I'm writing a version of Homer's Odyssey. This may take some time, depending on other work, but I will put it up on this website as I do it. So far, Book 1. Book 2 to follow soon. 


The Odyssey


 Book One


Speak to me, muse, about that multiple man,

blown far and wide, after he had sacked Troy’s holy stronghold.

He saw many cities, and learned how the people lived,

suffered much hollowness of soul on the folkless ocean,

fighting for his life, trying to get his friends home.

He couldn’t save them, no matter how he tried,

they threw themselves away when they slaughtered the oxen

of Helios the Sungod, who took in return

their ever coming home. Pick a point in the story,

goddess, daughter of the highest, and begin, I pray.

All of the rest that had not gone down

were home now, free of the sea and the war.

Only one, longing for his home and his wife,

was tied to the strings of the nymph Kalypso,

bright point of a point of brightness,

in her caves. She wanted him to be her husband.

And now the spinning of the years had brought round

the year the gods had set down for his homecoming

to Ithaka, but still he was tangled up in trials,

he was not with his own. But the gods all sympathised,

except for the god of the sea, who never ceased to rage,

till godlike Odysseus got home. But Poseidon

was, at that moment, with the Ethiopians,

on the far side of the world – they live in two places,

some where the sun sets, some where it rises -

receiving a sacrifice of bulls and rams.

Meanwhile the rest of the Upper Gods were gathered

in the Hall of the Father. First to speak was Zeus himself,

thinking about Aigisthos, murdered by Orestes,

the famous son of Agamemnon. With this in mind,

Zeus now spoke to the Undying. ‘Bestial,

how the humans blame us when they, by disorder

distort their own fates. Aigisthos married

Agamemnon’s wife, and murdered him when he got home.

She was not meant for him – and nor was the catastrophe

his theft necessitated: as he knew perfectly well,

because we sent Hermes, the Eyes, to warn him

that if he killed this man or took his woman, he himself would be

slaughtered by Orestes in revenge, the son of Agamemnon,

when, at twenty-one, he resolved to come home.

Hermes, determined to do good, made this plain-

but iron Aigisthos would not bend, and has now paid with everything.’

Then green-grey-eyed Athene, goddess, answered him:

‘Father of all of us, Son of Time, Power of Powers,

certainly Aigisthos earned this downfall, may all those

who do as he did die as he did. But I feel differently

about Odysseus, full of understanding but who suffers

in the middle of the sea, on an island far from his loved-ones,

a forested muddle of rocks whose fringes

the sea scrubs with its brushes. A goddess has made it

her place – a daughter of our enemy Atlas

who plants his feet on the seabed and keeps up

the pillars that lock the sky to the earth.

She is this Titan’s daughter, and she works hard

with soft words to wear away the memories of Ithaka

that keep this man’s grief sharp – so she can keep him there.

But all this does is make him want to die,

as he strains his eyes to stain the horizon

with Ithaka’s chimney-smoke. But you, fellow-Olympian,

have frozen him out of your heart. Didn’t Odysseus

sweeten you in Troy, by the ships of the army,

with enough sacrifices? Zeus, why do you hate him so much?’

Now Zeus who heaps up the thunder answered:

‘What are you saying to me, my dear daughter,

how could I forget Odysseus, who is like us, whose mind

is far out ahead of the race, who has burned

more oxen up than the whole of the rest of them?

It is not me it is Poseidon,

wrapped around the Earth, who never lets anything

drop, and especially not his grudge against Odysseus

for blinding the Cyclops, deathless Polyphemus,

the chief Cyclops. His mother was Thoosa,

a nymph. Phorkys was his father,

one of the Lords of the fields of salt water.

Deep in the seacaves she made love to Poseidon –

it is stung by the love of his son that the sea-god,

who thumps Earth like a drum – though he keeps him breathing,

keeps on pushing back Odysseus from his homeland.

But look, the rest of us here assembled

should work together to seal his homecoming,

frame his return. Poseidon will have to drown

his anger. Against the united mind

of all of the rest of the Undying, he can do nothing.’

Then green-grey-eyed Athene, goddess, answered him:

‘Son of Time, Father of us all, Power of Powers,

if it is really true that the sweet Undying

wish for Odysseus -  his mind is a sea of schemes –

to get home, then we should send Hermes, the guide of the dead,

killer of Argos, the beast with a thousand eyes,

down to Ogygia, the island, to inform the nymph

with waterfalling hair, of our fixed decision

that Odysseus has got to get home, after all his sufferings.

But I will go to Ithaka, to make his son

stand up a little bit more like a man,

and call the islanders into council, all their long hair shining,

so that he can speak outright to the suitors

who slaughter his huddling sheep and jostling long-horned cattle,

and have done for a long time. I will help him sail

to sandy Pylos, to ask about his father,

see if he can find anything out. Which will win him

widespread approval and the start of a good reputation.’

As she was speaking she was binding on her sandals,

golden, eternal, in which she runs across water

as if across the broad hard earth, pushing the wind behind her.

She snatched up a bronze-bound spear full of power,

huge, heavy and thick – the one she uses

to scatter entire battalions, when they anger her,

and flashed like a meteorite straight from the peak

of Olympos to Ithaka – stopped at the threshold

of the palace, right outside the doors of Odysseus,

gripping the great bronze spear. She took the shape

of Mentes, chief of the Taphians, a friend of the family.

And there they were, the hubristic suitors,

sprawled on the hides of cattle they had slaughtered

on their own authority, playing draughts to keep themselves

amused, right in front of the palace, surrounded

by their heralds and hurrying servants, some mixing

water and wine in bowls, some wiping

the tables and setting them out in order,

some cutting up heaps of meat for their masters.

Now the first whose eyes were drawn to Athene

was godlike Telemachos, sitting with the suitors,

heart on the seabed, thinking about his famous father,

over and over again replaying:

that man returning, and the suitors running

and the King reclaiming what was his. In his own little hailstorm,

thinking like this, and the suitors all around him,  

he spied Athene. He sprang straight out into the forecourt,

mortally ashamed to see a visitor standing there

being ignored. He strode right up to her

and shook her hand, and took her spear,

and spoke with words that cut like swifts through the air -

‘Welcome, stranger, be our guest. You must eat first,

then you can tell us the reason for your visit.’

Then he led the way, and Athene followed.
When they were under the high roof, he propped the spear

in a rack for spears, made of polished wood, against a pillar,

with other spears, spears of Odysseus, the long-endurer,

stacks of them. He showed her to a chair, with a cushion,

the chair elaborately carved. And there was a footstool.

For himself – a painted bench. He drew it up beside her,

away from the others, the suitors, in case their roaring

with its arrogance made the guest puke up her supper.

Also – so that he could ask her about his father.

A maid poured water from a golden vase

into a silver basin, for them to wash their hands, and pulled between them

a shining table. A housekeeper, dignified,

served them bread and various delicacies,

not stinting, and a carver carried over

platters of different meats, and set them in front of them,

and golden cups as well, which a herald,

to and from the cask, filled with wine. Then in came

the swaggering suitors, and plonked straight down on chairs and benches,

according to their hierarchy, and the heralds poured water

over their hands, to wash with, and the maids brought baskets

of bread, and the chevaliers tipped the wine jugs into the mixing bowls

so the drinking could begin. They reached out

for the lovely grub that had been laid out for them,

but once they had eaten their hunger smaller,

a new stomach emptied out – they gazed around them

for entertainment, singing and dancing,

which, at the end of a big feast, ought to happen.

A herald placed into the hands of Phemios

a wonderfully constructed lyre, and he sang for the suitors,

under duress. He strummed and delivered

an intricate song. Meanwhile Telemachos

talked to the goddess of the green-grey eyes, bending

his head to hers, so that no one else could hear him –

‘May I speak frankly to you, my dear stranger?

Look how relaxed they are, not a thought, not a care,

sitting here listening to the music and the singing.

And who can blame them, nobody stops them

bleeding the means of a man whose bones

lie bleached and greening in the rain, if on land,

or rolled by the sea’s long tongue between its surf teeth,

but if they saw him coming,

all they would think is how to run,

scattering his threads and his bling behind them!

But he will not come home. Bad luck has caught up with him.

He is dead, and nothing can sweeten that poison.

Even if some person tells me that he will, no,

for him there is no homecoming,

that day was night before it was dawn.

But now, look, tell me this –

who are you and where are you from, what city?
What family? What kind of ship did you come here in,

where do the sailors say they are from?
Which approach did they make to Ithaka? But most important –

have you been here before? Are you a friend of my father’s

from over the sea? This house received a lot of visitors

in the old days, when he used to be a part of things.’

Then green-grey-eyed Athene, goddess, answered him:

‘Right, I will answer all your questions in order:

I am Mentes, chief of the oar-heaving Taphians,

son of Anchialos, deep in understanding.

I came in my own ship with my own men,

over the water like dark blue wine,

through the various languages, heading for Temese,

to barter shining iron for bronze.

My ship is anchored off the coast away from the city,

over by the countryside – Rheithon, the harbour is –

under the forest slopes of Mount Neion.

Your father and myself go back generations

in terms of the friendship of our families,

as you could learn from Laertes, the old blade,

if you trudged up to his farm – he no longer

comes down to the city, I hear, but subsists

on his own scrap of land on the hill where a crone

brings him his broth when his old bones quiver

from tottering around in his steep vineyard.

Well here I am. They said your father was here.

But obviously not. The Undying have blocked him.

Not death. Not our Odysseus, no, not likely.

Somewhere out on the drink, on a surf-scoured island

he has been captured by savages, who keep him –

or desperate pirates, somehow they keep him boxed in,

no matter what he tries. Now listen to me,

I am prepared to bet – no, to prophesy –

one of the Undying is whispering this to me –

and what they are saying is, I think, likely –

though I am not a professional clairvoyant,

versed in the hieroglyphics of birdflight –

I am prepared to state that Odysseus

will not be gone for very much longer

from this beloved country of his father and his father’s father.

I don’t care if they have got him shackled in iron,

he will be thinking, thinking, thinking his extradition.

There is no end to that man’s thinking!

But now, look, tell me this –

are you the grown-up kid of Odysseus?

You have a look of him – the clear eyes, the shape of the head –

as I recall. We saw quite a lot of each other

before he went away to Troy. Him and a few more,

all of the Kings and the Captains in their capacious vessels.

I have not seen his face since then, and nor indeed has he seen mine.’

Then Telemachos, thinking, answered him:

‘Right, I will tell you the facts as I know them.

My mother says I am his son. Am I?

Who knows for certain who his father is?

This I do know though – I’d rather be the heir

of a happy, ordinary, prosperous man,

softly knocked down by old age in his own home.

But since you ask, yes, the man whose son they say I am

is the most disastrous person of his generation.’

Then green-grey-eyed Athene, goddess, answered him:

‘Son of Penelope, you were not born for nothing.

They made you to be remembered, the Undying.

But look – what’s happening here, what’s this occasion,

is it a festival, or a wedding?

It’s an odd kind of community gathering –

blokes rowdying through the house like cup-winners –

a good man who glimpsed in might gag at what’s happening.’

Then Telemachos, thinking, answered:

‘Since you want to know, I will tell you everything,

dear guest. There was a time, when a certain man

was in it, this house was famous for its culture.

But now the Undying have, for the love of calamity,

vanished him more thoroughly than anyone has ever been

vanished before! I would not be grieving

the way I am, if he had been one of the fallen

at Troy – or afterwards died among friends.

The whole army would have heaped up his mound,

and there would have been a story for his son.

But – to be flung by anonymous stormwinds

over the edge of the world – it leaves nothing for me

but a faceless ocean of questions.

But I am not just sobbing for myself anymore. No, now the Undying

have pushed another troopship of griefs to my coastline –

all of the chiefs and bosses of the islands,

Same, Doulichion, Zakynthos, that floating forest –

all who in rocky Ithaka are reckoned gentlemen,

this gang of hyenas is sniffing my mother

with marriage in mind. And in the meantime,

hollowing out this house. And she does not say no

to the horrible prospect – and she does not say yes,

so there is no stop to this free lunch on my inheritance,

and when there is nothing left – they will share out my flesh!’

Pallas Athene answered, furious – ‘Bloody disgrace!
Yes, you do need him now, elsewhere Odysseus.

He would soon grip these suitors, who have no morality.

I wish he would step right now into the doorway –

helmet, shield, two spears. Oh yes,

the man he was when I saw him first,

drinking and enjoying himself, in our palace.

He had come to us from Ephyre, from Ilos son of Mermeros.

Odysseus, see, had gone there in his fast galley

to purchase arrow-poison. Ilos wouldn’t sell him any,

fearing the gods, who will outlast all of us,

would have felt crossed. But my father gave him some.

What could he refuse to Odysseus, he loved the man!

Heaven, set loose Odysseus on these suitors!

He would drive through them like a combine, giving them

a marriage more mangling than they imagined!

But it’s all down to the Undying,

whether he gets home and gets vengeance, or doesn’t and doesn’t.

As for yourself, what you have got to do now is cogitate

how by yourself you can get these suitors out.

Now listen to me closely and do what I say.

Summon these oaks to a council tomorrow.
Speak to them en masse. Order the suitors

to scatter, each to his own place. As for your mother,

if marriage is her prevailing weather,

she should go back to her father in his grand mansion,

it is up to him to give her away, up to her own people

to choose the husband, make the arrangements,

heap up the presents in large amounts

that leave the house with the dear daughter.

As for yourself – this is sharp advice,

and I hope you hear it: fit out a ship,

a twenty-oared, the best available,

and get around, and ask around

about this long-gone father of yours. Who knows,

there may be human eardrums Rumour has drummed with her fingers –

Zeus details her, and no one spreads news further and wider.

First head to Pylos and speak to Nestor,

the grand old man. Then steer for Sparta

and Menelaos, with his long blond hair,

since he was the last to get home of the whole bronze expedition.

So if you hear that your father is heading back home

alive, then, totally outnumbered though you are,

hold out for your mother as long as you can.

But if they tell you he is dead – come home, come home,

to the land you love, your father’s land

and your father’s father’s, and heap up a mound,

and do all the sacrifices, all the rituals, everything –

and then give your mother in marriage to a man.

Then, when you have finished this, squared it all off, done,

you must start working out deep in your mind

how to cut out the clot of suitors who stick here

feasting forever in your house. Fair fight or foul play,

but you must break the daisy chains of childhood, that time is gone.

How did Orestes get famous? Haven’t you heard?

He killed Aigisthos, the killer of his father -

the lizard who murdered his famous father!

Look at you now lad, you’ve been eating up your dinners!

Add some bravery to your beef and people will talk about you.

But now I have got to get back to my fast galley

and my crew, who must be wondering about me.

Think about all of this, and do as I tell you.’

Then Telemachos, thinking, answered her:

‘Dear guest, you have spoken to me kindly and thoughtfully,

just like a father would. I will not forget one word.

But stay a bit longer. You want to get going,

but at least have a bath and relax and then, freshened up,

blithe as a bee you can go back to your ship with a present,

something really precious to remind you of this visit,

a token of friendship like hosts and guests give to each other.’

Then green-grey-eyed Athene, goddess, answered:

‘No, do not keep me any longer, my journey calls me.

Save that present and give it to me next time,

when I am heading home. Choose me something special –

and good will come back to you.’ That is what Athene said,

green-grey-eyed, goddess, and sprang into the air like a bird,

suddenly tiny high up – but she left behind her

courage and determination, in the young man,

his father felt nearer, and he felt new understanding,

brightness broadening his mind – knew that this must have been

one of the Undying. So he strode straight over,

godlike himself, and sat down among the suitors.

The singer, inspired, had snatched away all their noise,

and they sat entranced. He sang about the army,

various catastrophes connected to the return from Troy,

each of them arranged by Pallas Athene –

which song enchanted careful Penelope,

daughter of Ikarios, down from her high chamber,

via the tall staircase set in the heart of the palace –

not by herself, but attended by two handmaidens.
When she – bright point of a point of brightness,

in terms of women – came near to the suitors,

she took up her position beside the big pillar

that propped the roof up right at the centre,

with a moon-bright veil in front of her face, to shield it,

and adoring attendants posted either side of her.

Crying, she said to the unearthly singer,

‘Phemios, sing about something else,

I do not need to be reminded.

Everything that gods and humans have done

is in your head – these stories that catch the heart like a bird in the hand,

these tales made famous by the singers – sing one of these

as you sit with these men so silently drinking,

but not this song please, it soaks into me and sinks me,

more than anyone else it homes to me,

because the head I long for when I hear about my husband,

who is named so often everywhere in Hellas, is one I love too much.’

Then Telemachos, thinking, answered:

‘Why should the singer not sing what he likes, mother?
The tragedy isn’t the fault of the poet.

Zeus is the author of all calamities,

which he hands out how he wants to all comers,

to everyone who breathes and eats. It is not bad taste

to sing about the hapless returning of the army,

it is the latest popular song. So stiffen your spine

and listen to the dripping of the lyrical poison

into your heart. Odysseus was not the only man

who lost his homecoming day in Troy’s debris.

Plenty of others are missing, not just him.

So go back upstairs and sit down at your loom

and get on with your weaving. And make sure your handmaidens

concentrate. Meanwhile the men must be talking,

and mostly the master of the house, which is myself. ’

Penelope did what he said – stunned, she went back upstairs.

Stowing her son’s strong words deep down in her mind,

she went with her handmaidens up to the top of the house

and did not stop crying for Odysseus, her husband,

whom she loved, till green-grey-eyed Athene, goddess,

dropped a heavy net of lifting sleep over her eyelids.

But down in the leaping-shadow hall, all the suitors were howling,

each of them screaming at the gods to give her to him,

until Telemachos, thinking, spoke, and cut through the bull-roaring:

‘You ravenous barons who want my mother,

stop shouting now, sit down, eat and be quiet,

and let us all be happy together. Isn’t it lovely

to listen to a singer who sings like this man,

like the conversations of the gods in heaven!

Then tomorrow in the agora we will gather for a meeting,

and I will speak my mind, which is that you should all quit my palace

and feast in another place – eat up your own inheritances,

one after the other. Write yourselves out a rota.

But if in your wisdom it’s more fun, you reckon,

and more economic to continue, all of you,

living on one man, never paying anything,

then ruin me. Do it. I will cry out to the Undying.

Zeus has a way of turning things around.

Then you might just die right here, the lot of you, no payment asked.’

That is what he said, and they all searched for words, shocked

by the sharp speech of this new Telemachos.

Then Antinoos answered, the son of Eupeithes:

‘Telemachos, gosh, it must be the Undying

making you speak so lordly to us. Frankly

I hope that the Son of Time picks someone else

to be our actual Lord in salt-licked Ithaka,

though the crown is yours according to the law.’

Then Telemachos, thinking, answered:

‘Let me be perfectly frank myself, Antinoos –

I would not refuse my right, if Zeus upheld it.

It would not be a fate worse than death, now would it?

Hard for Kings not to get rich, sitting at the top of the heap.

But as it is, in salt-licked Ithaka there are plenty of princes

who could slide with ease into the place Odysseus

has vacated. But as for this house and its slaves,

captured in battle for us by Odysseus,

I am the absolute monarch of all of that.’

Then the son of Polybos answered, Eurymachos:

‘Telemachos, all of this, including the great question,

who will be King in salt-licked Ithaka,

sleeps in the dreams of the Undying.

I hope you hold onto your home and everything.

I hope that the man who will push you off your land never comes,

while Ithaka is an inhabited island.

But, champion, what I want to ask is: who was that man?

Where did he sail from, where did he say he is from

originally – where are his roots, his family?

Did your father send him to say he is returning?

Or was he here on business of his own?

He never introduced himself to us, he was just suddenly gone,

but he looked like a man with a name.’

Then Telemachos, thinking, answered him:

‘Eurymachos, hope of my father returning

is stone dead, and as for exciting messages,

even when they sometimes come, they have a hollow sound

nowadays, as do the pronouncements of the mediums

such as my mother interrogates sometimes.

This stranger is a friend of my father’s – from Taphos.

Mentes he says that he is, son of Anchialos,

full of understanding – Lord of the oar-heaving Taphians.’

That is what Telemachos said, but his secret heart

was bright with the goddess, undying. The others, the suitors,

turned back happily to the dancing and the intricate song,

loving it and letting the night come down,

as it did, black night with their delight inwoven.

Then each staggered back to his own bed, own home,

except Telemachos, whose high-ceilinged room, built for him,

was in a cosy corner of the beautiful courtyard.

He headed for bed with his heart swarming,

and with him adoring Eurykleia, who was carrying

the flapping torches. She was the daughter

of Ops, son of Peisenor. Laertes purchased her

for twenty of his own oxen, when she was a young woman,

and indoors as much as to his own wife deferred to her,

but fearing his wife’s revenge, never once took her.

Now she carried the torches for Telemachos. She loved him

more than the other maidservants – she had nursed him

when he was tiny. He opened the doors of the snug room,

sat on the edge of the bed and took off his soft jacket

and gave it to the old woman, all knowing, and she carefully

folded it and hung it on a peg by the twilled bedstead.

Then she went out, pulling the door closed behind her

with a silver hook, and with a strap shut the bolt.

There, all night, wrapped in soft sheepskin,

he wandered the ways Athene had shown him.