The Trojan War

30 After the War

Odysseus stands on his ship, tied to the mast. Four crew members row, and one stands at the front of the ship acting as coxswain. Two sirens, large birds with the heads of young women, perch on cliffs on either side. Another siren dives down towards the ship.
Odysseus and the Sirens, red-figure stamnos, ca. 480 BCE (British Museum, London)

The Epics

The Odyssey

Odysseus and three of his crew, all nude men with long hair. Odysseus holds a stick and holds out a pitcher of wine of Polyphemus. Polyphemus is seated and holds two human legs as he drinks the wine. Odysseus' crew carry a large stick between them. A snake is above the scene, and a large fish below.
Odysseus and his crew with Polyphemus, black-figure kylix, ca. 570 BCE (Cabinet des Médailles, Paris)

Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey, tells of the ten year journey that the Achaean hero Odysseus took to return home to the island of Ithaca following the war. The poem opens nearly twenty years after Odysseus left for the Trojan War, focusing on his wife, Penelope, and his now grown-up son, Telemachus. It then turns to Odysseus who is in his last leg of his journey home. The entire poem can be read here.


Odysseus, in a chlamys cape with a petasos hat around his neck, chases Circe with a knife. Circe, in billowing robes and a head wrap, flees. Behind Odysseus are two nude men with the heads and tales of boars. The bottom row of the krater shows a young man and two women running.
Odysseus and Circe, red figure krater, ca. 440 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)

Homer, Odyssey, Book 9 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek epic poem, 8th century BCE

In Book 9 of the Odyssey, Odysseus has washed ashore on the island of the Phaeacians. He is at the court of King Alcinous and Queen Arete. The blind bard Demodicus has just finished singing about the Trojan Horse and the sack of Troy. King Alcinous has now asked Odysseys to tell them of his adventures up to that point.
[content warning for the following source: graphic description of death and violence (256-306, 360-412)]

[1-62] Resourceful Odysseus answered the king, saying: ‘Lord Alcinous, most illustrious of men, it is a fine thing, in truth, to hear a bard such as this, with a godlike voice. I say myself there is nothing more delightful than when all the people feel this joy, and the banqueters sit in their rows, listening to the minstrel in the hall, tables in front of them laden with meat and bread, while the steward pours wine from the bowl, and carries it round and fills the cups. It seems the loveliest thing of all to me.

But your heart prompts you to ask of my sad troubles, and make me weep and groan even more. How will I start and end my tale? First, let me give you my name, so you all know, and if I escape from pitiless fate later, I will be your host, though I live far off. I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son, known to all for my stratagems, and my fame has reached the heavens. My home is under Ithaca’s clear skies: our Mount Neriton, clothed with whispering forest is visible from afar: and clustered round it are many isles, Dulichium and Same and wooded Zacynthus. Ithaca itself lies low in the sea, furthest towards the west, while the others are separate, towards the dawn and the rising sun. It’s a rugged land, but nurtures fine young men: and speaking for myself I know nothing sweeter than one’s own country. Calypso, the lovely goddess, kept me there in her echoing caves, because she wished me for her husband, and in the same way Circe, the Aeaean witch, detained me in her palace, longing to make me hers: but they failed to move my heart. Surely nothing is sweeter than a man’s own parents and country, even though he lives in a wealthy house, in a foreign land far from those parents. But let me tell you of my sad voyage back from Troy, that Zeus had willed.

The wind carried me from Ilium to Ismarus, city of the Cicones. I sacked the city and slew the men, and the women and riches we split between us, so that as far as I could determine no man lacked an equal share. Then as you might imagine I ordered us to slip away quickly, but my foolish followers wouldn’t listen. They drank the wine, and slaughtered many sheep and shambling cattle with twisted horns. Meanwhile the Cicones rounded up others, their neighbours further inland, more numerous and braver, men skilled at fighting their enemies from chariots and on foot, as needed. At dawn they came, as many as the leaves and flowers of the spring: and disaster sent by Zeus overtook us, doomed, as we were, to endless trouble. Drawing up their ranks by the swift ships, they fought us, each side hurling bronze-tipped spears at the other. Through that morning, while the sacred light grew stronger, we held our ground and kept their greater force at bay. But as the sun fell, at the time when oxen are unyoked, the Cicones succeeded in routing the Acheans, and six of my well-armoured comrades died from each ship, but the rest of us cheated death and evil fate.’

[63-104] ‘From Ismarus we sailed, with heavy hearts for the loyal friends lost, though happy to have escaped death ourselves: nor would I let the curved ships leave until we had called three times in ritual to each of our luckless comrades, who died there on the plain, at the hands of the Cicones. But Zeus, the Cloud-Gatherer, stirred the north wind against our ships, in a blinding tempest, hiding the land and sea alike in cloud, while darkness swept from the sky. Headlong the ships were driven, sails torn to shreds by the force of the gale. In terror of death we lowered the masts on deck, and rowed the vessels wildly towards land.

There we stayed for two days and nights, troubled at heart with weariness and grief. But when Dawn of the lovely tresses gave birth to the third day, we upped masts, hoisted the white sails, and took our seats aboard, and the wind and helmsman kept us on course. Now I would have reached home safely, but as I was rounding Cape Malea, the north wind and waves and the ocean currents beat me away, off course, past Cythera.

For nine days I was driven by fierce winds over the rolling sea: but on the tenth we set foot on the shores of the Lotus-eaters, who eat its flowery food. On land we drew water, and my friends ate by the ships. Once we had tasted food and drink, I sent some of the men inland to discover what kind of human beings lived there: selecting two and sending a third as herald. They left at once and came upon the Lotus-eaters, who had no thought of killing my comrades, but gave them lotus to eat. Those who ate the honey-sweet lotus fruit no longer wished to bring back word to us, or sail for home. They wanted to stay with the Lotus-eaters, eating the lotus, forgetting all thoughts of return. I dragged those men back to the shore myself by force, while they wept, and bound them tight in the hollow ships, pushing them under the benches. Then I ordered my men to embark quickly on the fast craft, fearing that others would eat the lotus and forget their homes. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars.’

[105-151] ‘From there we sailed with heavy hearts, and came to the land of the Cyclopes, a lawless, aggressive people, who never lift their hands to plant or plough, but rely on the immortal gods. Wheat, barley, and vines with their richly clustered grapes, grow there without ploughing or sowing, and rain from Zeus makes them flourish. The Cyclopes have no council meetings, no code of law, but live in echoing caves on the mountain slopes, and each man lays down the law to his wives and children, and disregards his neighbours.

A fertile island lies diagonally outside the Cyclopes’ harbour, well wooded and neither close to nor far from shore. Countless wild goats inhabit it, since there is nothing to stop them, no hunters to suffer the hardship of beating a path through its woods, or to roam its mountaintops. There are no flocks, and no ploughed fields: but always unsown, and untilled it is free of mankind and nurtures only bleating goats. The Cyclopes have no vessels with crimson-painted prows, no shipwrights to build sound boats with oars, to meet their need and let them travel to other men’s cities, as other races visit each other over the sea in ships, no craftsmen that is who might also have turned it into a fine colony.[1] For this island is by no means poor, but would carry any crop in due season. There are rich well-watered meadows there, along the shore of the grey sea, where vines would never fail. There is level land for the plough with soil so rich they could reap a dense harvest in season. And there’s a safe harbour where there’s no need for moorings, neither anchor stones nor mooring lines: you can beach your ship and wait until the wind is fair and the spirit moves you to sail.

Now, at the head of the harbour a stream of bright water flows out from a cave ringed by poplars. We entered, and some god must have guided us through the murky night, since it was too dark to see, a mist shrouded the ships, and the moon covered with cloud gave not a gleam of light. No one could see the land, or the long, powerful waves striking the beach, until we had run our oared ships aground. Once they were beached we lowered sail and went on shore, then we lay down where we were to sleep, and waited for the light of dawn.’

[152-192] ‘As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, we explored the island, marveling at what we saw. The Nymphs, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus, disturbed the mountain goats, driving them towards my hungry comrades. Quickly we brought our curved bows and long spears from the ships, and splitting three ways began to hunt them, and the god soon gave us a fine enough kill. Nine goats were given to each of the twelve ships in my command, and there were ten left for me.

So all day long until the sun set we sat and feasted on copious meat and mellow wine,[2] since each of the crews had drawn off a large supply in jars when we took the Cicones’ sacred citadel, and some of the red was left. Looking across to the land of the neighbouring Cyclopes, we could see smoke and hear their voices, and the sound of their sheep and goats. Sun set and darkness fell, and we settled to our rest on the shore.

As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, I gathered my men together, saying: “The rest of you loyal friends stay here, while I and my crew take ship and try and find out who these men are, whether they are cruel, savage and lawless, or good to strangers, and in their hearts fear the gods.”

With this I went aboard and ordered my crew to follow and loose the cables. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars. When we had reached the nearby shore, we saw a deep cave overhung with laurels at the cliff’s edge close to the sea. Large herds of sheep and goats were penned there at night, and round it was a raised yard walled by deep-set stones, tall pines and high-crowned oaks. There a giant spent the night, one that grazed his herds far off, alone, and keeping clear of others, lived in lawless solitude. He was born a monster and a wonder, not like any ordinary human, but like some wooded peak of the high mountains, that stands there isolated to our gaze.’

[193-255] ‘Then I ordered the rest of my loyal friends to stay there and guard the ship, while I selected the twelve best men and went forward. I took with me a goatskin filled with dark sweet wine that Maron, son of Euanthes, priest of Apollo guardian god of Ismarus, had given me, because out of respect we protected him, his wife, and his child. He offered me splendid gifts, seven talents of well-wrought gold, and a silver mixing-bowl: and wine, twelve jars in all, sweet unmixed wine, a divine draught. None of his serving-men and maids knew of this store, only he and his loyal wife, and one housekeeper. When they drank that honeyed red wine, he would pour a full cup into twenty of water, and the bouquet that rose from the mixing bowl was wonderfully sweet: in truth no one could hold back. I filled a large goatskin with the wine, and took it along, with some food in a bag, since my instincts told me the giant would come at us quickly, a savage being with huge strength, knowing nothing of right or law.

Soon we came to the cave, and found him absent, he was grazing his well-fed flocks in the fields. So we went inside and marveled at its contents. There were baskets full of cheeses, and pens crowded with lambs and kids, each flock with its firstlings, later ones, and newborn separated. The pails and bowls for milking, all solidly made, were swimming with whey. At first my men begged me to take some cheeses and go, then to drive the lambs and kids from the pens down to the swift ship and set sail. But I would not listen, though it would have been best, wishing to see the giant himself, and test his hospitality. When he did appear, he proved no joy to my men.

So we lit a fire and made an offering, and helped ourselves to the cheese, and sat in the cave eating, waiting for him to return, shepherding his flocks. He arrived carrying a huge weight of dry wood to burn at suppertime, and he flung it down inside the cave with a crash. Gripped by terror we shrank back into a deep corner. He drove his well-fed flocks into the wide cave, the ones he milked, leaving the rams and he-goats outside in the broad courtyard. Then he lifted his door, a huge stone, and set it in place. Twenty-two four-wheeled wagons could not have carried it, yet such was the great rocky mass he used for a door. Then he sat and milked the ewes, and bleating goats in order, putting her young to each. Next he curdled half of the white milk, and stored the whey in wicker baskets, leaving the rest in pails for him to drink for his supper. When he had busied himself at his tasks, and kindled a fire, he suddenly saw us, and said: “Strangers, who are you? Where do you sail from over the sea-roads? Are you on business, or do you roam at random, like pirates who chance their lives to bring evil to others?”’

[256-306] ‘Our spirits fell at his words, in terror at his loud voice and monstrous size. Nevertheless I answered him, saying; “We are Achaeans, returning from Troy, driven over the ocean depths by every wind that blows. Heading for home we were forced to take another route, a different course, as Zeus, I suppose, intended. We are followers of Agamemnon, Atreus’ son, whose fame spreads widest on earth, so great was that city he sacked and host he slew. But we, for our part, come as suppliant to your knees, hoping for hospitality, and the kindness that is due to strangers. Good sir, do not refuse us: respect the gods. We are suppliants and Zeus protects visitors and suppliants, Zeus the god of guests, who follows the steps of sacred travelers.”[3]

His answer was devoid of pity. “Stranger, you are a foreigner or a fool, telling me to fear and revere the gods, since the Cyclopes care nothing for aegis-bearing Zeus: we are greater than they. I would spare neither you nor your friends, to evade Zeus’ anger, but only as my own heart prompted.

But tell me, now, where you moored your fine ship, when you landed. Was it somewhere nearby, or further off? I’d like to know.”

His words were designed to fool me, but failed. I was too wise for that, and answered him with cunning words: “Poseidon, Earth-Shaker, smashed my ship to pieces, wrecking her on the rocks that edge your island, driving her close to the headland so the wind threw her onshore. But I and my men here escaped destruction.”

Devoid of pity, he was silent in response, but leapt up and laid hands on my crew. Two he seized and dashed to the ground like whelps, and their brains ran out and stained the earth. He tore them limb from limb for his supper, eating the flesh and entrails, bone and marrow, like a mountain lion, leaving nothing. Helplessly we watched these cruel acts, raising our hands to heaven and weeping. When the Cyclops had filled his huge stomach with human flesh, and had drunk pure milk, he lay down in the cave, stretched out among his flocks. Then I formed a courageous plan to steal up to him, draw my sharp sword, and feeling for the place where the midriff supports the liver, stab him there. But the next thought checked me. Trapped in the cave we would certainly die, since we’d have no way to move the great stone from the wide entrance. So, sighing, we waited for bright day.’

[307-359] ‘As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, Cyclops relit the fire. Then he milked the ewes, and bleating goats in order, putting her young to each. When he had busied himself at his tasks, he again seized two of my men and began to eat them. When he had finished he drove his well-fed flocks from the cave, effortlessly lifting the huge door stone, and replacing it again like the cap on a quiver. Then whistling loudly he turned his flocks out on to the mountain slopes, leaving me with murder in my heart searching for a way to take vengeance on him, if Athena would grant me inspiration. The best plan seemed to be this:

The Cyclops’ huge club, a trunk of green olive wood he had cut to take with him as soon as it was seasoned, lay next to a sheep pen. It was so large and thick that it looked to us like the mast of a twenty-oared black ship, a broad-beamed merchant vessel that sails the deep ocean. Approaching it, I cut off a six-foot length, gave it to my men and told them to smooth the wood. Then standing by it I sharpened the end to a point, and hardened the point in the blazing fire, after which I hid it carefully in a one of the heaps of dung that lay around the cave. I ordered the men to cast lots as to which of them should dare to help me raise the stake and twist it into the Cyclops’ eye when sweet sleep took him. The lot fell on the very ones I would have chosen, four of them, with myself making a fifth.

He returned at evening, shepherding his well-fed flocks. He herded them swiftly, every one, into the deep cave, leaving none in the broad yard, commanded to do so by a god, or because of some premonition. Then he lifted the huge door stone and set it in place, and sat down to milk the ewes and bleating goats in order, putting her young to each. But when he had busied himself at his tasks, he again seized two of my men and began to eat them. That was when I went up to him, holding an ivy-wood bowl full of dark wine, and said: “Here, Cyclops, have some wine to follow your meal of human flesh, so you can taste the sort of drink we carried in our ship. I was bringing the drink to you as a gift, hoping you might pity me and help me on my homeward path: but your savagery is past bearing. Cruel man, why would anyone on earth ever visit you again, when you behave so badly?”

At this, he took the cup and drained it, and found the sweet drink so delightful he asked for another draught: “Give me more, freely, then quickly tell me your name so I may give you a guest gift, one that will please you. Among us Cyclopes the fertile earth produces rich grape clusters, and Zeus’ rain swells them: but this is a taste from a stream of ambrosia and nectar.”’

[360-412] ‘As he finished speaking I handed him the bright wine. Three times I poured and gave it to him, and three times, foolishly, he drained it. When the wine had muddled his wits, I tried him with subtle words: “Cyclops, you asked my name, and I will tell it: give me afterwards a guest gift as you promised. My name is Nobody. Nobody, my father, mother, and friends call me.”

Those were my words, and this his cruel answer: “Then, my gift is this. I will eat Nobody last of all his company, and all the others before him”.

As he spoke, he reeled and toppled over on his back, his thick neck twisted to one side, and all-conquering sleep overpowered him. In his drunken slumber he vomited wine and pieces of human flesh. Then I thrust the stake into the depth of the ashes to heat it, and inspired my men with encouraging words, so none would hang back from fear. When the olivewood stake was glowing hot, and ready to catch fire despite its greenness, I drew it from the coals, then my men stood round me, and a god breathed courage into us. They held the sharpened olivewood stake, and thrust it into his eye, while I threw my weight on the end, and twisted it round and round, as a man bores the timbers of a ship with a drill that others twirl lower down with a strap held at both ends, and so keep the drill continuously moving. We took the red-hot stake and twisted it round and round like that in his eye, and the blood poured out despite the heat. His lids and brows were scorched by flame from the burning eyeball, and its roots crackled with fire. As a great axe or adze causes a vast hissing when the smith dips it in cool water to temper it, strengthening the iron, so his eye hissed against the olivewood stake. Then he screamed, terribly, and the rock echoed. Seized by terror we shrank back, as he wrenched the stake, wet with blood, from his eye. He flung it away in frenzy, and called to the Cyclopes, his neighbours who lived in caves on the windy heights. They heard his cry, and crowding in from every side they stood by the cave mouth and asked what was wrong: “Polyphemus, what terrible pain is this that makes you call through deathless night, and wake us? Is a mortal stealing your flocks, or trying to kill you by violence or treachery?”

Out of the cave came mighty Polyphemus’ voice: “Nobody, my friends, is trying to kill me by violence or treachery.”

To this they replied with winged words: “If you are alone, and nobody does you violence, it’s an inescapable sickness that comes from Zeus: pray to the Lord Poseidon, our father.”

[413-479] ‘Off they went, while I laughed to myself at how the name and the clever scheme had deceived him. Meanwhile the Cyclops, groaning and in pain, groped around and laboured to lift the stone from the door. Then he sat in the entrance, arms outstretched, to catch anyone stealing past among his sheep. That was how foolish he must have thought I was. I considered the best way of escaping, and saving myself, and my men from death. I dreamed up all sorts of tricks and schemes, as a man will in a life or death matter: it was an evil situation. This was the plan that seemed best. The rams were fat with thick fleeces, fine large beasts with deep black wool. These I silently tied together in threes, with twists of willow on which that lawless monster, Polyphemus, slept. The middle one was to carry one of my men, with the other two on either side to protect him. So there was a man to every three sheep. As for me I took the pick of the flock, and curled below his shaggy belly, gripped his back and lay there face upwards, patiently gripping his fine fleece tight in my hands. Then, sighing, we waited for the light.

As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, the males rushed out to graze, while the un-milked females’ udders bursting bleated in the pens. Their master, tormented by agonies of pain, felt the backs of the sheep as they passed him, but foolishly failed to see my men tied under the rams’ bellies. My ram went last, burdened by the weight of his fleece, and me and my teeming thoughts. And as he felt its back, mighty Polyphemus spoke to him:

“My fine ram, why leave the cave like this last of the flock? You have never lagged behind before, always the first to step out proudly and graze on the tender grass shoots, always first to reach the flowing river, and first to show your wish to return at evening to the fold. Today you are last of all. You must surely be grieving over your master’s eye, blinded by an evil man and his wicked friends, when my wits were fuddled with wine: Nobody, I say, has not yet escaped death. If you only had senses like me, and the power of speech to tell me where he hides himself from my anger, then I’d strike him down, his brains would be sprinkled all over the floor of the cave, and my heart would be eased of the pain that nothing, Nobody, has brought me.”

With this he drove the ram away from him out of doors, and I detached myself when the ram was a little way from the cave, then untied my men. Swiftly, keeping an eye behind us, we shepherded those long-limbed sheep, rich and fat, down to the ship. And a welcome sight, indeed, to our dear friends were we, escapees from death, though they wept and sighed for the others we lost. I would not let them weep though, but stopped them all with a nod and a frown. I told them to haul the host of fine-fleeced sheep on board and put to sea. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars. When we were almost out of earshot, I shouted to the Cyclops, mocking him: “It seems he was not such a weakling, then, Cyclops, that man whose friends you meant to tear apart and eat in your echoing cave. Stubborn brute not shrinking from murdering your guests in your own house, your evil deeds were bound for sure to fall on your own head. Zeus and the other gods have had their revenge on you.”’

[480-525] ‘He was enraged all the more by my words, and shattering the crest of a tall cliff, he hurled it at us, so that it fell seaward of our blue-prowed vessel, and almost struck the steering oar. The water surged beneath the stone as it fell and the backwash, like a tidal swell from the open sea, carried the ship landward and drove it onto the shore. But seizing a long pole in my hands, I pushed the boat off, and rousing my men ordered them with urgent signs to bend to the oars and save us from disaster. They bent to their oars and rowed, but as soon as we had put water behind us and doubled our distance I began shouting to the Cyclops, though the men round me called out on every side, trying to deter me with their appeals: “Why provoke the savage to anger in this stubborn way? The rock he threw into the sea just now drove the ship back on shore, and we thought we were done for. If he had been able to hear us speak but a word, he would have hurled another jagged stone, and crushed our heads and the ship’s timbers with the power of his throw.”

So they argued, but could not daunt my ardent spirit, and I shouted to him again in anger: “Cyclops, if any man asks how you came by your blindness, say that Odysseus, sacker of cities, Laertes’ son, a native of Ithaca, maimed you.”

At this he groaned, and said in answer: “Alas! The truth of that prophecy spoken long ago is fulfilled! Telemus, the seer, son of Eurymus, a tall fine man, lived here once, the greatest of prophets, and grew old here as soothsayer among the Cyclopes. He told me that all of this would come to pass one day, and I would lose my sight at Odysseus’ hands. But I always expected some tall fine man, one of great strength, and now a puny good-for-nothing weakling blinds my eye, after plying me with wine. Come here, Odysseus, nevertheless, so that I might grant you guest gifts, and urge the great Earth-Shaker to see you home, since I am his son, and he says he is my father, and he, of his will, can heal me, where no other of the blessed gods or men can.”

I replied, saying: “I wish I could rob you of life and spirit, and send you to the House of Hades, as surely as the Earth-Shaker will fail to heal your eye.”’

[526-566] ‘At my words, he stretched out his hands to the starry heavens, and prayed to the Lord Poseidon: ‘Hear me, Poseidon, dark-tressed Earth-Bearer, if I am your son, if you say you are my father, let Odysseus, sacker of cities and son of Laertes, never reach his home on Ithaca: yet if he is destined to see his friends and his fine house in his own country, may he come there late and in sore distress, in another’s ship, losing all comrades, and let him find great trouble in his house.”

So he prayed, and the dark-tressed god heard him. Then the Cyclops lifted an even larger rock, swung it in the air, and hurled it, with all his strength. It fell not far behind our blue-prowed ship, narrowly missing the tip of the steering oar, and the sea surged up around the falling stone, and its wave carried the ship forward and drove it to the far shore.

So we reached the island where our other oared ships lay, with our friends round them, watching for us, and weeping. There we beached our vessel, and went on shore. We landed the Cyclops’ flocks from the hold and divided them among us, so that as far as I could determine no man lacked an equal share. The ram my comrades in arms granted to me, as a separate gift, and when the flocks had been divided there on the shore I sacrificed to Zeus of the dark clouds, son of Cronus, lord of all, and I burned the thigh pieces. But he ignored my sacrifice, planning instead the destruction of my oared ships and my faithful friends.

All day long until sunset we sat feasting on our plentiful supplies of meat and sweet wine, and when the sun was down and darkness fell we settled to sleep on the sand. As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, I roused my men, and ordered them to embark and loose the hawsers. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars.

So we sailed on, with heavy hearts for the loyal friends lost, though happy to have escaped death ourselves.’


Taken from:

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved


Homer, Odyssey, Book 11 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek epic poem, 8th century BCE

In Book 11 of the Odyssey, Odysseus has traveled down to the underworld to speak to the seer Tiresias so that he can figure out how to get home. While in Hades, he encounters some of his fellow Greeks who died in the Trojan War or after. In this selection, he meets with Agamemnon and learns about his death following the war, at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. For all of Book 11, see chapter 41.


[385-464][4] I wept when I saw him, and pitied him, and spoke to him with winged words: “Agamemnon, king of men, glorious son of Atreus, what pitiless stroke of fate destroyed you? Did Poseidon stir the cruel winds to a raging tempest, and swamp your ships? Or perhaps you were attacked in enemy country, while you were driving off their cattle and fine flocks, or fighting to take their city and its women?”

He answered my words swiftly: “Odysseus of many resources, scion of Zeus, son of Laertes, Poseidon stirred no cruel winds to raging tempest, nor swamped my ships, nor was I attacked in enemy country. It was Aegisthus who engineered my fate, inviting me to his palace for a feast, murdering me with my accursed wife’s help, as you might kill an ox in its stall. I died wretchedly, and around me my companions were slaughtered ruthlessly, like white-tusked swine for a wedding banquet in the hall of some rich and powerful man, or at a communal meal, or a great drinking session. You yourself have witnessed the killing of men, in single combat or in the thick of the fight, but you would have felt the deepest pity at that sight, the floor swimming with blood where our corpses lay, by the mixing bowl and the heavily-laden tables. But the most pitiful cry of all came from Cassandra, Priam’s daughter, whom treacherous Clytemnestra killed as she clung to me. Brought low by Aegisthus’ sword I tried to lift my arms in dying, but bitch that she was my wife turned away, and though I was going to Hades’ Halls she disdained even to close my eyelids or my mouth. Truly there is nothing more terrible or shameless than a woman who can contemplate such acts, planning and executing a husband’s murder. I had thought to be welcomed by my house and children, but she with her mind intent on that final horror has brought shame on herself and all future women, even those who are virtuous.”

To this I answered: “Indeed, from the very beginning, Zeus the Thunderer has tormented the race of Atreus, through women’s machinations! So many men died for Helen’s sake while Clytemnestra plotted in your absence.” I spoke, and he made answer swiftly: “So don’t be too open with your own wife, don’t tell her every thought in your mind, reveal a part, keep the rest to yourself. Not that death will come to you from wise Penelope, Icarius’ daughter, she who is so tender-hearted, and cautious. A newly wedded bride she was when we left for the war, with a baby son at her breast who must be a man now and prospering. His loving father will see him when he returns, and he will kiss his father as is right and proper. But that wife of mine did not even allow me to set eyes on my son before she killed me. Let me say this too, and take my words to heart, don’t bring your ship to anchor openly, when you reach home, but do it secretly, since women can no longer be trusted.


Taken from:

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved


Homer, Odyssey, Book 12 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek epic poem, 8th century BCE

Book 12 of the Odyssey is the last one in which Odysseus is telling his adventures to King Alcinous and the court of the Phaeacians. At the start of the book, Odysseus has just returned from his trip to the underworld (Hades) and he and his men prepare to leave the island of Aeaea where they have been staying at the home of the witch Circe.


[1-35] ‘Leaving the River of Ocean, and crossing the wide sea waves, we came again to the Isle of Aeaea, where Eos the Dawn has her House and Dancing Floor: to the place where the sun rises. There we beached our ship on the sand and leapt to the shore, and there we slept until bright day.

As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, I sent my men to Circe’s house to recover Elpenor’s corpse. Then swiftly cutting logs of wood we performed the funeral rites, grieving and in tears, on the furthest point of the headland. When the body had burnt, and with it the dead man’s armour, we heaped a mound, and raised a stone on top, and at the summit we fixed his well-shaped oar.

Circe was well aware of our return from Hades’ House, and while we were busy with our tasks she adorned herself and hurried out to us, her handmaids bringing plenty of bread and meat, and glowing red wine. She stood there in the centre, and addressed us: “Resolute men, to have gone down living to Hades’ House, you who will meet death twice, while others die only once. Eat then and drink here today, but when Dawn comes set sail, and I will show the way and explain the course so you can avoid pain and suffering on sea or land for lack of a decent plan.”

To this our proud hearts yielded, and all day long until the sun set we feasted on plentiful meat and wine. When the sun went down and darkness fell, my men lay down to sleep by the ships’ cables, but Circe took my hand and led me apart from my friends, and made me sit down and tell the tale, as she lay there beside me. I related it all in proper sequence.’

[36-110] ‘Then royal Circe said: “So, it all came to pass. Well listen now to what I tell you, and let some god remind you of it. Next you will come to the Sirens who beguile all men that approach them. Whoever encounters them unawares and listens to their voices will never joy at reaching home, his wife and children to greet him. Instead the Sirens’ tempt him with their melodious song, as they sit there in the meadow with a vast heap of rotting corpses, bones on which hangs the shriveled skin. Plug your comrades’ ears with softened beeswax so they do not listen, and row swiftly past. And if you must hear, then let them first tie you hand and foot and stand you upright in the mast housing, and fasten the rope ends round the mast itself, so you can delight in hearing the Sirens’ voices. And should you beg your crew to free you, let them only bind you more tightly.

Once your comrades have rowed you beyond those creatures, I cannot advise you of the best course to take. I will tell you the choice, but you must decide. One leads to sheer cliffs, against which green-eyed Amphitrite hurls her vast roaring breakers, the blessed gods call them the Wandering Rocks. Not even birds can pass between them unscathed, not even the timorous rock-doves that bring ambrosia to Father Zeus. The slippery rock always takes one, and Zeus must send another to complete their number. Crews that reach the rocks can never escape, instead ships’ timbers and human corpses are tossed by the waves or in gushers of cruel fire. Only one ocean-going vessel has passed between them, the celebrated Argo fleeing from Aeetes, and the waves would have quickly broken her on the massive crags, if Hera had not seen her through, because of her care for Jason.

The other course leads to two cliffs, one whose sharp peak towers to the wide heavens. A dark cloud caps it that never vanishes to leave clear skies, even in summer or at harvest. No mortal could climb it and set foot on the summit, not though he had twenty hands and feet: the rock is smooth as if it were polished. In the centre of this cliff-face is a dark cave, facing West towards Erebus, on the path your hollow ship will take, glorious Odysseus, if you listen to my advice. Even a man of great strength could not shoot an arrow from your vessel as far as that arching cavern. Scylla lives there, whose yelp it is true is only that of a new-born whelp, yet she is a foul monster whom not even a god could gaze at with pleasure. She has twelve flailing legs and six long thin necks, each ending in a savage head with a triple row of close-set teeth masking death’s black void. She is sunk to her waist in the echoing cave, but extends her jaws from that menacing chasm, and there she fishes, groping eagerly round the cliff for her catch, dolphins and seals or one of the greater creatures that Amphitrite breeds in countless numbers in the moaning depths. No crew passing by in their ship can boast it has ever escaped her unscathed, since each head snatches a man, lifting him from his dark-prowed vessel.

Odysseus, you will notice the other cliff is lower, only a bow-shot away, and a great fig-tree with dense leaves grows there. Under it divine Charybdis swallows the black waters. Three times a day, she spews them out, and three times darkly sucks them back again. No one, not even Poseidon, could save you from destruction if you are there when she swallows. Hug Scylla’s cliff instead, and row your ship past swiftly, since it it’s better to mourn six men than your whole crew.”’

[111-164] ‘So she spoke, but I replied: “Goddess, I beg you to tell me truly why I cannot both escape deadly Charybdis and yet defeat Scylla when she tries to attack my crew?” To this the Goddess answered: “Resolute man, is your heart set again on the toils of battle? Will you not even bow to the deathless gods? Scylla is not mortal. She is immortal evil: a dire, ferocious thing of dread. You cannot fight her, there is no defence: the only course is flight. If you pause by the rock to arm yourselves, I fear she will dart out and strike you with all six heads again, and seize as many men as at first. Row past at full speed instead, and call out to Cratais, Scylla’s mother, who bore her to be the bane of mortal men. She might keep her from darting out once more.

Journeying on you will reach the island of Thrinacia, where the Sun-god’s cattle and rich flocks graze: seven herds of cattle and as many herds of sheep, with fifty head per herd. They bear no young, but never die, and the goddesses with lovely tresses, the nymphs Phaethusa and Lampetia, the daughters of Neaera and Helios Hyperion, are their shepherdesses. When noble Neaera had borne and nursed them, she sent them to remote Thrinacia, to tend their father’s sheep and spiral-horned cattle. If you avoid harming the herds, and head straight for home you will suffer yet still see Ithaca. But if you harm them, I prophecy shipwreck for you and your friends, and even if you yourself escape, you will come unexpectedly to your home, in sore distress, losing all comrades.”

As she finished speaking, golden-throned Dawn appeared. Then the lovely goddess left for home, but I went to the ship and roused my men, and ordered them to embark and loose the hawsers. They boarded swiftly and took their place on the benches then sitting in their rows struck the grey water with their oars. Circe of the lovely tresses, dread goddess with a human voice, sent us a good companion to help us, a fresh wind from astern of our dark-prowed ship to fill the sail. And when we had set the tackle in order fore and aft, we sat down, and let the wind and the helmsman keep her course.

Then, troubled at heart, I spoke to the crew: “Friends, it is not right that only one or two of us should know the prophecies of the lovely goddess, Circe. I will tell all, so that escaping fate and death or no, at least you are forewarned. First she advised us to evade the voices of the marvelous Sirens in their flowering meadow. She commanded me alone to listen. You are to tie me hand and foot and stand me upright in the mast housing, and fasten the rope ends round the mast itself, and if I beg you to free me, bind me yet more tightly.”’

[165-200] ‘So I explained everything to my friends, while our well-built vessel, pushed by a gentle breeze, quickly neared the island of the Sirens. Suddenly the wind dropped, and a breathless calm followed, as some god soothed the waves. My comrades rose and furled the sail, then stowed it, then sat to their oars and thrashed the water with the blades of polished pine. I, in the meantime, sliced a large cake of beeswax with my sword-edge, and kneaded the slivers in my strong hands until the pressure and the rays of Lord Helios Hyperion heated it. Then I plugged the ears of each of my friends, and they tied me hand and foot and stood me upright in the mast housing, and fastened the rope ends round the mast itself. Then sitting down again, they struck the grey water with their oars.

We drove past swiftly, but when we were within hail of the shore, the Sirens could not fail to see our speeding vessel, and began their clear singing: “Famous Odysseus, great glory of Achaea, draw near, and bring your ship to rest, and listen to our voices. No man rows past this isle in his dark ship without hearing the honeysweet sound from our lips. He delights in it and goes his way a wiser man. We know all the suffering the Argives and the Trojans endured, by the gods’ will, on the wide plains of Troy. We know everything that comes to pass on the fertile Earth.”

This was the haunting song the Sirens sang, and I longed to listen, commanding my crew by my expression to set me free. But they bent to their oars and rowed harder, while Perimedes and Eurylochus rose and tightened my bonds and added more rope. Not until they had rowed beyond the Sirens, so we no longer heard their voices and song, did my loyal friends clear the wax that plugged their ears, and untie me.’

[201-259] ‘No sooner had we left the isle behind than I saw spray, and huge waves, and heard their thunder. The oars springing from my crew’s grasp in their terror slid into the sea, and the ship lost its heading without my comrades’ arms tugging at the tapered blades. Still I paced up and down the deck encouraging them with calm words, speaking to every man in turn: “Friends, we are not unused to trouble: and this hardship is no worse than when the Cyclops used brute strength to trap us in his echoing cave. I used my courage, intelligence and tactics, to get us out of there, and someday these dangers too will be only a memory. Now listen to my orders and all obey. Stick to your oars and smite the deep sea breakers, and pray that Zeus may allow us to run from death. Steersman, here are my orders, and take them to heart, since the hollow ship’s steering oar is in your control. Keep the ship out of the surf and spray, and hug the cliff, or before you know it the ship will veer to the far side, and plunge us to destruction.”

They quickly responded to my words. I chose not to speak of the intractable problem of Scylla, in case gripped by terror they left the oars to huddle in the hold. And now I forgot Circe’s stern command not to arm myself, instead I donned my splendid armour and grasped two long spears in my hand. Then I ran to the foredeck, expecting to see rock-bound Scylla first from there bringing disaster to my comrades. But I could not sight her and my eyes grew weary searching the mist-draped cliff face.

So we sailed on through the narrow straits, crying aloud for fear of Scylla on the one hand while divine Charybdis sucked the sea in terribly on the other. Whenever she spewed it out again, it bubbled and seethed in turmoil like a cauldron on a vast fire, and high overhead the spray rained down on the crags on either side. When she swallowed the seas, her inner vortex could be seen, and the rock echoed savagely all around, while below the seabed showed its dark-blue sand. My crew turned pale as we gazed at her, fearing destruction, but even as we did so Scylla seized six of my strongest and ablest men from the deck. As I looked along the swift ship towards my friends I saw their arms and legs dangling above me. In anguish they cried my name aloud one last time, then each of Scylla’s heads dragged a man writhing towards the rock, as a fisherman on a jutting crag casts his bait to lure small fish, lowers an ox-horn on a long pole into the sea, and catching a fish flings it ashore. There at the entrance to her cave she devoured them, as they shrieked and reached out their hands to me in their last dreadful throes. It was the most pitiable sight of all I saw exploring the pathways of the sea.’

[260-319] ‘When we had left the cliffs behind, and Scylla and Charybdis, we came swiftly to Helios Hyperion’s lovely island, where the sun-god grazed his fine broad-browed cattle, and his flocks of sturdy sheep. I could hear the lowing of cattle as they were stalled and the bleating of sheep from my black ship while I was still at sea, and the blind seer Theban Teiresias’ words came to mind, with those of Aeaean Circe, who both warned me to avoid the isle of Helios who gives mortals comfort. Then troubled at heart I spoke to my men: “Listen, Friends, to words that will distress you. Let me tell you the prophecies of Teiresias and Aeaean Circe. They clearly warned me to avoid the isle of Helios, who comforts mortals: here the greatest danger would lie. So, row the black ship on past the island.”

My men’s spirits fell at this, and Eurylochus replied at once, with fateful words: “Odysseus, you are stronger than us all, with limbs that never weary. It seems you are made of iron and would prevent your friends, exhausted with their efforts and lack of sleep, from landing and making a decent meal on this sea-encircled isle. Instead you order us to travel on through advancing night, driven from this island into the misty deep. Night bears the fierce winds that wreck ships. How would we escape total destruction if a southerly or a fierce westerly gale sprang up, those that most often sink vessels despite the omnipotent gods? No, let us give way to dark night, and take our supper on shore by the swift ship, then embark in the morning, and put out once more into the wide waters.”

Eurylochus spoke, and the rest of my crew concurred. Then I knew some god was set on working harm, and I replied with winged words: “Indeed, you have conquered my lone voice, Eurylochus. But let all of you swear me a solemn oath that none of you, his mind clouded with error, will kill a cow or sheep of any herd of cattle or flock we find, but only eat the food deathless Circe gave us.”

They quickly swore they would do as I commanded. And when they had sworn their oath, we moored our fine ship in a deep cove with a spring of sweet water, and the crew went ashore and swiftly prepared a meal. When they had quenched their hunger and thirst, they began to grieve for their dear friends whom Scylla snatched from the hollow ship and devoured, and as they grieved sweet sleep came upon them. But in the third watch of night, when the stars had begun their descent, Zeus the cloud-gatherer stirred a tempestuous wind, and veiled the land and sea with cloud, and all was darkness. As soon as rosy-fingered Dawn appeared, we hauled up our ship and made her fast in a flooded cave, where the Nymphs had their seats and a dancing place. Then I gathered the men together and addressed them.’

[320-373] ‘“Friends, since we have food and drink on board our swift ship let us keep our hands off those cattle lest we come to grief. They are the sturdy sheep and cows of Helios, a great god, who sees and hears everything.”

Their proud hearts agreed to this. But a southerly wind blew for a whole month, and then every breeze was from the east or south. As long as my crew still had bread and red wine they kept their hands from the cattle, valuing their lives. But when all the ship’s stores had gone and they had to hunt for whatever game they could find, even fishing with curved hooks, their hunger gnawed at them so: then I went inland alone to pray to the gods, hoping that one would show us how to leave. And when I was far enough away from my crew, I cleaned my hands in a place on the island sheltered from the wind, and prayed to all the gods of Olympus. But they shed sweet sleep over my eyelids, while behind me Eurylochus was giving my comrades bad advice. “Listen to me, comrades in distress”, he said. “Every form of death is vile to us wretched mortals, but the most wretched way to die is by starvation. So, let us cut out the finest of Helios’ cattle, and sacrifice to the gods of the wide heavens. And if we return to Ithaca, our own land, let us build a fine temple to Helios Hyperion, and fill it with precious gifts. And if he is angered at the loss of his long-horned cattle and chooses to wreck our ship, the other gods’ agreeing, well for myself I would rather die quickly in the waves, than waste away slowly on a desert island.”

The rest of my crew agreed with Eurylochus. They swiftly corralled the best of Helios’ cattle since the fine spiral-horned broad-browed cows were grazing not far from our blue-prowed ship. They gathered round them, and prayed to the gods, scattering the new leaves of a tall oak, since they had no white barley left aboard the oared vessel. And, after they had prayed, they slit the cows’ throats, flayed them and cut out pieces of thigh which they wrapped in a double layer of fat, laying raw meat on top. As they had no wine to pour on the burning sacrifice, they made libations with water, roasting the entrails on the fire. When the thighs were burnt, and they had tasted the inner parts, they carved the rest and spitted it on skewers.

Only then did sweet sleep leave my eyes, and I headed back to the swift ship and the shore, but as I drew near the curved vessel the rich scent of hot fat wafted to me, and I groaned aloud and called to the deathless gods: “Father Zeus, and you other gods, immortally blessed, you lulled me with cruel sleep to bring about my ruin, so my friends left behind could plan this monstrous crime.”’

[374-453] ‘Now Lampetia of the trailing robes sped swiftly to Helios Hyperion with the news we had killed his cattle, and deeply angered he complained to the immortals: “Father Zeus and you other gods, immortally blessed, take vengeance on the followers of Odysseus, Laertes’ son. In their insolence, they have killed my cattle: creatures I loved to see when I climbed the starry sky, and when I turned back towards earth again from heaven. If they do not atone for their killing, I will go down to Hades and shine for the dead instead.”

At that Zeus, the cloud-gatherer, answered: “Helios, don’t stop shining for us immortals, or for mortal men on the fertile Earth. As for those culprits I will quickly strike their swift ship with my bright lightning bolt, and shatter it to pieces out on the wine-dark sea.” This is what I heard from Calypso of the lovely tresses, who said that she herself had heard it from Hermes the Messenger.

When I reached the ship and the shore, I rebuked my men one by one, but things were beyond repair, the cattle were already dead. The gods at once showed my men dark omens. The ox-hides crawled about, raw meat and roast bellowed on the spit, and all around sounded the noise of lowing cattle. Nevertheless my faithful comrades feasted for six days on the pick of Helios’ cattle they had stolen. And when Zeus, Cronus’ son, brought the seventh day on us, the tempest ceased, and we embarked, and, raising the mast and hoisting the white sail, we put out into open water.

It was not until the island was behind us, and we were out of sight of all but sky and sea, that Zeus anchored a black cloud above our hollow ship, and the waves beneath were dark. She [the ship] had not run on for long before there came a howling gale, a tempest out of the west, and the first squall snapped both our forestays [front mast support cables], so that the mast toppled backwards and the rigging fell into the hold, while the tip of the mast hitting the stern struck the steersman’s skull and crushed the bones. He plunged like a diver from the deck, and his brave spirit fled the bones.

At that same instant, Zeus thundered and hurled his lightning at the ship. Struck by the bolt, she shivered from stem to stern, and filled with sulphurous smoke. Falling from the deck, my men floated like sea-gulls in the waves around the black ship. The gods had robbed them of their homecoming. But I ran up and down the ship until a wave ripped the sides from the keel, and drove her on naked, snapping the mast close to the keel. The backstay [rear mast support cable] of ox-hide rope lay across the mast, and with it I lashed the keel and mast together, and sitting astride I was carried before the driving wind.

Then, would you know, the westerly wind dropped, and a southerly rose swiftly, annoying me to the heart, for risk of retracing our course to meet the whirlpool’s terror. All night I was swept along, and at sunrise was back at Scylla’s rock, and dread Charybdis, who swallowed the water around me, but I leapt up, caught at the tall fig tree, and hung there like a bat. I could find no foothold, nor climb the tree as its roots were far below me, and its great solid branches that cast shadows on Charybdis were out of reach above. There I clung grimly, until she spewed out mast and keel again. She did, to my delight, but not until that time of day when a judge who handles young litigants’ endless quarrels rises from court to find his supper. At that hour the timbers emerged from Charybdis. Then I let go with hands and feet, and plunged into the water clear of the long spars. Then clambering astride them I paddled along with my hands. The Father of men and gods [ Zeus ] prevented Scylla noticing me, or I would never have escaped total disaster.

I drifted from there for nine days, and on the tenth night the gods washed me ashore on Ogygia, the home of Calypso of the lovely tresses, that dread goddess with a human voice, who cared for me and loved me. But why repeat the story? Only yesterday it was I told it, here in the hall, to yourself and your noble wife. It’s a tedious thing to re-tell a plain-told tale.”


Taken from:

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved


Homer, Odyssey, Book 21 (trans. A.S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek epic poem, 8th century BCE

In Book 21, Odysseus has finally returned to his of home of Ithaca, disguised as a stranger from Crete. As the book opens, Penelope decides to present the suitors, who have been hounding her for the last twenty years, with a challenge. Whoever is able to string and shoot Odysseus’ giant bow will have her hand in marriage.


[1-79] Now, the goddess, bright-eyed Athena, prompted wise Penelope, Icarius’ daughter, to confront the Suitors in Odysseus’ palace with his bow and the grey iron axes, as a challenge and a means to their destruction. Penelope climbed the high stair to her room, and with a firm hand, took up a bronze key, finely-shaped with an ivory handle. She made her way with her women to the distant storeroom, where her husband’s treasure lay, gold and bronze and hammered iron. There lay the curved bow, and quiver full of fatal arrows, given him when he visited Lacedaemon, by godlike Iphitus, Eurytus’ son.

They had met in Messene, at the house of wise Ortilochus. Odysseus was there to collect a public debt, because Messenians had stolen three hundred sheep and their shepherds too from Ithaca, loading them aboard their oared ships. Odysseus had been sent by his father and other elders to resolve the matter, though he was still quite young. Iphitus was there in search of a dozen brood mares he had lost, along with the sturdy little mules they were suckling. But his search caused his death, when he came upon Heracles, Zeus’ lion-hearted son, well-versed in mighty labours. Ruthless Heracles killed him, though he was a guest in his house. Careless of the gods’ anger and the sanctity of the dinner-table, he killed him there and then, and hid the heavy-hoofed mares in his own stables.

But back when Iphitus was searching for them, he had met Odysseus, and given him the bow that mighty Eurytus carried of old, and that, dying in his palace, he had left to his son. And Odysseus had given Iphitus in return a sharp sword and a fine spear as a token of the start of a loving friendship. But before they could meet again at table, Zeus’ son had killed godlike Iphitus, Eurytus’ son, the giver of the bow that noble Odysseus had never taken with him aboard his black ship to war, leaving it behind in his palace as a memento of a good friend, to use only at home.

Now Penelope, that lovely woman, reached the storeroom and set foot on the oaken sill, once skilfully planed and trued to the line by some carpenter of old, who also set the doorposts in it, and hung the gleaming doors. Quickly she unhooked the thong, slid in the key and with a sure touch shot back the bolt. With a groan like a bull bellowing in a grassy meadow, the polished doors flew open at the touch of the key. Then she mounted to the high platform loaded with chests of fragrant clothes. Here, reaching up, she lifted the bow, in the gleaming case, from its peg. Then she sat down with the case on her knees, and weeping aloud drew out her husband’s bow. Yet once her tears and sighs were done, she went to the hall and the crowd of noble Suitors, carrying the curved bow and the quiver full of fatal arrows. And the maids followed with a chest full of bronze and iron won by her man. When the lovely woman reached the Suitors, she stood by a pillar of the great hall, with a shining veil in front of her face, and a loyal maid stood on either side. Then she issued her challenge.

‘Noble Suitors, listen to me. You have battered on this house, with its master long gone, eating and drinking endlessly, and you could find no better excuse to offer than the desire to win me as a wife. Well come now, my Suitors, your prize stands here before you, clear to see. Godlike Odysseus’ mighty bow is the test. Whoever makes the best attempt at stringing the bow and shooting an arrow through the rings of a dozen axes, with that man I will go, and leave this house that saw me a bride, this lovely and luxurious house, that I will always remember in my dreams.’

[80-135] With this she ordered Eumaeus the master-swineherd to set out the bow and the axes with their handle-rings of grey iron for the Suitors. Eumaeus was in tears as he laid them down, and the cowherd [ Philoetius ] wept too, at the sight of his master’s bow. Antinous turned on them in anger: ‘Stupid countryfolk, living in the past! Your tears, you wretches, lower your mistress’ spirits, as though her heart wasn’t already troubled by her husband’s loss. Sit and eat in silence, or go outside and snivel, and leave the bow here to test us, her Suitors: I doubt this gleaming bow will be easy to string, since I once saw Odysseus, and there’s no man here to equal him. Yes, I remember him, though I was but a child.’

Such were his words, but he nursed the hope in his heart that he himself would string the bow and shoot an arrow through the iron rings. Yet in truth he was to be the first to feel the blow of an arrow from peerless Odysseus whom he was now abusing in the palace, while urging on his friends to do the same.

Then royal Telemachus intervened: ‘Zeus must have addled my wits, indeed! My dear mother, in her wisdom, says she will take another husband and leave this house, and I laugh like a happy idiot! Come, my lords, since your prize is here, a lady who has no equal in all Achaea, not in Pylos, Argos, or Mycenae, nor in Ithaca itself, nor on the dark mainland. You know that yourselves, what need have I to sing my mother’s praises? No excuses now: let’s have no delay in stringing the bow, and then we’ll see. I might even try the bow myself, later. If I can string it and shoot an arrow through the iron rings, I will not be so upset by my dear mother’s departure for another house, seeing I myself will be a man capable of winning fine prizes like my father.’

Saying this, Telemachus threw off his purple cloak, and springing up removed the sharp sword slung from his shoulder. Then he set all the axes in a long trench, in a straight line, stamping the earth in around them. The onlookers were amazed that, never having seen them before, he arranged them so correctly. Then he took up his stand on the threshold and tried the bow. Three times it quivered in his hands as he made a fierce effort to string it, and three times he had to relax his grip, though he had hoped deep down to succeed and shoot an arrow through the iron handle-rings. Now exerting all his power he might have strung it at the fourth attempt had Odysseus not shaken his head, and checked his eagerness.

‘Alas’ royal Telemachus exclaimed, ‘it seems I will always be a coward and a weakling. But perhaps I am still too young, and haven’t the strength yet to defend myself against whoever picks quarrels for no reason. You then, who have more strength than I, try the bow, and settle the contest.’

[136-185] With this, he placed the bow on the ground, leaning it against the gleaming panels of the door, and the feathered arrow against the door-handle, and then resumed his seat. Antinous, Eupeithes’ son, called out: ‘Come forward, all of you Suitors, one by one, from left to right, beginning from where the wine-steward sits.’ They welcomed his words, and the first to rise was Leodes, Oenops’ son, their seer, who always sat by the huge mixing bowl in the depths of the hall: he alone despised the Suitors’ acts of wantonness, and they filled him with indignation. Now he was first to take up the feathered arrow and the bow, stride to the threshold, and try to string it. But he failed, his smooth and delicate hands quickly drained of strength. He spoke to the Suitors, saying: ‘My Friends, I cannot do it: let someone else try. This bow will break the heart and spirit of many men here. Still, it is better to die trying, than live on without winning the prize that brings us here each day, in endless expectation. Many must hope and long to wed Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, but when they have tried the bow, and failed, let them go woo some other Achaean woman in her lovely robe, and try and win her with their gifts. And let Penelope wed the man who offers her most, and is destined to be her husband.’

With this, he set the bow aside, leaning it against the gleaming panels of the door, and the feathered arrow against the door-handle, and then resumed his seat. But Antinous criticised him, saying: ‘Leodes, what dark and monstrous words have crossed your tongue! I’m angered by your suggestion that “this bow will break the heart and spirit of many warriors here”, merely because you failed to string it. Your dear mother didn’t bear you for drawing a mighty bow, and shooting arrows, perhaps, but others of the noble Suitors will soon succeed.’

Then he called to the goatherd, Melanthius: ‘Quick, light a fire in the hall, Melanthius, and put a large fleece-covered chair beside it, and bring a big piece of tallow from the stores, so that we youngsters can heat the bow and grease it, before we try it and settle the contest.’ Melanthius swiftly obeyed. He revived the glowing fire, put the large fleece-covered chair beside it, and brought a big piece of tallow from the stores. The youths then warmed the bow and tried to string it, but those who tried were too weak to succeed.

[186-244] Antinous and godlike Eurymachus, however, the leaders of the Suitors, and the most capable, continued the contest. Meanwhile noble Odysseus’ cowherd and swineherd slipped out of the hall together, and Odysseus followed them. When they were beyond the courtyard gates he sounded them out carefully:

‘Cowherd, swineherd, Can I share something with you or should I keep it to myself? My heart tells me to speak. If Odysseus suddenly returned, brought by some god, would you be the men to fight for him? Would you be for the Suitors or Odysseus? Say what your heart and spirit tell you.’

‘Father Zeus,’ the cowherd prayed, ‘may that come true! May the hero return, with a god’s guidance! Then you would see the strength I can still show in my hands.’ And Eumaeus also prayed, to all the gods, that wise Odysseus might come home.

Once Odysseus was sure, he opened his mind to them, saying: ‘Well, I am home. Here I stand before you, I myself, back in my own country in the twentieth year after many painful trials. I know that of all my servants you both welcome my return, but I’ve not heard a single one of the others praying I might reach home. I’ll tell you truly what I intend for you. If a god brings the noble Suitors down, I’ll find you each a wife, give you goods, and build you a house near mine: and I’ll always regard you as friends and brothers of Telemachus. Now, so you can be certain in your hearts that it is I, let me show you a sign you’ll know, the scar from the wound the white-tusked boar gave me, when I hunted Parnassus with Autolycus’ sons.’

So saying, he drew his rags apart to show the long scar. When the two had examined it carefully, they clasped their arms about wise Odysseus’ neck, and weeping kissed his head and shoulders in loving recognition. Odysseus likewise kissed their heads and hands. And the twilight would have seen them still weeping if Odysseus had not restrained them: ‘Stop wailing now, in case someone comes from the house and sees us, and tells those inside. Let’s go back in, now, one after the other, not together. Follow me, and here’s the signal we will act on. The others, the noble Suitors, will refuse to allow me to handle the bow and quiver, but as you carry the bow round the hall, Eumaeus, set it in my hands, and tell the women to shut their hall doors tight. Say that if any of them hear men shouting or groaning in here, they are not to rush out, but to stay there and silently carry out their tasks. And good Philoetius, I charge you with barring the gate of the courtyard, and lashing it tight.’

With this, he entered the royal palace, and resumed his seat. And the two servants followed.

[245-310] The bow had reached Eurymachus, who was turning it in his hands before the fire to warm it. But despite that he failed to string it, and groaning inwardly he said, in anger: ‘Oh, I’m not just bitter about this myself, but for all of you, too. It’s not that I’m bothered about the marriage, though it grieves me. There are plenty of other women in Achaea, in Ithaca’s isle, and in other places. No, it’s more that our strength falls so short of godlike Odysseus’ that we can’t even string his bow. It’s a disgrace that posterity will hear of.’

‘No, Eurymachus,’ Antinous, Eupeithes’ son, replied, ‘that’s not so, and do you know why? Today is the feast of Apollo, throughout the island, his holy day. Should we be bending bows? Set it aside, softly. As for the axes, why not leave them there? No one will steal them: not from a house owned by Odysseus, Laertes’ son. Come, let the steward pour wine for libations, and put the bow down. In the morning tell the goatherd, Melanthius, to bring us the best she-goats in the flock, so we can lay thigh-pieces on Apollo’s altar, the famous Archer, then try the bow, and decide the contest.’

They all agreed with Antinous. So, while the squires sprinkled water over their hands, pages filled the mixing bowls and served them all, first pouring a few drops of wine for libation into each man’s cup. When they had made their libations and quenched their thirst, resourceful Odysseus spoke with subtle intent: ‘Suitors of the glorious Queen, hear me, so I might express what is in my mind. I aim my plea primarily at Eurymachus, and godlike Antinous, who made such a good suggestion, to forget the bow for today, and leave the issue to the gods. Come morning the god will grant victory to whoever he wishes. So, lend me the polished bow, and I can see what strength is in my hands, and if I still possess the power I used to have in limbs once supple, or whether poor nourishment and endless wandering has reduced it.’

The Suitors were greatly angered by his words: all afraid he might string the gleaming bow. Antinous addressed him with scorn: ‘Wretched beggar, you’re out of your mind. Isn’t it enough for you that we allow you to dine in peace in our noble company, letting you share in what’s on the table, privileged to listen to our talk, unlike other beggars and strangers. The wine, the honeyed wine, has addled your brain as it does others who gulp it down without restraint. It was wine that maddened Eurytion, the famous Centaur, in brave Pirithous’ palace, when he visited the Lapithae. Crazed with drink, he caused an uproar in Piirithous’ own house. The outraged hosts leapt to their feet, and dragged him through the gate then cut off his nose and ears with the cruel bronze, leaving him to wander off, bearing the burden of tragic error caused by his foolish urge. So began the feud between the Centaurs and men, but he was the first to meet disaster, drunk with the wine. I promise you the same, if you string the bow. You’ll find no help from anyone here. We’ll pack you off in a black ship to King Echetus,[5] the maimer of men, and you’ll not escape with your life. So, have done, and drink your wine, and don’t try and compete with younger men.’

[311-358] But wise Penelope intervened: ‘It is neither right nor just, Antinous, to deny his due to a man who came to Telemachus’ house as a guest. Do you really think that if the stranger, trusting in the strength of his hands, strings Odysseus’ bow, he will take me home as his wife? He could never harbour such a hope. So let none of you sit at this feast in fear: that would be wrong.’

Eurymachus, Polybus’ son, answered her: ‘Icarius’ daughter, wise Penelope, we had no thought of his taking you home, that would certainly be wrong, but we shudder at the thought of idle gossip, of some wretch among the Achaeans saying: “Those are weaklings that woo the wife of a peerless man. They can’t even string his gleaming bow, though a wandering beggar did so easily, and shot an arrow through the axes.” So they would say, and shame us.’

Eurymachus’ said wise Penelope, ‘no one thinks well, in any case, of men like you who ruin and dishonour a King’s house, so why worry about further shame? The stranger is tall and well-built, and says he comes of good lineage. Well then, hand him the gleaming bow, and let us see. Hear what I say, and I’ll surely do this too: if Apollo brings him glory and he strings the bow, I’ll dress him in a fine new cloak and tunic, and give him a sharp spear to keep off dogs and men, and a double-edged sword, and sandals for his feet, and help him travel wherever his heart and mind dictate.’

It was wise Telemachus who spoke to her then: ‘Mother, none of the Achaeans – those who rule in rocky Ithaca or in the islands seaward of the horse pastures of Elis – have more right than I to give or refuse the bow to whoever I wish. None of them can challenge my will even if I choose to give the bow to the stranger, here and now, to take away with him. So go to your quarters now, and attend to your own duties at loom and spindle, and order your maids about their tasks: let men worry about such things, and I especially, since I hold the authority in this house.’

Seized with wonder she retired to her own room, taking her son’s wise words to heart. Up to her high chamber she went, accompanied by her maids, and there she wept for Odysseus, her dear husband, until bright-eyed Athena veiled her eyelids with sweet sleep.

[359-403] Meanwhile the worthy swineherd had picked up the curved bow and was walking off with it, when the Suitors cried out in protest. One proud youth called out: ‘Where do you think you’re going with that, you wretch, your mind must be addled? If Apollo and the rest of the gracious gods are good to us, the hounds you’ve bred yourself will finish you off, out there alone, far from men, among the swine.’

At this, Eumaeus dropped the bow he was carrying, on the spot, terrified by the uproar in the hall. But Telemachus shouted harshly at him from the other side: ‘Stick to the bow, old man – you’ll be full of regret if you listen to them all – or, young as I am, I’ll shower you with stones, and chase you through the fields. My strength is greater than yours. I only wish the power of my hands was greater than the Suitors’ in my hall, then I’d soon send a few of them off in a way they wouldn’t enjoy, the troublemakers.’

On hearing this, the Suitors laughed out loud at Telemachus, and so dulled the edge of their anger, while the swineherd carried the bow through the hall and, reaching wise Odysseus, set it in his hands. Then Eumaeus spoke softly to the nurse Eurycleia, saying: ‘Wise Eurycleia, Telemachus orders you to shut the hall doors tight, and if any of the women hear men shouting or groaning in here, they are not to rush out, but to stay where they are and silently carry out their tasks.’

So he spoke, and without a word she went and locked the doors of the great hall. At the same time, Philoetius slipped out quietly to bar the gates of the courtyard. He tied them shut, with a ship’s cable twisted from papyrus reed that was lying beneath the portico, then slipped back inside, and resumed his seat, keeping his eyes fixed on Odysseus. He meanwhile was handling the bow, turning it this way and that, fearing the pieces of horn bound to the wood might have become worm-eaten while he was away. The Suitors glanced at each other, and one commented: ‘This fellow must be an expert, or a cunning dealer in bows. Or if he hasn’t got bows like this stored away at home, the wretched beggar must be setting out to make one: he studies it so carefully.’

Another arrogant youth replied: ‘I’d guess he’d have as much luck at that as he will at trying to string this bow.’

So they chattered, but once wily Odysseus had flexed the great bow and checked it all over, he strung it easily, as a man skilled in song and the lyre stretches a new string onto its leather tuning strap, fixing the twisted sheep-gut at either end. Then grasping the bow in his right hand, he plucked the string that sang sweetly to his touch with the sound of a swallow’s note.

The Suitors were mortified, and their faces were drained of colour, while Zeus sounded a peal of thunder as a sign. Noble long-suffering Odysseus was pleased at this omen from the son of devious Cronus, and he picked up the feathered arrow that lay alone on the table next to him, while the others the Achaeans were destined to feel were still packed in their hollow quiver. He set it against the bridge of the bow, drew back the notched arrow with the string, and still seated in his chair let fly with a sure aim. The bronze-weighted shaft flew through the handle hole of every axe from first to last without fail, sped clean through and out at the end. Then he turned to Telemachus saying: ‘The guest in your hall has not disgraced you. I have not missed the target, nor did it take me long to string the bow. My strength is undiminished, not lessened as the Suitors’ taunts implied. Well now it is time for the Achaeans to eat, while there is light, and afterwards we shall have different entertainment, with song and lyre, fitting for a celebration.’

As he spoke he gave the signal, and Telemachus, the godlike hero’s steadfast son, slung on his sharp-edged sword, grasped his spear, and stood beside his father, armed with the glittering bronze.


Taken from:

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved


Homer, Odyssey, Book 23 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek epic poem, 8th century BCE

As Book 23 opens, Odysseus has conquered and slaughtered all of the suitors that have been plaguing his palace in his absence. He has been recognized by his old nurse, Eurycleia, who rushes upstairs to Penelopes’ chambers to tell her that Odysseus has returned.


[1-84] The old woman [ Eurycleia ] clambered upstairs, chuckling aloud as she went, to tell her mistress her beloved husband was home. Her knees were working away, though she moved unsteadily as she went. She stood at the head of the bed and spoke to her lady, saying: ‘Penelope, dear child, wake and see with your own eyes what you’ve longed for all this time. Odysseus is here, he is home after so many years. He has killed all the proud Suitors who plagued the house, wasted his stores, and bullied his son.’

Then wise Penelope woke and answered: ‘My dear nurse, the gods who can make fools of the wisest, and give insight to the simple-minded, have crazed you and led your wits astray, you who were always so sensible. Why do you mock me, whose heart is full of tears, with this mad tale? You woke me from sleep, sweet sleep that closed my eyelids and wrapped me up. I have not slept this soundly since before Odysseus sailed to Ilium, the Evil that it would be better not to name. Go downstairs again, back to the servant’s hall! If any other of my women had woken me to tell me this, I’d have sent her back there with a flea in her ear, but your old age spares you.’

‘Dear child, I wouldn’t mock you,’ faithful Eurycleia replied, ‘it is true, Odysseus is here, he is home, just as I said. He’s the stranger they all insulted in the hall. Telemachus knew long ago he was here, but he managed to keep his father’s plans hidden, until he could take revenge on those violent and arrogant men.’

At this, Penelope leapt from her bed in joy, and threw her arms about the old woman, with tears springing from her eyes. Then she spoke to her with winged words: ‘Dear Nurse, come now, tell me truly, if it really is him come home as you say: how could he tackle the shameless Suitors single-handedly, with them always crowding in the house in a pack?’

‘I couldn’t see and didn’t ask, but I still heard the groans of dying men,’ loyal Eurycleia replied. ‘We women sat there, terror-stricken, in the furthest depths of our thick-walled quarters, with the doors shut tight, until the moment when your son called to me from the hall, as his father had told him. There I found Odysseus standing over the corpses, lying piled around him on the solid floor. It would have gladdened your heart to see him: all spattered with blood and gore like a lion he was. Now the dead are heaped together at the courtyard gate, and he has had a great fire made, and is purifying our fine house. He sent me to call you, so come with me now, so your hearts may rejoice together, you who have known such suffering. What you long desired has happened at last. He has come home, alive, to his own hearth, to find you and his son here in the palace, and in his own house again he has taken revenge on the Suitors who did him harm.’

But cautious Penelope replied: ‘Dear nurse, don’t celebrate over them so soon. How welcome the sight of Odysseus here would be to everyone, above all to me and our son, you know. But this tale must be false. Surely one of the gods has killed the noble Suitors in anger, enraged by the depths of their insolence and their wickedness. They have never shown respect to a man on this earth, whether those they met were good or evil. So now they have suffered for their own foolish excess. Odysseus, though, has lost his life far away, and with it the chance of his coming home.’

‘My child,’ the loyal nurse replied, ‘what are you saying? That your husband will never return, when he’s here at his own hearth! You never believe a thing! Well, let me tell you of something else that proves it: the scar from the wound the wild boar’s white tusk gave him long ago. I saw it when I washed his feet, and wanted to tell you then, but he clapped his hand over my mouth, and refused to let me speak. Come with me now. I’ll stake my life on it, and if I am lying, then deal me a cruel death.’

‘Dear nurse,’ cautious Penelope replied: ‘wise though you are, you cannot fathom the minds of the immortal gods. But, let us go to my son, so I can see the bodies of the Suitors, and the man who killed them.’

[85-140] So saying, she left her room, and went downstairs, considering whether to remain distant, and question the man who was said to be her dear husband, or whether to approach him, clasp his head and hands and kiss them. But when she had crossed the stone sill, she sat down by the far wall in the firelight, opposite Odysseus, while he sat by a tall pillar, his eyes on the ground, waiting to see if his wife would speak as she looked at him. She sat there silently for a long time, wondering, gazing intently at his face: often failing to recognise this man dressed in foul rags. Then it was that Telemachus spoke his criticism of her behaviour: ‘My mother, un-motherly and hard-hearted, why do you distance yourself from my father like this, instead of sitting by his side, plying him with questions? No other woman would harden her heart like this, and sit apart from a husband who had just returned to her and his native land, after twenty years of bitter toil. But your heart is always harder than flint.’

‘My child,’ cautious Penelope answered, ‘my mind is lost in wonder, and I feel powerless to speak and question him, or even look long at his face. But if it is really Odysseus who has come home, we two have a better way of recognising one another, because there are secret tokens that only the two of us know.’ And noble long-suffering Odysseus smiled at this, and spoke to Telemachus winged words: ‘Telemachus, leave your mother to test me, here in her house: she will soon be enlightened. For now, since I’m covered in dust, and dressed in rags, she thinks me unworthy and won’t admit that I am Odysseus. But let us consider what to do for the best. Whatever the country, whoever kills even a single man, even a man who leaves few behind to avenge him when he dies, must go into exile, abandoning his native land and kin, while we have killed the noblest youth of Ithaca, the core of its defence. Reflect on that.’

‘You also should reflect, dear father,’ wise Telemachus replied, ‘since they say you are the most resourceful of men, without a mortal equal. We are eager to follow you, and I know we won’t fail to support you to the best of our powers.’

Resourceful Odysseus answered him, saying: ‘Then I’ll tell you the plan that seems best to me. Bathe first, and dress, and order the palace servants to choose fresh clothes. Then let the divine minstrel play us a lively dance on his sweet-toned lyre, so that anyone outside who hears, neighbour or passer-by, will take it for a marriage feast. That way there’ll be no rumour of the Suitors’ deaths put abroad in the town, before we can reach our densely-wooded farm. Once there we can plan to take advantage of whatever the Olympians send us.’

[141-204] They listened readily to his orders and obeyed. The men bathed and dressed, while the women adorned themselves. The divine minstrel took up his sounding lyre and stirred their desire for sweet music and pleasant dance. The great hall echoed to the footsteps of dancing men, and elegantly dressed women, and hearing the noise outside passers-by said: ‘Ah, surely someone has married our much-wooed Queen. She was too hard-hearted to tend her husband’s great palace to the end, in hopes of his return.’ So they talked, not knowing what was really happening.

Meanwhile the housekeeper, Eurynome, bathed great-hearted Odysseus, there in the house, rubbed him with oil, and dressed him in a fine tunic and cloak. Athena then clothed him in beauty, making him seem taller and stronger, and making the locks of his hair spring up thickly like hyacinth petals. As a clever craftsman, taught his art by Hephaestus and Pallas Athena, overlays silver with gold to produce a graceful finish, so the goddess graced his head and shoulders. He left the bath looking like an immortal. Then he returned to the chair, opposite his wife, and spoke to her, saying: ‘Lady, you must have been touched by the Olympian gods: they have given you a harder heart than any other woman, one that nothing can soften. No other woman would harden her heart like this, and sit apart from a husband who had just returned to her and his native land, after twenty years of bitter toil. Come, Eurycleia, make me a bed to sleep in alone, since my wife’s heart is as hard as iron.’

And cautious Penelope answered: ‘Sir, you must have been touched by those same gods. I am not proud and scornful of you, nor am I confused. I know well how you looked when you sailed from Ithaca in your long-oared ship. Come then, Eurycleia, and have the great bed dragged from the fine bridal chamber he built himself, and cover it with rugs and fleeces and brightly coloured blankets.’

These were words to test her husband. But Odysseus, angered, turned on his loyal wife: ‘Lady, those are truly bitter words you speak. Who has moved my bed? That would be hard, even with the greatest skill, unless perhaps some god arrived who could easily choose to set it down somewhere else. But no mortal man alive, however young and strong, could easily shift it from its place, since a great secret went into its making, and it was my work and mine alone. A long-leafed olive tree, strong and vigorous, and thick as a pillar, grew in the courtyard. I built my room of solid stone around it, finished it off with a fine roof, and added tight-fitting timber doors. I trimmed the trunk from the roots up, after cutting off all the long-leaved olive branches, smoothed it off skilfully and well, and fit it to the line: that was my bedpost. I drilled holes with the auger, and with this for its beginning fitted all the smooth timbers of my bed until it was complete. I inlaid it with ivory, silver and gold, and stretched shining purple straps of ox-hide across. That was its secret, as I say: but lady, I no longer know if the bed I made is still in place. Perhaps some man has chopped through the olive-trunk, and shifted it elsewhere.’

[205-246] As he spoke, revealing the unchanged truth she knew, her knees gave way and her heart melted. Bursting into tears she ran to Odysseus, flung her arms about his neck, and kissing his face cried: ‘Odysseus, don’t be angry with me, you who in everything were always the most understanding of men. Our sorrows came from the gods, who resented our enjoying our youth and reaching old age together. Don’t be angry, or upset, because I didn’t give you this welcome the moment I saw you. My heart was always full of fear that some man would come and cheat me with words. Many men are only out for profit. Helen of Argos, Zeus’ daughter, would never have slept with a stranger from abroad, if she’d known the warrior sons of Achaea would come to fetch her home. A god it was truly that drove her to commit that act of shame: only then did she contemplate the fatal madness that brought us, too, such sorrow. Now you have told me the true secret of our marriage bed, that no other mortal knew but you and I and a single maidservant, Actoris, who was my father’s gift before I came to you, and guarded the door of our fine bridal chamber – Now, you convince my stubborn heart.’

Her words stirred his heart to a greater longing for tears: and he wept, clasping his beloved, loyal wife in his arms. As welcome as the sight of land to the few surviving sailors, who swim to shore escaping the grey breakers, when their solid vessel driven over the sea by wind and towering waves has been shattered by Poseidon, who, saved from drowning, are overjoyed when their brine-caked bodies touch the land: welcome as that was the sight of her husband, as Penelope gazed at him, never unwinding her white arms from round his neck.

Rosy-fingered Dawn would have risen while they wept, if the bright-eyed goddess Athena had not thought otherwise. She held back the long night at its ending, and golden-throned Dawn by Ocean’s stream, not letting her yoke the swift-hoofed horses, Lampus and Phaethon, the colts that draw her chariot, bringing light to men.

[247-299] Resourceful Odysseus said to his wife at last: ‘Dear wife, we have not yet reached the end of our troubles. I still have a long hard labour to perform before I reach my end: or so the spirit of Teiresias prophesied when I descended to Hades’ House to ask how my comrades and I might return home.[6] But come to bed now, wife, so we may delight in rest, soothed by sweet sleep.’

‘Your bed is ready for you whenever you wish,’ wise Penelope answered, ‘now the gods have brought you home to your own country and this fine house. But since a god has put the thought in your mind, tell me about this new trial, since I’ll only learn of it later, and it is better to know now.’

‘Lady, the gods have touched your mind,’ resourceful Odysseus said, ‘why be so eager to know? Still, I will tell you, hiding nothing, though your heart will gain no pleasure from it, and nor does mine. Teiresias told me to travel through many cities of men, carrying a shapely oar, until I come to a race that knows nothing of the sea, that eat no salt with their food, and have never heard of crimson-painted ships, or the well-shaped oars that serve as wings. And he gave me this as a sign, one I could not miss, and now I tell it to you. When I meet another traveller who says that I carry a winnowing-fan on my broad shoulder, there I must plant my shapely oar in the ground, and make a rich sacrifice to Lord Poseidon, a ram, a bull, and a breeding-boar. Then leave for home, and make sacred offerings there to the deathless gods who hold the wide heavens, to all of them, and in their due order.

And death will come to me far from the sea, the gentlest of deaths, taking me when I am bowed with comfortable old age, and my people prosperous about me. All this he said would come true.”

‘If the gods really intend a more pleasant old age for you,’ said wise Penelope, ‘there is hope this will set an end to all your troubles.’

So they talked, and as they spoke Eurynome and the nurse made up their bed with soft bedclothes, by the light of a blazing torch. When the two servants had fussed over the coverings of the great bed, the old nurse returned to her room to sleep, and Eurynome the chambermaid lit them on their way, and took her leave of them in the bridal chamber. Joyfully they re-enacted the rites of their own familiar bed. And Telemachus, and the cowherd and swineherd, stilled their dancing feet, dismissed the women, and lay down to sleep themselves in the darkened hall.

[300-372] When Odysseus and Penelope had their fill of love’s joys, they took comfort in telling each other their tale. The lovely Queen told him all she had suffered at home, watching the detestable crowd of Suitors, who on her account slaughtered many cattle and fat sheep, and emptied whole jars of wine. And Odysseus, scion of Zeus, told her of all the pains he had endured in his labours, and all the pain he had inflicted on men, and she loved to hear it all, and sweet sleep failed to drown her eyelids until his tale was done.

First he told of his victory over the Cicones: and how he came to the fertile Land of the Lotus-Eaters: and of what the Cyclops did, and how he had made him pay the price for those brave comrades who were eaten without pity. Then he told of Aeolus’ friendly welcome and how he had seen him on his way, but, not being destined to reach his dear homeland yet, how the gale took him and drove him, groaning aloud, over the teeming sea. How he came to Telepylus next, where the Laestrygonians destroyed all his ships and his fighting men, and how his was the only vessel to escape.

He told her about Circe’s cunning, and her wiles: and how he had gone to the dank Halls of Hades to consult the spirit of Theban Teiresias, and had seen his comrades again, and the mother who had borne him and nursed him as a child. Then of the Sirens’ voices, and their endless singing: how he had passed the Wandering Rocks, dread Charybdis and Scylla whom no ship passed by unscathed. Then how his crew had slaughtered the cattle of the Sun, and how Zeus the mighty Thunderer struck his swift ship with a fiery lightning bolt, so that his noble comrades died together, though he alone escaped their dreadful fate.

Then he told how he came to Ogygia, the Nymph Calypso’s isle, and how she longed for him to wed her and imprisoned him in her echoing cave, and cared for him and swore to make him ageless and immortal, though she could never touch his heart: and how after many trials he came to the Phaeacians, who honoured him readily like a god, and sent him home in their ship to his beloved island, after giving him piles of gold and bronze and fabrics. He had reached the end of his tale when sweet sleep came to him, relaxing his limbs, and soothing the cares of his heart.

Now another thought occurred to the goddess, bright-eyed Athena. When she considered Odysseus had filled his heart enough with the joys of love and sleep in his wife’s arms, she woke golden-throned Dawn from Ocean’s stream, to bring light to the world. Then Odysseus rose from his soft bed and gave his wife his orders, saying: ‘Wife, we have had enough of trouble, you and I: you, weeping here over the many sufferings caused by my long journey home, and I, caught in a net of sorrow by Zeus and the other gods, far from my own country, and longing to return. But now we are back together in our own wished-for bed, you must take care of my wealth here in the palace, while I will seize flocks to replace those the Suitors consumed, and the Achaeans will give me the rest until the folds are full. I must go now to our wooded farm to find my good father, who is suffering because of me. And I ask this of you, dear wife, knowing your wisdom. When the sun is up, rumours of the Suitors’ deaths in the palace will be rife. So go to your room upstairs with your maids, and stay there: don’t see anyone and ask no questions.’

So saying, he dressed his shoulders with fine armour, and woke Telemachus, and the cowherd and swineherd, and told them to take their weapons in their hands. They obeyed, donning bronze armour, and opening the doors followed Odysseus outside. Light flooded the earth, but Athena hid them in darkness, and soon led them clear of the town.


Taken from:

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved

The Nostoi and Telegony

The epic poem the Nostoi, (in English: Returns) narrated the fates of Agamemnon, Menelaus, Diomedes, Nestor, and Neoptolomus. It survives only in fragments and epitomes in other authors. The surviving fragments of the Nostoi can be read here.

The Telegony, another epic, is set after the events of the Nostoi and Odyssey, and recounts the further adventures of Odysseus and his son Telegonus.


Proclus, Chrestomathia, Book 2 (trans. H. G. Evelyn-White, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek literary handbook, 5th century CE

Proclus was a 5th century CE neoplatonic philosopher, who was born in Lycia (on the southern coast of modern day Turkey), studied in Alexandria, and made his way to Athens. Among other works, he wrote the Chrestomathia, a handbook of literary works that exists now only in summary form. From the summary of this handbook, we have a description of the plot of the Nostoi, (in English: returns), the epic poem that described the homecomings of several of the Greek heroes in the Trojan War.


[On The Return (Nostoi)] After the Sack of Ilium follow the Returns, in five books by Agias of Troezen. Their contents are as follows. Athena causes a quarrel between Agamemnon and Menelaus about the voyage from Troy. Agamemnon then stays there to appease the anger of Athena. Diomedes and Nestor put out to sea and get safely home. After them, Menelaus sets out and reaches Egypt with five ships, the rest having been destroyed on the high seas. Those with Calchas, Leontes, and Polypoetes go by land to Colophon and bury Teiresias who died there. When Agamemnon and his followers were sailing away, the ghost of Achilles appeared and tried to prevent them by foretelling what would happen to them. The storm at the rocks called Capherides is then described, with the end of Locrian Aias. Neoptolemus, warned by Thetis, journeys overland and, coming into Thrace, meets Odysseus at Maronea, and then finishes the rest of his journey after burying Phoenix who dies on the way. He himself is recognized by Peleus on reaching the Molossi. Then comes the murder of Agamemnon by Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, followed by the vengeance of Orestes and Pylades. Finally, Menelaus returns home.

[On the Telegony] After the Returns comes the Odyssey of Homer, and then the Telegony, in two books by Eugammon of Cyrene, which contain the following matters. The suitors of Penelope are buried by their kinsmen, and Odysseus, after sacrificing to the Nymphs, sails to Elis to inspect his herds. He is entertained there by Polyxenus and receives a mixing bowl as a gift; the story of Trophonius and Agamedes and Augeas then follows. He next sails back to Ithaca and performs the sacrifices ordered by Teiresias, and then goes to Thesprotis where he marries Callidice, queen of the Thesprotians. A war then breaks out between the Thesprotians, led by Odysseus, and the Brygi. Ares routs the army of Odysseus, and Athena engages with Ares, until Apollo separates them. After the death of Callidice, Polypoetes, the son of Odysseus, inherits the kingdom, while Odysseus himself returns to Ithaca. In the meantime, Telegonus, while travelling in search of his father, lands on Ithaca and ravages the island: Odysseus comes out to defend his country, but is killed by his son unknowingly. Telegonus, upon learning of his mistake, transports his father’s body with Penelope and Telemachus to his mother’s island, where Circe makes them immortal, and Telegonus marries Penelope, and Telemachus Circe.


Taken from:

The Tragedies

The Oresteia

Orestes, nude with chlamys cape and a spear, kneels in from of the delphic tripod and looks up at Athena. Athena, in helm and aegis, stands on his left. Apollo, nude wearing laurels, stands on his right. Two female figures, one with wings and one covered in snakes, are at the edges of the scene.
Orestes seeking purification at Delphi, red-figure krater, ca. 360 BCE (British Museum, London)

The Oresteia is the only tragic trilogy that survives intact from ancient Greece. It premiered at the Great Dionysia at Athens in 458 BCE, where it won first prize. The three plays, the Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers, and the Eumenides, tell the story of what happens when the Achaean leader, Agamemnon returns to Mycenae after the Trojan War.


Orestes, nude with chlamys cape and holding a knife, sits on an altar. Apollo, draped in a patterned himation, stands behind him holding a branch in one hand and a piglet over Orestes' head in the other. A young woman in a tunic stands behind Apollo. To the left, the three Furies, young women in tunics, sleep. Clytemnestra, veiled, sits beside them.
Apollo purifying Orestes, red-figure krater, ca. 380 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)

Aeschylus, Agamemnon (trans. H. W. Smyth, adapted by L. Zhang)

Greek tragedy, 5th century BCE

The Agamemnon includes Agamemnon’s return with his sex slave, Cassandra, the Trojan princess and priestess of Apollo. As a punishment for refusing the sexual advances of Apollo, Cassandra had been cursed with making true prophesies that nobody believed. She had predicted the fall of Troy, but had been ignored by the other Trojans. This play dramatizes the murder of Agamemnon (and Cassandra) at the hands of Clytemnestra, as retribution for Agamemnon’s earlier sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia.

In this selection, towards the end of the play, Cassandra has two visions. The first involves something that happened in the past: the murder of the children of Thyestes by his brother Atreus. Thysters and Atreus were the children of Pelops, the son of Tantalus. They carried the intergenerational curse on the house of Tantalus, caused by Tantalus cooking up his some Pelops in a stew and feeding him to the gods. In their strife over the rulership of Mycenae, Atreus killed the two infant children of Tantalus and had them cooked up and fed to their father. Thus, Cassandra sees this bloody curse and crimes of familicide in the Mycenean royal family.

The second vision Cassandra has is of Clytemnestra entagling Agamemnon in a net while he is in the bath and killing him with a knife.

The last part of this selection jumps ahead to Clytemnestra’s speech after she has carried out the murder of Agamemnon.

The chorus is comprised of old men of Argos (Argos and Mycenae are used interchangeably at times, although they are technically two different archaic Greek cities).

The whole play can be read here.


[1095] Here is the evidence in which I put my trust! Behold those babies lamenting their own butchery and their roasted flesh eaten by their father!


[1098] Your fame to read the future has reached our ears; but we have no need for prophets here.


[1100] Alas, what can she be planning? What is this fresh tragedy that she contrives here within, what monstrous, monstrous horror, beyond love’s enduring, beyond all remedy? And help stands far away!


[1105] Your prophecies are beyond my comprehension; but the rest I understood—the whole city rings with them.


[1107] Ah, damned woman, will you do this thing? Your husband, the partner of your bed, when you have made him happy with a bath, will you—how shall I tell the end? Soon it will be done. Now this hand, now that, she reaches out!


[1112] Not yet do I comprehend; for now, after riddles, I am bewildered by dark oracles.


[1114] Ah! Ah! What apparition is this? Is it a net of death? No, it is a snare that shares his bed, that shares the guilt of murder. Let the fatal pack, insatiable against the race, raise a shout of joy over her accursed victim!


[1119] What Spirit of Vengeance is this that you ask to raise its voice over this house? Your words do not cheer me. Back to my heart surge the drops of my pale blood [I feel faint], like when they drip from a mortal wound, ebbing away as life’s beams sink low; and death comes speedily.


[1125] Ah, ah, see there, see there! Keep the bull from his mate! She has caught him in the robe and gores him with the crafty device of her black horn! He falls in a vessel of water! It is of doom brought by treachery in a murderous bath, that is what I am telling you.


[. . .]



[1372] Much have I said before to serve my need and I will feel no shame to contradict it now. For how else could one, devising hate against a hated enemy who bears the appearance of a friend, fence the snares of ruin too high to leap over [set the moral bar too high]? This is an ancient feud, pondered by the me of the past, and it has come, however long delayed. I stand where I dealt the blow; my purpose is achieved. Thus have I done the deed; deny it I will not. Round him, as if to catch a haul of fish, I cast an inescapable net—a regal yet lethal robe—so that he should neither escape nor ward off his doom. Twice I struck him, and with two groans his limbs relaxed. Once he had fallen, I dealt him yet a third stroke to grace my prayer to the infernal Zeus, the savior of the dead. Fallen thus, he gasped away his life, and as he breathed forth quick spurts of blood, he struck me with dark drops of gory dew; while I rejoiced no less than the sown earth is gladdened by heaven’s refreshing rain at the birthtime of the flower buds.

[1393] Since then the case stands thus, old men of Argos, rejoice, if you would rejoice; as for me, I glory in the deed. And had it been a fitting act to pour libations on the corpse, over him this would have been done justly, more than justly. With so many accursed lies has he filled the mixing-bowl in his own house, and now he has come home and himself drained it to the dregs.


Taken from:

Clytemnestra, in himation, kneels with one hand over her chest and the other thrown up to defend herself. She looks up at Orestes with a worried expression. Orestes, nude with petasos hat and chlamys cape, stands over her with a knife. A fury, a young woman with snakes from her hair and arms, watches from above.
Orestes kills Clytemnestra, red-figure amphora, ca. 340 BCE (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

Aeschylus, Libation Bearers (trans. H. W. Smyth, adapted by L. Zhang)

Greek tragedy, 5th century BCE

In this second play in the Oresteia trilogy, Orestes, the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, who was being fostered at Athens when his father returned from the Trojan war, returns to Mycenae. Upon learning that his mother has killed his father, he vows to avenge Agamemnon by killing Clytemnestra.

As this selection opens, Orestes confronts Clytemnestra. The chorus is comprised of enslaved women from the royal palace.


[885] What is this? What cry for help are you raising in our house?


[886] I tell you, the dead are killing the living.[7]


[887] Ah! Indeed I grasp the meaning of the riddle. We are to perish by treachery, just as we committed murder. Someone give me a battle-axe, and quickly! Let us know if we are victors or vanquished: for I have even come to this in this wretched business.

Exit Servant. The door is opened and the corpse of Aegisthus is discovered. Nearby stands Orestes, and at a distance Pylades.


[892] It is you I seek. He over there has had enough.


[893] Oh no! My beloved, valiant Aegisthus! You are dead!


[894] You love this man? Then you will lie in the same grave, and you will never abandon him in death.


[896] Wait, my son! Have pity, child, upon this breast at which many times while you slept you sucked with toothless gums the milk that nourished you.


[899] Pylades, what shall I do? Shall I spare my mother out of pity?


[900] What then will become in the future of Loxias‘ oracles declared at Pytho, and of our sworn pact? Count all men your enemies rather than the gods.


[903] I judge you victor: you advise me well. (To Clytemnestra) Come, this way! I mean to kill you by his very side. For while he lived, you thought him better than my father. Sleep with him in death, since you love him but hate the man you were bound to love.


[908] It was I who nourished you, and with you I would grow old.


[909] What! Murder my father and then make your home with me?


[910] Fate, my child, must share the blame for this.


[911] And fate now brings this destiny to pass.


[912] Have you no regard for a parent’s curse, my son?


[912] You brought me to birth and yet you cast me out to misery.


[914] No, surely I did not cast you out in sending you to the house of an ally.


[915] I was sold in disgrace, though I was born of a free father.


[916] Then where is the price I got for you?


[917] I am ashamed to tell you it outright.


[918] But do not fail to tell the follies of that father of yours as well.


[919] Do not accuse him, the one who suffered while you sat idle at home.


[920] It is a grief for women to be deprived of a husband’s presence, my child.


[921] Yes, but it is the husband’s toil that supports them while they sit at home.


[922] You seem resolved, my child, to kill your mother.


[923] You will kill yourself, not I.


[924] Take care: beware the hounds of wrath that avenge a mother.


[925] And how shall I escape my father’s [wrath] if I leave this undone?


[926] I see that, though living, I mourn in vain before a tomb.


[927] Yes, for my father’s fate has marked out this destiny for you.


[928] Oh no! I myself bore and nourished this serpent!


[929] Yes, the terror from your dream was indeed a prophet. You killed him whom you should not; so suffer what should not be.

He forces Clytaemestra within; Pylades follows.


[. . .]


Orestes with the branch and wreath of a suppliant is disclosed standing by the bodies. With him are Pylades and attendants who display the robe of Agamemnon.


[973] Behold this pair, oppressors of the land, who murdered my father and ransacked my house! They were majestic then, when they sat on their thrones, and are lovers even now, as one may judge by what has happened to them, and their oath holds true to their pledges. Together they vowed to murder my unhappy father, and together they vowed to die, and they have kept their promise well.

[980] But now regard again, you who hear this account of ills, the device for binding my unhappy father, with which his hands were manacled, his feet fettered. Spread it out! Stand around in a circle, and display this covering for a man, that the Father may see—not mine, but he who surveys all this, the Sun—that he may see the impious work of my own mother, that he may be my witness in court that I justly pursued this death, my own mother’s. For I do not speak of Aegisthus‘ death: he has suffered the penalty prescribed for adulterers.

[991] But she who devised this abhorrent deed against her husband, whose children she bore, a burden under her belt, a burden once dear, but now a hateful ill, as it seems: what do you think of her? Had she been born a sea snake or a viper, I think her very touch without her bite would have caused anyone else to rot, if shamelessness and an immoral disposition could do so.

He again takes up the bloody robe.

[997] What name will I give it, however tactful I may be? A trap for a wild beast? Or a shroud for a corpse, wrapped around his feet? No, rather it is a net: you might call it a hunting net, or robes to entangle a man’s feet. This would be the kind of thing a thief might possess, who deceives strangers and earns his living by robbery, and with this cunning snare he might kill many men and warm his own heart greatly. May such a woman not live with me in my house! Before that may the gods grant me to perish childless!


[1005] Alas! Alas! Sorrowful work! You were done in by a wretched death. Alas! Alas! And for the newly budding suffering .


Taken from:

Trojan Women

The Trojan Women was a tragic play written by Euripides and first performed at the City Dionysia festival in Athens in 415 BCE. It was the third play in its trilology, the first two plays of which do not survive. It deals with the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Troy and what happens to the notable women in the city, including Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache, and Helen. The full play can be read here.


The Hecuba is another post-Trojan War play by Euripides that is set at about the same mythological time as the Trojan Women– in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Troy. It was first performed at Athens around 424 BCE. The central figure of the play is the Trojan queen, Hecuba, who is mourning the death of her daughter Polyxena and her son Polydorus (among the many other casualities of the Trojan War, including her son Hector and her husband Priam). She plots and carries out revenge against the murdered of Polydorus. The full play can be read here.


The exact original performance date and context of the Andromache are unknown, but we do know that it was created by Euripides in the second half of the 5th century BCE. It dramatizes Andromache’s life many years after the Trojan war, when she is a sex slave to Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. She is in conflict with Hermione, Neoptolemus’ wife, and the daughter of Helen and Menelaus. The whole play can be read here.


The Helen, another tragic play by Euripides was first performed at the City Dionysia festival in 412 BCE. It runs off of the premise that the real Helen of Sparta never actually went to Troy, but that she was actually being held capitve in Egypt for the whole course of the war. Instead, it was only an eidolon, a “shadow” or “imitation” of Helen that went to Troy with Paris. After the war, then, Menelaus sails to Egypt to rescue Helen. The whole play can be read here.

Iphigenia Among the Taurians 

Euripides, Iphigenia among the Tauris (trans. R. Potter, adapted by L. Zhang)

Greek tragedy, 5th century BCE

Like the Helen, Euripides’ Iphigenia Among the Taurians imagines an alternate timelines of events. Here, the real Iphigenia was never sacrificed by her father, Agamemnon, so that the Achaean ships could sail to Troy. Instead, she was rescued at the last minute by Artemis after she had been placed on the pyre. Artemis put a deer in her place and spirited her away to a location on the Crimean Peninsula, inhabited by a group of people called the Taurians. There she is a priestess of Artemis. Her job is to sacrifice foreigners who arrive in the land to the goddess. Then, one day, her brother Orestes and his friend Pylades show up.


Before the great temple of Artemis of the Taurians. A blood-stained altar is prominently in view. Iphigenia, clad as a priestess, enters from the temple.


Pelops, son of Tantalus, coming to Pisa with swift horses, married Oenomaus‘ daughter, and she gave birth to Atreus, whose children are Menelaus and Agamemnon; from him I was born, [5] his child Iphigenia, by the daughter of Tyndareus. Where Euripus rolls about its whirlpools in the frequent winds and twists the darkening waves, my father sacrificed me to Artemis for Helen‘s sake, or so he thought, in the famous clefts of Aulis. [10] For there lord Agamemnon mustered his expedition of a thousand ships of Hellas, wanting to take the crown of Troy in glorious victory and avenge the outrage to Helen‘s marriage, doing this favor for Menelaus. [15] But when he met with dreadful winds that would not let him sail, he went to burnt sacrifices, and Calchas had this to say: “”Lord and general of Hellas, Agamemnon, you will not set free your ships from land until Artemis has your daughter Iphigenia [20] as a victim. For you once vowed to sacrifice to the torch-bearing goddess the most beautiful creature brought forth that year; then your wife, Clytemnestra, bore a child in your house—ascribing the prize of beauty to me—whom you must sacrifice.” And by the craft of Odysseus, [25] they took me from my mother, pretending a marriage with Achilles. I came to Aulis; held up high over the altar, I, the unhappy one, was about to die by the sword; but Artemis gave the Achaeans a deer in exchange for me and stole me from them; conducting me through the bright air, [30] she settled me here in the land of the Taurians. A barbarian rules this land of barbarians: Thoas, who runs as quickly as the flight of birds, and so he received his name for his swiftness of foot. Artemis has made me the priestess in this temple. [35] Here I begin the rites, which the goddess delights in, of a banquet noble in name only—I am silent as to the rest, for I fear the goddess— [for I sacrifice, by a custom of the city established earlier, any Hellene who comes to this land.] [40] But others carry out the sacrifices, not to be spoken of, within the temple of the goddess.

But the strange visions which the night brought with it, I will tell to the air, if that is any relief. I dreamed that I had left this land [45] to live in Argos, and to sleep in the midst of the maidens’ rooms; but the earth’s back was shaken by a tossing swell. When I escaped and stood outside, I saw the cornice of the house fall, and the whole roof hurled in ruins on the ground, from the highest pillars. [50] One support of my father’s house was left, I thought, and it had yellow locks of hair waving from its capital, and took on human voice. In observance of the art of slaughtering strangers that I practice here, I gave it holy water as if it were about to die, while I wept. [55] This is my interpretation of this dream: Orestes, whom I consecrated by my rites, is dead. For male children are the supports of the house; and those whom I purify with holy water die. [I cannot connect this dream to my friends, [60] for Strophius, when I perished, had no son.] Now I wish to give libations to my brother, though he is absent from me—for I would be able to do this—with the attendants given me by the king, Hellene women. But why [65] are they not yet here? I will go inside this temple of the goddess where I live.

She goes into the temple. Enter Orestes and Pylades cautiously


Look out, take care that no one is in the path.


I am looking, and turning my eyes everywhere, in examination.


Pylades, do you think this is the hall of the goddess, [70] for which we set sail from Argos?


Yes, Orestes; and you must think so too.


And the altar is that which drips with the slaughter of Hellenes?


Its dedications of hair, at least, are red with blood.


Do you see the spoils hanging from the very walls?


[75] Trophies of strangers that have been slain. But I must look all around and keep careful watch.


O Phoebus, where have you again brought me into the snare, by your oracles, since I avenged my father’s blood by the murder of my mother, and was driven by successive Furies, [80] a fugitive, away from the land, and completed many winding courses; and coming to you I asked how I might arrive at an end to whirling madness and my labors, which I have carried out, wandering all over Hellas ((lacuna))[8]. . . [85] And you told me to go to the boundaries of the Tauric land, where Artemis, your sister, has an altar, and to take the statue of the goddess, which is said here to have fallen to this temple from heaven; and, taking it by craft of some stroke of luck, [90] to complete the venture by giving it to the Athenian land—what was to come next was not spoken of—and if I did this, I would have rest from my labors.


Keep a holy silence, you who inhabit the double clashing [125] rocks of the Black Sea!
O daughter of Leto, Dictynna of the mountains,[9] to your hall, to the golden walls of your temple with beautiful pillars, [130] I, the servant of the holy key-holder, bend my holy virgin steps. For I have left the towers and walls of Hellas, famous for horses, and [135] Europe with its forests, my father’s home.

I have come. What is the news? What is troubling you? Why have you brought me, brought me to the shrine, you who are the daughter of Atreus‘ son, master of a thousand ships and ten thousand soldiers, [140] who came to the towers of Troy with a famous fleet?


Oh! My servants, how I am involved in mournful dirges, [145] in laments unfit for the lyre, of a song that is not melodious, alas! Alas! Wailing for my family. Ruin has come to me; I am lamenting the life of my brother, [150] such a vision I saw in my dreams, in the night whose darkness is now over. I am lost, lost! My father’s house is no more; alas for my vanished family, [155] alas for the sufferings of Argos! O fate, I had one brother only and you carry him off and send him to Hades]. For him, [160] I am about to pour over the back of the earth these libations and the bowl of the dead: streams of milk from mountain cows, and offerings of wine from Bacchus, [165] and the labor of the tawny bees; these sacrifices are soothing to the dead.

Give me the golden vessel and the libation of Hades.

[170] O child of Agamemnon beneath the earth, I send these to you as one dead. Accept them; for I will not bring to your tomb my yellow hair or my tears. [175] I live far indeed from your country and mine, where I am thought to lie, unhappily slaughtered.


I will sing for you, my mistress, responsive songs and [180] a barbarian[10] cry of Asian hymns; this song, dear to the dead, [185] Hades] sings in laments, in chants—not songs of triumph. Alas for the house of the sons of Atreus; the light of their scepter, alas, of the ancestral house, is lost. Once they ruled [190] as prosperous kings in Argos, but troubles dart out from troubles: Pelops, on his horses swiftly whirling, made his cast; the sun changed from its seat the holy beam of its rays. [195] One pain comes after another, to the house of the golden lamb[11]. . .  from that earlier time when the Tantalids [ descendants of Tantalus ] were killed, [200] punishment came to the house, and fate presses what you do not want upon you.


From the beginning my fate was unhappy, from that first night of my mother's marriage; [205] from the beginning the Fates attendant on my birth directed a hard upbringing for me, wooed by Hellenes, the first-born child in the home, [210] whom the unhappy daughter of Leda, by my father's fault, bore as a victim and an unhappy sacrifice, she brought me up as an offering. In the horse-drawn chariot, [215] they set me as a bride on the sands of Aulis, oh woe, a wretched bride for the son of the Nereid [ Achilles ], alas! But now, as a stranger I live in an unfertile home on this sea that is hostile to strangers, [220] without marriage, or children, or city, or friends, not raising hymns to Hera at Argos, nor embroidering with my shuttle, in the singing loom, the likeness of Athenian Pallas and the Titans; but [225] ((lacuna)) . . . a bloody fate, not to be hymned by the lyre, of strangers who wail a piteous cry and weep piteous tears. And now I must forget these things, [230] and lament my brother, killed in Argos, whom I left at the breast, still a baby, still an infant, still a young child in his mother's arms and at her breast, [235] the holder of the scepter in Argos, Orestes.


Look, here comes a herdsman, who has left the shores of the sea to bring you some new message.

Enter a Herdsman.


Daughter of Agamemnon, and of Clytemnestra, hear a strange report from me.


[240] And what is amazing in your news?


Two young men have come to this land, fleeing the dark Symplegades in their ship, an offering and sacrifice pleasing to the goddess Artemis. Be quick to prepare [245] the purifications and the first offerings.


What country are the strangers from? How are they dressed?


They are Hellenes; I know this one thing, and nothing further.


Can't you tell me their names? Did you hear them?


One was called Pylades by the other.


[250] What is the name of his companion?


No one knows; we didn't hear it.


How did you see them? How did you come upon them and catch them?


At the edge of the breakers of the Black Sea—


And what do herdsmen have to do with the sea?


[255] We came to wash our cattle in the salt water.


Go back to the earlier question, how did you take them, and in what way, for I want to know this. They have come after a long time; the altar of the goddess has not yet been reddened by streams of Hellene blood.


[260] When we were driving the cattle that feed in the forest, into the sea that flows through the Symplegades, there was a broken cleft, hollowed by the constant surge of waves, shelter for those who hunt the purple-fish. Here one of the herdsmen saw two youths, [265] and made a retreat on tip-toe. He said: “Don't you see them? These are deities that sit there.” One of us, who revered the gods, lifted up his hands and prayed, as he saw them: [270] “O son of the sea-goddess Leucothea, guardian of ships, lord Palaemon, be propitious to us! Or do you sit on our shores, twin sons of Zeus? Or the darlings of Nereus, father of the chorus of fifty Nereids?”

[275] Another, who was foolish and bold in his lawlessness, laughed at the prayers and asserted that ship-wrecked sailors were sitting on the cliff, in fear of our custom, having heard that we sacrifice strangers here. Most of us thought that he spoke well, [280] and that we ought to hunt down the customary offerings to the goddess. At this moment, one of the strangers left the rock, and stood, shaking his head up and down and groaning, with hands trembling, wandering in madness; and like a hunter, he cried aloud: [285] “Pylades, do you see her? Don't you see hell's dragon, how she wants to kill me, fringed with her dreadful vipers against me? and the one who breathes fire and slaughter from her robe and wings her way, my mother [290] in her arms—the rocky mass, how she hurls it at me! Ah, she will kill me! Where can I escape?” We could not see these shapes; but he alternated the sounds of sheep and howling of dogs ((lacuna)). . . to send forth the Furies' imitations.

[295] Astonished, we cowered together and sat in silence; but he drew his sword and rushed like a lion into the middle of our cattle, striking their flanks with his iron sword and thrusting it into their sides, thinking in this way to ward off the Furies, [300] so that the waves of the sea blossomed red with blood. And all of us, as we saw our herds falling and ravaged, took arms, blew our conch shells, and collected the neighbors; for we thought cowherds would make a poor fight of it [305] against well-grown and young foreigners. After a long time, our numbers were complete. But the stranger fell down, his pulsing beat of madness gone, his chin dripping with foam; when we saw him, so conveniently fallen, each of us went to work, [310] hurling and striking at him. The other stranger wiped off the foam and tended his body, covering him with a finely-woven robe, looking out for the attacking blows, treating his friend kindly with his care. [315] The stranger, now in his senses, started up from his fall and realized the surge of enemies close at hand and the present danger to them both, with a groan; we did not let up our attack with stones, pressing hard from all sides. [320] Then we heard his dreadful exhortation: “Pylades, we will die, but let us die with glory; draw your sword, and follow me.”

But when we saw our enemies brandishing their two swords, we fled and filled up the rocky glens. [325] But while some would flee, others pressed on and attacked them; if they drove those back, the ones who had just given way struck them with stones again. But it was hard to believe; with so many hands, no one succeeded in hitting these offerings to the goddess. [330] We got the better of them with difficulty; not by daring, but by surrounding them in a circle, with stones we took away their swords; they sank on their knees to the ground, in weariness. Then we brought them to the lord of this land. He saw them, and at once [335] sent them to you, for purification and slaughter. You have prayed for such sacrificial victims as these strangers, lady; if you destroy them, Hellas will make atonement for your murder and pay the penalty for the sacrifice in Aulis.


[340] You have told an amazing story about this madman, whoever he is, who has come from Hellas to the Black Sea.


Very well. You go and bring the strangers here; the holy rites will be my concern.

Exit Herdsman.

O my unhappy heart, you were gentle to strangers before, [345] and always full of pity, measuring out tears for the sake of our common race, whenever Hellenes came into your hands. But now, after those dreams that have made me savage, thinking that Orestes is no longer alive, [350] whoever comes here will find me harsh to them. This is true after all, my friends, I have realized: the unfortunate, when they themselves doing badly, do not have kind thoughts towards those who are more unfortunate. But no breeze from Zeus ever came, [355] or a boat, bringing Helen here, through the rocks of the SymplegadesHelen who destroyed me, with Menelaus, so that I might avenge myself on them, setting an Aulis here against that one there, where the Danaids [ Danaans ] overpowered me and were going to sacrifice me like a calf, [360] and my own father was the priest. Ah me!—I cannot forget those past evils—how often did I stroke my father's cheek and, hanging on his knees, told him: “O father, I am brought [365] to a shameful betrothal by you; but while you are killing me, my mother and the Argive women are singing wedding hymns, and the whole house is filled with the music of flutes; but I am being destroyed by you. For Achilles was Hades after all, not the son of Peleus, [370] whom you held out to me as a husband, and you brought me in a chariot to a bloody wedding by treachery.” But I was modestly looking out through a fine veil, and did not take up my brother in my arms—and now he is dead—did not kiss my sister, [375] because I was going to the house of Peleus; I put off many embraces to another time, thinking that I would come back again to Argos.

My unhappy Orestes, if you are dead, what glories have you left, what achievements of a father! [380] I blame the goddess' [ Artemis' ] subtleties; whichever mortal has engaged in murder, or has touched a woman in childbirth or a corpse, she drives from her altars, thinking him impure; but she herself delights in human sacrifices. [385] It is not possible that Leto, the wife of Zeus, gave birth to such folly. I judge that the feast prepared by Tantalus for the gods is not to be believed, that they fed on the flesh of his son; and I think that the people here, who are themselves killers of men, [390] ascribe to the goddess their sorry behavior. For I believe that no god is evil. She enters the temple.


Dark straits of the sea, dark, where the gadfly flying from Argos [395] crossed over the inhospitable wave[12] ((lacuna)). . . taking the Asian land in exchange for Europe. Whoever are the ones who left the lovely waters [400] of Eurotas, green with reeds, or the holy streams of Dirce, to come here, to come to the unsociable land, where, for the divine maiden, the blood of mortals stains [405] the altars and columned temples?

Did they sail the pine-wood oars with double beat of surge, over the waves of the sea, [410] a chariot of a ship in breezes that move the linen sails, to increase the contest of wealth for their halls? For hope is sweet, and [415] insatiable in mortals, to their hurt, for those who bear away the weight of wealth, wandering over the wave and crossing to barbarian cities, with one expectation. But thought of wealth comes at the wrong time for some, [420] while for others it comes moderately.

The rocks that rush together, the sleepless shores of Phineus—how did they cross them, running along the salty coast [425] on Amphitrite's surge, where the fifty daughters of Nereus ((lacuna)). . . the circular choruses sing, [430] with wind in the sails, the guiding rudder creaking under the stern, with southern breezes or by the blasts of the west wind, [435] to the land of many birds, the white strand, Achilles' lovely race-course, over the Black Sea?

Would that, by my mistress' prayers, Helen, Leda's dear child, [440] might happen to leave Troy and come here, where she might die, crowned over her hair by the bloody water, [445] her throat cut by the hands of my mistress, and so pay her requital. But what a sweet message I should receive, if a sailor came from Hellas, [450] to put an end to my wretched slavery! For may I even in dreams be at home and in my ancestral city, the enjoyment of pleasant sleep, [455] a grace we have in common with prosperity.


But here come the two youths, with tightly bound hands, the new sacrifice for the goddess; silence, my friends. These first-fruits of Hellas are indeed [460] approaching the temple; the herdsman did not deliver a false message.

Lady Artemis, if this city carries out the rites in a way pleasing to you, accept the victims, [465] which the custom among us declares to be unholy.

Enter Iphigenia from the temple. Guards lead in Orestes and Pylades, bound.


Enough; first, it will be my care to perform well the rites of the goddess. Unbind the strangers' hands, so that, as holy victims, they may no longer be in chains. [470] Then go into the temple and make ready what is necessary and customary at the present time.

Ah! Who was your mother, who gave you birth, and your father? And your sister, if you happen to have one ((lacuna)) . . . such two youths as she has lost, [475] and will be without a brother! Who knows where such fortunes will arrive? For all the gods' affairs creep on in darkness, and no one knows evil ((lacuna)). . . fate leads us on towards what we cannot know.

Unhappy strangers, where have you come from? [480] For you have sailed a long time to reach this land, and you will be away from your home a long time, in the world below.


Why do you lament these things, and mourn for the evils about to come upon us, lady, whoever you are? I do not think the one who is about to die wise, [485] if he wishes to conquer the fear of death by wailing, nor the one who laments when Hades is near and there is no hope of safety; for so he puts together two ills out of one, incurring a charge of folly and dying all the same; we must let fate alone. [490] Do not grieve for us; for we are acquainted with the sacrifices here and we know them.


Which of you is called by the name of Pylades? I want to know this first.


That one, if you have any pleasure in the knowledge.


[495] Of what city of Hellas were you born a citizen?


What would you gain by learning this, lady?


Are you brothers, from one mother?


By friendship, yes; we are not brothers by birth, lady.


What name did your father give you?


[500] I might rightly be called Unfortunate.


I do not ask that; ascribe that to fortune.


If I die unnamed, I would not be mocked at.


Why do you begrudge this? Are you so proud?


You will sacrifice my body, not my name.


[505] Can you not say what city you are from?


You are seeking nothing profitable, since I am going to die.


What hinders you from doing me this favor?


The famous Argos I claim as my native land.


By the gods, truly, stranger, were you born there?


[510] Yes, from Mycenae, which was once prosperous.


Have you left your country as an exile, or by what fate?


My flight is in some manner willed and unwanted.


Could you then tell me something that I wish to know?


It will be no great addition to my own misfortune.


[515] Indeed, I am so glad that you have come from Argos!


I am not; but if you are, take pleasure in it.


Perhaps you know Troy, whose fame is everywhere.


Would that I did not, even seen in a dream!


They say it is no more, lost to the spear.


[520] It is so; you have heard nothing that has not happened.


Has Helen come back to Menelaus' home?


She has; it was an unfortunate arrival for one dear to me.


And where is she? She deserves an ill turn from me also.


She lives in Sparta with her former bedfellow.


[525] Creature hated by Hellas, not by me alone!


I have also had some benefit from the marriage of that woman!


Have the Achaeans returned, as reported?


How you put everything together and ask me all at once!


Before you die, I want to profit from your answers.


[530] Question me, since you desire this; I will tell you.


Has a certain Calchas, a prophet, come back from Troy?


He is dead, as the story goes in Mycenae.


O goddess, how good that is! What about Odysseus?


He has not yet returned, but is alive, they say.


[535] May he die and never achieve a return to his country!


Do not pray against that man; all is misery for him.


But is [ Achilles ] the son of Thetis the Nereid still alive?


He is not; his marriage at Aulis was in vain.


Yes, for it was a cheat, as those who experienced it know.


[540] Who are you? How well you ask about Hellas!


I am from there; while still a child I was lost.


Then rightly you desire to know what has happened there, lady.


What about the general, who is said to be happy?


Who? The one I knew was not happy.


[545] There was said to be a certain lord, Agamemnon, son of Atreus.


I do not know; leave this subject, lady.


No, by the gods, but tell me, stranger, to delight me.


The wretched man is dead, and in addition he destroyed another.


Dead? By what fate? I am unhappy!


[550] Why do you mourn for this? It doesn't concern you, does it?


I grieve for his former prosperity.


Yes, for he was dreadfully murdered by a woman.


O miserable is the slayer . . . and the slain!


Stop now, and do not ask further.


[555] Only this much, if the wife of the wretched man is alive.


She is not; she was killed by the son that she bore.


O house thrown into confusion! What was his intent?


To avenge on her the death of his father.


Ah! How well he exacted an evil justice!


[560] Though he is just, he does not have good fortune from the gods.


Did Agamemnon leave any other children in his house?


He left one virgin daughter, Electra.


What else? Is there any report of the daughter who was sacrificed?


None, except that she is dead and does not see the light.


[565] Unhappy girl, and also the father that killed her!


As a thankless favor to an evil woman, she died.


Does the dead father's son live at Argos?


He lives, the miserable one, both nowhere and everywhere.


False dreams, farewell; after all, you were nothing.


[570] And those who are called wise divinities are not less false than winged dreams. These are much confusion, both in divine affairs and in human; but only this is a grief to the one who was not foolish, but trusted in the words of prophets [575] and died—as he died to those that know.


Ah! What about me, and my parents? Are they alive? Are they not? Who can say?


Listen to me; I have come to a subject which means benefit both to you, strangers, [580] and to me, by your efforts. A good action is especially so, if the same matter is pleasing to all. Would you, if I should save you, go to Argos and take a report of me to my friends there, and bring a tablet, [585] which a captive wrote for me in pity? He did not think my hand murderous, but that the victims of the goddess, who holds these things just, die under the law. For I have had no one to go back to Argos with that message, who, [590] being saved, would send my letter to one of my friends. But you—if, as it seems, you are not hostile to me, and you know Mycenae and those whom I want you to know—be rescued, and have this reward, not a shameful one, safety for the sake of this small letter. [595] But let him, since the city exacts it, be the offering to the goddess, separated from you.


Stranger, you have spoken all well but this: to sacrifice him would be a heavy grief to me. I am the pilot of these misfortunes, [600] he sailed with me for the sake of my troubles. For it is not right for me to do you a favor and get out of danger, on condition of his death. But let it happen this way: give him the letter and he will take it to Argos, for your well-being; [605] let anyone who wishes kill me. It is most shameful for anyone to save himself by hurling his friends' affairs into catastrophe. That man is my friend, and I wish him to live, no less than myself.

Who will sacrifice me and dare such a dreadful deed ?


I will; for I hold the office of this goddess.


It is not envied, lady, and not blessed.


[620] But I am dedicated to necessity, which must be kept.


Do you yourself, a woman, sacrifice men with the sword?


No; but I sprinkle the holy water around your hair.


Who is the slayer? If I may ask this.


That charge belongs to those within this temple.


[625] What sort of tomb will receive me, when I die?


The sacred fire within and the wide hollow of a cave.


Ah! Would that my sister's hand might lay out my body!


You have prayed in vain, unhappy youth, whoever you are; for she lives far from a barbarian land. [630] Yet indeed, since you happen to be an Argive, I too will not leave out any favor that I can do. I will set much ornament on the tomb and quench your body with yellow oil, and throw onto your funeral pyre the gleaming honey, that streams from flowers, [635] of the tawny mountain bee. But I will go and bring the tablet from the temple of the goddess; take care not to bear me ill-will.

Guard them, attendants, without chains. Perhaps I will send unexpected news to one of my friends, [640] whom I especially love, in Argos; and the tablet, in telling him that those whom he thought dead are alive, will report a joy that can be believed.

She enters the temple.

In the following lines, Orestes' and Pylades' lines are spoken, the Chorus' lines are sung.


I raise a lament for you; the drops from the holy water, [645] mingled with blood, will soon take you into their care.


This is not a case for pity, but farewell, strangers.


We honour you, young man, for your happy fate, because you will tread on your native land someday.


[650] An unenviable fate indeed for a friend, when his friend is to die.


O cruel mission! Ah, ah! You are destroyed! Alas, alas! Which is better? [655] For still my mind disputes a double argument, shall I mourn for you or rather for you.


By the gods, Pylades, do you feel the same thing I do?


I do not know; I have no reply to your question.


[660] Who is the girl? How like a Hellene she questioned me about the labors in Ilium and the return of the Achaeans, and Calchas, wise in omens, and Achilles' name; and how she pitied the wretched Agamemnon, and asked me about [665] his wife and children! This stranger is an Argive by race, and from that land; or she would not be sending the tablet and examining these things, as if she had some share in Argos' prosperity.


You are not much ahead of me: I was about to say the same things you said, [670] except this: all who move about in the world know what happens to kings. But I have arrived at another consideration.


What is it? Share it with me so that you may know better.


It is shameful for me to live when you are dead; [675] I sailed together with you, and I ought to die together with you. For I will seem a coward and base in Argos and Phocis of the many mountain folds. Most will think—for most people are base—that I betrayed you and saved myself to come home alone, [680] or I plotted your death, in the afflictions of your house, for the sake of your kingdom, since I married your sister [ Electra ] and heiress. I fear these things and I am ashamed; and I must breathe my last with you, [685] be slaughtered with you and consumed on the pyre; because I am your friend and I fear reproach.


Hush! I must bear my own ills, and when the grief is single, I will not bear it double. What you call vile and infamous, [690] would be mine, if I cause you, who have toiled with me, to die; for it is not a hardship for me, suffering as I do at the hands of the gods, to give up my life. But you are prosperous, and you have a house that is pure, not afflicted, while mine is impious and unfortunate. [695] If you are saved and get sons from my sister, whom I gave to you for your wife, my name would remain and the whole house of my father would not be wiped out in childlessness. But go, and live, and dwell in my father's house. [700] And when you come to Hellas and to Argos of the horses, I charge you, by this right hand: heap up a tomb and build a memorial for me, and let my sister give her hair and tears to the tomb. Report that I died at the hand of an Argive [705] woman, at an altar, purified for death. Do not ever betray my sister, when you see how lonely my father's house that you have joined by marriage is. And now farewell; I have found you the dearest of my friends, you who have hunted with me, grown up with me, [710] and borne with me many miseries.

Phoebus, though a prophet, has deceived me; creating his plot, he drove me far away from Hellas, ashamed of his earlier prophecies. I gave him my all and trusted in his words, [715] killed my mother, and myself perish in turn.


You will have a tomb, and I will never betray your sister's bed, unhappy youth, since I will hold you dearer when dead than when alive. But the prophecy of the god has not destroyed you yet; [720] although you stand near to slaughter. Great misfortune can offer great reversals, when it is fated; it can indeed.


Silence; the words of Phoebus are no benefit to me; here comes the woman out of the temple.

Enter Iphigenia from the temple. She is carrying a letter.


[725] Go away and make the preparations within for those who attend to the sacrifice. The guards go into the temple.

Here are the many folds of the tablet, strangers. Hear what I want in addition. No man is the same when he is in troubles [730] and when he falls out of fear into courage. I am afraid that when the one who is going to take this tablet to Argos leaves this land, he will put aside my letter as worth nothing.


What do you want, then? What are you perplexed about?


[735] Let him give me an oath that he will convey this letter to Argos, to the friends to whom I wish to send it.


And will you give in return the same words to him?


To do what, or refrain from doing? Tell me.


To send him from this barbarous land alive.


[740] What you say is right; how else could he deliver it?


Will the king agree to this?


Yes. I will persuade the king, and I myself will put this man on the ship.


Swear; begin a pious oath.


You must say: I will give this to your friends.


[745] I will give this letter to your friends.


And I will see you safely outside the dark rocks.


What god do you swear by, as witness to your oath?


Artemis, in whose temple I hold office.


And I swear by the king of heaven, revered Zeus.


[750] But if you leave off your oath, and wrong me?


May I not return. What about you, if you do not save me?


May I never set foot in Argos alive.


Now listen to a consideration we have passed over.


But it will be something new, if it is good.


[755] Give me this exception: if the ship suffers and the tablet is lost with its cargo in the waves, and I rescue myself only, may this oath not hinder me.


Do you know what I will do? For many attempts hit many targets. [760] I will tell you what is written in the folds of this tablet for you to report to my friends. For this is secure: if you preserve the writing, itself, though silent, will speak its message; if the writing is lost in the sea, [765] when you save yourself, you will save my words.


You have spoken well, on behalf of the gods and me. Make clear to whom I must bring this letter in Argos, and what I must say when I have heard it from you.


Report to Orestes, the son of Agamemnon: [770] the one slain at Aulis sends you this, Iphigenia, who is alive, though no longer alive to those there—


Where is she? Has she come back from the dead?


The one you are looking at; don't confuse me by your talk. Bring me to Argos, my brother, before I die. [775] Take me away from the barbarian land and the sacrifices of the goddess, where I hold the office of killing foreigners.


Pylades, what shall I say? Where have we found ourselves?


Or I will be a curse to your house.




So that you may know the name, hearing it twice.


[780] O gods!


Why do you invoke the gods in my affairs?


No reason; finish your words; my thoughts were elsewhere. Perhaps, if I question you, I will not arrive at things I cannot believe.


Tell him that Artemis saved me, by giving a deer in exchange for me; my father sacrificed it, [785] thinking that he drove the sword sharply into me; and she settled me in this land. This is my letter, this is the writing in the tablet.


You have bound me with an easy oath, and sworn very well. I will not take much time [790] to carry out the oath I swore.

See, Orestes, I bring you a tablet from your sister here, and give it to you.

Pylades hands the letter to Orestes.


I do receive it, but first I will pass over the letter's folds to take a joy that is not in words.

[795] My dearest sister, with what astonishment and delight I hold you in my unbelieving arms, after learning these marvels!


Stranger, you are wrongly defiling the attendant of the goddess, by putting your hands on her robe that should not be touched.


[800] My own sister, born from my father Agamemnon, do not turn away from me, when you hold your brother and thought you never would!


You are my brother? Stop this talk! He is well known in Argos and Nauplia.


[805] Unhappy girl, your brother is not there.


But did Tyndareus' daughter, the Spartan, give birth to you?


Yes, and my father was Pelops' grandson.


What are you saying? Do you have some proof of this for me?


I do; ask me something about our father's home.


[810] Well, it is for you to speak, for me to learn.


I will say first what I have heard from Electra. Do you know of the strife that was between Atreus and Thyestes?


I have heard of it; the quarrel concerned a golden ram.[13]


Did you not weave these things in a fine-textured web?


[815] O dearest, you are bending your course near to my heart!


And the image of the sun in the middle of the loom?


I wove that shape also, in fine threads.


And you received a ceremonial bath from your mother, for Aulis?


I know; for no happy marriage has taken that memory from me.


[820] What about this? You gave locks of your hair to be brought to your mother?


As a memorial, in place of my body, in the tomb.


What I myself have seen, I will say for proof: an old spear of Pelops, in my father's house, which he brandished in his hand when he won Hippodamia, [825] the maiden of Pisa, and killed Oenomaus; it was hung up in your rooms.

In the following scene, most of Orestes' lines are spoken, most of Iphigenia's are sung.


O dearest, for you are my dearest, none other, I have you, Orestes, [830] far from our country of Argos, my darling.


And I have you, who were thought to be dead. Tears, and laments mixed with joy, fill your eyes and also mine.


I left you still a baby, [835] young in the arms of your nurse, young in the house. O my soul, you have been more fortunate than words can say. [840] I have come upon things that are beyond wonder, far from speech.


For the rest of time, may we be fortunate with each other!


O my friends, I have found an extraordinary joy; I am afraid that he will fly from my hands into the air. [845] O Cyclopean hearths;[14] o my country, dear Mycenae, I thank you for his life, for his nourishment, because you brought up this light of the house, my brother.


[850] We are fortunate in our family, but in our circumstances, my sister, we were born to be unfortunate in life.


I was unhappy, I know, when my wretched father put the sword to my throat.


[855] Alas! Though I was not present, I seem to see you there.


O brother, when I was brought, not a bride, to the treacherous bed of Achilles; [860] but beside the altar there were tears and wails. Alas for the libations there!


I also mourned for the daring act of our father.


Fatherless was the fate I received, fatherless. [865] One thing comes from another, by divine fortune.


Yes, if you had killed your brother, unhappy one!


O wretched, in my dreadful daring! [870] How dreadful were the things I endured, alas, my brother! By only a little you escaped an unholy death, slain by my hands. But how will these things end? What fortune will assist me? [875] What way will I find to send you from this city, from slaughter, to your native Argos, [880] before the sword draws near to your blood? This is your business, unhappy soul, to find out. On dry land, not in a ship? [885] But if you go on foot, through trackless paths and barbarian tribes, you will draw near to death. [890] But through the dark rocks of the narrow passage is a long way for flight by ship. I am unhappy, unhappy! [895] Who, either god or mortal or something unexpected, might accomplish a way that is no way, and reveal a release from troubles for the only two children of the house of Atreus?


[900] It is marvelous and surpasses a fable, this event that I myself have seen and shall relate, not as hearsay.


When friends come into the sight of friends, Orestes, it is reasonable to embrace; but we must stop wailing and turn to other matters: [905] how we shall get the glorious name of safety and leave the foreign land. For wise men take opportunities, and do not overstep their fate to get other pleasures.


Well said; but I think fortune will take care [910] of that with us; when one is eager, divine strength is likely to be greater.


Let nothing hold me back; nor will it prevent me speaking before I first find out Electra's fate, for you are all dear to me.


[915] She lives with this man, and has a happy life.


What country is he from, and who is his father?


Strophius of Phocis is the name of his father.


He is related to me, by the daughter of Atreus?


He is a cousin, and my only true friend.


[920] He was not born when my father tried to kill me.


He was not; for Strophius was childless for some time.


Welcome, husband of my sister!


And also my savior, not only a relation.


But how did you dare that dreadful deed with our mother?


[925] Let us be silent on that; I was avenging my father.


What reason did she have to kill her husband?


Let our mother's affairs be; nor is it good for you to hear.


I am silent; does Argos now look to you?


Menelaus rules there; I am an exile from my country


[930] Our uncle has surely not mistreated our afflicted house, has he?


No, but fear of the Furies drives me out of the land.


That was the madness that they reported there on the shore?


That was not the first time that I was seen to be wretched.


I know; the goddesses were driving you for the sake of your mother.


[935] So as to put a bloody bit in my mouth.


Why have you made a journey to this land?


I have come at the commands of Phoebus' oracles.


To do what? Can you speak of it, or must you remain silent?


I will tell you; this is the beginning of my many troubles. [940] When my mother's evil deeds, that I cannot speak of, came into my hands, I was driven to flight by the Furies' pursuit; then Loxias sent me to Athens, to stand trial with the goddesses who may not be named.[15] [945] For there is a holy tribunal there, which Zeus once established for Ares, when his hands were stained with blood-pollution.[16] I came there ((lacuna) . . . at first, no host would willingly take me in, as one hated by the gods; then some who felt shame offered me a table apart, as a guest, [950] themselves being under the same roof, and in silence they kept me from speaking, so that I might be apart from them in food and drink, and into each private cup they poured an equal measure of wine and had their delight. [955] And I did not think it right to blame my hosts, but I grieved in silence and seemed not to know, while I sighed deeply, that I was the murderer of my mother. I hear that my misfortunes have become a festival at Athens, and they still hold this custom [960] and the people of Pallas honour the cup that belongs to the Feast of Pitchers.

When I came to the hill of Ares to stand my trial,[17] I took one seat, and the eldest of the Furies took the other. I spoke and heard arguments on the murder of my mother, [965] and Phoebus saved me by bearing witness; Pallas counted out equal votes for me; and I went away victorious in my ordeal of blood. Some of the Furies who sat there, persuaded by the judgment, marked out a holy place for themselves beside this very tribunal; [970] but others were not persuaded by the law, and drove me to wander on aimless courses until I came to the holy plain of Phoebus in turn. Stretched out before his shrine and fasting, I swore to break off my life and die there, [975] if Phoebus, who had destroyed me, did not save me. And then Phoebus cried out a golden voice from the tripod,[18] and sent me here, to get the image Zeus hurled down, and set it up in Athena's land. But what he marked out for my safety [980] you must help me with; for if we possess the statue of the goddess, I will be released from madness and will put you on my ship of many oars and establish you again in Mycenae. But, my beloved sister, save our father's house and save me; [985] for so I perish and all the race of Pelops, unless we take the heavenly image of the goddess.


A terrible anger from the gods has boiled up against the race of Tantalus and drives them through torments.


Before you came here, I was eager [990] to be in Argos and see you, my brother. Your wish is mine: to release you from torment, and restore our father's afflicted house, for I am not angry at the one who killed me; it is my wish. I would set my hand free from your slaughter [995] and save our house. But I worry about concealment from the goddess and the king, when he finds the stone pedestal empty of the statue. How will I escape death? What argument will I have? But if this one thing happens all together, [1000] that you take the statue and bear me away on your lovely ship, the venture is a noble one. If I am separated from this, I am lost, but you might settle your affairs well and have a safe return. Indeed, I do not shrink from it, not even if I must die [1005] to save you. No, for when a man dies and is gone from the home, he is longed for; but women are powerless.


I would not be the murderer of you as well as my mother; her blood is enough; I would rather have an equal share of life or death, in common with you. [1010] I will bring you home, if I myself escape from here, or if I die, I will remain here with you. Listen to what I think: if Artemis were hostile to this, how could Loxias have prophesied that I would take the statue of the goddess to Pallas' city ((lacuna)). . . [1015] and see your face. Putting all these things together, I have hope of our return.


But how may we live, and take what we want? For our return home suffers from this; but the will is present.


[1020] Could we murder the king?


A fearful suggestion, for foreigners to kill their host!


But we must dare it, if it brings our safety.


I could not; yet I approve your eagerness.


What if you were to hide me secretly in the shrine?


[1025] So that we might take advantage of the darkness and escape?


Yes, for the night belongs to thieves, the light to truth.


There are sacred guards within, who will notice us.


Alas, we are ruined! How can we be saved?


I think I have a new plan.


[1030] What is it? Let me know; share your thoughts.


I will use your sorrows as part of my ploy.


Women are wonderfully good at devising crafty plans!


I will say that you came from Argos after killing your mother.


Make use of my troubles, if you gain by it.


[1035] And that it is not right to sacrifice you to the goddess.


With what reason? I do not understand your intent.


Because you are not pure; I will frighten what is sacred.


How does this help us to seize the statue of the goddess?


I shall want to purify you in the waves of the sea—


[1040] The image that we have sailed for is still in the temple.


I will say that I have to wash that also, since you have touched it.


Where? Do you mean the watery inlet of the sea?


Where your ship is moored by its roped anchor.


Will you or some other carry the statue in your hands?


[1045] I will; it is holy for me alone to touch it.


But Pylades here—how will he be assigned to our labor?


His hands, it will be said, are stained like yours with blood-pollution.


Will you do all this secretly from the king, or with his knowledge?


I shall persuade him; I could not hide it from him.


[1050] Well then, my ship, with its quick stroke of oars, is at hand.


You must indeed take care of the rest, so that it goes well.


We need only one thing more, that these women conceal our plans; you approach them and find persuasive words. A woman has power over pity. [1055] The rest, perhaps—. May all turn out well!


My dearest friends, I look to you; I am in your hands, whether I am to succeed, or come to nothing and lose my country, and my dear brother and dearest sister. [1060] And first of all, I begin my speech with this: we are women, and have hearts naturally formed to love each other, and keep our common interests most secure. Be silent for us and assist us in our flight. It is good to have trustworthy speech. [1065] You see how one fortune holds us three, most dear to each other, either to return to our native land, or to die. If I am saved, I will bring you safely to Hellas, so that you may share my fortune. By your right hand, I entreat you, and you, and you; you by your dear face, [1070] by your knees, by all that is dearest to you in your home: father, mother, child, if you have children. What do you reply? Who agrees with us, or is not willing to do this—speak! For if you do not acquiesce in my words, both I and my unhappy brother must die.


[1075] Have courage, dear mistress, only see to your safety; I will be silent on all that you have charged me with—great Zeus be my witness.


Bless you for your words, may you be happy! (To Orestes and Pylades) It is your work now, and yours, to enter the temple; [1080] for soon the ruler of this land will come, inquiring if the sacrifice of the strangers has been carried out.

Lady Artemis, you who saved me from my father's slaughtering hand by the clefts of Aulis, save me now also, and these men; or through you Loxias' [1085] prophetic voice will no longer be held true by mortals But leave this barbarian land for Athens with good will; it is not fitting for you to dwell here, when you could have so fortunate a city.

Orestes, Pylades, and Iphigenia enter the temple.


Halcyon bird [kingfisher], you that sing your fate as a lament [1090] beside the rocky ridges of the sea, a cry easily understood by the wise, that you are always chanting for your husband;[19] I, wingless bird that I am, compare [1095] my laments with yours, in my longing for the festivals of Hellas, and for Artemis of childbirth, who dwells beside the Cynthian mountain and the palm with delicate leaves [1100] and the well-grown laurel and the holy shoot of gray-green olive, Leto's dear child, and the lake that rolls about its ripples, where the melodious swan [1105] serves the Muses.

O streams of tears that fell onto my cheeks, when my city was destroyed and the enemy forced me to sail, [1110] by their oars, by their spears! Purchased by gold, I came to a barbarian home, where I serve Agamemnon's daughter, [1115] the attendant maid of the deer-killing goddess, and the altars where no sheep are sacrificed; and I envy ruin that is wretched throughout, for when you are brought up in harsh necessity, you do not suffer. [1120] Misery changes; life is hard for mortals, when they are treated badly after happiness.

And you, lady, the Argive penteconter [ship] will bear you home; [1125] the wax-bound reed of the mountain god Pan, piping, will shout to the oars, and Phoebus the prophet, with the ring of his seven-stringed lyre, [1130] singing, will guide you well to the gleaming land of the Athenians. Leaving me here, you will go with splashing oars. In the breeze, the forestays of the ship that carries you swiftly [1135] will spread out over the front beyond the prow.

May I come to the bright race-course, where the sun's fire goes; [1140] over the chambers of my home, may I cease to flutter the wings on my back. May I take my stand in the dances of glorious marriages, where I stood as a maiden, [1145] twirling about in the dancing bands of other girls, away from my dear mother; rushing on to the contest of charms, the luxuriant strife of hair, I covered my cheeks with the multi-colored veil [1150] and shadowed them with the locks of my hair.

Enter Thoas and his retinue


Where is the gate-keeper of this temple, the woman of Hellas? Has she already begun the rites on the strangers? [1155] Are they glowing with fire in the holy sanctuary?


Here she is, to tell you everything clearly, lord. Iphigenia comes out of the temple. She is carrying the sacred statue of Artemis.


Oh! Daughter of Agamemnon, why have you lifted up in your arms the statue of the goddess from its pedestal that must not be moved?


Lord, stand there in the entrance!


[1160] Iphigenia, what has happened in the temple?


I spit out the pollution; I say this for Holiness.


What is this news in your introduction? Tell it clearly.


The victims you caught for me are not pure, lord.


What taught you this? Or are you only saying what you think?


[1165] The image of the goddess turned back from its place.


By itself, or did an earthquake turn it?


By itself; it closed up its eyes.


What was the reason? Was it the uncleanness of the strangers?


That was the reason, and nothing else; for they have done dreadful things.


[1170] What, have they killed one of the barbarians on the shore?


They come with murder done at home.


What murder? For I strongly want to know.


They killed their mother together with their swords.


Apollo! No barbarian would have dared this.


[1175] They were driven in pursuit from all of Hellas.


Is it for this that you bring the statue outside?


Yes, to the holy air, to remove it from slaughter.


How did you know the blood-pollution of the strangers?


I questioned them, because the image of the goddess had turned back.


[1180] Hellas has brought you up to be clever; how well you understood this.


And yet they dangled a sweet lure for my heart.


Reporting to you some charm of news from Argos?


That Orestes, my only brother, is happy.


So that you might save them, for the delight of their messages.


[1185] And that my father is alive and doing well.


But you turned to the goddess, with reason.


Yes, for I hate all Hellas, which has ruined me.


Tell me, what shall we do with the strangers?


We must reverence the law as it stands.


[1190] But the libations and your sword are not at work?


First I want to wash them, with holy purification.


In fountain waters, or the drops of the sea?


The sea washes away all men's evils.


They would certainly be holier victims for the goddess.


[1195] And in this way my plans would succeed better.


Doesn't the wave beat against this very temple?


This requires solitude; and I shall do more.


Then where you wish; I do not want to see what should not be seen.


I must purify the image of the goddess also.


[1200] Yes, if a stain from the matricide has fallen on it.


For I would not have lifted it from its base otherwise.


Your piety and forethought are correct.


Do you know what to do for me now?


It is for you to make it known.


Put chains on the strangers.


Where could they escape you?


[1205] Hellas knows no faith.


Go to get chains, attendants. Some attendants go out.


And let them bring the strangers here.


It will be so.


And veil their faces with their robes.


Before the light of the sun.


And send some of your servants with me.


These will attend you.


And send someone to announce to the city—


To announce what has happened?


[1210] That all must remain indoors.


So that they do not come in contact with murder?


Yes, for such things are polluted.


Go and announce—


That no one comes near the sight.

An attendant departs.


You are taking good care of the city


And of the friends to whom I owe the most.


You mean this for me.


((lacuna)). . .


The whole city marvels at you, with reason.


[1215] You stay here before the shrine of the goddess.


What shall I do?


Purify the house with fire.


So that you may return to find it pure.


When the strangers come outside—


What must I do?


Hold your robe over your eyes.


So that I do not receive the pollution.


If I seem to delay too long—


What limit of the delay should I keep in mind?


[1220] Do not wonder at it.


Carry out the rites of the goddess well, since you have leisure.


May this purification fall out as I wish!


I pray along with you.


I see the strangers coming out of the temple now, and the ornaments of the goddess and the new-born lambs, because I will wash blood-pollution away with blood, and the flash of torches and all the rest that [1225] I have set out as purification for the strangers and the goddess. I proclaim to the citizens to keep away from this pollution, if any guard of the temple is purifying his hands for the gods, or if anyone is coming to form a marriage alliance, or is weighted down by childbirth— begone, stand away, so that this defilement does not fall on anyone.

[1230] O lady, maiden daughter of of Leto and Zeus, if I cleanse the stain of murder from these men, and make the sacrifice where I ought to make it, you will dwell in a pure home, and we will be fortunate. I do not speak the rest, but I indicate it to those who know more, the gods and you, goddess.

Iphigenia, carrying the statue, joins the procession as it goes out. Thoas and his retinue enter the temple.


Lovely is the son of Leto, [1235] whom she, the Delian, once bore in the fruitful valleys, golden-haired, skilled at the lyre; and also the one who glories in her well-aimed arrows. [1240] For the mother, leaving the famous birth-place, brought him from the ridges of the sea to the heights of Parnassus, with its gushing waters, which celebrate the revels for Dionysus. Here the dark-faced serpent [ Python ] [1245] with brightly colored back, his scales of bronze in the leaf-shaded laurel, a huge monster of the earth, guarded Earth's prophetic shrine. You killed him, o Phoebus, while still a baby, [1250] still leaping in the arms of your dear mother, and you entered the holy shrine, and sit on the golden tripod, on your truthful throne [1255] distributing prophecies from the gods to mortals, up from the sanctuary, neighbor of Castalia's streams, as you dwell in the middle of the earth.

But when he came and sent Themis, [1260] the child of Earth, away from the holy oracle of Pytho, Earth gave birth to dream visions of the night; and they told to the cities of men the present, [1265] and what will happen in the future, through dark beds of sleep on the ground; and so Earth took the office of prophecy away from Phoebus, in envy, because of her daughter. The lord made his swift way to Olympus [1270] and wound his baby hands around the throne of Zeus, to take the wrath of the earth goddess from the Pythian home. Zeus smiled, that the child so quickly came [1275] to ask for worship that pays in gold. He shook his locks of hair, to put an end to the night voices, and took away from mortals the truth that appears in darkness, [1280] and gave the privilege back again to Loxias, and to mortals confidence in the songs of prophecy at the throne visited by many men.

Enter a Messenger.


O you that guard the temple and stand by the altar, [1285] where has Thoas, the lord of this land, gone? Open the well-fastened gates, and call forth from this shrine the ruler of the land.


What is it, if I may speak when not commanded?


The two young men have gone away, [1290] through the plots of Agamemnon's daughter; they are escaping from this land, with the holy statue deep within a Hellene ship.


What you say is incredible; but the one you want to see, the lord of the country, has gone in haste from the temple.


[1295] Where? For he should know what has been done.


We don't know; but go after him, and report these things to him where you find him.


See, what a faithless race you women are! You also have a share in what has been done.


[1300] You are mad! What do we have to do with the flight of the strangers? Go as quickly as you can to the ruler's door!


No! Not until this interpreter brings word if the king is inside or not.

Ho there! Unbar the doors—I am speaking to those within— [1305] and inform the master that I am at the gate with a burden of bad news.

Enter Thoas and his attendants from the temple.


Who is raising this clamor at the temple of the goddess, striking at the gates and sending his noise within?


Ah! These women told me that you were outside; they would have driven me away from the temple, [1310] but you were inside after all.


What advantages were they expecting to gain from that?


I will tell you about them later; hear what is currently at hand. The girl who presided at this altar, Iphigenia, has left the country [1315] with the strangers, and takes with her the holy statue of the goddess; the purification was a lie.


What are you saying? What influence in her character brought her to this?


To save Orestes; here is a marvel for you!


To save whom? Clytemnestra's son?


[1320] The one whom the goddess was dedicating to herself at this altar.


Marvelous! for what more can it be called?


Do not think of that, but listen to me; consider it clearly and when you hear, devise a pursuit to hunt down the strangers.


[1325] Speak; you have said well; for their flight is not so brief a voyage as to escape my spear.


When we came to the sea-shore, where Orestes' ship was moored in hiding, [1330] Agamemnon's daughter motioned to those of us you sent with the strangers' bonds to stand far off, as if her sacrifice of purifying flame, that she had come for, were secret. But she went on alone, holding the strangers' chains in her hands, behind them. Your servants, lord, were suspicious, [1335] but we allowed it. After a while, so that we might think that she was accomplishing something, she raised a shout, and chanted strange songs and spells, as if she were washing off the pollution of murder. When we had sat for a long time, [1340] it occurred to us that the strangers, loosed from their bonds, might kill her and escape by flight. But we were afraid of seeing what we ought not, and sat in silence. But at length we all resolved to go where they were, although we were not allowed.

[1345] There we saw a Hellene ship, winged with ready blade for the stroke, and at the oar-locks were fifty rowers with their oars; the two youths stood by the stern, freed from their chains. [1350] Some were holding the prow in place with poles; others were fastening the anchor from the cat-heads; others were drawing the stern-cables through their hands, and making haste to let down the ladders into the sea for the strangers. Without sparing ourselves, when we saw [1355] their treacherous actions, we seized the priestess and the cables, and tried to draw the ship's rudder-oars out through their holes. Then there was a debate: “What is your reason for carrying the statue and the priestess away from the land by theft? [1360] Who is your father, who are you, to smuggle her away?” He said: “Know that I am Orestes, her brother, Agamemnon's son, and I have come to take my sister, whom I lost from her home.”

But we held strong to her, [1365] and were leading her to you by force, for which I received these dreadful blows on my cheeks; they had no swords, nor did we. Both the youths gave rattling blows with their fists, [1370] darting their limbs against our sides and breasts, so that as soon as we joined battle, we were worn out. We were fleeing to the cliff, stamped with dreadful marks, some with bloody wounds on their heads, others on their eyes; [1375] when we stood on the heights, we fought more cautiously and hurled rocks at them. But, standing on the stern, the archers with their arrows kept us off and drove us away. And now an immense swelling wave ran the ship aground, [1380] and the maiden was afraid to get her feet wet. Orestes bore his sister on his left arm, going into the sea and quickly up the ladder, and he set her on the ship, along with the statue of Zeus' daughter, fallen from heaven. [1385] From the middle of the ship, he cried out: “Sailors of Hellas, seize the ship with the oars and make the waves white with foam; for we possess those things for which we sailed the inhospitable straits, within the clashing rocks.”

[1390] They gave a cheerful shout, and struck the salt wave. The ship, while it was within the harbor, was headed for the mouth; but when it had crossed, it met with a violent swell and was hard pressed; and the wind, rising with sudden dreadful gusts, [1395] forced it astern. They beat the waves strongly; but the swell was driving the ship back towards the land. Agamemnon's daughter stood up and prayed: “O daughter of Leto, bring me, your priestess, safely to Hellas [1400] from this barbaric land, and forgive my thefts. For you, goddess, love your brother; believe that I love mine also.” The sailors shouted the triumphal hymn in response to her prayer, and applied their naked shoulders [1405] to the oars, at the command. But the ship came nearer and nearer to the rocks; some of us rushed into the sea, others grasped the woven ropes. And I set out here to you at once, lord, [1410] to tell you what has happened there.

But go, take chains and nets with you; for if the swell does not become calm, there is no hope of safety for the strangers. [1415] Revered Poseidon, ruler of the sea, watches over Troy and is hostile to the race of Pelops; he will now allow you and your citizens, as is right, to have in your hands the son of Agamemnon and his sister; she stands convicted as betrayer of her unremembered sacrifice to the goddess in Aulis.


[1420] Unhappy Iphigenia, you will die with your brother, if you come again into the hands of the king.


All citizens of this barbarian land, hurl the reins on your horses, rush to the coast and seize what the Hellene ship [1425] casts forth! With the goddess' help, be eager to hunt down these impious men! Drag the swift ships to the sea! So that by sea and with pursuit on horseback by land, you may take them; and hurl their bodies from the hard rock, [1430] or impale them on the stake.

As for you women, who knew about these plots, I will punish you later, when I am at leisure. But now in this present urgency, I will not remain still.

Athena appears above.


[1435] Where, where are you carrying this pursuit, lord Thoas? Listen to the words of Athena, who is here. Cease to follow or to send an army pouring forth; for Orestes came here, destined by the oracles of Loxias, to flee from the anger of the Furies, [1440] and to bring his sister to Argos and take the holy statue to my land, thus gaining a release from his present miseries. Thoas, I am speaking to you: you expect to take Orestes in the sea-swell and kill him; but Poseidon, for my sake, [1445] now lets him sail over the back of the waveless sea.

And you, Orestes, attend to my commands, for you hear the goddess' voice even though not present: go away with the statue and your sister; and when you come to Athens, built by the gods, [1450] there is a place on the farthest borders of the Attic land, neighbor to the ridge of Carystia, sacred, and my people call it Halae. There build a temple and set up the image in it; it will have its name from the Tauric land and from your labors, [1455] which you have endured, wandering through Hellas and goaded by the Furies. And mortals will in future times celebrate Artemis Tauropolus[20] with hymns. And establish this law: whenever the people keep the festival, let a sword be held [1460] to a man's throat and draw out blood, in atonement for your sacrifice, so that the goddess may have her honours, and holiness is revered. You, Iphigenia, must be key-holder for this goddess on the hallowed stairs of Brauron,[21] and will die there and be buried; [1465] and they will dedicate adornment to you, finely-woven robes which women who have died in childbirth leave in their homes. I charge you to send these Hellene women to their country, for their correct intentions ((lacuna)). . . . For I saved you [1470] before also, Orestes, on Ares' hill when the votes were equal; and this will be the custom, for the one with equal votes to win. But, son of Agamemnon, take your sister away from this land. And you, Thoas, do not be angry.


[1475] Lady Athena, whoever hears the words of the gods and does not obey, is not thinking rightly. I am not angry at Orestes, for going off with the goddess' image, or at his sister; for what good is it to contend against the strength of gods? [1480] Let them go to your land with the statue of the goddess, and let them establish it there, with good fortune. I will send these women also to fortunate Hellas, as you bid me. And I will stop the army [1485] and the ships I raised against the strangers, as you think this right, goddess.


I commend you; for necessity rules both you and the gods.

Go, winds, carry the son of Agamemnon to Athens by sea; I will journey with them, and keep safe the holy image of my sister.


[1490] Go with good fortune, blessed in having your portion of safety.

Pallas Athena, holy among immortals and mortals, we will do as you command. [1495] For we receive your voice in our ears with great and unexpected pleasure.

Greatly revered Victory, may you occupy my life and never cease to crown me!


Taken from:


Electra (Sophocles)

There are two ancient Athenian tragedies that survive called the Electra. One of these was written by Sophocles sometime in the second half of the fifth century BCE. It covers the same mythological ground as Aeschylus' Libation Bearers. Orestes is reunited with his sister Electra and the two sibling plot how to avenge the murder the of their father, Agamemnon. The full can play can be read here.

Electra (Euripides)

Euripides' Electra, like the Electra of Sophocles and Aeschylus' Libation Bearers  narrates the events between Clytemnestra's killing of Agamemnon and Orestes' murder of Clytemnestra. The full play can be read here.


Euripides, Electra (trans. E. P. Coleridge, adapted by L. Zhang and T. Mulder)

Greek Tragedy, late 5th century BCE

[content warning for the following source: infanticide (1020-1035), misogyny]
In the following selections from Euripides' Electra, we see one aspect of the curse that afflicts the house of Atreus (a descendent of the cursed Tantalus): the act of seducing a relative's wife. In the first selection (698-723), we see that Thystes first seduced his brother Atreus' wife. Then, in the second selection, we see what has happened to Aeigisthus, Agamemnon's cousin and son of Thyestes, because he seduced Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra while Agamemnon was away at Troy and then conspired with her to kill the Trojan War hero. The chorus is made up of old women of Argos. The siblings, Electra and Orestes, confront their mother, Clytemnstra, about her killing of their father.

[698-723] The story remains in old legends [700] that Pan, the keeper of wild beasts, breathing sweet-voiced music on his well-joined pipes, once brought from its tender mother on Argive hills [705] a lamb with beautiful golden fleece. A herald stood on the stone platform and cried aloud, “To assembly, Mycenaeans, go to assembly [710] to see the omens given to our blessed rulers.” [. . .] and they honoured the house of Atreus.

The altars of beaten gold were set out; and through the town the [715] altar fires of the Argives blazed; the flute, handmaid of the Muse's song, sounded its note sweetly, and lovely songs of the golden lamb swelled forth, saying that Thyestes had the luck; for he [720] seduced Atreus' own wife to adultery, and carried off to his house the animal; coming before the assembly he declared that he had in his [725] house the horned sheep with fleece of gold.

[ . . . ]



(Turning to the corpse of Aegisthus) Well then! Which of your evil acts will I tell of first, as a beginning? What sort of end will I make? What part of my speech will I assign to the middle place? And yet I never ceased, throughout the early mornings, [910] repeating what I wished to say to your face, if ever I were free from my old terrors. And now I am; so I will pay you back with those reproaches I wanted to make when you were alive.

You destroyed me, and orphaned me [915] and this man here [ Orestes ] of a dear father, though you were wronged in no way by us; and you made a shameful marriage with my mother, and killed her husband, who led the armies of Hellas, while you never went to Troy. You were so foolish that you really expected, in marrying my mother, that she would not be unfaithful to you, [920] though you were dishonouring my father's bed. Know that whoever ruins another's wife, in secret love, and then is forced to take her as a wife for himself, is pitiable, if he thinks that the chastity which did not govern her before will do so with him. [925] You lived most miserably, although you thought it otherwise; you knew well that you had made an unholy marriage, and my mother knew that she had in you an impious husband. Both being wicked, she took up your fortune, you her evil. [930] Among all the Argives you would hear this: “That woman's husband,” not “that man's wife.” Although this is a shameful thing, for the wife to rule the house and not the husband; and I hate those children who are called in the city not the sons of the man, their father, [935] but of their mother. For when a man makes a remarkable marriage, one above his rank, there is no talk of the husband but only of the wife.

This deceived you the most, in your ignorance: you claimed to be someone, strong in your wealth, [940] but that is nothing, except to associate with briefly. It is nature that is secure, not wealth; for, always standing by, it takes away troubles; but prosperity, when it lives wickedly and with fools, flies out of the house, flowering for a short time. [945] As to your women, I am silent—for it is not good for a maiden to speak of this—but I will tell riddles that can be understood. You were insolent because you had a king's house and were endowed with good looks. May I never have a husband with a girl's face, but one with a man's ways. [950] For the children of the latter cling to a life of arms, while the fair ones are only an ornament in the dance.

(Spurning the corpse with her foot) Begone, knowing nothing of how you were discovered and paid the penalty in time. So let no evildoer suppose, even if he runs the first step well, [955] that he will get the better of Justice, until he comes to the end of the finish-line and makes the last turn in life.


He did terrible things, and repaid them to you and Orestes; for Justice has great strength.


Well then; you must carry the body of this man inside [960] and hide it, slaves, so that when my mother comes, she may not see his corpse before her slaughter.

Pylades and the attendants take the body into the hut.


Wait! Let us discuss another matter.


What? Those are not rescuers from Mycenae whom I see?


No, but the mother who bore me.


[965] Then finely she walks to the middle of the net. —And here she comes, splendid in her chariot and dress.


What are we going to do? Will we kill our mother?


Surely pity did not seize you, when you saw your mother?


Ah! How can I kill her when she bore me and brought me up?


[970] As she killed your father and mine.


O Phoebus, you prophesied a great folly—


If Apollo is a fool, who are the wise?


You who declared I was to kill my mother, whom it is clearly wrong to kill.


How can you be hurt by avenging your father?


[975] I will stand trial as a matricide, though I was pure before.


And by not defending your father, you will be impious.


I, my mother—? To whom will I pay the penalty for her murder?


And to whom, if you give up our father's vengeance?


Was it a fiend who spoke, disguised as the god?


[980] Seated on the holy tripod?[22] I do not think so.


I cannot believe that this oracle was well prophesied.


Do not become a coward and fall into unmanliness!


Am I to devise the same crafty scheme for her?


The same death that you gave to her husband, Aegisthus.


[985] I will go in; it is a dreadful task I am beginning and I will do dreadful things. If the gods approve, let it be; to me the contest is bitter and also sweet.

As Orestes withdraws into the hut, Clytemnestra enters in a chariot. Her attendants are hand-maidens attired in gorgeous apparel.


Hail, Queen of the land of Argos, child of Tyndareus, [990] and sister of those two noble sons of Zeus who dwell in the fiery heavens among the stars [ the Dioscuri ], whose honoured office it is to save mortals in the high waves. Welcome, I give you worship equal to the blessed gods [995] for your wealth and great prosperity. Now is the time to pay our court to your fortunes. Welcome, o queen.


Come out of the wagon, Trojan maids, and take my hand, that I may step down from the chariot. [1000] The homes of the gods are adorned with Phrygian spoils, but I have obtained these women, choice objects from the land of Troy, in return for the daughter whom I lost [ Iphigenia ], a slight reward but an ornament to my house.


And, mother—for I live as a slave [1005] in this miserable house, cast out from my father's home—may I not take that blessed hand of yours?


These slaves are here; take no trouble on my account.


What? You sent me away from home, a captive; I was taken when my home was taken, like these, [1010] all of us orphaned of a father.


Well, your father laid such plots against those whom least of all he should have: his own family. I will tell you; although when a woman gets an evil reputation, her tongue is bitter. [1015] In my opinion, not rightly; but it is correct for those who learn about the matter to hate, if it deserves hatred; if not, why hate at all? Now Tyndareus gave me to your father not so that I or any children I might bear should die. [1020] But that man went from the house, taking my child, with the persuasion of a marriage with Achilles, to Aulis which held the fleet; and there he stretched Iphigenia over the pyre, and cut her white cheek. And if, as a cure for the capture of the city, [1025] or as a benefit to his house, or to save his other children, he had killed one on behalf of many, I would have pardoned him. But, because Helen was lustful and the one who had her as a wife [ Menelaus ] did not know how to punish the betrayer [ Paris ]—for these reasons he destroyed my child. [1030] Well, although I was wronged, I would not have been angry at this, nor would I have killed my husband. But he came back to me with a girl [ Cassandra ], raving and possessed, and put her in his bed, and had two brides at once in the same house.

[1035] A woman is a foolish thing, I don't deny it; but, this granted, whenever a husband goes astray and rejects his own bed, the woman is likely to imitate her husband and find another love. And then in us the blame shines clearly, [1040] while the men, who caused this, are not badly spoken of. Now if Menelaus had been secretly snatched from his home, should I have killed Orestes to save Menelaus, my sister's husband? How would your father have endured this? And so isn't it right for him to die [1045] when he had killed what was mine, since I would have suffered at his hands? I killed him, I turned where indeed it was possible to go—to his enemies. For which one of your father's friends would have joined me in his murder? Speak, if you want to say anything, and make your retort with frankness, [1050] in what way your father died unfairly.


Taken from:



Euripides' Orestes, first produced in 408 BCE, takes places after Orestes has murdered his mother, Clytemnestra. It prevents a significantly different outcome to the cycle of bloodshed and vengeance in the House of Tantalus than that presented by Aeschylus' Eumenides. The full play can be read here.

Roman Poetry

Roman poetry was also a rich source for mythology concerning the end and the aftermath of the Trojan War. The ancestral founder of the Roman people, Aeneas, was a hero (the son of Aphrodite/Venus and the mortal Anchises) who fought with the Trojans in the war. Thus the Romans, like the Greeks, were constantly looking back at the the Trojan War as a meaningful event in their own mythological history.

Penelope to Ulysses

Ulysseys was the name that the Romans gave to the hero Odysseus. Because of the ten years it took him to reach Ithaca following the Trojan War (on top of the ten years that he spent fighting the war), he was the last hero (of those who survived) to return home. His wife, Penelope, waited for him for twenty years, refusing to take another husband, despite her many suitors.


Ovid, Heroides 1, “Penelope to Ulysses” (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Latin epistolary poem, 1st century BCE

This is the first of Ovid's Heroides, the poems written in the form of letters from mythological heroines to men in their lives. Here, Penelope writes to her husband Ulysseys (Odysseus in Greek), who is absent for a total of twenty years, ten spent fighting the Trojan War and ten trying to get home afterwards. At this point the Trojan War is long over and the details of the war have reached even as far as Ulyssey's home in Ithaca. Penelope does not know why her husband has not returned home yet, like all the other heroes who made it our of the war alive.

Your Penelope sends you this, Ulysses, the so-long-delayed.

Don’t reply to me however: come yourself.

Troy lies in ruins, an enemy, indeed, to the girls of Greece -

Priam, and all of Troy, were scarcely worth this!

O I wish, at that time when he sought Sparta with his fleet,

Paris, the adulterer, had been drowned beneath angry seas!

I would not have lain here, cold in an empty bed,

nor be left behind, to complain, at suffering long days,

nor my hand, bereft, exhaust me, working all night long

to cause deception, with my doubtful web.

When have I not feared dangers worse than all realities?

Love is a thing full of anxious fears.

I imagined the Trojans’ violent attacks on you:

often I grew pale at Hector’s name:

if someone told of Antilochus defeated by Hector,

Antilochus was the reason for my fears,

if of Patroclus, dying in Achilles’ armour,

I wept that tricks might fail to succeed.

Tlepolemus warmed the spear of Sarpedon with blood,

Tlepolemus’s death is then a new cause of anxiety to me.

In short, whoever of the Greek camp was killed,

the heart of a lover was chilled like ice.

But the god, who favours pure love, truly gave protection:

Troy is turned to ashes: by a hero who’s unharmed.

Our generals return to Greece, the altars smoke,

barbarous gifts are set before the country’s gods.

Wives give thanks, for the gift of living husbands:

who sing in turn of their Troy conquered by fate:

upright old men and trembling girls marvel,

the wife hangs on her husband’s words as he speaks.

And one seated at table describes the fierce battle

and draws all of Troy in a little wine:

‘Here was Simoeis, here Sigean ground,

here stood aged Priam’s towering palace:

here Achilles camped, here Ulysses,

here mangled Hector scared the galloping horses.’

Indeed Nestor related it all to your son Telemachus,[23]

sent to enquire about you, then he to me.

And he told of Rhesus and Dolon dead by your sword,

so that one was betrayed by sleep, the other by guile.[24]

It was brave, oh you, who are more and more forgetful of your own,

to enter the Thracian camp, with night’s deception,

and kill so many men, with the help of one!

Then you were truly cautious, and thinking first of me!

My heart shook all the time, with fear, while my dear hero

was depicted, riding through the army on Ismarus’ horses.

But what benefit to me if Troy's cast down, by your arms,

and the walls that it possessed are razed to the ground,

if I wait here, as I waited while Troy still stood,

and my husband away, with no end in sight?

Destroyed for others, Troy remains, for me alone,

where the victor lives to plough with captive oxen:

there are fields now, where Troy once was, and the earth,

beneath the scythe, crops densely, rich with Phrygian blood:

half-buried bones of heroes are struck by the curving plough,

and grass conceals the ruined houses.

The victor is absent, and I am not allowed to know,

the reason for his delay, or in what land he cruelly hides.

Whoever turns his wandering vessel towards this shore

departs weary of being questioned by me, about you:

and what he’ll deliver to you, if he sees you anywhere,

will be letters surrendered to him, written by my hand.

I sent to Pylos, to the Nelean fields of ancient Nestor:

doubtful rumours returned from Pylos:

and I sent to Sparta: no known truth from Sparta either.

What land do you live in, or with whom do you delay so long?

It would be better if Apollo’s walls still stood:

alas, I’m angered myself by my thoughtless prayers!

I might have known where you were fighting, and only fear the war,

and my complaints would then have been joined with many others.

I don’t know what to fear: I fear everything, insanely,

and my anxieties are open to wide speculation.

Whether the sea contains the danger, or the land,

such long delays equally cause me to suspect.

While I foolishly fear it, that is your willfulness,

you could be captive now to a foreign love.

And perhaps you tell her, that your wife’s an innocent,

considered to be almost like raw wool.

Let me be deceived, and let this charge vanish in thin air

and let your returning sails not be stubbornly absent.

My father Iscarius forces me to leave my empty bed,

and rebukes me for my continual, endless waiting.

It’s all right for him to rebuke me continually! I’m yours, I should

be spoken of as yours: I’ll be Penelope, wife to Ulysses, always.

Yet he weakens knowing my piety, and my chaste prayers,

and he moderates the force of it himself.

An insistent crowd of suitors comes to ruin us,

from Dulichium and Samos, and those who hold high Zacynthus,

and they rule in your palace, without restraint:

they tear your possessions to pieces, and my heart.

What should I say of how you, shamefully absent, nourish

Pisander, Polybus, cruel Medon, the greedy hands of Eurymachus,

and Antinous, and others: all of them, with your blood?

Irus and Melanthius driving in the flocks to be slaughtered

add the final insult to your ruin.

The unwarlike ones are three in number: a wife with no strength,

old Laertes, and Telemachus your son.

He, recently, was almost taken away from me by trickery,

when he prepared to go to Pylos, against their will.

I pray the gods decree that, in the natural order of things,

he will close my eyes in death, and yours!

The faithful guardian of the filthy sty makes up another three,

along with the herdsman, and your very ancient nurse:

but Laertes, has no power to hold his own among enemies,

he whose weapons are useless to him.

Telemachus, if only he lives, will become stronger with age:

now he ought to be protected with his father’s help.

I have no strength to drive these enemies from the house:

you must come quickly, to your harbour and refuge!

You’ve a son, and I pray he’ll be one who, in his tender years,

will be educated in his father’s arts.

Consider Laertes: who keeps death back to the very last day,

so that you might close his eyes.

You’ll find that I, in truth, a girl when you went away,

though you soon return, have become an aged woman.


Taken from:

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved

Aeneas' Journey

Virgil, Aeneid, Book 1 (trans. A. S. Kline)

Latin epic poem, 19 BCE


[1-11] I sing of arms and the man, he who, exiled by fate,

first came from the coast of Troy to Italy, and to

Lavinian shores – hurled about endlessly by land and sea,

by the will of the gods, by cruel Juno’s remorseless anger,

long suffering also in war, until he founded a city

and brought his gods to Latium: from that the Latin people

came, the lords of Alba Longa, the walls of noble Rome.

Muse, tell me the cause: how was she offended in her divinity,

how was she grieved, the Queen of Heaven, to drive a man,

noted for virtue, to endure such dangers, to face so many

trials? Can there be such anger in the minds of the gods?

[12-49] There was an ancient city, Carthage (held by colonists from Tyre),

opposite Italy, and the far-off mouths of the Tiber,

rich in wealth, and very savage in pursuit of war.

They say Juno loved this one land above all others,

even neglecting Samos:[25] here were her weapons

and her chariot, even then the goddess worked at,

and cherished, the idea that it should have supremacy

over the nations, if only the fates allowed.

Yet she’d heard of offspring, derived from Trojan blood,

that would one day overthrow the Tyrian stronghold:

that from them a people would come, wide-ruling,

and proud in war, to Libya’s ruin: so the Fates ordained.

Fearing this, and remembering the ancient war

she had fought before, at Troy, for her dear Argos,

(and the cause of her anger and bitter sorrows

had not yet passed from her mind: the distant judgement

of Paris stayed deep in her heart, the injury to her scorned beauty,

her hatred of the race, and abducted Ganymede’s honours)

the daughter of Saturn, incited further by this,

hurled the Trojans, the Greeks and pitiless Achilles had left,

round the whole ocean, keeping them far from Latium:

they wandered for many years, driven by fate over all the seas.

Such an effort it was to found the Roman people.

They were hardly out of sight of Sicily’s isle, in deeper water,

joyfully spreading sail, bronze keel ploughing the brine,

when Juno, nursing the eternal wound in her breast,

spoke to herself, "Am I to abandon my purpose, conquered,

unable to turn the Teucrian king away from Italy!

Why, the Fates forbid it. Wasn’t Pallas able to burn

the Argive fleet, to sink it in the sea, because of the guilt

and madness of one single man, Ajax, son of Oileus?

She herself hurled Jupiter’s swift fire from the clouds,

scattered the ships, and made the sea boil with storms:

She caught him up in a water-spout, as he breathed flame

from his pierced chest, and pinned him to a sharp rock:

yet I, who walk about as queen of the gods, wife

and sister of Jove, wage war on a whole race, for so many years.

Indeed, will anyone worship Juno’s power from now on,

or place offerings, humbly, on her altars?’

[50-80] So debating with herself, her heart inflamed, the goddess

came to Aeolia, to the country of storms, the place

of wild gales. Here in his vast cave, King Aeolus,

keeps the writhing winds, and the roaring tempests,

under control, curbs them with chains and imprisonment.

They moan angrily at the doors, with a mountain’s vast murmurs:

Aeolus sits, holding his sceptre, in his high stronghold,

softening their passions, tempering their rage: if not,

they’d surely carry off seas and lands and the highest heavens,

with them, in rapid flight, and sweep them through the air.

But the all-powerful Father [ Jupiter ], fearing this, hid them

in dark caves, and piled a high mountain mass over them

and gave them a king, who by fixed agreement, would know

how to give the order to tighten or slacken the reins.

Juno now offered these words to him, humbly:

"Aeolus, since the Father of gods, and king of men,

gave you the power to quell, and raise, the waves with the winds,

there is a people I hate sailing the Tyrrhenian Sea,

bringing Troy’s conquered gods to Italy:

Add power to the winds, and sink their wrecked boats,

or drive them apart, and scatter their bodies over the sea.

I have fourteen Nymphs of outstanding beauty:

of whom I’ll name Deiopea, the loveliest in looks,

joined in eternal marriage, and yours forever, so that,

for such service to me as yours, she’ll spend all her years

with you, and make you the father of lovely children."

Aeolus replied, "Your task, O queen, is to decide

what you wish: my duty is to fulfil your orders.

You brought about all this kingdom of mine, the sceptre,

Jove’s favour, you gave me a seat at the feasts of the gods,

and you made me lord of the storms and the tempests."

[81-123] When he had spoken, he reversed his trident and struck

the hollow mountain on the side: and the winds, formed ranks,

rushed out by the door he’d made, and whirled across the earth.

They settle on the sea, East and West wind,

and the wind from Africa, together, thick with storms,

stir it all from its furthest deeps, and roll vast waves to shore:

follows a cry of men and a creaking of cables.

Suddenly clouds take sky and day away

from the Trojan’s eyes: dark night rests on the sea.

It thunders from the pole, and the aether flashes thick fire,

and all things threaten immediate death to men.

Instantly Aeneas groans, his limbs slack with cold:

stretching his two hands towards the heavens,

he cries out in this voice, "Oh, three, four times fortunate

were those who chanced to die in front of their father’s eyes

under Troy’s high walls! O Diomedes, son of Tydeus

bravest of Greeks! Why could I not have fallen, at your hand,

in the fields of Ilium, and poured out my spirit,

where fierce Hector lies, beneath Achilles’ spear,

and mighty Sarpedon: where Simoeis rolls, and sweeps away

so many shields, helmets, brave bodies, of men, in its waves!’

Hurling these words out, a howling blast from the north,

strikes square on the sail, and lifts the seas to heaven:

the oars break: then the prow swings round and offers

the beam to the waves: a steep mountain of water follows in a mass.

Some ships hang on the breaker’s crest: to others the yawning deep

shows land between the waves: the surge rages with sand.

The south wind catches three, and whirls them onto hidden rocks

(rocks the Italians call the Altars, in mid-ocean,

a vast reef on the surface of the sea) three the east wind drives

from the deep, to the shallows and quick-sands (a pitiful sight),

dashes them against the bottom, covers them with a gravel mound.

A huge wave, toppling, strikes one astern, in front of his very eyes,

one carrying faithful Orontes and the Lycians.

The steersman’s thrown out and hurled headlong, face down:

but the sea turns the ship three times, driving her round,

in place, and the swift vortex swallows her in the deep.

Swimmers appear here and there in the vast waste,

men’s weapons, planking, Trojan treasure in the waves.

Now the storm conquers Iloneus’ tough ship, now Achates,

now that in which Abas sailed, and old Aletes’:

their timbers sprung in their sides, all the ships

let in the hostile tide, and split open at the seams.

[124-156] Neptune, meanwhile, greatly troubled, saw that the sea

was churned with vast murmur, and the storm was loose

and the still waters welled from their deepest levels:

he raised his calm face from the waves, gazing over the deep.

He sees Aeneas’ fleet scattered all over the ocean,

the Trojans crushed by the breakers, and the plummeting sky.

And Juno’s anger, and her stratagems, do not escape her brother.

He calls the East and West winds to him, and then says:

"Does confidence in your birth fill you so? Winds, do you dare,

without my intent, to mix earth with sky, and cause such trouble,

now? You whom I – ! But it’s better to calm the running waves:

you’ll answer to me later for this misfortune, with a different punishment.

Hurry, fly now, and say this to your king:

control of the ocean, and the fierce trident, were given to me,

by lot, and not to him. He owns the wild rocks, home to you,

and yours, East Wind: let Aeolus officiate in his palace,

and be king in the closed prison of the winds."

So he speaks, and swifter than his speech, he calms the swollen sea,

scatters the gathered cloud, and brings back the sun.

Cymothoë and Triton, working together, thrust the ships

from the sharp reef: Neptune himself raises them with his trident,

parts the vast quicksand, tempers the flood,

and glides on weightless wheels, over the tops of the waves.

As often, when rebellion breaks out in a great nation,

and the common rabble rage with passion, and soon stones

and fiery torches fly (frenzy supplying weapons),

if they then see a man of great virtue, and weighty service,

they are silent, and stand there listening attentively:

he sways their passions with his words and soothes their hearts:

so all the uproar of the ocean died, as soon as their father,

gazing over the water, carried through the clear sky, wheeled

his horses, and gave them their head, flying behind in his chariot.

[157-222] The weary followers of Aeneas made efforts to set a course

for the nearest land, and tacked towards the Libyan coast.

There is a place there in a deep inlet: an island forms a harbour

with the barrier of its bulk, on which every wave from the deep

breaks, and divides into diminishing ripples.

On this side and that, vast cliffs and twin crags loom in the sky,

under whose summits the whole sea is calm, far and wide:

then, above that, is a scene of glittering woods,

and a dark grove overhangs the water, with leafy shade:

under the headland opposite is a cave, curtained with rock,

inside it, fresh water, and seats of natural stone,

the home of Nymphs. No hawsers moor the weary ships

here, no anchor, with its hooked flukes, fastens them.

Aeneas takes shelter here with seven ships gathered

from the fleet, and the Trojans, with a passion for dry land,

disembarking, take possession of the sands they longed for,

and stretch their brine-caked bodies on the shore.

At once Achates strikes a spark from his flint,

catches the fire in the leaves, places dry fuel round it,

and quickly has flames among the kindling.

Then, wearied by events, they take out wheat, damaged

by the sea, and implements of Ceres, and prepare to parch

the grain over the flames, and grind it on stone.

Aeneas climbs a crag meanwhile, and searches the whole prospect

far and wide over the sea, looking if he can see anything

of Antheus and his storm-tossed Phrygian galleys,

or Capys, or Caicus’ arms blazoned on a high stern.

There’s no ship in sight: he sees three stags wandering

on the shore: whole herds of deer follow at their back,

and graze in long lines along the valley.

He halts at this, and grasps in his hand his bow

and swift arrows, shafts that loyal Achates carries,

and first he shoots the leaders themselves, their heads,

with branching antlers, held high, then the mass, with his shafts,

and drives the whole crowd in confusion among the leaves:

The conqueror does not stop until he’s scattered seven huge

carcasses on the ground, equal in number to his ships.

Then he seeks the harbour, and divides them among all his friends.

Next he shares out the wine that the good Acestes had stowed

in jars, on the Trinacrian coast, and that hero had given them

on leaving: and speaking to them, calmed their sad hearts:

"O friends (well, we were not unknown to trouble before)

O you who’ve endured worse, the god will grant an end to this too.

You’ve faced rabid Scylla, and her deep-sounding cliffs:

and you’ve experienced the Cyclopes’ rocks:

remember your courage and chase away gloomy fears:

perhaps one day you’ll even delight in remembering this.

Through all these misfortunes, these dangerous times,

we head for Latium, where the fates hold peaceful lives

for us: there Troy’s kingdom can rise again. Endure,

and preserve yourselves for happier days."

So his voice utters, and sick with the weight of care, he pretends

hope, in his look, and stifles the pain deep in his heart.

They make ready the game, and the future feast:

they flay the hides from the ribs and lay the flesh bare:

some cut it in pieces, quivering, and fix it on spits,

others place cauldrons on the beach, and feed them with flames.

Then they revive their strength with food, stretched on the grass,

and fill themselves with rich venison and old wine.

When hunger is quenched by the feast, and the remnants cleared,

deep in conversation, they discuss their missing friends,

and, between hope and fear, question whether they live,

or whether they’ve suffered death and no longer hear their name.

Aeneas, the virtuous, above all mourns the lot of fierce Orontes,

then that of Amycus, together with Lycus’ cruel fate,

and those of brave Gyus, and brave Cloanthus.

[223-25] Now, all was complete, when Jupiter, from the heights of the air,

looked down on the sea with its flying sails, and the broad lands,

and the coasts, and the people far and wide, and paused,

at the summit of heaven, and fixed his eyes on the Libyan kingdom.

And as he weighed such cares as he had in his heart, Venus spoke

to him, sadder still, her bright eyes brimming with tears:

"Oh you who rule things human, and divine, with eternal law,

and who terrify them all with your lightning-bolt,

what can my Aeneas have done to you that’s so serious,

what have the Trojans done, who’ve suffered so much destruction,

to whom the whole world’s closed, because of the Italian lands?

Surely you promised that at some point, as the years rolled by,

the Romans would rise from them, leaders would rise,

restored from Teucer’s blood, who would hold power

over the sea, and all the lands. Father, what thought has changed

your mind? It consoled me for the fall of Troy, and its sad ruin,

weighing one destiny, indeed, against opposing destinies:

now the same misfortune follows these men driven on by such

disasters. Great king, what end to their efforts will you give?

Antenor could escape through the thick of the Greek army,

and safely enter the Illyrian gulfs, and deep into the realms

of the Liburnians, and pass the founts of Timavus,

from which the river bursts, with a huge mountainous roar,

through nine mouths, and buries the fields under its noisy flood.

Here, nonetheless, he founded the city of Padua, and homes

for Teucrians, and gave the people a name, and hung up

the arms of Troy: now he’s calmly settled, in tranquil peace.

But we, your race, to whom you permit the heights of heaven,

lose our ships (shameful!), betrayed, because of one person’s anger,

and kept far away from the shores of Italy.

Is this the prize for virtue? Is this how you restore our rule?"

The father of men and gods, smiled at her with that look

with which he clears the sky of storms,

kissed his daughter’s lips, and then said this:

[257-296] "Don’t be afraid, Cytherea, your child’s fate remains unaltered:[26]

You’ll see the city of Lavinium, and the walls I promised,

and you’ll raise great-hearted Aeneas high, to the starry sky:

No thought has changed my mind. This son of yours

(since this trouble gnaws at my heart, I’ll speak,

and unroll the secret scroll of destiny)

will wage a mighty war in Italy, destroy proud peoples,

and establish laws, and city walls, for his warriors,

until a third summer sees his reign in Latium, and

three winter camps have passed since the Rutulians were beaten.[27]

But the boy Ascanius, surnamed Iulus now (He was Ilus

while the Ilian kingdom was a reality) will imperially

complete thirty great circles of the turning months,

and transfer his throne from its site at Lavinium,

and mighty in power, will build the walls of Alba Longa.

Here kings of Hector’s race will reign now

for three hundred years complete, until a royal priestess,

Ilia, heavy with child, shall bear Mars twins.

Then Romulus will further the race, proud in his nurse

the she-wolf’s tawny pelt, and found the walls of Mars,

and call the people Romans, from his own name.

I’ve fixed no limits or duration to their possessions:

I’ve given them an empire without end. Why, harsh Juno

who now torments land, and sea and sky with fear,

will respond to better judgement, and favour the Romans,

masters of the world, and people of the toga, with me.

So it is decreed. A time will come, as the years glide by,

when the Trojan house of Assaracus will force Phthia

into slavery, and be lords of beaten Argos.

From this glorious source a Trojan Caesar will be born,

who will bound the empire with Ocean, his fame with the stars,

Augustus, a Julius, his name descended from the great Iulus.

You, no longer anxious, will receive him one day in heaven,

burdened with Eastern spoils: he’ll be called to in prayer.

Then with wars abandoned, the harsh ages will grow mild:

White haired Trust, and Vesta, Quirinus with his brother Remus

will make the laws: the gates of War, grim with iron,

and narrowed by bars, will be closed: inside impious Rage will roar

frighteningly from blood-stained mouth, seated on savage weapons,

hands tied behind his back, with a hundred knots of bronze."

[297-371] Saying this, he sends Mercury, Maia’s son, down from heaven,

so that the country and strongholds of this new Carthage

would open to the Trojans, as guests, and Dido, unaware of fate,

would not keep them from her territory. He flies through the air

with a beating of mighty wings and quickly lands on Libyan shore.

And soon does as commanded, and the Phoenicians set aside

their savage instincts, by the god’s will: the queen above all

adopts calm feelings, and kind thoughts, towards the Trojans.

But Aeneas, the virtuous, turning things over all night,

decides, as soon as kindly dawn appears, to go out

and explore the place, to find what shores he has reached,

on the wind, who owns them (since he sees desert)

man or beast, and bring back the details to his friends.

He conceals the boats in over-hanging woods

under an arching cliff, enclosed by trees

and leafy shadows: accompanied only by Achetes,

he goes, swinging two broad-bladed spears in his hand.

His mother met him herself, among the trees, with the face

and appearance of a virgin, and a virgin’s weapons,

a Spartan girl, or such as Harpalyce of Thrace,[28]

who wearies horses, and outdoes winged Hebrus in flight.

For she’d slung her bow from her shoulders, at the ready,

like a huntress, and loosed her hair for the wind to scatter,

her knees bare, and her flowing tunic gathered up in a knot.

And she cried first, "Hello, you young men, tell me,

if you’ve seen my sister wandering here by any chance,

wearing a quiver, and the hide of a dappled lynx,

or shouting, hot on the track of a slavering boar?"

So Venus: and so Venus’ son began in answer:

"I’ve not seen or heard any of your sisters, O Virgin –

or how should I name you? Since your looks are not mortal

and your voice is more than human: oh, a goddess for certain!

Or Phoebus’ sister [ Diana ]? Or one of the race of Nymphs?

Be kind, whoever you may be, and lighten our labour,

and tell us only what sky we’re under, and what shores

we’ve landed on: we’re adrift here, driven by wind and vast seas,

knowing nothing of the people or the country:

many a sacrifice to you will fall at the altars, under our hand."

Then Venus said: ‘I don’t think myself worthy of such honours:

it’s the custom of Tyrian girls to carry a quiver,

and lace our calves high up, over red hunting boots.

You see the kingdom of Carthage, Tyrians, Agenor’s city:

but bordered by Libyans, a people formidable in war.

Dido rules this empire, having set out from Tyre,

fleeing her brother. It’s a long tale of wrong, with many

windings: but I’ll trace the main chapters of the story.

Sychaeus was her husband, wealthiest, in land, of Phoenicians

and loved with a great love by the wretched girl,

whose father gave her as a virgin to him, and wed them

with great solemnity. But her brother Pygmalion, savage

in wickedness beyond all others, held the kingdom of Tyre.

Madness came between them. The king, blinded by greed for gold,

killed the unwary Sychaeus, secretly, with a knife, impiously,

in front of the altars, indifferent to his sister’s affections.

He concealed his actions for a while, deceived the lovesick girl,

with empty hopes, and many evil pretences.

But the ghost of her unburied husband came to her in dream:

lifting his pale head in a strange manner, he laid bare the cruelty

at the altars, and his heart pierced by the knife,

and unveiled all the secret wickedness of that house.

Then he urged her to leave quickly and abandon her country,

and, to help her journey, revealed an ancient treasure

under the earth, an unknown weight of gold and silver.

Shaken by all this, Dido prepared her flight and her friends.

Those who had fierce hatred of the tyrant or bitter fear,

gathered together: they seized some ships that by chance

were ready, and loaded the gold: greedy Pygmalion’s riches

are carried overseas: a woman leads the enterprise.

The came to this place, and bought land, where you now see

the vast walls, and resurgent stronghold, of new Carthage,

as much as they could enclose with the strips of hide

from a single bull, and from that they called it Byrsa.

But who then are you? What shores do you come from?

What course do you take?" He sighed as she questioned him,

and drawing the words from deep in his heart he replied:

[372-417] "O goddess, if I were to start my tale at the very beginning,

and you had time to hear the story of our misfortunes,

Vesper would have shut day away in the closed heavens.

A storm drove us at whim to Libya’s shores,

sailing the many seas from ancient Troy,

if by chance the name of Troy has come to your hearing.

I am that Aeneas, the virtuous, who carries my household gods

in my ship with me,[29] having snatched them from the enemy,

my name is known beyond the sky.

I seek my country Italy, and a people born of Jupiter on high.

I embarked on the Phrygian sea with twenty ships,

following my given fate, my mother, a goddess, showing the way:

barely seven are left, wrenched from the wind and waves.

I myself wander, destitute and unknown, in the Libyan desert,

driven from Europe and Asia." Venus did not wait

for further complaint but broke in on his lament like this:

"Whoever you are I don’t think you draw the breath of life

while hated by the gods, you who’ve reached a city of Tyre.

Only go on from here, and take yourself to the queen’s threshold,

since I bring you news that your friends are restored,

and your ships recalled, driven to safety by the shifting winds,

unless my parents taught me false prophecies, in vain.

See, those twelve swans in exultant line, that an eagle,

Jupiter’s bird, swooping from the heavens,

was troubling in the clear sky: now, in a long file, they seem

to have settled, or be gazing down now at those who already have.

As, returning, their wings beat in play, and they circle the zenith

in a crowd, and give their cry, so your ships and your people

are in harbour, or near its entrance under full sail.

Only go on, turn your steps where the path takes you."

She spoke, and turning away she reflected the light

from her rose-tinted neck, and breathed a divine perfume

from her ambrosial hair: her robes trailed down to her feet,

and, in her step, showed her a true goddess. He recognised

his mother, and as she vanished followed her with his voice:

"You too are cruel, why do you taunt your son with false

phantoms? Why am I not allowed to join hand

with hand, and speak and hear true words?"

So he accuses her, and turns his steps towards the city.

But Venus veiled them with a dark mist as they walked,

and, as a goddess, spread a thick covering of cloud around them,

so that no one could see them, or touch them,

or cause them delay, or ask them where they were going.

She herself soars high in the air, to Paphos, and returns to her home

with delight, where her temple and its hundred altars

steam with Sabean incense, fragrant with fresh garlands.

[418-463] Meanwhile they’ve tackled the route the path revealed.

And soon they climbed the hill that looms high over the city,

and looks down from above on the towers that face it.

Aeneas marvels at the mass of buildings, once huts,

marvels at the gates, the noise, the paved roads.

The eager Tyrians are busy, some building walls,

and raising the citadel, rolling up stones by hand,

some choosing the site for a house, and marking a furrow:

they make magistrates and laws, and a sacred senate:

here some are digging a harbour: others lay down

the deep foundations of a theatre, and carve huge columns

from the cliff, tall adornments for the future stage.

Just as bees in early summer carry out their tasks

among the flowery fields, in the sun, when they lead out

the adolescent young of their race, or cram the cells

with liquid honey, and swell them with sweet nectar,

or receive the incoming burdens, or forming lines

drive the lazy herd of drones from their hives:

the work glows, and the fragrant honey’s sweet with thyme.

"O fortunate those whose walls already rise!"

Aeneas cries, and admires the summits of the city.

He enters among them, veiled in mist (marvellous to tell)

and mingles with the people seen by no one.

There was a grove in the centre of the city, delightful

with shade, where the wave and storm-tossed Phoenicians

first uncovered the head of a fierce horse, that regal Juno

showed them: so the race would be noted in war,

and rich in substance throughout the ages.

Here Sidonian Dido was establishing a great temple

to Juno, rich with gifts and divine presence,

with bronze entrances rising from stairways, and beams

jointed with bronze, and hinges creaking on bronze doors.

Here in the grove something new appeared that calmed his fears

for the first time, here for the first time Aeneas dared to hope

for safety, and to put greater trust in his afflicted fortunes.

While, waiting for the queen, in the vast temple, he looks

at each thing: while he marvels at the city’s wealth,

the skill of their artistry, and the products of their labours,

he sees the battles at Troy in their correct order,

the War, known through its fame to the whole world,

the sons of Atreus, of Priam, and Achilles angered with both.

He halted, and said, with tears, "What place is there,

Achates, what region of earth is not full of our hardships?

See, Priam! Here too virtue has its rewards, here too

there are tears for events, and mortal things touch the heart.

Lose your fears: this fame will bring you benefit."

[464-493] So he speaks, and feeds his spirit with the insubstantial frieze,

sighing often, and his face wet with the streaming tears.

For he saw how, here, the Greeks fled, as they fought round Troy,

chased by the Trojan youth, and, there, the Trojans fled,

with plumed Achilles pressing them close in his chariot.

Not far away, through his tears, he recognises Rhesus

white-canvassed tents, that blood-stained Diomedes, Tydeus’ son,

laid waste with great slaughter, betrayed in their first sleep,

diverting the fiery horses to his camp, before they could eat

Trojan fodder, or drink from the river Xanthus.

Elsewhere Troilus, his weapons discarded in flight,

unhappy boy, unequally matched in his battle with Achilles,

is dragged by his horses, clinging face-up to the empty chariot,

still clutching the reins: his neck and hair trailing

on the ground, and his spear reversed furrowing the dust.

Meanwhile the Trojan women with loose hair, walked

to unjust Pallas’ temple carrying the sacred robe,

mourning humbly, and beating their breasts with their hands.

The goddess was turned away, her eyes fixed on the ground.

Three times had Achilles dragged Hector round the walls of Troy,

and now was selling the lifeless corpse for gold.

Then Aeneas truly heaves a deep sigh, from the depths of his heart,

as he views the spoils, the chariot, the very body of his friend,

and Priam stretching out his unwarlike hands.

He recognised himself as well, fighting the Greek princes,

and the Ethiopian ranks and black Memnon’s armour.

Raging Penthesileia leads the file of Amazons,

with crescent shields, and shines out among her thousands,

her golden girdle fastened beneath her exposed breasts,

a virgin warrior daring to fight with men.

[494-519] While these wonderful sights are viewed by Trojan Aeneas,

while amazed he hangs there, rapt, with fixed gaze,

Queen Dido, of loveliest form, reached the temple,

with a great crowd of youths accompanying her.

Just as Diana leads her dancing throng on Eurotas’ banks,

or along the ridges of Cynthus, and, following her,

a thousand mountain-nymphs gather on either side:

and she carries a quiver on her shoulder, and overtops

all the other goddesses as she walks: and delight

seizes her mother Latona’s silent heart:

such was Dido, so she carried herself, joyfully,

amongst them, furthering the work, and her rising kingdom.

Then, fenced with weapons, and resting on a high throne,

she took her seat, at the goddess’s doorway, under the central vault.

She was giving out laws and statutes to the people, and sharing

the workers labour out in fair proportions, or assigning it by lot:

when Aeneas suddenly saw Antheus, and Sergestus,

and brave Cloanthus, approaching, among a large crowd,

with others of the Trojans whom the black storm-clouds

had scattered over the sea and carried far off to other shores.

He was stunned, and Achates was stunned as well

with joy and fear: they burned with eagerness to clasp hands,

but the unexpected event confused their minds.

They stay concealed and, veiled in the deep mist, they watch

to see what happens to their friends, what shore they have left

the fleet on, and why they are here: the elect of every ship came

begging favour, and made for the temple among the shouting.

[520-560] When they’d entered, and freedom to speak in person

had been granted, Ilioneus, the eldest, began calmly:

"O queen, whom Jupiter grants the right to found

a new city, and curb proud tribes with your justice,

we unlucky Trojans, driven by the winds over every sea,

pray to you: keep the terror of fire away from our ships,

spare a virtuous race and look more kindly on our fate.

We have not come to despoil Libyan homes with the sword,

or to carry off stolen plunder to the shore: that violence

is not in our minds, the conquered have not such pride.

There’s a place called Hesperia by the Greeks,

an ancient land, strong in men, with a rich soil:

There the Oenotrians lived: now rumour has it

that a later people has called it Italy, after their leader.

We had set our course there when stormy Orion,

rising with the tide, carried us onto hidden shoals,

and fierce winds scattered us far, with the overwhelming surge,

over the waves among uninhabitable rocks:

we few have drifted here to your shores.

What race of men is this? What land is so barbaric as to allow

this custom, that we are denied the hospitality of the sands?

They stir up war, and prevent us setting foot on dry land.

If you despise the human race and mortal weapons,

still trust that the gods remember right and wrong.

Aeneas was our king, no one more just than him

in his duty, or greater in war and weaponry.

If fate still protects the man, if he still enjoys the ethereal air,

if he doesn’t yet rest among the cruel shades, there’s nothing

to fear, and you’d not repent of vying with him first in kindness.

Then there are cities and fields too in the region of Sicily,

and famous Acestes, of Trojan blood. Allow us

to beach our fleet, damaged by the storms,

and cut planks from trees, and shape oars,

so if our king’s restored and our friends are found

we can head for Italy, gladly seek Italy and Latium:

and if our saviour’s lost, and the Libyan seas hold you,

Troy’s most virtuous father, if no hope now remains from Iulus,

let us seek the Sicilian straits, from which we were driven,

and the home prepared for us, and a king, Acestes."

So Ilioneus spoke: and the Trojans all shouted with one voice.

[561-585] Then, Dido spoke briefly, with lowered eyes:

"Trojans, free your hearts of fear: dispel your cares.

Harsh events and the newness of the kingdom force me to effect

such things, and protect my borders with guards on all sides.

Who doesn’t know of Aeneas’ race, and the city of Troy,

the bravery, the men, or so great a blaze of warfare,

indeed, we Phoenicians don’t possess unfeeling hearts,

the sun doesn’t harness his horses that far from this Tyrian city.

Whether you opt for mighty Hesperia, and Saturn’s fields,

or the summit of Eryx, and Acestes for king,

I’ll see you safely escorted, and help you with my wealth.

Or do you wish to settle here with me, as equals in my kingdom?

The city I build is yours: beach your ships:

Trojans and Tyrians will be treated by me without distinction.

I wish your king Aeneas himself were here, driven

by that same storm! Indeed, I’ll send reliable men

along the coast, and order them to travel the length of Libya,

in case he’s driven aground, and wandering the woods and towns."

Brave Achetes, and our forefather Aeneas, their spirits raised

by these words, had been burning to break free of the mist.

Achates was first to speak, saying to Aeneas, "Son of the goddess,

what intention springs to your mind? You see all’s safe,

the fleet and our friends have been restored to us.

Only one is missing, whom we saw plunged in the waves:

all else is in accord with your mother’s words."


Taken from:

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved

Media Attributions and Footnotes

Media Attributions

  1. During the Iron Age, Greece formed colonies around the Mediterranean. Homer here appeals to the colonialist Greek mindset of the time.
  2. The Greeks typically mixed their wine with water to make it less strong, and drinking too much wine (especially undiluted wine) was often associated with foreigners, such as the Centaurs and Cyclopes.
  3. The concept of xenia, or hospitality, was highly valued and formalized in ancient Greece. Zeus was the patron of guests, ensuring that guests and hosts treated each other with respect. Here, Homer emphasizes the un-Greek nature of the Cyclopes, as Polyphemus rejects the important Greek value of xenia.
  4. For full context and book, see chapter 31
  5. Echetus, king of Epirus, is a figure mentioned a few times in Homer's Odyssey (but not in other sources). Homer describes him as violent and threatening, and Echetus is sometimes thought to be based on a folk tale for frightening children.
  6. For Odysseus' journey to the Underworld and encounter with Teiresias, in Book 11 of the Odyssey, see chapter 32.
  7. The Greek is ambiguous, allowing this to be interpreted either as "the dead are killing the living person" or "the living person is killing the dead."
  8. Indicates a gap or missing segment in the text.
  9. Dictynna ("Lady of nets") is an epithet for the maiden hunting goddess Britomartis, referring to a myth in which Britomartis jumps into the sea and is rescued by the nets of fishermen. Euripides here compares Artemis to Dictynna because Britomartis was closely associated with and shared many traits with Artemis.
  10. The ancient Greeks used the term "barbarian" to refer to non-Greeks in general.
  11. The "house of the golden lamb" refers to a myth in which Atreus promised to sacrifice his finest lamb to Artemis, but instead hid the lamb away and kept it. Thyestes, knowing about the hidden lamb, then tricked Atreus into agreeing to let the one who had a golden lamb become king. Thyestes stole the lamb and was made king, but Atreus later usurped him. See Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, E.2.10-E.2.11.
  12. Refers to the myth of Io. See chapter 6.
  13. See note 11.
  14. The Cyclopes were known for their building, and were credited in myth with having built the walls of Mycenae and Tiryns.
  15. The trial of Orestes is recounted in Aeschylus' Eumenides.
  16. "Pollution" here refers to the Greek concept of miasma, the idea that death defiles someone or makes them impure. For further explanation, see Mythology Unbound.
  17. The Areopagus ("Hill of Ares") is a hill in Athens that was the site of a court. See chapter 36.
  18. The oracle at Delphi traditionally sat on a tripod stool when giving prophecies.
  19. This refers to the myth of Alcyone and Ceyx, a couple who referred to each other as "Zeus" and "Hera." The gods punished them for pridefully using their names, and after their deaths, Ceyx and Alcyone were transformed into kingfishers. See Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 1.7.4 and Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.410-748.
  20. An epithet for Artemis refering to her worship at Tauris. This epithet is sometimes also associated with bulls (taurus), but here Euripides uses the former etymology.
  21. Brauron was known for being a sacred city of Artemis.
  22. The Oracle of Apollo at Delphi sat on a tripod stool. See chapter 12.
  23. See Odyssey Book 3
  24. Rhesus is a king of Thrace in Homer's Iliad, Book 10. He was allied with Troy in the Trojan war. However, while he was on the way to Troy, Dolon (a spy working for Rhesus) betrayed Rhesus by telling the Achaeans about the fine horses of Thrace. Diomedes and Odysseus stole Rhesus' horses, and so Rhesus never actually fought in the war. Rhesus is here "betrayed by sleep" because Diomedes killed him in his sleep, and Dolon is "betrayed by guile" because Odysseus and Diomedes talked him into betraying Rhesus.
  25. The island of Samos was an important cult centre of Hera. Some of the oldest known archaeological evidence for the worship of Hera, including a temple to Hera, is from Samos.
  26. Jupiter's prophecy describes how Aeneas and his descendants will found Rome. For further discussion of Aeneas, Romulus, and the foundation of Rome, see chapter 32.
  27. null
  28. The Spartans were known for their athleticism, and Harpalyce of Thrace was a warrior woman and bandit known for her speed. These comparisons therefore suggest that Venus appeared in the form of a woman athlete.
  29. The ancient Romans worshipped a variety of deities in the household, often represented physically with statuettes and images. For further discussion of the gods of the Roman household, see chapter 40.


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