Book VII

Reception of Ulysses by Alcinoüs

Return of Nausicaä to the city, followed by Ulysses⁠—Palace and garden of Alcinoüs⁠—Reception of Ulysses by the queen and her husband⁠—Narrative given by Ulysses of his voyage and shipwreck.

So prayed Ulysses the great sufferer.
The strong mules bore the damsel toward the town,
And when she reached her father’s stately halls
She stopped beneath the porch. Her brothers came
Around her, like in aspect to the gods,
And loosed the mules, and bore the garments in.
She sought her chamber, where an aged dame
Attendant there, an Epirote, and named
Eurymedusa, lighted her a fire.
She by the well-oared galleys had been brought
Beforetime from Epirus, and was given
To king Alcinoüs, ruler over all
Phaeacia’s sons, who hearkened to his voice
As if he were a god. ’Twas she who reared
White-armed Nausicaä in the royal halls,
Tended her hearth, and dressed her evening meal.

Now rose Ulysses up, and townward turned
His steps, while friendly Pallas wrapt his way
In darkness, lest someone among the sons
Of the Phaeacians with unmannerly words
Might call to him or ask him who he was.
And just as he was entering that fair town
The blue-eyed Pallas met him, in the form
Of a young virgin with an urn. She stood
Before him, and Ulysses thus inquired:⁠—

“Wilt thou, my daughter, guide me to the house
Where dwells Alcinoüs, he who rules this land?
I am a stranger, who have come from far
After long hardships, and of all who dwell
Within this realm I know not even one.”

Pallas, the blue-eyed goddess, thus replied:⁠—
“Father and stranger, I will show the house;
The dwelling of my own good father stands
Close by it. Follow silently, I pray,
And I will lead. Look not on any man
Nor ask a question; for the people here
Affect not strangers, nor do oft receive
With kindly welcome him who comes from far.
They trust in their swift barques, which to and fro,
By Neptune’s favor, cross the mighty deep.
Their galleys have the speed of wings or thought.”

Thus Pallas spake, and quickly led the way.
He followed in her steps. They saw him not⁠—
Those trained Phaeacian seamen⁠—for the power
That led him, Pallas of the amber hair,
Forbade the sight, and threw a friendly veil
Of darkness over him. Ulysses saw,
Wondering, the haven and the gallant ships,
The marketplace where heroes thronged, the walls
Long, lofty, and beset with palisades,
A marvel to the sight. But when they came
To the king’s stately palace, thus began
The blue-eyed goddess, speaking to the chief:⁠—

“Father and stranger, here thou seest the house
Which thou hast bid me show thee. Thou wilt find
The princes, nurslings of the gods, within,
Royally feasting. Enter, and fear not;
The bold man ever is the better man,
Although he come from far. Thou first of all
Wilt see the queen. Aretè is the name
The people give her. She is of a stock
The very same from which Alcinoüs
The king derives his lineage. For long since
Nausithoüs, its founder, was brought forth
To Neptune, the great Shaker of the shores,
By Peribaea, fairest of her sex,
And youngest daughter of Eurymedon,
The large of soul, who ruled the arrogant brood
Of giants, and beheld that guilty race
Cut off, and perished by a fate like theirs.
Her Neptune wooed; she bore to him a son,
Large-souled Nausithoüs, whom Phaeacia owned
Its sovereign. To Nausithoüs were born
Rhexenor and Alcinoüs. He who bears
The silver bow, Apollo, smote to death
Rhexenor, newly wedded, in his home.
He left no son, and but one daughter, named
Aretè; her Alcinoüs made his wife,
And honored her as nowhere else on earth
Is any woman honored who bears charge
Over a husband’s household. From their hearts
Her children pay her reverence, and the king
And all the people, for they look on her
As if she were a goddess. When she goes
Abroad into the streets, all welcome her
With acclamations. Never does she fail
In wise discernment, but decides disputes
Kindly and justly between man and man.
And if thou gain her favor, there is hope
That thou mayst see thy friends once more, and stand
In thy tall palace on thy native soil.”

The blue-eyed Pallas, having spoken thus,
Departed o’er the barren deep. She left
The pleasant isle of Scheria, and repaired
To Marathon and to the spacious streets
Of Athens, entering there the massive halls
Where dwelt Erectheus, while Ulysses toward
The gorgeous palace of Alcinoüs turned
His steps, yet stopped and pondered ere he crossed
The threshold. For on every side beneath
The lofty roof of that magnanimous king
A glory shone as of the sun or moon.
There from the threshold, on each side, were walls
Of brass that led towards the inner rooms,
With blue steel cornices. The doors within
The massive building were of gold, and posts
Of silver on the brazen threshold stood,
And silver was the lintel, and above
Its architrave was gold; and on each side
Stood gold and silver mastiffs, the rare work
Of Vulcan’s practised skill, placed there to guard
The house of great Alcinoüs, and endowed
With deathless life, that knows no touch of age.
Along the walls within, on either side,
And from the threshold to the inner rooms,
Were firmly planted thrones on which were laid
Delicate mantles, woven by the hands
Of women. The Phaeacian princes here
Were seated; here they ate and drank, and held
Perpetual banquet. Slender forms of boys
In gold upon the shapely altars stood,
With blazing torches in their hands to light
At eve the palace guests; while fifty maids
Waited within the halls, where some in querns
Ground small the yellow grain; some wove the web
Or twirled the spindle, sitting, with a quick
Light motion, like the aspen’s glancing leaves.
The well-wrought tissues glistened as with oil.
As far as the Phaeacian race excel
In guiding their swift galleys o’er the deep,
So far the women in their woven work
Surpass all others. Pallas gives them skill
In handiwork and beautiful design.
Without the palace-court, and near the gate,
A spacious garden of four acres lay.
A hedge enclosed it round, and lofty trees
Flourished in generous growth within⁠—the pear
And the pomegranate, and the apple-tree
With its fair fruitage, and the luscious fig
And olive always green. The fruit they bear
Falls not, nor ever fails in winter time
Nor summer, but is yielded all the year.
The ever-blowing west-wind causes some
To swell and some to ripen; pear succeeds
To pear; to apple apple, grape to grape,
Fig ripens after fig. A fruitful field
Of vines was planted near; in part it lay
Open and basking in the sun, which dried
The soil, and here men gathered in the grapes,
And there they trod the winepress. Farther on
Were grapes unripened yet, which just had cast
The flower, and others still which just began
To redden. At the garden’s furthest bound
Were beds of many plants that all the year
Bore flowers. There gushed two fountains: one of them
Ran wandering through the field; the other flowed
Beneath the threshold to the palace-court,
And all the people filled their vessels there.
Such were the blessings which the gracious gods
Bestowed on King Alcinoüs and his house.

Ulysses, the great sufferer, standing there,
Admired the sight; and when he had beheld
The whole in silent wonderment, he crossed
The threshold quickly, entering the hall
Where the Phaeacian peers and princes poured
Wine from their goblets to the sleepless one,
The Argus-queller, to whose deity
They made the last libations when they thought
Of slumber. The great sufferer, concealed
In a thick mist, which Pallas raised and cast
Around him, hastened through the hall and came
Close to Aretè and Alcinoüs,
The royal pair. Then did Ulysses clasp
Aretè’s knees, when suddenly the cloud
Raised by the goddess vanished. All within
The palace were struck mute as they beheld
The man before them. Thus Ulysses prayed:⁠—

“Aretè, daughter of the godlike chief
Rhexenor! to thy husband I am come
And to thy knees, from many hardships borne,
And to these guests, to whom may the good gods
Grant to live happily, and to hand down,
Each one to his own children, in his home,
The wealth and honors which the people’s love
Bestowed upon him. Grant me, I entreat,
An escort, that I may behold again
And soon my own dear country. I have passed
Long years in sorrow, far from all I love.”

He ended, and sat down upon the hearth
Among the ashes, near the fire, and all
Were silent utterly. At length outspake
Echeneus, oldest and most eloquent chief
Of the Phaeacians; large his knowledge was
Of things long past. With generous intent,
And speaking to the assembly, he began:⁠—

“Alcinoüs, this is not a seemly sight⁠—
A stranger sitting on the hearth among
The cinders. All the others here await
Thy order, and move not. I pray thee, raise
The stranger up, and seat him on a throne
Studded with silver. Be thy heralds called,
And bid them mingle wine, which we may pour
To Jove, the god of thunders, who attends
And honors every suppliant. Let the dame
Who oversees the palace feast provide
Our guest a banquet from the stores within.”

This when the reverend king Alcinoüs heard,
Forthwith he took Ulysses by the hand⁠—
That man of wise devices⁠—raised him up
And seated him upon a shining throne,
From which he bade Laodamas arise,
His manly son, whose seat was next to his.

“Now mingle wine, Protonoüs, in a vase,
For all within the palace, to be poured
To Jove, the god of thunders, who attends
And honors every suppliant.” As he spake
Protonoüs mingled the delicious wines,
And passed from right to left, distributing
The cups to all; and when they all had poured
A part to Jove, and all had drunk their fill,
Alcinoüs took the word, and thus he said:⁠—

“Princes and chiefs of the Phaeacians, hear,
I speak as my heart bids me. Since the feast
Is over, take your rest within your homes.
Tomorrow shall the Senators be called
In larger concourse. We will pay our guest
Due honor in the palace, worshipping
The gods with solemn sacrifice. And then
Will we bethink us how to send him home,
That with no hindrance and no hardship borne
Under our escort he may come again
Gladly and quickly to his native land,
Though far away it lie, and that no wrong
Or loss may happen to him ere he set
Foot on its soil; and there must he endure
Whatever, when his mother brought him forth,
Fate and the unrelenting Sisters spun
For the newborn. But should he prove to be
One of the immortals who has come from heaven,
Then have the gods a different design.
For hitherto the gods have shown themselves
Visibly at our solemn hecatombs,
And sat with us, and feasted like ourselves,
And when the traveller meets with them alone,
They never hide themselves; for we to them
Are near of kin, as near as is the race
Of Cyclops and the savage giant brood.”

Ulysses the sagacious answered him:⁠—
“Nay, think not so, Alcinoüs. I am not
In form or aspect as the immortals are,
Whose habitation is the ample heaven.
But I am like whomever thou mayst know,
Among mankind, inured to suffering;
To them shouldst thou compare me. I could tell
Of bitterer sorrows yet, which I have borne;
Such was the pleasure of the gods. But now
Leave me, whatever have my hardships been,
To take the meal before me. Naught exceeds
The impatient stomach’s importunity
When even the afflicted and the sorrowful
Are forced to heed its call. So even now,
Midst all the sorrow that is in my heart,
It bids me eat and drink, and put aside
The thought of my misfortunes till itself
Be satiate. But, ye princes, with the dawn
Provide for me, in my calamity,
The means to reach again my native land.
For, after all my hardships, I would die
Willingly, could I look on my estates,
My servants, and my lofty halls once more.”

He ended; they approved his words, and bade
Set forward on his homeward way the guest
Who spake so wisely. When they all had made
Libations and had drunk, they each withdrew
To sleep at home, and left the noble chief
Ulysses in the palace, where with him
Aretè and her godlike husband sat,
While from the feast the maidens bore away
The chargers. The white-armed Aretè then
Began to speak; for when she cast her eyes
On the fair garments which Ulysses wore,
She knew the mantle and the tunic well,
Wrought by herself and her attendant maids,
And thus with winged words bespake the chief:⁠—

“Stranger, I first must ask thee who thou art,
And of what race of men. From whom hast thou
Received those garments? Sure thou dost not say
That thou art come from wandering o’er the sea.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, answered thus:⁠—
“ ’Twere hard, O sovereign lady, to relate
In order all my sufferings, for the gods
Of heaven have made them many; yet will I
Tell all thou askest of me, and obey
Thy bidding. Far within the ocean lies
An island named Ogygia, where abides
Calypso, artful goddess, with bright locks,
Daughter of Atlas, and of dreaded power.
No god consorts with her, nor anyone
Of mortal birth. But me in my distress
Some god conveyed alone to her abode,
When, launching his white lightning, Jupiter
Had cloven in the midst of the black sea
My galley. There my gallant comrades all
Perished, but I in both my arms held fast
The keel of my good ship, and floated on
Nine days till, on the tenth, in the dark night,
The gods had brought me to Ogygia’s isle,
Where dwells Calypso of the radiant hair
And dreaded might, who kindly welcomed me,
And cherished me, and would have made my life
Immortal, and beyond the power of age
In all the coming time. And there I wore
Seven years away, still moistening with my tears
The ambrosial raiment which the goddess gave.
But when the eighth year had begun its round
She counselled my departure, whether Jove
Had so required, or she herself had changed
Her purpose. On a raft made strong with clamps
She placed me, sent on board an ample store
Of bread and pleasant wine, and made me put
Ambrosial garments on, and gave a soft
And favorable wind. For seventeen days
I held my steady course across the deep,
And on the eighteenth day the shadowy heights
Of your own isle appeared, and then my heart,
Ill-fated as I was, rejoiced. Yet still
Was I to struggle with calamities
Sent by earthshaking Neptune, who called up
The winds against me, and withstood my way,
And stirred the boundless ocean to its depths.
Nor did the billows surfer me to keep
My place, but swept me, groaning, from the raft,
Whose planks they scattered. Still I labored through
The billowy depth, and swam, till wind and wave
Drove me against your coast. As there I sought
To land, I found the surges hurrying me
Against huge rocks that lined the frightful shore,
But, turning back, I swam again and reached
A river and the landing-place I wished.
Smooth, without rocks, and sheltered from the wind.
I swooned, but soon revived. Ambrosial night
Came on. I left the Jove-descended stream
And slept among the thickets, drawing round
My limbs the withered leaves, while on my lids
A deity poured bounteously the balm
Of slumber. All night long, among the leaves,
I slept, with all that sorrow in my heart,
Till morn, till noon. Then as the sun went down
The balmy slumber left me, and I saw
Thy daughter’s handmaids sporting on the shore,
And her among them, goddess-like. To her
I came a suppliant, nor did she receive
My suit unkindly as a maid so young
Might do, for youth is foolish. She bestowed
Food and red wine abundantly, and gave,
When I had bathed, the garments I have on.
Thus is my tale of suffering truly told.”

And then Alcinoüs answered him and said:⁠—
“Stranger, one duty hath my child o’erlooked⁠—
To bid thee follow hither with her maids,
Since thou didst sue to her the first of all.”

Ulysses, the sagacious, thus replied:⁠—
“Blame not for that, O hero, I entreat,
Thy faultless daughter. She commanded me
To follow with her maids, but I refrained
For fear and awe of thee, lest, at the sight,
Thou mightest be displeased; for we are prone
To dark misgivings⁠—we, the sons of men.”
Again Alcinoüs spake: “The heart that beats
Within my bosom is not rashly moved
To wrath, and better is the temperate mood.
This must I say, O Father Jupiter,
And Pallas and Apollo! I could wish
That, being as thou art, and of like mind
With me, thou wouldst receive to be thy bride
My daughter, and be called my son-in-law,
And here abide. A palace I would give,
And riches, shouldst thou willingly remain.
Against thy will let no Phaeacian dare
To keep thee here. May Father Jove forbid!
And that thou mayst be sure of my intent,
I name tomorrow for thy voyage home.
Sleep in thy bed till then; and they shall row
O’er the calm sea thy galley, till thou come
To thine own land and home, or wheresoe’er
Thou wilt, though further off the coast should be
Than far Euboea, most remote of lands⁠—
So do the people of our isle declare,
Who saw it when they over sea conveyed
The fair-haired Rhadamanthus, on his way
To visit Tityus, son of Earth. They went
Thither, accomplishing with little toil
Their voyage in the compass of a day,
And brought the hero to our isle again.
Now shalt thou learn, and in thy heart confess,
How much our galleys and our youths excel
With bladed oars to stir the whirling brine”

So spake the king, and the great sufferer
Ulysses heard with gladness, and preferred
A prayer, and called on Jupiter and said:⁠—

“Grant, Father Jove, that all the king has said
May be fulfilled! so shall his praise go forth
Over the foodful earth, and never die,
And I shall see my native land again.”

So they conferred. White-armed Aretè spake,
And bade her maidens in the portico
Place couches, and upon them lay fair rugs
Of purple dye, and tapestry on these,
And for the outer covering shaggy cloaks.
Forth from the hall they issued, torch in hand;
And when with speed the ample bed was made,
They came and summoned thus the chief to rest:⁠—

“Rise, stranger, go to rest; thy bed is made.”
Thus spake the maidens, and the thought of sleep
Was welcome to Ulysses. So that night
On his deep couch the noble sufferer
Slumbered beneath the sounding portico.
Alcinoüs laid him down in a recess
Within his lofty palace, near to whom
The queen his consort graced the marriage-bed.