A Roman mosaic depicting a maritime scene with Odysseus (Latin: Ulysses) and the Sirens, from Carthage, 2nd century AD
The Gods in council sit, to call
Ulysses from Calypso’s thrall,
And order their high pleasures thus:
Grey Pallas to Telemachus
(In Ithaca) her way addrest;
And did her heav’nly limbs invest
In Mentas’ likeness, that did reign
King of the Taphians, in the main
Whose rough waves near Leucadia run.
Advising wise Ulysses’ son
To seek his father, and address
His course to young Tantalides,
That govern’d Sparta. Thus much said,
She shew’d she was Heav’n’s martial Maid,
And vanish’d from him. Next to this,
The Banquet of the Wooers is.
The Deities sit;
The Man retired;
Th’ Ulyssean wit
By Pallas fired.
The man, O Muse, inform, that many a way
Wound with his wisdom to his wished stay;
That wander’d wondrous far, when he the town
Of sacred Troy had sack’d and shiver’d down;
The cities of a world of nations,
With all their manners, minds, and fashions,
He saw and knew; at sea felt many woes,
Much care sustain’d, to save from overthrows
Himself and friends in their retreat for home;
But so their fates he could not overcome,
Though much he thirsted it. O men unwise,
They perish’d by their own impieties!
That in their hunger’s rapine would not shun
The oxen of the lofty-going Sun,
Who therefore from their eyes the day bereft
Of safe return. These acts, in some part left,
Tell us, as others, deified Seed of Jove.
Now all the rest that austere death outstrove
At Troy’s long siege at home safe anchor’d are,
Free from the malice both of sea and war;
Only Ulysses is denied access
To wife and home. The grace of Goddesses,
The rev’rend nymph Calypso, did detain
Him in her caves, past all the race of men
Enflam’d to make him her lov’d lord and spouse.
And when the Gods had destin’d that his house,
Which Ithaca on her rough bosom bears,
(The point of time wrought out by ambient years)
Should be his haven, Contention still extends
Her envy to him, ev’n amongst his friends.
All Gods took pity on him; only he,
That girds earth in the cincture of the sea,
Divine Ulysses ever did envy,
And made the fix’d port of his birth to fly.
But he himself solemniz’d a retreat
To th’ Æthiops, far dissunder’d in their seat,
(In two parts parted, at the sun’s descent,
And underneath his golden orient,
The first and last of men) t’ enjoy their feast
Of bulls and lambs, in hecatombs addrest;
At which he sat, giv’n over to delight.
The other Gods in heav’n’s supremest height
Were all in council met; to whom began
The mighty Father both of God and man
Discourse, inducing matter that inclin’d
To wise Ulysses, calling to his mind
Faultful Ægisthus, who to death was done
By young Orestes, Agamemnon’s son.
His memory to the Immortals then
Mov’d Jove thus deeply: “O how falsely men
Accuse us Gods as authors of their ill!
When, by the bane their own bad lives instill,
They suffer all the mis’ries of their states,
Past our inflictions, and beyond their fates.
As now Ægisthus, past his fate, did wed
The wife of Agamemnon, and (in dread
To suffer death himself) to shun his ill,
Incurr’d it by the loose bent of his will,
In slaughtering Atrides in retreat.
Which we foretold him would so hardly set
To his murd’rous purpose, sending Mercury
That slaughter’d Argus, our consid’rate spy,
To give him this charge: ‘Do not wed his wife,
Nor murder him; for thou shalt buy his life
With ransom of thine own, impos’d on thee
By his Orestes, when in him shall be
Atrides’-self renew’d, and but the prime
Of youth’s spring put abroad, in thirst to climb
His haughty father’s throne by his high acts.’
These words of Hermes wrought not into facts
Ægisthus’ powers; good counsel he despis’d,
And to that good his ill is sacrific’d.”
Pallas, whose eyes did sparkle like the skies,
Answer’d: “O Sire! Supreme of Deities,
Ægisthus pass’d his fate, and had desert
To warrant our infliction; and convert
May all the pains such impious men inflict
On innocent suff’rers to revenge as strict,
Their own hearts eating. But, that Ithacus,
Thus never meriting, should suffer thus,
I deeply suffer. His more pious mind
Divides him from these fortunes. Though unkind
Is piety to him, giving him a fate
More suff’ring than the most unfortunate,
So long kept friendless in a sea-girt soil,
Where the sea’s navel is a sylvan isle,
In which the Goddess dwells that doth derive
Her birth from Atlas, who of all alive
The motion and the fashion doth command
With his wise mind, whose forces understand
The inmost deeps and gulfs of all the seas,
Who (for his skill of things superior) stays
The two steep columns that prop earth and heav’n.
His daughter ‘tis, who holds this homeless-driv’n
Still mourning with her; evermore profuse
Of soft and winning speeches, that abuse
And make so languishingly, and possest
With so remiss a mind her loved guest,
Manage the action of his way for home.
Where he, though in affection overcome,
In judgment yet more longs to show his hopes
His country’s smoke leap from her chimney tops,
And death asks in her arms. Yet never shall
Thy lov’d heart be converted on his thrall,
Austere Olympius. Did not ever he,
In ample Troy, thy altars gratify,
And Grecians’ fleet make in thy off’rings swim?
Jove, why still then burns thy wrath to him?”
The Cloud-assembler answer’d: “What words fly,
Bold daughter, from thy pale of ivory?
As if I ever could cast from my care
Divine Ulysses, who exceeds so far
All men in wisdom, and so oft hath giv’n
To all th’ Immortals thron’d in ample heav’n
So great and sacred gifts? But his decrees,
That holds the earth in with his nimble knees,
Stand to Ulysses’ longings so extreme,
For taking from the God-foe Polypheme
His only eye; a Cyclop, that excell’d
All other Cyclops, with whose burden swell’d
The nymph Thoosa, the divine increase
Of Phorcys’ seed, a great God of the seas.
She mix’d with Neptune in his hollow caves,
And bore this Cyclop to that God of waves.
For whose lost eye, th’ Earth-shaker did not kill
Erring Ulysses, but reserves him still
In life for more death. But use we our pow’rs,
And round about us cast these cares of ours,
All to discover how we may prefer
His wish’d retreat, and Neptune make forbear
His stern eye to him, since no one God can,
In spite of all, prevail, but ’gainst a man.”
To this, this answer made the grey-eyed Maid:
“Supreme of rulers, since so well apaid
The blesséd Gods are all then, now, in thee,
To limit wise Ulysses’ misery,
And that you speak as you referr’d to me
Prescription for the means, in this sort be
Their sacred order: Let us now address
With utmost speed our swift Argicides,
To tell the nymph that bears the golden tress
In th’ isle Ogygia, that ’tis our will
She should not stay our lov’d Ulysses still,
But suffer his return; and then will I
To Ithaca, to make his son apply
His sire’s inquest the more; infusing force
Into his soul, to summon the concourse
Of curl’d-head Greeks to council, and deter
Each wooer, that hath been the slaughterer
Of his fat sheep and crooked-headed beeves.
From more wrong to his mother, and their leaves
Take in such terms as fit deserts so great.
To Sparta then, and Pylos, where doth beat
Bright Amathus, the flood, and epithet
To all that kingdom, my advice shall send
The spirit-advanc’d Prince, to the pious end
Of seeking his lost father, if he may
Receive report from Fame where rests his stay;
And make, besides, his own successive worth
Known to the world, and set in action forth.”
This said, her wing’d shoes to her feet she tied,
Form’d all of gold, and all eternified,
That on the round earth or the sea sustain’d
Her ravish’d substance swift as gusts of wind.
Then took she her strong lance with steel made keen,
Great, massy, active, that whole hosts of men,
Though all heroës, conquers, if her ire
Their wrongs inflame, back’d by so great a Sire.
Down from Olympus’ tops she headlong div’d,
And swift as thought in Ithaca arriv’d,
Close at Ulysses’ gates; in whose first court
She made her stand, and, for her breast’s support,
Lean’d on her iron lance; her form imprest
With Mentas’ likeness, come as being a guest.
There found she those proud wooers, that were then
Set on those ox-hides that themselves had slain,
Before the gates, and all at dice were playing.
To them the heralds, and the rest obeying,
Fill’d wine and water; some, still as they play’d,
And some, for solemn supper’s state, purvey’d,
With porous sponges cleansing tables, serv’d
With much rich feast; of which to all they kerv’d.
God-like Telemachus amongst them sat,
Griev’d much in mind; and in his heart begat
All representment of his absent sire,
How, come from far-off parts, his spirits would fire
With those proud wooers’ sight, with slaughter parting
Their bold concourse, and to himself converting
The honours they usurp’d, his own commanding.
In this discourse, he first saw Pallas standing,
Unbidden entry; up rose, and addrest
His pace right to her, angry that a guest
Should stand so long at gate; and, coming near,
Her right hand took, took in his own her spear,
And thus saluted: “Grace to your repair,
Fair guest, your welcome shall be likewise fair.
Enter, and, cheer’d with feast, disclose th’ intent
That caus’d your coming.” This said, first he went,
And Pallas follow’d. To a room they came,
Steep, and of state; the jav’lin of the Dame
He set against a pillar vast and high,
Amidst a large and bright-kept armory,
Which was, besides, with woods of lances grac’d
Of his grave father’s. In a throne he plac’d
The man-turn’d Goddess, under which was spread
A carpet, rich and of deviceful thread;
A footstool staying her feet; and by her chair
Another seat (all garnish’d wondrous fair,
To rest or sleep on in the day) he set,
Far from the prease of wooers, lest at meat
The noise they still made might offend his guest,
Disturbing him at banquet or at rest,
Ev’n to his combat with that pride of theirs,
That kept no noble form in their affairs.
And these he set far from them, much the rather
To question freely of his absent father.
A table fairly-polish’d then was spread,
On which a rev’rend officer set bread,
And other servitors all sorts of meat
(Salads, and flesh, such as their haste could get)
Serv’d with observance in. And then the sewer
Pour’d water from a great and golden ewer,
That from their hands t’ a silver caldron ran.