Book XI

Visit of Ulysses to the Land of the Dead

Voyage to the land of the dead⁠—Interview with Tiresias, the seer⁠—The heroes and heroines whom Ulysses saw there⁠—Interview with his mother, and with Agamemnon, Achilles, and others⁠—Occupations of the dead⁠—Punishments of the guilty.

“Now, when we reached our galley by the shore,
We drew it first into the mighty deep,
And set the mast and sails, and led on board
The sheep, and sorrowfully and in tears
Embarked ourselves. The fair-haired and august
Circè, expert in music, sent with us
A kindly fellow-voyager⁠—a wind
That breathed behind the dark-prowed barque, and swelled
The sails; and now, with all things in their place
Throughout the ship, we sat us down⁠—the breeze
And helmsman guiding us upon our way.
All day our sails were stretched, as o’er the deep
Our vessel ran; the sun went down; the paths
Of the great sea were darkened, and our barque
Reached the far confines of Océanus.

“There lies the land, and there the people dwell
Of the Cimmerians, in eternal cloud
And darkness. Never does the glorious sun
Look on them with his rays, when he goes up
Into the starry sky, nor when again
He sinks from heaven to earth. Unwholesome night
O’erhangs the wretched race. We touched the land,
And, drawing up our galley on the beach,
Took from on board the sheep, and followed on
Beside the ocean-stream until we reached
The place of which the goddess Circè spake.

“Here Perimedes and Eurylochus
Held in their grasp the victims, while I drew
The trusty sword upon my thigh, and scooped
A trench in earth, a cubit long and wide,
Round which we stood, and poured to all the dead
Libations⁠—milk and honey first, and next
Rich wine, and lastly water, scattering
White meal upon them. Then I offered prayer
Fervently to that troop of airy forms,
And made a vow that I would sacrifice,
When I at last should come to Ithaca,
A heifer without blemish, barren yet,
In my own courts, and heap the altar-pyre
With things of price, and to the seer alone,
Tiresias, by himself, a ram whose fleece
Was wholly black, the best of all my flocks.

“When I had worshipped thus with praver and vows
The nations of the dead, I took the sheep
And pierced their throats above the hollow trench.
The blood flowed dark; and thronging round me came
Souls of the dead from Erebus⁠—young wives
And maids unwedded, men worn out with years
And toil, and virgins of a tender age
In their new grief, and many a warrior slain
In battle, mangled by the spear, and clad
In bloody armor, who about the trench
Flitted on every side, now here, now there,
With gibbering cries, and I grew pale with fear.
Then calling to my friends, I bade them flay
The victims lying slaughtered by the knife,
And, burning them with fire, invoke the gods⁠—
The mighty Pluto and dread Proserpine.
Then from my thigh I drew the trusty sword,
And sat me down, and suffered none of all
Those airy phantoms to approach the blood
Until I should bespeak the Theban seer.

“And first the soul of my companion came,
Elpenor, for he was not buried yet
In earth’s broad bosom. We had left him dead
In Circè’s halls, unwept and unentombed.
We had another task. But when I now
Beheld I pitied him, and, shedding tears,
I said these winged words: ‘How earnest thou,
Elpenor, hither into these abodes
Of night and darkness? Thou hast made more speed,
Although on foot, than I in my good ship.’

“I spake; the phantom sobbed and answered me:⁠—
‘Son of Laertes, nobly born and wise,
Ulysses! ’twas the evil doom decreed
By some divinity, and too much wine,
That wrought my death. I laid myself to sleep
In Circè’s palace, and, remembering not
The way to the long stairs that led below,
Fell from the roof, and by the fall my neck
Was broken at the spine; my soul went down
To Hades. I conjure thee now, by those
Whom thou hast left behind and far away,
Thy consort and thy father⁠—him by whom
Thou when a boy wert reared⁠—and by thy son
Telemachus, who in thy palace-halls
Is left alone⁠—for well I know that thou,
In going hence from Pluto’s realm, wilt moor
Thy gallant vessel in the Aeaean isle⁠—
That there, O king, thou wilt remember me,
And leave me not when thou departest thence
Unwept, unburied, lest I bring on thee
The anger of the gods. But burn me there
With all the armor that I wore, and pile,
Close to the hoary deep, a mound for me⁠—
A hapless man of whom posterity
Shall hear. Do this for me, and plant upright
Upon my tomb the oar with which I rowed,
While yet a living man, among thy friends.’

“He spake and I replied: ‘Unhappy youth,
All this I duly will perform for thee.’

“And then the soul of Anticleia came⁠—
My own dead mother, daughter of the king
Autolycus, large-minded. Her I left
Alive, what time I sailed for Troy, and now
I wept to see her there, and pitied her,
And yet forbade her, though with grief, to come
Near to the blood till I should first accost
Tiresias. He too came, the Theban seer,
Tiresias, bearing in his hand a wand
Of gold; he knew me and bespake me thus:⁠—

“ ‘Why, O unhappy mortal, hast thou left
The light of day to come among the dead
And to this joyless land? Go from the trench
And turn thy sword away, that I may drink
The blood, and speak the word of prophecy.’

“He spake; withdrawing from the trench, I thrust
Into its sheath my silver-studded sword,
And after drinking of the dark red blood
The blameless prophet turned to me and said:⁠—

“ ‘Illustrious chief Ulysses, thy desire
Is for a happy passage to thy home,
Yet will a god withstand thee. Not unmarked
By Neptune shalt thou, as I deem, proceed
Upon thy voyage. He hath laid up wrath
Against thee in his heart, for that thy hand
Deprived his son of sight. Yet may ye still
Return, though after many hardships borne,
If thou but hold thy appetite in check,
And that of thy companions, when thou bring
Thy gallant barque to the Trinacrian isle,
Safe from the gloomy deep. There will ye find
The beeves and fading wethers of the Sun⁠—
The all-beholding and all-hearing Sun.
If these ye leave unharmed, and keep in mind
The thought of your return, ye may go back,
Though sufferers, to your home in Ithaca;
But if thou do them harm, the event will be
Destruction to thy ship and to its crew;
And thou, if thou escape it, wilt return
Late to thy country, all thy comrades lost,
And in a foreign barque, and thou shalt find
Wrong in thy household⁠—arrogant men who waste
Thy substance, wooers of thy noble wife,
And offering bridal gifts. On thy return
Thou shalt avenge thee of their violent deeds;
And when thou shalt have slain them in thy halls,
Whether by stratagem or by the sword
In open fight, then take a shapely oar
And journey on, until thou meet with men
Who have not known the sea nor eaten food
Seasoned with salt, nor ever have beheld
Galleys with crimson prows, nor shapely oars,
Which are the wings of ships. I will declare
A sign by which to know them, nor canst thou
Mistake it. When a traveller, meeting thee,
Shalt say that thou dost bear a winnowing-fan
Upon thy sturdy shoulder, stop and plant
Thy shapely oar upright in earth, and there
Pay to King Neptune solemn sacrifice⁠—
A ram, a bull, and from his herd of swine
A boar. And then returning to thy home,
See that thou offer hallowed hecatombs
To all the ever-living ones who dwell
In the broad heaven, to each in order due.
So at the last thy death shall come to thee
Far from the sea, and gently take thee off
In a serene old age that ends among
A happy people. I have told thee true.’

“He spake, and thus I answered him: ‘The gods,
Tiresias, have decreed as thou hast said.
But tell, and tell me truly⁠—I behold
The soul of my dead mother; there she sits
In silence by the blood, and will not deign
To look upon her son nor speak to him.
Instruct me, mighty prophet, by what means
To make my mother know me for her son.’

“I spake, and instantly the seer replied:⁠—
‘Easily that is told; I give it thee
To bear in mind. Whoever of the dead
Thou sufferest to approach and drink the blood
Will speak the truth; those whom thou dost forbid
To taste the blood will silently withdraw.’

“The soul of King Tiresias, saying this,
Passed to the abode of Pluto; he had given
The oracle I asked. I waited still
Until my mother, drawing near again,
Drank the dark blood; she knew me suddenly,
And said in piteous tones these winged words:⁠—

“ ‘How didst thou come, my child, a living man,
Into this place of darkness? Difficult
It is for those who breathe the breath of life
To visit these abodes, through which are rolled
Great rivers, fearful floods⁠—the first of these
Océanus, whose waters none can cross
On foot, or save on board a trusty barque.
Hast thou come hither on thy way from Troy,
A weary wanderer with thy ship and friends?
And hast thou not been yet at Ithaca,
Nor in thine island palace seen thy wife?’

“She spake, I answered: ‘ ’Tis necessity,
Dear mother, that has brought me to the abode
Of Pluto, to consult the Theban seer,
Tiresias. Not to the Achaian coast
Have I returned, nor reached our country, yet
Continually I wander; everywhere
I meet misfortune⁠—even from the time
When, in the noble Agamemnon’s train,
I came to Ilium, famed for steeds, and made
War on its dwellers. Tell me now, I pray,
And truly, how it was that fate on thee
Brought the long sleep of death? by slow disease?
Or, stealing on thee, did the archer-queen,
Diana, slay thee with her silent shafts?
And tell me of my father, and the son
Left in my palace. Rests the sway I bore
On them, or has another taken it,
Since men believe I shall return no more?
And tell me of my wedded wife, her thoughts
And purposes, and whether she remains
Yet with my son. Is she the guardian still
Of my estates, or has the noblest chief
Of those Achaians led her thence a bride?’

“I spake; my reverend mother answered thus:⁠—
‘Most certain is it that she sadly dwells
Still in thy palace. Weary days and nights
And tears are hers. No man has taken yet
Thy place as ruler, but Telemachus
Still has the charge of thy domain, and gives
The liberal feasts which it befits a prince
To give, for all invite him. In the fields
Thy father dwells, and never in the town
Is seen; nor beds nor cloaks has he, nor mats
Of rich device, but, all the winter through,
He sleeps where sleep the laborers, on the hearth,
Amid the dust, and wears a wretched garb;
And when the summer comes, or autumn days
Ripen the fruit, his bed is on the ground,
And made of leaves, that everywhere are shed
In the rich vineyards. There he lies and grieves,
And, cherishing his sorrow, mourns thy fate,
And keenly feels the miseries of age.
And thus I underwent my fate and died;
For not the goddess of the unerring bow
Stealing upon me smote me in thy halls
With silent arrows, nor did slow disease
Come o’er me, such as, wasting cruelly
The members, takes at last the life away;
But constant longing for thee, anxious thoughts
Of thee, and memory of thy gentleness,
Ulysses, made an end of my sweet life.’

“She spake; I longed to take into my arms
The soul of my dead mother. Thrice I tried,
Moved by a strong desire, and thrice the form
Passed through them like a shadow or a dream.
And then did the great sorrow in my heart
Grow sharper, and in winged words I said:⁠—

“ ‘Beloved mother, why wilt thou not keep
Thy place, that I may clasp thee, so that here,
In Pluto’s realm and in each other’s arms,
We each might in the other soothe the sense
Of misery? Hath mighty Proserpine
Sent but an empty shade to meet me here,
That I might only grieve and sigh the more?’

“I spake, and then my reverend mother said:⁠—
‘Believe not that Jove’s daughter Proserpine
Deceives thee. ’Tis the lot of all our race
When they are dead. No more the sinews bind
The bones and flesh, when once from the white bones
The life departs. Then like a dream the soul
Flies off, and flits about from place to place.
But haste thou to the light again, and mark
What I have said, that thou in after days
Mayst tell it to thy wife on thy return.’

“Thus we conferred. Meantime the women came
Around me, moved by mighty Proserpine;
In throngs they gathered to the dark red blood.
Then, as I pondered how to question each,
This seemed the wisest⁠—from my sturdy thigh
I plucked the trenchant sword, and suffered not
All that were there to taste the blood at once;
So one by one they came, and each in turn
Declared her lineage. Thus I questioned all.

“Then saw I highborn Tyro first, who claimed
To be the daughter of that blameless man
Salmoneus, and who called herself the wife
Of Cretheus, son of Aeolus. She loved
Enipeus, hallowed river, fairest stream
Of all that flow on earth, and often walked
Beside its pleasant waters. He whose arms
Surround the islands, Neptune, once put on
The river’s form, and at its gulfy mouth
Met her; the purple waters stood upright
Around them like a wall, and formed an arch,
And hid the god and woman. There he loosed
The virgin zone of Tyro, shedding sleep
Upon her. Afterward he took her hand
And said: ‘Rejoice, O maiden, in our love,
For with the year’s return shalt thou bring forth
Illustrious sons; the embraces of the gods
Are not unfruitful. Rear them carefully.
And now return to thy abode, and watch
Thy words, and keep thy secret. Thou must know
That I am Neptune, he who shakes the earth.’

“He spake, and plunged into the billowy deep.
And she became a mother, and brought forth
Pelias and Neleus, valiant ministers
Of mighty Jupiter. On the broad lands
Of Iäolchos Pelias dwelt, and reared
Vast flocks of sheep, while Neleus made his home
In Pylos midst the sands. The queenly dame,
His mother, meanwhile brought forth other sons
To Cretheus⁠—Aeson first, and Pheres next,
And Amythaon, great in horsemanship.

“And after her I saw Antiopè,
The daughter of Asopus⁠—her who made
A boast that she had slumbered in the arms
Of Jove. Two sons she bore⁠—Amphion one,
The other Zethus⁠—and they founded Thebes
With its seven gates, and girt it round with towers;
For, valiant as they were, they could not dwell
Safely in that great town unfenced by towers.

“And after her I saw Amphitryon’s wife,
Alcmena, her who brought forth Hercules,
The dauntless hero of the lion-heart⁠—
For she had given herself into the arms
Of mighty Jupiter. I also saw
Megara there, a daughter of the house
Of laughty Creion. Her Amphitryon’s son,
Unamable in strength, had made his wife.

“The mother, too, of Oedipus I saw,
Beautiful Epicastè, who in life
Had done unwittingly a heinous deed⁠—
Had married her own son, who, having slain
Her father first, espoused her; but the gods
Published abroad the rumor of the crime.
He in the pleasant town of Thebes bore sway
O’er the Cadmeians; yet in misery
He lived, for so the offended gods ordained.
And she went down to Hades and the gates
That stand forever barred; for, wild with grief,
She slung a cord upon a lofty beam
And perished by it, leaving him to bear
Woes without measure, such as on a son
The furies of a mother might inflict.

“And there I saw the dame supremely fair,
Chloris, whom Neleus with large marriage-gifts
Wooed, and brought home a bride; the youngest she
Among the daughters of Iäsus’ son,
Amphion, ruler o’er Orchomenus,
The Minyeian town, and o’er the realm
Of Pylos. Three illustrious sons she bore
To Neleus⁠—Nestor, Chromius, and a chief
Of lofty bearing, Periclymenus.
She brought forth Pero also, marvellous
In beauty, wooed by all the region round;
but Neleus would bestow the maid on none
Save him who should drive off from Phylacè
The beeves, broad-fronted and with crooked horns,
Of valiant Iphicles⁠—a difficult task.
One man alone, a blameless prophet, dared
Attempt it; but he found himself withstood
By fate, and rigid fetters, and a force
Of rustic herdsmen. Months and days went by,
And the full year, led by the hours, came round.
The valiant Iphicles, who from the seer
Had heard the oracles explained, took off
The shackles, and the will of Jove was done.

“Then saw I Leda, wife of Tyndarus,
Who bore to Tyndarus two noble sons,
Castor the horseman, Pollux skilled to wield
The cestus. Both of them have still a place
Upon the fruitful earth; for Jupiter
Gave them such honor that they live by turns
Each one a day, and then are with the dead
Each one by turns; they rank among the gods.

“The wife of Aloëus next appeared,
Iphidameia, who, as she declared,
Had won the love of Neptune. She brought forth
Two short-lived sons⁠—one like a god in form,
Named Otus; and the other, far renowned,
Named Ephialtes. These the bounteous earth
Nourished to be the tallest of mankind,
And goodliest, save Orion. When the twain
Had seen but nine years of their life, they stood
In breadth of frame nine cubits, and in height
Nine fathoms. They against the living gods
Threatened to wage, upon the Olympian height,
Fierce and tumultuous battle, and to fling
Ossa upon Olympus, and to pile
Pelion, with all its growth of leafy woods,
On Ossa, that the heavens might thus be scaled.
And they, if they had reached their prime of youth,
Had made their menace good. The son of Jove
And amber-haired Latona took their lives
Ere yet beneath their temples sprang the down
And covered with its sprouting tufts the chin.

“Phaedra I saw, and Procris, and the child
Of the wise Minos, Ariadne, famed
For beauty, whom the hero Theseus once
From Crete to hallowed Athens’ fertile coast
Led, but possessed her not. Diana gave
Ear to the tale which Bacchus brought to her,
And in the isle of Dia slew the maid.

“And Maera I beheld, and Clymenè,
And Eriphylè, hateful in her guilt,
Who sold her husband for a price in gold.
But vainly might I think to name them all⁠—
The wives and daughters of heroic men
Whom I beheld⁠—for first the ambrosial night
Would wear away. And now for me the hour
Of sleep is come, at my good ship among
My friends, or haply here. Meantime the care
For my return is with the gods and you.”

He spake, and all were silent: all within
The shadows of those palace-halls were held
Motionless by the charm of what he said.
And thus the white-armed Queen Aretè spake:⁠—

“Phaeacians, how appears this man to you
In form, in stature, and well-judging mind?
My guest he is, but each among you shares
The honor of the occasion. Now, I pray,
Dismiss him not in haste, nor sparingly
Bestow your gifts on one in so much need;
For in your dwellings is much wealth, bestowed
Upon you by the bounty of the gods.”

Then also Echeneüs, aged chief,
The oldest man of the Phaeacians, spake:⁠—

“My friends, the word of our sagacious queen
Errs not, nor is ill-timed, and yours it is
To hearken and obey: but all depends
Upon Alcinoüs⁠—both the word and deed.”

And then in turn Alcinoüs spake: “That word
Shall be fulfilled, if I am ruler here
O’er the Phaeacians, skilled in seamanship.
But let the stranger, though he long for home,
Bear to remain till morning, that his store
Of gifts may be complete. To send him home
Shall be the charge of all, but mostly mine,
Since mine it is to hold the sovereign power.”

And then the wise Ulysses said: “O King
Alcinoüs, eminent o’er all thy race!
Shouldst thou command me to remain with thee
Even for a twelvemonth, and at length provide
For my return, and give me princely gifts,
Even that would please me; for with fuller hands,
The happier were my lot on my return
To my own land. I should be honored then,
And meet a kinder welcome there from all
Who see me in my Ithaca once more.”

And then again in turn Alcinoüs spake:⁠—
“Ulysses, when we look on thee, we feel
No fear that thou art false, or one of those,
The many, whom the dark earth nourishes,
Wandering at large, and forging lies, that we
May not suspect them. Thou hast grace of speech
And noble thoughts, and fitly hast thou told,
Even as a minstrel might, the history
Of all thy Argive brethren and thy own.
Now say, and frankly, didst thou also see
Any of those heroic men who went
With thee to Troy, and in that region met
Their fate? A night immeasurably long
Is yet before us. Let us have thy tale
Of wonders. I could listen till the break
Of hallowed morning, if thou canst endure
So long to speak of hardships thou hast borne.”

He spake, and wise Ulysses answered thus:⁠—
“O King Alcinoüs, eminent beyond
All others of thy people. For discourse
There is a time; there is a time for sleep.
If more thou yet wouldst hear, I will not spare
To give the story of the greater woes
Of my companions, who were afterward
Cut off from life; and though they had escaped
The cruel Trojan war, on their return
They perished by a woman’s fraud and guilt.

“When chaste Proserpina had made the ghosts
Of women scatter right and left, there came
The soul of Agamemnon, Atreus’ son.
He came attended by a throng of those
Who in the palace of Aegisthus met
A fate like his and died. When he had drunk
The dark red blood, he knew me at a look,
And wailed aloud, and, bursting into tears,
Stretched out his hands to touch me; but no power
Was there of grasp or pressure, such as once
Dwelt in those active limbs. I could not help
But weep at sight of him, for from my heart
I pitied him, and spake these winged words:⁠—

“ ‘Most glorious son of Atreus, king of men!
How, Agamemnon, has the fate that brings
To man the everlasting sleep of death
O’ertaken thee? Did Neptune, calling up
The winds in all their fury, make thy fleet
A wreck, or did thine enemies on land
Smite thee, as thou wert driving off their beeves
And their fair flocks, or fighting to defend
Some city, and the helpless women there?’

“I spake, and Agamemnon thus replied:⁠—
‘Son of Laertes, nobly born and wise,
’Twas not that Neptune calling up the winds
In all their fury wrecked me in my fleet,
Nor hostile warriors smote me on the land,
But that Aegisthus, bent upon my death,
Plotted against me with my guilty wife,
And bade me to his house and slew me there,
Even at the banquet, as a hind might slay
A bullock at the stall. With me they slew
My comrades, as a herd of white-toothed swine
Are slaughtered for some man of large estates,
Who makes a wedding or a solemn feast.
Thou hast seen many perish by the sword
In the hard battle, one by one, and yet
Thou wouldst have pitied us, hadst thou beheld
The slain beside the wine-jar, and beneath
The loaded tables, while the pavement swam
With blood. I heard Cassandra’s piteous cry,
The cry of Priam’s daughter, stricken down
By treacherous Clytemnestra at my side.
And there I lay, and, dying, raised my hands
To grasp my sword. The shameless woman went
Her way, nor stayed to close my eyes, nor press
My mouth into its place, although my soul
Was on its way to Hades. There is naught
That lives more horrible, more lost to shame,
Than is the woman who has brought her mind
To compass deeds like these⁠—the wretch who plans
So foul a crime⁠—the murder of the man
Whom she a virgin wedded. I had looked
For a warm welcome from my children here,
And all my household in my ancient home.
This woman, deep in wickedness, hath brought
Disgrace upon herself and all her sex,
Even those who give their thoughts to doing good.’

“He spake, and I replied: ‘O, how the God
Who wields the thunder, Jupiter, must hate
The house of Atreus for the women’s sake!
At first we fell by myriads in the cause
Of Helen; Clytemnestra now hath planned
This guile against thee while thou wert afar.’

“I spake, and instantly his answer came:⁠—
‘Therefore be not compliant to thy wife,
Nor let her hear from thee whatever lies
Within thy knowledge. Tell her but a part,
And keep the rest concealed. Yet is thy life,
Ulysses, in no danger from thy spouse;
For wise and well instructed in the rules
Of virtuous conduct is Penelope,
The daughter of Icarius. When we went
To war, we left her a young bride; a babe
Was at her breast, a boy, who now must sit
Among grown men; and fortunate is he,
For certainly his father will behold
The youth on his return, and he embrace
His father, as is meet. But as for me,
My consort suffered not my eyes to feed
Upon the sight of my own son; for first
She slew me. This, then, I admonish thee⁠—
Heed thou my words. Bring not thy ship to land
Openly in thy country, but by stealth,
Since now no longer can we put our trust
In woman. Meantime, tell me of my son,
And faithfully, if thou hast heard of him
As living, whether in Orchomenus,
Or sandy Pylos, or in the broad realm
Of Menelaus, Sparta; for not yet
Has my Orestes passed from earth and life.’

“He spake, and I replied: ‘Why ask of me
That question, O Atrides? I know not
Whether thy son be living or be dead,
And this is not a time for idle words.’

“Thus in sad talk we stood, and freely flowed
Our tears. Meanwhile the ghosts of Peleus’ son
Achilles, and Patroclus, excellent
Antilochus, and Ajax, all drew near⁠—
Ajax for form and stature eminent
O’er all the Greeks save Peleus’ faultless son.
Then did the soul of fleet Aeacides
Know me, and thus in winged words he said:⁠—

“ ‘Ulysses! what hath moved thee to attempt
This greatest of thy labors? How is it
That thou hast found the courage to descend
To Hades, where the dead, the bodiless forms
Of those whose work is done on earth, abide?’

“He spake; I answered: ‘Greatest of the Greeks!
Achilles, son of Peleus! ’Twas to hear
The counsel of Tiresias that I came,
If haply he might tell me by what means
To reach my rugged Ithaca again;
For yet have I not trod my native coast,
Nor even have drawn nigh to Greece. I meet
Misfortunes everywhere. But as for thee,
Achilles, no man lived before thy time,
Nor will hereafter live, more fortunate
Than thou⁠—for while alive we honored thee
As if thou wert a god, and now again
In these abodes thou rulest o’er the dead;
Therefore, Achilles, shouldst thou not be sad.’

“I spake; Achilles quickly answered me:⁠—
‘Noble Ulysses, speak not thus of death,
As if thou couldst console me. I would be
A laborer on earth, and serve for hire
Some man of mean estate, who makes scant cheer,
Rather than reign o’er all who have gone down
To death. Speak rather of my noble son,
Whether or not he yet has joined the wars
To fight among the foremost of the host.
And tell me also if thou aught hast heard
Of blameless Peleus⁠—whether he be yet
Honored among his many Myrmidons,
Or do they hold him now in small esteem
In Hellas and in Phthia, since old age
Unnerves his hands and feet, and I no more
Am there, beneath the sun, to give him aid,
Strong as I was on the wide plain of Troy,
When warring for the Achaian cause I smote
That valiant people. Could I come again,
But for a moment, with my former strength,
Into my father’s palace, I would make
That strength and these unconquerable hands
A terror to the men who do him wrong,
And rob him of the honor due a king.’

“He spake; I answered: ‘Nothing have I heard
Of blameless Peleus, but I will relate
The truth concerning Neoptolemus,
Thy son, as thou requirest. Him I took
From Scyros in a gallant barque to join
The well-armed Greeks. Know, then, that when we sat
In council, planning to conduct the war
Against the city of Troy, he always rose
The first to speak, nor were his words unwise.
The godlike Nestor and myself alone
Rivalled him in debate. And when we fought
About the city walls, he loitered not
Among the others in the numerous host,
But hastened on before them, giving place
To no man there in valor. Many men
He slew in desperate combat, whom to name
Were past my power, so many were they all
Whom in the cause of Greece he struck to earth.
Yet one I name, Eurypylus, the son
Of Telephus, who perished by his sword
With many of his band, Citeians, led
To war because of liberal gifts bestowed
Upon their chieftain’s wife; the noblest he
Of men, in form, whom I have ever seen,
Save Memnon. When into the wooden steed,
Framed by Epeius, we the chiefs of Greece
Ascended, and to me was given the charge
Of all things there, to open and to shut
The close-built fraud, while others of high rank
Among the Greeks were wiping off their tears,
And their limbs shook, I never saw thy son
Turn pale in his fine face, or brush away
A tear, but he besought me earnestly
That he might leave our hiding-place, and grasped
His falchion’s hilt, and lifted up his spear
Heavy with brass, for in his mind he smote
The Trojan crowd already. When at last
We had o’erthrown and sacked the lofty town
Of Priam, he embarked upon a ship,
With all his share of spoil⁠—a large reward⁠—
Unhurt, not touched in combat hand to hand,
Nor wounded from afar, as oftentimes
Must be the fortune of a fight, for Mars
Is wont to rage without regard to men.’

“I spake. The soul of swift Aeacides
Over the meadows thick with asphodel
Departed with long strides, well pleased to hear
From me the story of his son’s renown.

“The other ghosts of those who lay in death
Stood sorrowing by, and each one told his griefs;
But that of Ajax, son of Telamon,
Kept far aloof, displeased that I had won
The victory contending at the fleet
Which should possess the arms of Peleus’ son.
His goddess-mother laid them as a prize
Before us, and the captive sons of Troy
And Pallas were the umpires to award
The victory. And now how much I wish
I had not conquered in a strife like that,
Since for that cause the dark earth hath received
The hero Ajax, who in nobleness
Of form and greatness of exploits excelled
All other Greeks, except the blameless son
Of Peleus. Then I spake in soothing words:⁠—

“ ‘O Ajax, son of blameless Telamon!
Wilt thou not even in death forget the wrath
Caused by the strife for those accursed arms?
The gods have made them fatal to the Greeks,
For thou, the bulwark of our host, didst fall,
And we lamented thee as bitterly
When thou wert dead as we had mourned the son
Of Peleus. Nor was any man to blame;
’Twas Jupiter who held in vehement hate
The army of the warlike Greeks, and laid
This doom upon thee. Now, O king, draw near,
And hear our voice and words, and check, I pray,
The anger rising in thy generous breast.’

“I spake; he answered not, but moved away
To Erebus, among the other souls
Of the departed. Yet would I have had
Speech of him, angry as he was, or else
Have spoken to him further, but my wish
Was strong to see yet others of the dead.

“Then I beheld the illustrious son of Jove,
Minos, a golden sceptre in his hand,
Sitting to judge the dead, who round the king
Pleaded their causes. There they stood or sat
In Pluto’s halls⁠—a pile with ample gates.

“And next I saw the huge Orion drive,
Across the meadows green with asphodel,
The savage beast whom he had slain; he bore
The brazen mace, which no man’s power could break.

“And Tityus there I saw⁠—the mighty earth
His mother⁠—overspreading, as he lay,
Nine acres, with two vultures at his side,
That, plucking at his liver, plunged their beaks
Into the flesh; nor did his hands avail
To drive them off, for he had offered force
To Jove’s proud wife Latona, as she went
To Pytho, through the pleasant Panopeus.

“And next I looked on Tantalus, a prey
To grievous torments, standing in a lake
That reached his chin. Though painfully athirst,
He could not drink; as often as he bowed
His aged head to take into his lips
The water, it was drawn away, and sank
Into the earth, and the dark soil appeared
Around his feet; a god had dried it up.
And lofty trees drooped o’er him, hung with fruit⁠—
Pears and pomegranates, apples fair to sight,
And luscious figs, and olives green of hue.
And when that ancient man put forth his hands
To pluck them from their stems, the wind arose
And whirled them far among the shadowy clouds.

“There I beheld the shade of Sisyphus
Amid his sufferings. With both hands he rolled
A huge stone up a hill. To force it up,
He leaned against the mass with hands and feet;
But, ere it crossed the summit of the hill
A power was felt that sent it rolling back,
And downward plunged the unmanageable rock
Before him to the plain. Again he toiled
To heave it upward, while the sweat in streams
Ran down his limbs, and dust begrimed his brow.

“Then I beheld the mighty Hercules⁠—
The hero’s image⁠—for he sits himself
Among the deathless gods, well pleased to share
Their feasts, and Hebe of the dainty feet⁠—
A daughter of the mighty Jupiter
And golden-sandalled Juno⁠—is his wife.
Around his image flitted to and fro
The ghosts with noise, like fear-bewildered birds.
His look was dark as night. He held in hand
A naked bow, a shaft upon the string,
And fiercely gazed, like one about to send
The arrow forth. Upon his breast he wore
The formidable baldric, on whose band
Of gold were sculptured marvels⁠—forms of bears,
Wild boars, grim lions, battles, skirmishings,
And death by wounds, and slaughter. He who wrought
That band had never done the like before,
Nor could thereafter. As I met his eye,
The hero knew me, and, beholding me
With pity, said to me in winged words:⁠—

“ ‘Son of Laertes, nobly born and wise,
And yet unhappy; surely thou dost bear
A cruel fate, like that which I endured
While yet I saw the brightness of the sun.
The offspring of Saturnian Jupiter
Am I, and yet was I compelled to serve
One of a meaner race than I, who set
Difficult tasks. He sent me hither once
To bring away the guardian hound; he deemed
No harder task might be. I brought him hence,
I led him up from Hades, with such aid
As Hermes and the blue-eyed Pallas gave.’

“Thus having spoken, he withdrew again
Into the abode of Pluto. I remained
And kept my place, in hope there yet might come
Heroes who perished in the early time,
And haply I might look on some of those⁠—
The ancients, whom I greatly longed to see⁠—
On Theseus and Pirithoüs, glorious men,
The children of the gods. But now there flocked
Already round me, with a mighty noise,
The innumerable nations of the dead;
And I grew pale with fear, lest from the halls
Of Pluto the stern Proserpine should send
The frightful visage of the monster-maid,
The Gorgon. Hastening to my ship, I bade
The crew embark, and cast the hawsers loose.
Quickly they went on board, and took their seats
Upon the benches. Through Océanus
The current bore my galley, aided first
By oars and then by favorable gales.”