind me; is my property still in their hands, or has some one else got hold of it, who thinks that I shall not return to claim it? Tell me again what my wife intends doing, and in what mind [noos] she is; does she live with my son and guard my estate securely, or has she made the best match she could and married again?’
180 “My mother answered, ‘Your wife still remains in your house, but she is in great distress of mind and spends her whole time in tears both night and day. No one as yet has got possession of your fine property, and Telemakhos still holds your lands undisturbed. He has to entertain largely, as of course he must, considering his position as a magistrate, and how every one invites him; your father remains at his old place in the country and never goes near the town. He has no comfortable bed nor bedding;
190 in the winter he sleeps on the floor in front of the fire with the men and goes about all in rags, but in summer, when the warm weather comes on again, he lies out in the vineyard on a bed of vine leaves thrown anyhow upon the ground, feeling grief [akhos]. He is in continual sorrow [penthos] about your never having a homecoming [nostos], and suffers more and more as he grows older. As for my own end it was this way: the gods did not take me swiftly and painlessly in my own house,
200 nor was I attacked by any illness such as those that generally wear people out and kill them, but my longing to know what you were doing and the force of my affection for you – this it was that was the death of me.’ “Then I tried to find some way of embracing my mother’s spirit [psukhē]. Thrice I sprang towards her and tried to clasp her in my arms, but each time she flitted from my embrace as it were a dream or phantom, and being touched to the quick I said to her,
210 ‘Mother, why do you not stay still when I would embrace you? If we could throw our arms around one another we might find sad comfort in the sharing of our grief [akhos] even in the house of Hadēs; does proud Persephone want to lay a still further load of grief upon me by mocking me with a phantom only?’ “‘My son,’ she answered, ‘most ill-fated of all humankind, it is not Persephone, daughter of Zeus, that is beguiling you, but all people are like this when they are dead. The sinews no longer hold the flesh and bones together;
220 these perish in the fierceness of consuming fire as soon as life has left the body, and the spirit [psukhē] flits away as though it were a dream. Now, however, go back to the light of day as soon as you can, and note all these things that you may tell them to your wife hereafter.’ “Thus did we converse, and then proud Persephone sent up the spirits of the wives and daughters of all the most famous men. They gathered in crowds about the blood, and I considered how I might question them severally.
230 In the end I thought that it would be best to draw the keen blade that hung by my sturdy thigh, and keep them from all drinking the blood at once. So they came up one after the other, and each one as I questioned her told me her birth and lineage. “The first I saw was gloriously descended Tyro. She was daughter of stately Salmoneus and wife of Kretheus the son of Aiolos. She fell in love with the river godlike Enipeus who is much the most beautiful river in the whole world.
240 Once when she was taking a walk by his side as usual, Poseidon, disguised as her lover, lay with her at the mouth of the river, and a huge blue wave arched itself like a mountain over them to hide both woman and god, whereon he loosed her virgin waistband and laid her in a deep slumber. When the god had accomplished the deed of love, he took her hand in his own and said, ‘Tyro, rejoice in all good will; the embraces of the gods
250 are not fruitless, and you will have fine twins about this time twelve months. Take great care of them. I am the Earthshaker Poseidon, so now go home, but hold your tongue and do not tell any one.’ “Then he dived under the sea, and she in due course bore Pelias and Neleus, who both of them served Zeus with all their might. Pelias was a great breeder of sheep and lived in Iolkos, but the other lived in sandy Pylos. The rest of her children were by Kretheus, namely, Aison, Pheres, and Amythaon, who was a mighty warrior and charioteer.
260 “Next to her I saw Antiope, daughter to Asopos, who could boast of having slept in the arms of even Zeus himself, and who bore him two sons Amphion and Zethos. These founded seven-gated Thebes with its seven gates, and built a wall all round it; for strong though they were they could not hold Thebes of wide spaces till they had walled it. “Then I saw Alkmene, the wife of Amphitryon, who also bore to Zeus indomitable Herakles, lion-hearted and bold of purpose; and Megara who was daughter to high-spirited King Creon,
270 and married the terrifying son of Amphitryon. “I also saw fair Epikaste mother of king Oedipus whose terrible lot it was to marry her own son without suspecting it in her mind [noos]. He married her after having killed his father, but the gods proclaimed the whole story to the world; whereon he remained king of beloved Thebes, in great grief for the spite the gods had borne him; but Epikaste went to the house of the mighty jailer Hadēs, having hanged herself for grief,
280 and the avenging spirits haunted him as for an outraged mother – to his ruing bitterly thereafter. “Then I saw Khloris, surpassingly lovely, whom Neleus married for her beauty, having given priceless presents for her. She was youngest daughter to Amphion son of Iasos and king of Minyan Orkhomenos, and was Queen in Pylos. She bore Nestor, Khromios, and proud Periklymenos, and she also bore that marvelously lovely woman Pero, who was wooed by all the country round; but Neleus would only give her to him who should raid the
290 cattle of Iphikles from the grazing grounds of Phylake, and this was a hard task. The only man who would undertake to raid them was a certain excellent seer [mantis], but the will of the gods was against him, for the rangers of the cattle caught him and put him in prison; nevertheless when a full year had passed and the same season [hōra] came round again, Iphikles set him at liberty, after he had expounded all the oracles of the gods. Thus, then, was the will of Zeus accomplished. “And I saw Leda the wife of Tyndareus, who bore him two famous sons,
300 Castor [Kastor] breaker of horses, and Pollux [Polydeukes] the mighty boxer. Both these heroes are lying under the earth, though they are still alive, for by a special dispensation of Zeus, they die and come to life again, each one of them every other day throughout all time, and they have the rank of gods. “After her I saw Iphimedeia, wife of Aloeus, who boasted the embrace of Poseidon. She bore two sons Otos and far-famed Ephialtes, but both were short lived. They were the finest children that were ever born in this world,
310 and the best looking, famous Orion only excepted; for at nine years old they were nine fathoms high, and measured nine cubits round the chest. They threatened to make war with the gods in Olympus, and tried to set Mount Ossa on the top of Mount Olympus, and Mount Pelion on the top of Ossa, that they might scale the sky itself, and they would have done it too if they had been grown up, but Apollo, son of Leto, killed both of them, before they had got so much as a sign of hair
320 upon their cheeks or chin. “Then I saw Phaedra, and Procris, and fair Ariadne daughter of the malignant magician Minos, whom Theseus was carrying off from Crete to Athens, but he did not enjoy her, for before he could do so Artemis killed her in the island of Dia on account of what Dionysus had said against her. I also saw Maira and Klymene and hateful Eriphyle, who sold her own husband for gold. But it would take me all night if I were to name every single one of the wives and daughters of heroes whom I saw,
330 and it is time [hōra] for me to go to bed, either on board ship with my crew, or here. As for my escort, the gods and yourselves will see to it.” Here he ended, and the guests sat all of them enthralled and speechless throughout the covered hall. Then white-armed Arete said to them: “What do you think of this man, O Phaeacians? Is he not tall and good looking, and is he not clever? True, he is my own guest, but all of you share in the distinction. Do not be in a hurry to send him away, nor be withholding
340 in the presents you make to one who is in such great need, for the gods have blessed all of you with great abundance.” Then spoke the aged hero Ekheneus who was one of the oldest men among them, “My friends,” said he, “what our august queen has just said to us is both reasonable and to the purpose, therefore be persuaded by it; but the decision whether in word or deed rests ultimately with King Alkinoos.” “The thing shall be done,” exclaimed Alkinoos, “as surely as I still live and reign over the oar-loving Phaeacians.
350 Our guest is indeed very anxious to his homecoming [nostos], still we must persuade him to remain with us until tomorrow, by which time I shall be able to get together the whole sum that I mean to give him. As regards his escort it will be a matter for you all, and mine above all others as the chief person in the district [dēmos].” And resourceful Odysseus answered, “Great King Alkinoos, if you were to bid me to stay here for a whole twelve months, and then speed me on my way, loaded with your noble gifts, I should obey you gladly and it would redound greatly to my advantage, for I should return fuller-handed to my own people,
360 and should thus be more respected and beloved by all who see me when I get back to Ithaca.” “Odysseus,” replied Alkinoos, “not one of us who sees you has any idea that you are a charlatan or a swindler. I know there are many people going about who tell such plausible stories that it is very hard to see through them, but there is a style about your language which assures me of your good disposition. Moreover you have told the story of your own misfortunes, and those of the Argives, as though you were a practiced bard;
370 but tell me, and tell me true, whether you saw any of the mighty heroes who went to Troy at the same time with yourself, and perished there. The evenings are still at their longest, and it is not yet time [hōra] for bed – go on, therefore, with your divine story, for I could stay here listening till tomorrow morning, so long as you will continue to tell us of your adventures.” “Great Alkinoos, pre-eminent among all people,” answered resourceful Odysseus, “there is a time [hōra] for making speeches, and a time [hōra] for going to bed;
380 nevertheless, since you so desire, I will not refrain from telling you the still sadder tale of those of my comrades who did not fall fighting with the Trojans, but perished on their return [nostos], through the treachery of a wicked woman. “When chaste Persephone had dismissed the female spirits [psukhai] in all directions, the spirit [psukhē] of Agamemnon son of Atreus came sadly up to me, surrounded by those who had perished with him in the house of Aegisthus.
390 As soon as he had tasted the blood he knew me, and weeping bitterly stretched out his arms towards me to embrace me; but he had no strength nor substance any more, and I too wept and pitied him as I beheld him. ‘How did you come by your death,’ said I, ‘Most lordly King Agamemnon? Did Poseidon
400 raise his winds and waves against you when you were at sea, or did your enemies make an end of you on the mainland when you were cattle-lifting or sheep-stealing, or while they were fighting in defense of their wives and city?’ “‘Resourceful Odysseus,’ he answered, ‘noble son of Laertes and seed of Zeus, I was not lost at sea in any storm of Poseidon’s raising, nor did my foes dispatch me upon the mainland, but Aegisthus
410 and my wicked wife were the death of me between them. He asked me to his house, feasted me, and then butchered me most miserably as though I were a fat beast in a slaughter house, while all around me my comrades were slain like sheep or pigs for the wedding breakfast, or dinner-party, or gourmet feast of some great nobleman. You must have seen numbers of men killed either in a general engagement, or in single combat, but you never saw anything so truly pitiable as the way in which we fell in that hall, with the mixing-bowl and the loaded
420 tables lying all about, and the ground reeking with our blood. I heard Priam’s daughter Kassandra scream as treacherous Clytemnestra killed her close beside me. I lay dying upon the earth with the sword in my body, and raised my hands to kill the slut of a murderess, but she slipped away from me; she would not even close my lips nor my eyes when I was dying, for there is nothing in this world so cruel and so shameless as a woman when she has fallen into such guilt as hers was.
430 Fancy murdering her own husband! I thought I was going to be welcomed home by my children and my servants, but her abominable crime has brought disgrace on herself and all women who shall come after – even on the good ones.’ “And I said, ‘In truth Zeus of the wide brows has hated the house of Atreus from first to last in the matter of their women’s counsels. See how many of us fell for Helen’s sake, and now it seems that Clytemnestra hatched mischief against you too during your absence.’
440 “‘Be sure, therefore,’ continued Agamemnon, ‘and not be too friendly even with your own wife. Do not tell her all that you know perfectly well yourself. Tell her a part only, and keep your own counsel about the rest. Not that your wife, Odysseus, is likely to murder you, for circumspect Penelope is a very admirable woman, and has an excellent nature. We left her a young bride with an infant at her breast when we set out for Troy. This child no doubt is now grown up to man’s estate,
450 in a happy [olbios] way, and he and his father will have a joyful meeting and embrace one another as it is right they should do, whereas my wicked wife did not even allow me the happiness of looking upon my son, but killed me before I could do so. Furthermore I say – and lay my saying to your heart – do not tell people when you are bringing your ship to Ithaca, but steal a march upon them, for after all this there is no trusting women. But now tell me, and tell me true, can you give me any news of my son Orestes? Is he in Orkhomenos, or at sandy Pylos,
460 or is he at Sparta with Menelaos – for I presume that he is still living.’ “And I said, ‘Agamemnon, why do you ask me? I do not know whether your son is alive or dead, and it is not right to talk when one does not know.’ “As we two sat weeping and talking thus sadly with one another the spirit [psukhē] of Peleus’s son Achilles came up to us with Patroklos, stately Antilokhos, and Ajax who was the finest and best man
470 of all the Danaans after the swift-footed son of Peleus. The psukhē of the fleet descendant of Aiakos knew me and spoke piteously, saying, ‘Resourceful Odysseus, noble son of Laertes and seed of Zeus, what deed of daring will you undertake next, that you venture down to the house of Hadēs among us inept dead, who are but the spirits of them that can labor no more?’ “And I said, ‘Achilles, son of Peleus, foremost champion of the Achaeans, I came to consult Teiresias, and see if he could advise me
480 about my return home to Ithaca, for I have never yet been able to get near the Achaean land, nor to set foot in my own country, but have been in trouble all the time. As for you, Achilles, no one was ever yet so fortunate as you have been, nor ever will be, for you were adored by all us Argives as long as you were alive, and now that you are here you are a great prince among the dead. Do not, therefore, take it so much to heart even if you are dead.’ “‘Say not a word,’ he answered, ‘in death’s favor;
490 I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man’s house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead. But give me news about my son; is he gone to the wars and will he be a great warrior, or is this not so? Tell me also if you have heard anything about my father stately Peleus – does he still rule among the Myrmidons, or do they show him no respect throughout Hellas and Phthia now that he is old and his limbs fail him? Could I but stand by his side, in the light of day, with the same strength that I had when
500 I killed the bravest of our foes upon the plain of Troy – could I but be as I then was and go even for a short time to my father’s house, any one who tried to do him violence or supersede him would soon feel my strength and invincible hands.’ “‘I have heard nothing,’ I answered, ‘of stately Peleus, but I can tell you the truth [alētheia] about your beloved son Neoptolemos, for I took him in my own ship from Skyros with the strong-greaved Achaeans.
510 In our councils of war at Troy he was always first to speak, and his judgment was unerring. Godlike Nestor and I were the only two who could surpass him; and when it came to fighting on the plain of Troy, he would never remain with the body of his men, but would dash on far in front, foremost of them all in valor. Many a man did he kill in battle – I cannot name every single one of those whom he slew while fighting on the side of the Argives, but will only say how he killed that valiant hero
520 Eurypylos son of Telephos, who was the handsomest man I ever saw except Memnon; many others also of the Keteioi fell around him by reason of a woman’s bribes. Moreover, when all the bravest of the Argives went inside the horse that Epeios had made, and it was left to me to settle when we should either open the door of our ambuscade, or close it, though all the other leaders and chief men among the Danaans were drying their eyes and quaking in every limb, I never once saw him turn pale
530 nor wipe a tear from his cheek; he was all the time urging me to break out from the horse – grasping the handle of his sword and his bronze-shod spear, and breathing fury against the foe. Yet when we had ransacked the city of Priam he got his handsome share of the prize wealth and went on board (such is the fortune of war) without a wound upon him, neither from a thrown spear nor in close combat, for the rage of Ares is a matter of great chance.’ “When I had told him this, the spirit [psukhē] of Achilles strode off across a meadow full of asphodel,
540 exulting over what I had said concerning the prowess of his son. “The spirits [psukhai] of other dead men stood near me and told me each his own melancholy tale; but the psukhē of swift-footed Ajax son of Telamon alone held aloof – still angry with me for having won the cause in our dispute about the armor of Achilles. Thetis had offered it as a prize, but the Trojan prisoners and Athena were the judges. Would that I had never gained the day in such a contest [athlos], for it cost the life of
550 Ajax, who was foremost of all the Danaans after the stately son of Peleus, alike in stature and prowess. “When I saw him I tried to pacify him and said, ‘Ajax, son of stately Telamon, will you not forget and forgive even in death, but must the judgment about that hateful armor still rankle with you? It cost us Argives dear enough to lose such a tower of strength as you were to us. We mourned you as much as we mourned Achilles son of Peleus himself, nor can anything be blamed [aitios] except the spite that Zeus bore against the Danaans,
560 for it was this that made him counsel your destruction – come here, therefore, bring your proud spirit into subjection, and hear what I can tell you.’ “He would not answer, but turned away to Erebos and to the other spirits [psukhai]; nevertheless, I should have made him talk to me in spite of his being so angry, or I should have gone talking to him, only that there were still others among the dead whom I desired to see. “Then I saw Minos glorious son of Zeus with his golden scepter in his hand sitting in judgment on
570 the dead, and the spirits were gathered sitting and standing round him in the spacious house of Hadēs, to learn his sentences [dikai] upon them. “After him I saw huge Orion in a meadow full of asphodel driving the spirits of the wild beasts that he had killed upon the mountains, and he had a great bronze club in his hand, unbreakable for ever and ever. “And I saw Tityos glorious son of Gaia stretched upon the plain and covering some nine acres of ground. Two vultures on either side of him were digging their beaks into his liver, and he kept on trying to beat them off with his hands, but could not;
580 for he had violated Zeus’ honored mistress Leto as she was going through Panopeus on her way to Pytho. “I saw also the dreadful fate of Tantalus, who stood in a lake that reached his chin; he was dying to quench his thirst, but could never reach the water, for whenever the poor creature stooped to drink, it dried up and vanished, so that there was nothing but dry ground – parched by a superhuman force [daimōn]. There were tall trees, moreover, that shed their fruit over his head – pears, pomegranates, apples,
590 sweet figs and juicy olives, but whenever the poor creature stretched out his hand to take some, the wind tossed the branches back again to the clouds. “And I saw Sisyphus at his endless task raising his prodigious stone with both his hands. With hands and feet he tried to roll it up to the top of the hill, but always, just before he could roll it over on to the other side, its weight would be too much for him, and the pitiless stone would come thundering down again on to the plain. Then he would begin trying to push it up hill again, and the sweat ran
600 off him and the steam rose after him. “After him I saw mighty Herakles, but it was his phantom only, for he is feasting ever with the immortal gods, and has lovely Hebe to wife, who is daughter of Zeus and Hera of the golden sandals. The spirits were screaming round him like scared birds flying in all directions. He looked black as night with his bare bow in his hands and his arrow on the string, glaring around as though ever on the point of taking aim. About his breast there was a wondrous golden
610 belt adorned in the most marvelous fashion with bears, wild boars, and lions with gleaming eyes; there was also war, battle, and death. The man who made that belt, do what he might, would never be able to make another like it. Herakles knew me at once when he saw me, and spoke piteously, saying, ‘My poor resourceful Odysseus, noble son of Laertes and seed of Zeus, are you too leading the same sorry kind of life that I did when I was above ground?
620 I was son of Kronian Zeus, but I went through an infinity of suffering, for I became bondsman to one who was far beneath me – a lowly man who set me all manner of labors [athloi]. He once sent me here to fetch the hound of Hadēs – for he did not think he could find any athlos harder for me than this, but I got the hound out of Hadēs and brought him to him, for Hermes and Athena helped me.’ “Then Herakles went down again into the house of Hadēs, but I stayed where I was in case some other of the mighty dead
630 should come to me. And I should have seen still other of them that are gone before, whom I would like to have seen – Theseus and Perithoös glorious children of the gods, but so many thousands of spirits came round me and uttered such appalling cries, that I was panic stricken lest proud Persephone should send up from the house of Hadēs the head of that terrifying monster Gorgon. Then I hastened back to my ship and ordered my men to go on board at once and loose the hawsers; so they embarked and took their places, whereon the ship went down the stream of the river Okeanos.
640 We had to row at first, but presently a fair wind sprang up.

Translated by Samuel Butler and revised by Soo-Young Kim, Kelly McCray, Gregory Nagy, and Timothy Power