Death of the Suitors

Antinoüs slain by an arrow from the bow of Ulysses, who now declares himself, and begins the slaughter⁠—Arms brought to him and to Eumaeus and Philoetius by Telemachus⁠—Arms brought to the suitors by Melanthius the goatherd⁠—Appearance of Pallas in the shape of Mentor⁠—Death of all the suitors⁠—Medon and Phemius spared⁠—The unfaithful serving-women hanged.

Then did Ulysses cast his rags aside,
And, leaping to the threshold, took his stand
On its broad space, with bow and quiver filled
With arrows. At his feet the hero poured
The winged shafts, and to the suitors called:⁠—

“That difficult strife is ended. Now I take
Another mark, which no man yet has hit.
Now shall I see if I attain my aim,
And, by the aid of Phoebus, win renown.”

He spake; and, turning, at Antinoüs aimed
The bitter shaft⁠—Antinoüs, who just then
Had grasped a beautiful two-eared cup of gold,
About to drink the wine. He little thought
Of wounds and death; for who, when banqueting
Among his fellows, could suspect that one
Alone against so many men would dare,
However bold, to plan his death, and bring
On him the doom of fate? Ulysses struck
The suitor with the arrow at the throat.
The point came through the tender neck behind,
Sideways he sank to earth; his hand let fall
The cup; the dark blood in a thick warm stream
Gushed from the nostrils of the smitten man.
He spurned the table with his feet, and spilled
The viands; bread and roasted meats were flung
To lie polluted on the floor. Then rose
The suitors in a tumult, when they saw
The fallen man; from all their seats they rose
Throughout the hall, and to the massive walls
Looked eagerly; there hung no buckler there,
No sturdy lance for them to wield. They called
Thus to Ulysses with indignant words:⁠—

“Stranger! in evil hour hast thou presumed
To aim at men; and thou shalt henceforth bear
Part in no other contest. Even now
Is thy destruction close to thee. Thy hand
Hath slain the noblest youth in Ithaca.
The vultures shall devour thy flesh for this.”

So each one said; they deemed he had not slain
The suitor wittingly; nor did they see,
Blind that they were, the doom which in that hour
Was closing round them all. Then with a frown
The wise Ulysses looked on them, and said:⁠—

“Dogs! ye had thought I never would come back
From Ilium’s coast, and therefore ye devoured
My substance here, and offered violence
To my maidservants, and pursued my wife
As lovers, while I lived. Ye dreaded not
The gods who dwell in the great heaven, nor feared
Vengeance hereafter from the hands of men;
And now destruction overhangs you all.”

He spake, and all were pale with fear, and each
Looked round for some escape from death. Alone
Eurymachus found voice, and answered thus:⁠—

“If thou indeed be he, the Ithacan
Ulysses, now returned to thine old home,
Well hast thou spoken of the many wrongs
Done to thee by the Achaians in thy house
And in thy fields. But there the man lies slain
Who was the cause of all. Antinoüs first
Began this course of wrong. Nor were his thoughts
So much of marriage as another aim⁠—
Which Saturn’s son denied him⁠—to bear rule
Himself o’er those who till the pleasant fields
Of Ithaca, first having slain thy son
In ambush. But he now has met his fate.
Spare, then, thy people. We will afterward
Make due amends in public for the waste
Here in thy palace of the food and wine.
For each of us shall bring thee twenty beeves,
And brass and gold, until thy heart shall be
Content. Till then we cannot blame thy wrath.”

Sternly the wise Ulysses frowned, and said:
“Eurymachus, if thou shouldst offer me
All that thou hast, thy father’s wealth entire,
And add yet other gifts, not even then
Would I refrain from bloodshed, ere my hand
Avenged my wrongs upon the suitor-crew.
Choose then to fight or flee, whoever hopes
Escape from death and fate; yet none of you
Will now, I think, avoid that bitter doom.”

He spake. At once their knees and head grew faint,
And thus Eurymachus bespake the rest:⁠—

“This man, O friends, to his untamable arm
Will give no rest, but with that bow in hand,
And quiver, will send forth from where he stands
His shafts, till he has slain us all. Prepare
For combat then, and draw your swords, and hold
The tables up against his deadly shafts,
And rush together at him as one man,
And drive him from the threshold through the door.
Then, hurrying through the city, let us sound
The alarm, and soon he will have shot his last.”

He spake, and, drawing his keen two-edged sword
Of brass, sprang toward him with a dreadful cry,
Just as the great Ulysses, sending forth
An arrow, smote the suitor on the breast,
Beside the nipple. The swift weapon stood
Fixed in his liver; to the ground he flung
The sword, and, reeling giddily around
The table, fell; he brought with him to earth
The viands and the double cup, and smote
The pavement with his forehead heavily,
And in great agony. With both his feet
He struck and shook his throne, and darkness came
Over his eyes. Then rushed Amphinomus
Against the glorious chief, and drew his sword
To thrust him from the door. Telemachus
O’ertook him, and between his shoulders drove
A brazen lance. Right through his breast it went,
And he fell headlong, with his forehead dashed
Against the floor. Telemachus drew back,
And left his long spear in Amphinomus,
Lest, while he drew it forth, someone among
The Achaians might attack him with the sword,
And thrust him through or hew him down. In haste
He reached his father’s side, and quickly said:⁠—

“Now, father, will I bring to thee a shield,
Two javelins, and a helmet wrought of brass,
Well fitted to the temples. I will case
Myself in armor, and will also give
Arms to the swineherd, and to him who tends
The beeves; for men in armor combat best.”

And wise Ulysses answered: “Bring them then,
And quickly, while I yet have arrows here
For my defence, lest, when I am alone,
They drive me from my station at the door.”

He spake. Obedient to his father’s word,
Telemachus was soon within the room
In which the glorious arms were laid. He took
Four bucklers thence, eight spears, and helmets four
Of brass, each darkened with its horsehair crest,
And bore them forth, and quickly stood again
Beside his father. But he first encased
His limbs in brass; his followers also put
Their shining armor on, and took their place
Beside the wise Ulysses, eminent
In shrewd devices. He, while arrows yet
Were ready to his hand, with every aim
Brought down a suitor; side by side they fell.
But when the shafts were spent, the archer-king
Leaned his good bow beside the shining wall,
Against a pillar of the massive pile,
And round his shoulders slung a fourfold shield,
And crowned his martial forehead with a helm
Wrought fairly, with a heavy horsehair crest
That nodded gallantly above, and took
In hand the two stout lances tipped with brass.

In the strong wall there was a postern door,
And, near the outer threshold of the pile,
A passage from it to a narrow lane,
Closed with well-fitting doors. Ulysses bade
The noble swineherd take his station there.
And guard it well, as now the only way
Of entrance. Agelaüs called aloud
To all his fellows, and bespake them thus:⁠—

“Friends! will no one among you all go up
To yonder postern door, and make our plight
Known to the people? Then the alarm would spread,
And this man haply will have shot his last.”

Melanthius, keeper of the goats, replied:
“Nay, noble Agelaüs; ’tis too near
The palace gate; the entrance of the lane
Is narrow, and a single man, if brave,
Against us all might hold it. I will bring
Arms from the chamber to equip you all;
For there within, and nowhere else, I deem,
Ulysses and his son laid up their arms.”

Thus having said, the keeper of the goats,
Melanthius, climbed the palace stairs, and gained
The chamber of Ulysses. Taking thence
Twelve shields, as many spears, as many helms
Of brass, with each its heavy horsehair plume,
He came, and gave them to the suitors’ hands.
Then sank the hero’s heart, and his knees shook
As he beheld the suitors putting on
Their armor, and uplifting their long spears.
The mighty task appalled him, and he thus
Bespake Telemachus with winged words:⁠—

“Telemachus, some woman here, or else
Melanthius, makes the battle hard for us.”

And thus discreet Telemachus replied:
“Father, I erred in this. I was the cause,
And no one else; I left the solid door
Ajar; the spy was shrewder far than I.
Now, good Eumaeus, shut the chamber door,
And see if any of the palace-maids
Have brought these arms, or if I rightly fix
The guilt upon Melanthius, Dolius’ son.”

So talked they with each other, while again
Melanthius, stealing toward the chamber, thought
To bring yet other shining weapons thence.
The noble swineherd marked him as he went,
And quickly drawing near Ulysses said:⁠—

“Son of Laertes! nobly born and wise!
The knave whom we suspect is on his way
Up to thy chamber. Tell me now, I pray,
And plainly, shall I make an end of him,
If I may prove the stronger man, or bring
The wretch into thy presence, to endure
The vengeance due to all the iniquities
Plotted by him against thee in these halls?”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“Telemachus and I will keep at bay
The suitors in this place, however fierce
Their onset, while ye two bind fast his hands
And feet behind his back, and bringing him
Into the chamber, with the door made fast
Behind you, tie him with a double cord,
And draw him up a lofty pillar close
To the timbers of the roof, that, swinging there,
He may live long and suffer grievous pain.”

He spake; they hearkened and obeyed, and went
Up to the chamber unperceived by him
Who stood within and searched a nook for arms.
On each side of the entrance, by its posts,
They waited for Melanthius. Soon appeared
The goatherd at the threshold of the room,
Bearing a beautiful helmet in one hand,
And in the other a broad ancient shield,
Defaced by age and mould. Laertes once,
The hero, bore it when a youth, but now
Long time it lay unused, with gaping seams.

They sprang and seized the goatherd, dragging him
Back to the chamber by the hair; and there
They cast him, in an agony of fear,
Upon the floor, and bound his hands and feet
With a stout cord behind his back, as bade
The great Ulysses, much-enduring son
Of old Laertes. Round him then they looped
A double cord, and swung him up beside
A lofty pillar, till they brought him near
The timbers of the roof. And then didst thou,
Eumaeus, say to him in jeering words:⁠—

“Melanthius, there mayst thou keep watch all night
On a soft bed, a fitting place for thee;
And when the Mother of the Dawn shall come
Upon her golden seat from ocean’s streams,
Thou wilt not fail to see her. Thou mayst then
Drive thy goats hither for the suitors’ feast.”

They left him in that painful plight, and put
Their armor on, and closed the shining door,
And went, and by Ulysses, versed in wiles,
Stood breathing valor. Four were they who stood
Upon that threshold, while their foes within
Were many and brave. Then Pallas, child of Jove,
Drew near, like Mentor both in shape and voice.
Ulysses saw her, and rejoiced and said:⁠—

“Come, Mentor, to the aid of one who loves
And has befriended thee, thy peer in age.”

Thus said Ulysses, but believed he spake
To Pallas, scatterer of hosts. Fierce shouts
Came from the suitors in the hall, and first,
Thus Agelaüs railed, Damastor’s son:⁠—

“Mentor, let not Ulysses wheedle thee
To join him, and make war on us, for this
Our purpose is, and it will be fulfilled:
When by our hands the father and the son
Are slain, thou also shalt be put to death
For this attempt, and thy own head shall be
The forfeit. When we shall have taken thus
Thy life with our good weapons, we will seize
On all thou hast, on all thy wealth within
Thy dwelling or without, and, mingling it
With the possessions of Ulysses, leave
Within thy palaces no son of thine
Or daughter living, and no virtuous wife
Of thine, abiding here in Ithaca.”

He spake, and woke new anger in the heart
Of Pallas, and she chid Ulysses thus:⁠—

“Ulysses, thou art not, in might of arm
And courage, what thou wert when waging war
Nine years without a pause against the men
Of Troy for Helen’s sake, the child of Jove,
And many didst thou slay in deadly strife,
And Priam’s city, with its spacious streets,
Was taken through thy counsels. How is it
That, coming to thy own possessions here
And thy own palace, thou dost sadly find
Thy ancient valor fail thee in the strife
Against the suitors? Now draw near, my friend,
And stand by me, and see what I shall do,
And own that Mentor, son of Alcimus,
Amid a press of foes requites thy love.”

She spake, but gave not to Ulysses yet
The certain victory; for she meant to put
To further proof the courage and the might
Both of Ulysses and his emulous son.
To the broad palace roof she rose, and sat
In shape a swallow. Agelaüs now,
Damastor’s son, cheered on with gallant words
His friends; so also did Amphimedon,
Eurynomus, and Demoptolemus,
Polyctor’s son, Peisander, and with these
Sagacious Polybus. These six excelled
In valor all the suitors who survived,
And they were fighting for their lives. The bow
And the fleet shafts had smitten down their peers.
Thus to his fellows Agelaüs spake:⁠—

“O friends, this man will now be forced to stay
His fatal hand. See, Mentor leaves his side,
After much empty boasting, and those four
Are at the entrance gate alone. Now aim
At him with your long spears⁠—not all at once,
Let six first hurl their weapons, and may Jove
Grant that we strike Ulysses down, and win
Great glory! For the others at his side
We care but little, if their leader fail.”

He spake; they hearkened. Eagerly they cast
Their lances. Pallas made their aim to err.
One struck a pillar of the massive pile;
One struck the panelled door; one ashen shaft,
Heavy with metal, rang against the wall.

And when they had escaped that flight of spears,
Hurled from the crowd, the much-enduring man,
Ulysses, thus to his companions said:⁠—

“Now is the time, my friends, to send our spears
Into the suitor-crowd, who, not content
With wrongs already done us, seek our lives.”

He spake, and, aiming opposite, they cast
Their spears. The weapon which Ulysses flung
Slew Demoptolemus; his son struck down
Euryades; the herdsman smote to death
Peisander, and the swineherd Elatus.
These at one moment fell, and bit the dust
Of the broad floor. Back flew the suitor-crowd
To a recess; and after them the four
Rushed on, and plucked their weapons from the dead.

Again the suitors threw their spears; again
Did Pallas cause their aim to err. One struck
A pillar of the massive pile, and one
The panelled door; another ashen shaft,
Heavy with metal, rang against the wall.
Yet did the weapon of Amphimedon
Strike lightly on the wrist Telemachus.
The brass just tore the skin. Ctesippus grazed
The shoulder of Eumaeus with his spear,
Above the shield; the spear flew over it
And fell to earth. Then they who stood beside
The sage Ulysses, versed in wiles, once more
Flung their keen spears. The spoiler of walled towns,
Ulysses, slew Eurydamas; his son
Struck down Amphimedon; the swineherd took
The life of Polybus; the herdsman smote
Ctesippus, driving through his breast the spear,
And called to him, and gloried o’er his fall:⁠—

“O son of Polytherses, prompt to rail!
Beware of uttering, in thy foolish pride,
Big words hereafter; leave it to the gods,
Mightier are they than we. See, I repay
The hospitable gift of a steer’s foot,
Which once the great Ulysses from thy hand
Received, as he was passing through this hall.”

Thus spake the keeper of the horned herd.
Meantime, Ulysses slew Damastor’s son
With his long spear, in combat hand to hand
Telemachus next smote Evenor’s son,
Leiocritus. He sent the brazen spear
Into his bowels; through his body passed
The weapon, and he fell upon his face.
His forehead struck the floor. Then Pallas held
On high her fatal aegis. From the roof
She showed it, and their hearts grew wild with fear.
They fled along the hall as flees a herd
Of kine, when the swift gadfly suddenly
Has come among them, and has scattered them
In springtime, when the days are growing long.
Meantime, like falcons with curved claws and beaks,
That, coming from the mountain summits, pounce
Upon the smaller birds, and make them fly
Close to the fields among the snares they dread,
And seize and slay, nor can the birds resist
Or fly, and at the multitude of prey
The fowlers’ hearts are glad; so did the four
Smite right and left the suitors hurrying through
The palace-hall, and fearful moans arose
As heads were smitten by the sword, and all
The pavement swam with blood. Leiodes then
Sprang forward to Ulysses, clasped his knees,
And supplicated him with winged words:⁠—

“I come, Ulysses, to thy knees. Respect
And spare me. Never have I said or done,
Among the women of thy household, aught
That could be blamed, and I essayed to check
The wrongs of other suitors. Little heed
They gave my counsels, nor withheld their hands
From evil deeds, and therefore have they drawn
Upon themselves an evil fate. But I,
Who have done nothing⁠—I their soothsayer⁠—
Must I too die? Then is there no reward
Among the sons of men for worthy deeds.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, frowned and said:
“If then, in truth, thou wert as thou dost boast,
A soothsayer among these men, thy prayer
Within these palace-walls must oft have been
That far from me might be the blessed day
Of my return, and that my wife might take
With thee her lot, and bring forth sons to thee,
And therefore shalt thou not escape from death.”

He spake, and seizing with his powerful hand
A falchion lying near, which from the grasp
Of Agelaüs fell when he was slain,
Just at the middle of the neck he smote
Leiodes, while the words were on his lips,
And the head fell, and lay amid the dust.

Phemius, the son of Terpius, skilled in song,
Alone escaped the bitter doom of death.
He by constraint had sung among the train
Of suitors, and was standing now beside
The postern door, and held his sweet-toned lyre,
And pondered whether he should leave the hall,
And sit before the altar of the great
Herceian Jove, where, with Laertes, once
Ulysses oft had burned the thighs of beeves,
Or whether he should fling himself before
Ulysses, as a suppliant, at his knees.
This to his thought seemed wisest⁠—to approach
Laertes’ son, and clasp his knees. He placed
His sweet harp on the floor, between the cup
And silver-studded seat, and went and clasped
The hero’s knees, and said in winged words:⁠—

“I come, Ulysses, to thy knees. Respect
And spare me. It will be a grief to thee,
Hereafter, shouldst thou slay a bard, who sings
For gods and men alike. I taught myself
This art; some god has breathed into my mind
Songs of all kinds, and I could sing to thee
As to a god. O, seek not then to take
My life! Thy own dear son Telemachus
Will bear me witness that not willingly
Nor for the sake of lucre did I come
To sing before the suitors at their feasts
And in thy palace, but was forced to come
By numbers and by mightier men than I.”

He ceased; Telemachus, the mighty, heard
And thus bespake his father at his side:⁠—

“Refrain; smite not the guiltless with the sword;
And be the herald, Medon, also spared,
Who in our palace had the care of me
Through all my childhood; if he be not slain
Already by Philoetius, or by him
Who tends the swine, or if he have not met
Thyself, when thou wert ranging through the hail.”

He spake, and the sagacious Medon heard,
As crouching underneath a throne he lay,
Wrapped in the skin just taken from a steer,
To hide from the black doom of death. He came
From where he lay, and quickly flung aside
The skin, and, springing forward, clasped the knees
Of the young prince, and said in winged words:⁠—

“Dear youth, behold me here; be merciful;
Speak to thy father, that he put not forth
His sword to slay me, eager as he is
For vengeance, and incensed against the men
Who haunt these halls to make his wealth a spoil,
And in their folly hold thyself in scorn.”

He spake; the sage Ulysses smiled and said:
“Be of good cheer, since this my son protects
And rescues thee. Now mayst thou well perceive,
And say to other men, how much more safe
Is doing good than evil. Go thou forth
Out of this slaughter to the open court,
Thou and the illustrious bard, and sit ye there,
While here within I do what yet I must.”

He spake; they moved away and left the hall,
And by the altar of almighty Jove
Sat looking round them, still in fear of death.

Meantime, Ulysses passed with searching look
O’er all the place, to find if yet remained
A single one of all the suitor-crew
Alive, and skulking from his bitter doom.
He saw that all had fallen in blood and dust,
Many as fishes on the shelving beach
Drawn from the hoary deep by those who tend
The nets with myriad meshes. Poured abroad
Upon the sand, while panting to return
To the salt sea they lie, till the hot sun
Takes their life from them; so the suitors lay
Heaped on each other. Then Ulysses took
The word, and thus bespake Telemachus:⁠—

“Go now, Telemachus, and hither call
The nurse, Dame Eurycleia. I would say
Somewhat to her that comes into my thought.”

So spake the chief. Telemachus obeyed
The word, and smote the door, and called the nurse:⁠—

“Come hither, ancient dame, who hast in charge
To oversee the women in their tasks;
My father calls thee, and would speak with thee.”

He spake; nor flew the word in vain; she flung
Apart the portals of those stately rooms,
And came in haste. Before her went the prince.
Among the corpses of the slain they found
Ulysses, stained with blood, and grimed with dust.
As when a lion, who has just devoured
A bullock of the pasture, moves away,
A terror to the sight, with breast and cheeks
All bathed in blood; so did Ulysses seem,
His feet and hands steeped in the blood of men.
She, when she saw the corpses and the pools
Of blood, and knew the mighty task complete,
Was moved to shout for joy. Ulysses checked
Her eager zeal, and said in winged words:⁠—

“Rejoice in spirit, dame, but calm thyself,
And shout not. To exult aloud o’er those
Who lie in death is an unholy thing.
The pleasure of the gods, and their own guilt,
Brought death on these; for no respect had they
To any of their fellow-men⁠—the good
Or evil⁠—whosoever he might be
That came to them, and thus on their own heads
They drew this fearful fate. Now name to me
The women of the palace; let me know
Who is disloyal, and who innocent.”

Then thus the well-beloved nurse replied:
“My son, I will declare the truth. There dwell
Here in thy palace fifty serving-maids,
Whom we have taught to work, to comb the fleece
And serve the household. Twelve of these have walked
The way of shame. To me they give no heed,
Nor to Penelope herself. Thy son
Has just now grown to manhood, and the queen
Has never suffered him to rule the maids;
But let me now, ascending to her room⁠—
The royal bower⁠—apprise thy wife, to whom
Some deity has sent the gift of sleep.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“Wake her not yet, but go and summon all
The women who have wrought these shameful deeds.”

He spake; the matron through the palace went
To seek the women, and to bid them come.
Meanwhile, Ulysses called Telemachus,
The herdsman and the swineherd to his side,
And thus commanded them with winged words:⁠—

“Begin to carry forth the dead, and call
The women to your aid; and next make clean,
With water and with thirsty sponges, all
The sumptuous thrones and tables. When ye thus
Have put the hall in order, lead away
The serving-maids, and in the space between
The kitchen vault and solid outer wall
Smite them with your long swords till they give up
The ghost, and lose the memory evermore
Of secret meetings with the suitor-train.”

He spake; the women came, lamenting loud
With many tears, and carried forth the dead,
Leaning upon each other as they went,
And placed them underneath the portico
Of the walled court. Ulysses gave command,
Hastening their task, as all unwillingly
They bore the corpses forth. With water next,
And thirsty sponges in their hands, they cleansed
The sumptuous thrones and tables. Then the prince,
Telemachus, with shovels cleared the floor,
The herdsman and the swineherd aiding him,
And made the women bear the rubbish forth.
And now when all within was once again
In seemly order, they led forth the maids
From that fair pile into the space between
The kitchen vault and solid outer wall,
A narrow space from which was no escape,
And thus discreet Telemachus began:⁠—

“I will not take away these creatures’ lives
By a pure death⁠—these who so long have heaped
Reproaches on my mother’s head and mine,
And played the wanton with the suitor-crew.”

He spake, and made the hawser of a ship
Fast to a lofty shaft; the other end
He wound about the kitchen vault. So high
He stretched it that the feet of none who hung
On it might touch the ground. As when a flock
Of broad-winged thrushes or wild pigeons strike
A net within a thicket, as they seek
Their perch, and find unwelcome durance there,
So hung the women, with their heads a-row,
And cords about their necks, that they might die
A miserable death. A little while,
And but a little, quivered their loose feet
In air. They led Melanthius from the hall
And through the porch, cut off his nose and ears,
Wrenched out the parts of shame, a bloody meal
For dogs, and in their anger from the trunk
Lopped hands and feet. Then having duly washed
Their feet and hands, they came into the hall,
And to Ulysses; they had done their work.
And then to the dear nurse Ulysses said:⁠—

“Bring sulphur, dame, the cure of noxious air,
And fire, that I may purge the hall with smoke;
And go, and bid Penelope come down,
With her attendant women, and command
That all the handmaids of the household come.”

And thus in turn Dame Eurycleia spake:
“Well hast thou said, my son, but suffer me
To bring thee clothes, a tunic and a cloak,
Nor with those rags on thy broad shoulders stand
In thine own palace; it becomes thee not.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:
“First let a fire be kindled in this hall.”

He spake, and Eurycleia, the dear nurse,
Obeyed, and brought the sulphur and the fire.
Ulysses steeped in smoke the royal pile.
Both hall and court. The matron, passing through
The stately palace of Ulysses, climbed
The stair to find and summon all the maids.
And forth they issued, bearing in their hands
Torches, and, crowding round Ulysses, gave
Glad greeting, seized his hands, embraced him, kissed
His hands and brow and shoulders. The desire
To weep for joy o’ercame the chief; his eyes
O’erflowed with tears; he sobbed; he knew them all.