Combat of Ulysses and Irus

Ulysses insulted by the beggar Irus⁠—Amusement of the suitors, who encourage the quarrel⁠—Victory of Ulysses in the combat with Irus⁠—Manoeuvre of Penelope to obtain presents from the suitors, and its success⁠—Ulysses insulted by Eurymachus⁠—His reply⁠—The cupbearer struck down by a footstool flung at Ulysses by Eurymachus.

There came a common beggar, wont to ask
Alms through the town of Ithaca, well known
For greediness of stomach, gluttonous
And a wine-bibber, but of little strength
And courage, though he seemed of powerful mould.
Arnaeus was the name which at his birth
His mother gave him, but the young men called
The fellow Irus, for it was his wont
To go on errands, as a messenger,
When he was ordered. Coming now, he thought
To drive Ulysses out of his own house,
And railed at him, and said in winged words:⁠—

“Hence with thee! leave the porch, old man, at once,
Lest thou be taken by the foot and dragged
Away from it. Dost thou not see how all
Around us nod, to bid me drag thee out?
I am ashamed to do it. Rise and go,
Else haply we may have a strife of blows.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, frowned and said:
“Wretch! there is nothing that I do or say
To harm thee aught. I do not envy thee
What others give thee, though the dole be large;
And ample is this threshold for us both.
Nor shouldst thou envy others, for thou seemst
A straggler like myself. The gods bestow
Wealth where they list. But do not challenge me
To blows, lest, aged as I am, thou rouse
My anger, and I make thy breast and lips
Hideous with blood. Tomorrow then will be
A quiet day for me, since thou, I trust,
In all the time to come, wilt never more
Enter the palace of Laertes’ son.”

The beggar Irus angrily rejoined:
“Ye gods! this glutton prattles volubly,
Like an old woman at the chimney-side.
Yet could I do him mischief, smiting him
On both his sides, and dashing from his cheeks
The teeth to earth, as men are wont to deal
With swine that eat the wheat. Now gird thyself,
Let these men see us fighting. How canst thou
Think to contend with one so young as I?”

Thus fiercely did they wrangle as they stood
Beside the polished threshold and before
The lofty gates. The stout Antinoüs heard,
And, laughing heartily, bespake the rest:⁠—

“Here, friends, is what we never yet have had.
Behold the pleasant pastime which the gods
Provide for us. These men⁠—the stranger here,
And Irus⁠—quarrel, and will come to blows.
Let us stand by and bring the combat on.”

He spake. All rose with laughter and came round
The ragged beggars, while Eupeithes’ son,
Antinoüs, in these words harangued the rest:⁠—

“Ye noble suitors, hear me. At the fire
Already lie the paunches of two goats,
Preparing for our evening meal, and both
Are filled with fat and blood. Whoever shows
Himself the better man in this affray,
And conquers, he shall take the one of these
He chooses, and shall ever afterward
Feast at our table, and no man but he
Shall ever come among us asking alms.”

He ended. All approved his words, and thus
Ulysses, craftily dissembling, said:⁠—

“O friends, it is not well that one so old
As I, and broken by calamity,
Should fight a younger man; but hunger bids,
And I may be o’ercome by blows. But now
Swear all a solemn oath, that none of you,
To favor Irus, wickedly will raise
His mighty hand to smite me, and so aid
My adversary to my overthrow.”

He spake; the suitor-train, assenting, took
The oath, and when they all were duly sworn,
The highborn prince Telemachus began:⁠—

“O stranger, if thy manly heart be moved
To drive him hence, fear no one else of all
The Achaians. Whosoever strikes at thee
Has many to contend with. I am here
The host. Antinoüs and Eurymachus,
Wise men and kings, agree with me in this.”

He spake, and all approved. Ulysses drew
And girt his tatters round his waist and showed
His large and shapely thighs. Unclothed appeared
His full broad shoulders, and his manly breast
And sinewy arms. Minerva stood by him,
And with a mighty breadth of limb endued
The shepherd of the people. Earnestly
The suitors gazed, and wondered at the sight,
And each one, turning to his neighbor, said:⁠—

“Irus, poor Irus, on himself has drawn
An evil fate, for what a sinewy thigh
His adversary shows beneath his rags!”

So talked they, while the heart of Irus sank
Within him; yet the attendants girding him
Forcibly drew him forward, sore afraid,
The muscles quivering over every limb.
And then Antinoüs spake, and chid him thus:⁠—

“Now, boaster, thou deservest not to live,
Nay, nor to have been born, if thou dost fear
And quake at meeting one so old as he,
So broken with the hardships he has borne.
And now I tell thee what will yet be done,
Should he approve himself the better man,
And conquer. I will have thee sent on board
A galley to Epirus, and its king,
The foe of all men living, Echetus,
And he will pare away thy nose and ears
With the sharp steel, and, wrenching out the parts
Of shame, will cast them to be torn by dogs.”

He spake, and Irus shook through all his frame
With greater terror, yet they dragged him on
Into the midst. Both champions lifted up
Their arms. The godlike, much-enduring man,
Ulysses, pondered whether so to strike
His adversary that the breath of life
Might leave him as he fell, or only smite
To stretch him on the earth. As thus he mused,
The lighter blow seemed wisest, lest the Greeks
Should know who dealt it. When the hands of both
Were thus uplifted, Irus gave a blow
On his right shoulder, while Ulysses smote
Irus beneath the ear, and broke the bone
Within, and brought the red blood from his mouth.
He fell amid the dust, and shrieked and gnashed
His teeth, and beat with jerking feet the ground.
The suitor-train threw up their hands and laughed
Till breathless, while Ulysses seized his feet
And drew him o’er the threshold to the court
And the porch doors, and there, beside the wall,
Set him to lean against it, gave a staff
Into his hands, and said in winged words:⁠—

“Sit there, and scare away the dogs and swine,
But think not, wretched creature, to bear rule
Over the stranger and the beggar tribe,
Or worse than this may happen to thee yet.”

He spake, and o’er his shoulders threw the scrip
That yawned with chinks, and by a twisted thong
Was fastened; then he turned to take his seat
Upon the threshold, while the suitor-train
Went back into the palace with gay shouts
Of laughter, and bespake him blandly thus:⁠—

“Stranger, may Jove and all the other gods
Grant thee what thou desirest, and whate’er
Is pleasant to thee! Thou hast put an end
To this importunate beggar’s rounds among
The people. We shall send him off at once
Into Epirus, and to Echetus,
Its king, the foe of every living man.”

So talked the suitors, and the omen made
Ulysses glad. Meantime Antinoüs placed
The mighty paunch before the victor, filled
With blood and fat, and from the canister
Amphinomus brought forth two loaves, and raised
A golden cup and drank to him, and said:⁠—

“Hail, guest and father! happy be thy days
Henceforth, though dark with many sorrows now!”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“Amphinomus, thou seemest most discreet,
And such thy father is, of whom I hear
A worshipful report, the good and rich
Dulichian Nisus. Thou, as I am told,
Art son to him, and thou art seemingly
A man of pertinent speech. I therefore say
To thee, and bid thee hear and mark me well,
No being whom earth nourishes to breathe
Her air and move upon her face is more
The sport of circumstance than man. For while
The gods give health, and he is strong of limb,
He thinks no evil in the coming days
Will overtake him. When the blessed gods
Visit him with afflictions, these he bears
Impatiently and with a fretful mind.
Such is the mood of man, while yet he dwells
On earth; it changes as the All-Father gives
The sunshine or withholds it. I was once
Deemed fortunate among my fellow-men,
And many things that were unjust I did;
For in my strength and in my father’s power,
And valor of my brothers, I had put
My trust. Let no man, therefore, dare to be
Unjust in aught, but tranquilly enjoy
Whatever good the gods vouchsafe to give.
Yet are these suitors guilty of foul wrong,
Wasting the substance and dishonoring
The wife of one who will not, as I deem,
Remain long distant from his friends and home,
But is already near. O, may some god
Remove thee from this danger to thy home!
Nor mayst thou meet him when he shall return
To his own land. For when he comes once more
Beneath this roof, and finds the suitors here,
Not without bloodshed will their parting be.”

He spake, and, pouring out a part, he drank
The wine, and gave the goblet to the prince,
Who crossed the hall, and sorrowfully shook
His head, for now already did his heart
Forebode the coming evil. Not by this
Did he escape his death. Minerva laid
A snare for him, that he might fall beneath,
The strong arm of Telemachus. He went
And took the seat from which he lately rose.

Then blue-eyed Pallas moved Penelope,
Sage daughter of Icarius, to appear
Before the suitors, that their base intent
Might be more fully seen, and she might win
More honor from her husband and her son.
Wherefore she forced a laugh, and thus began:⁠—

“Eurynomè, I would at length appear,
Though not till now, before the suitor-train,
Detested as they are. I there would speak
A word of timely warning to my son,
And give him counsel not to trust himself
Too much among the suitors, who are fair
In speech, but mean him foully in their hearts.”

Eurynomè, the household matron, said:
“Assuredly, my child, thou speakest well.
Go now, and warn thy son, and keep back naught.
First bathe, and, ere thou go, anoint thy cheeks,
Nor show them stained with tears. It is not well
To sorrow without end. For now thy son
Is grown, and thou beholdest him at length
What thou didst pray the gods, when he was born,
That he might yet become, a bearded man.”

And then the sage Penelope rejoined:
“Though anxious for my sake, persuade me not,
Eurynomè, to bathe, nor to anoint
My cheeks with oil. The gods inhabiting
Olympus took away their comeliness
When in his roomy ships my husband sailed;
But bid Antinoe come, and call with her
Hippodameïa, that they both may stand
Beside me in the hall. I will not go
Alone among the men, for very shame.”

She spake, the aged dame went forth to bear
The message, and to bring the women back.
While blue-eyed Pallas had yet other cares,
She brought a balmy sleep, and shed it o’er
The daughter of Icarius, as she lay
Reclined upon her couch, her limbs relaxed
In rest. The glorious goddess gave a dower
Of heavenly graces, that the Achaian chiefs
Might look on her amazed. She lighted up
Her fair face with a beauty all divine,
Such as the queenly Cytherea wears
When in the mazes of the dance she joins
The Graces. Then she made her to the sight
Of loftier stature and of statelier size,
And fairer than the ivory newly carved.
This having done, the gracious power withdrew,
While from the palace came the white-armed maids,
And prattled as they came. The balmy sleep
Forsook their mistress at the sound. She passed
Her hands across her cheeks, and thus she spake:⁠—

“ ’Twas a sweet sleep that, in my wretchedness,
Wrapped me just now. Would that, this very hour,
The chaste Diana by so soft a death
Might end me, that my days might be no more
Consumed in sorrow for a husband lost,
Of peerless worth, the noblest of the Greeks.”

She spake, and from the royal bower went down,
Yet not alone; two maidens went with her.
And when that most august of womankind
Drew near the suitors, at the door she stopped
Of that magnificent hall, and o’er her cheeks
Let fall the lustrous veil, while on each side
A modest maiden stood. The suitors all
Felt their knees tremble, and were sick with love,
And all desired her. Then the queen bespake
Telemachus, her well-beloved son:⁠—

“Telemachus, thy judgment is not firm,
Nor dost thou think aright. While yet a boy
Thy thought was wiser. Now that thou art grown,
And on the verge of manhood, so that one
Who comes from far and sees thy noble part
And stature well may say thou art the son
Of a most fortunate father, yet to think
And judge discreetly thou art not as then,
For what a deed is this which has been done
Even here! Thou hast allowed a stranger guest
To be assaulted rudely. How is this?
If one who sits a guest beneath our roof
Be outraged thus, be sure it brings to thee
Great shame and rank dishonor among men.”

To this discreet Telemachus replied:
“Mother, I cannot take it ill that thou
Shouldst be offended. But of many things
I have a clear discernment, and can weigh
The good and bad. I was till now a child,
Yet even now I cannot always see
The wiser course. These men bewilder me,
As, sitting side by side, they lay their plots
Against me, and I have no helper here.
When Irus and the stranger fought, the strife
Had no such issue as the suitors wished.
The stranger conquered. Would to Father Jove,
To Pallas and Apollo, that the crew
Of suitors here might sit with nodding heads
Struck down upon the spot, within these halls
Or in the courts, and all with powerless limbs,
As Irus sits beside the gate and nods,
Like one o’ercome with wine, nor can he stand
Upon his feet, nor go to where he dwells,
If home he has, so feeble are his limbs.”

So talked the twain awhile; then interposed
Eurymachus, and thus bespake the queen:⁠—

“Sage daughter of Icarius! if all those
Who in Iäsian Argos have their homes
Should once behold thee, a still larger crowd
Of suitors would tomorrow come and feast
Within thy halls, so much dost thou excel
In mind and form and face all womankind.”

To this the sage Penelope replied:
“Eurymachus, the immortals took away
Such grace of form and face as once was mine,
What time the sons of Argos sailed for Troy,
And with them went Ulysses, my espoused.
Should he return, and take again in charge
My household, greater would my glory be,
And prized more highly. I am wretched now,
Such woes the gods have heaped upon my head.
He, when he left his native island, grasped
My right hand at the wrist, and said to me:
‘Think not, dear wife, that all the well-armed Greeks
Will come back safe from Troy. The Trojan men,
They say, are brave in war, expert to cast
The spear and wing the arrow, skilled to rein
The rapid steeds by which the bloody strife
Of battlefields is hurried to its close;
And therefore whether God will bring me back,
Or I shall fall in Troy, I cannot know.
Take charge of all things here. I leave with thee
My father and my mother in these halls.
Be kind to them as now, nay, more than now,
Since I shall not be here. When thou shalt see
My son a bearded man, take to thyself
A husband, whom thou wilt, and leave thy house.’
Such were his words, and they have been fulfilled.
The night will come in which I must endure
This hateful marriage, wretched that I am,
To whom the will of Jupiter forbids
All consolation, and this bitter thought
Weighs evermore upon my heart and soul.
The custom was not thus in other times;
When suitors wooed a noble wife, the child
Of some rich house, contending for her smile,
They came with beeves and fatling sheep to feast
The damsel’s friends, and gave munificent gifts,
But wasted not the wealth that was not theirs.”

She spake, Ulysses was rejoiced to see
That thus she sought to draw from each a gift,
With fair and artful words. Yet were his thoughts
Intent on other plans. Eupeithes’ son,
Antinoüs, thus made answer to the queen:⁠—

“Sage daughter of Icarius, only deign
To take the gifts which any of the Greeks
Will bring⁠—nor is it gracious to reject
A present⁠—yet be sure we go not hence,
To our estates nor elsewhere, till thou make
A bridegroom of the best Achaian here.”

So spake Antinoüs. All approved his words,
And each sent forth a herald for his gift.
The herald of Antinoüs brought to him
A robe of many colors, beautiful
And ample, with twelve golden clasps, which each
Had its well-fitted eye. Eurymachus
Received a golden necklace, richly wrought,
And set with amber beads, that glowed as if
With sunshine. To Eurydamas there came
A pair of earrings, each a triple gem,
Daintily fashioned and of exquisite grace.
Two servants bore them. From Pisander’s house⁠—
Son of the Prince Polyctor⁠—there was brought
A collar of rare beauty. Thus did each
Bestow a different yet becoming gift.
And then that most august of women went
Back to the upper chambers with her maids,
Who bore the sumptuous presents, while below
The suitors turned them to the dance and song,
Amused till evening came. Its darkness stole
Over their pastime. Then they brought and placed
Three hearths to light the palace, heaping them
With wood, well dried and hard and newly cleft.
With this they mingled flaming brands. The maids
Of the great sufferer, Ulysses, fed
The fire by turns. To them the hero spake:⁠—

“Ye maidens of a sovereign absent long,
Withdraw to where your highborn mistress sits;
There turn the spindle, seeking to amuse
Her lonely hours; there comb with your own hands
The fleece, and I will see that these have light.
Even though they linger till the Morn is here
In her bright car, they cannot overcome
My patience. I am practised to endure.”

So spake he, and the maidens, as they heard,
Cast at each other meaning looks, and laughed,
And one Melantho, of the rosy cheeks,
Railed at him impudently. She was born
To Dolius, but Penelope had reared
The damsel as a daughter of her own,
And given her, for her pleasure, many things;
Yet for the sorrows of Penelope
Melantho little cared. Eurymachus
Had made the girl his paramour. She spake,
And chid Ulysses with unmannerly words:⁠—

“Outlandish wretch! thou must be one whose brain
Is turned, since thou wilt neither go to sleep
Within a smithy, nor in any place
Of public shelter, but wilt stay and prate
Among this company with no restraint
Or reverence. Either wine has stolen away
Thy senses, or thy natural mood, perchance,
Prompts thee to chatter idly. Art thou proud
Of conquering Irus, that poor vagabond?
Beware lest someone of robuster arms
Than Irus seize and thrust thee out of doors
With a bruised head and face begrimed with blood.”

The sage Ulysses frowned on her and said:
“Impudent one, Telemachus shall hear
From me the saucy words which thou hast said,
And he will come and hew thee limb from limb.”

He spake; the damsels, frightened at his words,
Fled through the hall, and shook in every limb
With terror, lest his threat should be fulfilled.
He meantime stood beside the kindled hearths
And fed the flames, and, looking on the crowd
Of suitors, brooded in his secret heart
O’er plans that would not fail to be fulfilled.

But Pallas suffered not the suitors yet
To cease from railing speeches, all the more
To wound the spirit of Laertes’ son.
Eurymachus, the son of Polybus,
Began to scoff at him, and thus he spake
To wake the ready laughter of the rest:⁠—

“Hear me, ye suitors of the illustrious queen.
I speak the thought that comes into my mind.
Led by some god, no doubt, this man has come
Into the palace; for the light we have
Of torches seems to issue from the crown
Of his bald pate, a head without a hair.”

So said Eurymachus, and then bespake
Ulysses, the destroyer of walled towns:⁠—

“Stranger, if I accept thee, wilt thou serve
Upon the distant parts of my estate?
There shalt thou have fair wages, and shalt bring
The stones in heaps together, and shalt plant
Tall trees, and I will feed thee through the year,
And give thee clothes, and sandals for thy feet.
But thou art used, no doubt, to idle ways,
And never dost thou work with willing hands,
Bat dost prefer to roam the town and beg,
Purveying for thy gluttonous appetite.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:⁠—
“Eurymachus, if we were matched in work
Against each other in the time of spring
When days are long, and both were mowing grass,
And I had a curved scythe in hand and thou
Another, that we might keep up the strife
Till nightfall, fasting, mid the abundant grass;
Or if there were a yoke of steers to drive,
The sturdiest of their kind, sleek, large, well fed,
Of equal age, and equal strength to bear
The labor, and both strong, and if the field
Were of four acres, with a soil through which
The plough could cleave its way⁠—then shouldst thou see
How evenly my furrow would be turned.
Or should the son of Saturn send today
War from abroad, and I had but a shield,
Two spears, and, fitted to my brows, a helm
Of brass, thou wouldst behold me pressing on
Among the foremost warriors, and would see
No cause to rail at my keen appetite.
But arrogantly thou dost bear thyself,
And pitilessly; thou in thine own eyes
Art great and mighty, since thou dost consort
With few, and those are not the best of men.
Yet should Ulysses come to his own land,
These gates that seem so wide would suddenly
Become too narrow for thee in thy flight.”

He spake. Eurymachus grew yet more wroth,
And frowned on him, and said in winged words:⁠—

“Wretch! I shall do thee mischief. Thou art bold,
And babblest unabashed among us all.
The wine, perhaps, is in thy foolish head,
Or thou art always thus, and ever prone
To prattle impudently. Art thou proud
Of conquering Irus, that poor vagabond?”

Thus having said, he brandished in the air
A footstool; but Ulysses, to escape
The anger of Eurymachus, sat down
Before the knees of the Dulichian prince,
Amphinomus. The footstool flew, and struck
On the right arm the cupbearer. Down fell
The beaker ringing; he who bore it lay
Stretched in the dust. Then in those shadowy halls
The suitors rose in tumult. One of them
Looked at another by his side, and said:⁠—

“Would that this vagabond had met his death
Ere he came hither. This confusion, then,
Had never been. ’Tis for a beggar’s sake
We wrangle, and the feast will henceforth give
No pleasure; we shall go from bad to worse.”

Then rose in majesty Telemachus,
And said: “Ye are not in your senses sure,
Unhappy men, who cannot eat and drink
In peace. Some deity, no doubt, has moved
Your minds to frenzy. Now, when each of you
Has feasted well, let each withdraw to sleep,
Just when he will. I drive no man away.”

He spake; the suitors heard, and bit their lips,
And wondered at Telemachus, who spake
So resolutely. Then Amphinomus,
The son of Nisus Aretiades,
Stood forth, harangued the suitor-crowd, and said:⁠—

“O friends! let no one here with carping words
Seek to deny what is so justly said,
Nor yet molest the stranger, nor do harm
To any of the servants in the halls
Of the great chief Ulysses. Now let him
Who brings the guests their wine begin and fill
The cups, that, pouring to the gods their part,
We may withdraw to sleep. The stranger here
Leave me within the palace, and in charge
Of him to whom he came, Telemachus.”

He ended. All were pleased, and Mutlus then,
Hero and herald from Dulichium’s coast,
And follower of the prince Amphinomus,
Mingled a jar of wine, and went to each,
Dispensing it. They to the blessed gods
Poured first a part, and then they drank themselves
The generous juice. And when the wine was poured,
And they had drunk what each desired, they went
Homeward to slumber, each in his abode.