New Translations from Homer, The Odyssey

New Translations from Homer, The Odyssey
Book 1, 96–125: Athenê flies from Olympos to give advice to Telemakhos
Her words. And then to her feet she strapped the beautiful sandals,
Heavenly things made of gold that bore her across the wet seas
And the endless expanses of land, swift as the breath of the wind.
She took up her mighty spear. Tipped with a sharp point of bronze,
Stout and heavy and huge, she wields it to break the battalions
Of heroes with whom she is wroth: a mighty father’s true daughter.
Down along the crags of Olympos she flashed, coming at last
To the country of Ithaka’s people. She stood in Odysseus’ forecourt
There at his great hall’s threshold, grasping the lance of bronze;
Resembling a friend of the house: Mentês, the Taphian chieftain.
Inside she found the brash Suitors. Some were amusing themselves
Playing at board games, sprawled out in front of the doorway,
Sitting on hides of oxen that they themselves had slaughtered.
Meanwhile there were heralds about, and bustling stewards, too:
Some were blending the wine with water in great mixing bowls;
Others wiped folding tables with thirsty sponges, then set them
Out once again; still others were carving and serving the meats.

Telemakhos saw her first, that youth who looked like a god.
For he’d been sitting among the Suitors with anguish in his heart
As he pictured this scene to himself: his noble father finally home,
Scattering the Suitors and sweeping them out of the house,
Taking revenge for himself, the lord of his palace once more.
Thinking these thoughts, there in the midst of the Suitors, he caught
sight of Athenê.
Swiftly he went to the doorway, his heart stung with indignation
At the thought that a stranger should wait so long at the door.
Drawing near,
He clasped her right hand in his own, then took the bronze spear from her
And addressed her then with words that flew toward her like arrows:

“Greetings stranger and guest; be welcome among us. Once
You have taken your fill of refreshment you’ll tell us what need has
brought you.”
So saying he led the way, Pallas Athenê behind him.
Book 2, 146–176: Zeus sends a sign to the people of Ithaka
Telemakhos’ words. Just then Zeus, whose thunder sounds far off,
Launched two eagles into flight down from the peak of the mountain.
For a while they soared along, riding the breath of the wind,
Flying side by side, wings stretched tip to tip.
But when they were over the midst of the crowd with its hubbub of voices
They wheeled around and around, their fast-beating wings just a blur
As they looked down at the heads of the people, death glaring
from their eyes:
They tore at each other’s cheeks with their talons, tore at their
And then flashed off to the right, over the houses and the city.
The people, struck dumb by the birds—they’d seen them with their
own eyes—
Brooded deep in their hearts about what might come to pass.
And now there spoke up among them that aged fighter, Halithersês
Son of Mastôr: for he surpassed all the men of his time
In knowing the ways of birds and uttering Fate’s decrees.
Full of concern for them, he spoke now, addressing them thus:

“Hear me now, men of Ithaka, and heed what I have to say—
Though I speak most of all to the Suitors, to whom I shall make myself
Since a wave of great disaster is about to break: Odysseus
Will not be far from his loved ones much longer. No, I reckon
He’s already somewhere nearby, nursing his murderous plan—
Death to them all! He’ll be trouble to many others as well
Who dwell with us on Ithaka, so bright in the westering light. But
Long before then let us think on how we might stop them. Or rather,
Let them stop themselves: that’s their best course of action, now.
No untried prophet am I; no, I speak from great experience.
And indeed I declare that, for him, all has come to pass
Just as I told him it would when the Argives were embarking
For Troy, and along with them went Odysseus of the many wiles.
I said then that he’d suffer greatly; that he’d lose all of his
That in the twentieth year he would make his way back home
Unrecognized by all. And now it has all come to pass.”
Book 4, 59-119: Menelaos entertains Telemakhos and Peisistratos in Sparta
Greeting the pair, Menelaos the Fair-Haired now addressed them:
“Enjoy your meal, you two! Then, once you’ve finished
And had your fill of dinner we’ll ask just who you are
Among men. For the stock of your fathers hasn’t been lost in you
No, yours is the stock of men who are scepter-wielding kings
Nurtured by Zeus; since villains hardly breed such men as you.”

His words. And he took in his hands the fat-back cut from the ox
And served them the portion of honor which had been set aside for him.
Then they stretched out their hands toward the food that was spread
before them.
But once they had put away their craving for drink and for food
Telemakhos addressed a word to the son of Nestor,
Leaning in with his head so the others wouldn’t hear:

“Look there, son of Nestor, you who delight my heart—
Look at the bronze that flashes all through the echoing palace,
At the gleam of gold and amber—Look! Silver and ivory, too!
The court of Zeus on Olympos must be something just like this,
So vast are these untold riches. I’m awestruck just to behold it.”

But Fair-Haired Menelaos heard what he was saying
And addressed them, speaking words that flew toward them like arrows:

“Dear boys, truly no man can ever compete with Zeus:
Immortal are his dwellings and all that they contain.
As for mortals, it’s true there are few who could rival me in wealth;
Maybe none. For after I’d suffered greatly and wandered far
I brought all of this back in my ships in the eighth year after I left.
Cyprus and Phoenicia and Egypt were some of the places I wandered;
I got as far as the Ethiopians, the Sidonians and Eremboi,
Even Libya, too, where the lambs are born with horns—
The ewes there lamb three times during the course of the year.
There no master, no shepherd ever feels the lack
Of either cheese or meat, or of the sweetness of milk,
But the flocks keep on producing milk in great abundance.
And while I roamed those parts, building up this vast
Hoard, my brother was slain by the stealthy hand of—another,
Caught by surprise in the snare his accursed wife had set.
So I take no pleasure at all in being lord of these riches.
It’s likely you’ve heard your fathers, whoever they are, speak of this,
Given how greatly I suffered, how I brought down my own house,
Which once had been so stately, so rich in precious things.
Ah, would that I dwelt in these halls with just one-third of this hoard
To live on—but all of those men still alive who died back there
On Troy’s wide plain, so far from the horse-rearing pastures of Argos!
Still, even though it’s true that I mourn for all of them,
Grieving for them often as I sit here in my palace,
And sometimes I let myself go and have a good cry (not always:
Tears are a chilly dish, and soon you’ve had your fill)—
However greatly I mourn, I don’t grieve for them nearly as much
As I do for one man. The thought of sleeping or eating grows hateful
Whenever I think of him, for no one Achaean toiled
As much as Odysseus toiled, bore as much as he bore. But trouble
Was always his lot—just as mine was to have this grief for him
Never far from my thoughts; he’s been gone so long, we don’t know
If he’s alive or dead. I imagine that old man Laërtes
And prudent Penelope are in mourning—Telemakhos, too,
Whom he left behind at home when he was just a newborn babe.”

His words. And in the boy he stirred a longing to weep.
When he heard his father’s name, a tear fell from his lids;
Grasping his purple cloak with both hands, he held it up
In front of his eyes. Menelaos noticed him, and then
His heart went back and forth, he found himself hesitating:
Should he allow this boy to mention his father first?
Or should he himself speak first, asking questions, prodding?
Daniel Mendelsohn’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey will be published by the University of Chicago Press in 2023