Homers Odyssey | Chapter 49 of 54

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ODYSSEUS ENTERS HIS PALACE

 
 

EUMAEUS

Take a seat, old feller. Look, there’s noble Telemachus,

still doing his duty, hosting this pack of free-loaders.

 

ODYSSEUS

Shall I approach him myself?

 

EUMAEUS

Why not – he invited you here. He won’t have forgotten.

 

Odysseus approaches Telemachus.

TELEMACHUS (hushed)

Father.

 

ODYSSEUS (whispering)

Don’t let them see through our pretence. Act accordingly.

I need to test these suitors man by man – but how?

 

TELEMACHUS

Here – take this bowl around. Beg from them one by one.

You’ll get the measure of them by their response.

 

Odysseus takes a bowl and approaches the suitors in turn.

ODYSSEUS (to Amphinomus)

Any crusts to spare, young man, sir? Anything going begging?

 

AMPHINOMUS

Who’s this, then?

 

ODYSSEUS

Just an old man with a grumbling belly.

 

AMPHINOMUS

Here, take these ribs – you can dig the marrow from them. Now shoo.

 

ODYSSEUS

Very kind, my young sir. God bless you.

 

He approaches Eurymachus.

Sir, if you’ll beg my pardon.

Can you spare a scrap or two from your plate?

 

EURYMACHUS

What – fuck off – I’m eating. Whatever happened to good manners?

 

ODYSSEUS

I’m ashamed to be asking. Don’t make it worse for me, sir.

Just a crust or a half-chewed bone or a burnt sausage.

My belly thinks my throat’s been cut.

 

EURYMACHUS

It might come true.

You’re a scavenger, whoever you are, and a filthy one at that.

Well, it’s worth a lump of gristle just to keep you away.

There – on the floor – where the dogs eat. Now vanish.

 

Odysseus approaches Antinous.

ODYSSEUS

Fine young sir, if I could trouble you …

 

ANTINOUS

Look what the wind blew in.

 

ODYSSEUS

If you could spare a morsel of meat for a man in his later years.

 

ANTINOUS

Did someone leave the gates of the graveyard open?

 

The suitors laugh.

ODYSSEUS

I apologize if my appearance offends you.

 

ANTINOUS

Appearance? It’s your existence I object to.

Now stop breathing on me and crawl back in your hole.

 

AMPHINOMUS

Don’t be ruthless, Antinous. It’s only human to be hungry.

 

ANTINOUS

This swamp donkey isn’t human. Who let him in?

 

EUMAEUS

He came with me.

 

EURYMACHUS

And who are you?

 

EUMAEUS

Eumaeus, loyal herdsman to Odysseus.

 

ANTINOU

A pig-man – that figures! One swine leading another.

 

ODYSSEUS

Just a bite, sir. That kidney on your plate – you wouldn’t miss it.

 

ANTINOUS (flaring with anger)

You ignorant, shameless scrounger.

Get your loathsome hand away from my meal.

Pig-man, don’t you think there are enough mouths to feed

without bringing beggars into the hall?

 

EUMAEUS

Aye, and you’re one of them yourself. What’s the difference?

You and your lot – you’re a swarm of locusts.

 

ANTINOUS

You impertinent wretch.

 

TELEMACHUS

Ignore him, Eumaeus. Don’t waste your breath.

 

EUMAEUS

He’s got some neck, though. Him and his friends

leaching the blood from this proud house,

then he turns round and tells another man not to beg.

     Outrageous!

 

ODYSSEUS

Even the shell from your egg, sir.

The cow’s horn, the billy goat’s beard – anything.

 

ANTINOUS

You’re right. You’re so right. Where are my manners?

Here, take a seat. This stool I’m sitting on – you can have it.

(He smashes the stool over Odysseus’ head.)

Right across your skull.

 

AMPHINOMUS

Antinous, for God’s sake calm down.

 

EURYMACHUS

Keep out of it. Let him have his say.

 

AMPHINOMUS

It’s an offence in the eyes of the Gods to mistreat a stranger.

 

EURYMACHUS

The Gods don’t care about him.

If they did, he wouldn’t be a good-for-nothing beggar.

 

TELEMACHUS (under his breath, attending to Odysseus)

Father, are you hurt?

 

ODYSSEUS

Ignore it.

 

TELEMACHUS

I won’t stand for this any longer. I’ll kill Antinous right now.

 

ODYSSEUS

If you want what’s best for us you’ll swallow your pride.

Now get away from me.

(hisses)

Get away.

 

ANTINOUS

Fetch me another seat, somebody.

And throw that flea-ridden dosser into the street.

 

PENELOPE (from the balcony)

As long as this is the house of Odysseus I’ll say how guests are treated.

 

ODYSSEUS (hushed, captivated by the first sight of his wife)

Penelope.

 

TELEMACHUS (hushed, to Odysseus)

Now it’s your turn to hold your tongue.

 

PENELOPE

Give that stranger a bandage for his head.

We treat visitors here with courtesy – you should know,

you’ve tested our hospitality to the edge of bankruptcy.

 

And you’ve strained my nerves and my heart to breaking point.

Beyond breaking point.

 

ANTINOUS

All we want is resolution to this situation …

 

PENELOPE (cutting through him)

I’ve reached a decision.

The morning Odysseus sailed for Troy

he held me by the wrist. Wait for me, he said.

Wait until our baby son is a man with a beard on his chin.

Then for the sake of yourself, for the sake of everything,

choose another man.

 

That day has come.

 

TELEMACHUS (under his breath)

No, mother.

 

ODYSSEUS (hushed)

Let her speak.

 

PENELOPE

It’s time to … give up the ghost.

I’m worn down.

Why you should want me – empty and bitter and cold,

all my womanly beauty drained by grief – Zeus only knows.

But I’ll honour my husband’s will. I’ll marry one of you.

 

There is agreement, relief and self-congratulation among the suitors.

AMPHINOMUS

My lady, gracious queen …

 

PENELOPE

Time was when a suitor would court his lady with presents.

Lay wondrous offerings at her feet.

Outbid his rivals with promises of wealth.

Shower the family of the bride-to-be with shimmering gifts.

 

TELEMACHUS (aside)

She lines her pockets into the bargain.

 

ODYSSEUS (hushed response)

No, she fleeces them. Let them pay.

 

ANTINOUS

My lady, your change of heart is most welcome and most timely.

And now that common sense has taken hold,

we’ll court you the way that tradition demands.

We’ll bring gifts. Pile them to the ceiling if need be.

 

And may the best man win!

 

The suitors cheer.

PENELOPE

But leave me in peace now.

Go home to your houses – let me have one last night

to prepare, and make my peace, and accept my loss.

 

AMPHINOMUS

We’ll grant you that, of course.

 

The suitors begin to pack up their bags and leave the house.

PENELOPE

Eumaeus?

 

EUMAEUS

You call for me, my lady?

 

PENELOPE

Come here and answer me a question.

 

Eumaeus makes his way to Penelope.

The old man who begged from the table, who is he?

 

EUMAEUS

A stranger, shipwrecked coming from Crete,

washed up on Ithaca’s shore.

He knocked on my door and I took him in.

 

PENELOPE

From Crete?

The trade winds might have whispered my husband’s name in his ears.

Tell him to expect my company.

I’ll speak to him in due course.

 

*

 

Later. The house of Odysseus stands quiet.

EUMAEUS

Old man, here she comes. Dust yourself down.

 

PENELOPE

Don’t stand up – please.

Those suitors brought shame on this house

with their rudeness towards you. You deserve to sit.

 

ODYSSEUS

All I’ve heard of your kindness is true. And your beauty.

 

PENELOPE

Where are you from, stranger?

 

ODYSSEUS

Lady, don’t ask me the name of my country.

Don’t ask me to crack open my heart in front of you.

You’ve troubles enough in this house without my sob-story.

I’ll weep, and you’ll think me drunk and maudlin.

 

PENELOPE

Nothing could take my spirits any lower.

 

ODYSSEUS

You’ve suffered and suffered – your face tells me as much.

 

PENELOPE

When Odysseus, my husband, sailed for Troy,

he took my soul with him.

 

Then the vultures started to circle.

I held those suitors off for long enough,

weaving a shroud for my husband’s father,

telling them I wouldn’t wed until the long fine threads

were interlaced and woven tight.

 

Then unpicked it every night! For three years it was my alibi.

 

ODYSSEUS

A brilliant scheme.

 

PENELOPE

But they found me out. The maidservants were two-faced.

Now there’s no more web to weave. No escape.

 

ODYSSEUS

Lady, you’ve been honest with me, now I’ll say something about myself.

My homeland is Crete.

 

PENELOPE

I know of it.

 

ODYSSEUS

It was there I met him. Odysseus.

 

PENELOPE

You met my husband? How long ago?

 

ODYSSEUS

Years and years, I’m afraid.

He was making for Troy when the wind blew him off course.

He moored in the harbour to escape the storm.

One evening he ate in my house.

Then after two weeks, with the wind back to right again, he sailed.

That was the last I saw of him.

 

PENELOPE

He ate in your house?

 

ODYSSEUS

Sat as close to me as you are sitting right now.

 

PENELOPE

If it’s true, tell me what clothes he wore?

 

ODYSSEUS

Lady, it’s difficult. Twenty years – the memory fades.

 

PENELOPE

No one forgets Odysseus. What did he wear?

 

ODYSSEUS

Well, let me conjure up the picture of him standing at my door.

A blue cloak. No, purple. A purple cloak.

 

PENELOPE

Go on.

 

ODYSSEUS

With a double fold – that’s right.

A purple cloak with a double fold.

Pinned with a brooch, and on the brooch

the image of a deer or faun,

being dragged to the ground by a dog, a hunting hound.

I admired it. Well, all did.

If I close my eyes I see it clear as daylight now.

 

PENELOPE (moved by the account of her husband)

I gave him that cloak.

I folded it, fastened that pin.

It was the last time I touched him.

 

ODYSSEUS

I’m sorry to have opened the wound again.

 

PENELOPE

It never closed.

 

You gave my husband shelter a long way from home.

It’s the least I can do to give you the same. Eurycleia?

 

EURYCLEIA

Yes, my lady. Coming, my lady.

 

PENELOPE

Here’s our old nurse. She suckled Odysseus himself.

 

EURYCLEIA

That I did, my lady. He fed at my breast.

 

PENELOPE

Make up a couch for our guest.

 

EURYCLEIA

I will.

 

PENELOPE

And wash him. Bathe his feet. 

 

ODYSSEUS

I’m fine here on the hearth rug – I’m used to roughing it.

 

PENELOPE

I won’t hear of you not being comfortable under my roof.

And let her bathe your feet – you’ll feel better for it.

I’ll be in the upper room. I have prayers to say.

 

Eurycleia kneels at Odysseus’ feet with a bowl of water.

EURYCLEIA

Come on, off with those sandals.

My, these feet have squashed some miles under them.

Not damaged though. Not a nail broken. Good strong ankles.

 

You’re very alike, you know, you and Odysseus.

 

ODYSSEUS

People have commented on the resemblance.

 

EURYCLEIA

Alike in height and width. Similar voices.

I thought you were far older, ’scuse me saying,

but these are a younger man’s feet. Same size as his, I’d say.

 

ODYSSEUS

Have you finished?

 

EURYCLEIA

I’ve only just started – relax. Lie back.

He liked his feet bathed, you know.

 

ODYSSEUS

Did he?

 

EURYCLEIA

Like washing his troubles away, he’d say.

He had a scar on his leg.

 

ODYSSEUS

Really?

 

EURYCLEIA

I’ll say he did. Went hunting when he was a lad,

and a wild boar comes tearing out of a thicket.

He killed it with a spear, bang! –

but not before it gouged the flesh with its tusk.

 

ODYSSEUS

Thank you, you can stop now.

 

EURYCLEIA

A real gash, it was. Just below the knee.

No, on the other leg, just about there, just …

 

She drops his leg. The bronze bowl of water turns over onto the floor.

EURYCLEIA

All the Gods and all the stars in heaven – it’s you.

 

ODYSSEUS

Be quiet, Eurycleia.

 

EURYCLEIA

It’s my lord and master.

Dear child – it’s you, Odysseus. It’s Odysseus.

 

ODYSSEUS (almost violently)

Keep it closed, old nurse.

You suckled me into life – don’t get me killed now.

This stays a secret until those suitors are dead,

or, as I live and breathe, I’ll have to finish you as well,

along with those other servants and maids who’ve double-crossed us.

 

PENELOPE (from afar)

What’s going on?

 

EURYCLEIA

I’ll be as silent as a lump of iron.

I’ll be as silent as a stone, trapped in a block of ice, buried under snow.

 

ODYSSEUS

See to it.

 

EURYCLEIA (hushed, but excited)

And when your hands have finished with those suitors,

bang! bang! bang!

I’ll point out the turncoats in this house.

I’ll point them out with my own hand …

 

PENELOPE (entering)

Nurse – did you spill the water?

Your old hands are growing weak …

 

ODYSSEUS

No, it was my fault. She soothed me to sleep,

then I kicked out in a dream.

 

EURYCLEIA

I’ll run and fetch a cloth to mop up the mess.

And blankets for a bed. Excuse me, ma’am. Sir.

 

Eurycleia exits.

PENELOPE

I have a dream – the same dream every night.

Are you someone who knows the meaning of dreams?

 

ODYSSEUS

Dreams are hard to fathom. What happens in yours?

 

PENELOPE

I have twenty white geese in the house – pets, really.

In the dream, an eagle swoops from the sky

and breaks the neck of every one with its hooked beak.

What does it mean?

 

ODYSSEUS

It’s a good sign, isn’t it?

Golden Odysseus will swoop on the house

and slay the suitors – isn’t that what the dream says?

 

PENELOPE

I clung to that thought for a long time –

woke every morning full of hope. But I see now I was wrong.

Now it’s a nightmare – I sleep in cold sweat.

 

Well, tomorrow waits in the east – an evil day.

I have an archery contest in mind – what do you think?

 

ODYSSEUS

With the winner taking your hand?

 

PENELOPE

To sort the wheat from the chaff. The men from the boys.

 

ODYSSEUS

It sounds perfect to me. Appropriate.

Whoever claims you as his prize must be no ordinary man.

 

PENELOPE

Goodnight, stranger from Crete.

 

Penelope leaves.

ODYSSEUS

My lady. My Penelope.

 

Eurycleia returns.

EURYCLEIA

Here’s enough blankets to keep a horse warm.

Need anything else, stranger?

 

ODYSSEUS

Nothing.

 

EURYCLEIA

Then I’ll say goodnight. Stranger!

 

ODYSSEUS

Don’t squeal, Eurycleia. Keep the secret.

 

EURYCLEIA

My lips are stitched together. Mmnnnn!

 

Odysseus beds down for the night.

ODYSSEUS (to himself)

Be strong, Odysseus. Be iron-hearted.

Don’t let doubts gnaw away at your courage all night.

 

ATHENA

Awake, or talking in your sleep, Odysseus?

 

ODYSSEUS

Athena – silver-eyed Goddess.

I thought … I thought you’d deserted me when I most needed you.

 

ATHENA

Desertion?

The Gods don’t waver – hesitation and doubt are human failings.

 

ODYSSEUS

Doubt and hesitation are in me tonight.

There must be fifty suitors at least.

Do you promise to fight at my shoulder?

Does almighty Zeus lend his support to this venture?

 

ATHENA

Go to the heavy door of your wife’s chamber, Odysseus.

Don’t enter – just listen.

 

ODYSSEUS

Skulk in the corridors of my house, eavesdropping –

what kind of plan is that? That’s no promise.

Athena? Athena?

 

Odysseus climbs the steps and stands outside Penelope’s chamber. He puts his ear to the door.

I hear nothing. The sound of sleeping.

 

Penelope begins to murmur.

My wife. Praying. Saying her prayers. A sweet sound.

 

PENELOPE (from inside the room)

Artemis, hear me.

Aphrodite, hear me.

Hera and Athena, all women of Olympus,

hear this woman’s request.

 

Take away my life.

 

ODYSSEUS (to himself)

No, Penelope.

 

PENELOPE

Let an arrow fly at my life.

Let me join my husband in death.

Sleep was once my escape,

now dreams worm into my mind.

 

Let oblivion draw its dark sheet over me.

Goddesses of Olympus,

lay a weight on my heart now, and let me sleep.

 

ODYSSEUS (to himself)

Athena – you’d have me suffer more,

listen to my wife pleading for death.

 

Well, now doubts and hesitation are blown away.

Tomorrow I’ll rage. Tomorrow I’ll flare and blaze.

Beware those who stand in the blast.

I come alive – every atom of me ignites now with fury.

 

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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