Odysseus Prepares for Battle
All night Odysseus lay awake, tossing this way and that, as he pondered on how he might kill the suitors, and save his house from them. As soon as the dawn came, he went into the open air and, lifting up his hands, prayed to Zeus, the greatest of the gods, that he might be shown some sign, as to whether he would win victory or meet with defeat.
Then, as he was going back in the house, he heard the voice of a woman who ground barley flour between stones. She was one of twelve, but the other women had fallen asleep by the quern-stones. She was an old, wretched woman, covered all over with the dust from the grain, and, as Odysseus came near her, she lifted up her hands and prayed in a weak voice,’O Zeus, even for miserable me, fulfill a prayer! May this be the last day that the suitors feast in the house of Odysseus! They have weakened my knees with the cruel work they have made me do, grinding for them the flour for the bread they eat. Oh Zeus, may today be their last meal!’
He was glad of her prayer, for it seemed to him her words were an omen from Zeus, and that vengeance would soon be brought on the proud and hard-hearted men who wasted the goods of the house and oppressed the servants.
Then the maids came into the hall from the women’s rooms and some cleaned the tables and others took pitchers and went to the well for water. Then men servants came in and chopped the wood for the fire. Other servants came into the courtyard—Eumæus the swineherd, driving fattened swine, the best of his herd, and Philœtius the cattle-herd bringing a calf. The goatherd Melanthius, who Odysseus and Eumæus had met on the road the day before, also came, bringing the best goats of his flock to be killed for the suitors’ feast.
When the cattle-herd, Philœtius, saw a beggar, he called out as he tethered the calf in the yard, ‘Hail, stranger friend! My eyes fill with tears as I look at you. For even now, dressed as you are in rags, you make me think of my master Odysseus, who may be a wanderer such as you in friendless lands. Ah, I wish he would return and get rid of the suitors in his home.’ Eumæus the swineherd came up to Philœtius and made the same prayer. These two, and the ancient woman at the quern, were the only ones of his servants who he heard pray for his return.
Then the suitors came into the hall. Philœtius the cattle-herd, and Melanthius the evil goatherd, went amongst them, handing them bread and meat and wine. Odysseus stood outside the hall until Telemachus went to him and brought him inside.
There was amongst the suitors a man named Ctesippus, and he was the rudest and the roughest of them all. When he saw Telemachus bringing Odysseus inside he shouted out, ‘Here is a guest of Telemachus who should receive some gift from us. It will be unseemly if he should get nothing today. Therefore I will give him this.’
Saying this, Ctesippus picked up the foot of a slaughtered ox and threw it at Odysseus. Odysseus drew back, and the ox’s foot struck the wall. Then Odysseus smiled grimly at the wooers.
Telemachus said, ‘Truly, Ctesippus, your throw turned out happily for yourself. For if you had struck my guest, there would have been a funeral feast instead of a wedding banquet in your father’s house. Certainly, I would have driven my spear through you.’
All the suitors were silent when Telemachus spoke these bold words. But soon they fell laughing at something one of their number said. The guest from Telemachus’ ship, Theoclymenus, was there, and he got up and went to leave the hall.
‘Why do you go, my guest?’ said Telemachus.
‘I see the walls and the beams of the roof sprinkled with blood,’ said Theoclymenus, the second-sighted man. ‘I hear the voice of wailing. I see cheeks wet with tears. The men before me have shrouds on them. The courtyard is filled with ghosts.’
All the wooers laughed at the second-sighted man, for he stumbled about the hall as if it were in darkness. Then one of the suitors said, ‘Lead that man out of the house, for surely he cannot tell day from night.’
‘I will leave,’ said Theoclymenus. ‘I see death approaching. Not one of all the people in front of me will be able to avoid it.’
So saying, the second-sighted man went out of the hall. The suitors looking at each other laughed again, and one of them said,’Telemachus has no luck in his guests. One is a dirty beggar, who thinks of nothing but what he can put from his hand into his mouth, and the other wants to stand up here and play the seer.’ So the suitors mocked them, but neither Telemachus nor Odysseus paid any attention to their words, for their minds were on the time when they should take vengeance on them.